My frugal dream be merciless

I'm scrapping my HT. I'm newish to hi-fi stereo, and I'm really new to tubes. Past advice given to me by 'goners has been extremely useful, so I turn to you again, my friends, the weary audiophilic 'goners at work right now, and hopefully not too busy.

My current dream is somewhat of a heresy, I know, but hopefully some of you will know where I'm coming from.

I want a good looking system that sounds good, and costs me less than ohhh...let's say $2000-2500, not including a source. That's not a typo. I want a good looking system that sounds good and that costs less than a powercord. Is it doable?

The reason I'm interested in tubes is two-fold. I like the looks, and also I like the idea of a smooth, liquid mid-range. I like listening to late-night jazz and soft, beautiful vocals on my rig, and I think tubes are the way to go. If they're not, I'm willing to find out the hard way.

That said, I'll settle for a superb looking SS integrated. Phono-pre would be cool, but is not a requirement (same goes for a quality headphone out). I look at Consonance gear and weep at the beauty. Do they sound as good as they look? I hope so. Same with Pass labs X_50 series. Love 'em. Same goes for lots of other great looking gear out there that I've never heard. I want some ambience with my music. Again, I'm willing to consider SS amps as well, if there's something just tremendously good that I'm missing out on. If I go SS, though, I'll largely be doing it for good bass reproduction.

I have a rather large room, but I'm willing to move my stereo to a smaller room if need be.

Hopefully someone can recommend me a DAC that maybe isn't cutting edge anymore, but is certainly very good and affordable (to me, mind you).

I know I'm asking a lot, but with my student's budget, spending $2500 is a lot. A cubic ****load, to be exact.

If you have some time and so desire, I'm very interested in hearing opinions on this.

Thanks in advance, The Eternal Newbie

ps. I've really been considering GMA Europa speakers, the Eastern Electric Mini-Mas pre, and Consonance integrateds. Nothing is sacred with my picks, since I've heard none of them. I also understand that wanting audio gear to look good is probably like wanting a violin to double as a painting, but sometimes it can happen, I hope.

Now that I'm done asking for favors, I have to ask, who the hell is making some of this gear? Maybe I'm a lowly aesthete, but some of the equipment being sold for thousands of dollars looks like it was designed by wood-sprites or leprechauns or something. It's just too out there to be in my living room. Of course I have all the more respect for people that own and create this gear, because their priorities lie firmly planted in the auditory realm, which begs the question, is ugly gear some sort of badge of honor?
When I was visiting Atlanta over the Christmas break I had the opportunity to listen to a system that cost about what you want to spend!

Antique Sound Labs (ASL) 20W/ch power amp for $650
ASL passive transformer-based pre T1-DT $400
Cain & Cain Abbey - Lowther driver bases single-driver speaker. These are 99dB efficient $1500
Total cost $2550 excluding source.
We used a cheap Toshiba DVD player to play CDs & it sounded pretty damn good. Never asked about the model #. Sorry!

This was a really very good sounding system for a very modest price. Highly recommended!

Bombaywalla I need to take your advice and checkout that dealer in th ATL.I know I should have already done this. Next time your down this way give some of the fellas a holler. I would love to get together with some fellow audiophiles in this area and harass some of the ATL audio dealers.
Be glad to call on some of you when I'm visiting ATL again. I thought of doing this when I was there but I wasn't sure whether I would have gotten time to frolick.

In the mean time do check out Dave @ Earth Shaking Music.
Smooth, liquid midrange, late night jazz, and soft beautiful vocals? Who is this lovely lady? Except for the occasional boogie session, I'd say your criteria pretty well matches mine.

A good looking $2500 system may be tough, but I think Bombaywalla has offered up a pretty good rig.

I think a tube amp with a passive pre or an integrated might work for you. Last summer I compared four preamps two of them being passive - the ASL T1 DT and Luminous Audio AXIOM. I thought the AXIOM got out of the way much better than the ASL which in comparison sounded cloudy to me and the AXIOM is only $125!

How about a Luminous Audio AXIOM passive preamp mated to a $900[used] Rogue 88 tube amp? Ahh, but cool looking, eh? I'm not sure if you'll find the Rogue nice to look at. Personally I don't. But if you do, they make a nice tube integrated you might find used for around $1200.

Maybe you should check out the Unison Research stuff? They have a great integrated in the Unico which uses a hybrid tube input /SS output design. A nice classy box for about $1000 used.

I've owned the Simaudio Moon I-5 and Electrocompaniet ECI-3 integrateds. Both are very cool looking and around $1000-1500, but I don't think they'll give the liquid mids you're in search of.

I know they're just metal boxes similar to everyone else's but I think Anthem has sculpted their enclosures in a very classy way. You could probably find an Anthem Amp1 for around $500 and they also have an integrated too.

Although they appear a bit Spartan, Jolida makes fine, affordable equipment.

You have lot's of options my friend!

Then, you have speakers.

While I've never heard them, it seems the GMA Europas have a strong following, and they're cheap too! I'm a ProAc person, but the Europas are hard to pass up at their price.

Make sure you leave some room for interconnects and speaker cables, and possibly powercords. Going with an integrated would mean one less interconnect pair. Go cheap with cables for now. I'm sure you'll get good recommendations from other members regarding affordable cables. I'm a big fan of Acoustic Zen and Audience, so I'd look into their less expensive offerings. Virtual Dynamics entry level powercords such as the Basic and Power 3 are great cords.

Good luck and in no time you'll be enjoying the sensual cooing of a lovely voice late into the evening.
thanks for the recommendations, gents. I'm in the middle of pre-finals week, so I haven't had a chance to research your suggestions, but I forward to doing so tonight.
YBA Integra- 50 of the best SS watts you'll ever hear- $800
Revel M20s- they love a lot of juice ,but the Integra will do it. (especially if you're into jazz) $1200 with stands
Lat International power cords and ICs- brand spanking new. The best darn bang for the buck in cord-dom. Wonderful sound. You're at $2500 and ready for a cdp.
I'm a jazz man, and this did it for me. Go as deep as you can into your pockets for the cdp. This system will bring you tympanic happiness....
peace, warren
not sure how much the cost, but think it may be within your budget....check out Musical Fidelity's brand new X gear..CD player, integrated amp (solid state), and X Can 3 (headphone amp which may be uncessary for you).
Try the older Musical Fidelity, not the newer A3.2 stuff. M-F actually had a class A integrated about 5 years ago. Also the older X series was $699 new from Audio Advisor. As Hi-Fi Choice said of the older M-F stuff, M-F doesn't excite on first listen but it does go down very well over time.
A Manley Stingray integrated is also a good choice but I think was around $2,500 new. Manley is very highly regarded.
Thanks guys. To give an update of sorts I'm still planning on trying the Green Mountain Europa monitors. Also, I have a Melos SHA-1 headphone amp / pre-amp enroute. I picked the Melos because it's gotten very good reviews as a preamp, as well as excellent headamp reviews. It's also quite upgradeable, and was relatively affordable.

So now all I need is an amp. I've been eyeing the Belles 150a hot rod version. I'm also checking out the recommendations in this thread. Roy @ GMA recommends about 70 watts of tubed power for the Europas and about 120 watts for SS amps. The Belles hot rod seems to satisfy this criteria while remaining affordable and sounding good.

Cdc, I saw a MF a3cr amp for sale (non-integrated). Is that what you were referring to? If not, do you know anything of it? The power specs are certainly in the range that I'm looking for and it's comparably priced to the Belles 150a Hot Rod, as well. It looks like I can't really afford many tube options in the 70 w/channel range, so I guess SS it is.

WarrenH: You're recommending your old system if I recall correctly, right? I think I will get a pair of m20s one day for their design features alone. Gorgeous speakers, imvho.

Again, thanks everyone for your feedback. I look forward to a 'gon built system.
The Abby's use Fostex drivers and are advertised at 95db efficiency. I had a pair and would recommend them to anyone. They are fast and balanced with a midrange that will keep you smilling. They also look as good as they sound. If you need deep bass a subwoofer is needed.
Dubzilla, you recall correctly. Good memory you got there...warren
Dubzilla, Musical Fidelity A3 is an integrated that sold for about 1k new. Kevin Deal at Upscale Audio was selling them new for $800 when the A3.2 came out.
M-F is somewhat boring sounding as compared to, say, Krell which has some real kick to it. To be fair, most any tube system would too. They will not drive less-efficient speakers like the Revel M20's very well. Bass is somewhat slow and less rhythmic compared to the more expensive separates.
But for what you're looking for I think you will be happy. I am with mine. Could wish for a bit more excitement though.
Zen Se84CS SET, Hornshoppe loud speakers, cat-5 cables, add a decent source and you'll have a system that'll put many much more costly one's to shame. (