Moving to separates

Finally willing to make the jump to separates.

Live in apartment setting: have managed to sell off most of my "consumer electronics" to fund purchases of first separates equipment.

Have been attentively reading this site's postings for some time. While I am not ready to jump into the high-end side of the pool, are any of you able to recommend some reasonably priced separates to consider first? I realize that they won't be, and shouldn't be "cheap", though I am admittedly not yet willing to take the plunge on extraordinarily high priced goods.

I haven't yet bought speakers; I'm currently auditioning several pairs.

Thanks so much for your help in starting me off with a list to use while traveling about, listening!
Nice to see you back Tom/Tpsonic. Adcom is as good of a place as any for you to start, Ivyinvestor. Lots of us started with Adcom. i started with Audio Alchemy, which is abotu the same thing, but just a tad more lush sounding (and a bit more unreliable). rotel, parasound also make separates in the same price range, and should hold their values well at resale time. A little farther up the food chain is Bryston, McCormack (SMc audio), and Odyssey. Klaus sells the Odyssey stuff direct, so the prices are reasonable, but still higher than used Adcom separates.

You can look at the used prices of the above brands and seel what you are comfortable spending. $250 for a preamp (without phonostage) and $500-650 for a power amp (1200-1600 retail) would be a nice place to start at. You can spend more if you like, but that will give you a taste of what decent gear can do. you can also spend less, but you'll have to shop very carefully. It's a lot harder to find a decent $200 amp, for example.
You don't necessarily need separates.

For tubes, you could get, say, a self biasing Primaluna integrated. It now comes with a mm phono board option ($160). Or a Cayin.
Kora Titan, tube mono-block amps (100 wpc). Go direct from source to amps with (Electronic Visionary Systems) Ultimate Attenuators.
You might aim a little higher. A Classe 35 preamp now advertised for $450 is a great bargain on which to build a very nice system. Balanced I/O too, for future compatibilty/upgrades. Or maybe the CAP 80 for $700, and no interconnect required. It might make sense to take the 2nd step first. Just my .02, good luck in your quest.
You might try Musical Fidelity. Notwithstanding negative reactions from some who believe Stereophile has prostituted itself to them or that they "upgrade" their line too often, they actually make stuff that sounds pretty good. While frequent upgrades may hurt resale values if you buy new, you can get used or "close-out" equipment at reasonable prices. Try searching on it here and you'll find all sorts of things.

Powered monitors are often an over-looked yet affordable, viable option for separates. Don't buy cheap computer speakers though. Go to Sweetwater or Musician's Friend and order a decend pair of powered monitors from the Pro Market. The only drawback is most of them do not come with grills. But some of them have an excellent apperance without the need for grilles.
Thanks so much for your responses thus far. You folks have given me some good points to study.

As for budget, since this is my first set of kit, I was thinking along the lines of $1200-1600, but wasn't really sure what was reasonable

Re: speakers, I don't really know yet. Gallo's Ref IIIs and Mag 1.6s sound great on paper, but I live in an area where Def Tech is considered super exotic, with Boston Acoustics and Polk considered very high line. Unfortunately, not too many good places to really try anything out.

Also, I've never bought anything used in my life...Have your experiences with gear been satisfactory? I find it a little difficult to trust someone who I don't know in dealings that might ramp to a fairly significant expenditure--especially this first time! ;)

Thanks again for further recomendations...and understanding.
If you deal with people with positive feedback you'll find you can get much more for your money on the used market. I love this place. The only place where new may be a good idea is a digital front end. Five years ago I was pretty wary but have been pleasantly surprised that most people are honest. Of course there's a few but as long as you stay with people with positive feedback you'll be ok. Another thing is to make sure they have at least five or six transactions.

For recommendations in separates in electronics excellent value can be found in Parasound and Rotel products. If you decide you need a tuner check out Vintage tuners, especially modded ones, are the best values. Modded ones compete one on one with the best the modern era has to offer for a fraction of the cost.


For solid state the Cambridge Audio Azur 640A integrated amp and 640C cd player are hard to beat at their asking prices.

If you want to go tubes, the Sound Quest SQ-88 integrated tube amplifier is a bargain at it's asking price. I have had excellent results with a variety of speakers, including the Von Schweikert VR-4jr.

Have fun!
1)First and foremost, good luck in the quest. You might want to consider narcotics as a healthy alternative to this audio habit.

2)Do your research! Audiogon is a fantastic resource and there is no end to what you can learn from your fellow posters. Take a look in the ‘virtual systems’ section and see what combinations folk have pieced together over the years and at what budget. This will give you a good idea of what you can get for best ‘bang for the buck’. Check out budget minded, ever evolving, opinions please- all of these are great places to learn from the mistakes of others. It also will have the added benefit of “drawing your eye” to good places to look for bargains as some brands or models will be represented over and over again with gushing reviews.

3)“high end” is really a relative term. Depending on who you talk to, the same system could be considered a starter or the last word in the ‘true’ high end. Check out they usually have a couple of pieces on good sound for under $2k.

4)It is pretty hard to give blanket recommendations of one or two pieces from the thousands that are available. Some good suggestions have been posted here. Everyone has opinions and it is impossible to objectively evaluate subjective attributes of what sounds ‘good’. Rather than reading about sound, try to find a dealer, even if they are 50 or 100 miles away. There’s nothing like sitting in the room with gear and listening to equipment that will become your buddy over time.

5) To the extent that you can, as you build the system try not to make too many changes at once. For example, if you can avoid it don’t add new interconnects and new speaker wire at the same time. Don’t swap out cd players and speakers on the same day. That might seem strange, but to the degree that you can make changes one at a time, the resulting changes will be obvious. Because obvious changes are not always desirable, it is handy to know where the changes are coming from. True, there are major financial benefits to making changes slowly. But more important is the learning that you develop with more time to research gear and come to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your evolving system.

6)Don’t forget to budget for cables! This is a subject of some controversy as zealots from various cable religions wage crusades upon each other. There’s some good material here on a-gon diminishing returns.

7)Used gear? Your mileage will vary. I tend to worry less about getting ‘burned’ by total strangers, and more about being ‘penny wise and pound foolish’. For example, a used pre at $250 might seen like a great deal, until it develops a crackly pot that costs $125 to fix. As a rule, I try to avoid older used gear with motors.

8)The rules of consumer electronics don’t apply. In that realm, for example, conventional wisdom says things like a) spend 50% of your budget on speakers, b) all cd players sound the same, c) rca cables don’t make a difference. Those rules are rapidly overturned once you start playing around with this fancy stuff.

9) Consider vinyl. Though I will not join the debate about which format ‘sounds better’, I will argue that you can often find LP’s for a fraction of the cost of cd’s. The money you spend on an analog front end (at some point) will easily be recouped in the savings from much lower software costs. This means that a pre-amp with a phono-stage is ‘very desirable’.

10)Be patient. Soon come.
seeing your budget I honestly beleive you will achieve higher quality sound via the high quality integrated route.

Simaudio I-3 (used) maybe?
All: thanks for your comments, esp. Dhoperos. You folks gave me a great many components and combinations about which to read this past weekend.

What do you think of Channel Islands Audio? None of you mentioned it, but it seems to have a following...

Also, a "problem" I am having is realizing that much of what I'm looking at - I guess, able to afford - does not handle digital connections. I have always used digital connections with my remaining gear (computer network streams, sound bridges, DVD changer, XM tuner). I suppose I could sell that gear as I sold the other pieces, or use their analog outputs, but am concerned that I won't be able to afford means to watch a DVD (does anyone make a "reference" 100+ disc changer?) as I did recently. Plus, admittedly as someone in the physics field - though granted, without "true analog experience", this seems like a step backward to me...

Some of you recommended Adcom gear: looks great, but the cheapest item that handles digital sources seems to be quite costly - and certainly so for Rotel, Parasound, Moon, etc. Perhaps I need to wait for more sale items on AudiogoN for more options.

I found and auditioned a pair of Gallo Ref IIIs. The place did not have the sub amp (said that it wasn't yet available), but the speakers sounded nice. Out of my range, but they were amazing...The seller said he could work out a deal for me on the Arcam AVR300, as well, if I were interested. Also seemed like a step in the wrong direction, as it was an integrated amp, and not separates, for quite a bit of money...I don't need a tuner, though, to the person above who asked.

Thanks again for your help!
Given your needs/budget, perhaps you might look into something like a Music Hall Mambo. It's an int. amp. plus DAC (coax and toslink inputs). 1300 new. Worth investigating. Good luck and have fun.
Me, again!

Does anyone have any opinions on Channel Islands Audio vs. any of the others mentioned herein?

In the price range you give you should audition a Linn Kolector preamp and LK 140 power amp. I personally haven't found anything better for the money (especially if you use the Linn Silver interconnects). The two pieces can easily be had for $1300 on the used market ($450 and $850, respectively). If you have a Linn shop in your area, check the combination out with your current source and speakers and see how they fit.

If you use a turntable, you will ultimately want a better phonostage than that in the Kolector, but it is perfectly serviceable as a place to start. As for the line stage, I've had to go upwards of 3 K to find one that starts to embarrass it in an A/B comparison. It also has quite a good headphone out, if that is important to you.

P.S. Where do you live? If you have good shops in the area, listen to everything they have. That is actually the best advice I can give.
Dhoperos gave excellent and generous advice.

Now that I've read the thread a little more closely I need to add that the Linn Kolector has an RS232 port, which would give you flexibility for digital connections. (Note to self: next time read thread, THEN post).

A few added words on buying used:

I would differ from Warnerwh only in saying that if you really want to be safest in buying used, make sure the people you buy from have good feedback for *selling*, not just for buying. Also check out This is a near fool-proof way to buy safely, though it costs a bit more.