There are a lot. I just started into this a few months back (maybe 8 or so), and here's a few things I did: look through the sales here and other places, use Audiogon to find the manufacture's web page and read up on them. Read reviews (there will usually be links to multiple reviews on the same piece of hardware). You can also look at the chat toppics here. When someone asks "whats the best X under $3k?" you can look at the answers and see what some people like. Be careful of 'brand loyalty'. Some people drive a chevy or ford just 'cause. Maybe they like the letter "C" and not "F". Maybe it's because their dad always drove a ford. Who knows? Maybe someone has had their B&W speakers since they were 5 and never listened to anything else; therefore B&W is the best. Also check out the audio stores in your local area, look at the equipment they have for sale, and ask about it. Some of the big long-time companies can kind of get stuck in a rutt. (I'll probably get flamed for this, but here goes anyway). Take Krell or Mark Levinson for example. Sure, they make new products that are better than the last, but don't expect them to make a leap forward in technology at a great price (like MSB, to pick one). At the end, stick all the information together and figure out what you like.
Audio Research for tubes; Krell for solid state; Theta for digital; Classe for small solid state (preamps & DACs); B&W, Theil, Dunlavy for dynamic speakers; Nordost & Transparent for wire; PS Audio for power conditioning. Enjoy...
Don't forget Pass Labs Amp/Pre-amps
ROGUE AUDIO!!!! It doesnt take YEARS to be a top manufacturer.Rogue has been around a very few short years but are producing statement products at real world prices.Their M-120 monos are about as good as you will get for under 5 grand but yet retail for half of that.Their preamp 99 is just plain AWESOME!! For the more budget minded they have a preamp 66 and amp 88 that both slaughter gear that costs twice as much.Their customer service is as good or better than anyone else I have delt with.The head man Mark O'Brien is super cool and very easy to contact.I've seen several other postings about Mark answering the phone at Rogue and returning E-mails quickly. I know from first hand experiance its true.Look into their products,you won't regret it!! (awesome T-shirts too)
Aragon, by far. The best customer service in the business, bar none..
Atma-Sphere, Soundlab, Purist Audio, Thiel, Conrad Johnson, Eminent Technologies. I'm sure there are more but all of the above have always been nothing short of steller when it came to information (honest) and service, not to mention some of the better gear made.
Audio Research, Mark Levinson, and Theta without restriction. Restricted to price points, Magnepan and Grado are very worthy. I agree with the earlier post that Pass is a great product, but don't think the brand has been around long enough for purposes of the present question.
I would agree with the above but Vandersteen and Thiel were left out. These companies have been around a very long time and consistently offer good products. Vandersteen especially offers excellent value for the money spent. ARC also offers cutting edge products, dependability, solid engineering, product support for all products ever manufactured. I still think their D series amps and SP series pre-amps compete with the best I have heard in the past 10 years and they stopped being manufactured over 10 years ago. Market acceptance of a product year in and out is the real indicator of how good a product is. The above products fit that bill.
Look also to top distributors to find top products. Two that I can recommend without hesitation are Musical Surroudings and Axiss Distributing, Inc. Both of these companies sell great products, have a network of dedicated retailers and stand behind their gear. Musical Surroundings, among other brands, distributes or imports: Basis (turntables); Graham Engineering(tonearms); Koetsu & Benz Micro (phono cartridges); and, Aesthetix (tubed phono stages. Axiss imports, for example: Accuphase (full line of solid state electronics); AirTight (tubed amps and pre's); and, German Physics (speakers). Two manufacturers which have provided me with exemplary personal service and consistently come up with innovative and highly-regarded products are Avolon Acoustics (speakers) and Jeff Rowland Design Group ( solid state amps and pre's). Even if you are just getting started in the high-end (I've been at it for more than 25 years), go with the best manufacturers, even if you can afford only their "entry-level" gear. Don't settle for mid-fi under any circumstances; you're much better served by buying older "classics" at used prices on this web site or from used high-end dealers. Of course, these are just my opinions. I could be wrong.
I'll ditto the recommendations of ARC, Levinson and Krell. Certainly these manufacturers have produced excellent products and have a good history of customer support. These are vendors are "solid", kind of the McIntosh of the last decade (even longer). At the more inexpensive side NAD and Adcom must be given credit for very good products and in use results over the years. Speaker maufacturers are much more taste dependent, but I repect products from Magnepan and Vandersteen. Magnepan (I have never owned a pair) has been near state of the art since the late seventies and are a great value. Vandersteen (I have never owned a pair) has consistently been the best music/$ value over many years and hold up very well. While I don't own a pair of Vandersteens many of my non audiophile friends have bought Vandersteens after I recommended they give them a listen. Guess what, I think their reciever/integrtaed based systems sound damn musical and they LOVE them. I am less enthusastic about the high end products of B&W and Thiels as recommended by others and preferring to recommend the speakers offered by Avalon and Wilson. Both are exceeding good, sound different but still right, with the Avalon's requiring lot more power than the Wilson's. Have fun!
Hluker It goes to show you that the REAL REASON there are so many manufacturers of audio equipment is that there are so many varying opinions as to sounds good. It isn't an easy journey. The rewards can be great if you are a music lover. If you become an "Audiophile" (my definition is one who becomes enamored of the sound of system rather than a system that serves the music as produced on the recording) you might end up in the merrygoround world of the audiophile. That is changing gear like you change your clothes. What is most important is to assimilate all that you can and make your judgements based on YOUR happens is that you will be more influenced by Gerrym5
Top manufacturers (in my experience. NOT in order of quality): Amplification: Audio Research, Cary, Krell, Sonic Frontiers. Speakers: B&W, Martin Logan, ProAc, Thiel. Source: Magnum Dynalab, Krell. Cables: MIT.
Jeff Rowland Design Group,Cardas Audio.
There is one name which is not known among dealers yet a name producing most exquisite preamps in the world. I am referring to Mr. Don Morrison and E.L.A.D. standing for Electronic Line Amplifying Device. I invite everyone to visit http://www.audioreview.com/reviews/preamplifier/index_byrating.shtml as well as http://www.donmorrisonaudio.com/ I am waiting for my ELAD to arrive. I have been an audio enthusiast for the last 30 years and have not found better service than Don’s. Considering the performance, reference standard components – watch out (not to mention the under $1,000 price tag). Andrew G.
Krell, Magnepan, Resolution Audio, MIT, VPI, and ASC in that order...for me so far, anyway.
I only have a few years of experience, but I'll throw in Mark Levinson, Jeff Rowland, Wadia and Sonic Frontiers.
Don't forget Merlin. The speaker manufacturer, not the wizard. You can forget the wizard, for all I care.
Don't forget Spectral. I have to admit, though, even though I own their preamp and power amp, they are a difficult bunch of people to deal with as a consumer.
Goldmund, FM acoustics I´m sorry for yours but the best is in Europe, Switzerland. Miles away from krell,levinsons, etc.
Yeah, us Americans...the very idea! Where do we get off thinking we could design fine power amplifiers? How dare we! We should just give up, we're even making the Swiss feel sorry for us...and goodness knows they take a stand on things, when the going gets tuff...we could learn much from them.
--Turntables: Simon Yorke, Forsell, Rockport, Versa Dynamics, Goldmund, VPI, Verdier, Micro-Seiki --Tonearms: Nord Air, Forsell, Graham, SME --Cartridges: Jan Allaerts, Benz Micro, Transfiguration, Ortofon, Haruo Takeda Miyabi --Phono Preamps: Aesthetix, Progressive Audio, Audio Research --Preamps: Audion, Jadis, Manley, Cello, Accuphase --Power Amps: Lamm, Manley, VAC, Audio-Note, Spectral --Speakers: Ars Acoustica, Wilson Audio, Martin Logan, Avalon --CD Transport: Audiomeca, Wadia, Burmester, Spectral --DAC: dPs, Audio-Note, Cello, Wadia --Cable: NBS, Fadel Art, Purist Audio, MIT
As an avid audiophile the last 30 years. I just recently had a great experience dealing with a small start up company that manufactures hi-end power cords. The name of the company is BMI Virtue Power Cords. The Eel reference custom is very impressive in both construction and sound. Out performing my +$1200 power cords. Also, the service is excellent with Brian being the one man operation, he listens and gives you all the attention you need. He was very helpful and I will continue to do business with him and recommend BMI highly if on the market for best power cords. So BMI Virtue Power Cords gets my vote for a being a top manufacturer.
Lamm just listen forget the advertisements
Let me recall one that (figuratively) brings tears to one's eyes: Apogee Acoustics (the speaker maker)
In a very short time Balanced Audio Technolgy has become a leader in the electronics field. World class sound and people. It's a labor of love for Victor, Steve, and Geoff. They deserve tons of credit and I can't thank them enough!!! Sincerely, Thomas Colato
BMI Virtue Power Cords as the Chairman indicates above ! They are top shelf cords without the top shelf price .MIT cables ,great service ,P R ,and the right speaker cables and interconnects in the right system are a very hard act to follow.Hales Design Group for their service ,P R and for their breakthrough Revelation line that set new standards in exceptional sounding speakers that are very affordable .P S Audio for the incredible Power Plants. When it comes to construction ,service and warranty and a company with great PR,I challenge any company worldwide to even come near to Bryston's 20 years all parts and labor ,transferable warranty(limitless owners) and they also pay for return shipping. Most repairs are completed and return shipped on the same day ! No matter how badly trashed a unit is,they will repair it,Lightning ,power surge, rough handling ect.(obviously these extreme cases will take a little longer.) A few others are McCormack, Magnum Dynalab and a new revolutionary breakthrough for audio in superior isolation, the Vistek-Ink M I Bearings.
Everyone at Well-Tempered is great. I recently purchased and used Well-Tempered turntable (no manual) on Audiogon. Everyone was extremely helpful in answering questions. They gave me the same service I would expect had I bought a new turntable. These people are the greatest!!!!! And so are their products!!!!
I see that audio research and conrad johnson are posted afew times as top manufacturers. Cary has been my chose until now. Over the years I have purchased many items from cary products: slp-30,sig 70, slm-100, slam-100 and now 805c. When there has been a problem with a product,(ups crushed a slm-100, no fault of cary) Cary built another to match the old slm-100. $2,800 later, I hooked up only only to hear a bad ground hum that I did not have with the original amp. Upon comparing amps, I found that they were wired alittle different. It did not seem that monoblocks would be wired different. so, I called Cary. They were nice to help guide me thru the rewire so the amps matched. I would rather not have spent my time and money doing so, but it was nice not to hear the hum and have my system back. When I purchased a pair of prototypes slam-100, now available, they arrived with a broken kt90(from yugo)in boxes they did not fit in(cardboard boxes that could not be shut for the transformers were too tall. The broken tubes were one the bottom. I did not expect them to be delivered to the dealer in such a condition, but they were prototypes and I did not pay full retail. I only asked to replace the broken tubes and to send me a manual. I did not complain. Now with 805c I expect more from the amps and Cary. Cary has not been helpful. After trying a slp-98(a dirty old noble pot in a passive unit beat it using my theta gen 5a), I wanted to inquire more about possibility of passive device options for the 805c. This is were the help ended. With a customer not wanting a new product, nor a problem that they created and were responsible for, Cary was not helpful. I have been inconvenience afew times by them and do not wish to feel I am putting them out when asking a simple question. First, I asked if the 805c was prime of a passive attenuator, which after having good luck with a passive pre with a dirty old noble pot, did not seem like a crazy question, Cary said no and that the slp-98 was the best match. I considered the source, but felt that I was getting half truths for the sake of maybe a sale. This is what I expect form dealers and not top notch manufactures. After doing more research it seems they are prime for passive attenuation. I called back a week later and asked if they have ever installed attenuators in the 805c with any success(on my pair the ohm switch is not hooked up and the attenuator could be installed in this spot 4" for the input tube, perfect for a passive attenuator). Now they say they have installed them with success(I have been talking to the same person, just a different day). truthful and truly helpful info has been like pulling teeth. This is not the service I wish after spending thousands. I will look for a new top notch manufaturer for my next system. I am in my 30's and love music. I wonder what my 40's will bring, not a cary that is for sure. Theta, dunlavy, proac, and even rotel were always more helpful. They have my vote.
Classe Audio. Great products and service.
I think Quicksilver takes some beating, very natural sound and the service is the best. I live in UK I bought used LS pre-amp they Emailed me on how to have it converted to 240v and even sent me instructions free of charge.
SME! I have spent the last couple of months dealing with Reg Edey @ SME and all I can say is... Super! Everything should be this informative and helpful. He has helped me get my SME tonearm back up and running. And even though I was communicating back and forth to England, it was a very pleasurable experience. I wish some of my other dealings with our local dealers were as nice and effortless. I only pray that SME comes out with an amplifier in the near future!
Balanced Audio Technology Tube Only