Starting from scratch

I have decided to start building a system from scratch and am looking for some ideas.

  1. I don’t ever see myself having more than 2 speakers and a subwoofer in the house.

  2. I love great sound, but am not willing to go extreme lengths for it and my budget is $5,000. I don’t need hi-res streaming capabilities and do not own any CD’s or audio files. Streaming only. I use Apple’s music plan.

  3. I have a Blu-ray player, a FireTV and an AppleTV for watching TV, all of which I would like to be connected to the new system.

4). I already have (2) quality PMC speakers and a nice subwoofer

  1. I am very much attracted to an integrated, all in one, solution and want to shy away from separates

My main question is this: a hi-end AV system very conveniently accepts my many HDMI tv-related devices. It is perfect for that. However, how compromised is the audio quality with an AV system (compared to a traditional 2 channel audio integrated system). Another thing that bothers me with an AV setup is that most are 11 channels now and I would only be using 2 channels and sub and that seems like a lot of hardware going to waste. One the other hand, a traditional 2 channel stereo integrated all in one setup, though possibly having the better audio quality, presents a nightmare of sorts when mating with all those external HDMI devices I have for TV (firetv, appltv and dvd).

So, does anybody have some ideas for a from scratch system with these parameters in mind? Also, any brands or models?

Thanks !

I don’t know what you mean by “starting from scratch”, since you have much of your signal path and sources already set.

That said, sounds like you are in the market for a pre-amp and amplifier or some combination thereof.

Don’t know if this fits the bill but if your system is going to do stereo/HT double duty, check out the Anthem AVRs and Pre-Pros. Their kit offers great Hi-Fi bona fides, AV switching and processing and killer room/speaker correction. You should be able to pick up something used in your price range.

The DACs in AVR gear are not regarded as high quality since they are integrated in the HDMI chipsets.

Do you have enough HDMI slots on your TV?

I would still recommend Toslink to a good DAC / integrated.

If you want an Integrated in your budget then the Strata or Hegel.

If you do want an AVR and only want 2 channel do not get a 7 channel AVR. Go with the 2 channel Anthem as suggested above.

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Why not just go for an excellent 2-channel integrated then? Our Strata would work great for what you’re doing and have the added benefit of streaming from sources your Apple TV won’t get (if you want). There are bother 2-channel specific integrated that are excellent as well and certainly within your budget.

I would encourage you to shy away from there land of AV integrated and receivers. They aren’t designed for high-end audio and, if that’s what you’re after, stay within the two channel realm where manufacturers take the time to voice products for optimal performance at the specific task.


You will run into a bit of a trade off with the AV system vs a dedicated 2 channel integrated.

The AVR will be convenient and give you a lot of choices for inputs. Something like our Strata which Paul linked does not offer HDMI in, but if you’re wanting to watch the TV, its optical input is more than acceptable. The Strata will be leagues beyond in sound quality compared to any AVR in a similar price range.

As far as speakers go, I’m very curious to see what more people things about the new KEF LS50s. These guys paired up with a REL sub would make for a really good system. Plenty of musicality and great transparency. The old LS50s are great, so the new ones are likely a home run!

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No matter what gear you get, this is going to be your major issue… Apple music.

Buying any kind of quality gear will be a waste if all you’re going to feed it is Apple music. Might as well just use a sound bar and be done with it or keep what you’ve got.

What specifically about Apple music makes anything other than a “sound bar” a waste of money? And also, why would companies like Naim, Auralic, McIntosh, NAD, etc., all go through the trouble of providing Airplay if the sound quality rendered their respective hi-fi products pointless? Are you saying that the problem is Apple music specifically or is the problem in your mind ANY non-hi-res audio?

Worthy of nothing more than a soundbar is quite a charge. Do you have any scientific (non-anecdotal) evidence that shows how poor Apple music’s audio files fares?

I could probably agree that one wouldn’t want to use Apple music in an audiophile setup worth $10,000 or more, but I’ve never heard anyone suggest that it wasn’t even worthy of a decent system of separates and decent speakers. I am not reaching for audiophile quality, as I am new to the concept (maybe someday) and know too little about it. I certainly have no skin in the game either way. I merely chose Apple out of convenience and would be more than happy to use another service if I learn that it isn’t viable for a $3,000-$5,000 setup.

Appreciate yours and Paul’s responses. Your responses have me leaning heavily toward a dedicated 2 channel system rather than an AVR. That being said, and considering that 1) I have a newish NAD C268 amp and 2) do not need any streaming software (I’m using Apple TV), would the Stellar GainCell Preamplifier be a better fit in your opinion?

You’re simply mixing with the wrong crowd. Few here will laud anything less than CD quality files, and rightfully so. But no one with the funding has the interest to study this at a meaningful scientific level.

I can say that these days, for $5000, you can easily achieve a meaningful audiophile level system. No doubt.

But let’s say you’re firmly in the Apple Music camp. Still get a good system and one day you can compare Apple to Tidal or Quboz and decide for yourself. The ONLY meaningful scientific study is the one you conduct yourself.

Here are more ideas for the high quality available for $5000. The Strata also deserves a seat at that table, for sure:

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The advantage of the Strata (or Naim Atom, or a Hegel) at your $5000 price point is an engineered cohesion that can be challenging to replicate with a hodgepodge collection of stray components. The Strata (and the others) has been professionally designed for excellent integration between amp, preamp and DAC.

About 5 years or so ago, I did a lot of testing myself. I had a mac mini and all my CD’s were on WAV files. I bought a few DAC’s, some rather expensive (thinking that the mac mini’s DAC might be a weak link). I tested and tested and could not hear any difference in quality compared to a simple iphone analog out with Apple music, nor could I find a DAC under $1,000 that sounded better than the mac mini DAC. So I deleted all my WAV file CD’s, sold my mac mini and went the Apple music route. I concluded that my system (NAD amp, NAD preamp, PMC speakers) was not sufficient to take advantage of the WAV files or, possibly, a better DAC. I know that exceptional sound is out there and that hi-res audio files are a foundation of it, but at this point, I am not ready to go to the lengths needed to get there. I am even reading that room acoustics are one of the more important facets, speakers, power supplies, etc. A bit much for me at this stage.

Gotcha, and thanks for the response. What I’m gathering though is that I need to ditch Apple music to really enjoy the full value of such products. And that brings me to my previous question for Chops: is it the Apple Music or the lack of hi-res files? In other words, what service (spotify, etc) do I need and what resolution do you recommend in order to truly enjoy the value of such components?

So if I lose the Apple TV and the NAD amp in order to enjoy the “engineered cohesion” that you speak of, could you recommend a streaming service and complete system ($5,000-$6,000 range) with the only requirement being that I have PMC DB1 Gold speakers and a SVS sub? Thank you.

Well, if you have to ask…

I only ask, again, because just about every audiophile company incorporates airplay into their products. Hardly seems that they would, even withstanding its ubiquity as a platform, if the audio quality it provided was worth nothing more than a sound bar, but I guess you don’t believe that question is worthy of an explanation, the answer being self-evident, apparently.

Those products include AirPlay capability as a convenience, but no one, including them, expects it to provide the best possible sound reproduction, because AirPlay is limited to standard 16/44 CD resolution, at least to the best of my knowledge. But if that’s all you’re looking for, and you’re not interested in higher resolutions, then great.

If you are quite content with your PMC speakers and SVS sub then look at one of the integrated solutions mentioned already like the Hegel and the Strata along with similar solutions available at Audio Advisor or Music Direct where you have at least a 30 day trial period. The just for the fun of discovery try the 30 day free trials available from both Tidal and Qobuz and see with the new gear if you hear the difference between them and you Apple iTunes files. Really nothing to lose once the gear is in place. So in reality you can probably complete your project more in the $3000 range than the $5000 range if you look around.

Oh and Airplay is just a wireless file delivery system much like Bluetooth but to a higher standard. Companies that include that feature in their gear do it for convenience to the user and pay Apple a fee per product sold.

Yeah, I think its agreed that Apple Music probably isn’t the platform you want to use for audiophile equipment. The question is at what price point or quality point is Apple Music a limiting factor, or conversely, how much do you have to spend to hear the difference between lossy and lossless. For someone like Chops, the soundbar is the threshold, but I haven’t read anything that convinces me that Apple Music can’t benefit from a decent set of separates nor has my personal testing reached that conclusion.