Newbie looking for system suggestions

Category: Amplifiers

Pardon my lack of knowledge, but I just got a Xmas bonus, and am looking to spend it on a hi-fi 2.1 channel system -- starting from scratch!!! If you had around $6-8 thousand to spend, how would you do it? It will be for a 20x 24 room, carpeted, with cathedral ceilings (15 ft high). I mostly listen to vocal jazz, blues, rock, but often get a classical hair and have some very good orchestra + piano recordings.

Again, sorry such a basic question -- I have been doing a lot of reading, but I am still completely overwhelmed and looking for some suggestions to audition!!

I would buy a used Bryston pre/power amp because they sound excellent and the 20 yr. warranty is unbeatable. A used BP-25 and 4B ST is around $2300 used. Good cabling is a MUST! I highly recommend for your interconnects, VH Audio "Pulsars." Absolutely superb sounding IC's. VH Audio also makes power cords which I personally have not tried yet, but they have received excellent reviews. I have tried the Blue Circle BC-61 PC (new $110) w/ the Bryston BP-25 and this really brought great improvements. I'm using this equipment w/ my Snell E III's and it really sounds very good. One day I would really love to get some ProAc's! Which ever spk. you decide on, they will have to be large floorstanders because of the size of your room. Perhaps some Maggie 3.5/3.6's! The Bryston 4B ST is one heck of an amp and w/250w pre ch. it should drive most spks. well. Might try a tube pre-amp. Then you can fine the sound w/different tubes. Many possibilities! I personally would go w/ a Solid-State amp. I hope you end up w/something you will enjoy!
Bryston gear is OK , decent enough, but are you buying good sound or a good warranty?

Bryston's warranty is a big selling point. Everyone mentions it first. No one ever mentions sound quality first with Bryston.

Toyota has the shortest new car warranties in the car business. But Toyota's are the least likely to break down. The other car companies have a better warranty because it is the only way they can sell the car.

Kind of hard to say where to start. Most people start with integrated amps, bookshelf speakers, one piece CD players, etc, before moving up to separates.

If you're new to this you may want to start out with mid-fi brands like Rotel, NAD, Creek, Music Hall, Cambridge Audio, etc, with lower end B&W or Epos speakers, before blowing a wad of money. Then you can buy all new stuff as well.
I personally wouldn't go mid-fi. You'll end up not really being satisfied. The Bryston equipment sounds extremely neutral. The 4B ST for around $1200-1300 used is extremely well-worth the $. Forget bookshelf spks. for the size of your room. You'll need floorstanders. Try to find a dealer whom will work w/you and let you audution as much equipment to see if it meets your tastes. If you buy used equipment, which are in demand, from reputable sellers, you should lose very little on resale and you will have the opportunity of trying equipment out and gaining knowledge.
Wow, not a bad "problem" to have! I'd ask Duane. I always ask Duane. Duane knows everything. So I ask him everything. And he's always right (except for once with a preamp--sorry about that one, Duane).
Sorry to break the news to you Kotta, but Bryston is Mid-Fi.

I also would start small at first. If later you decide that you're not satisfied with mid-fi, then fine. Easy to sell what you have and trade up to something better. You'll have lot's of money left over from the first purchase to get something better. Upgrading is what we all do.

A lot of people blow a ton of money on fancy gear and a year later never listen to it much. If in a year or two you're still listening, then yes go for it big time.
Go and listen to hi end gear. Simple as that. Then buy what sounds best to you. Do not buy expensive cable. The source is the most important part. Dont let people tell you speakers are the most important.
Amps try and hear Rogue, Speakers Coincident.

Here's a possible scenario to consider:

Ayre AX-7e Integrated (SS) -- can purchase demo/used @ audiogon for $2000
Ayre CX-7e CD Player (SS) -- can purchase used @ gon for $2000 - 2200
Proac D15 Speakers -- new or used (new = $3500; used = $2500)
Run balanced Cardas cable from AX-7 to CX-7 -- $250 (demo)
Speaker cable -- $1000

You are well within your budget. If you can splurge a bit, I would go with new Proac D25s ($5500 MSRP).

This system will last you quite some time.
I will second Kotta. For newbies, Bryston wins handsdown in my book. I have Lamm reference 1.2 amps, and they are great but you will spend $11,000 new for these. It is almost impossible to drop so much right away on stuff until you have listened to lots of stuff over years. Do not get overwhelmed, there are no right answers for all people here. If you want to get a whole system for $6000, I would go used Bryston 4B-ST amp with BP-25 preamp and then spend $3000 on speakers and pick up a good Universal player from Sony maybe new here. Speakers are a personal choice but I would look for used Avalons and I think you would be very happy.
Sure I realize Bryston is Mid-fi (Upper mid-fi perhaps?) because it doesn't cost megabucks. Mapleleafs3 mentioned "Rogue." They make a new int. amp which is definately worth investigating. If you invest your budget wisely, you should have a very nice system. Audition as much equipment as posible. There are so many choices and ways to go. Decide on the spk. and then find the amp or int. amp best suited to drive that spk. Use good cabling. Besides sounding good, the equipment must blend in w/your surroundings and suit your tastes. Don't rush into anything, take your time and investigate. Good Luck! Happy Holidays to all!
I always start with a good look at the room I'm going to be dealing with and any placement issues I'll have in this room...speaker setup is critical to good sound.

Sound pressure levels, setup issues within the room, your budget, are a good place to start.

Why do I start there?, well because I'm going to pick the speakers as my place to begin the system build.

The rest of the components fall into two categories:

1., their task is assigned by specific needs but with some overlap into #2 (tweaks)

2., components you pick because YOU like the way they sound in YOUR players/Dac's/cables come to mind.

I never worry about the old argument for starting at the source "crap in, crap out". Why would anyone build a system only to top it off with crap?

Research, listening and a good plan with some degree of flexibility should build you a system you can enjoy for a long time.

If I were starting over, I would consider one of the CD players that can also function as a pre-amp, saving a lot of money, space, and cost of cables. The unit I would buy would probably be the Audio Aero Capitole. Then you would need an Amp and speakers, but no pre-amp.
I would think about building around:

ARC LS-7 (tube linestage preamb, used about 700; need a phono amp if you want to go vinyl)
MacCormack DNA 0.5 (ss amp, used about 700)

This is one of the steps I took-it was quite satisfying and both components hold their value well (I should admit that I never got rid of the DNA 0.5... it's now a Platinum Revision by SMC Audio).

This will leave you a lot of room for sources, speakers & wires. (I'll let others weigh in there).

Happy listening...
I just love the assertions on this site about Bryston not being high-end gear. Have any of you guys actually taken the time to assemble and then listen to a Bryston-based system, with good speakers, in a home listening environment? FWIW, Stereophile, The Absolute Sound, Hi-Fi+ Magazine, and other audio publications have consistently rated Bryston equipment as "Class A" or "Class B", and a number of their reviewers own Bryston amps and preamps. Bryston gear is also used by MANY of the leading recording studios, as well as for mastering the sound tracks of MOST of the major motion pictures of the last 5 years (see Bryston's web site for specifics).

If your personal preference in audio gear is not inclined toward Bryston, that's cool -- this is a hobby, after all. But I think it's misleading to suggest to a newbie that Bryston gear is "mid-fi". Both the audio quality AND the build quality of Bryston equipment is competitive with some of the most expensive high-end audio equipment made today, and the 20-year warranty is merely very nice frosting on the cake.

So, Steve, by all means consider Bryston gear, but you should also take a hard look at Rotel, Parasound, Creek, Musical Fidelity, Arcam, and other makers of moderately-priced high-end audio gear. And, with due respect to Mapleleafs3, speakers are VERY important. Unless you plan to buy an analog front end, your speakers will be the only transducer (an electrical component that converts electrical energy to mechanical energy, or vice versa) in your system, and thus subject to the widest variability in sound quality. Every component in a system is important, but the speakers will ultimately determine whether you like the SOUND of your overall system.

After 40+ years in this hobby, I usually suggest to newbies that they start by choosing their speakers first, and then select their amp and preamp (or high-quality integrated amp). If you select highly efficient speakers, then you will not need as much amplifier power, which may leave more money in the budget toward other components. The reverse is also true.

Interconnects and speaker cables are perhaps the most debated topic in our hobby. Given your budget, you can afford good quality cabling, and a good starting point are the products made by Kimber Kable, and by Alpha-Core. Both manufacturers make excellent, reasonably-priced products (and Alpha-Core has a 30-day money-back home trial of their Goertz speaker cables). Kimber Kable's "Hero" interconnects are a good choice and value, as is their 8TC and 4TC speaker cables. And Alpha-Core's Goertz MI2 speaker cable is hard to beat, even at twice the price.

You might spend some time looking through the Audiogon archives, as all of these topics have been "cussed" and "discussed" before on this forum. Most importantly, however, is the advice to "trust your own ears" -- oh yes, and its corollary: HAVE FUN!
There are a lot of good points on this thread...I cannot make any judgments about the Bryston stuff becasue I have never had any of their equiptment. I do however think that floorstand speakers are the way to go for your room. With the types of music that you listen to I wouldn't really worry about geting a "2.1" system. The woofers of your speakers will more than cover the bass for your music.

Personally, I have had the most enjoyment with B&W speakers and JM Labs. The higher end b&w's have a little brighter sound than the JM Labs, primarily because of the tweeters they use and the cross-overs. You would be ill advised if you were to choose a speaker without ever hearing something simmilar, so do as much listening as you can before actually making a purchase.

Now, if I had $6000 to spend, here is what I would probably purchase.

JM Labs floorstand speakers...Either the electra or utopia, depending on what I could find used from the wonderful people on this site.

Reasonable solid state amp...Nothing too spendy...Maybe a 100 watt classe or krell...Most of the JM Labs require less energy to drive well.

A good cd/pre, especially if you listen to CD's only. Something like the Musical Fidelity CD Pre, or Theta Digital makes one I think...

Cable to tie it all together...Some people think that cables are just snake oil...Some of them are, but a lot of them are not. I really like the entrance level Nordost cables. MIT are also nice, but for the same price levels, nordost is hard to beat.

Best of luck to you, and be sure to keep us posted on where you go from here!

Hi you pick a number right in the middle of good and a noch down. but understand with 8 grand you will be have a class B system. so lets go with the old formula of 50% of budget on speakers. (B&W 804S) or (B&W 805S with ASW825 subwofer)for the rest of your system Sony top of the line ES is a good way to go for new equip. But me I would rather own a used McIntosh, than anything new. Good Luck
Take it up a notch from mid fi,just cause for not much more cash you will get way better sound.This is what i have bought used to give a idea,Sonographe sa250 Arcam cd33 Legacy studio monitors,,Atoll pre pr200,various wires etc,total for all used give or take a couple bucks is 2250,,worth every penny
Yes, Steve, you've stumbled into a scary website. My suggestion is to find a store that specializes in hi-end audio and begin listening to just speaker/sub combos in the 4,000 range. Decide what speaker/sub combo you think sounds best and then match them up with electronics. (Speakers by far determine the overall sound of a system, and the majority of your budget should go towards them.) Remember to ask yourself one question when determining what to buy: Do the speakers I'm listening to REALLY want to make me continue listening? If the answer is no, keep looking. Good luck.
If you're just starting out I'd target good-named used equipment you can turnover with little loss of investment. That way you can get your feet wet, see what you like and dislike, and adjust from there. Understand that listening to equipment at a dealer's place is just a first-brush sorting exercise as things will sound different once you get home. You won't really know where you stand with a system until you live with it for a while.

Off the top of my head:
>Tube Audio Design 150 Signature preamp ($650-750 used & not much more new)
>McCormack 225 amp ($1400-1700 used)
>Vandersteen 3a Signatures (maybe $2200-2500 used)
>source & cabling of your choice

Do some a-gon research on any of these pieces. You'll be hard-pressed to find anything less than positive comments.
Thank you for all of you responses!! I have actually registered on this site now, and have been doing a LOT of reading. Today, I went out on my first audition to a high-end specialty shop and auditioned:

Exposure 2010 integrated
Exposure 2010 CD
Verity Taminos speakers

The combination sounded fantastic to me, but then again -- my ears are accustomed to older Denon/Klipsch gear in an improperly set up room. The total would be around $8k all included -- wondering what you folks have to say about this setup, and whether or not you would recommend something else in particular to one of the above items!!

Thanks again!!!
By the way, the exposure gear completely blew away Arcam and a Rotel that I had listened to previously (the 1070)
I would personally avoid the Bryston stuff. While I think it is good, I think there are much better alternatives with more air, soundstage, detail, and transparency for the money. Unless you are prepared to go to an amp like Levinson or Boulder, I think the Ayre amps are tough to beat in the solid state arena. I have done A/B comparisons with Ayre vs Bryston time over time on very different systems and my friends and I can always tell which sounds better to us and it's always the Ayre. I would recommend the following for your budget...

Vandersteen 3A Signature speakers ($2200)
Arcam FMJ CD 33 ($1500)
Ayre V-3 ($1100)
Ayre K-5X preamp ($2100)
Speaker wire ($1100)(maybe synergistic or signalcable or some cheaper transparent stuff)

Only use magazines and reviews as a rough guide. I have found, for instance, that some of the components listed as class A in Stereophile are of vastly different sound quality.

Your post of 12/19/05 stated:

Exposure 2010 integrated
Exposure 2010 CD
Verity Taminos speakers

The combination sounded fantastic to me....

If you've done enough research and have listened to at least a couple of systems, then the above system is the one to buy, for the following reason:

YOUR ears and YOUR impressions trump everything else you can read in these forums. If it sounds "fantastic" to you, then that's ALL that matters, ASSUMING you have a solid idea of what you're looking for.

In my case, it was also very helpful to have a person in the business who, over a period of many years, had made many correct predictions about how things would sound to me. In other words, he and I have similar (but not identical) "ears". I know something about high end audio, but not a lot. He DOES know a lot (Duane is the person I'm talking about). He basically provided me with a shortcut to sonic Nirvana. So, if you can find an honest and smart dealer and/or salesperson with ears similar to yours, that would probably be extremely helpful.
advice from mdhoover is great. some just want great sound, buy and stop searching around, others enjoy the hobby, eqpmnt. searching aspect. you are not sure where you fit in untill you jump in. finding a trusted audiophile you share an ear with is a huge help. fwiw, 6-8K will get you a helluva nice system that will last a long time so do not feel rushed. high end used spkrs. are a great way to go. audition new and buy used. you have a big room do not skimp on bottom end, consider this when listening in smaller showrooms. take your time and the deals will find you! 8K will get you a 15K system if you shop patiently.
Hi Steve,
You've already taken the best first step by posting on Audiogon. If you buy all your gear here, you can literally get twice as much for your money so go for some REAL high-end stuff. My suggestions would be:
Conrad-Johnson amp (MF2500A) and pre-amp (Premier 18LS). Those two pieces shouldn't cost you more than $3500 total.
An Arcam CD player (FMJ CD33) $1000 to $1350.
Martin-Logan electrostatic hybred speakers. (SL3, ReQuest, or Quest) $1200-$2500
And some descent cable (NOT MONSTER OR KIMBER, remember I said DESCENT) About $600-$1000.
One other thing would be a good stand. Around $500. And you're done. You'll be able to enjoy a VERY good, nice sounding system. And when you're ready and your ears start to get better tuned to what good gear sounds like, you can upgrade from there. AND YOU WILL UPGRADE!!!
FREE TIP: Have FUN!!!!!
Were I starting out today fresh, I'd concentrate on investigating and auditioning U.S. built gear by well/semi-well established companies who sell only/mostly through the net and have lower overhead costs than blitzkrieg-advertised, mass-produced, over-priced, over-hyped products. I prefer companies like Van Alstine; Audio Concepts (ACI); Linkwitz Lab; Salk Sound; Zero Surge; Blue Jeans Cable; Ellis Audio; etc. I would pursue gear built by craftsmen who use quality parts and are personally involved in constantly improving their products because they love quality audio.
If I had $8K today to spend as I wish I would likely get the Orion speaker as a kit (partially assembled, amplifier included), a Van Alstine pre-amp, all of my cables from Blue Jeans Cable, and a Brick Wall (Zero Surge) audio surge protector.
Hi, this question has probably given us all a great time helping you.
Where it sends my brain is "what are the best deals I've ever seen on Audiogon?" or "what have I drooled over but had a few less pennies than it took to play?"or have owned and loved..
So some ideas...
amps, Hot Rod Belles 150, ARC D130, the "2500" stated above, Spectral 90, or the McCormics (a friend has them and I think they could be matched well with other than what he has).
In tubes, Try a small used Joule, Vac, or ARC.
Pre: Spectral 10, BAT??, or MBL; in tubes VAC.
*['m having a Cd player delemna myself and didn't like a tube unit (CAL Long ago) but have enjoyed (cool) Krell 250, and 280 or (warm) Museatecks or ARC.
I'd probably go B&W 802's used or Joseph's? (do they have bass?) Vanderstein 3A sig, big appogy's, or even Merlin's.
Old Shunyata for power cable, old MIT for S.S. gear interconnects; maybe Audio Magic ribbons for the tube gear-interconnects. Lots of combos. Buy, used have fun. Go listening like others to to flea markets. Good Luck, oh and take your disks with you so that there is something you can use to write the sound onto your brain and make comparisons from week to week.
I agree with Bojack. If you budget 80% of the cost for expensive CD player, amp, preamp and costly cables and then combine this with $1500 speakers....with careful selection you will have an excellent system but you will miss out on a whole level in sound quality that you could potentially achieve with $4000 speakers!

Speakers are where 99% of your distortion occurs. They are where the rubber hits the road so to speak. Most electronics today are actually very capable in terms of reproduction with great dynamc range, low distortion and low signal to noise. (not that there aren't differences in electronics....just they are more subtle than you will find between various speakers or if you go for better quality more expensive speakers.)

BTW: Bryston is professional grade gear and about the only "midfi" thing about Bryston, in my view, is their exceptionally good value!

...just my two cents....good luck!
After 48 years in this hobby/business and having had all the Bryston gear through here since their inception in the mid 70s. I find nothing pedestrian or mid-fi about any Bryston gear. The Bryston amps clearly rate in the top ten of any Class A/AB amps produced by anyone, past or present.Construction,build quality,circuit boards and parts used are some of the best you will find. The sonics of the Bryston product line is exemplary, and few can match at price/performance level. Just took in on trade a Bryston 3B NRB produced in 1995. This is a fabulous Class A/AB amp by any standard. The 20 year warranty is just icing on the cake and a further committment from Bryston on the faith they have in their product. Yes Bryston is high end gear and has been for more years than I can remember.

No it is not in the leaque of Pass Labs,Krell and Levinson,but then again it is not priced at those levels.

But for years of rock solid performance and a decidedly musical signature it is very hard to out class the Bryston product line. Value is where you find it and Bryston is at the head of the class in this field.
I suggest you start with very efficient speakers such as the Cain and Cain Abby's and the VividAudio Chameleon integrated amp. I have used the above combo and it is awesome. A Rega CD player and some good cables and/or any number of good, inexpensive turntables with arm and cartridge would make a great system without going into hock.