First off, thanks to all of you who respond to the frequent requests about new systems. I've been lurking here for a few weeks and I've learned a lot from your posts. Thanks for being patient with us rookies! I want to upgrade my stereo home system, which is a Squeezebox Touch going into a NAD 7225PE receiver (about 25 years old) and Infinity RS3 bookshelf speakers.
I listen mostly to MP3s (high-quality: usually 320 or 256 vbr) and occasionally streaming audio, mostly alternative rock, Americana, and jazz. I don't need a home theater system, though I will probably run my TV into it. The stereo is in an open living room/kitchen space that is 26' x 16' with 10' ceilings. It sits in the middle of the 16'-wide wall, up against the wall. We rarely listen to music really loud (like to the point where it would be hard to talk over it). And my hearing is somewhat damaged from being a musician and music fan my whole life (not terribly -- just some of the normal loss that many here probably have experienced).
I've budgeted roughly $1500 for a new amp or receiver and speakers. If I will get more bang for my money, I'll go with an amp. I rarely listen to non-streaming AM/FM, and can always add a user/cheap tuner later. I have researched this, mostly by reading (here and at Audiokarma) and asking some friends, I'm a little overwhelmed by the number of options. I've read many raves for the Harmon-Kardon 3490, Denon 697, NAD C316BEE and 326BEE, Music Hall A15.2, and the Marantz 5004 & 6005. Ditto for speakers, with recommendations for Wharfedale Diamond 10.1 and 10.2, PSB Image T6, B&W 684 (and an 800 series, too), Audioengine A5, and well as various Polk, Klipsch, and Paradigm models. I’m probably forgetting some in both categories. It seems like the more I read, the more I'll come up with options.
Here are my questions for you.
1) Is some combo of the equipment I mentioned above likely to be a big upgrade over what I have now? I would assume so, but I don't know where my current gear ranks. A Crutchfield advisor suggested that I keep my amp, as it is still a good piece of equipment, and put the money toward PSB Image T6 speakers and a Cambridge Audio DacMagic.
2) Budget-wise, am I near a next step up in quality? I could probably go up to $2000 if it would be worth it. I'm thinking here of acoustic guitars where, over a certain point, you're really spending money for the visual details and little touches that only great players could appreciate (for example, many pros play the same $2000 Martin that I have).
3) For the size of room and type of listening that I described, would you recommend bookshelf or floor-standing speakers?
4) I've seen some posts suggest that listening in a stereo store is pointless because what really matters is how a system sounds at home. I've seen others suggest that you should spend time listening to a bunch of gear. My problem is that there's only one decent store here in Cincinnati that has quality, affordable gear. Given that, is it worth ordering online and dealing with possible returns?
5) That all leads up to the main question: what would you recommend that I buy?!
6) Last question -- one of the reasons I bought a Touch is that their internal DAC gets such good reviews. Given my budget, would I gain from having a separate DAC? If so, what would you recommend? I've seen many mentions of the Schiit DAC.
Thanks for your patience and advice! Cheers.