I hate to be the one to say this but if you are looking for a general consensus, you are not likely to find one here. Do a search of of amps, speakers, sources and cables on these forums and you will find literally hundreds of different recommendations for each component.
My advice would be to go out and listen to some Vandersteens (among others if possible) if they float your boat then you may want to start a thread about them and perhaps the many Vandy owners on here can chime in and suggest a suitable amp. I believe there is a gentleman who frequents these forums quite often from Audio Connection in New Jersey and is widely known as the go to guy when it comes to all things Vandersteen.
Best of luck on your new system and welcome aboard there is a lot of useful information on these forums and many members on here with years of experience to draw from.
See these reviews about Schiit Audio components. In particular note the reviewers comments at the end of the Ygg review.
(i.e., Ygg>>Rag>>KEF LS50).
Maybe think Oppo universal player in place of the Ygg to save some bucks. Used will definitely save you bucks if you can find something that won't need immediate maintenance/repair.
Do try and get out to hear as much gear as you can - "educate your ear", as it were.
Also, look at some of the budget systems here under Explore (Explore>Virtual Systems>Tags>Budget Minded).
Good luck in your hunt. Lots of good combinations out there.
Good advice to audition some Vandersteens or other speakers first. Then choose an amp that is a good match for your speakers; proper power rating, features, and tonal characteristics that are right for your taste.
An integrated amp would be the way to go to fit your budget. Some integrateds have a phonostage built-in for a TT/cartridge, or you can use a dedicated phono preamp.
In general, I'd advise thinking about the long term. Ask: will I always be in the upstairs room with smallish dimensions? This might change your approach somewhat.
For what you describe, I'd go this way. Prices are approximate, presuming you'd shop around some for slightly used/demo stuff:
-Rogue Sphinx integrated w. phono stage: $1200.00
-Sony HAP-Z1ES digital server (you'll stop using CDs forever, and you'll be able to stream Spotify too): $1800.00 (or less)
-Vandersteen speakers that you mentioned: $750.00 (?), because you like them. Or get smaller monitors (ELAC?), many possibilities for <$1000.00
-Hsu Research Subwoofer (various models available): $500.00. Subwoofer is the best way to get real bass in a small room.
-Use the stock power cords for now. Upgrade them later or not. Use the rest of your budget for inexpensive interconnects and some speaker cables.
I suggest a used solid state amp to drive your Vandersteen speakers. They are fine speakers and you can buy now if in a hurry.
for the amp, maybe a Hafler?
I also like the Oppo player for this - lots of used ones as people upgrade. You may be able to get by with no pre-amp.
Do NOT waste your money on any sort of expensive cables.
Also take a look at Cambridge Audio equipment; Rotel; and similar.
Marantz and Yamaha make good receivers if you decide to go that direction.
Try to save some money out for room treatments - much of which can be DIY - I've posted some links before on other threads.
One advantage is your room is non-square...
You did not say whether you would consider used. I had great luck buying used on Audiogon, particularly in your budget range, as many people here trade up and have taken great care of their equipment.
So many options, but my first system was a Marantz PM-8005 integrated amp ($1,200 new), a Marantz SA-8004 SACD player ( current model Sa-8005 is $1,200 new), and Focal chorus speakers with Blue Jeans Cable speaker cables and interconnects. My actual cost used was:
PM-8005 - $500
SA-8004 - $600
Focal 836V speakers - $1,200
Cables - $100
Complete system for $2,400 that met every expectation I had for a first system. In fact, it could have lasted me a lifetime if I had not contracted upgraditis.
These were my choices, but I completely agree with others in that I auditioned many speakers before buying anything. I happen to love the "Focal" sound, and, by reading many posts on this forum, focused on electronics that people felt paired well with this brand.
Good luck and have fun.
+3 for Vandersteen's. +2 for Johnny R at Audioconnection.
The Vandy 1's with subs can be a killer combo. Paired with a used McCormack amp and preamp, and a Schiit DAC. and some AudioQuest cables and you should be under $5K.
Though I am a Vandy fanboy, I really believe they aren't only the best deal for an accurate, listenable speaker, but also a good foundation upon which you can compare other speakers.
You got 5 grand to spend so don't let others do it for you.
And there are no components that offer a best bang for the buck. If there were, that's all that would be available at a certain price point. Everyone would want them and nothing else. Instead there are hundreds to choose from. So, there are only those components that work best with each other.
Go to a few HiFi dealers and start auditioning speakers to find the pair that sounds best to you; not us. Vandersteens should be definitely be heard but whose to say your won't like them in favor of something else? If there are no dealers in your city, then day trip it to the nearest one that does. Or plan on attending a 2 channel audio show. If your in the Midwest, Axpona is coming up in the Spring in Chicago. In other words, take you time and do it right.
Don't be afraid to use half your budget for the speakers. Build your system around these. They are the only component you can actually hear and will be responsible for the final outcome from all sources. Then look for an integrated amp that will properly drive those speakers. Its ability to drive the speakers you have selected should be the first consideration in picking it out. Everything will just be a feature like a phono stage or DAC. These things can be added as external devices.
After speakers and integrated amp, then get your CD player with what's left. Since you said vinyl would be down the road, then start saving all over again. To do vinyl right will cost a lot more than a digital source.
Have fun and happy hunting!
Keep this in mind With loudspeakers under $3'k you will jot get real low bass
If on s budget a good stand mount and a decent powered sub would get you much more low bass. A solid integrated for example from Rogue .Kimber 8Tc ,and interconnects.you den even get a digital player for around $1k
A Schiit biftost under x $500 for a quality dac ,even thd little Aufioquest even cheaper and will support MQA recordings. And remember your epeakrrs sensitivity the lower it is the more power to drive them. Also don't forget
You can buy used and savery a bunch of money.
$5K used will get you a lot more than new components.
First, decide which speaker you want because this will have the most significant affect on sound. This should be first if you want to have success. Good comment above about remembering that low efficiency speakers will require better amps and may push you out of your budget.
Second, find an integrated the synergizes well with your speaker choice.
Thirdly get your source player, the best you can afford, and then if you have some budget left over some reasonably priced power cables, interconnects, speaker cables.
"Keep this in mind With loudspeakers under $3'k you will jot get real low bass"
Assuming that's true (and its not), so what? Most speakers over 3k don't go all the way down either.
"If on s budget a good stand mount and a decent powered sub would get you much more low bass.
At the expense of overall sound quality. System matching is everything. Subs are best used with full range speakers.That's why they're called subs, and not bass speakers. If you use and stand mount speaker and a sub, what do you do about the frequencies that are too low for the small speakers to play, and are too high for the subs? You end up with a hole where some of the music is supposed to be, and the subwoofer never was. Besides, these components are not generic and interchangeable. You can't just throw them in any system without consequence and expect good results. If the OP buys a full range speaker like the Vandersteen Model 1, he can add a matching sub at any time, and will have a very easy time integrating it into his system because both pieces are designed to work together.
Thank you everyone for your wonderful responses. There is certainly a lot of good information here to get me started!!!
There seems to be a consensus here regarding integrated. Perhaps I had mistakenly assumed that a separate amp and pre would be preferable.
What at was the line of thinking here? Cost prohibitive given budget?
Ok, here's one more.
I asked myself these questions: If a very close friend or relative gave me that budget and said, “Now go out and build me the best system you can get for the money”. What would I get, knowing I’d have to see them from time to time in the future? Or, to put it another way, if faced with downsizing, how would I replace my own rig without (I believe) sacrificing anything in SQ or enjoyment?
Having heard a few systems in audio show environments, doing quite a bit of background research, as well as auditioning various gear in my own home … I’d like to offer the following suggestions for a truly excellent $5,000 system (IMHO):
· Odyssey Audio Khartago Stereo Amp - $995
· Don Sachs SP-14 pre (no phono capability) or Van Alstine Fet Valve CF preamp (optional phono section can be added to AVA later) - $2,000
· Tekton Design Lore Speakers (go down to 30 Hz … check out reviews, feedback, and testimonials) $1,000
· Oppo 105 (used, with bargains available due to new product UHD intro) - $900 to $1,000
For cabling, stay low budget, bang-for-the-buck: Blue Jeans and/or Signal Cable for I/C’s and speaker wire; Pangea for power cords.
Well, that’s my story, and I’m stickin’ with it.
Used ,and again used !
I would get a quality intergrated for sure, it"s the way to go . jmho Used speakers and power from a solid member here . I would probly go new on digital myself.(although i have a used bel canto dac i bought here and love) and eventually definately used on cables and cords.
I can name a bunch of stuff i would buy but thats something you will need to decide.Spend some time here on the forum researching things and opinions,go listen to some gear.
I am into much of the same music myself, spend the bucks on speakers ,( used subs come around often ) The sub can be a great addition to most sytems when done right ,usually two .But can easily be added later when you have say 4-1k to spend imo ,Then power , I would be spending atleast half on used speakers.Names like Acoustic zen,Proac,Vandy,Fritz and zu come to mind. Then probly 1-2k on used power again bought here from a solid member. I would then spend the rest on a new solid digital setup possibly a nicer used setup .Wait awhile then start to play with used cables every setup is different ..
Best of luck, but hang on this auudiophile thang gets addicting .
Because of the type of music you say you like to listen to, I thought I'd recommend something that is well suited to it, and offer something a little different from what others have suggested. It's hard to beat the Oppo for digital in its price range. But to my ear jazz and fusion are at their best when being played through at least a few tubes. An all tube system might be more than you want to deal with, but the Pathos Twin Tower is a hybrid amp using only a pair of 12AX7s in the driver stage; they're easy to find, affordable, and nothing really happens to them. It's also built like a tank (65lbs) and it looks great too (high WAF). But most importantly, it's a stunningly good sounding amp. Because it puts out 30 watts a side, it's best to pair it with a speaker with a high sensitivity rating. The Vandies should work, but in case you'd like another option, so will the Tekton Pendragon: http://hometheaterreview.com/tekton-design-pendragon-floorstanding-loudspeaker-reviewed/
"There seems to be a consensus here regarding integrated. Perhaps I had mistakenly assumed that a separate amp and pre would be preferable.
It's never that simple. People give different answers for completely different reasons. Unless you know the person who is giving you a recommendation, you really don't know why. Most of the time a recommendation is given by someone based on their own personal experience. "I like it, therefore you will too.", is the logic behind it. Its usually an honest approach, but it may not be worth much due to lack of experience with other types of gear, or just tastes that don't match up with yours. Another person may have some type of ax to grind. You see this a lot with cables. People that have strong views against cables in some way either got burned, made some poor choices, has it in their head that cables can't make a difference, the review said xyz, and any other number of negative reasons. The problem with this type of person is that their view may, or may not be realistic. Since were talking about cables, its probably a good time to deal with the term Snake Oil. Its a relative term that's used most of the time to classify cables. If someone tries a cable, or any other audio product, and it doesn't live up to expectations, they label it snake oil. At first that seems reasonable and they may be right, but the real question you need to ask is, "is that person qualified to label something snake oil?". That's a real problem, because if doesn't know what they are doing, it may not be fair to call it snake oil. Give the same exact product to someone else and they may get great results with it. Is it fair to label it snake oil fair? Anyway, since you're looking for advice, here's my take on cables. There's no question whatsoever that cables sound different and can make a difference. That said, its not a beginners task to start picking through different speaker cables and IC's. Your listening skills build over time and you shouldn't buy expensive cables without having the skills to verify their worth. You can walk into any Best Buy and get some entry level AudioQuest cables that don't cost a lot of money, but work very well. You get cables like that to start with. If you buy expensive cables because a review, or anyone else just told you to, that's foolish. If they don't make a difference, you've got no one but yourself to blame.
If you'll notice up to this point, I haven't made any specific recommendations on equipment. The reason for that is I don't have any idea as to what you like, or don't like. You can have 2 very good components sound very different from each other. In a situation like that, it comes down to personal preference. I don't know you well enough to make any specific recommendations except for 1. You brought up Vandersteen 1's, and I talked a little about them in my last post. That's a good speaker to start with. The reason is that Vandersteen makes very transparent speakers. What I mean by that is they impose very little sound of their own on the music. A transparent speaker makes it very easy to hear what the other components in the system are contributing to the overall sound. That's why its such a safe pick. If you don't like the sound of your system, you'll almost never have to get rid of the speakers. You just change the offending component(s). The Model 1's are also very easy to drive and they're time and phase correct.
You’ve received some very good recommendations and you can’t go wrong with either Vandersteen or Oppo. Given your room size and musical taste I would offer the following combination as a option.
1 Marantz SA 8004/8005 CD player, Well engineered (good power supply and analog output stage) very solidly built chassis and high quality sound. 1200K new.
2 Tekton Lore speaker, higher sensitivity and 8 ohm load (easy to drive) well designed. 1000K new.
3 Coincident Dynamo MK II amplifier, very well made and offers exceptional single ended sound quality. Can easily drive the Tekton Lore. 1500K new. This leaves money available for necessary cables. I believe that these combined components would provide a very lively, dynamic and organic presentation with beautiful tone and emotional involvement. Very good value purchased new and obviously more so if bought used.
I believe you are getting many recommendations for an integrated amp as opposed to separates because you have stated that you are new to audio and have a $5K budget. A high-end integrated provides good "bang for the buck" and allows a generous amount of your budget to be devoted to speakers and a digital source.
If you can find a used preamp and amp within your budget, then go for it. I prefer separates, but you'll need advice when matching the components. Due to different designs in electronics, certain criteria must be followed when mating a preamp, amp and speakers, such as voltage gain, impedance, current. Not to mention, sometimes a preamp doesn't mate well sonically with a particular amp.
Even the most experienced audiophiles experiment with matching components to find the right synergy.
There have been recommendations to add a subwoofer without knowing what speakers you will have and the size of your room.
The Vandersteen 1Ci are a starting point and you may need a subwoofer, but first you'll need to audition as many speakers as you can. And also make a decision on floorstanders or monitors.
BTW, what are the dimensions of your room?
"You got 5 grand to spend so don't let others do it for you."
I agree with paraneer. There is nothing wrong with asking for recommendations, however it would be best to narrow your focus first. This like asking, my budget is $, what car should I buy? Then before recommendations, questions should be asked. Soft ride or firm ride, more performance or better fuel mileage? Do you have any dealers within a reasonable distance to visit?
I would go ice based integrated 250 watt drives most any speaker choose your brand. So maybe $1750 for the integrated
Then 1.5k for some used floor standing speakers would probably do some Paradigm studio 100 or old bw or kef or a perfect condition Psb stratus gold i
And then drop a grand on a grace 901 dac and a decent dvd/br player. I think you could have an amazing system for 5k. My biggest advice is go older full range on the speakers and ice amp integrated for the amp! Good luck!!!
Oh yeah and blow a couple hundred bucks on some decent headphones
Akg 701 to go with that dac/head amp!
Seeing @charles1dad 's excellent recommendations triggered a thought about another single-ended triode possibility. Check out Decware's Model SE84UFO, which also has ability to drive the highly efficient Tekton Lore (98dB). At $995 new, pricing is the same as my earlier Odyssey Khartago solid state recommendation. Both companies offer 30-day auditions (except Decware has that pesky 10% "restocking" fee ... ugh). This offers the ability to hear which amp sounds best to you, using your music, and in your listening environment.
With that budget - for the money...
Best speakers (by far): Wavetouch Audio Grand Tetons or Anteros /or/ Spatial Audio M4 Turbo /or/ Maggie .7 / 1.7 / 1.6 / MMG
Best Amp: ClassDAudio SDS-470C /or/ Parasound A21
Preamp: Creek OBH-22 Passive Preamp /or/ other passive preamp with balanced connections
SACD: Sony SCD-XA5400ES
Cables: Anti-Cables - IC's / Speaker
You won't ever "look back."
It seems that once again I offer the road less traveled in my advice.
Hear at least three different genres of systems, i.e. dynamic or hybrid dynamic speakers, panel speakers, and higher efficiency speakers with lower powered amps. The components used should complement the speakers. Then decide which genre of speaker you like best.
Go to an audio show. You will learn more than from 200 posts here. The money you spend will be returned in the quality of the selections you make as an informed listener to products. It could save you the equivalent of years of searching/learning and put you in touch with products you never would hear otherwise. I consider it the single most important move for someone who wants to get serious about sound. Do a bunch of reading and have your show agenda worked out to hear as much affordable gear as you can. The cost seems disproportionate to the benefit in terms of dollars spent on gear, but the learning curve is steepened and changes the trajectory of your experience. Priceless!
Definitely do NOT simply buy a recommended system here, unless you like gambling with your audio money. It is not a bad idea to buy a system you love the sound of from a show. You may be able to carry some of it home with you to save shipping. If you have a big enough vehicle you may pack the entire thing after the last day of the show. THAT's how you make the best of being a novice as you move into audio. I was ignorant of how such things worked, and there were not many shows when I started in years ago, but if I were in your shoes that is likely how I would get a first system now.
I am not interested in debating any of my recommendations.
+1 for @charles1dad
+1 for @strateahed
entry level Pro Dynamics could be an optional choice to combine with the above reference Coincident Dynamo MK II amplifier.
Magnepan .7 or 1.7 could be an optional choice for the Odyssey Khartago
Begin with the speakers. As several posts have commented, approximately 50% of the money for speakers would not be unusual. Audio shows are a good place to hear many possibilities; but personally, I find audio shows to be fatiguing. And I think that it is important to listen to speakers more than once. Ultimately you will have to either buy on-line or from a brick and mortar store. If at all possible, try to negotiate an in-home audition; in my experience, speakers often sound very different at home than in a store or show - sometimes better and sometimes worse.
There is a lot of good advice here. I didn't read anything that would be really bad advice. However, there are a couple of key considerations in your case. This is your first serious system, and you are working with a fairly low budget. Therefore, I suggest that you look to the future. In other words, this won't be your final, maybe not even a long term, system. I would try to get one or two components out of this that will serve you well for years to come. The other thing I have noted is that you are going to be using a small bedroom. In view of that later consideration, I would avoid speakers that go much below about 40Hz. Speakers that go low can be very difficult to integrate into a small room. You can have really good speakers sound really bad in a room like yours because of too much ringing in the low frequencies. You may also want to eliminate speakers that need a lot of space between them and room boundaries. Given this, I would probably forget about panel (dipole) speakers. There are some good relatively inexpensive monitors that might work very nicely in your room. It is important to hear speakers before buying. If there are some good salons within driving distance, spend some time finding a speaker that you like that will work well in your room. Try to negotiate an in home audition. Your speaker decision will dictate where you need to be looking with respect to an integrated amp. Some speakers like tubes, some almost demand solid state. The Coincident Dynamo mentioned by Charles is a superb value and can take you years down the road. But, you really are going to need a high efficiency (~92 to 94 dB) high impedance (8 Ohm) speaker. I use a dynamo in my second system. It is a really nice little amp. Both the Marantz 8005 and Sony HAPZ1 have been mentioned earlier. I haven't heard the Marantz, but I can tell you the Sony is superb. I had my Sony modded by Dan Wright, but it was a superb value at 2K before modification. Both the Sony and Marantz offer a serious upgrade path by sending them to ModWright down the road. There is no doubt, you can get a very nice little system for 5K. Just be mindful of the limitations imposed by your room, and you should be fine.
Here's a good speaker match for your small size room. It is also a component you can hang on to for years to come and upgrade around.
It is a little more then you probably want to spend but I think there is some price negotiation to be had here, since I feel the asking price is a little high. They have a sensitivity of 92dB, and a Impedance of 8 ohms, . That's much higher then almost all stand mounts and will match with the single ended and low power push pull amps mentioned above, although I would consider a Primaluna Prologue Premium integrated. I have listed a link to one for sale, where I think there is some room for negotiation. Down the road you can upgrade the sound quality of the PL with upgrades in tubes / fuses and a PC. It's obvious that you would have to spend probably another 1K above your budget, but since these components are available used, your getting a lot of value and sound quality for your money. Both the speaker and integrated are very well built. The Primaluna is all point to point wiring, ececpt for a board or two for auto bias and protection circuits.
There are many reviews on both the components listed below; I would highly encourage you to read them.
Note: you can get spikes for the Sound Anchor Stands through Sound Anchor (husband and wife team)
Note: They employ beryllium tweeters.
As far as sources, the Marantz and Oppo players outlined in above post would be very good choices for around 1k
Reference 3A MM Decapo BE (with sound Anchor Stands) = $2,400.00
Primaluna Prologue Premium Integrated = $1,850.00
Clearday silver biwire cables (new) = $350.00
Reasonably good interconnect on used market used = $300.00
New Marantz SA 8004/8005 or New Oppo 105 Multi CD player = approx. $1,100.00
Not trying to debate @douglas_schroeder audio show recommendation, as that is indeed a great opportunity to get firsthand experience with a lot of different systems and approaches. However, with a few notable exceptions, I've heard/seen very little that can be had for a lower budget: Van Alstine components (paired with $9K Salk speakers), Odyssey Audio, and Fritz speakers come to mind. That was pretty much it. At the last show I attended, there weren't any other speakers on hand for around $2K or less besides Fritz ... none that I can think of right now. So besides the aforementioned companies, what shows are out there that feature lower priced quality audio products?
It appears that the average audio show system price is easily north of $20-$25K, with some in the $100's of thousands. My system was put together from online research, studying, and auditioning gear in my own home. There was a fair amount of trial and error, shipping back and forth, buying and re-selling (used gear ... sometimes for a loss); but eventually I got there. My recommendations represent a kind of "if I knew then what I know now" approach.
So, what's the point? I almost dreaded going to that first audio show. Actually I was worried that - given the somewhat addictive nature of this hobby - I might leave and feel like taking out a 2nd mortgage once I got home. My actual experience was the opposite of what I expected. Maybe it's just me, but a lot of what I heard at those shows (and from some very high-end, high dollar systems) sounded like exceptional "hi-fi". Very little sounded like music. Following a few such experiences, I became more satisfied with my own rig. Go figure.
Note: I too, will not comment further the merits of audio shows. This is just an account of my personal experience. If someone else wants to weigh in, great ... but that's it for me.
"Note: I too, will not comment further the merits of audio shows. This is just an account of my personal experience. If someone else wants to weigh in, great ... but that's it for me. "
I understand what you're saying, but you can still get a lot out of a show regardless. First, you can never listen to too much gear, especially if you're new. That's good listening experience, and you'll use it moving forward. Second, most companies offer a range of components at different price points. For example, if you're really impressed with a 5k speaker you hear at a show, there's a good chance the company will offer less expensive models that you can demo at a dealer.
The April Music Aura V2 represents very high value being an all in one CD receiver. It has a 125/250 wpc amplifier, FM tuner, CD player, headphone amp, USB & optical digital inputs and Bluetooth connectivity. You can later add an outboard phono preamp and run it into the analog aux input. The MSRP is $2,500. It has a number of positive reviews in Stereophile, 6 Moons, Stereotimes and Soundstage. The Aura should be easy to match with any number of loudspeakers. That said, finding a loudspeaker that will truly shine in your listening room should be your first priority. Give serious consideration the manufacturer's recommended loudspeaker placement guidelines. If what they recommend cannot be accomplished in your room, you should remove that loudspeaker from your list.
Note: I too, will not comment further the merits of audio shows. This is just an account of my personal experience. If someone else wants to weigh in, great ... but that's it for me.Sorry, but attending a show is a great way to start learning about gear, and ultimately the best gear for a buyer, rather than asking a bunch of strangers on the internet for suggestions. Especially if there are no dealers in one's area to visit. I believe this was the point of Douglas' post. It sure was mine.
Sure the manufacturers will often showcase their best TOTL gear but very often there is also trickle down technology that goes into their lower priced offerings. Especially speakers as most manufacturers will build all models in a range to attain a certain house sound. Its also a way of becoming familiar with brands that would otherwise go unnoticed. Then go home and research these brands to find models best for you and your budget. Use the show as a learning experience, not a shopping trip. Unless of course a great deal falls you way that meets both your listening expectation and budget.
My 1st suggestion is to purchase a copy of "The Complete Guide to High End Audio" by Robert Harley. Begin with reading the first couple chapters.
Have you heard the Vandersteen 1Ci speakers? I agree they are a good candidate for your proposed system, however you won't know without a listen. Regarding audio shows or dealer demo, I believe one should use then to get a better feeling for what sound qualities one prefers in a speaker than which pair to buy. This is especially true for one new to audio.
At your budget, and you can put together a very nice system. I agree that you should search for speakers that are at least of moderate sensitivity, 88dB and 8 ohm, therefore not needing excessive power. However I don't agree that it is necessary to spend half your budget on speakers. SPeakers have much to say about the character of a system, however the quality is determined by the balance of all components.
I also believe you should purchase an integrated amplifier. There are many of recent vintage that would serve your budget. I would look for a used, however not too old one in the $1000- $1500 range. Are you willing to purchase used?
Regarding the digital source, do you have a collection of CDs? Are you looking to stream audio off internet radio?
Yes, I have provided more questions than answers, however to best help we need to know.
Take your time with this and I am sure you will be end up with a high quality system.
It seems to me that the OP wants to get a good system without having to go through the somewhat lengthy process of educating oneself in audio. And I can sympathize with the reluctance. After all, look at the diverging opinions in this thread alone. Perhaps the OP is pretty busy too, it surely happens.
I'll add my disagreement and say that I think that 5k is a serious chunk of change to spend on a first system. Also, the room is cozy and not huge, which dictates things somewhat.
One other item is that the OP will have preferences in regards to sound that he apparently does not know about yet. So, step one should be the speakers, and with music one is familiar with. Audition the Vandersteens mentioned in post one. Compare them with others to get an idea of what sounds best.
I'm not convinced that the Vandersteens would be the best speaker for the types of music the OP prefers.
Audionoobie - another option (as opposed to a high end audio show) is a mini vacation to a major city such as NYC. Within 50 miles there are multiple dealers representing a wide variety of brands. You can visit their listening rooms where, chances are, you can see gear in your price range and hear them in a more optimal listening environment. Pair this with some tourism and a few top restaurants and you will have a pretty good time (I took my own advice last summer).
Lots and Lots of advice. I did not read it all but I would say start with older components. There are so many great speakers that were considered very good 7-10 years ago that you can find. Aerial 10Ts, B&Ws, Kef 105s, Kef 104s, Alons, and Vandersteens, etc. They are great for your type of music. There are a ton of amp options that will give you great sound, from NAD, Rotel, (too many to name) on up, I would find one of these amps that can power the speakers you settle on. Spend money on the source. IMO this is the key to getting the best sound. You want a 10 sound you need a 10 source not the other way around. Consider SS preamp or tube preamps (Counterpoint, ARC, CJ) depending on what you prefer. There are so many good preamps in either camp that you can find used. This will keep you within budget and you can swap out buy/sell without money issues as you move forward. I have a friend who goes to estate sales. He finds older gear at CHEAP prices. For example B&W DM2 speakers for $40/pair, KEF 105s for $50 pair. Hard to beat the sound of these for the price. Happy Listening.
I've been following all of the posts in this thread. Thank you so much to everyone that contributed. I wasn't looking for anyone to do the work for me as a couple posters indicated. I just wanted a few brands that I could stick a pin in and say, "yes, I'm familiar with that brand."
Being that I live in New Jersey it seems there are ample show rooms to begin checking out some gear. I plan on starting with Audio Connection in Verona, NJ within the next couple of weeks.
Again, thanks to all for your valuable opinions and advice. I'll post back once I've had a chance to demo a few systems!