Need Help Starting from Scratch

Hi Everyone,
I've been reading as much as I can and thought I could use more input from people in which direction to head and less of this is better than that. I have no components at the moment other than my PC which outputs digital. I think I might need a DAC.

I have a small living room in my apartment which will be my primary listening area. It's about 12x12. I'm looking for a 2 channel setup. This will be just for music. My budget is 1000 to tops of 2000(if it really gets me that much more. Used/old is great). I don't know what route to go(integrated amp--> speakers vs pre-amp to amp to speakers). I'm by no means an audiophile but I really enjoy music and my current logitech 5.1 speakers aren't cutting it. I listen to mostly rock of sorts and do love finding a good female vocal.

I guess where i'm lost also is what components I really need. I.e. computer outputs digital so I hook that up to a DAC to pre-amp to amp to speakers? I also don't understand how I can make sure every component will work together. Would a receiver make it that much easier? I'm concerned about the sound of a receiver for music. Thoughts/comments are much appreciated. Thanks
There is a great deal on the Pioneer website for a nice 2 channel receiver SX-A6-J for $280 instead of $500. The matching SACD players appear to not be available anymore. I have the SACD player and have been very impressed with the product. If I were in the market for a 2 channel receiver I'd strong consider this as an option. The main downside is that it doesn't have a subwoofer pre-out, it's intended for pure 2 channel listening.

I'm a big fan of Focal (very efficient) speakers and really enjoy listening to my father-in-laws 706v bookshelf speakers. I think they would be a great match for the Elite reciever. Paradigm (very efficient) and Monitor Audio also have some great products as many other companies that others will mention.

I think that a monitor/bookshelf speaker can sound great as long as your music choices are not bass heavy. If they are look for a floorstandig model or consider a subwoofer.

I know nothing about DACs beyond what their function is so I can't say anything about them one way or the other.

I'd recommend taking a day to visit a few local stores, if they exist, to listen to different speakers to see what you like. When I took my father-in-law shopping we visited three stores and listened to everything that was visually pleasing for the WAF and was in the budget.
there are, of course, lots of ways to go, all of which have their virtues. however, if i were starting from scratch within your budget, i'd look to acquire a few high quality "keeper" pieces,as opposed to merely serviceable starter-level stuff; you can always augment later. thus, i might start with von schweikert vr1 monitors (genuinely great and often listed here around $500 used) and an integrated w/dac such as peachtree decco or music hall mambo (around $500 used); i'll assume that initially you'll use your pc as your source, though you can easily add an inexpensive cd transport. a few more bucks for digital cables and speaker wire (e.g. blue jean, monoprice) and you'll have a very fine system.
Wow did Loomis hit it right on!
I'd be happy for a long time with that set-up. I think you'll end up spending a little more for the integrated though.
The only reason for a receiver is if you want radio-most good stations stream anyway.
Starting from scratch is the perfect time to consider active speakers -- the speakers have the amplifiers builtin. No need for other boxes.

I use these KRK VXT6 in my office system. Tremendous bang for the buck. For a living room setup, I'd consider the larger VXT8s.

Combine these with a DAC that has a volume control or consider this monitor controller: JBL MSC1. Of course, you could use the JBL LSR2300 speakers as well instead of the KRKs. I use JBL LSR4300 speakers in my main system.

B&H Photo is an excellent source for active speakers.

I second the Blue Jeans cable suggestion for all cabling.
OK - it looks like a computer is your preferred source. You'll definitely need a DAC. What type of digital out does your computer provide (coax SPDF, optical, USB, firewire)? You'll want to choose a DAC that makes optimal use of your computer out. The first two output formats are easier to get "right" than USB, but USB can be excellent when done right. To get good USB output, you want to choose an "asynchronous" DAC, which range in price from $350 (Music Streamer 2+) to thousands, or get an asynchronous USB/SPDF converter (e.g. Empirical Audio Offramp, likely outside of your budget). If your computer outputs either of the first two formats listed, you can choose from many standard non-USB DACs.

I think you should limit yourself to the following setup choices:

Computer -> DAC -> integrated amp -> speakers

Computer -> DAC -> powered speakers (with volume control)

Computer -> DAC/Preamp -> amp -> speakers

Computer -> DAC/Preamp -> powered speakers (V control not needed)

I personally wouldn't buy a receiver or integrated with an internal DAC, except for the Decco mentioned above, but that doesn't have a very good amplifier, so I wouldn't do that unless I wanted to add an external amp to that!

There are a few good DAC/Preamps out there. The Benchmark is one of them, but there are others. You want to choose one with a very good volume control.

I've heard good things about that Music Streamer 2+, and would be tempted to get that plus a conventional integrated and speakers, or the Benchmark plus a warm sounding amp and speakers (I think the Benchmark, especially in earlier version, could sound a bit analytical).
Thanks everyone. I will look into the suggested products. I was a bit apprehensive about active speakers. I would think that a separate piece of equipment would do it better and give me more upgrading room later down the line.

Loomis- those speakers look really nice and so does that integrated amp. I was actually looking at some DAC's by scott nixon.

I did look at a receiver but I didn't want the extra features. My computer handles radio and such so I really wanted to focus more of the amp/speakers.

Thanks for everyone's input. Helps with my searching. I really need to go to a local shop and listen to some speakers but I want to make sure i'm not missing out on anything else in that price range that may be better.
Definitely audition speakers yourself! That is the most important choice. Once you choose speakers that you like, you can seek advice on what amplifier mates best with those speakers, etc. Choose speakers that are appropriate to your room size (likely bookshelf size) and musical tastes (they should be able to rock, but have good midrange presentation). Then go from there. In my mind, there are some big bang/for/buck products, including the Odysey Stratos amplifier, maybe the Music Streamer, perhaps the Lightspeed Preamp (I've never heard it, but check out the agon thread), the ERA bookshelf speakers). Let us know what you come up with.
I think active speakers are a good option for you. It solves a huge problem, which is finding amplification that matches your speakers well. That can be tough. Active speakers have many advantages, and if you do some research, you might just go that way. For instance, the bass driver will use a class D amp, and the mid/tweeter will use class A/B, and they only get the signal they can play. Can't do that easily with passive speakers.

I think the iDecco is a great choice as it has a wonderful DAC, switchable tube preamp, and the digital iPod dock allows for pure digital to the DAC without the problems of noise and jitter from the PC. You can find them on here new for $800.

For active speakers, check out vanns dot com, and look at the Klipsch XF48. This is their $2,500 floor standing active speaker...and they are on sale for $800 a pair. Free shipping even. :-)

That's $1,600 for one hell of a system. You can always add a sub too if needed. Make your own Cat5 speaker cables, and get some decent power cables...lovely.

I'm going to use them for my winter system, running off a Roth MC4 tube iPod Dock. Get the warmth of tubes, and the integrated power of solid state. Last winter I used this with Mirage OMD-5 satellites and a Mirage Prestige S8 sub...sounded amazing.

Hope that helps some. :-)
You're getting some great advice so far from what I can tell.

The only potential advantage to the Elite Reciever would be that the cost might allow you to push more of the current budget towards other items and then you could upgrade to a better 2-channel amplifier at a later date. It does have a pure audio mode that shuts down the unnecessary circuitry (my CD player shuts all digital circuits off including the front panel display) so it's almost a 2 channel amplifier and I'd suspect that you'd be very happy with it's sound, maybe not.

It also depends on if you're thinking that this is your one chance to get your system or if you think it's the beginning of a journey. I recently replaced just about everything, but am not done for a long time when it comes to components.

I don't think you can go wrong with any of the other suggestions.
Those klipsch speakers are a complete steal. It may make me change my plans and go with active speakers. Which leads me to my next point

I do believe this is the start of my journey. With that being said, I would like to have something that I can be very happy with for a while. I want maybe one or two components that could possibly not be needed to upgrade. The active speakers leave me little option for that. I would have to sell those and get all new. Not necessarily a bad thing with those klipsch speakers. They may last for an extremely long time and should have a good resell value since I got them for so cheap. Which leads me to my next point

Ahhh decisions... Thanks for everyone's input though. I know have all the information to make a wise decision. Theres are many roads and now I just need to decide which would be best for me.
$700 on the speakers paired with a good Denon or Oryko receiver would be a good start. the receivers will have docks.
Look for a good integrated amp that is designed for 2 channel music that match the type of speakers that you end up liking after some audition time. Some receivers can be decent but there are a lot of integrated amps that really shine at the purpose they are designed for. Not knowing what your musical preferences are, it might be good to look at something like used maggies or martin logan that will have a very high performance/cost profile.
Here's my devils advocate question relating to the active Klipsch speakers. Your relying on Klipsch to not only build a quality speaker, but a quality amplifier. Would you consider purchasing a Klipsch amplifier for passive speakers? I don't know if Klipsch even makes amplifier, but I don't remember anyone ever recommending one on the forum. Obviously, the sale price is a significant factor, but considering retail pricing shouldn't one expect a better sound out of a $1,500 pair of speakers and a $1000 amplifier?
FWIW, very few manufacturers of active speakers build their own amps. There's little reason for them to do so.

You don't buy a subwoofer based on its amplifier; you buy it based on its performance as a system.

The "art" of amp design seems to be much more in play when designing general purpose amps that may have to handle any sort of bizarre load.

A valid reason for passing on active speakers is the desire to experiment with various amp/speaker combinations. I think this is valuable experience, but can get costly over time. A decade was enough for me. I can't imagine owning passive speakers (or floorstanding speakers) ever again.
Amp on Decco2 or iDecco (or even Nova) is not bad. More importantly, it works well with DAC, pre-amp, and "smooth" vs "sharp" filter. You do not have a big room, you will probably have enough power. And you do not need to worry about testing components together.

And if you want to upgrade to better amp in future, you can do that with peachtree product. It is MUCH better than receiver (I know I did head to head test a few week ago) and excellent support for computer source.

Output digital from computer to Decco, then wire to passive speaker.
Those klipsch speakers are a complete steal. It may make me change my plans and go with active speakers.

I am a KLIPSCH dealer and would suggest you tread lightly on those active speakers you have been pointed to.

They "are not" close to some of the other KLIPSCH models for 2 channel sound, and the "too good to be true" pricing is just that unless you just need some speakers for a Mid Fi Home theater.

Look at other models or even other brands, but unless you have actually heard these and liked them, they are not a good "starter" speaker for a budding audiophile. IMHO
Interesting...I've heard nothing but good things about them, and the reviews from owners are good. What is it that isn't good about them? I am looking at them for my winter system, running off a Roth MC4 iPod dock, or an iDecco. Have you had a chance to audition them?

"Too good to be true" pricing doesn't mean bad quality in this economy. I've bought several models of Mirage speakers from Vanns, including the OMD-28s, OMD-15, and OMD-5, and they are amazing speakers...and what I consider to be the best buy in audio currently. A lot of places are closing and these are surplus that is high quality at amazing prices.

Another path to take is the new model from ZU, "the Omen". On sale til Friday for a grand, and all it needs is a few watts. This allows you to get something now and upgrade in the future to bigger amps, etc. Just another idea. :-)
Honestly, I thought the Klipsch active speakers mentioned were a poor choice. Small drivers to fit a narrow cabinet, passive radiators to make up for the small drivers, lightweight cabinet (only 39 pounds including the amps; the KRK VXT8 monitor weighs in at 36 pounds).

The speaker seems to be targeting HT folks that don't want a subwoofer, but they'll be disappointed without one.

The measured response shown here: is not very pleasing.

Just about any PSB speaker paired with any NAD integrated amp would be a better investment.
It sounds like your objections aren't based on hearing them, but on numbers. Driver size, weight, and the response curve. None of which tell how it sounds in real life. If you read the review above the response curve...he talks about how good they sound with stereo recordings. I'm more concerned with that, than numbers and statistics.

I mean Gallo A'divas are small and light weight, yet produce tremendous detail, and beautiful music. Anyways, to each his own. :-)
Again, Thanks for everyone's input. I am set on the Decco2 integrated dac/amp. The Decco2 has the same dac as the nova(which everyone seems to rave about) and I really like the idea of having a tube amp. I believe the 40 watts is enough as it is a very small area and I don't need to blast my music. I really like everything the Decco2 has to offer as far as inputs and it's all integrated. If anyone has another all integrated solution (or separates for same price) please let me know.

For my speaker choice my father has a pair of Tyler Acoustic monitors I believe they are. He bought them 5 years ago and I believe they are monitors(leaning towards this as they would be pretty large bookshelf) or bookshelf speakers. I'm hoping it'll be a good combo. If not I can always give them back and try out some other speakers. According to Taylor's website most of his speakers require very little power so hopefully it'll work out. Worst case scenario I go out and buy an amp but at least i'll have more options.
Manoterror, you're correct that my comments are not based on hearing them. With literally 100s of speakers on the market, a few rules of thumb can help limit the number of choices. I know without hearing that it's impossible for small drivers to produce clean bass. I know without hearing that a lightweight speaker has a cabinet that is not braced and can sing its own tune. I know without hearing that a several dB variation in response is audible. So I know without hearing quite a bit about the real life performance of that speaker. Under the right conditions none of these limitations may present themselves while listening, but that doesn't mean they don't exist. The beauty of measurements and specs is that they tend to keep the marketing hype at bay and keep our listening honest. Just my opinion, of course.
@Stephenhdmrs: good choice man. You can not go wrong with that amp. I am getting the Nova myself. Enjoy man.

@Bob_reynolds: That is highly logical, and absolutely makes sense man. :-)
My exposures to Tylers have been very favorable. My exposure to the amplifier in the Decco (which is solid state, the preamp is tube) was just OK, nothing to really get excited about. If you're going to get a Decco, consider trying it with external amps to see what it can really do. Just my 2 cents.
The Decco/Nova is more than OK if your alternative is receiver. It is big step up from that.

The DAC/Preamp section is very good and, if you hear some problem with your system and decide amplifier section is the solution, you have lots of opportunity to upgrade that. But do not start playing with this until you have identified what you like or do not like.
I would go the opposite direction, and try to somehow borrow a better amplifier and hear what the system can do with it in the chain. If insignicant, great. If significant, try to find a really good deal on an amp to add to the system (cosmetically challenged amp, why not - who looks at a black box!).

Anyhow - good luck. You're assembly some high quality components, and you should be pretty set with your PC source.
Thanks guys! Luckily, the same man who is giving me the Taylor's has a Theta amp that i'm sure he'll let me borrow to see if it is something to pursue myself. I have read a lot about the Decco2 and most point to needing an amp. I'll try it without and see how it goes. Luckily I'll have a good reference amp.

Thanks for everyone's input. I'm amazed at the amount of responses I got. Hopefully I didn't upset anyone by not following their input. This works with my budget though and i'd at least like to see where it gets me as again, this is the beginning to my journey and I have lots of years left to fiddle.
stephen, please let us know your reactions when you have your gear set up