Being given 2 custom systems but what to ask for?

I am a total newbie who is in WAY over her head. I am going to receive some non-cash compensation as part of a huge settlement. I thought that I'd request some nice audio equipment and am just realizing that this doesn't mean buying the most expensive thing at Big Box store. I want one stereo system for playing cassettes, albums, and CDs and one 7.1 surround sound system for playing back DVDs. I was hoping that people could respond with systems of each kind in price echelons of under $10k, under $25k, and under $50k. The catch? I need to FULLY specify each system, and it's the details like cables, line conditioner, stands, etc, that lost me.

Due to post limits, please ask me clarifying questions as needed.

Thank you!
First, figure out one at a time. I'm totally for 2 independent systems.
You need to look at the room where they will be used, how often they will be used and how simple they are to use. Obviously, you need to keep them simple or you won't ever turn them on.
There are some great 1 box systems that can hold their own against the many separate pieces (Arcam Solo for one). However, that takes some fun out of it.
I'd say start by hitting the specialty stores and just listen a lot. Find what works for you: Detail, lots of bass, spacious sound, smooth...and much more.
After a few weeks try posting this again when you know what you are looking for. If you have to decide NOW, that's another story.
Since you are not going to be trying to wring the last amount of performance out of each $, why not specify where you live, so you can get recommendations of a good brick and mortar retailer who can help you out. Our even a good internet retailer. There are lots of folks who have had good interactions w both types, and also who could possibly steer you away from any of the bad guys in your area.
However, on to more practical issues. Please verify that you are will be using CD, LP and cassette sources in your audio only rig. If so, I'm thinking the Arcam Solo with a mid level, set and forget TT, and speakers. Save on power conditioning (a 2 outlet Audience, perhaps) and cabling. Room size is going to be important in recommending speakers.
How does the settlement work? Do you have to buy from a particular store? Are there any limits on what you can chose - new vs. used? How much do you want to be involved as an audiophile, maintaining, tweaking and trading up, vs. just having a reliable system that you set up once and enjoy for many years to come?
Many of us here love trying new things and fiddling with stuff. If this is not for you, I would stay away from records and tube equipment. Some of us replace our equipment more often than we replace our toothbrushes - if this is you, you might want to consider buying used here (if your settlement allows it). If not, buy new gear w/ warranty, and be done with it.
I do this for my friends all the time. But first you need to do some homework.

Scout your 2 listening rooms for space and aesthetics. Nothing wrong with taking pictures and noting where furniture and outlets are positioned. Determine what you really love... listening to music on a great two channel system or watching movies on a Plasma or LCD display with good sound. Taking pictures will help you visualize speaker placement and where components can be placed.

Research area for stores that focus on stereo system and surround sound systems. Scout these stores and start window shopping and learning about different brands and listen and enjoy.

When you finish scouting stores and listening to different components and stereo systems maybe you can post your experience with questions.
I sense from your post that you are what one company calls: the "discriminating non-enthusiast". In other words, you appreciate and expect quality, but you're not interested in the technical side of things. In other words, you like driving a Porsche, but you have no interest in becoming a mechanic.

This is an excellent site but you can quickly become overwhelmed by the information and differences of opinion unless you spend a bit of time informing yourself. I do not know if you are interested or have the time for this.

This does not mean you cannot receive some excellent advice here, and I would encourage you to continue to solicit opinions. However, I will make a few additional suggestions and perhaps take a few liberties with your original request pending further information or clarification from yourself.

You should visit stores that sell high-end equipment and provide custom installation in your area. And you should visit more than one as they do not all carry the same brands. The value added service that they can offer relative to the big box stores, in addition to higher quality equipment, is to provide you with the kind of comprehensive, knowledgeable advice and recommendations that you are seeking. And let there be no doubt in your mind: for the type of money you're talking about, they will walk on their hands and knees on broken glass to serve you. If one particular store doesn’t, then somebody else will.

I would suggest that you buy new in order to get full service and warranty. As noted, your post indicates to me that you are not really interested in the second hand market per se, or have great knowledge of everything it involves. Also, it is not likely that you can pin down the exact equipment at a specific point in time, or at a specific price point, in order to satisfy the settlement requirements.

Many companies offer all in one solutions to your needs so that a person new to the hobby, and not interested in really getting into all of the technical aspects of it, can enjoy music and movies without further hassles. It's the discriminating non-enthusiast thing again. They will recommend packages, at different price points, which is what you were looking for. Let me give an example. Have a look at this link:

A nice, high quality 2 channel music system. Totally put together for you. They even sell the cables and interconnects. This one is under the $10k price point you asked about. If you explore this particular website more, you will find other recommended systems at the higher price points you are looking at.

And you’re not bound by this. It’s only a suggestion. You can mix and match other components from the manufacturer as your needs/interest dictate. You can explore the company’s website to see what else might be added or changed. That’s also where the dealer at the high-end store who sells the line can help to advise you.
For example, if you have a lot of albums, this company also have a turntable that you can add.

This particular company doesn’t sell cassette decks. You would have to add something from another manufacturer. Again the dealer could advise you.

By the way, unless you really have a lot of cassettes, and I do mean a lot, you should ask yourself whether you even really need a cassette deck. They’re hard to find. And I don’t know if pre-recorded cassettes are even made any more. Why bother. If you don’t have too many, just replace them with CDs. The same might apply to LP’s and turntables. It depends how many you have and what it would cost to replace what you have. Then again, that could be part of the settlement.

As far as a stand goes, well, that will depend a lot on your needs and décor sensibility. If you’re into the steel and glass industrial look, many audiophile manufacturers cater to this, like Target or Billy Bags. Other manufacturers are much more artistic, like Bell’O. Some combine appearance and function, like Salamander or Vantage Point. Or perhaps you might like a custom wood rack by a woodworker, or something from a quality furniture store.

How about your movie system? Well, here’s an example at the $10k price point.

The same comments as above apply. You can change it with other products from the same manufacturer. The site has recommended systems for higher price points as well.

Other manufacturers will have similar recommended systems. I chose this particular brand to show you because it is the one I am most familiar with. I don’t know if there is anybody else that offers such a complete solution: disc players, amps, speakers, cables. It at least shows you what is out there.

By the way, you specified 7.1 for movies. Unless you have a large room, 5.1 will be more than adequate. There are a lot of manufacturers that make excellent 5.1, but not 7.1 components. So unless you really need 7.1, consider 5.1 systems as well.

Well, I’m all talked out for now. I’ll watch the thread to see what others say.

Enjoy the music, and movies.
Dweller makes sense here , especially if time is a concern .

Barring a professional consultant , you might try going around to different local highend stores and ask questions while demoing some equipment . If you find a sales rep that is patient , willing to work with you and you feel comfortable with , then have him/she come to your home and view the area/areas where the equipment will be used . Then let them design , build and install your systems for you . They should instruct you on the care and operation of your equipment plus be available to help you with any problems that may come up .

That would be about the easiest way to get'er done .

Good luck .
So, Carrie, has this been helpful? Are these the kinds of responses you were expecting? What are you thinking of doing next?
Thank you for your responses so far. I did visit a local audio shop. My experience when the sales staff was negative. The settlement is with a national corporation based elsewhere from me. I don't know their purchasing practice, but it is likely complicated. My attorney recommended just submitting a detailed list of items and they can dedice where to buy things. Thus arrangement probably precludes specific services like room treatments or installation, but I might be able to negotiate something after they approve my list. Responses to other questions: LP, cassette, and 7.1 playback are all very important. I'm headed out to a few more stores now to get live help.
This was my original intended post. It exceeded the stated forum limits, but it seems to include a lot of the information that people are asking me about.

What am I looking for: Two COMPLETE audio systems. A stereo system for listening to music and a 7.1 surround sound home theater system. We're pretty much an all acoustic music family, a lot of piano and violin concertos. My son is also really into swing-era big band music. We have a lot of cassettes, a lot of albums, and a lot of CDs and DVDs. I know that some people scoff at 7.1, but I actually have a nice collection of classical concert DVDs (starring me) which were recorded in 7.1 with a special recording system that our hall invested in. It would be nice to experience this the way it was intended. Loudness isn't that important. In fact, I would prefer that these systems sound best at lower volumes. If I had to chose between a setup that could reproduce the visceral impact of an orchestra and a system that could perfectly present the scratch of a bow across a an E-string, then I would always take the latter. A system in which all of the components are in balance would be preferable over having to have the "best this" or a "specific type of that". Perhaps above all else I would like a system that is easy to use and doesn't need tons of fiddling. There will be a 17 year old and a 70 year old making use of both systems plus myself. I am extremely welcoming of tube pre-amps and power amps, but I know nothing about them. However, people seem to love them so much that it would seem to be a mistake not to incorporate it somehow. Speakers that have caught my attention for the stereo include Coincident, Quad, Magnepan, Reference 3a, Acoustic Zen, Vandersteen, and Kharma. For the home theater, I am kind of smitten with B&W and think that the a system populated by the 800, 700, or even CM series speakers would be great, although I am totally dissuadable/persuadable. Brand pairings that have caught my attention include Manley+Coincident and B&K+B&W, but once again, I am totally dissuadable/persuadable. I am also intrigued by the Resolution Audio Opus 21.

I am looking for recommendations of complete systems: cables, speakers, stands, powerline conditioners... everything that's required needs to be on the list. I need to specify every item needed to complete the system, and I'd hate to submit my invoice, have my items delivered, and realize that I still need a $500 widget to make the system functional (see below). I won't have the $500 to buy the widget.

Price range: This is a little flexible. I'd gladly take recommendation for systems each costing under $10,000, under $30,000, and under $60,000. If you want to make up your own pricepoint too or go crazy with a recommendation then that is fine too. In all honesty, I'd love to kind of get a sense of how much of both kinds of systems I can get within those price ranges and then decide what to ask for. If push comes to shove, the stereo is WAY more important than the 7.2HT, and we as a family may chose to forgo the HT all together or just get the cheapest nice system that you all can come up with and allocate the rest of the asking to the stereo. I know it's all kind of weird, but I hope that helps.


This is a very intimidating post to make. I know almost nothing about audio gear, and yet I am in the enviable position of bringing some high-end equipment into my household. Without going into too many details, my family is on the receiving end of a very large settlement. Lest you think that I am blowing our entire windfall on hi-fi gear, we're actually being very responsible with the financial award. Really, we're too poor of a household not to be. However, as part of the deal we have been given the opportunity to receive a little non-cash considerations. Now, we don't actually have a lot of nice stuff, and the prospect of having something "higher-end" in our lives is pretty exciting. We talked it out as a family and decided that it would be nice to "invest" in some high-quality audio equipment. A deep love of music is the one thing that the three generations who live in my home have in common, especially my father who has a large collection of classical recordings on vinyl and audio cassette. This will be quite a treat for us.

So, I thought that this was going to be really easy. but I was wrong. I figured I'd hit the mall and the big box shops, find the most expensive stuff, and write up the inventory. While I was running that errand, I also stopped into a local "stereo store". To be honest, until I went in there I figured that it was just a place that sold all of the same stuff that Big Box sold but with higher prices. Of course, what I discovered was the world which you are all experts and enthusiasts in. I was understandably overwhelmed by what I saw both in terms of unfamiliar brands and components. The experience also shattered my assumption that I should just request the most expensive thing that I could find because I hadn't anticipated just how exotic and expensive things could get. Like any hobby, being a practicing audiophile seems capable of absorbing all of the time or money that you have. I was also very annoyed by the salesman who had attached himself to me. When I got home, I jumped on-line to try and learn more about what I had seen.

I spent the weekend pouring over the Internet and have been grateful for the information and helpful members on boards like this. Although I really thought that I could figure out exactly I should ask for, I am ready to admit that I am in WAY over my head. With my asking deadline coming up next week, I kind of need to either give up or ask for help. I have learned a lot already, but this is a vast hobby that I neither have the time nor effort available to become an expert in everything before making a final inventory. I kind of have a sense of speakers and amplifiers right now, but then there are things like cables, powerline conditioners, special footers, which I am still lost on. I basically have until the end of next week to make my final request. So, I am turning to the community for help and placing my situation in your wise heads and hands.

Other considerations:

* I know that one typical suggestion made to newbies on this board is to buy used. I know that this won't work in my situation and that new gear purchased from a proper retailer is my only option. Besides, that suggestion is usually made in the interest in keeping initial expenditures low, which is not the primary concern for me.
* Similarly, I know that another common piece of advice is to get a modest initial setup and then expand. Once again, keeping the expenditure low is not the concern right now. This purchase is basically going to be a onetime event in our family, and if we're "going to get" something then it's got to be now.
* It doesn't need to be TOO nice. After all, we don't really know any better, and we're not trying to impress anybody. I would imagine that anything that you all can come up with is going to be a major upgrade over our current junk. As a violin teacher, I always give prospective students the same advice on buying an instrument, buy cheap or buy used until you know it's for you. Once you know it's for you, then buy the nicest setup that you can afford that will stay out of your way of enjoying your studies. If on the other hand you have a rich uncle footing the bill, buy the nicest violin that he'll pay for. So, we have a rich uncle in this case, and even though we're going to have something nicer than we probably deserve, I hope that we will grow into it and enjoy it all the same.
* I prize reliability, which includes manufacturer support, and resale value. Once again, if something goes terribly wrong then we may not necessarily have the cash to fix it. There's also always a chance that we'll feel that the niceness of the equipment is lost on us and that liquidating the assets is the better move.

Thank you!
Go visit your local McIntosh audio dealer, or go to You will be able to fit a system in all of your price ranges. 2 channel and home theater as well. This stuff holds its value as well. they have tube gear and solid state.

I owuld definitely stay away from tube gear - you do have to replace tubes every so often, and it's not like 40 years ago when you could run down to a local store and plug the suspect tubes in to a tube tester. Sometimes, when a tube blows, it damages resistors in the amp, requireing a repair. For great sound, simple plug ang play reliability, and customer support, I would highly recommend Pass Labs amplifiers and pre-amps. Of the speakers listed, I like vandersteen adn Magnepan, although the planar speakers Magnepan & Quad) can be tricky to get to sound right due to the way the interact with room acoustics. Of the magnepans I have heard, I liked the 1.6QRs better than a couple of the more expensive models. To my ears, the more expensive ones had exaggerated cymbal sounds.
There is a site called the martinlogan owners club that you can pull up pictures of many owners systems to get some idea both 2-channel and surround.
It is specific to that brand but may give you some ideas anyway.

Best of luck,
Wow! What city are you in?
Budget a professional installer into the list of gear. If you are a "newbie" this is just as important as picking the right gear.
Without seeing the rooms that these will be in, it is tough to recommend the right stuff. Some speakers sound amazing but only in the right room, ie big Martin Logans are great but not in a 10 x 12 room.
I think simplicity and automation should be priorities. No tubes, a professional installation, in wall cabling would be nice but is pricey.
You need to consider how some of this will look in your house. Do you want huge speakers? My family would hate to see B&W 801's in our living room even though I'd love to have them in there.
FIND A DEALER TO HELP. PAY A VERY HIGH END SHOP TO COME TO YOUR HOUSE AND WORK IT OUT WITH YOU. Yes, you will be spending some of your own cash here but a few hundred is nothing in light of the massive investment. Who knows, the dealer may even refund the fee if they get the business...they should.
I think the McIntosh advice is good. Trying to do a component matching across multiple brands is time-consuming and requires time and experience that aren't available.

McIntosh stuff sounds great and it's all matched. For cables, you could stick with all Transparent, AudioQuest, Kimber, or Analysis Plus.

Analysis Plus would probably give you the most accurate, linear performance for the money, especially if you don't have a lot of time to mess around.

Another matched-system vendor is Naim. That's what jazz bassist Charlie Haden uses. He went with all Naim to avoid the thrash of audiophilia, and has a consultant keep his system up to date.
Carrie- If you are a classical musician I am thinking that you will want a tube system in the mix at the mid and upper end of your price points, but not one that is dependent on NOS tubes, and one that has excellent customer support. One option then that comes to mind would be Atma-sphere. Their amps and pre-amps work very well together. The owner's support is legendary and his products are designed to work well w readily available current production tubes. Another option would be VAC; maybe one of their integrated amps would cut down on the complexity. For a turntable, I would recommend a product that you can find a local dealer for, who would come in and set it up, since that is a critical part of maximizing LP playback quality. I agree about perhaps skipping cassette as there really is no-one out there selling quality products any more. Speakers are a bit problematic in that there is a wider variety of "house sound" in speakers than elsewheres. Tell us your room size, whether it would be a dedicated room and sonic priorities and then we can start building from there.
Thank you for the on-going suggestions, guys. I apologize for that verbose post up there, but I know it gives a clearer explanation of what I am looking for and why.

I've spent a little time checking out McIntosh here on the web and will visit a couple of shops tomorrow to audition. If anybody has any more insight in the meantime then I would greatly appreciate it.
For your 2 channel system what kind of music do you like to listen to; also what size is the listening room and enviroment like?
As far as the negative trip to the audio store, I would go to another;also if there's a audio club in the town/city that you live in I would check into that for information from club members and help; thats how I got started in Mpls,Mn.
So does anyone else think this was a troll? I kind of suspected it all along - How many fantasies are touched on here? A woman entering a predominatly male group for assistance, a completely inexperienced woman admiring us for our knowledge, the sudden ability to get a high end system beyond your wildest dreams. And she asks about the most controversial things - cables and tweaks. And why a "non-cash compensation" in which she has to specify everything? I could be wrong, but I'm wondering what others thought. If this was a troll, I think we handled ourselves quite well, and didn't take the bait.
In a sense your like Little Red Riding Hood (and I mean this in a very positive way) walking through the dangerous forrest. That said, if you can find a professional who doesn't market equipment you'll probably end up with a fine system that compliments the rooms your working with.

As a professional Double Bassist I can tell you it's extremely rare to find tubed equipment in the playback chains of both pre and post production facilities. The use of tubes in microphone preamplifiers is common in the recording environment. You, being a novice, the maintenance involved with tube equipment should be a consideration.

Separate Home Theater and two channel playback is so much more flexible with a family. For HT I suggest a modern receiver with the latest 7.1, room correction, HDMI 1.3, driving seven matched speakers at least 90dB sensitivity. Separates are nice but save your budget for the two channel system. I find the Velodyne DD series subwoofers to be the most flexible in dealing with room correction. For a display, Pioneer Kuro or Elite plasma period. I recently upgraded my HT within a relitivly small space and added two speakers for the 7.1 and room correction, the difference is worth it.

For two channel buying components from venerable honest quality manufactures is the way to go. In the end the speakers are the instruments of the audio chain. Spend as much as can on the speakers in both systems. I can only recommend components that I've had personal satisfaction with in my home. The speakers I'd suggest are all dynamic systems (my preference) from Avalon Acoustics, Thiel, and Vandersteen. You may enjoy the presentation provided by panel speakers.

For electronics I have recommended Ayre in the past, a great company that hasn't been bought and sold, nice people, and wonderful support. LP player, Well Tempered classic if you can find one and some one who can set it up for you. The quality of the cartridge should be in line with the amount of LP listening you do. Digital playback, now this is a great place for tubes in the output stage or DAC.

These are my subjective suggestions based on my personal experiences which are limited. I struggled for years with products that simply sounded great in a store yet never became satisfying at home let alone what I heard in the studio. My acquaintance with a few audio professionals in both recording and film industries has lead me to my current systems which have become better than I expected. While each component has its place in the entire system my Avalon Eidolon speakers were the most substantial improvement overall. These speakers always sounded sleepy to me in stores. It wasn't until I lived with them for a week or so that I understood their strengths. When auditioning speakers they should sound equally well at low volume without the bottom dropping out, as they do at normal to realistic listening levels.

After all this proper setup of the two channel system is critical. This is an area a professional would be of great value.

Happy shopping.
I'd suggest you check out-- WWW.FMACOUSTICS.COM. --Browse through their fairly informative website prior to deciding on anything else. Some issues which you've brought up such as--cable matching, system synergy, equipments' value (as in quality and resale etc.etc.) are pretty much covered there. As the outlay for their gears are quite substantial (depending on how far you want to go), think of them as a once in a lifetime investment--but a wise and sound one I must say..

Next is to choose a good source as per your choice and requirement, then figure out speakers that will work best in your room. Depending on your taste and listening biases, you can't go way off with any of the better offerings from Kharma, Magico, Sonus or Wilson for that matter. Or Magnepan, Martin Logan if you opt to go planar.

Running along the above guidelines, IMO, you'll have a damn good set up by any standard. One that is not only rather immune to the usual phile upgrade bug, but will also provide you with many many years of hassle-free listening pleasure! Sorry can't be of help re your second system though. Anyway, goodluck and have fun in your search!