I suggest you turn off caps lock, first. None of us are visually deaf (though I am occaisionally hard of reading). Then I suggest you provide us with just a little more information, like room size, musical preferences, some budget guidelines, maybe a peek at what you have and what you've already heard, etc. Depending on that info, we might have some idea of what you might want to audition. For instance, if you are really budget tight, integrated amps can sometimes be cost effective. If you listen mostly to heavy metal, we might not suggest panel speakers - that kind of thing. So - whats up?
I think that for the budget audiophile, the integrated amp is the way to go. Go for as much quality as you can afford. Companies like Bryston or Musical Fidelity make very nice integrated amps for not a whole lot of money.
Let's see. For a brand new Preamp cheap, the best deal is the Cambridge Audio C500 $259. For $59 more you can add a decent phono stage to it. I would pair it with a better amp than Cambridge's P500. The rest you could go with used.(?)
A Conrad Johson PV-10 Tube Preamp with a MF2100 Solid State Amp is a great combination about $1200 used. If you do not want used, Northampton Audio(SpearitSound.com) have new/factory refurbished/warranted ones for $1800 for both.
If you do not like tubes, you could substitute a PF2 Preamp for $2000 total ($1300 used). CJ also had the Sonographe line that is great for beginners or those on a budget. A SC26 Preamp SA250 Amp combo will cost you used about $1000. Bryston already mentioned also makes some nice separates that are not too expensive. If are willing to try tubes, also look at the Anthem line by Sonic Frontiers.
You want some sort of high end audio so you dont keep buying and selling. Buy the classe intergrated amp used on the net for about 1,000 and a pair of martin logan aerius i used for 1,100 and a classe cd player cdp1.5 for about 1,100 and buy Harmonic technologies for cables. It is also important if you do listen to metal then you dont want martin logans. If you listen to anything else that will be a great starter system that you can build from. You can always add an amplifier to that system. that system would have a very warm and sweet sound I am not sure if thats the sound you want? Let me know I have many other combinations. GIVE US A BUDGET YOU NEED TO STAY UNDER.
Hi Johnny, I second the proposed combos above *AND* chas' & Lev's quest for more info... we're a bit in the dark (no pun intended).
Check out AMC's homepage (www.amchome.com) and go to the refurbished page. The have the 1100 solid-state pre-amp for $150 ($220 new) which I own and is a very transparent pre-amp for the money. They also have a solid-state amp for around $250 ($500 new, 100W/ch I think) that I haven't audiotioned, but if it's like the pre-amp then it probably sounds damn good. The units are refurbished but I feel their products are overlooked for sound quality and value. They also have some tube gear. If not AMC, then check out some NAD or Rotel gear. I'm a student, so this kind of equipment is pretty expensive for me, but the value can't be beat if you're on a tight budget.
If you do not mind shopping exclusively on the net, you can find a very good "new" system of separates for about $2000.
I would recommend the Odyssey Stratos as the Power Amp ($995 to $1295 depending on options) and the Morrison Elad as the Pre-amp ($820 including shipping). Both have received very positive reviews and seem to be the trendsetters in the value for the dollar audio camp.
Since you're not rich, I'd recommend AMC. Their tube series is simply awesome and for the price it is a steal. The CVT1030 tube preamp and CVT 2030 tube amp (30 watt/channel) are excellent as is the CVT3030 integrated tube amp (ss preamp section with 30 watt tube amp section) which was a sterophile recommened component and had a good review in The Absolute Sound as well.
These can be bought _new_ on ebay extremely cheaply : $250-$300 for 1030, $300 to $350 2030, and about $500 to $600 for the 3030.
Not knowing what speakers you have or are planning to get. My recommendation would be to get the AMC tube preamp and get their 2100 100watt solid state amp as menioned above as it will give a lot of flexibility with regards to speaker choices (Their 30watt tubers are excellent but you'd be limiting yourself to high efficiency speakers). The 1030 preamp is a honey and the 2100 power amp is an excellent solid state unit (read its review on goodsound.com).
I don't want to sound like an add for AMC but man their solid state stuff is as good as NAD but you can get it dirt cheap. Plus they make great sounding tube stuff that you can get dirt cheap. One note worth mentioning is that the tube amps and preamps have versions with tube sockets and without tube sockets. The socketless versions are very heavily discounted. The tube are soldered directly to the circuit board. on the preamp is it a piece of cake to install sockets when replacing the tubes. With the poweramp it is another story as there isn't enough clearance to insert a socket, you jast have to solder the new tubes in. Mind you that the power amp tubes will last at least 5 to 6 years before needing replacement and that the preamp tubes will last even longer. So you wouldn't have to worry about that for a long time. If you are in the least bit proficient with a soldering iron and a screw driver you'll have no problems. The factory will also swap out tubes and install sockets for you for a little more than the price of the tubes but you'd still have to ship it off and who knows if AMC will be around in 6 to 8 years (Audio Alchemy made good stuff but they crapped a while back).
With AMC you could have your amp and preamp for under $500. Then get a good CD player like the Sherwood 980 (a fantastic player, the sound is so spacious and 3D, just phenomenal) which can be had on ubid.com for around $115 to $150. And you'd be set for cheap.
If you want a tuner I'd pick a late 70's Kenwood off of ebay for under $80. Marantz and Sansui are great too but a lot of collector types have driven the price of the good models up too high. The Kenwoods sound just as good but for a better price. The 70's tuners sound much better than new digital tuners like Onkyo, Denon. The only thing you miss out on with a 70's tuner are presets.
Take any specific brand recommendations above with a grain of salt, as well as any that come after this post. These recommendations are useful only to the degree that you might want to include some of them on a short-list of gear that you want to audition. In the end, remember that the only thing that you can trust is your ears. But do listen to as much gear as you possibly can, decide what you like, and then buy it used here or in a similar forum.
While people are well intentioned, consider that when someone raves about a specific product, it's probably because they own it, and how objective can they really be? After all if you asked them if their wife/girlfriend is ugly, how many would respond with an objective "yes"? And believe me, I've listened to plenty of gear that people raved about here that left me cold.
Finally, recommendations that you buy used tube gear, and you'll get plenty, should be considered with a jaundiced eye. This is because you must periodically replace the tubes and this can cost a bunch of money, especially for power amps --- a real problem given that you stated that you are on a tight budget. It's similar to a friend asking you to recommend an economical car, and you recommend one that you know requires an engine replacement every 30,000 miles. It' just not a real budget friendly recommendation. Good luck.
I agree with Docwarnock about the listening to as many things as you can. But not on the part about then buying them used. Do not go and take up your local high end dealers time with no intention of buying anything from him, if everyone did this he or she would no longer be around. As far as tubes go, if you stick with just a tubed pre-amp you only replace them maybe once a year. Going with Sugerbrie's suggestion of PV-10a this will run you around 60 bucks. Good luck hunting down something that makes you smile :)
No money makes a valid point about supporting local hi-fi dealers. The problem is that a person on a tight budget, such as Johnny7, can seldom afford to assemble a full system using components sold at full retail by high-end salons. Many consumers just give up and go to BestBuy and buy whatever crap fits their budget.
In a perfect world, high-end dealers would recognize the demand for good, reasonably priced used equipment and start stocking a reasonable inventory of such gear. This would allow them to capture customers like Johnny7 and expand their sales. It might also mean repeat business as these customers' income increases over the years and they can afford better gear. However, the reality is that at least in my area, the high-end salons have no used gear to speak of other than the odd trade-in. They really almost force people with a tight budget constraint to take up their time, yet go elsewhere for the purchase.
I am fortunate enough to have a dealer that has a small room filled with used equipment. Some of it is crap, some of it is actually nice stuff. I picked up my ARC LS-15 out of that room, I could not have afforded it new. I still think it is wrong to demo with no intention of buying. If you buy it used and don't like it you can just re-sell it for little or no loss.
In response to the reply that some of us are just saying some gear sounds good just because we own it, I say pooh to you! I posted the first response about AMC above, and yes I own an AMC solid state preamp, but I have owned others as well, and my AMC has given me the best performance and flexibility of them all. Look at their ratings on Audioreview.com and you'll notice everyone has only good things to say about them. I have also owned numerous NAD components, Rotel, Denon, and others, so I do have some idea about comparing budget equipment. Buying used gear is a good way to go, as you won't lose alot of money if you decide you don't like it and sell it. I typically buy used gear anytime I find a reasonable deal. Anyway, good luck on your quest...