As a start please share with us your room size, musical preferences and whether you see yourself as a solid state or tube kind of guy. Is your space dedicated or shared (i.e., with the family or are you single)? These all matter and will help you avoid getting a lot of shot gunned responses.
Apogee minidac with firewire card (around 1000 usd) and a pair of active speakers. If you like a bit romantic sound you may add a tube pre with mellow sound. Such a pedestrian set up could produce shockingly good sound, and possibly the best possible set up if your budget is limited. Unfortunately, these gears are fairly ugly.
Love the Apogee DAC with active speaker idea of Ajahu, nice approach. I would suggest:
Magnepan 1.6qr's $1000 (used)
Innersound ESL amp $1300 (used)
AES Tube Pre $700 (used)
TADAC tube DAC $700
AES phono stage $300
Project Debut III $400 (with cartridge used)
Kimber 8tc speark wires
Kimber Hero Interconnects $331
That's a great system by any standard. I would love hear that.
sorry to hear about your loss
Apple Lossless is terrific and the only way to go if you are a Mac guy - nothing else makes the least bit of sense. If you are a PC guy you will probably want to check out FLAC as well
I personally would go with a Mac laptop or tower (depending on what else you need to do with it) driving a Keces 151 USB DAC. Really a great sounding unit for $250 - made in Taiwan. I have had five (5) DACs and this may well be the best one - and its dead easy to use
I would use this to feed a beefy integrated amp - huge range of choices new and used for under $2K. The rationale being that you save a ton of money over separates not buying things like interconnects, power cables and tweaks. Plus it takes up a lot less space and most come with a remote which is nice.
As fpeel points out, recommending speakers is difficult without some more particulars about your space and taste.
As far as interconnects and power cables, keep it simple and stick with someone like Harmonic Tech or Analysis Plus. Both have a broad offering and have a lot of product out there. Buy used. All you need is one great pair of ICs, two power cords and speaker cables in the appropriate length.
Enjoy the process and your new home
Active Speakers and a DAC - I agree with Ajahu. Genelec 8050A (in white) with Apple Mac and your choice of DAC would look real cool in a PC setup and yet give most hi end systems a run for their money for sheer sound quality.
Thanks for the responses everyone, to answer a few questions
The room is going to be 12x16. It will be my office and mine alone so the gear can look like whatever. I like wood but I also like interesting looking gear. I love the look of exposed tube systems but dont know where that falls in the budget.
I was thinking that my desk would be on one of the 16' walls facing the other, but if that's not a good distance from the speakers than I am up for changing that around.
What I love to listen to most is acoustic music piano and guitar especially live recordings if they are done well. I want to hear every everything such as the incidental sounds like fingers on strings and breaths.
Its funny that you mention the Project debut III I used to have that very model and a Rotel pre.
Thanks again everyone.
Room makes a huge difference, well size does matter. I now change the speakers to Paradigm 20 Actives (no longer made, but come for sale fairly regularly), since you now don't need an amp, I would suggest getting a VPI Scout turntable, cartridge of your choice. That's still a nice system. Also, if it's an office you don't need a music server, just run your iTunes from your computer into the DAC. So buy an isolation stand for you turntable now.
I get the joy of the active speakers approach but unless I am missing my engineering, multiple sources (say DAC and phono preamp) are going to be pretty unwieldy.
A lot of nice integrateds out there with very respectable MM/MC sections which would give you the option of adding your TT when you were ready.
Also there are a whole lot more choices in passive speakers then active.
BTW since you mentioned you enjoyed designery looking gear, you might look for a used pair of the Gallo 3.1's. Cool looking, easy to drive and they should give you plenty of the detail and intimacy you crave.
I don't understand why active speakers are a problem with mulitple sources? You are just forgoing the amps, the signal still comes from a preamp that switches the sources, and manages volume.
I love the Gallos, I have had them before, it seems to me they would be a bit much for that space.
Hi MacDad - that's exactly what I was missing - we have a newb here asking for specifics... the pre is a critical piece and will need a significant piece of the proposed budget.
alright I guess I really dont know what I am doing. I dont even know what an active speaker is. I will do some research.
OK that was easy, I guess Active speakers are fine if I have a pre-amp and or a DAC with multiple inputs. With Active speakers can you control volume with a remote? Sorry I didn't mean to turn this into a training session.
You control the volume with the pre-amp not the speakers. For an office you should also consider NHT S00 and NHT M00 - great desktop sound.
Forget I called it an office, it is my office but I want floor speakers.