New Member
May 7, 2024
Highland, UT
25 year ago I was somewhat in the know about putting together system. Now I'm a bit confused.

I'm looking to build an optimal system (don't want to overspend and don't want to underspend).

Been thinking about gear that I will keep and love for 20 years. The only issue is: every top 10 site I visit rarely has anything overlapping. Hard to believe so many opinions out there with very little consistency. Seems every list is sponsored. But in my digging, I'm playing with a few combinations and would any advice someone might like to give.

Not quite sure if I should think about power first or speakers first, so I'll start with speakers. Again, very little overlap in the "top 10 lists" out there, which to me means: nobody knows what the hell they are talking about and it's all personal preference. My assumption: they are all great!

But here's my current thinking:

Current thoughts on speakers:
- Bowers & Wilkins 803 D3
- Bowers & Wilkins 804 D4
- Focal Sopra 3
- Maybe Wilson Audio Sabrina X (but it's a little too modern my rustic basement)
- Sonus Faber

I see lots of pretty speakers with lots of speaker and sizes, but actually being able to compare them all is next to impossible.

Current thoughts on amp (integrated)
- Mcintosh ma12000 or 9000
- Mishi X5
- Luxman L-509X
- Mark Levinson No. 5805

I'm a big fan of buying high-end gear that is used, hard to break, easy to love, and if need be, will hold its value. Oh, and upgradable.

Price range between $20,000 - $30,000 (if just the right opportunity came alone).

Perhaps I can get 90% of the same quality for $10,000. It's difficult to know.

I'm currently running a NAD M33 with Klipsch Reference 500 and 600 stacked with two Tx9 REL subs with high end tweeter extenders in my office. Very much overkill. But now I'm looking to place a beautiful and powerful integrated amp (love the Mcintosh 12000 but very pricey) and the B&W 802 D3's (seems the D4's are just about stupid on price). But regardless of what people say, that speaker is uniquely beautiful.

Anyway, I'm a novice at picking gear at this point given how many botique buildiers to putting out crazy stuff at crazy prices. If I can spent about $25,000 between amp and speakers (and perhaps another $5,000 on subs) I think that would satisfy for 1-2 decades.

Any advice or combinations that:
- Integrated
- High power (300 or so)
- Well built
- Won't break
- Highest quality for the money
- Beautiful (not just minimalistic). I hate to say it, but I do like the look of the Mcintosh while others seems to give it working over. The legacy seems clear to me.

Same criteria for speakers

Last thing: when you think about getting a world-class integrated amp, fantastic speakers, plus 2 sub-woofers, what would be the optimal spend?

Many thanks for any advice you might have on solutions.


If you want to throw away the rule book and you are in the states, you could audition a pair of Danley HRE-1s.

They are active and come with the amps required built in.

Bit over budget though.

Personally I think they look better than a line of passive drivers, with an R2-D2 top.
But taste is very varied :)
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welcome, @BruceHJackson to What's Best Forum.

in your $25k-$30k cash 'system' budget range, the performance you get will almost entirely be about how your speakers work in your room. amps and sources will be besides the point and there is plenty of good digital cheap, cheap, cheap. so don't fall in love with electronics for now. focus on getting the best possible speakers depending on how much space you have to energize. right speakers + right room = very good sound.

if you have lots of knowledge there are any number of vintage products that can be assembled into a great system for your price range. OTOH if you want to stay with main stream brands then go used not too old. something that will be sellable later when you want to move up.

spend at least 60% of your budget on speakers, try to buy them used. look for 2-3 year old speakers that retailed for $30k-$40k-$50k then.

20% on an amp. it will depend on your speakers and how big your room is. maybe used. lots of competent choices.

and 20% for a digital source. buy a digital player that streams, is a Roon end point, and has a volume control. cheap cables, cheap rack.

if you are going to break your budget, do it for a super opportunity for speakers. that is what will be carrying the mail. if you spent 80-90-95% of your budget on speakers, got a $500 amp and $500 digital player that actually might deliver the best sound. then later upgrade your electronics, and you will have a high ceiling with your speakers to support (get the most out of) those upgrades.

if you buy a less capable speaker, it's hard to know what is limiting what. you need a center piece to build around. the best possible speaker right for your room gives you a chance to attain optimal sound. first things first.

good luck.
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Hey Bruce,

Welcome to the forum!

I like your idea of going used. Unless you absolutely know what you want, buying new can be costly if you don't like it.

I can't say I am enamored with any of your short list of speakers and amps, but everyone has different taste.

I totally agree with Mike above that the speakers and how the match your room are going to be the biggest factor.

I would suggest you take your time and listen to lots of products - go to shows, visit stores and other audiophiles. You will get some idea of what you want.

Good Luck


Last thing: when you think about getting a world-class integrated amp, fantastic speakers, plus 2 sub-woofers, what would be the optimal spend?

In contrast to other responses about speakers, rooms, percentages, etc. I'm gonna focus on just this one question because it's really the only question that requires a sufficient response if one desires to acquire a sufficiently superior musical presentation from most any playback config.

Long and short, the optimal spend is your time. Contrary to popular belief, nobody buys their way to a genuinely musical playback config. IOW, it's not so much what you acquire but what you do with what you've acquired. Sure there's inferior products to steer clear of. But understanding what universally plagues every last playback system and focusing your time there will make all the difference in the world.

For example. Few seem to understand that perhaps 33.3% of what we hear at the speaker can be attributed directly to the speaker while another 33.3% of what we hear at the speaker can be attributed to the upstream system while another 33.3% of what we hear can be attributed to the speaker / room interface. The 33.3% is just a made up percentage. IMO, it's something more like 20%, 50%, and 30% respectively. Maybe some emphasize the speaker because everything we hear comes from the speaker???

Regardless, this also implies there is a hierarchy as indicated by the 50% example above. IOW, you could possess the world's best speaker but if the playback system and/or the speaker/room interface is deficient, there's no getting around the garbage-in, garbage out rule. The technology simply doesn't exist.
Hi Bruce and welcome.

WBF recommends are all good and all predictably biased based on personal preferences and experiences. The suggestions may or may not be of any value to your system choices. This forum is more focused on the esoteric, limited edition, often expensive, difficult to find gear with manufacturer names that you will likely not recognize versus well known, mainstream hi end gear. If you want the former, you are in the right place. If the later, do not expect much. No knock on WBF (I really enjoy this site) but be advised that this is what it is.

I would strongly advise that you follow ML's approach. It is a very sound, logical approach to your system building project. Find your speakers first. That is the principal foundation and proceed from there. Secondly, I would purchase an affordable ($5 to 8 K'ish) integrated amp, with built in dac / streaming features, that fit your criteria. A used Hegel 590 could be an option. Many other great choices out there. Then buy some budget cabling, subscribe to Qobuz or Tidal for your music source, and you are off and running.

Take your time and become familiar with your room and your specific system sound. I would recommend several months to allow for optimal speaker room placement and developing your auditory memory. This will serve as a base line which will give you a reference for judging future changes and if they improve or compromise your current system sound.

Best of luck, have fun with the journey and, most importantly, enjoy the music.

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As I see it things haven't changed all that much as far as basics are concerned. If you were knowledgeable 25 years ago 90% of that is still relevant today.

Take your time and go audition some speakers and let your prior knowledge help guide you.

What you read and what people suggest is a shot in the dark. To do what's best for you will require some work and there won't be any shortcuts.

To build a system you are happy with is on you and you alone.

Rob :)
Welcome to WBF, Bruce!
If you want to throw away the rule book and you are in the states, you could audition a pair of Danley HRE-1s.

They are active and come with the amps required built in.

Bit over budget though.

Personally I think they look better than a line of passive drivers, with an R2-D2 top.
But taste is very varied :)
I kinda like how ^this^ is going.
Being in encumbered with speakers looking for an amp,or n amp looking for speakers open up some interesting ground.

Let’s address the things not asked/stated:
1) What is wrong with the current system?
2) What do you listen to and how loud?
3) What sources to do you have?
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