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First, buy a rug. That hardwood floor will be hell on anything you play. Remember the basic rule that 3 things matter most: speakers, room, and source material--not necessarily in that order. You'd be better off spending a little less on your amp and CD player and getting yourself a good thick carpet.
In the $1.5k price bracket for a used amp, you should definitely put the Bryston 4B-ST (used) on your list. It provides close to 300 wpc of very clean power, and is included on Stereophile mag's "Class B" recommended components list. If you can use less power, then the Bryston 3B-ST (about 150 wpc actual power) is also a terrific amp that can be bought used for about $1k. Either amp would give you an excellent beginning point for a modestly priced, high-end system.
Guys, I think he is looking for an integrated amp. The A85 is an integrated and a preamp would blow his budget.
Welcome aboard friend! I'm maybe closer to a novice myself as I've been completely immersed in this hobby for only a little over two years and counting.
To be clear, are you saying that you have about $1-1.5K to spend each for the pieces you're considering? Roughly, $3-4.5K total? For your first foray into this all-consuming hobby I'd say that's a pretty healthy budget. There's an awful lot you can get for that kind of money, especially if every component is purchased used.
Before buying anything you should go out and listen to as much as you can in order to form opinions of what you do and don't like, because it's all about personal tastes [personally, I don't find B&W to be sweet sounding]. I started with solid state integrateds matched with monitors, and eventually moved to a tube preamp with a solid state amp. As you listen and learn, your tastes will also evolve and your opinions will change too, much as mine have. If you become as crazy as the rest of us, you'll most likely end up buying and selling all kinds of stuff, more than you ever imagined you would.
You'll find varying opinions about whether you should build a system around your speakers, or start with the amp first. Frankly, I don't know which is the best route. And that's why I suggest you try and find local high-end dealers or friends that have equipment you can listen to. If something really moves you during an audition, then maybe that's where to begin your system. Also, read magazines and online reviews, but remember not to take what's written as the holy truth, because they are in themselves only opinions. See what people like and what they're combining them with, and if you have the chance to confirm what you've read through a listening session all the better.
As for recommending a specific product, a lot of that depends on how you like your music presented. You say you like jazz, opera and pop, but do you prefer it to thunder down on you, or flow gently over you? So, to start the ball rolling, I'll put forth some system ideas within your budget and see what fellow Audiogoners have to add.
If buying a new CD player a good place to start might be with the Rega Planet 2000, or if used a Theta Miles. Also, see what you can dig up on the new Jolida CD player.
Something that has me really intrigued is the Rogue Tempest tube integrated amp at about $1400 used. I've tried the Simaudio Moon I-5 and Electrocompaniet ECI-3 integrateds and felt they lacked the warmth I like, and with your hardwood floors they may exhibit a lean character.
With speakers it gets a bit trickier because you must decide whether you want a floorstander, a monitor on stands, or a monitor with a subwoofer. Both have their advantages, and then there's the whole issue of proper setup. For floorstanders look into the Vandersteen 2s, Meadowlark Kestrels, Soliloquy 5.3, and ProAc Response 1.5. For monitors check out the ProAc Response 1SC, Sonus Faber Concerto, Vienna Acoustic Haydn, and Totem Model 1. And for subs, a real favorite on Audiogon is the REL Storm and Strata, but don't forget the ACI Titans.
Also, Don't forget about cables!
Well, I hope I've helped more than confused you. I know it's tough to start with so much to learn and experience, but remember, this is fun! It's all about the journey! Enjoy!
Ugh, my friend, that's a monster of a question -- as there are easily more potentially great answers than there are even people to give them. However, as a friend of mine recently asked essentially the same question, I can at least try to explain the path that I have been attempting to lead him down in hope of helping him answer it for himself.
In my opinion, the best place to start is by identifying a pair of speakers that make you happy and then backing into electronics that compliment the speakers from there. (Others will tell you to start elsewhere, but this is my turn on the soapbox). I live in New York city, so I started by dragging him around to listen to as many speakers as we could. So far, weve hit the Meadowlark Kestrels, the Audio Physic Spark III, Thiel 1.6, ProAc 1sc, a couple of Sonus Fabers, and a couple of Vienna Acoustics. Im also encouraging him to have a listen to some Vandersteens (which a shop here-about wouldnt even deign to plug in for us), Soliloquy, Aerial, and B&W (and I certainly would have insisted that he listen to some Maggies, but he simply doesnt have the room). At the more-or-less $1.5k pricemark (used) there are some exceptional bookshelf speakers as well as many wonderful smaller floorstanders to choose from. There are lots more, for sure, but we focused on the (only slightly) less-esoteric ones that could be easily found in local shops. So far, he seems to be leaning towards he ProAcs or the Meadowlarks which, without digressing into the jargon of audiophilia for the why and wherefore, were simply the ones that brought on the biggest smile from the guy in the listening chair.
From whatever speaker you like, the potential permutations as to electronics are huge. If, for example, the friend decided to go with the ProAcs, he could certainly get by with a nice integrated from the likes of Classe, Creek, Sim Audio, Music Fidelity, Audio Refinement, Bryston or countless others (if we were to limit ourselves to solid state as opposed to tubes, which isnt necessarily the way to go). For a relatively cheap CP player, Im partial to the various revamped, tubed revisions of Marantz players (AH!Tjoeb 2000 or Heart CD6000) or possibly a Rega or the like. Buying used, he could put something like this together for less than $3k and have a genuinely respectable and musical system. If you want to talk separates, Id encourage him to look into a tubed preamp and a solid state amp (and I might sell him my old VTL 2.5 pre ). That said, the ProAcs would certainly benefit from even finer upstream equipment if he were inclined (we heard them on a $6k Rowland integrated). I could certainly go on and on, but nothing I could say matters 10% as much as your own ears. Dragem around with you, listen to what you can, trust them, and remember to have fun.
I post very infrequently here but do often follow the conversation. It wasn't too long ago that I was in your shoes so I will float you this view. I would put all the money I could into a well-designed and accurate (really accurate) loudspeaker. If you take this road, all else will be much simpler and less expensive than one tends to initially think. Speakers and the way they interact with your room are responsible for the lion's share of what one hears.
Models from Harbeth, Spendor, and a few others really meet the standard of high accuracy without many design compromises. The Spendor 1/2 is a classic speaker with measured accuracy for around $1750 used. My choice is the Harbeth Compact 7 around $2200 direct from the NA distributor. The Harbeth Monitor 30 (I have not heard)is around $3000 new and uses one of the best tweeters along with Harbeth's proprietory midrange driver which is also in the Compact 7. There are others you may come across if you research carefully.
I've been going through the same process as newbie after a 15 year hiatus and my best advice is to listen, listen, listen. Pick a few favorite CDs, a variety of music, and listen to as many amps and speakers as possible. They are all so different and the synergy complicates the listening.
If you like B&Ws then you probably like crisp sounding equipment so solid state is your best bet. The Arcam might complement this crisp, bright sound well as it is a bit analytical (I prefer warm sounding equipment).
I had similar room problems as you -- big room, wood floors, plus the spouse (she's not a problem, she just has opinions). I decided that I could not dedicate the room to a nice system with a correct listening location so after going through several iterations of equipment combinations I think I'm going to settle for a Linn Klassik and also get a nice small system for my office where I can really define things (I work at home).
But have fun too. There is lots of good stuff out there. Ask around, shop around, but only buy what sounds good for you within your budget.
But! Do your research, pick some items, and go listen! Your ears are your best guide.
My most recent upgrade had the same budget as your start up (lucky you!!) ... I ended up with killer bang for the buck with the following used system;
Classe CAP-150 integrated w/ phono stage
Hales Revelation 3 speakers
CAL Icon II CD deck (carried over from my old system)
MSB Link III DAC
speaker cables are soon to be Kimber 8TC
interconnects are Kimber Hero
digital link is soon to be Kimber AGDL.
Your budget leaves a little room to max out the MSB with upsampling and a trick power supply.
I would also consider looking for a used Adcom 750, Musical Fidelity or maybe a balanced Theta Miles (the Classe has balanced inputs!!!!!).
Anyone considering the Revelation 3s used should be aware of the factory box never being made to survive UPS!!! Insist on pickup/delivery, double box (difficult at best) or putting them on a skid and giving the local LTL carrier some business.
Buy a rug. Have fun. Don't let the 'sound of the system' overtake your enjoyment of the music. Keep going to live performances ... they recalibrate your ears to what instruments and voices really sound like.
I'd buy F. Alton Everest's "Sound Studio Construction on a Budget" and learn what your room needs. A modest system in a well-treated room will usually sound better, be a lot less fatiguing, than a high end system in an acoustic nightmare of a room. Your room dimensions give you a good start. You can then follow some of the good advice others have offered.
Thanks everybody for the very interesting answers. To be onest,I did some research but way too little listening in the high-end demo room, partially because I am living in a rural area[ SC], without many dealers around...
For folks like me, yours advice is quite wellcomed, as it will be easier to select from a small number of options,when I'll visit the audio stores
B&W wise, I listened to 602s and 805s. NTS 7-9 are in my price range. Talking about money, nothing is carved in stone. I'll rather strech now a little if it is neccesary to get on the best place in the diminishing returns curve...That means I am opened to any suggestions, but the plan was to get an integrated amp/cd/speakers. I 'll get a rug, thanks!
1) Decide on your TOTAL budget. Don't forget to consider room treatment, speaker stands, cabling, rack, tweaks, dedicated AC lines. Whatever you initially spend is only the ante. You will find the need to make changes and additions as you gain experience. For that reason, it is best if you can gain sufficient knowledge/confidence to buy used. That way, when you are ready to make a change, you can sell something without taking a bath.
2) Mike C. is right on- speakers first. Most importantly, the choice of speakers will determine what kind of amplification you will need. My advice- stick with speakers that have a "benign" impdedance curve (i.e. 8 Amp nominal, without dips below 4 or 5A). This will simplify your life greatly, end up costing you less money, and give you much greater flexibility. I use Spendor speakers (BC1s driven by 30W OTL tube amp)and can't recommend these highly enough. Check out their website (do a google search). This is a company with tradition and standards.
3) You owe it to yourself to listen to tubes. There are very good and inexpensive integrated tube amps that come up on Audiogon with some regularity. One I am thinking of is the Pathos (I've seen it for about $1100). Also consider Antique Sound Labs. Solid state, you could go with a Classe CAP80 for well less than a $1000 (as long as you don't need monster power).
4) DO NOT skimp on the source. If your source fouls things up, there is no way to make up for it. If I was considering how to divy up $4000, I might go with $1800 source (you can get a very good used CD player for this), $1000 integrated, $1000 speakers. Set aside $1000 for the other things you will need.
Good luck, and post progress reports.
Read the thread "the most important piece in a stereo system" as this will guide you on how to allocate your budget.
You have two general categories to pick from: dynamic cone driver system or planar system. Both have pros and cons, but your room 20'x15' will accomodate either.
Having said that, I like the recommendation for the Rogue integrated at 1400 used, if you can get one. Run it in triode and match it up with a pair of efficient Coincident or Silverline speakers. Use a Rega Planet 2000 cdp (700 used) and Coincident IC, power cable and spkr. cables (500 used).
For a planar system, consider a Magnepan 1.6qr (1200 used), Plinius 8100 integrated (1200 used) and the above cdp and cables.
Just get everything on Audiogon and your budget 'll be given a bit more breathing room. The A3 and the B&W's I've tried and were too bright together... The B&W line has that titanium tweeker, which usually needs a neutral to smooth sounding amp and source. Stay away from the 600 series, the 800 series are great, especially the 805. The Musical Fidelity A3 is a wonderful integrated with the right speakers (i have owned it). The A300 would probably work better in your room though. Try to put about the same amount of money in amp/speaker/source because if you cheap out on one, you will hear it!! For cables, I've tried lots of stuff and I've settled on the Virtual Dynamics stuff (audition package would be great for you)
Also, I would definitely try out some different speakers.. The B&W sound is very special, but there is SO much more out there. But if you're heart-set on the line, the 805 is a wise choice.
Also, before you buy, please realize that the performance of your hifi is highly dependant on speaker positioning, and that optimum speaker positioning usually puts the speakers some distance into the room. See
If your current room layout forces you to place speakers close to walls then you must specify this to the dealer since many speakers will not work at all well in this configuration. I'd go as far as to suggest that you'd be wasting at least half of your budget if you end up purchasing speakers which are unsuitable for your room placement.
My suggestions of manufacturers, based on my experience, mainly in European electronics (in addition to previous good suggestions) :
Speakers : Proac, Spendor, Harbeth, Epos
Amplifiers : Densen, Cyrus(Mission), Naim, Creek
CD player : Rega, Creek, Marantz (good value for money)
Also, call ahead to dealers and see if they have any used equipment you can demo. As a newbie I wouldn't mail order used equipment without a demo, but if a dealer allows you to demo you might just stumble on a bargain.
Good luck !
I guess I forgot about the CD player. The Rotel RCD-991 sells used for about half of its $1300 list price ($650). It has dual Burr Brown's best ever K grade 20 bit chips, which can stand up to any 24 bit chip; and has HDCD. Has a hint of high end at the price of a budget player when purchased used. Put it in your rack near the amp to save money on a shorter used 0.6 Meter Nordost Red Dawn interconnect to go with it, or a Siltech ST-18G3.
Where in SC?? We're practically neighbors!!!
I am in Columbia at Law School presently, and I have a pair of B&W Nautilus 805s, a Rega Planet CD, and A Rogue Tempest Integrated (love the tubes) and a Cary SLI-80 Sig integrated(tubes again) as well (alas, one will have to go soon!).
I second most all of the recommendations, except the ones that said that high power solid state is the way to go. I am currently using the Cary in triode, 40 watts per side, and it is PLENTY loud. The Rogue in triode at 30 watts per side was also PLENTY loud, but I have a medium sized room. AS previously mentioned, I will ahve to sell one of my amps soon, but if you're close, you're welcome to come over and play!!!
I love the sound of the Nautilus 805 with tubes, I feel that I have gotten more music from the speakers with a tube amp.
You could buy a system like mine on the used market for roughly what you have to spend (maybe not the speaker cables), and still have $$ for a rug (I use a flokati wool rug on my hardwood floor), and i would recommend a rug of some sort most definately, along with something on the walls...
Anyway, I have the speakers I suspect you want, if you really like the B&W sound, there's not much better at roughly $1500 used. I have a couple of amps lying around, and as I said, if you like, you are welcome to email me privately at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in making a trip to Columbia sometime soon to listen!!
I agree with the basic suggestions here. Look at your system as a whole from beginning to end. That means it starts as a power source ( PLC ) makes music at the recorded source ( CD system ) is fed through interconnect cables to the amplification chain ( preamp / amp or integrated ) through speaker cables to the speakers. The speakers are then carefully positioned within your acoustic environment for best results at your seated listening position while the components rest on some type of support device.
If this sounds like a chain of events with a LOT of various factors involved, it is. Paying less attention or taking a shortcut in any one area will weaken the entire chain. As such, i would HIGHLY suggest buying used from reputable sources and doing as much listening and research as you can before spending any money. It will be FAR cheaper and more enjoyable to approach it this way than to rush into something that you'll regret later.
I would also comment that tubes produce a more "liquid" and "musical" sound than SS, so introducing tubes somewhere into the chain is typically a good thing. That is, so long as everything is well matched in terms of tonal balance and "speed". In order to obtain the same type of "liquidity" with an all SS system, you would have to spend quite a bit more money. Personally, i think that tubes work best at the source but everyone has their opinions.
As to the comments about learning how to "work" your room, it would be well worth it. The suggested books are very cheap for what you can get out out them and contain a wealth of knowledge. You can learn at your own pace and experiment for pennies on the dollar if you are willing to "DIY" a little bit.
As to "esoterica" such as various tweaks, power cords, isolation, damping, etc... i would suggest building a solid system first and then experimenting with variables. There is a lot to be learned along the way, but starting with a firm foundation should always be ones' goal when it comes to building a system.
With that in mind, here's what you would be looking at to build a system from scratch. Breaking it down this way may give you a better idea of what is involved in building an excellent system right off the bat, but also helps remind you of how you need to allocate your budget:
Digital Source ( CD player, DVD player or transport / DAC combo
Interconnect ( at least one from source to amplification device. Possibly one from transport to dac and another from preamp to amp depending on what you go with ).
Amplification ( preamp / power amp or integrated )
speakers ( may also need speaker stands depending on your final choice )
PLC ( power line conditioner. Go with something simple yet effective at this stage of the game )
rack ( don't overlook the importance of a decent rack )
room treatments & attention to acoustics ( something that most people neglect for the majority of their listening experience, yet it can make the biggest difference out of anything )
I hope this helps and gives you some food for thought. If you've got further questions, try looking through the archives here and at Audio Asylum. Both places have an excellent amount of info that has already been covered. Obviously, every situation or question can't be covered, so feel free to ask about specifics : ) Sean
Thanks again for the input. I considered the tubes somehow too exotic for a beginner but it looks like I must at least take a listen to some...I like B&W, but I am aware that are many other nice alternatives.[ so far I just listened to B&Ws, KEF Q35, Monitor Audio silver, some Polks...]
Joe, your kind invitation is appreciated, I 'll email you.
I just wanted to second the thoughts of Joe and others - please give tubes a listen. I was in your position about two years ago buying my first real audio system. I had the same thoughts that you did about tubes - too exotic, not for beginners, upkeep, etc. Well, I bought solid state separates, and I really enjoyed them. But, I kept wondering how tubes would sound in my system. About nine months later, my curiosity got the better of me and I bought a used Conrad Johnson preamp, and loved it. I couldn't stop there, so shortly thereafter I picked up a used Conrad Johnson amp to match. Again, loved it. So, long story short, give tubes a listen; for me, I have enjoyed my system much more after I got them.
Oh, and I'm in Columbia, SC too, so I know where you are coming from with lack of dealers to audition equipment. With some of my purchases I ended up taking some risk and ordering used equipment without having heard it first. Not the best way to go, but Audiogon is a great resource for people without many dealers around. Good luck with your search -