First, welcome to the hobby! You are right to pick the brains of those like myself who have learned the hard way.
An amplifier will upgrade all sources including the CD, so I would do it first.
Also, quality used CD players can often be had cheap on the used market. A new, low production CD player is not a good investment.
Consider a used older, name brand (like Conrad/johnson or Quad), 75-100 watt or so power amp, instead of the receiver. A two dollar volume control from Radio Shack will will outperform anything you can afford as a pre-amp. If you do not know anyone who can solder, get back here for instruction.
The whole soldering/tweaking thing is a bit beyond me, and honestly isn't an avenue I want to pursue as a novice. I'm already breaking my previous $1,000 budget as is with the equipment I plan to get which will be around $1,500 considering I get the Ah! 4000 used. With that I don't mind the upgrades as they'll likely already be installed new or if not it sounds like easy instructions to install, including upgrading the tubes. When it comes to the idea of soldering, I get pretty freaked out. For a $1,500 budget and for it being my first audiophile system, do the units I described really sound like bad choices? I decided on them after tons of research and suggestions from othes at audiogon on other threads...
Also I'm going to have to decide on a very affordable connecting cable and speaker wires at some point. I'm really starting from scratch here except for the fact that I've got the Paradigm speakers which I love...
Are there high-end stores in your area? If so, I would stop in at a shop and listen to some gear. Find a CDP or amplifier that you like and try it in your system. The reason I say this is because it will be difficult to determine which would make the bigger upgrade.
If you're eager to buy gear, I would direct you to a used integrated amplifier. From what I could find in a quick Google search, the 11se is 89 dB/1W/1m sensitive, so a mid-power tube unit could drive them to reasonable levels. I'm thinking Jolida.... For a CD player, Rotel, Arcam, and Music Hall are good units to look at.
Cables - It's really easy (and cheap!) to make your own using great materials. You sounded averse to soldering in equipment, but it's almost impossible to screw up basic ICs. Good wire and connectors can be had from Michael Percy Audio or Parts Connexion. If you'd prefer to buy, entry-level Kimber Kable, Cardas, and XLO are tough to beat.
Samujohn is correct, in my opinion, about starting with the amp over the digital front end (if you have to choose the biggest impact). I would have to disagree on his point of going with a power amp and adding a 'shack volume control.
I am of the opinion that amps of 6-8 years of age vary little from the most current amps (changes in this arena have been much, much more gradual than the digital front end changes). The better the power supply the better off you are (IMO).
It would not be a bad idea to consider a used integrated amplifier as well. Unless you listen to radio, I would avoid the receiver route. Is Outlaw really that great? Personally, I would suggest not. Perhaps comparing it to the Technics it will be a good improvement, but I think you can get much farther along without any more money (possibly even less). The Outlaw stuff is good when comparing it to new stuff and considering the "features" you get. Sound quality is fine, just not as good as you can get used for less money.
If I understand correctly, your budget is increased to $1500 for both pieces of equipment. You should be able to arrive at very good used equipment within this budget. Be careful about buying used CD players, unlike the amps they have seen much improvement in recent years and also unlike the amps, they wear out. While I have never had a toe job, this whole concept is intriguing to me (ha ha). I have also read positive comments on these units. My suggestion would be to do a litte more research on good used integrated amps and then come up with a short list of both amps and acceptable CD players. Buy the best deal that comes up first, regardless of which component it is.
This will give you a chance to determine yourself what you like and don't like about the sound of the new equipment. Based on this, you can then adjust your demands for the remaining piece of equipment. For example if you get the amp first and find it is a bit brighter than you are seeking, you can adjust the CDP accordingly (or obviously other sound issues you want to adjust for).
There are many good used CDP in the $500-$800 range that can work here. I think looking at the price breakdowns of different CDPs may be a good move here. What level of equipment can you get within your budget for each of the two items. In my opinion, you need to really spend a lot of money to get a phenomal CDP (well beyond your budget) and there is a big difference between a phenom. CDP and a good CDP (you are likely to be looking at a good CDP). To get the most out of a truly great CDP you need very, very good components everyplace else. This is not going to happen at this budget.
At your budget, you can get a very satisfying rig together and in a couple of years look to upgrade you speakers. Perhaps you should consider what are the most important sonic characteristics you are seeking. At these price points, there will be sonic characteristics (which is not necessarily bad, just should be thought out). Also, keep in mind your speaker's sound.
Unfortunately, I don't have an audiophile store in my area or I probably would have started there. I live in Ashland, OR and I think the closest one is Eugene, about a 3 hour drive.
I know that at this price range my options are limited and it won't sound like truly high end gear, but I know it will be a vast improvement over what I have, and that's great with me for awhile. Hey, everyone's gotta start somewhere!
Thanks for the responses, and please keep them coming. :-)
Is your plan to go to seperates...if so, there is soooo much gear that would fall in your price range. You could get a pretty good pre/amp/player combo from around $1500...In addiiton, I recently heard some of the new CEC stuff...CD player and integrated amplifier for $1600 NEW! This stuff was compeating with Audio Research at 5x the price...that being said, don't limit yourself, do your research, and maybe even take a road trip to hear some things that may interest you. You will thank yourself in the long run if you take your time now...or you could just go on an "Audiogon" buying spree, and sell the stuff you don't like...that is what I typically do!
Take care, best of luck,
What kind of music do you primarily listen to; size room, accoustic signiture of the room? Before anyone can recommend anything they need to know that first. In general I would say the amp/pre combination such as an integrated amplifier before your cd player. I believe you stated you have a philips player. What model? Some of the older philips models where very good. I owned a cd-80 and it was a very good player even compared to todays low cost (sub $1500) players.
You are going to get tons of suggestions and become very confused if you are not careful did I mention frustrated as well. Good Luck.
"You could get a pretty good pre/amp/player combo from around $1500...In addiiton, I recently heard some of the new CEC stuff...CD player and integrated amplifier for $1600 NEW!"
Do you have any specific model numbers? That would help me a lot.
In terms of what kind of music I play and size room, etc.:
I play mostly rock: late 60's psychedelic, 70's progressive, 70's krautrock, general classic rock, folk, acid folk - that's 90% of my collection. I also play some free jazz, some ambient electronic, some 80's shoegaze - a handful of other genres, but that's mostly it. The room is pretty small, maybe 9X12 or so. It's my office/music room and it's somewhat crowded but has a decent amount of empty space as well. It's a perfect rectangle except for a small section that was made into a bathroom with door), so think rectangle with a very small rectangle taken out of it.
I don't recall the Philips model till I get home. It's a 3-cd changer with a burner on the other side which is why I bought it. That said, the burner stopped working years ago and the 3-cd changer unit has been deteriorating slowly for awhile - it skips a fair amount - definitely needs to be discarded and I'll probably just throw it away instead of replacing it when the time comes - I can't imagine anyone would want it with its faults.
Sounds like you answered your own question! If your player is not working properly why would you not replace it first.
Sounds like you are at the same place I started a little over a year ago. My suggestion: upgrade the amp and cabling first. As suggested earlier, unless you're listening to the radio it's maybe not worth getting the receiver. If your receiver has pre/outs, you can use it as a preamp/processor. I started with Outlaw's 2200 mono-blocks, and changed out all I/C's, power cords, and speaker cables with Signal Cables gear (signalcables.com). The Silver Resolution Series is reference level. Check them out. They're audiophile quality at affordable prices. Next, you could start out with either the Sony CE595 or Sony 2000ES changer ... $150 or $400 respectively. The 2000ES is quite nice as a stock unit. Later you can upgrade to another level with any of the mods suggested in your CDP thread. This changes will take you a long way.
In your situation, for $1600 budget, here is what I would do if I were you. I would get a new amp and improve the CDP at the same time. I would keep the Philips CDP and buy a Benchmark DAC-1 to improve its sound. The DAC-1 is a hot item but I have seen it for sale here for about $750 used. That leaves you $850 to spend on the amp. Since the DAC-1 has a preamp built-in with volume control, you can just buy a power amp and have much more choices. I have seen quite a lot of great amps for around $850 listed here. For example, right now, there is a Quad 909 listed for $825, a Jeff Rowland 102 for $875, a Bryston 4B-NRB for $875, Classe CA-101 for $850, etc... Any one of them will do and they are all great amps.
This setup will sound considerably better than getting the Ah! Njoe Tjoeb 4000 or the Outlaw RR2150 and it will open up much more possibilities in the future.
I'm confused? A home theater receiver with a nice 2 channel cd? Do you have another DVD to use?
My opinion, the CD player is wayyy nicer than the Outlaw and perhaps too much. In my opinion, the Outlaw will limit the sound that the Tjoeb is putting out. A denon receiver will do a better job. You really should look for a pre-amp with 2 channel direct if you want to use the Tjoeb. And that's with a basic Tjoeb. To even come close to hearing the upgrades, you will need a nice pre-amp (Anthem, sunfire, Adcom, Rotel or the likes...).
Try the balanced outlook: Spend more on the receiver and less on the CD? How about a nice Denon unit with a pre-amp/amp combo or even a higher end receiver? If you then decide that you are missing something sonically, you can easily have the denon upgraded as much as you like. Also, the Denon will play CD/DVD/SACD/DVD-A and more!
Ask 10 different audiophiles about equipment and you will get 10 different answers and possibly 50 different recommendations. I think that you should at least listen to some of this equipment. Make a plan to audition the next time you travel to Portland, Seattle or San Francisco or wherever else you may travel. Listen to different amps through the Paradigms. Listen to equipment out of your price range so you have a reference. It sounds like a substantial investment for you so make it worth it. Now, here is what I think you should get. . .
In terms of getting lots of different information and opinions, yes, it's confusing, but I'm really not complaining. My learning curve at this point is pretty exponential.
Ok, so now where I'm at is I think I'm going to go with that Sony CE595 multi-disc changer and have the $750 Tube Research Labs do their magic on it. I really couldn't resist a way to get high-quality sound with a multi-changer. Thanks Strateahed for that!
Now I have to decide on an integrated amp. I guess the Outlaw might not be the best choice as I really don't need a tuner, and I can likely get a better quality used one, but now I don't know which one to look for. So many options...
1-Do you want more tubes? Cary? Solid MF? Personally, I like the Music Halls.
2-What is your budget?
3-Don't forget a line conditioner and cabling.
1. Preamp with pass through Adcom 575, Primare preamp (750) because it has a Home Theater Pass-Through. Your choices are more if you use a preamp without pass through, but then you will have to deal with two vol controls.
2. Decent Amp (CJ, BK, Forte, Quad, etc) (250-800)
3. Basic Surround sound receiver (used 250-300)
Depending on how you configure, you will get close to your budget. This way you have the best of both worlds. A great sounding 2 channel...and when we want to listen to a movie, the receiver's front channels will go through the preamp/amp combo.
You can get an old Marantz receiver from 1970's for less, and have a better sound than NAD - check out the link on the bottom.
I like their warm sound. They got great reviews at audioreview.com This a place you can go for audio gear reviews - by the users, and not by the pros ( who are sometimes payed to give good reviews - as you must know ).
You got to be careful when buying from ebay, an old unit like this - many will not work properly - but this one seems like it has been gone through, and fixed up by a shop.
I am listening to one these days, and I like it better than many of the modern offerings that costs several times the price you can get this one for. You should be able to get this for less than $300.
With the sony CD player modified, and a Marantz receiver, and your paradigm speakers, and signal cables, you are in for a treat!
Placement of your speakers are important too - they sound better on a stand. You might want to get them, since they don't cost a lot.
Also, do near-field listening - listening at a very close range, and you will be in heaven, and your wife won't complain, since you can listen at a lower volume.
By the way, wife factor is one that most audiophiles have to deal with - you are not alone.
You might also want to learn about tweaks - they are what you can do to make your system sound even better.
Like pro-gold treatment on all of your connectors - you can buy it for less than $20 - they do make a difference. Google search for them.
Also, optrix CD treament for less than $20 also helps.
The tweak that makes the most difference is burning your own CDR - you can read all about it here :
This tweak is a must, if you want to tame digital source - like a CD player. Many audiophiles still prefer LP records to digital.
If you do go analogue, and get a turn table later, your Marantz is compatible with it - has a phono stage built in - unlike many of today's units.
Have fun in this hobby - although all the info can be over-whelming, go slow and have fun - in the end it will reward - your ears and heart will thank you.
You are doing the right thing by not spending mega bucks at the beganing of this hobby - many have spent way too much without doing the research, and slowely gaining experience - including my-self. Only then, one is properly ready to a lot on hifi.
There is no limit - one can spend as much as a car or a condo even - chasing this dream. Please go slow and don't make the same mistake many of us audio lovers have.
There is much enjoyment to be had, without spending a lot - if you do research.
Another suggestion is to get headphones - sennheiser px-100, or Koss sportapro for less than $40. Your room acoustic will not come into play, and ruin the sound. Also, you can listen deep into the night with them.
Headphones through the Marantz receiver sounds good !
Also has a really good receiver section, if you do listen to radio.
You can also use your computer as the source - instead of a CD player. Upgrade the sound card to M-audio audiophile 2496 for less than $100, and get pretty good sound. Better than your present set up.
This way, you can get both - the Marantz and a CD player for less than $500.
The reason why I recommend this is, you can get more quality by spending the $1000 on used speakers later, and end up with a better sounding system.
Most money should be spent on speakers.
Also, there are many advanteges to a computer set up.
It's convenient to have all of your music organized and ready to at your finger tip. Also the sound quality is not bad - less jitter than many CD players.
When you rip your CDs into your computer by this free program EAC (exact audio copy), you can get pretty good quality.
Also use foobar2000 program to play your music files - it's free, and it sounds the best to my ears.
I too am a music lover on a budget, so I feel for you, and I've at it for the last 5 years. I want to share what I've learned with you.
I am glad you are enjoying your new speaker.
If you get the Marantz, and upgrade the soundcard, you will be spending money in a balanced way - since you only spent $150 on speakers, and you can get both now, and enjoy better sound.
If you do near field listening, the room's acoustics won't come into play as much, and you will be enjoying more I guerantee you.
Other wise, you got to get into acoustic treatment to improve the sound of listening from far away.