After listening to music for years using casual speakers, I decided it is time to give myself a treat and build up some hi-fi sound system. While working on this assigment, I have revealed how wide area I enter and at the moment I am flooded by information and try to find my way out of it. I would be very happy to hear an advice from the experienced.
I guess it could be useful, if I summarize what my expectations are:
1) I have excluded any surround system. I would not be comfortable with plenty of speakers and wires all around the room. Therefore, I have an interest in a stereo system "only".
2) I have seen there are plenty of stereo receivers, preamps, power-, and integrated amps out there. I only expect very elementary functions - to be able to switch between different sources and to prepare signal for stereo speakers. Therefore, I do not need a receiver. As a newbie, I prefer an integrated amp rather than preamp+amp combination. It seems just more comprehensive, one decision to be made less, one unit less, and less cables.
3) I have read many times "speakers first" and I have already made appointment to some listening auditions to hear different speakers. Nevertheless, I would be happy for any advice here as well. I listen to music like: Jacques Brel, Pink Floyd, Amy Winehouse, Nina Simone, Yann Tiersen, Yvonne Sanchez, Norah Jones, Seal, but often classical music, jazz as well... My room has approx. 35 m2, I would like floorstanding speakers.
4) Sources: I do not have any dedicated devices such as a separate CD, DVD, or turntable. I have a HDTV with only digital optical audio output, little media server, Apple MacBook Pro, iPhone. I have plenty of CDs and DVDs, plus music purchased on iTunes and I play all of them via the laptop. Hence all my sources are in digital form and devices I own have either optical digital output (SPDIF), USB, or analog output (relying on DAC inside the laptop or iphone). These are the sources I would like to support by the amplifier.
5) I have noticed, there are integrated amps, DACs, and integrated DAC amps. I must admit I like the integrated DAC amps category, but should there be a combination amp + DAC that would be superior to the integrated solution, why not... as long as I am able to connect SPDIF, USB, and analog.
6) My expectation is to pay max 2500-3000 EUR for the set (amp, (DAC), speakers), willing to move the limit higher in case it would be worth it. (Dangerous...)
What hangs in my head:
Before I found out, how wide the hi-fi world is, I started to look for Harman-Kardon. Somehow, this is fixed in my head as a hi-fi brand with reputation, but I do not have any justification for it. It's like if my mom says that Electrolux is a good refridgerator
I started with the receiver HK3490. The next step was the integrated amp HK980, because I do not need the added receiver functions. However, this one does not have a digital input. HK990 does and I have read many positive things about it, yet it is already quite expensive and perhaps even power overkill in my case. Nevertheless, it has also digital input.
Another option would be HK980 + DAC. I was recommended Cambridge Audio DACmagic. This is supposed to be better than DAC integrated in HK3490 and the entire combination would be still cheaper than HK990.
Then I discovered websites such as stereophile and to my surprise, there are no reviews about HK. Why is that? Nevertheless, new horizons were open to me. Neat things such as PeachTree Nova appeared. Nice stylish box combining all I need, nevertheless somewhat weak for floorstanding speakers. But there are others such as Simaudio Moon I-1 integrated amplifier, nice tube amps, many well rated DACs, etc. I just have to find time to read through it all, and additionally to google explanations for different technical terms etc.
Regarding speakers: for the kind of music I listen to, I was recommended Focal 726V. I haven't heard them yet, but I plan to do so next week. Reviews look nice, but that is theory only.
To close here, I would be really happy, if someone more experienced would be willing to give me some hints, share experience, and steer my effort the right direction.