new system for beginner

i am not terribly familar with hi quality stereo equipment. i am looking to build my first system though. i am mostly interested in buying used quality equipment. i do not have a lot of room to fill and i only listen to cds. i am wondering what the good brands are to with. speakers are the area of most concern and i haveno idea what to look for. if this is too novice of a thread i understand. my knowledge is limited and i have to start somewhere. thanks for any help.
Masdm: Welcome aboard, you're going to get some good advice here. It would help enormously if you could descibe the dimensions of your room, how far you would sit from the speakers, the type of music you listen to and how loud. Finally, you should give a budget so that any posters aren't spending money you don't have. I would suggest that you consider spending as much as possible on your speakers as that is where everything emanates from. Next look for good amplification. Others might disagree but with the format wars going on a good cheap and reliable CDP is the last thing to source out. If you are going to buy over the internet do a little research on how to protect yourself. There are some good threads on this site. Good luck in your quest.
Wirehead has some very good advice. Give us a little more info about your musical tastes and how you listen. Also, budget would be good to know as well. Try and break it all down in your head and figure out what you would be willing to pay for the whole ball of wax. This of course will dictate a lot. I have to agree with Wirehead that speakers and the amplifier/preamp/integrated is the most important and then perhaps the source followed by cabling. People have deep opinions about that, that is just my opinion based on my experiences. All parts are very important and add up to the whole.
This can get as expensive as you want (probably more so), but to make full use of the expertise of the people here you are talking about an absolute minimum of around $1K total for speakers, amplification and one source. You'll get a lot more help and input starting at around $1K per component.
Another thing to consider is that these systems are intended to have the right size and shape room arranged around them as much as possible. Preferably a rectangle with the shortest dimension no less than 12 feet, and the speakers idealy end up sitting way out into it.
For starters I would look at Cambridge Audio gear: sells it at a discount. Their d500se is an excellent cd player for the money. Many choices in speakers, but the B&W 601's are nice for a start.
Masdm: Please provide the approx. size of your room, your real world budget (high and low) and whether you would prefer larger (tall, as many of the better ones are narrow) floor standing speakers or stand mounted monitors. A good system, IMO, is one that will sound good on all types of music, but if you want bass slam, just let us know as it's easy to add with the right selection. Ballpark, I would say that $1500-$2000 will buy you sound that will amaze most of your friends and which will give you many hours of listening pleasure.
Masdm; Room size is very important when trying to pick out a system. First thing is do NOT buy a piece buy reading reviews and other peoples opions.Everybody hears a little differently and you have to consider room size and the other brand of equipment that will be used. As said earlyer,the most important piece is the speakers. take your time, listen around. If you have a small room you might want to listen to some smaller speakers ( Revel Gem, Thiel MCS 1, Wilson Cubs,etc) and buy a good subwoofer ( Genesis,Revel,etc). It would be of a great help to know how much you are looking to spend. What kind of music you prefer. The main thing is to buy what YOU like, not what someone else is telling you. Your paying for it so your the one who needs to be most happy with it. Look around!! Good Luck to you and have fun!!!
Masdm: My advice is to visit higher end dealers in your area and listen as much as you can. There is lots of good advice here, but only you know what type of sound best suits you. If you can dial in a preference, this will help you to reach your audio dreams. Most folks on Audiogon have their own preferences (myself included) and advice will naturally be based on this to varying degrees.

One thing is certain...if you are willing to buy used, you can wind up with a significantly better system for your money. I have bought used gear here at Audiogon and at dealers, with good results. I have found amazing values from dealers with whom I've developed relationships over the years who've taken trades on new equipment. So don't discount dealers as a source of good deals.

Best of luck.
My advice is run screaming in the other direction. Before you spend hours comparing descriptions of 12AU7s (vacuum tube) only spend $100/per for a 40yr. old device smaller than your thumb, Before spending the tiny gaps of time measured in days between perpetual upgrades second-guessing your last purchase. Before you decipher the acronym "SET" or - GASP! Shudder!, your immortal soul imperiled beyond salvation - "VTA"!!!
If you ain't afraid by now, you're too dumb to listen to mass-market crap and deserve what you get; a good hobby and great music.
Depending on your budget, your best bet may be any one of a number of integrated amps, a decent set of speakers and an inoffensive player. Then you can work your way into vinyl (i.e. real highend) and become a VTA guru.
thanks for all the help so far. allow me to answer some questions. the room i was planning it for is 18'x 20'. i listen to jazz (mostly), rock and other assorted genres from time to time. i listen to a great deal of live music. i am definitely willing to buy used equipment because, in many ways, i view this system as training and i do not want to feel wasteful if i part with the components after a short time. as far as visual appearance is concerned i have no true preferences, yet. i am really interested in the sound no matter what it looks like. i would be willing to spend upwards of $2000. advice about everything from speakers to cables to cabinets is welcome. i want to learn as much as possible.
Considering your room size and musical tastes you might start by trying to audition a pair of Vandersteen 2CE Signatures (large floor standers) to see if you like their sound (these can often be had for $800 or so used, though freight will be high). Anyway you go though you will get more bang for the buck with a good integrated amp. My favorite used CD player is a bit dated, but to me sounds better than any of the new budget players that I have auditioned as it has a very full low end and smooth highs. This is the CAL Icon MKII. This same model with the power boss upgrade (more expensive) would also work well with the Vandersteens as they can handle the added detail of the upgrade without sounding bright. I have only listened to the Vandersteens with more expensive amps and do not have a recommendation for a high powered but low cost (used) integrated as the ones that I am familiar with probably do not have enough power for your room size. I can think of quite a few other floor standing speakers in the same price range, but the Vandersteens will give you big sound for Jazz and Rock. If you were to end up with the CAL Vandersteen combo a pair of the cheap Homegrown Audio solid core silver IC's would be a nice match, if your room is not too bright as they are a bit forward sounding which will offset the opposite of the CAL and the Vandersteens. I have listened to the CAL and Homegrown IC's (both mine) with these speakers, though with a Bryston amp and a Marantz 7C vintage preamp and was very impressed with the sound in a large room, thus the recommendation of these specific items. Auditioning these speakers will also give you a good base to compare others to (like to see if you can get by with the bass, not as much, offered by moniters and such). I also use the CAL player as the transport for a Bel Canto DAC in our living room setup and recently used the CAL solo when the DAC was away for upgrades, and it sounded good.
Dekay, I will echo your Vandersteen 2C recommendation. Anyone looking to start a system should at least listen to these speakers. They are an incredibly good value for a full range speaker. They are a little warmer than neutral and not the most immediate or detailed, but they have no obvious irritating weaknesses, the bass response goes amazingly low for this price range, they are exceptionally easy to drive (and do very well with modest tube amps). Overall, these speakers are very listenable and will form a great foundation for a very musical and satisfying sound system.
Thanks for the second, Rushton. I did not realize that they were that efficient, which if Massey likes the sound brings the total system cost down quite a bit. I prefer monitors myself in our living room, which is just to say that we all have are personal preferences but after hearing Garfish and other's mention these speakers in the threads I got curious and set up a demo. I have also auditioned the Model 5's and a pair of older 3's (think that was it) since then. All were very impressive in their given (retail) price ranges and were great on Jazz cuts.
I don't recall how efficient the Vandersteens are, Dekay, but when I owned a pair years ago, I ran them with my vintage Marantz 9's set in their 35 watt triode mode and lived quite happily with that combination for a number of years. The 2C's have a very benign impedance load and Richard Vandersteen originally designed them with tube amplifiers in mind. I finally sold my Vandersteens to buy a pair of Celestion SL700's (going back to the mini-monitor route) for improved soundstaging and resolution of inner detail. But the full-range dynamic sound of the Vandersteen 2C's is hard to beat. Particularly at the price you can get tem used.
I would chime in on the Vandersteen/CAL combo which would leave you $1K for amplification. You could do a lot worse than a McCormack DNA 0.5 power amp for about $600-$700 and then an Adcom or NAD pre-amp. Of course, that would leave you without cables, so maybe you should stick to an integrated from Creek or NAD. The good thing about these "classics" is they will loose little or no value if they are not abused. I would NOT agree with the comment that they are efficent. They are easy to drive in the sense that they have a uniform impedence and sound good with a wide variety of electronics. They are very musical and definately can benefit from a more forward cable like the homegrown. BTW, I am running Vandy 2cis with a McCormack and have used them with a variety of less expensive electronics and they always make music (not super detailed which can be an advantage if you have a more modest source and electronics).
Since the Vandersteen 2C's were my first "real" full range speaker I can't recommend them highly enough especially at their new or used price. You can't lose, they will not irritate have excellent cohesive sound and real bass. The only caveat (if this is a problem) is they aren't as revealing as some, a blessing at times, but system matching is much easier. 7 ohms nominal 4 ohms minimum, efficiency is 86dB on the 2ce. Price used 500.00-800.00 pair. They work with tubes and ss. Definitely should be on a short list.
First get fixed in your head how much treasure you would part with.A system for $1500 can be very satisfying but you may be able to afford and justify spending that or multiples thereof for each component.Next comes qualifiers like do I want to go less "audiophile" and into home theatre with budget.Lesser qualifiers would be can I get used to no tone controls on an "audiophile "piece?Then what will the room support.Smaller rooms can reproduce less bass and less power to get to "x" level of volume.A good set of book shelves like the B&W 805's matched with a good used Acurus DIA 100 intergrated amp could be bought used for $800 and $400 respectively.Had that combo myself and it had tremendous bang for the buck.BTW I sell HiFi for a living but their are some either smart cookies out their or at least obsessive compulsive types who know more than most of us who sling the boxes.Lastly don't give upon vinyl.The sound you can get from a $500-1000 'Table/cart can with some nice new vinyl or a score of a good condition old presssing can kickn the crap out of most CD's though generally they are getting better all the time.Look into a SACD/CD player as well or perhaps a CD-R recorder.Most of all HAVE FUN!!!!
I say get a good digital source first. Sonic Frontiers Dacs are available used on Ebay for 600, and Cal Delta transport are available for 350 on Audiogon. Hook it up with a Bettercable digital for 70bucks. That leaves about a thousand. Get some interconnects for about 100 from JPS, Homegrown, or Mapleshade connected to... Amps? Go integrated: Acurus DIA150, used Creek gear, or, my personal sentimnetal favorites, the old nakamichi SR or TA series receivers, and they should run about 300-500. Then get some speaker cables, and you can get some used Audioquest Midnights for about 150. Lastly, the speakers with about 500 left, get some NHT 2.5i, Vandy 1C, or even some used Maggies. It's sort of exciting to start on a fresh note. Good hunting, althought, I don't think the person starting this thread will be paying any attention.
personal testimony:

My system, up until a few years ago, cost me a lil more than 2000, which consist of:

KEF 103/4- Got it used from a client for 600
Aragon 8002-Store demo for 1200
Marantz 63se-New for 400
Free Audioquest Argent/HF Midnight/LF and Quartz cables.

My achilles heal in this set up has always been my CD player, so I have personal bias towards starting off with a good digital front end.
Maggies available for 500bucks available direct from MG12.
Just so all of you know, i am paying attention and i check this thread almost everyday. i am serious about putting together a system, so be certain that your time and energy is not wasted. I appreciate all the comments and diferent viewpoints. i have another question now. a friend of mine listens to very similar music and he recently got a pair of JM Lab speakers. they are not floor models or on stands but they amazing to my ear. i am not sure of the model number. so i guess my question is, just how good are JM Lab speakers? are they something i should consider? thanks again.
You answered your own question, they are amazing to your ear. Concensus statistics aren't what sit in your chair and listen. Of course you can't always hear a component first hand in your system, so you have to trust them sometimes, but first hand experience will always trump them. First hand in someone else's sytem isn't *absolutly* ideal, but it's still your experience.
Oh, and if you haven't already, take a look around the speaker forums. If you haven't found the advice you are looking for, ask, and make sure you mention your system (or proposed system} and price range. You'll get a wider response starting a thread in the designated forum.
As a fellow beginner, i can relate to your problem. One thing i can tell you is you must be patient. If you have a local audio club, find out about it. A member of a local club of mine has given me tons of good advice. Do lots of research. Read lots of reviews, ask alot of questions, and listen to as many different components as possible. Find out what you like and don't like, then look for the best deal you can. I think i have done well using this stradegy. And remember, if it sounds to good to be true, it probably is.

I'd pick up an old Pioneer SX-950 or SX-1050 receiver. Lots of pure power, excellent tuner and has A/B switch to operate two pairs of speakers should you want to expand. You'll find them on eBay for $100-$200. Made in the 70s, but real workhorses. Heavy, too.

The Yamaha CDC-765 is a decent CD changer (5-disc)for the money ($300). The Sony 80ES equivalent is also nice. Both offer random play, so you can sit back and enjoy. If you want a single tray player, there are tons to choose from. If you stumble upon a used CAL DX-1, snatch it up. Good unit for around $150.

Bookshelf speakers? Check out the reviews for the DIY model
on You can get them from EFE Technology as a kit($350) or Ed Frias will build them for you. Superb
sound from a speaker at this price.

This scenario puts you into a good system for around $800.
Won't take long for the upgrading bug to bite !

Nashville, TN
Do you want tubes or ss? Can or are you interested in diy?
Tube amps like the antigue sound labs wav-8 approx 10 watts start about 130.00. Diy preamp kits are available very reasonably. Options like this can free up some money for the real task at hand speakers and source. There have been many good suggestions for speakers but the best advise is to audition as many as you can. Hope this helps
The speakers will be the most critical & if possible try to audition in home with your other gear. I'm guessing you are only going to use a CD as source, so my suggestion is an AMC CD8b, which is an excellent 24/96 player for the money. You can pick up a demo for $169 at AudioAdvisor. As for power, I would go with an integrated to start with. Again, I recommend AudioAdvisor, as they carry the Musical Fidelity line & you can get some great demo deals there. Additionally, they have a 30 day in home trial, so if you decide you don't like or want the stuff, you get to send it back minus the shipping. I've bought & sold about $8,000.00 of used gear using this site, AudioShopper & the old Audio Review & have been extremely satisfied. Most of the people you deal with at these sites are all here for the same reason & can be trusted. This site offers feedback & if you have doubts you can use COD. There are also some good dealers who can be trusted. Again, refer to their feedback. As for cabling, that will take some experimenting. There are so many good cables out there-for example MIT has some good entry level stuff that won't set you back too much. There is also the Absolute Power Cord that can be had for $50.00 new. Hope some of that helps & if you can't find the links & are interested, email me & I'll send them to you. Good luck.
I started a a beginner about one year ago. This is what I have learned:

1)Audition as many systems in the store as possible before making a selection. Your hearing will "mature" as you listen more i.e. it will get easier to hear differences between systems as you listen more. I listened to at least 10 different speakers before I heard one I really liked and could afford.

2)Find a dealer who will let you audition your favorites AT HOME for the weekend so you can spend some time with the system.

3)Cables and interconnects really do make a difference in the way a system sounds so try to include those in your auditioning.
4)Trust your own ears. Great bass for one person is not for another.
5)Don't be surprised if you end up spending more than you originally planned. When you hear what you really like it will be hard to say "no".

6)Audiogon is a great source of info but as you will find opinions vary widely. In the end you will know what makes you happy just by listening.

I had alot of fun doing this and remember feeling very confused sometimes since there are an incredible number of combinations available. Good luck