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Help me build up a STEREO music only system.

742 Views 16 Replies 12 Participants Last post by  Ricky
I'm looking into building up a stereo music only system. I don't have a set budget. I'm looking for High Mid-Fi to Low Hi-Fi equipment if you know what I mean. I want good components and will build it up slowly. I need some advice and input on the best components.

Here is the list of the components that I want:


-Stereo Amp

-External DAC

-CD Player/Transport

-One Pair of Speakers, NO Powered Sub-Woofer!

For the Pre-Amp and Stereo Amp I was looking into Rotel, NAD or Cambridge.

I have no idea who makes the best DAC. Any suggestions?

For the CD player/Transport I was recommended Cambridge, I forget the model #, something like 600.

For the speakers, I was considering Paradigm, the New Infinity Intermezzo, B&W, NHT, PSB, Energy, Mission...

I know that speakers, especially, depend on ones personal tastes, but I would like to know your input on the best pair of speakers for the best price. I think I'll have to compromise a little on the speakers at first, then maybe up-grade in a couple of years. I should let you guys know that I listen to all kinds of music, from Death Metal and Techno right to Classical and Celtic, so I need speakers that match up with any type of music. I also like to listen to music loud, but need a system that can reproduce GREAT sound and the FULL frequencies at lower volumes also, for the wife! I also don't mind purchasing used units, it's a great way to save $$$. http://www.avsforum.com/ubb/biggrin.gif Thanks a lot for your guidance guys.

P.S.: Have any of you heard of Vector Integrated Amps and Equation Speakers? Any input? I got a good source to get these at dealer costs, so I might be leaning towards these brands.


"It's better to burn-out than fade away"

[This message has been edited by Dan Smith (edited August 08, 2000).]
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I really do not have a price range established. I want to build it up slowly and purchase one piece at a time. I don't mind to take a couple of years to build it up. If I had to give a price range it would probably be as follows...

2 channel amp: $1000
Pre-Amp: $500
CD Transport: $500
DAC: $500
Speakers: $1000 to $1500

It's hard for me to give a specific price range because I don't know the complete pricing of the market. I definitely know that I cannot spend $4000 on a DAC, or $10,000 on speakers. I would like to stay in the Rotel, NAD, Cambridge area, maybe up to Bryston max. I guess what I mean by "not having a budget", is that if it's really worth it to spend lets say an extra few hundred on the amp or speakers, then I'd rather wait and save up. But I'd like to try and keep the total under $5000 if possible. But again, if I'm going to get much better results by spending $6500, then I will. I hope that this clarifies things for you guys.

The order of purchasing that I was thinking was:

1st: Amp (I have an old Yamaha MX-55 2/4 channel amp for now)
2nd: Pre-Amp (I have a Onkyo ED-301 Pre-Pro I will use in the mean time to run my Amp until I upgrade)
3rd: CD (I have an old Yamaha CD player I will use until I upgrade)
4th: Speakers (I'll use my Infinity RS-5 Reference floor standing speakers until I upgrade)
5th: DAC
6th: Good quality wires and interconnects


"It's better to burn-out than fade away"

[This message has been edited by Dan Smith (edited August 09, 2000).]

[This message has been edited by Dan Smith (edited August 09, 2000).]
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I highly recommend getting a Music Fidelity A300 150w integrated amp ($1500) w/ a Rega Planet CD Player ($800). As far as speakers, Totem has some good ones for about $1500. Get a sub and you are good to go. (It will be hard to get good full range speakers at this price - so if you can stand a sub in your 2 channel setup, you will get a much better top end).

Good luck,


Migliore Theater
I'd agree with the Musical Fidelity, they've always made very good gear at good prices. For CD playback, my suggestion would be a new Technics DVD-A10 DVD-Audio player. These upsample to 24/192 and would give you better sound than pretty much anything out there as well as playing DVDs and DVD-Audio when it comes out.

For speakers, I'd get a pair of Sonus Faber Concertos, and then a REL Strata sub. Truly great sound.

The cost would be $1500 for the amp, $950 for the DVD-Audio player, $1300 for the speakers (buy demos) and $700 for the sub (demo).

I would start researching Classe products. They are very detailed and musical sounding since you are looking for a great music system you can prob. find a Classe CA-150 for around 1500 or so. Classe amps are often described as warm sounding which should mean the midrange is accented. I have heard several Classe products and never been dissapointed. Or you could look into the new model CA-101.

I have a great suggestion!

Get a Classe two channel amplifier and a Theta Miles cd player. Run the balanced outputs of the Miles directly into your amp and use the Miles as your volume controll. This seems to be a common choice for many two channel systems. Skipping the pre-amp should yield better results.

If you try this system buy it used and if you don't like the combo you should be able to resale a Theta or Classe for almost exactly what you pay for it. I would try and buy something that you can resale without taking more than a 10% loss. I am also looking for a nice two-channel amp around 1500 and so far at the top of the list is a Mark Levinson NO.23 but they are very hard to find and almost gauranteed to sell for what you originally paid should you choose to dump it.

I would try the Miles paired with a two channel of your choice you should be very happy with this.

Let me know what amp you decide on I am in the same situation as you. Except I am wondering Multi-channel or two-channel?

Good Luck!
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I just auditioned an AMAZING little pair of floor standing speakers, the smallest Totem’s. With only a 4.5†woofer, they blew me away. For only $1400 (CAD) or $1100 (USD) they’re a steel. The soundstaging was impeccable, nice deep refined bass (a tad bit shy, but acceptable none the less) and very, very clear upper midrange and treble, but not harsh at all. I don’t know if I can get a better speaker for the price. How about you guys, any more suggestion?

The Totem’s were demonstrated with an Anthem Integrated amp and CD player. It sounded AWESOME.

Please keep the suggestions coming. I’m going to do some more auditioning this weekend. http://www.avsforum.com/ubb/smile.gif
If you are spending as much as $5k, there is some very good equipment available. That's in the low end of what I consider true hi-fi and just barely within my own budget.

It's uncommon, but I recommend Naim electronics. I have a Naim NAIT 3, CD-3, Flat-Cap external power supply, standard Naim cables (they use DIN connectors) paired with a some small Castle Durham 900 speakers. My system was just under $5k.

Check ebay; today (8/12) there is a Naim 90, 92 and Flat-Cap for sale -- my NAIT is the integrated version of the 90 and 92, if I remember correctly.

I don't listen to radio for music -- can't stand the repitition, commercials, fast-talking/loud announcers, or the gosh-awful bass and treble boost most stations add, so my system doesn't have a tuner. I did add a cheap little RadioShack receiver and use its tape out to listen to a few public radio programs.

I suspect you would not like the Castle speakers for anything approaching rock music. Their bass is a bit thin. Castle is a British company known for their "BBC sound" -- great for the vocals and acoustic instruments that predominate my listening. I do recall some impressive little Totems. Thiel is another line of excellent speakers.

However, ProAc speakers are absolutely outstanding. I didn't find them until just after I bought my Castles. They have some samller models under $2k that you should audition if you can find them.

A pair of small ProAc speakers, Naim Nait (or 90+92), and Naim CD player might run around $6k, but I think will blow away almost anything else under $12k.

Linn and Naim have some common heritage, so I would definitely consider Linn equipment as well.

Whatever you buy, pay particular attention to speaker placement. It can make worlds of difference. Finding a dealer who will work with you and help you learn without being arrogant or high-pressure will be good also.



[This message has been edited by J Tucker (edited August 12, 2000).]
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The new infinitys are a really good speaker. They are good not just because of the basic design, but because of their Bass/Room correction system. In my room, I have had a lot of good speakers thru, but none have lived up to their potential becuase of placement issues. These were the first ones that allowed me to place the speakers where I want, and get good performance.

Glad you liked the Totem's. They really are a great speaker. Don't listen to the Totem Mani-2's - you'll have to buy them! If I had found them when I was speaker shopping I would have blown my whole budget on just them! ($4500/pr) Unfortunately, I would have had to buy the 10k in McIntosh electronics too http://www.avsforum.com/ubb/smile.gif

Match them with a Classe, Music Fidelity, or maybe Arcam and you'll be drooling. Don't rule out a tube integrated if you can stretch - for about 2k new, you can get a Manley stingray or a Pathos. Both are a very powerful 2x50W, and are sweet sounding.


Migliore Theater
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Just a suggestion on what I heard that floored me in disbelief. A pair of Dynaudio 1.3's on stands, Aragon amp, fed by a good CD player acting as preamp and dac. It was incredible. Heard it at the L.A. High end show and everyone was talking about the sound such a small package delivered. I voted it best sound of show against behemoths because of the surprise.

I went on to buy the Dynaudio 3.3 Contours, Mark Levinson 336 and Mark Levinson 39 CD Player going straight into 336 via silver reference balanced Nordost SPM. Speaker cables are Nordost reference SPM's.

Hear it before you buy. It was the best for under $ 10,000.00


Silence is overrated!
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Any reason for avoiding a subwoofer? IMO, you're missing out on a lot of detailed low-freq sound by neglecting this part of your system. (ask anyone who owns Aerial 10Ts and purchased the SW-12) Also, consider a CD player w. volume control and drive the amp directly (i.e. no pre/pro).

I second the choice of Dynaudio Contour 1.3 MkII.

Those are amazing speakers, better than the Totem one

in almost all aspects.

They require a good power amp though.

If you want imaging, soundstage and a correct sound

without "power" efects they ARE the best.

The Special Edition is even better but more expensive of course.

I use the Contour 3.3, T2.5 and T2.1 in my combined

stereo/surround system.

Read audioreview for more comments (with moderation) http://www.audioreview.com/reviews/speaker/


[This message has been edited by MagnusB (edited 12-22-2000).]
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I just recently tried a Music Fidelity Integrated with a little pair Mordaunt Short floor standers, I think it was only a 4.5" or 5" woofer.

Great sound overall and especially the imaging and soundstage.

I also tried a Parasound HDC-1000 amp and a SimAudio Celeste 4070se. I did not really like the Parasound. It did deliver deep bass with good control, but was still too much on the bright side for my tastes. The SimAudio Celeste really tamed the harshness and delivered amazing deep bass. But it may have been producing more resonance than the Parasound. Hard to tell http://www.avsforum.com/ubb/confused.gif

So far I have been impressed with Totem, Mordaunt Short, Music Fidelity and SimAudio Celeste/Moon.

I'm slowly narrowing it down guys! Keep the recommendations coming.



"It's better to burn-out than fade away"
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I second the excellent sonics of the new Muscial Fidelity A3 lineup.

I auditioned the pre-amp at home and was highly impressed with it. Very quiet, great clarity and detail, and great looks ! The matching 2-channel amp recently received an A-Rating from S'phile.

- Andy
Thanks for all the recommendations guys.

My main concern for my system is IMAGING and SOUNDSTAGING. Of course I do not want to sacrifice pure neutral sound quality in exchange. I listened to a pair Castle Edens in combo with a Sim Celeste. Great sound, and especially the neutrality and pure reproduction of the recording, no resonance at all. The only down side is, the system really needed a good quality sub. The Castles were bass shy and I liked the imaging better of Totem and Mordaunt-Shot.

I've also been forced to revise my budget:

2 channel amp: $1500

Pre-Amp?: $1000

CD Transport: $1500

DAC?: $500

Speakers: $1500

I could try to get a high quality CD player with a preout to skip the DAC and pre-amp stages. How much could I expect to spend an a good quality subwoofer? It would have to have an excellent rhythm and pace

with as little as possible resonance. I guess I should go with a smaller woofer at my price range. It should have less resonance and by quicker. Do any of you know a good quality pasive sub with it's own crossover? I have a Marantz MA-500 THX mono black amp, rated at 125 watts. I was wondering if I could use this on a small passive sub? What would it sound like? What do you guys think of all of this?


"It's better to burn-out than fade away"
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One VERY strongly recommended thought: for $1550 or thereabouts, you can get a Sony SCD777ES SACD player from Oades Brothers, or J&R. In the price range you're considering, I think this is the best value availalbe- very competitive CD performance, superb build quality, and SACD to boot. Go give one a listen before spending the money elsewhere.

Suggestions regarding amps or preamps are not as strong, you're already looking at some good things, particularly the Music Fidelity gear, which is the least expensive solid state gear using choke input filters.

On the otherhand, in the price range you're considering, a Marchand PR41 passive preamp (using Shallco attenuators) is very hard to beat for transparency. And the Aragon 8002 is my second favorite "low power" Aragon amp, after the Palladium class A monoblocks (which I own). At a very conservative and refined 125 W/ch (and double at 4 ohms) it drives pretty much anything with aplomb. If you can find a used one, so much the better, but with shopping around you can probably find a dealer willing to give 15 to 20% off list. With smaller speakers, and less emphasis on low bass dynamics and power, the Music Fidelity might get the nod, from a price viewpoint. For a gutsy full range speaker, I'd say you really ought to listen to an 8002. Excellent midrange and highs, but bottom and weight and integrity that you usually only get with high end monoblocks. I'm particularly happy with the combo of Aragon and SACD.

Happy Holidays, and have fun assembling your system.

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Here's how I'd do it:

CD Player = Sony 333 SACD 5 disc changer ($800 oade.com)

Speakers = MMGs ($500 direct) or comparable small bookshelfs (under $900)

2 Passive Subs for stereo playback = SVS or HSU Research ($800 direct)

Preamp = Citation 7.0 with stereo subs feature ($600 used, retail $4k)

Amp = Citation 7.1 150x4 to drive all four speakers ($950 sused, retail $2800) OR get a stereo amp for MMGs (100x2, take your pick) and a different stereo amp for the subs (Parsound 1000A 140x2 should do).

The Citation preamp allows you to integrate stereo subs with main speakers at 85hz...perfect for MMGs (or small monitors like Dynaudio 1.3, Aerial Acoustics 5B). Place the subs behind the MMGs for maximum visual and audio effect. That's ~ $3800 total.

[This message has been edited by Ricky (edited 12-25-2000).]
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