Complete newbie needing guidance/purchase advice

Hi folks-

First of all, let me apologize in advance for a lengthy post. I'm a brand new forum member after recently being introduced to this site by an acquaintance who heard I was looking for sound advice... As my thread title states, I'm completely ignorant when it comes to the audiophile world, but I really want to start building a system and learn something in the process. A little background on me: I've been making a living as a recording artist and studio musician for almost 20 years, but my career choice as a music-maker has somehow ironically detached me from the simple pleasure of just sitting and _listening_ to music for the sheer enjoyment of it. My wife and I are currently in the process of remodeling our bonus room into a media room, and one of my objectives is to at the very least turn it into a space where I can do some critical listening.

I currently don't have anything decent... Just some old Bose bookshelf speakers and a Yamaha surround receiver. The closest thing to 'something decent' that I own are a pair of Etymotic ER-4S headphones coupled with a Headroom headphone amplifier.

The big limiting factor is my budget. Given that fact, maybe I have no business posting here... I will probably need to build this piece-by-piece over time, so I'm content with having to stretch the process out. I'm not concerned with having to have the 'best' of anything; I would just really like to make listening to music an engaging and emotional experience for me like it was for me many years ago.

Would a speaker purchase be a good place to start? I was perusing the Audiogon classifieds today and saw that there is actually a pair of DK Designs LSA-2's for sale local to me. The asking price is at the top of my speaker budget, a little over a grand, which I realize is probably 'chump change' in the audiophile world. However, I've read some reviews and they seem mostly positive. Would be super-convenient to be able to find something nice that was used and local, but as I said before, I'm completely new to this. Another related question: Is it better to go with floor-standing speakers, or can decent sound also be accomplished with bookshelf speakers combined with a subwoofer?

Also, what are the other 'basic' components that would need to be purchased? The only other thing I know I'd love to have would be a decent turntable; I'd love to be able to go and purchase some of my favorite classic albums to listen to once again. Do I need a separate preamp and power amp combination? Are there any 'receivers' that do a decent job of covering both tasks?

Any other feedback or direction you experts could throw my way would be greatly appreciated... Thanks in advance!
You can certainly spend your budget on speakers first. You will have a lot of fun initially. Then, especially if you have not heard them before you purchase, one thing may happen, and a second thing will certainly happen, not necessarily in that order.

What may happen is that you discover (after the novelty wears off) that you don't like their sound as much as you thought you would. Sound systems are meant to be listened to in the long term, over months, and in that long a time you notice things that you don't notice at the very beginning.

Or, of course, it may happen instead that you find you love the speakers' sound more and more as time passes! However there will be a limit to how much your love can grow.

This is because the other thing, which definitely will happen if you buy speakers at a much higher level than your upstream gear, is that you will begin to hear very clearly the failings of that upstream gear.

Now it is a good idea to spend as much as you can when you upgrade any piece of equipment, because upgrading is always expensive, and when you move up a lot you have a chance to stay happy for a long time. And of course if you are currently using a piece of gear which is toxic to the ear, as your Bose bookshelves may be, then that piece of gear should go a.s.a.p.

But if you spend all you will have to spend for the coming year on new speakers now, remember that for 12 months you will be listening with great clarity to what is currently feeding the Boses. Depending on how you feel about that, you may want to spend a bit less on speakers now so you can get a better amplifier more quickly.
I'd start asking everyone I know about their systems, and looking for any opportunity to get a listening session. If you are lucky, you'll meet someone knowledgeable (yet humble) who is willing to help you along with your own system.

Where do you live?
You can get great speakers for $350 or less. I would look into Usher 520's. Factory direct, or used. I have heard great things about these speakers. There are many people here who are humble and knowledgeable and will help you on you way. I also enjoy the folks over on another site called AudioCircle too. Online mags are good resource as well,and fun! Tone audio, Enjoythemusic,Positive Feedback, 6Moons etc...
How big is the room? Do you own cd's?
I like the Oppo 980h cd player for pretty great sound under $150
Best of luck on your new journey!
Thanks for your responses so far!

I will definitely ask around and see if I can get some listening time on some others' systems.

Toddnkaya, thanks for the tip on the Usher and Oppo stuff... I'll take a look.

Tobias, do you think that a better initial purchase would be a piece of upstream gear? I suppose either way I'm starting from scratch... :)

Thanks again!

Sorry, I forgot to give you my room dimensions... It is 19' x 13'. The ceiling is vaulted and asymmetric... And yes, I do currently have a lot of CDs.


Welcome to the forum!

You might be well served by listing some important things such as total budget, primary types of music you like, size of room and choice of source components you will be using. This will help with any specific recommendations.

OK, since you mentioned the LSA-2s, I looked to see where a set was for sale and I see there is only one pair and they are near Nashville. So, it you happen to be near Nashville, there is a Nashville "Club" forum here at AudiogoN. I just checked it out and there is also a Nashville Audiophile Society that has just started in the area. Check out the Nashville Club forum page here and you'll see a link to the Nashville Audiophile Society. Reach out to some locals via the club forum and/or the Society. Of couse, if my detective skills were wrong, and you are not near Nashville, just look for a "club" in your area on the club forum here.

Our local "club" (not Nashville) is very informal, but the 3-4 yearly get-togethers are great fun!

Since you mentioned listening to classical specifically and mentioned getting speakers first, I would recommend that you at least investigate Vandersteen 2 and Magnepan 1.6/1.7 speakers. I don't own them, but have heard both. Many fans of classical love those two speakers and they are great values on the used market. There is also a similar, but cheaper and smaller, sibling in each of those two manufacturers lineups. The Vandys and Magnepans are also hugely popular, so you can nearly always find them for sale here and you can also nearly always flip them here if you don't love them. BTW, They will both require quite a bit of space behind them and they aren't necessarily pretty speakers. Best suited for dedicated listening rooms IMHO.

OK, that's my first long winded cut at your question. Enjoy the hunt and let us know how it turns out.


I would spend that 1000 bucks on an integrated amp. My experience has been that without a decent amp you will not get decent sound. Something like a Naim 5i or creek destiny will be a solid backbone for a system you build. You could go with speakers but personally I would go integrated forget the separates not good on a budget. The magic happens in the amplification that is my experience.
in my journey to audio i too started with av receiver but as time elapsed and i went deeper into the hobby i realized each component is important in the chain and i am speaking through experiences which i went through by adding one component at a time and hearing the change in quality of music so choose your component carefully to benefit from the synergy of components put together, and you don't have to rush it its a slow process and the journey is enjoyable and it teaches you what music can do if properly played back so don't rush save and buy the best
A good speaker will only let you know how bad your amp sounds.
Audio can be/is a bottomless money pit,Ejlif is right about
a good integrated amp being a wise choice.
If I was starting over I'd look at the modified Music Hall 25 models sold on here by Underwood Audio as a start.
Cambridge Audio 640C CD player is inexpensive,souds good
on classical and shows up on here.The Music Hall CD25 that matches the amp would be a decent choice as well.
The little 8 watt a side integrated tube amps from Eastern Electric are very good on classical music too ,with a speaker at 92db efficency or above- chamber music in particular is fabulous.Tubes do sound better,esp. on strings but are finnicky and expensive.
I would recommend monitors on stands with a subwoofer. I have used a 2.1 system for 4 years or so. Because you are going to use your sytem for home theater, it is a nice option to turn up the sub for movies, You you can have some fun with explosions etc. Rattle the walls ,with a huge grin on your face. I enjoy my 42 plasma and 2.1 more than going out to the movies. MUCH CHEAPER obviously. I stream Net Flix, and have movies delivered as well. Some movies of course need to be enjoyed on the big screen, 3d,IMAX etc. , so I do go out for the special movies.
If you are really new to the audio world, you should inquire about streaming files from your computer right to your system.
Check out Spotify and Mog!! These are both music libraries that you can pay a monthly fee for to enjoy at your home,phone ipad, etc. Both of these services offer about 13 MILLION tracks!! I am excited to sit on my couch , and control my music selections from my IPAD and be able to listen to tens of thousands of albums. I will also be able to tap into my hard drive computer files to listen as well.
There are so many great , amazing ways to find,listen to and enjoy music today.
That said ,I would look pretty hard at the Daber Audio speakers for $650 shipped. This is screaming deal and a fine speaker.
NAD makes great inexpensive amps.
Good luck!!
Go used. In my opinion, the best budget gear is NAD. NAD power ratings are conservative, so 30 watts really can drive most speakers to good sound levels. At this price point, I would buy cheap cables. Try "bluejeansaudio" or radio shack or whatever you have around the house. You will want to upgrade the cables but for now focus on getting your components. If you can find a pair of used speakers like Klipsch Heresy or kg4'S-you will be surprised how good it can sound. Have fun.
Welcome. You are in the best place and position. You are new to the hobby and aren't biased or prejudiced by other's viewpoints. Since you apparently are redesigning your room for media and critical listening. Both, so, lets not forget that point, take the time to make sure your room is electrically wired adequately now so that when you improve or upgrade equipment (which you will be doing), you don't have to run new cables or electric outlets.

When the walls are down, it is better and easier to run cables before finished work is accomplished. Since you aren't yet the king of the audiophile world with separate amps, pre-amps, etc. I recommend running three separate sets (1 set equal two outlets) of outlets back to the circuit breaker panel. The first set of outlets (two) will be dedicated for your home theater system. The equipment would be all connected to a power source/conditioner, such as a monster unit. It allows you to plug all of your home theater equipment into the same unit, which runs back to the panel. The second and third set of outlets are dedicated solely to your music system. amps are plugged into one set of outlets and and remaining parts of your audio system are plugged into a power conditioner/outlet source. This will vitually eliminate any ground loop problems. This is the easiest thing to do before you complete your room. Again, it is better to do this before the walls are up. Also, run any needed cables for your theater system in the walls.

Next, before buying any audio or home theater equipment, please do yourself a favor and take the time to go to as many dealers/stores as you can and audition equipment and listen to your favorite music as you can. Go to friends homes and to audio/home theater shows to get a good idea whats out there, the complexity and the cost. Read decent audio and home theater magazines to learn criteria, system integration and costs. Don't be afraid to ask questions and most importantly, don't let anyone, dealers, sales people or friends/acquantences, etc. talk you into buying anything that you aren't familiar with. once the electical/cable wiring is done, set up your room with your existing equipment and enjoy it as-is for awhile. Then slowly, piece by piece replace or upgrade as needed, until you are where you want to be. it is easy for anyone to recommend equipment to you, but it is much better for you to go with your signifiant other or friends and audition/ask questions, view home theater systems in as many stores/dealerships or audio/home theater shows as you can. not only is this worthwile and extremely informative, it is also fun.

A lot of great info here. I really appreciate the insight!

Just a couple of minor clarifications- By 'classic' albums I actually just meant classic in terms of 'classic pieces of work.' Sorry I wasn't more clear. The music I like to listen to the most is Jazz, Jazz/Fusion, Funk, and Rock. I do enjoy classical but don't listen to it as regularly.

Minorl, unfortunately the room is already complete from a construction perspective. At this point we are just furnishing the room and in the process I am trying to plan for incorporating a system for audio and video. Any new wiring will have to be run through walls, etc. However, I will share your post with our handyman and see what he thinks we can do.

Reubent, you are correct. I am in the Nashville area. Thanks for the forum tip! I will definitely check out the Nashville Audio Society and see if I can get connected with some folks. It would be awesome if I could get to hear some different systems in town and gain some more knowledge.

Now I'm going to look up some of the brands and models that some of you have mentioned and see if anything is at a local dealer that I can hear...

In the meantime, anyone have any advice on what to look for when shopping for turntables? :D
If you have no vinyl at all, buy a used rega 3 and some decent albums and see if you like it. Then buy something better.

If you already have a bunch of albums and want to hear what they can really do, figure on about $2000.00 used for a VPI Scout, Sota Sapphire or a high end Rega or Project turntable and arm. SME 309 works well on the Sota, the others come with arms. Then get an Ortofon 2c Black or Dynavector 17d2 or Benz Glider, all used, low hour. The Black will run on MM input, the others require MC. Even a Sumiko Blue Point Special is available cheap and will run on MM.
Get a decent phono preamp in the $500 to $750 range used. GCPH, Simaudio, Jolida, Ear and others are available in that range and offer very good sound for the price.

Play, enjoy, and join the ride
Tobias, do you think that a better initial purchase would be a piece of upstream gear? I suppose either way I'm starting from scratch... :)

Renaissanceman9, thank you for asking. If it were me I would spend some money, perhaps $400, on replacing your speakers now. At that price I would expect to find "monitors" and stands more easily than floorstanders. Monitors can be very satisfying indeed. They may have little or no output in the very low frequencies but they can have enough mid and upper bass to let you follow bass lines perfectly clearly. I would not even think about subwoofers at this point.

You will learn a lot as you follow up the Nashville club route and everything you learn will help you with your speaker choice. When you do get the new speakers, plus stands and some inexpensive cables, you will have loads of fun before you, as you experiment with speaker placement and acoustic treatment measures for your room.

In the meantime you can be looking for an integrated amplifier. By my count you have about $600 left, perhaps augmented a bit if you want to sell your Yamaha. Should you spend it all on the amp, or split it between amp and source?

If you decide to do the latter, you will not have enough to go for both CD and vinyl playback. If your digital playback is good enough now, you'll have to decide between amp or amp plus turntable. If your digital playback is lacking now, forget vinyl temporarily and upgrade the digital source as well as the amp.

One possible amplifier to look for in the $250 to $300 range is the NAD 320BEE. This amp also comes in newer (therefore slightly more expensive) versions, such as 325BEE and 326BEE. They are all fine. This amp or another similar one may be enough to satisfy you while you work on other parts of the system. If not, you should be able to resell it at little or no loss, and if you don't need your remaining money for source gear, you would then look for a better amp at a higher price.

I hope this is of some help. What is your digital source at present ?
My experience is that I bought an integrated amp (Bryston B100sst) and thought it would be my last amp. Later I found MY speaker (Dyn C1) and the Bryston although very good wasn't great for the Dyn C1 monitor. I have since upgraded the integrated to an Octave V70se tube integrated. Short version of my story is get the best sounding speakers you can afford first then worry about everything else. Could have saved me some big bucks had I gone that route first. Don't get me wrong because the amp and source(s) DO make a considerable difference. But the speakers generally make the biggest difference in my opinion which is what I have experienced.
Thanks, Tobias, I guess you could say my digital sources are quite lacking, as well... :) I only have a Sony RDR-GX315 DVD/CD player and an XBOX 360 at this point.

If you don't mind my asking, I want to make sure I understand what audiophiles are referring to when they talk about 'monitors'... What are the differences between 'monitors' and 'speakers'? Coming from a recording studio background, studio monitors are traditionally what I record with, most of them designed to be as flat and transparent as possible in an effort to most accurately monitor what is going to recording medium. When I see 'monitors' advertised or talked about in the audiophile world, are they referring to something a little different? Sorry if it's a stupid question, but I don't really know the difference.
Hi Renaissanceman - since you seem to be a fan of classical music and possibly an old school guy, you might want to consider going an old school route here - horn speakers and tube electronics. As you probably know being an engineer, many of the great orchestral recordings of the so-called "golden age" were mastered using Altec A7's and MacIntosh amps.

That said, however you decide to set up your system, most definitely the speakers should be first. If you don't like the sound of your speakers, you won't like the sound of your system, period.

Welcome to our world of craziness. I don't have as much experience with this stuff as a lot of others, but I was pretty much where you are about 10 years ago.

In looking at building a system, consider whether you want to focus on surround sound or music. I think your main focus is stereo rather than surround, but you say it's going to be an A/V room, so I'm not quite sure. This is what a great salesman told/asked me the first time I walked into a hifi shop looking for a system...

Are you sure you need surround sound? What do you watch. If you're like me and mainly watch sitcoms, comedies and March Madness, you might not miss surround sound as much as you think. A great 2 channel system (with or without a subwoofer) could sound a lot better than a surround system for equal money. Using round numbers, a $1k 2 channel integrated amp will sound better than a $1k AVR. 2 speakers for $1k will sound better than 5 or more speakers that total $1k. 2 speakers set up correctly can easily give you a front right, left, and center channel speaker effect. I know this first hand, as this is what I've been using.

But if you're into surround sound effects like bullets quizzing by your ears, 2 speakers aren't going to cut it. That's something you need to evaluate for yourself.

Some people will say to integrated a 2 channel system into your proposed surround system. This can be accomplished, but it's a bit of a hassle (using a 2 channel integrated amp and an AVR).

If going the 2 channel route, I'd recommend getting the best amplification you can afford. Some people recommend speakers first, some recommend source first. Neither of the 3 approaches are incorrect IMO. I recommend amplification first, as I feel that's the potentially longest term investment in a 2 channel system. Getting the most neutral amp that gets out of the way the most sonically will stay with you during upgrades/changes to everything else. Source formats come and go. IMO people change speakers for frequently than amplification.

A few years ago I bought a Bryston B60 integrated amp when I first started upgrading the system I bought in college. The B60 has stayed in my system through every change I've made. Every change I've made has had a definite sonic change, which tells me the B60 isn't holding the system back. Through owning it for the last few years, it's become quite apparent that it gets out of the way and let's the music flow. Not to mention that Bryston amplification has a 20 year transferrable warranty, and I think you can see why I'm recommending amplification first.

Don't skimp on the source! People have the mentality that digital is all 1s and 0s. It doesn't all sound the same to my ears. For a mix of movies and music, I'd recommend looking into a universal player, and getting an outboard DAC for CDs. That way you've got a great video player, and the music side is handled by a 2 channel hifi component. Or you could look into a streamer like a Sonos or Squeezebox and connect that to a DAC.

Speakers must be appropriate for the space they're in. Huge speakers in a small room can sound just as bad as small speakers in a huge room, albeit a different type of bad. Don't rule out monitors augmented by a sub or tower speakers. 19x13 doesn't sound like a room that's big or small, but the ceiling height, if it's open to other rooms (and if so how big is the opening and where) and what else is in the room will dictate which will probably work better.

The biggest thing in a system IMO is the room-speaker interface. How the speakers fit the room, where the speakers and listening chair are placed, and the room acoustics are far more important than the electronics IMO. I've heard great systems sound like crap in a bad/poorly set up room, and I've heard systems I thought would be mediocre at best sound fantastic in rooms that were optimized for the stereo.

Before getting into what gear to buy, I suggest getting a copy of Jim Smith's Get Better Sound book. It'll give you an idea of how things should be set up before you start bringing in stuff. You could even use some of his tips to maximize what you've currently got. It gets a bit obsessive compulsive, so don't get overwhelmed.

Lastly, I recommend finding a good dealer or several. Let them know your goals and that you're upgrading one piece at a time. Hear complete systems at your proposed budget, and above and below it. That way, you'll know what your budget will get you. Maybe spending a few dollars more will make a huge difference, or maybe you can get what you want for a bit less. Only one way to find out. Furthermore, if you hear complete systems, you'll know what the end result will sound like.

Seeking out local audiophiles and clubs is a great way to hear stuff too, so long as you're hearing stuff you can afford.

Just some thoughts. I didn't think the post would be this long.
its great to get all the advice from people who have taken the journey on this hobby but practically its you who has to decide what kind of sound you would prefer every component has its pros and cons that doesn't mean the equipment is bad its just that the flavor you are looking at is the one only you can select so listening extensively and trusting your ears is very important resulting in listening music or facing the music of selling the gear
Moniors are stand-mounted speakers requiring the use of sturdy stands.
I think you are ok using your XBOX for now.
How much do you want to spend on an amp? Did you give your total budget for the entire system.?
Although it is awesome to go out to Audio dealers to listen to different systems, it is frowned upon to do this, find what you love, and buy it used here. That said, many people do this.
I have bought all of my gear here sight and sound unseen, and I have been super happy with every single puchase.
If you just do your research and ask questions and opinions,your good to go!!
Lastly, are you willing to stretch your speaker budget a bit. (say $1300)
Getting into audio is great fun but can be very frustrating at times. You will make your share of mistakes; we all do. I don't like just telling people what they should go out and buy regarding equipment because it can bias you in a certain way and/or be just bad advice given what you like now and what you will come to like once you gain more knowledge. Looking back on all of the mistakes I have made over the years, to get where I am now and have a good sounding system, I can give you some tips as not to make some of the mistakes that I made. Below are a few things that I wish someone had told me.

1. Stop reading equipment reviews. (I know you are going to ask why but there is no one simple answer. I could write a book on the subject.)

2. Never, ever try to fix problems with tubes and/or cables. You will fail. It is much easier to just fix the system. (I am not saying that tubes and cables are not important or don't make a difference. They are valid purchases, just not band aids.)

3. Don't use your ears. (Use your head. Your ears are on your head so they can be used along with some good judgment.)

4. You will always hear people arguing about what is more important component: Speakers or the Source. The answer is the preamp. (The truth is every component is important. One bad or mismatched component messes up the whole system. I say the preamp because it is at least as important as any component and most of the systems that I see fail is because the preamp is overlooked in some way.

5. Don't set prices before buying equipment. If, for example, you allow yourself $5000 for a new CD player, you will end up getting one for $5000. Find one you like first, and then worry about the price. There is a good chance you might find one you like for less. If you like something for more, you will be selling you $5000 player the minute you hear the one you want.

Good luck with your purchases. I hope some of this info can help you out.
If you don't mind my asking, I want to make sure I understand what audiophiles are referring to when they talk about 'monitors'.

I use the term in preference to 'bookshelf', which is misleading as to placement and even size. A synonym is 'stand-mounted'. Toddnkaya has clarified things nicely.

There is no reason not to consider actual studio monitors if you can find some in your price range. Some audiophiles find studio gear tends to direct the listener's attention to individual sounds more than to the music as a whole, but there is no shortage of audiophile gear which does the same thing anyway. Enjoy finding out what you like! With your pro experience you are a lap ahead.

I haven't heard either of your sources so can't advise on their relative quality. You have 3 options here. You can keep your sources for now, thus freeing up money for an amp or for a lesser amp plus vinyl. If your present sources have digital outputs, you can defer vinyl in favour of augmenting their performance with an outboard digital converter (DAC) and connecting cable (which must be 1.5 meters long BTW). I myself would include inexpensive antivibration treatment for your CD spinner, plus power conditioning for both it and DAC in the form of an isolation transformer, again inexpensive. Or you can just replace your digital source.

Whatever you do with your source, you can afford to take your time and be sure of the move you make. Deals may slide by, but there will always be others. As a general rule, I prefer to have extra resolution at the source rather than downstream. You can't put information back in later once it's been lost.
I disagree with monitors unless you listen to rock exclusivly.
On jazz and other acoustic music- not going to at least the high 30's robs you of the fundamental underpinnings of the bass and the sense of space that is so essential to jazz.
Personally, I would recommend some active speakers like the AVI ADM9t. Add a sub later.

Then you can focus on all of the music content that is available out there without having to worry so much about preamp, amp, cables, source, etc.

Sound will not be 100% of the finest systems, but it will allow you to focus on the music not the gear.

Just a suggestion. :-)

There was a prior thread here about the "Top 10 Snafus to Avoid While Building a System" or something like that. It wasn't too long ago. Do a search and hope it helps you.
""Top 10 Snafus to Avoid While Building a System" or something like that. It wasn't too long ago. Do a search and hope it helps you."

good advice. pay close attention to what Rok2id had to say on that thread.
In choosing loudspeakers, and I am loudspeaker collector, there are different approaches to design and different transducers. You have the average dynamic designs using conventional drivers such as woofer, dome tweeters etc and you have omnidirectional, omnipolar, bipolar,dipolar, planar,push-pull planars, electrostatics, linsource or array or a combination of both, there's also horns and coaxials. There are boxed cabinet designs and flat panel designs to various shapes and materials including the use of aircraft aluminum like magico for example. Not all speakers are the same nor do they sound the same and very few can perform for various music recordings. Some are better for certain type of music, some need proper room treatment to sound its best. Some need additional subwoofer or bass drivers to perform at full range. People are going to be bias in recommending specific speakers for their choice. some speakers are best suited for home theater, some for music only and some a combination of both. It is not an easy task finding speaker that will suit your needs for every occasion. In amplifier designs there are many as well and it's a matter of taste. You might like the soft sound of tubes or the high power of solid state and there are different types of amplifier regarding both tube and solid state. Some are hybrids which are a combination of both the same goes for preamp, cd players. There is also the possiblity of desiring to TWEAK your system with various tweaks such as sound processors, room treatments, vibration control, resonance control and various other tweaks. This hobby is a never ending search for music nirvana. You are going to come across people and sellers who are going to claim THEIR music nirvana, but it is up to you to find what sounds good to your ears.
...for your budget, I would get a good pair of headphones, and a good headphone amp. This will bring FAR better sound and enjoyment to you than used/mediocre speakers being poorly driven. When you get your income and budget going, than you could go for good stuff. I wouldn't waste my money on piecemeal sacrifices.
Stringreen, that's a load of crap! There are plenty of low budget amplifiers,and low budget speakers etc., that perform way above there price points. This combination can lead to VERY good sound, and bring tons of enjoyment to music lovers/audiophiles. I'm sure there are thousands of folks here on this site that would agree that you don't need $15,000 speakers, $20,000 amps, and 8,000 cd players to have a system that makes great sounding music and brings pleasure and enjoyment to their owners.
"Stringreen, that's a load of crap!"

Concise , Precise and absolutely true!!
Don't just 'buy speakers'.

Buy Speakers and amp...TOGETHER.

Of course, I'm skipping what some consider the most important part...the Source. Many would even start there.

If you buy speakers alone, you will lock yourself into an amp 'style' in that some speakers need lots of power....or an amp which can handle highly reactive loads. B&W come to mind as a speaker needing a robust amp.
Panel speakers like Magnepan need an amp with a good 4 ohm rating. Some speakers are simply happier with tubes .... some with SS.

LISTEN to them together before buying. Find a store in which to listen to stuff and get some professional help.
If you are just starting, then buy starter equipment. The phrase you used 'critical listening' tells me you may have already been influenced by the guru folks. I can only recommend what I own. POLK lsi15 $700 used. HK 3490 receiver $279 new and Marantz CD 5004 $349 new. If you have to have sacd, then the Onkyo CS5vl $369 new. A lot of people advise newbies based on the equipment that they have accured after 30 years or so, but whatever you buy it won't be the last system you own. Remember, a CD / LP containing music that makes you happy , will make any system sound great. Forget the 'critical' stuff. By the time you get through being critical, Beethoven's 9th will have finished and you will have missed it.
Pretty overwhelming amount, and variety, of information isn’t it? There is some really good info here. I’ve been going through this process for the last 2 years and have learned a lot from this forum, and my own trial-and-error process. Here is what I have learned…hopefully it will help you in your quest.

1. Each person values different things in music, and thus the system they assemble. For instance, my friend Bill really wants to hear the hi-hat cymbal shine and a really deep, textural, bass. Whereas I’m not as concerned about that as much as a beautifully smooth mid-range. Neither is right nor wrong…just what each person values in the music. You have to keep that in mind when reading reviews, or opinions from others.
2. Listening to as many speakers and amplifiers as possible is incredibly valuable. I’ve listened to probably a hundred different speaker/amplifier combos in the last 2 years. I had preconceived notions of what I was going to like…mostly based on reviews and forum opinions. It was a random visit to a stereo dealer in Salt Lake City, while on vacation, that I happened upon the speakers I would fall in love with. Speakers I had never even heard of before…the Totem Rainmakers. I absolutely love these speakers in my 2.0 winter system, and I never would have found them had I not made a point to stop in everywhere I could to listen.
3. It really does matter where the speakers are going to be used, and for what purpose. I have three speaker setups, and each one is very different…because of the intended use and location. Keep this in mind when choosing your setup. My home theatre setup is Mirage OMD-28s, with matching center and surrounds. These speakers need room around them, and ample power, to really shine. In that setting, they are amazing. My office setup is very different, with Gallo A’Divas as the satellites in a Cambridge Soundworks Model 12 system (with tube buffer of course)…as they are 6 inches off the back wall, and the only speakers that I found that work well that close to a wall. Your room is a huge factor in your setup.
4. Trust your ears…not people’s opinions. You will find those that think anything other than Tube gear is garbage, and those that think tubes are junk…you get the picture. My buddy hates tubes; I like them in the pre-amp stage, but not in the amp stage. I like class D amps, while others hate them. Listen to different systems to discover what YOU like.
5. Try and fail. I have bought things and then discovered I didn’t like them. I sold them here to people that loved them. You can buy and sell on here with little cost. I bought my Rainmakers on here, and they are in great shape. It’s a great way to try things out in your home. Don’t expect to get it right on the first try.
6. Lastly, you don’t have to spend a fortune for really wonderful sound. My main system wasn’t cheap…but my winter system cost around a grand, and is incredibly satisfying. I can listen to it all day with a smile on my face. It is easy to get wrapped up in pursuing the absolute best sound possible, but I choose to just enjoy the 95% of that I get from my system. After all, perfection doesn’t exist in the world, so why pursue it?

Hope this helps in your journey. It may get frustrating or overwhelming, but in the end you will have a system that will bring you enjoyment for a long time. Have fun with it!

"Lastly, you don’t have to spend a fortune for really wonderful sound. My main system wasn’t cheap…but my winter system cost around a grand, and is incredibly satisfying. I can listen to it all day with a smile on my face. "
Awesome post Mano!!
R-man9 - Don't apologize for your budget. It is what it is. You can put together a satisfying system on a limited budget at almost (almost) any price point. So what if it isn't equal to the ultra-bucks systems posted here. You won't be a-b'ing at home. If you enjoy it, comparative performance becomes theoretical. Nobody has to like it except you. On the other hand, if you are so inclined your "ear" can be educated. You've received a lot of good input so far. If you haven't already, definitely check out "budget minded systems" on this site. Listen a lot- especially (if you can find one) at a friendly audio dealer who has your best interests in mind and is more interested in cultivating a long term customer rather than making a quick kill. Buy used. Before you buy anything, however, it might help to have an idea about your "ideal" but realistic (total $-wise) future system in mind...that is have the overall system in mind from the start and build towards it. Personally, as a first step, I'd probably upgrade speakers. Follow up with a better amp, then source. That might not be orthodoxy but it is how I'd go. Amp/speaker pairing can be an interative process (actually, over time, the entire process is). One change leads to another. FWIW - my first glimpse of "good sound" was from a Superex headphones and an HH Scott receiver back in 1970. Kid in high school. No money and my folks weren't about to buy a stereo for me. Spent a lot of time listening to "underground FM" back in the day. Good luck. I'll be interested in reading any future posts as to what you end up doing.
PS - Dude! My apologies!! An oversight on my part. I did not completely read your post. If you've been working in the biz that long, your ear probably don't need no educatin'. Trust it!

OK - posting additional opinion and further cause for immolation by the audiophile-elite that reside here, I'd recommend working towards efficient 2-way floor standers and an integrated tube amp. Integration of a sub w/monitors can be a PITA. "Used for all" is the operative phrase.

Renaissanceman9, If you ultimately decide to spend the money you have now on speakers (I would), please remember two things.
1. Shop for speakers that are efficient and an easy load for your receiver and,
2. Don't damage your new speakers by overtaxing your receiver. You will be tempted to play them loudly. Be careful until you upgrade your amp.
Oh wow, you guys have basically written a comprehensive buyer's guide as a reply to my original post! Thanks so much for all the insight!!! This is exactly what I need. Now that I've had a couple of days to digest some of this info, if you'll indulge me I'd love to share some more of my objectives with you to see what you think. (BTW Rok2id and Musicpod, I did read the '10 Snafus' thread in its entirety and it was very enlightening. Thanks for the tip!)

Here's some of what I had posted in response to some other questions in another forum; hopefully it helps to further define my goals for you:

The listening room will be our 'bonus room', which is roughly a 13'x19' rectangle with an asymmetrical vaulted ceiling. the system would be placed against one of the long walls. In other words, I'll be listening from the 'short' side of the room. We have an l-shaped sectional basically placed in the the center of the room. The distance from the seating position to the wall is approximately 8.5', so I'm assuming I'd be about 7' away from the speakers when listening. There are windows on the right side and rear of the room. The left side of the room is open to the staircases leading to the downstairs and bedrooms. Floor is carpeted, and the walls have no acoustic treatment.

The room will also be used to watch movies, HOWEVER I'm not as concerned as much with an audiophile-quality movie experience. My priority is on music, and that's where i want most of my investment to go. We have a little Logitech wireless surround system with tiny speakers and a sub that we can keep setup for watching movies that is small enough to stay out of the way... At least, that's my thinking for now.

As for musical genres, I'll mostly be listening to jazz, jazz/fusion, funk, rock, and classic r&b... I would love to ultimately listen to vinyl on this system, but as I'm going to have to build this over time I'm fine with listening to cd's for now. I'd at least like to have a way to get them sounding better, and my understanding is that a good DAC would help accomplish this...

My short term budget is about $2k. My 'medium-term' budget is $5k. Beyond that, we'll have to see how things develop and how much I end up enjoying this hobby. :) I'm basically starting from scratch. The only components I have are an old Yamaha RX-V690 A/V receiver, a Sony RDR-GX315 DVD/CD player, an XBOX 360, and a pair of Bose 301 bookshelf speakers. :green:

Up to now my plan has been to start with a nice pair of speakers, because at least I'd have something temporary to play through them, even if I won't hear their true potential until upgrading source... However, I'm open to whatever feedback y'all can provide. I'm leaning in the direction of floor-standing speakers, as I'd like to not have to use a sub and also I'm ignorantly assuming that they might contribute more to the experience I described.

As far as aspects that I yearn for, I'm looking for a listening experience that has me feeling like I'm actually 'inside' the music. That's the best way I can think to describe it. I want to feel like I'm listening from 'the inside-out', if that makes any sense at all. The last time I felt that way was when I listened to an old mono recording of Coltrane on vinyl on a friend's smaller-sized audiophile system at a healthy volume. It was incredible.

Thanks again for all of your help!!! BTW, I'm in the Nashville, TN area.
What were the components in your friend's system? Maybe if you post those, they will give some here a better idea about how to guide you.

Your $2K initial budget is larger than I expected. If you buy used I'm pretty sure you'll be able to put something together that will sound great. I know I said go for speakers first, but with that amount I might be tempted to split it and see what options $1000 each for amp and speakers gave me.
I think I found your speaker!! Lol...
Granted, there are probably hundreds of speakers that would work for you in the price range, and I don't really no sh*t
compared to 99% of the people on here.
Coincident Parcial Eclipse. On here now at a GREAT price. They go down to 30 Hz! They are 92 Db so you can run them with almost no watts.
Maybe others have experience with them and could chime in.
Ghosthouse, unfortunately I have no idea what he had. It was back in 2000 when I heard the system, and I don't even know how to get in touch with that guy. All I remember is that he was using monitor speakers and had his turntable set up on something that looked like a glorified inner tube. :D

Toddnkaya, I just spent some time reading about the Partial Eclipses and they sound really really nice. I'll try and see if there is a new or used set anywhere close to me; would love to be able to hear them.

There is a used pair of LSA LS2's somewhat local to me and also a pair of Revel F12's. Both are in my price range. Do any of you have any experience with either of those speakers? I think I'd like to check them out to start hearing the differences between different models...
Sorry - haven't heard any of the 3 speakers you mentioned. If you do get to hear them, see if you can bring them home to audition w/your amp and in your space. OR, failing that and if it isn't too much of a pain, drag your Yamaha along and listen to 'em on that.

I have owned the LSA1 Statement in the past and it's a very nice speaker. Haven't heard the 2's but would expect them to be a fine starting point, if not your "forever" speaker (as if most of us have such a thing!)

Gee guys are tough. I am reviewing all the money I spent on those low budget amps and value oriented crap only to upgrade, and upgrade the upgrade. I am suggesting that he wait to afford the stuff he wants, and if it is the 8000 dollar amp and 15000 dollar speakers, it is much cheaper to buy them without all the junk beforehand.
The last thing you want, is to subscribe to any forum and ask for advice or read any of the advertising (audio) magazines. Geez, forgive me but, how come as a musician you can't asses something as trivial as quality of sound of particular piece of equipment? You already know how things supposed to sound and don't need an opinion, bunch of "Boneheads " is going to express. Hi-Fi as of today is mostly fraudulent industry and less you brainwashed by internet opinions and mostly bribed magazines more you can see how the things really are. Go, listen around ,be prepared to laugh at stupidity you're going to accounter ,choose the stuff which you find you like , done. Believe me ,there is little happines in this zombieland called
audio ;0)
From what's currently available here on Audigogon, this should get you started:

Comes in without going over budget, but doesn't include source(s) (you can get by with what you've got for a little while), phono stage, cables (used Goertz MI 2's speaker cables can be found cheap and should work great, do use separate runs for bi-wiring, if not right away, then in the future) interconnects (many to choose from), or a rack.
These are amongst the best values in audio, proven separately to stand the test of time, and more importantly synergistically together, and still offer the flexibility to upgrade any of the pieces as deals might appear.
You might need to sit back another 6" or so to really make the speakers sing.
No relation to any of the sellers, buyer beware, but, while Audiogoners may not always agree, they do tend to be an honest crew.
Caution; vinyl can be rewarding, but can start to get expensive.