Upgrade time way past : Amp/Pre or Int for $1000

I have been an impoverished student for the past decade. Nonetheless, during that time I tried to build a good sounding system. My primary route of acquisition was through gifts (see below) and places like Audiogon or local audio resellers. Always, my goal was to buy the best possible product I could purchase for the money that I had saved (sort of the "best athlete available" on draft day).

Unfortunately, the amount of money saved was typically not very much. Also, I purchased some products (read the sub) to fix a problem (read poor bass output) that likely was not a fault of my speakers (read not enough power from the HK 3550). This has resulted in what may be an overall motley "system", which is as follows:

KEF Reference One speakers
HK 3550 integrated amp/pre/receiver (a gift)
MSB Link DAC I modded by Modwright
Marantz DR700 or Pioneer DV656A as transport (a gift)
Paradigm PW-2200 Subwoofer
cables from Modwright in trade

In all, I spent $1500 on the above, specifically for the speakers, DAC, sub, and cables. Given that the KEFs went for $2000 when I got them, I feel I did OK.

Still, I need to get a better amplification set-up, especially in light of the fact that I really like the KEFs and they require more power than I currently have. Given that I have decided to choose lifestyle over earnings, I am resigned to never being able to make that leap to truly expensive audio equipment. Even so, I should be able to get a nice amp/pre match or integrated for between $1000 and $1500 (likely used), right?

So, the question:

What would be a good amp/preamp combo or integrated amp for the $1000-1500 price range that provides enough power for the KEFs?

Suggestions? Help? Criticism on the length of my post?

Seriously, thanks for any responses.
Most of us have been in your shoes. No apology necessary. I looked for a used good SS integrated amp and got tired of waiting. I looked at the Marantz 7200 (?) and Musical Fidelity, but opted for the Creek 5350SE through a mail order outlet. I drive Von Schweikert VR-1s which are not that hard to drive. It has about 85 W/Ch, headphone output, passive pre-amp, pre-out RCAs, remote, tape outs and all for about $1325 new. It is worth looking into and listening to if you can. Good luck!
You don't mention the type of sound you like so I will give you two different options. My first recommendation is actually for separates but they don't take much more room than an integrated: McIntosh C712 preamp and C7100 amp. I had this combo for a while and it edged out an MA6450, with more power to boot. Both can be had for about $650 each. The pair will deliver very coherent, warm, seductive sound. They will sound WAY more powerful than your HK.

For more detail and a little cooler presentation, I would suggest the Classe CAP-151 integrated. It sounds great and fits right in your budget. Good luck! Arthur
Aball: Thanks for the suggestions and sorry for the omission (the post was so long already). I prefer warm sound, but with solid definition at the vocals and with crisp bass. I like several kinds of music, ranging from classical to rock to jazz to blues to Cowboy Junkies (my favorite!).

Tgrisham: Interesting . . . I am seriously considering the 5350SE. I haven't seen stereophile give any product a better review. Not that someone else's opinion is necessarily definitive, just helpful.

FYI, I have started leaning toward integrateds. Here are some of the ones that have popped up on my radar (other than the 5350SE):

Portal Panache
JoLida JD-302B
JoLida 1501RC
Jungson 88D
Cayin TA-60 (new TA-30)
Rogue Audio Tempest II (out of price range unless used)
Musical Fidelity A300

I recognize that, other than the Creek and MF, these are tube or hybrid integrateds. But they seem to be very well regarded and would be great if they can drive the KEF load.

Anyone have an opinion on these? Or a suggestion for another SS? Thanks.

Here is what I am doing FWIW.
I have had separate preamp and amp setups and about two years ago went with a used Musical Fidelity A 300 integrated.
I have been pretty happy with it but recently decided to have it modded by Tube Research Labs whom makes highly regarded high end preamps/amps(multi thousand $ units).

They did a mod on the unit at their standard $550 mod rate which is what they charge for their well reviewed digital/transport/DAC mods.

They were very happy with the MF A300 results after mods and were very surprised with how far they took this modest integrated unit.

I get the unit back this week, and am very excited.
It was already a good unit. If you are interested in how it turns out you can email me privately. I will also post something about it here on Agon after some break in.

I went this route as I wanted to improve my pre and amp but also did not want to spend huge bucks on a another integrated or separates. I have had other TRL modded units and they do an excellent job.

The MF A300 goes for around $750-900 here on Agon it appears, so with the mod you are up to 1300-1400.

We will see how it turns out, but I am really looking forward to it.

Good luck in your search.
There are SO MANY good integrated amps on the market and all are sonically very good with a few different flavors.
Let me say something about the Creek, it is good sounding but in its standard form, it uses a passive volume control which doesn't ramp up very rapidly giving the impression that it is less powerful than it is. They do have a active module that ups the gain but I feel it is somewhat of a compromise sonically. Might want to try one first considering your load.
The other integrated amps are good choices also, certainly nothing wrong with the Classe or the MF (might want to even consider the A3.2 amp and matching preamp used.
My next suggestion would be in your price range, you might want to find a used Belles 150a Hotrod power amp or a McCormack DNA .5 (or 125.) You can mate then with a good passive preamp or my preference, the Audible Illusions L-1 tubed preamp. This would bring top notch sound in at around your $1500 mark. This combo will not make any apologies to some much higher equipment.
So many good choices in this range. Have fun.
Buy a used Bryston 3B amp and either a Bryston/Nakamichi CA-5/Rotel RC-960BX pre-amp. You should spend no more than $800 and have a wonderful set-up. Most likely the Bryston's will still be under warranty. Something to consider when buying used!
Bang for the buck...
Don't overlook one of the AMC units for sale here at Audiogon.
Excellent sound and you'll have money left over.
I, in no way shape or form have ANYTHING to do with any party's selling the AMC units.
Just had one once upon a time and know that for the money they're hard to beat.
I recommend the Electrocompaniet ECI integrated amps. There is the ECI-3 (70W) or the ECI-4 (120W). They are superbly built and sound spectacular. They are also great as they can be used in possible future upgrades, in that unlike many integrateds, using their preouts does NOT disconnect their internal amp. Thus if you ever wanted extra power, or a biamp setup, you simply use the amplifier section of the ECI as one and another amp connected to the pre-outs.
Wow. Tons of great suggestions. I will need to research those further. I appreciate your input.

Out of curiousity, has anyone tried (or have any thoughts on) either a setup using either a hybrid integrated or a ss amp with tube pre?
If the new TAD-60 is like the Cayin TA-30, I would think that this will be a fantastic unit. I ran the Cayin TA-30 until I upgraded to the TAD-1000 and TAD-150 setup. The Cayin integrated amp sounded wonderful and I would think that any new item Paul from BizzyBee puts his hands on is also going to sound really good.

I will be very interested in hearing what people think of his new integrated amp.

Jeff Aguilar
Jeffaguilar: I just emailed Paul and he said the new product will be out in June. It is supposed to be rated at 60wpc and will have other improvements over the TA-30. It will not, though, be a Cayin branded product as apparently they have parted ways. I'm not sure what the "label" will be on the new product.

Are his products generally well regarded, independent of the Cayin connection?
His TAD-1000 mono block amps and his TAD-150 preamp are not Cayin. They have been getting VERY good reviews. There are some pretty good reviews of those items here on Audiogon.

I really like mine.

I currently have Arcam A65+ (40 wpc +) - you can get used for less than $400. They are extremely musical - a bit rolled off on top and bottom and are warm, not too detailed. For the price - they are very well balanced. My dealer prefers the sound of Arcam A65+ over its bigger brothers in the diva range A80 and A90 (2-3x more expensive).

I have a TAD-30 integrated from 2baudio.com. Clearly a step up from Arcam in terms of detail, amazingly open top end, nice mid-range, there is plenty of bottom end but is a bit loose - not tight.

I have TAD-60 on order - is actually a TAD-150 Pre-amp and TAD-60 Stereo Power amp. You can tube roll - EL34, 6550, KT88 etc. for changing the tonality and character - tighter bass etc. You may want to consider pre-ordering it - the prices will go up after the pre-order period. For extra $238 - you can get signature version (can be sent in future). Don't forget the power cables for a rediculous price. Paul is a nice guy - talk to him.

Then there is Eastern Electric M520 Integrated retails for $1800 - call Bill for a deal - if he has a B Stock or open box. http://www.morningstaraudio.com/shop/item.asp?itemid=7
This one looks stunning and people say it is all about tone.

For a killer price AV123.com is practically giving away speakers for free

SP3 Integrated Amplifier + Reference 1 Monitor Combo
for $1000

They have Onix H34 B stock which will go for $800 - no remote and put many multi thousand amps to shame. Talk to them - they are nice people and you have 30 day in home trial. You can even get mutiple products for home trial and just send back what you don't like within 30 days - all you pay for is shipping both ways. great reviews on 6moons.com

AV123.com have great combo deals - go through their site - talk to someone on the phone - nice people - tell them your budget or lack of and your sonic needs.

Example, they have Onix XCD-88 CD Player - which is sonically same as the Music Hall CD player (both made in China by Shanling) but at half the price - if you buy other equipment. With their in home risk free trial - one have nothing to lose (except for shipping) and get a chance to try different components in your home/system.

Good Luck.
Hafler 9290, 9300 or 9500 with NAD 1130.
The TAD-60 is out of stock, and might be out of production. M might keep a lookout for a used one.
If you are really counting your pennies try the
new Onkyo A9555 integrated for $500-$550.
I've got one for a small remote system and it's pretty impressive--little grunge, good definition, natural bass,
no strange artifacts in any part of the spectrum.
Nice look+feel, too. (Needs bare wire speaker cable connections, though.) There's another thread about it here from around a month ago. Spend what you save on speakers
and decent digital.