The $10,000 Question

I've upgraded my upstream components, and am in the hunt for a new amp and speakers.  There is a dizzying array of choices, and one could go bankrupt with the buy-try-return method.  I'm looking for some guidance on amp-speaker combinations, either used or new, in the $10,000 range for both.  If I can narrow the search down to two or three amp/speaker choices it would make the buy-try-return plan much more reasonable.

I prefer tubes and space is limited to an integrated amp.  My room is 15'x15', and and I primarily listen to classical music at modest volumes (which would allow conversation if my wife yells at me to turn it down).  I'm replacing 20+ year old Forest Totems and a Prima Luna Dialogue One amp.  My upstream components are a Cambridge CD transport with a Jolida Glass FX III DAC, and a refurbished Sota Star with a Jolida JD-9 phone stage.

Thanks in advance for your insight and guidance.

John Cotner

New Ulm, MN




1. work hard to fall in love with some efficient speakers

that reduces power needs, ss and easier to try/use tubes in many ways:

less power needed; size, placement (remote control beam), weight, heat, cost, availability of options.

2. integrated with pre-in, i.e. pass thru without it's volume control, ....

I want both remote volume and remote balance (and mute). you often need to download the manual to find what hidden options are available, and which ones are accessible via the remote.

3. consider a future vintage preamp loaded with 'old world' features. budget a rehab for vintage.

4. used will definitely get you more, verify everything, patience to wait for what you want, hopefully find near enough to meet seller half-way or audition at seller's place.


If you could find a nice used pair of JM Lab/Focal Mezzo Utopia's you'd be golden. 

Many think those were one of the best speakers Focal ever produced. 

Speakers up to 8K, I highly recommend the Daedalus Muse speakers.  I haven't heard any better in that budget range.  Heirloom speakers that sing and can handle a wide range of amplifiers, including low-watt tubes. 

@jrcotner Interesting and very astute question!  Many audiophiles often ignore the very important issue of component synthesis, which often makes a world of difference.  If your intention is to drop 10K in one place, I would recommend spending a few bucks in travel expenses for some serious critical listening in one or more high-end shops.  With proper advance preparation and communication with the appropriate shops and a 10K budget you should be able to score a serious discount(s) on some very nice equipment.

That being said, based upon personal experience, I can attest to the fact that McIntosh amplifiers ... well ... McIntosh amplifiers sound stupendous with just about any appropriately matched speakers.  However, my ears particularly enjoyed Sonus Faber matching, which is probably why McIntosh Group acquired them.  After the better part of a 9-month serious seat-time speaker upgrade quest involving, as best I can recall, somewhere in the vicinity of 18 different speakers, I eventually came home with a pair of Revel that sound great with my MAC.  The MAC sounded great with a pair of Paradigm I previously owned, as well, but the Revel were/are a step above.

As for other amp/speaker marriages that I've spent serious seat-time with, in your target budget, my ears particularly enjoyed appropriately matched Luxman & Revel; Luxman & Focal and Simaudio Moon & Martin Logan.

Generally speaking, with efficient or sensitive speakers, you won't need massive amounts of amp power for a 15' X 15" sound room, especially if you listen at modest or less than live performance decibel levels.

Good luck in your quest.