Please Advise me on Building a System on a Budget

Hello everyone,

I am an aspiring audiophile who loves music but I have never had the money to buy any real nice equipment. I am looking to build a relatively nice system for the first time and I am on a budget. I am looking to spend only around $2000 on everything. I am looking to get everything used and I am willing to hunt on ebay and craigslist for bargains. I want to stretch this $2000 as far as I can. I have a few questions that I hope some of you experts could help me with.

Ideally, I need a pair of speakers, a preamp, an amp, a record player and some type of digital source like a cd player (or SACD player). I know that is an aweful lot to ask for on a $2000 budget but tell me what you think I could do.

One question I have been wondering is if it really makes sense in 2011 to spend big money on a cd player or SACD player. I don't quite understand people who are spending a thousand dollars on a top of the line NAD player or other unit. Wouldn't it make more sense to have a hard drive based unit or computer playing lossless audio files? Wouldn't that be able to produce the same quality audio but be more convenient?

My initial thoughts would be that I should have a PC with a solid DAC as my digital source (or hard drive based player) and then get a good record player. Does this sound reasonable? Or is there some reason why playing old fashioned CDs through a NAD or other device would sound superior? Also, would you recommend a SACD player? Of course, there are plenty of high resolution FLAC files that I could conceivably play from a hard drive unit as well.
Please advise on this.

What I was thinking of as far as budgeting was concerned is: Spend about $700-$800 on the best used speakers I can find. Spend about the same on the best Pre-amp/Power amp combination I can find. And spend the rest towards the rest, particularly the digital and vinyl sources.

The $2000 is not a hard and fast budget but I seriously do not have a lot of money and I want to get the best audio I can for a reasonable amount. I would rather spend more on the speakers and amps and maybe wait on a record player.

What can you suggest? Thanks. I look forward to hearing your suggestions.
I'd start with NHT Super Zero and subwoofer. Reviewed in Stereophile 2 issues ago. I would also look for a Naim Nait integrated. An Oppo or any descent Digital source a Rega RP1 turntable with arm and I believe cartridge Ready to Play. Interconnects and speaker wire are your choice.
The Naim has some of the best timing (rhythm and pacing) of any amp I know. If you need a dac you have the Scott Nixon Tube Dacs, the Rega Dac and Cambridge Dac and VDac from Musical Fidelity and some others that sound really good. The speakers should be your first choice I think.
$2000 including analog front end is tough. Could you stretch it to $2500 even if not right away? Remember, you will also need a lot of cables and you don't want junk.
In this case, I would probably start by choosing good used integrated amplifier with or without phono stage. Unless you are very lucky I just don't see how you can have acceptable separates within this price range. Even vintage Tandberg or Audiolab would most likely be too much. There are many good speakers for around $500-$600 though. And, yes, I would go with computer based digital source.
I would begin your search with a pair of speakers that would fit you room and taste in music, spend up to $1000.

Speakers are the heart of any system so get that part right.

Use the rest for an integrated amp (not separates) and the computer/DAC idea is a good one. Buy the turntable later as you will run out money to buy a decent one for $2000 for everything.

You will get a million ideas and it may get confusing so start with speakers and search the archives - is the best advice IMO.
For the Cd front end buy a Sony Playstation (Im serious), you'll have to look it up but there are raves on the older units for cd and I think you can nab one for $50 ish. Budget about $500 for the vinyl front end and buy the best used Rega combo you can find including a low - use cartridge ( you can work more on that later, for now stay high output.). Buy a nice integrated with a phono stage. maybe some NADS fit in there or maybe a used Muiscal Fidelity, and you can get something good for $400 for $750. That leaves the speakers and no more than $50 for cabling (study and be creative but Blue Jeans is a great start if you only need speaker wire) - starter EPOS are great. Then fill your boots on whatever kind of speaker you like( stand mount images a little better in the lower end $$ wise). Take you time and have fun. Computer audio is the NBT, dont spend $$$on a CDP.
My friends set up sounds darn nice and was a great bang for the buck IMO. B&K Pro 10 preamp (has very nice phono section too). I've read that Sumo also made some nice pre's with good phono sections. Some of these Sumo's and B&K pres can be had for $275 > $400. I have a B&K MC101 for a secondary system and love it. Very well made too.

As for speakers by buddy runs Maggie MMG's I think. Acquired factory direct for about $650 or so.
These speakers produce a wall of sound, very detailed yet natural. For this price it's an amazing value.
Down side is that they are big so you need adequate space for proper set up. You could add a sub to round out the bottom octave depending music and personal preferences.

The Maggies like current. So, he uses some big Emotiva amp (he mentioned they are having a holiday special) Factory direct price with shipping included for $700 I believe). Has plenty of current/juice to run the Maggies properly.

I defer to others on the digital recommendations. He uses a Marantz 8003 cd/sacd which has USB and other provisions to accommodate iPod..... This player goes for about $700 or so used.

I listen to his system often and I'm really impressed with it. Note, this past week he just moved up to the Maggie 1.6s so his MMG's might be for sale. Let me know if interested and I could get you his contact information. I have nothing to gain by this but it might give you a good opportunity to get good used speakers for a reasonable price. He also has nice beefy metal speakers stands (an upgrade) that will go with the speakers.

Good luck :)