What's a great system at these price points?


This is the information age. Let's think systems, not just components, and discuss how to cost-optimize the high-end listening experience. Anyone with money to burn can be wasteful. Can you achieve the high end experience on budgets like these?

Price points (maximums:) $500, $1000, $2000, $3500, $5000.

Let's say the cost of a computer or other digital source is not included. Above $3000 there should be more than one hi-fi audio zone. Above $4000 it should have 5 or more separate zones.

Wanna play? OK, go.

Seems the heat has gotten to you, for if you were truly interested in 'playing' you would yourself have provided the details on each system price point. Please do so, and then I think people will respond.
Can you achieve the high end experience on budgets like these?

Price points (maximums:) $500, $1000, $2000, $3500, $5000.

Yes, and no, all dependent on your personal definition of "high end experience".

Wanna play?

Not really.
What do you mean by "zones"?

An SET "Single Ended Triode" Amp or Integrated Amp is the least expensive way to get the "high end experience".
You can here on AudiogoN, buy used units for $1K on up that will give you "goose bumps" "Unheard before micro-detail" and "Pull on your Heart Strings". Then you won't be concerned with "Zones" you'll be "In the Zone".

Jim C
Come on guys, stretch your imaginations. Try to step out of prejudices that attach us to just one kind of amp and the shyness that wants the other guy to go first.

To me "high end" is not at all about price, it's about the quality of the playback. To be interested in a musical experience I like to find realism, the more the better. Than means good imaging and detail, a well-built soundstage with good width and depth, balance and separation, and placement of instruments. Also a lack of noise or artifact, a black background. Add accurate timbre and tonality so instruments and voices sound as in life. Good power and representation across the range of hearing. Deep, punchy, fast bass. Highly detailed midrange with clarity and balance, and sparkling, shimmering highs.

Achieving all this and more doesn't take a lot of cash but there is some relationship between the degree and the budget. But you have to work with what you have.

[$500 - 1000] So, as a college student working his way I listened to headphones and an amp designed for them. These days I'd plug a mini DAC into a laptop USB port and listen to streaming services and ripped CDs. I might pick Sennheiser HD 600s and the Bravo Audio Ocean headamp with an upgraded 12AU7 tube. For a DAC, the AudioQuest Dragonfly or Audioengine D1 or W3 for lower cost but excellent performance. For those times when I don't want my ears covered or to be tethered there are Audioengine A2's. Arguably the best "computer speaker" ever available. Also excellent for A/V systems.

I'm sure there are other combos that sound good in this price range and meet individual tastes. I tend toward Audioengine because I deal those products but I recognize there's a lot of competing gear that sounds great. I keep saying we live in the golden age of audio.

[$1000 - $2000] "Once I graduate and get a job I'd be able to afford some speakers." Decades later I sit in front of a well exercised pair of Audioengine A5+ Bamboos. I think Adam Audio A7 would be a close performer for a little more money. They are both powered speakers, which I have come to favor for their many virtues. These were driven at first from the same USB DAC as before.

When it became time for a performance bump, I went to using my iPad as the music server playing through a Teac DS-H01 to keep it charged. This is a value of a DAC/Deck with a high end Burr-Brown chip. I added a tube buffer to heal the digital character of the sound and a powered sub to extend and strengthen the bass range -- Audioengine S8.

Now I have one of everything so I have also tried out the Audioengine D2 (another great Burr-Brown chip) and the W3. These last 2 are wireless and that helps quiet the background due to the isolation.

[$2000-3000] The very next upgrade was an Acoustic System Resonator Set (Basic and Silver) and a Phase Corrector Set. It's amazing what acoustic treatments can do. The acoustics produced a big leap in all the qualities of the music without touching the stereo system. It now sounds better than the previous tube amplified system, based on PrimaLuna amp and preamp playing through Joseph Audio RM7si Signature monitors. But I did not use the acoustic treatment with those and I have to wonder where that would have taken it.

Right now I don't see any reason to mess with success. I can listen to this system all day with zero fatigue. I'm at a loss for what to do to make it much better in this smallish, hard listening room. I'm playing lots of different kinds of music and getting ready for the next acoustic item -- Acoustic System Sugar Cubes.

And yes, I've listened to some expensive SET amps. Midrange is nice. But no bass and weak highs. If all you listen to is chamber music by dead guys, fine. But I want full range and more power for my Brazilian pop and Flamenco guitars and electro hip-hop and also detail and subtlety for the female jazz vocalists.

I've gone on too long. Anyone else?
And yes, I've listened to some expensive SET amps. Midrange is nice. But no bass and weak highs.
Instead of listening to expensive SET amps you should try listening to some good SET amps.
Joseph, as I mentioned in another post where you were singing the praises of the Audioengine products, you should really be clear that you are a dealer for that product. I don't doubt your insights but listing this disclaimer is in your own best interest.

As I expressed in this other thread, real "high end" performance comes at a price and I do not believe it can be achieved at or below any of the price points you list. It would likely be a stretch at even $10K. Maybe there is a personal preference and definitional issue at play here as you may really be talking about what I would refer to as good mid-fi with the type of systems you describe.
07-23-13: Jriden
I'm open about being a dealer. I mention it all over the place.

Really??? Because I do not see a dealer disclaimer presented in this thread.
Many good ways at each price point if certain parameters are adhered to.

Lower price points will achieve best results if speakers with limited bass extension are used in a smaller room.

As price goes up, more good options for more full range sound and for in larger rooms will become available.

Lower price points will be digital only. Other/analog sources will add cost to achieve good results.
Headphones are another very good option at lower price points as is consideration of products geared towards the pro market, which tend to be more about sound and less about aesthetics.
All the answers to you questions have been beaten to death here and everywhere else, but I have no problem with your o.p.

As always, disregard the advice of long term audiophiles in favor of the 'latest and greatest' at your peril.

I have no problem with dealers posting as audiophiles. Many of the most published posters are all over SELL forums. The difference between a dealer and someone that has a 2500 rating for Audiogon sales is semantics.
Too much work!!