Please help a noob


First off, I'll try to Reader's Digest this as much as possible.

I'm looking to set up a simple 2 channel reference system. And by reference I mean something small-ish that will be used primarily in the near-field as a critical listening set-up in a relatively small room which I plan on doing some acoustic treatments in as well.

I work in the car audio industry (yeah, I know, never get as good in a car, etc. and I agree) What I am looking for is a system that I can both use as a reference tool for work related things (be able to have a good baseline for what things are supposed to sound like so I can use that knowledge for systems I build at work) and also recreational listening. Source will likely be 80% iPod (lossless or wav) and 20% CD.

I have been reading all over the place and am just overwhelmed with all the options. My current hangups are integrated vs. separate, and then options beyond that.

I don't have a tone of $ to work with. I'd like to keep the preamp/amp portion of this in the $700-$850 ish range.

Finally, I have the option to buy Parasound New Classic products new at a very good price. My main question I guess is Parasound New Classic 2100 pre + either New Classic 275 or 2125 or look at used in which I've been looking at Parasound HCA amps and P/LD 1100 pre. Also, the used option opens up things like NAD, Rotel, etc.

Like I said, looking for input on this front from people in the know because I feel somewhat lost. Sorry for the rambling, and thanks for any input!

-Adam
diamondjoequimby
I would definately go with an integrated amp. I like NAD products, particularly in your price range. Integrated amps are nice for a budget b/c they combine 2 or more components in 1, and eliminate the need for cables in between. I would look for used gear, about 2-3 years old with box and remote. The newer NADs come with an ipod input. Check out Cambridge too. Or maybe a Musical Fidelity integrated. But definately go used for more bang for the buck.
Adam, good to have you on-board, welcome!

You might want to investigate Emotiva's offerings - good stuff for reasonable money. They have a very good preamp available, the USP-1, and their power amps have gotten great reviews. Check out the USP-2 and, for more money, the XPA-2. They also have some killer multi-channel stuff, too. See Emotiva.com...

Best Wishes,

-RW-
Without knowing your speakers we can't offer amplification advice.
Since you need a good DAC for your iPod and you are on a budget, I would strongly consider something like the Audiolab 8200 CDQ, which combines a CD player, DAC and preamp and has received outstanding reviews. You would then need an iPod dock like the Wadia or new Onkyo that sends the digital signal directly to the Audiolab's DAC. I think the Audiolab is in the neighborhood of $1500, but that includes a CD player, DAC and preamp. I think the Onkyo dock is around $200. You'll still need a power amp and speakers, of course, but I have no idea what your total budget is.
a simple 2 channel reference system. And by reference I mean something small-ish that will be used primarily in the near-field as a critical listening set-up in a relatively small room which I plan on doing some acoustic treatments in as well.
I'm going to suggest a different route. Given that you are using a digital source primarily (lossless and .wav files) and are looking for a very transparent system for a small room you way want try a the NHT M00 monitors ($550-600 new) their passive volume control ($120 new) or even a higher quality passive pre-amp. You're gonna want to bypass the ipod dac (unless you have a DAC/dock (hey, did I just invent a new buzzword???) and take digital files from a server or laptop via an HRT MusicStreamer II+ or other asynch USB DAC. Total cost for the M00s, DAC & passive volume controller new would be about $1K. They have pretty good bass output by themselves or you can add a powered sub. NHT no longer makes the matching S00 sub but you're not tied to that one or you can probably find one on fleabay. The speakers are compact and designed to be used in the near or mid-field. Very neutral, can play VERY LOUD w/o distortion and IMO, non-fatiguing.
Hi Diamondjoequimby, Watts cost money and quality amplifiers capable of driving speakers with demanding loads can get expensive. Therefore, one of the best things you can do to control costs, is to choose a speaker that is easy on your amplifier. With that in mind, I recommend shopping for speakers first.
Thanks for all the input guys. I'm eyeing the HRT istreamer or music streamer for the dac. I really like the price point on those too. Speakers are totally undecided. The only things I've had the chance to listen to in person are a set of Dynaudio bookshelfs (forget the model) and a pair of Vandersteen 2ce. Of the 2 I liked he vandersteens better, but like I said, I'm way up in the air on that front,

I thought about the studio monitor set up, but was initially looking at some Genelecs and kind of abandoned the idea when everything I saw had them pairs with a mixer of some sort for input. I'll look at the NHT setup and some other passive volume control options.

Thanks again, and I'll try to keep dumb questions to a minimum.
Take a look at some powered Mackies if you were thinking Genelecs
Alan
Choose your speakers first, then your amplification. Not the other way around.
If you want some advice check out Von Schweikert VR-1 monitor speakers and a Marantz PM8004 integrated amplifier. The VR-1s are lively easy to drive speakers with excellent bass and the Marantz is the best sounding 70 watt integrated amp for $1000. The VR-1s sell for around $500 used depending on condition.
Picking speakers first makes sense. I suggest the same thing to my customers and honestly feel like a bit of a dumbass for not thinking of this the same way. Oh well. Now off to find some places to listen to speakers...
The istreamer is suprising good, use one in my second system when I want to use my ipod
I recently submitted this system in Positive Feedback's $1000 system that must include vinyl playback and a DAC with USB input:

$395, pro-ject essential USB belt drive turntable with built-in analog phono preamp, order from Amazon

$30, mogami 2549 3 foot RCA interconnects with neutrik connectors, fully assembled from Pro Audio La

$115, topping tp30 integrated 15 watt per channel amp with headphone and DAC, USB digital in and analog in, order from Amazon

$60, mogami 2921 speaker cable, 8 foot pair, order from your pro audio store

$60, 3 sets of 4 AudioQuest BFAs to setup for biwire on speaker end, I order these from my local hi fi shop

$15, speaker cable termination labor if you do not do it yourself

$249, mordaunt short carnival monitors (90 db), order from Amazon

$65, pangea audio LS02 28" metal speaker stands, order from Amazon

$989, subtotal

You could drop the turntable and go with a better integrated amp with USB DAC. Thoughts?
I took some of your guys' advice and went back on the trail locally for speakers. I got a chance to listen to some Dynaudio X12s that I was really impressed with. I'm going to go listen to the Vandersteens again. There is also a Paradigm dealer in town I want to check out. I'd say the Dyns are in the final group though.
If you can get a real good deal on Parasound Classic series, I'd say go for it. I've heard *very* good things about this series. For nearfield, the 75 wpc amp would probably be enough, though there's a part of me that thinks you can never have too much power. You're definitely onto something with the Dynaudio X12s, too.

You really couldn't lose with that combo if it fits your budget. We A-goners could argue the finer points of the merits of this integrated vs. that stack of separates, or which of a myriad of mini-monitors would work well. But really, if you combine Parasound Classics with Dynaudio, you are going to get one of the very best implementations of what you're looking for at your budget.

Best of all, they will last long and their sonic signatures are easy to live with over time, and that's very important.
"I'd like to keep the preamp/amp portion of this in the $700-$850 ish range.”

Bang for the buck performance, in that price range, will be dominated by integrated amplifiers. Glancing at the classifieds, I saw an Edge Premier Series 13, and a PS Audio C-100 integrated that might be of interest.
I have the Tekton 6.5t bookshelf monitors that I really like and look to be similar to the monitors you are considering, but are only $600. The Tektons and a good int amp with a DAC would go a long way.

06-21-12: Phaelon
"I'd like to keep the preamp/amp portion of this in the $700-$850 ish range.”

Bang for the buck performance, in that price range, will be dominated by integrated amplifiers.
Under typical circumstances, I agree. I love integrateds. But he says he can get a special deal on Parasound New Classic separates, so I'm assuming he can get them together in his price range. If he can get a Parasound New Classic Pre 2100 and 275 power amp for $850-ish, that will definitely take care of business and be hard to surpass at that price. The 2100 even has a line/MM/MC selectable input, HT pass-through, remote control, front panel mini-plug input for iPod/computer, and subwoofer output with bass management. That's a lot of flexibility plus room for future growth.
It's more like the 2100 Pre and 2125 amp for $850 ish. I can do it with the 275 for around $725 ish. :) That is the primary reason I 'm leaning that way.
Hi Johnnyb53, I haven’t heard the Parasound separates; by all accounts they’re terrific. But it’s when you factor in power cords, interconnect, shelving and isolation that an integrated, particularly at that price point, makes sense to me.
I may get crushed on this, but I'm not a cable guy. I have no intention on spending half of my budget on cables. I'm not saying I plan on using home depot stuff, but as long as it is proper gauge for the power I'm using, made of quality parts (i.e. not plated aluminum), and make a good solid connection, I will be fine with it.
i agree with johnnyb53--there's good integrateds at this price point, but the parasound separates are on another level sonically and are very good values. for the price, you can't go wrong.
"but as long as it is proper gauge for the power I'm using... I will be fine with it”

I understand completely. When I began this audio journey, your viewpoint represented the prevailing school of thought in the community - mine too. Then I let some sucker loan me his high end wires and well, I couldn’t pretend that the difference didn’t matter...at least to me. With that in mind, I recommend you not let a friend bring his high end wires over for you to check out :-)
06-22-12: Diamondjoequimby
It's more like the 2100 Pre and 2125 amp for $850 ish. I can do it with the 275 for around $725 ish. :) That is the primary reason I 'm leaning that way.

Man, that's a no-brainer. You're getting a pre/amp set for not much more than retail for the preamp itself.

Once again, I can't emphasize too much the advantages that the Classic 2100 brings in the area of flexibility and inputs/outputs. The front panel stereo miniplug input will be invaluable to frequent iPod use. There are a total of 7 line level inputs. If you decide to try out vinyl, it has a good built-in preamp and will accommodate low or high output cartridges. If later you decide to augment your mini-monitors with a subwoofer, the 2100 makes it easy-peasy.

I'm a big fan of good cabling, but don't worry about that for now. There are excellent cables at very low prices that are way better than lamp cord and white box interconnects. Grow into it (or not) when you feel like it. This Parasound deal is a great opportunity to get highly flexible overachieving componentry at a fire sale price. You won't find better price/performance unless you were to stumble onto an estate sale where the executor is an audio ignoramus.

For the extra $100 I'd jump on the 2125. The 275 is a very cute form factor and 75 wpc is probably plenty for nearfield use, but the 2125's extra power buys you a lot of extra flexibility (such as farfield listening or less sensitive speakers) for future use for not much more money.