One step at a time. Pick your speakers, then pick your amp. Tell us what speakers you would like to use and give us the spec's (for those of us too lazy to look them up) and you'll get some specific recommendations.....Oh, also give us some price points you can live with.
Good suggestion. I would also add that you could provide us with the following:
1. Your budget in dollars
2. New, used or either
3. Type of room and size of room
4. Type of music you prefer
5. 2-channel only, combo music and HT
6. speakers-floorstanding or monitor/bookshelf
7. Amp-solid state or tube
8. Source component-what will you use for source, i.e. CD
Knowing these things will assist in providing an answer. There are lots of considerations. For instance, if you buy relatively high efficiency speakers, you can use a much lower powered amp. Heck, in a smallish room a 2-3 watt per channel amp will drive a high efficency speaker to loud levels. I know, I'm doing it right now!
For the price of an HT receiver and speakers at Best Buy or Circuit City, you can have a great sounding 2-channel system.
For someone without experience assembling a reasonable priced system, consider the pre-matched components from Odyssey Audio, which I heard at the NY Stereophile Show.
Klaus Bunge who works out of Indianopolis, Indiana, has all the experience required to distill his various systems down to remarkable modest pricepoints, relative to the genuinely high end performance. In addition, he has the true European accent, accompanied by real audio sophistication, minus any pretentiousness.
For example, an Etesian preamp, Khartago amp, Epiphony speakers (not a typo), and Groneberg interconnect, and loudspeaker cables, all together sell direct for $1500.
One has to provide a source, like the CDP, or record player, at additional cost. Even this starter system is miles ahead of many a medium priced set-up, even if you could manage to buy the components, all at once, to get started listening now.
There is even a money back guarantee, but packing up, and shipping back should not be a concern, judging by what I listened to in his Show demo room.
His website is www.odysseyaudio.com, although he is physically still in NYC at the Show.
If you have the personal asistance of fellow audiophiles, and can buy the best deals on Audiogon, and receive each item in fine condition, then there may be better to be had, but, for beginners, there is no easier way than to go with Odyssey.
It's a thought.
OK, here's some answers to your questions. I waited a while because I thought I might have a set of speakers, but that sale fell through so I am starting from scratch again.
1. My budget... as little as possible, as much as it takes. I'm sure you've heard that before, but basically I'd like to spend around 1500-2k for the amp and the same for the speakers. However, if it is worth it I'm willing to throw in 2 more thousand for excellent speakers. So, in total, on the low side it would be great to spend about 3-5k, but I'm willing to go up to $7000 or maybe even 8 if I'm convinced it's worth it.
2. I usually lean towards new, but I am open to buying used as I have heard that used high end audio stuff is usually in pretty good condition. One of my problems is that I've recently moved to the Charlotte, NC area and I don't nkow of any high end audio dealers around here, so I may be limited to having something shipped.
3. The room is about 16x13.5. It will be also used for a home theater, but I don't want to sacrifice stereo sound quality for that fact. It has wood floors and two windows, and my listening position will have my front and back facing the long way of the room.
4. As I mentioned, I've been on a classic rock kick lately. However, I do have a medium sized classical library that should sound good, along with some blues, funk, metal, newer alternative type stuff, and various strange CDs that don't really fit a category.
5. I will be in a home theater, so if the speakers can be used for the front channel of my 5.1 sytem, that would be great. However, I don't want to compromise my stereo sound for that - I will retain seperate speakers for theater if it is necessary. My home theater system is why I am in this boat (I think it sounds like garbage for music).
6. Floorstanding or bookshelf - I've gone back and forth on this several times. At this point I think I would like to go for nice bookshelf speakers, this way I could use them for my home theater and eventually upgrade to more expensive floorstanding and move these to the rear channels. That's my theory but I don't know if it holds water.
7. Solid state or tube - no idea.
8. OK, this one may get me some flames. Basically I have been spoiled with my CD changer. I can't bear to going back to storing all my CDs in jewel cases or otherwise, and I don't have a vinyl collection, so I'm hoping to stick with my SONY CDP-CX90ES CD changer. I also plan to daisy chain up two more changers off that one (you can control them all from it). If you guys tell me that this plan is complete crap I may change my mind, but the convienience for me is soo great I'm hoping it won't be too bad.
That's it. I spent some time looking at the Odyssey web site and it looks interesting, so I may give them a call. Any suggestions or advice is very welcome. If you think I should just go away and find speakers then come back and ask about amps that's fine too - I'm having a little trouble getting started and all this time with no music (because I moved and haven't set anything up yet) is making me batty and I'm afraid I may just run out and buy something rashly.
A gut reaction - you have a realistic view of the cost of getting good speakers and matching amp, but the sound and appearance of speakers is sooooo personal. I would suggest that you get your best speakers 1st and plan to leave them in place. I can't think of a single reason that your 1st speakers can't serve in HT or 2 channel, unless you want bass boom for HT (personally I'll pass). Get your less expensive back channels later. I would also pass on bookshelve/monitor types as your first speakers if you can accomodate flooorstanders as you will be buying an amp which works best with those speakers - its usually easier to drive monitors than full range speakers. I would also suggest that you budget a reasonable sum for a quality CDP - you know the saw about garbage in, garbage out. You can continue to use your Sony but when you really want quality sound you just hit the imput switch. I don't know what lines are available for auditioning in your general area - I would suggest that you check that out and feed back. At least we would have some idea of where to start to help you. If you can get out and look at some and give them a listen, all the better.
My suggestion to you outside the basics is to consider what characteristics of music you really prize. What is it you are really missing now that has driven you to improve your system? an inventory of sorts of what you want to achieve will assist you locate the right speaker, even if it isnt nice! Then, too, look at your living situation. You may like a certain speaker, but that is no assurance they will like their new envionment! Look at the suggestions of people who have owned the speaker in question. Some speakers that are unbelievably capable-a real dream come true, can be a nightmare with the wrong placement. Others are not fussy at all.
My suggestion would be that you make your speaker selection first, as that's the most important choice, and will dictate the direction of your amplifier choice. Once you've chosen speakers, you'll know how much power you need, and whether you need a high current amp, or maybe a tube amp. At that point you'll be able to look for an amp that synergizes particularly well with your speakers.
Being a dealer I have all sorts of ideas on how you should spend your money, but unfortunately they all involve tradeoffs. The audiophile journey is one of discovering what elements take us deeper into the musical experience, and what areas we can accept compromises in - and it's an individual thing. I may be very tolerant of poor imaging, but very intolerant of boxy colorations - and you may be just the opposite.
Since you don't have access to dealers where you can go and listen at length, I'm going to play "20 questions" with you (well, almost). Here are eighteen speaker characteristics that may or may not be important to you - make any comments you like as to which ones matter. You don't have to comment on all of them (or any of them!). I'm just trying to get a feel for what your priorities are. Of course you want it all (we all do), but note that some of these characteristics are mutually exclusive, so tradeoffs are inevitable.
1. Timbre (the natural sound of voices and instruments).
2. Clarity & nuance (you can hear all the details).
3. Dynamic contrast (impact and liveliness).
4. Superb soundstaging for a single listener.
5. Good soundstaging over a wide listening area.
6. Natural-sounding bass.
7. Extreme deep bass extension.
8. Unobtrusive size and/or visual appeal.
9. Sounds great at low volumes.
10. Sounds great at medium volumes.
11. Sounds great at high volumes.
12. Forgiving of less-than-ideal recordings and sources.
13. Ruthlessly accurate and revealing.
14. Freedom from little colorations that remind you you're listening to boxes, not live music.
15. Works well in less-than-optimum room or location.
16. Non-fatiguing over long listening sessions.
17. Recreates the immediacy of a good jazz club.
18. Recreates the lushness of a good symphony concert hall.
Also, add any other characteristics that are especially important to you, and any other considerations you'd want to take into account. We'll try to come up with suggestions that will at least be in the ballpark.
The Quest is half the fun. Thanks for including us in yours!
It's hard to come up with a response with such good advise.
Definatly audition all the speakers you can. Remember one thing that you are listening to a whole system the speakers the electronics and the cables. Be prepared to go with the whole system you listen to, to select the speakers you want or you may be doing alot of experimenting when you get your speakers home. Which by the way is the fun part.
At your price point make sure your dealer will let you audition your electronics at home with your speakers. Some integrated amps have a pre bypass switch so you can take the front out of your HT setup and use the integrated as a amp only for the front.
Rember to take the system as a whole.
I will say that I think I've convinced myself to go with floorstanding speakers it's what I initially wanted anyway). Also, much of this may be moot since my purchasing options around this area seem to be limited. That said, I'll play 20 questions :) Much of this is stuff I haven't even thought about, so it should help me just to rate these things. Rather than write a huge book, I'm going to rate each item on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being high)
1. Timbre (the natural sound of voices and instruments). This is important, I'll give it a 7.
2. Clarity & nuance (you can hear all the details). This is very important, I'll give it a 9.
3. Dynamic contrast (impact and liveliness). I'm not sure about this one... I'm going to leave it alone.
4. Superb soundstaging for a single listener. I'd rather it appeal to more than one specific location in the room, I'll give this a 3.
5. Good soundstaging over a wide listening area. This is what I'd like, although the room is not so large, I'll give this a 7.
6. Natural-sounding bass. Medium importance, I'll give it a 5.
7. Extreme deep bass extension. This is not super important to me, I'l give it a 4.
8. Unobtrusive size and/or visual appeal. This used to be very important, but now that I've decided to put these speakers in the same room as my HT, I'll put this as a 2.
9. Sounds great at low volumes. I'm not sure if my ratings for these three will be mutually exclusive, but I do want it to sound good when it is on low, I'll give this a 6.
10. Sounds great at medium volumes. A 4.
11. Sounds great at high volumes. Imoprtant, but not as important as number 9, I'll give it a 5. Actually, I want it to sound great all the time! :)
12. Forgiving of less-than-ideal recordings and sources. This may be somewhat important to me because my source probably won't be up to snuff, at least at first. I'll give this a 7.
13. Ruthlessly accurate and revealing. Not that important, a 3.
14. Freedom from little colorations that remind you you're listening to boxes, not live music. This is important, I'll give this an 8.
15. Works well in less-than-optimum room or location. Hopefully my room will be ok enough, but I dont want this stuff to sound like junk if I ever move it - I'll give it a 5.
16. Non-fatiguing over long listening sessions. That would be bad! I'll give this a 7.
17. Recreates the immediacy of a good jazz club. I love this effect, I'll give it a 9.
18. Recreates the lushness of a good symphony concert hall. Nice to have, but not as important as seventeen, I'll say a 6.
The only thing I'd like to add is that a big consideration for me is availability. I welcome talk or suggestions about the perfect system for me, but if the only dealer is in Texas and they don't do internet orders, it probably won't be that useful (except for the interesting reading), unless you think there's a chance I can pick it up used somewhere.
Thanks again for any discussion or advice.
You mentioned Odyssey and that is a great way to go. I'm one of many happy Odyssey owners. Klaus is a great guy to deal with. If you haven't called him I'd do so. He won't steer you wrong or recommend products that won't fit your needs. He has a complete system set-up that he's selling as a package deal. One for $1500 and one for $4500. Stereophile just gave him a good review at the recent HE2004 show http://www.stereophile.com/news/0523he2004d3/ .
Also if you haven't been to this Odyssey forum you can get a ton of information from current users. http://www.audiocircle.com/circles/viewforum.php?f=10 . I spent a couple days reading through everything and finally took the plunge.
Best of luck and keep us posted.
Ok I will be the first to take the plung. (Pete be warned mentioning the following speakers in certain circles is taboo)
For floor standers I would go one of two routes first a used pair of B&W CDM9NT's ($2600.00 new, they are discontinued) with an execelent pair of speaker cables. I think they are capable of giving you what you are looking for at a modest price. For your room size they are not a large floor stander and provide good imaging for the front on HT from various sitting positions. They are execelent in the highs and mids when mated with the right electronics. They only have 6" base drivers so the punch of the sub base is somewhat lacking. They are very detailed and netural in other words what you put in is what you will get out. Some would say they are a little forward in the mids.
The second is the B&W Nautilus 803 ($5000.00 new) The only thing I can say is give them a listen. My experience is limited to B&W, DynAudio and Sonus Faber.
Thanks for the suggestions. I actually did call Klaus today and he was very informative and helpful. He has given me something serious to think about, especially with the full money back guarantee.
The McIntosh line of amps is tremendous and has something for everyone.They have quality standards far above most others. The newer amps have the autoformer technology.No matter what the input impedance is for the speakers, the amp will automatically adjust.I am a happy McIntosh owner for 10 plus years.
Thanks for taking the time to play twenty questions!
Okay, it looks to me like your highest loudspeaker priorities are (more or less in order): Clarity and nuance; presentation reminiscent of a good jazz club; freedom from boxiness & colorations; naturalness of timbre; non-fatiguing; wide sweet spot; and forgiving.
The Newform Research R645's come to mind. They do most of the things you place a high priority on, but are not the most forgiving speaker out there. Usually some tweaking and modification is required, but there's an extensive network of R645 owners out there.
The Oskar Heil Kithara also comes to mind. Great clarity and presence, very open, but a little bit "wooley" and boxy in the bass. The lower priced Aulos isn't in the same league, nor (I presume) is the Syrinx.
The Sound Lab Dynastat (which I sell) is pushing it price-wise, but is an easy speaker to drive for an electrostat (reducing the hidden amplifier cost). Nice wide sweet spot (on recent models) with excellent clarity, but a bit more laid-back presentation than what I associate with jazz clubs. Earlier models didn't have as wide a sweet spot. The woofer box is the weak link, but fortunately the crossover frequency is fairly low.
Finally, the Maggie 3.6 is an exceptionally non-fatiguing speaker with very low coloration and a forgiving voicing. Not as wide a sweet spot as the others, very demanding of associated amplification, a bit on the laid-back side, and doesn't really come to life at low volume levels. But that total freedom from boxiness sure is addictive.
In looking back over this list, I realize that with the exception of the Newforms, these are going to be above your initial budget if you buy them new. And unfortunately I couldn't come up with any speaker that that "does it all". I think the Dynastat and Kithara have the best clarity and nuance as well as the widest sweet spot but the Kithara's tonal balance is less distance-dependent; the Newform has the most lively jazz-club-like presentation (but the Kithara is pretty close); the Maggie 3.6 has the lowest coloration and is the most forgiving; and I'd have a hard time picking the most natural timbre between the Maggie, Dynastat, and Kithara.
Best of luck to you,