I need help with the audio side

I am a novice as far as high end audio and would like to upgrade my current setup. I have upgraded over the years from an older Bose Lifestyle 12 system (I know I just made a bunch of you cringe) to a Lifestyle 28 system. Then I learned that no highs, no lows, must be Bose and upgraded to a Harmon Kardon AVR 340 with Infinity TSS750 7.1 system. I have stayed with the Infinity's but upgraded the receiver to an Onkyo 804. I have it all tied into a Monster 3500 Power Center to try to clean up the power and used Monster XP speaker cable's and 1000 series HDMI and optical cables to connect the cable box, Samsung BDP1200 bluray, and Roku Soundbrige M1000.
My system sounds decent but I know it can sound better. Way better. I have listened to Definitive, Vienna Acoustics, Boston Acoustics, Polk, and Martin Logan and fell in love with the ML's and how clear and precise the sound was (like what I was listening to was live in front of me). I was looking at replacing the front 3 speakers, but would like some advice on brand/models to look in to. I am on a budget, so I know some of the extreme high end like Wilson audio is probably out of the question. I also need some advice about preamps and amps...mainly do I need them? Can I use the Onkyo as a preamp and maybe just get amplifiers?

I watch a lot of movies, but also love music (I listen to mostly everything except country and would say Pink Floyd is my favorite).

Any suggestions?
What is your budget? This will help everyone here give more useful suggestions.

I currently have no budget so, I am jealous of everyone that has one. No matter how big or small.
Yes, please identify your budget. In the meantime, if you like the Martin Logan Xstats and can afford them, then go with those and build yourself a true 5.1 surround sound system. You have a decent A-V receiver now, good interconnects and speaker wire. Focus on the loudspeakers. They will make the largest difference in sound as you know. What CD player do you have?
Lots of recordings are crap. If you want midrange, price, bass, and never bright (when setup correctly) in a speaker...

In one word

Planar and electrostat are " you are there" kind of sound but not boogie/ rock and roll. (Although I love Soundlab A-1's)
Amplification can do wonders. Current drives speakers not watts. 100 watt class "A" is very powerful. Most Mass fi items do not live up to their claims. A lot of Esoteric gear has the same issue. Synergy is the real concern. For example, a dark sounding speaker can sound great with a bright amp. vice versa and up and down the chain.
I may get shot for this but, the recording, the room it is in, and then the gear are the most important. Source gear importance is probably foremost. Cables and power conditioners are to be used as "icing on a "good cake" to make it "great"
Like Tiramisu ( Oh that sucks!) (I love it!)
Coffee lover?

Save your pennies and look for CAT preamps (signature and better) and listen to different amps with the system. Tube and Solid State.
Nirvana may be nearby.

Thanks for the responses so far. Right now I would like to stay under $2000. I know that is not much when it comes to good speakers.
For the most part I use my Roku to listen to music. I have converted all of my CD's to mp3's (which I know isn't going to give me the best sound). If I need to listen to a CD, I use my bluray player. I'm trying to keep the setup as simple as possible.
And tiramisu is actually my favorite dessert, and do like coffee.

Then...... just like Jeff has said, get you some Vandersteens. I co-sign with him on that assessment. If lack of set-up issues, reasonable price, bass response, midrange and a nice high end will do, the only way to go is Vandersteen. I owned a pair of 2Ce's since 2005 and I love them.

I am driving mine with an Adcom GFA-5400 Power Amplifier and an Adcom GFP-750 Preamplifier Line Stage with MITerminator Cabling and getting excellent musical results from this combination. As far as separates go, this is not an expensive combination, but I have heard of people driving Vandersteen 2's with Krells and Levinsons before (something I wouldn't do, but just saying so out of reading and observation). The point I am trying to make is that you don't need to have expensive amplification to drive the Vandies and get good sound from them. What I would do is hunt down a nice integrated and drive them with that. If you prefer something with some quality behind it, I would hunt down something used. Something that you couldn't afford when it was brand new, but could afford now used (hint....... looked for a Krell integrated or a Classe).

Good Luck and Happy Shopping.....
You're in a tough spot, as the weak link could be considered your speakers based on your current setup. I agree with the other posts here that focusing on updating the speakers first based on your overall system might be best.

I currently own Quad 22L2's and matching Center. I think they're on par with the Vandersteens mentioned here (both warm, articulate). Although a full front end (L+R, Center and Sub) would run in excess of $2k, regardless of what brand you step into within this price class. Don't neglect a good powered sub, it's important for HT.

To be honest though, after all my recent upgrading the BIGGEST improvement, bar none, was picking up a Sunfire TGP-5 processor for $1,300 new. They're on closeout now, so it's a great time to try and locate one for less than $1,500. It would necessitate buying a good used 5 or 7 channel amp for around $500-$800. I was running an Outlaw 950 pre/pro before with a 7 channel amp. The biggest improvement, hands down, was the Sunfire. The Outlaw in no way was any slouch either, but it's not a fair comparison. And price wise, the Sunfire is not out of your league if you can locate one for less than $1,500. I had a Denon 3800 before I updated to the Outlaw 950. It wasn't near the improvement the Sunfire was versus the Outlaw.

Unfortunately, you can't spread $2k over a pre/pro and amp combination AND speakers too.
Congrats on realizing that there is life after Bose. (I will admit, I was one of the ones that cringed when I saw the B word.)

With regards to the setup, unfortunately I'm not familiar with your receiver. But as for the speakers, you can always start off with a pair of Magnepan MMGs for around $400-500 and then work your way from there. They're also electrostatic/planars like Martin Logans. Bang for buck they're a great deal, and worse comes to worst, you can sell them back out 6 months later for the same price.

As for the amp recommendation, I originally went the same route that Chaskell did also, debating between a Krell KAV-x00i or a Classe 151. They're both fantastic integrated for their price point (around $1200-1400 second hand). The Krell leans towards being a lil tighter and faster, and the Classe leans towatds being a lil softer and smoother. So at that point it'll depend on which speakers you decide on first. Good luck and keep us all posted!

"As for the amp recommendation, I originally went the same route that Chaskell did also, debating between a Krell KAV-x00i or a Classe 151."

Well, actually...... I only suggested the Krell and Classe Integrateds to "Brooksd" as possible budget alternatives to his speaker of choice. Those aren't the amps I am personally using. I am driving my Vandersteen 2Ce Signatures with an Adcom GFA-5400 and an Adcom GFP-750 with MITerminator Cables.

And being that the Vandersteens seem to produce a warm sound with plenty of deep bass and a clean and neutral top-end, I think that a used Krell KAV Integrated would be a good match for the Vandersteens, which should result in a neutral sound.

Definitive, Vienna Acoustics, Boston Acoustics, Polk, and Martin Logan are all great speakers and a major upgrade from your current position. You're right to focus on speakers now Worry about further upgrades after you pick your speakers. I'm partial to the VA Beethoven Baby Grands, but MLs are also great.

You really don't need much advice at this point, just follow your ears.

Chaskell, sorry about the misunderstanding. But great recommendations nonetheless..

As for my set up, I think I should have tried the Classe instead... I dunno.. It might be a symptom of the grass being greener on the other side. Ha ha.

And as for Vandersteens, i've just never been a big fan for some reason... there's a big Vandersteen dealer where I am in the NY/NJ area, and every time I listen to them, they've just left me something to be desired.. But I will say the sounds on it are very warm.

Whats your take in the MIT Terminators? They've been around for years.. What do they do to your system?
My father is powering his Vandersteens with Classe and they sound great but he is changing amps shortly. I imagine you may be talking about Audio Connection in Verona, if so stop back in and listen again...those guys are great. As far as MIT Terminators, my father used them for years and I never liked them, I used them in my system and yanked them quickly, Audioquest is my preference.
Yup, I am talking about Audio Connection, and those guys are great and very knowledgable, which is how I got hooked on Maggies and B&W and Cary... Three of their top sellers, haha. But it's the Vandersteens that never made a huge impression on me.

Are you in the NY/NJ metro area?
No my father is but I am uo there often....maybe we could hook up if ever times work out. My dad bought the new Aesthetix Atlas amp from A.C. you need to check this amp out, its stupid good!

No Problem.....

My take on the MITerminators are that they're neutral and they make the midrange coming from the Vandersteens open up even further, expanding the plane of the speakers themselves. They also make the bass JUST a little more powerful, and slightly smooth out the top-end.