Where to start in building a beginner's system?

I have a old Sonus Faber Concerto speakers. The receiver I had stopped working. I would like to replace the receiver with high end audio (music only) system. I use IPOD as the source. What kind of receiver / amps / IPOD transport should I get? Which brand? Should I buy my components here in Audiogon? Or Am I better off buying it from a dealer? What would be a good budget to start with?

Well, if you really want to get better sound I would start by getting a digital output from your iPod to a decent DAC with good de-jitter capabilities or interface. The Wadia iTransport dock allows you get a digital line output from your iPod. Just out of curiosity, why would you want to use the iPod as a front-end? Why not go from your computer?

From there it's probably best if you state a budget as you can go from hundreds of dollars to tens of thousands if you cared to. Do you want to keep your current speakers? Types of music you listen to, and size of room will also help others suggest where to start. How picky/discriminating are you and what have you heard that you've liked and disliked. There are so many variables.

A basic system might be the iTransport, a good DAC (so many to choose from), an integrated amp with enough power to go well with the speakers you already have. Associated cables and wires to connect everything that are not zip-cord, but one of many affordable approaches. Oh, and don't forget to put aside a little extra money for a small jar of colored pebbles to place atop your new components to make them sound even more better :-)

I've had great luck buying on A'gon. There are plenty of good dealers, as well as fine manufacturers who sell direct. There's a certain amount of risk in buying used and having things shipped. The feedback system will give you some basic clues, but there are no guarantees. I know folks who wouldn't consider one way or the other for various reasons. It's really your choice, but A'gon is a great resource for used gear. If you want to experiment and try various approaches to building a system, you can buy used and resell and not lose much in the process if you're savvy to what things are worth.
I would suggest that you figure out the budget part and then elicit recommendations that are within that budget. Otherwise, you're likely to get a lot of recommendations for gear that you may or may not be able to afford.

Certainly, if you don't mind buying used equipment, you can save a lot of money buying gear here and you have the potential to buy gear that you may otherwise be unable to afford (new). If you feel the need to have a warranty, etc., then you should stick to a dealer.

Otherwise, there are many, many answers to the questions you have asked. Maybe a little more background would help. What kind of music do you listen to? Is your music stored on your Ipod as MP3's or lossless? How big is your listening room? Etc.
Cruz is correct, you really need lossless music. MP3 quality is garbage and your speakers are capable of much more. If you have your music in lossless, the next step may be a nice integrated amp?
Thanks for the quick response.

Here's some more background. My budget is about $5000. MP3s are what I have. I will try lossless. I can certainly stream from my Mac or ReadyNAS drive instead of IPOD. The size of my listening room is 20 X 12 X 8. I listen to mostly Rock & Pop. I am getting in to Blues / Jazz.

I understand there are so many brands and different brands appeal to different people. Where can I read / learn / listen to different brands to find out what I like.?
Cambridge Audio makes some smart components that will marry well with your "ideal" 2 channel system driven by an iPod. I would get their simple integrated amp, a 540 or 640 Azur, and get their Magic DAC and a Wadia 170 iPod Doc. There is a good review of these components in the Absolute Sound 2008 Buyers Guide and in Tone Magazine, available online through their website.

Other options are as follows:

I would also look at the Rotel integrated receiver, which gives you all the bells and whistles of a solid state 100 watt amp with a wonderful tuner thrown in.You could add the Magic DAC and Wadia 170.

From an amplification perspective, I would also audition:

iTube Fatman: a simple tube based system out of the UK with a built in iPod dock. These mate well with efficient speakers.

B & W Zeppelin: the best and most serious iPod all in one docking station with terrific nearfield quality.

PS: There are a number of speakers I would marry the above amps to. I would try to audition the new DALI Lector 2.0s, B & W 685s, or Paradigm Studio 20s (check out skiing ninjas of Colorado--they hot rod these).
Wadia 170i is the natural starting point if iPod is to be your source. The next link in the chain needs to be a DAC and there is a very big range of options in this regard. If you prefer a non-oversampling (NOS) DAC, you could look at options like Mhdt (Paradisea or Havana) or Audio Note (2nd hand DAC 1 or 2). For upsampling models, there are even more options - I second the recommendation for the DACMagic from Cambridge as a great budget option. Also check the Benchmark and Bryston DACs.

Finally a decent integrated amp such as from Musical Fidelity (A300, A5, etc), Cambridge Audio or NAD for example. If you would like to include tubes in the amp, have a look at Prima Luna, Rogue or Cayin for good value.

An alternative option would be to pick up the Musical Fidelity A5.5 integrated amplifier which has an internal USB DAC and run your computer music software stright to the USB DAC.
You might want to have a look at Peachtree Audio's amp and DAC combinations. They're designed assuming that you'll be using a digital source like an iPod or music server, or both. I haven't heard the new Nova but I own the Decco and am really happy with the versatility, simplicity and the sound. Both the Decco and Nova have a tube preamp section, internal DAC's and multiple digital and analog inputs.
Add the Apogee Mini-DAC to the Benchmark and Bryston mentioned by Hens.