help me build a system for $1200

I am a medical student, and as such, already have tons of debt to begin with. That said, I've been wanting to upgrade my current system (cambridge audio CD player, squeezebox v3, a 10 year old NAD receiver, and a pair of minipod speakers that I received for free). I will probably keep the cambridge audio CD player for now.

So I've been perusing audiogon incessantly the last week or so...but can't seem to come up with a good integrated/speakers combo. I have thought about the following systems:

Onix sp-3 (for about 500-600 + onix ref 1/epos M5
musical fidelity ($700)+ quad 11L
jolida 502b + something in the 600-700 range

and this last crazy idea:

sonic impact super T amp ($150!) + an efficient speaker in the $1000 range (suggestion?)

I'd love to hear your comments.


p.s. This new system will be used almost exclusively for music. My current room is pretty small I'd say about 13x20 with 9 ft. ceiling. My musical taste is mostly indie rock...with the occasional jazz and "electronic" thrown in.
I'd also consider the Bryston B60. I like your idea of the Musical Fidelity (I'm not familiar with how your other choices sound). I give a very strong recommendation to the Vandersteen 1c's- used around $500.00. They're floorstanders, so that would have to work for you. I absolutely love them. Good luck with med school!
My vote would go to the Musical Fidelity X-150. Will drive most anything, and add a cheaper full range speaker to go with you musical taste, PSB?
Well I think you should keep your SB3 and just upgrade the digital out later on which combine with a decent DAC would sound alot better the Cambridge. As for integrated combo you cannot go wrong with the Onix sp3. I have it paired with GMA Europas (another speaker you should check out) with a modified SB2 and my system sounds amazing. Don't let the power rating sway you because it really has alot of ommph and drive my 90db speakers very very loud. Epos are good choice I think you can get the M12 for around 600+. Good luck.
The T amp is basically a minisystem amp. Your old NAD is worlds better. In fact, I'd recommend you keep the NAD (unless it's broken) and just buy a pair of good speakers for $1000 or so. You'll be getting much more bang for the buck.
There are lots of good choices. I've been putting together similar systems for friends, relatives and colleagues and the best bang-for-the-buck integrateds I've found are the Audio Refinement Complete and the Creek 4330R. The best small speaker for little money I've discovered is the Usher S-520.

Of course, I haven't tried everything out there but I've cycled through half a dozen amps and speakers in that price range and the ones above are the ones that I'd keep for myself if I wanted a second system.

The Sonic Impact amp is actually a pretty interesting idea as long as the speakers are efficient. I've built several modified versions of the original T amp, putting them in new cases and replacing all the parts except the board. The sound is very good but the output might not be enough for you in a room that size.
Just some cost effective thoughts: Keep your present system, add a Musical Fidelety X10 tube buffer (~275), and find a good used pair of Vandersteen 2CI's (~$400). You should notice a great bang for the buck in sound quality, and when you want to upgrade later, you should be able to sell for very close to what you paid. Happy Listening.
The NAD is as good, and probably better, than most receivers out there -- no need to buy amplification. Keep it and the rest and grab a really nice pair of speakers on Audiogon (Vandersteen, Spendor, KEF, Paradigm, Von Shwaikart, etc).
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Keeping the NAD and spending more on better speakers is going to give you the best sound for your price range in my opinion. Check out the new Ascend Acoustics SEs with the SEAS tweeters. They are very nice for the money.
I am a medical student, and as such, already have tons of debt to begin with.

It won't make any difference then to add a little more. :-) Just kidding.

I would suggest you keep your cd player and receiver. Then buy the best speakers you can afford.

Only buy used speakers. Thanks to upgrade mania, very good speakers in very good conditions are routinely available at bargain prices. Stick with Audiogon market place.

At present there is a mint Quad 21L for $800, new 21L for $1000, and mint 22L for $1050. One could do a lot worse than these.

If you don't care about cosmetic nicks, the follwoing also seem like a steal to me:: Spendor 7/1 for $1250 and Spendor SP1/2 for $900.

Good luck.
Kep the NAD and CD player, get a Lite DAC-AH dac for under $200. and spend the rest on the speakers of your choice. I like your idea of M5 or Quad 11L w/ a sub, Vandersteen 2CI, Spendor SP3/1 w/ sub, new Omega 3 floorstander, Omega 6, Hawthorne Audio SOLO, Hemp Acoustics drivers and floor standing cabs($ for cabs, $210. for drivers prs) If you like any of the last 4 suggestions, they will work with your NAD, but you can buy a Sonic impact t amp also to try, get the $30. amp and mod it yourself. They are a lot more than mini system amps with the right speakers. These little amps embarass many expensive amps.
You're getting some great advice about keeping your current amplification. I believe that the effects of the speaker/room interface will swamp any changes amplification can make. And altering that interface is as free and easy as moving the speakers and/or listening position.
I think it is a good idea to keep the Cambridge Audio CD player for your "budget" system.

You didn't say whether you are unhappy with the NAD receiver, and if so, why. Your speakers are obviously not too much. In the absence of further information, I will suggest two strategies.

First, if you are not too happy with the receiver, I think that the best bang for the buck in a small amp is a Creek. They don't come up too often in the used market and often sell quickly. However, look for one in the $300-$500 range. It would probably be a 4000 series model, maybe a 5000 series one. I find themn to be very good relative to other small amps like NAD and Arcam, particularly in bass response. Since you listen to a lot of rock, it would be a good choice. That will then leaves you $500-$800 for speakers. Again, using bang for the buck as the criterion, my suggestion would be PSB. A variety of good models come up fairly frequently in the $500-$800 range, even floorstanders. Given that you like rock, you might find the lack of bass in a monitor to be disappointing. However, given what you are using now, it would still be a vast improvement. If you can find a small floorstander, it might be more satisfying to you than a monitor.

The second strategy assumes that you are happy with the receiver. If so, you can dump all the money into a better speaker. A monitor is fine; however, you will also be more likely to be able to afford to get a floorstanding speaker which will have deeper bass response for the rock music you listen too. Another advantage of this strategy is that the next time you upgrade, you will only have to change the receiver and/or CD player. The speakers may be good enough that they will support a future amp/CD player upgrade.

One of the previous posters mentioned a Totem Arro at a good price in the A'gon listings ($600). That's a good buy for a good speaker. There is also a Totem Model 1 in there. I think it's about $850. That would be a very good speaker too, although it is also a monitor. It comes with stands too. If you choose strategy number two above, I would look very hard at the Model 1 with the stands.

Please come back for advice after you finish med school and pay off your debts. Then we can really have some fun recommending things for you!
I also agree with Daimbert to keep your SB3 and spend $500-600 on a DAC. I have the Ack Dack 2.0 with the high rez caps and I see them for $550. Currently there is one on Audiocircle for this price. Keep your NAD and use the remaining balance on some of the speakers suggested earlier. You will have a really nice system, plus the convenience of computer audio
Keep Cambridge and NAD, add Adcom 600 or Assemblage 1.0 DAC for $150, Spendor SE used at $700, do some nice stands and Signal Cable PCs and wire. Done.
Whow, lots of interesting directions. A lot depends on what you are looking for. I think your idea of the Super-T amp is daring.. and would take you into adventurous territory. It is only about $130 at Parts Express, and you could experiment with full range hyper sensitive drivers, such as those offered by Audio Nirvana (, for about $150 a pair- all you would have do to is find an enclosure for an 8 inch driver- or build your own based on the plans Audio Nirvana offers. You might end up with something special.
For a more conventional direction, I second the recommendations for a small creek integrated, which is going to be a big improvement over your NAD... but only if you upgrade the source too... like with a Lite DAC. Speakers... a lot of people are recommending Vandies... and that is for a reason.
Good luck
I am a medical student, and as such, already have tons of debt to begin with. That said, I've been wanting to upgrade my current system (cambridge audio CD player, squeezebox v3, a 10 year old NAD receiver, and a pair of minipod speakers that I received for free). I will probably keep the cambridge audio CD player for now.

You didn't give much in the way of specific data to go on; but I'll stick my neck out anyway...

First, for a ca. $1,200 budget, you'll likely be better off sticking to "Better Mid-Fi", than attempting to put together anything super exotic. Don't let the "Mid-Fi" moniker put you off -- as long as your doing this more for the music than the snob appeal, you can do quite well with brands like NAD, Adcom, Rotel, Hafler, etc. -- and occasionally, even the big "mass market" makers put out something halfway worthwhile (cf. some of the older Denon and Yamaha stuff).

Hence, as several other folks have suggested, you might want to also keep that NAD receiver, at least for awhile; but this depends greatly on just which one it is *AND* what kind of shape it's in. As a general rule, NAD's stuff is reasonably decent when it's new and working properly; but historically, the "low budget" build quality (how do you think they maintain that "bang for the buck" reputation, anyway?) leaves enough to be desired that after ten years, it may well be giving you some grief. If so, then I understand your desire to replace it. But if it's still working well, you would probably be better off putting at least *most* of the budget into speakers, and leaving the electronics upgrade for later. OTOH, if it's one of their real low-end "20-watt wonder" models, you will likely find yourself rather severely limited in your speaker choice. But then, on still another hand, as long as the NAD has a pair of line-level preamp-outs (which it probably does) this really is no big deal, as (again, assuming as the unit is otherwise working well) you can easily and cost-effectively add (now or later) a much beefier power amp without having to replace the tuner and preamp sections. For a few quick examples from the current Audiogon classifieds:

Adcom GFA555
Asking $350.00

Adcom GFA-555
Asking $300.00 obo

Mondial Acurus A200 Black pending
Asking $385.00 obo

Parasound HCA-1000
Asking $275.00 SOLD

So, based on the above, you should be able to devote at least $800-900 of your budget to speakers; and that seems about right to me, given what you've told us. But there's no way that I or anyone else can pick a speaker for you "by remote control". There's just too wide a gamut of widely disparate speakers -- all ostensibly "good"; and none of us have *your* ears. So the only thing to do is start listening. Beat the bricks and visit every decent audio store within driving distance, to get an idea of what you like. Go ahead and consider models somewhat above your budget, on the theory that you may be able to find an "affordable" used specimen; but beware that if you really get your heart set on something you can't afford to buy new, this might mean waiting quite awhile for _The_Right_ pair of used speakers to come along. Once you've narrowed it down to, say, 3-6 different makes/models, start perusing the classifieds here and elsewhere.

A few other comments...

Both of the speakers you mentioned are small "mini-monitor" types. Do you have a space problem that you didn't mention? If not... Even ignoring the obvious bass-extension issue, in this price range a conventional full-size / full-range speaker will surely provide better overall performance, especially if you're short on amplifier power. Here again are a few quick examples from the current Audiogon classifieds listings:

Tannoy Revolution R-3 tower speakers
Asking $850.00 obo

Klipsch la scala
Asking $850.00

Quad 22l
Asking $1050.00 obo

Focal jm lab Cobalt 816S
Asking $999.00 obo

KEF 104/2 reference
Asking $800.00 obo

Acoustic research AR-9 original
Asking $600.00 obo

Vandersteen 2Ce Signature oak trim
Asking $875.00 obo

Paradigm Reference studio 80 v.1
Asking $650.00 obo

B&W DM604
Asking $875.00 obo

I need to emphasize here, these are *ONLY* examples. Not only is the above list bizarrely varied in terms of the general types and characters represented, speakers are by far the most subjective part of any system, and there is simply no substitute for getting out there and *listening*.

The room dimensions you quoted are not bad, actually; but there's far more to a "good" room than the basic dimensions. This is not the time or place to go into a treatise on room acoustics; but *do* put the time & effort into setting things up correctly (including some "creative decorating", if necessary), or your investment may well be largely wasted.
I like your Jolida idea, with some nice speakers. Very musical piece, with clear speakers, and you should be happy.
A know a couple of medical students, one of whom introduced me to this miserable hobby it causes an insidious incurable condition, audiosyncratic upgraditis. Unless there is something drastically wrong with your current system. Then I seriously recommend that you simply learn to to love the one you are with.
I would say that if you want to take the plunge into tubes which is a different type of audio the Jolida 302 with the Totem arrows is magical, but sweet and not meant to rock you. Otherwise just upgrade your mid-fi solid state amp. As recommended already, the Adcom, or an improved NAD, possibly Rotel or Accurus Etc.
Call my buddy at Quest for Sound, Stephen Monte. He will set you up tubes or SS. He is an Audiogon guild member you can look him up on these pages. No financial affiliation.
I was the medical student who introduced mechans to this "miserable hobby". Sorry about that, bud. :)

I agree with the suggestions to keep the NAD for now, and focus first on the speakers. Depending on your musical tastes (I'm not familiar with "indie rock"), you may consider speakers such as PSB Stratus Silver or Bronze, Totem Arro, or Totem Rainmakers. They're all great bangs for the buck. Give it about 6 months, and then if you still desire something different, now you can consider tubes or an amp upgrade. You could at that point consider selling the CD player and receiver, buy a cheap DVD player, and hook it to a Music Hall Mambo (integrated with built-in DAC). The Mambo is a great-sounding piece for the price.

Good luck,

You may want to contact Klaus Bunge 317-299-5578. By the way, what medical school are you going to where you have time to listen to audio???!!! Unless you guys are in your senior elective year, med school has changed considerably since I graduated in 1988. Alternatively, maybe I was just too stupid to work fast enough to generate free time....kind of like I am now......

Either way, enjoy the music.
I listen where and when I can songs here and there, as a 15 minute recharge during study sessions, that kind of stuff.

Unfortunatelly serious extended listening sessions aren't easy to squeez in. Dinner is a nice time to decompress though, and i don't have a kitchen table so I sup in the living room.
Just buy new speakers, that is where you will notice the biggest difference. I would consider the B&W DM603 S3 which are MSRP $1k a pair. They have received awards for their price/performance ratio from Stereophile this last year.
I would go with a Rega Brio 3 int. amp. and build from there. I auditioned plenty of int. amps and the Brio 3 was the best for the money, and a lot of audiophile magazines are saying the same thing. I have built an excellent budget system around the Rega (some items for sale) with a Squeezebox, a Rotel tuner (up for sale now that I have the Squeezebox) and some amazing Mordaunt Short vintage speakers (also for sale) and it sounds pretty awesome for the most part.

I hope that helps.
My first choice would also to be to keep your NAD receiver and put the money into some better speakers.

Second choice, I would recommend a Jolida 502A or B (I have the 502A myself, and both amps are essentially the same) and perhaps match it with a pair of Quad 11L (or even 12L, as it'll give you a little more bass) or maybe even one of the smaller Spendors like the S3/5 or S3/5se. Btw, have heard both the Jolida/Quad and Jolida/Spendor combination, and they both combinations worked quite well together.

Truth is, the Quads and the Spendors should work quite well with your NAD receiver and Cambridge Audio CD player, with the added bonus of leaving a quite a few dollars in your pocket for stands, wire upgrades or even a few more CDs.

Best of luck in med school.
One of the best bargains in audio is a used pair of Spica TC-50's (or TC-60's that have deeper base, but are harder to find and sacrifice in other areas). A pair in decent shape can be had for $300 or so plus stands.
John, a couple of thoughts to go along with some excellent feedback here.

i have had the quad 11L's in a room similar in dimensions to your's. If you choose the quad's, I feel you would be better served moving up to the bigger 12L's for improved bass response. The 11L's were great but bass impact in the mid-sized room i have was not enough. These quad monitors are excellent for jazz by the way. The roksan kandy mk3 integrated amp is known to go well with the quad's. I feel they need a lively sounding amp (which the roksan is) to complement the quad's laid-back nature. The roksan kandy mk3 and quad 12L's could be had for around $1200 used on audiogon.

The previous recommendation of the usher s-520's is a good one. I have these and feel they would pair well with your nad receiver and save you some money for now. The usher's are a little on the bright side, which would balance out with the slightly dark sound of your nad receiver.

good luck with your search and have fun with it!

T'all do know this thread started over a year ago on 06/09/06. I missed it when I made my posting, but I'm betting that Enugdamer has alread made his decisions about what he's going to do with his system. Guess in the future, I';; pay attention to when the orginal thread was started. :-)
I, too, am looking at a similar system and find this thread immensely helpful. Currently I have I an old B&O system that is in need of reapir; Beogram 6000, Beomaster 6000, Beocord 6000, Beogram CDX. I listen to FM and albums a lot, jazz mainly.

Any suggestions for an FM tuner or a receiver that would fit in this new sytem? Does the following budget seem reasonable?

Speaker budget $600
Amp and tuner or receiver budget $600
CD budget $500
Turntable? maybe keep existing


Your budget looks reasonable, especially in you're going to buy used. If it was me, I would checking the Audiogon listing (much better than e-Bay) to see what people are offering of a regular bases. If you have questions about a certain pieces of equipment, ask in the various forums, people here will certainly give you their thoughts and in most cases, their thoughts and opinions are educated and experienced ones. After that get in touch with the seller of the particular piece of equipment you're interested in and take it from there. If you take your time and do a little research first, you should do well with the budget that you set for yourself. btw, I'm another who bought most of my current system here on Audiogon and my budget was in the $1200-1500 range, and I think I did a pretty good job. I know I'm getting much more enjoyment from my music, nowadays. I believe you could do just as well.

Here's just a few examples I found this morning just "browsing" through the Audiogon listing that'll keep you in your price range.


McIntosh 1900 AM/FM Receiver - $375

CD Player

Cambridge Audio 640C - $459
Music Hall CD 25.2 - $440


Epos M5 - $500
Quad 11L2 - $568
Nola Mini - $500
Spendor S3/5 - $699

And these are just a few of listing over there, that would suit not only your budget but taste in music as well.