I own two of the integrated brands you're considering, a Cary SLI-80 F1 and a Simaudio Moon I-5 LE. I'm completely happy with both, I haven't been tempted by anything else in a long time and that's a testament to how much I like them since I've owned a lot of other gear over the last few years.
I use both with a pair of Devore Fidelity Super 8's and, as with the integrateds, those are the speakers I've settled on for awhile after having gone through several Proac models, Merlin TSMs and a pair of Thiels.
The piece of equipment I think ties the whole system together well is a Simaudio 300D DAC. It does a good job with every source, even music streamed from MOG or Apple Lossless files streamed through an Airport Express.
For speakers I suggest considering the Von Schweikert VR-22's. They are an absolute bargain at their price point and would work well with the integrated you choose.
That is great information. I like that you feel so strongly about both your Cary and the Simaudio. I'm going to research the Devore loudspeakers you finally settled on. The Proac models were on my shortlist so I think your experience could be of benefit. I will definitely check out that DAC as well.
Thank you very much.
Reading your post, I can't help but think you may have some type of issue with your system. I've owned both the Rotel and the 5350 an have used them both together. When you state issues like harshness, clipping, poor imaging and flubby bass, I can only say that they didn't sound like that in my system. I'm not too familiar with your speakers but I would be surprised if they were at fault, as well. As a matter of fact, I was so impressed with the 1072, I put it next to my old Wadia 850 ($5000) and thought it was a toss up. I loved the Creek also. I would recommend or buy either one of those components again without a second thought.
This all leads me to ask; are you sure that there is nothing wrong with your current system? Since you only listen to CD 10% of the time, maybe you should go through your system again and make sure that there's nothing wrong. The one thing that stands out, to me, is using your computer as a source. I know a lot of people are getting great results with PC audio but its still pretty new. Maybe there's an issue with it. I hate to see people accidentally get rid of good components. I've made the mistake several times myself.
I think that I could have been clearer. I do not have any issue with the Creek or Rotel--I was just stating my main dislikes in "a system" so folks could give recommendations.
The Creek 5350se is fantastic. I wish it had a little more power for the thirsty Totmes (87db sensitivity). I have not compared by A-B the Rotel 1072 CD to much else, but I can say that it is a very nice unit. The DAC must be decent.
The VR-22s are intriguing for sure. I appreciate this recommendation.
The Naim NAT 5i2 matches well with Arros. I think it is a step up from the Creek, but not a huge one. You might also consider a hybrid integrated like the Pathos Classic One. The Totem Staff are definitely a step up from the Arros. They are richer and fuller, although the is sort of a progression, not a major jump. You might need to go to the Hawks for a significant upgrade.
Please look at the Harman Kardon HK 990 before you buy anything. It sounds fantastic and had all the features you could ever want.
I would recommend against an even split between the cost of amp and speaker. Spend on the speaker. Much greater payoff there as long as the amp you choose is well-suited for the speaker.
The Naim does seem to match well from stats and a local dealer's recommendation. The Staffs are on my shortlist for sure. I do like Totem's smaller footprint (WAF) and overall presentation.
With regard to the Harman Kardon HK 990, I've seen that it gets many accolades--even from Stereophile. Thanks for this...I would not have had it on my list (forgot about it).
I second Roscoeiii. Spend more on speaker as dollars make more difference with speakers. Also, listen to any speaker before you buy it. Small footprint and good bass usually dont go together too well. The Salk Super Charged SongTowers might fit your bill but it sounds like the size might be a tiny bit larger than you are looking for.
Jamey - $6K is a great budget. For what it's worth, I'm running Totem Forests with Consonance Cyber 800SE monoblocks & a Cyber Reference 50 (all bought used). I love the Forests and expect to keep them but just for a different sound now and then, am thinking about a nice ~100+ wpc solid state integrated. I've started "window shopping" and the stuff on my radar right now is: Teac/Esoteric Distinction Series AI-2000; Yamaha AS2000, Vincent SV 236MkII; JoLida JD1501BRC; BADA Purer 255 (the last 3 are tube pre hybrids). Highly recommended from many sources are integrateds from Plinius. If you are OK with Class D...Wyred for Sound is something else to consider. Apart from the Plinius & maybe the W4S, the stuff I'm looking at is under your $3K amp budget but will leave you $ to work with on new speakers. New speakers (2nd set) are of interest to me too...I'd love to get a listen to some Tekton Lores (or higher up the Tekton food chain, maybe). I'll be watching the other input you get as your interest sort of overlaps mine. Best wishes to you for some great success.
Based on what you want sonics-wise, I can recommend you audition the speakers I own, the Ohm Walsh 2000 ($2800/pr). If you search the reviews, you'll find my review of this speaker. I can add that as I have upgraded my electronics, the Ohms have allowed me to hear rather small differences in electronics and cables. Ohm allows a 120-day in-home audition. If you return them, you lose the round-trip shipping, but there is no substitute for auditioning stuff in your home, with your gear, and with your music. The Ohm Walsh series is scaled for your room's cubic footage, so you might need a larger or smaller model, but the house sound of Ohm Walsh speakers is pretty consistent.
As for an amp, the Ohms like juice, probably more than your Creek would offer. Something like the Wyred for Sound STI-1000 would be a great mate for the Ohms, and leave you with a few hundred for cabling.
I agree with people above. Get the best speakers you can and build up the electronics over time. Personally, I am a old Sonus Faber fan. I would go for the original Cremona used and build the electronics up to that level over time. You can get the original Cremona below $4K now, when they come up. Buy a speaker (SF or other) at the highest level you can and build from their. Get the sweetest sounding and nicest looking speaker you can and maybe your wife will accept how big they are. How could she object to the looks of the old Cremona :)
check out a Germany made integrated amp called Octave.
This would jive well w/ your current gear.
Perhaps I should just stick with one system, moving the Totem Arros out and just spend $4k or so on a nice loudspeaker set? The recommendations thus far have been great. Thank you. I am off to research the Ohm make. I do like Sonus Faber floorstanders, generally.
+2 on Salksound. There are plenty SCST owner out there that you could ask for an audition.
I'd go with a Verity or Devore speaker paired with an appropriate VAC, Mastersound, or Luxman class A amp.