One of the most important factors in selecting the right hi-fi components is room size. If you're lucky enough to have a big living space (over 500 square feet), I'd recommend floor-standing speakers. Big rooms also soak up amplifier power; smaller rooms need a lot less. Here in NYC, most folks live in small apartments, and they'll get terrific sound with midsize bookshelf speakers and small amps.
I was thinking about the stereo/room size ratio question during a recent visit to In Living Stereo, one of my favorite NYC hi-fi shops. I was listening to a really wonderful system in their small room; I'd guess it's around 12 by 18 feet, and I've lived in my share of apartments with rooms that size.
The system featured a Rega RP6 turntable ($1,495), a Leben CS-300XS stereo amplifier ($3,795), and Dynaudio Focus 160 bookshelf speakers ($2,900 per pair). The speakers are compact, just 7.9x13.8x11.6 inches, and feature a 1-inch dome tweeter and a 6.5-inch woofer. So I wasn't expecting much deep bass from these things, but they definitely go nice and low. Dynaudio is a rather conservative Danish speaker manufacturer, and it claims that the Focus 160 can deliver bass down to 44Hz, which should be plenty low for most apartment dwellers. Build quality is super-solid; the speakers weigh 16.75 pounds each, and the real rosewood finish is gorgeous.
The Leben CS-300XS' retro look recalls 1960s American hi-fi, but this sweet little tube amplifier is designed and made in Japan. Power is rated at 15 watts per channel, but the CS-300XS definitely had what it takes to wake up the Focus 160s. The amp has a bass boost control and a headphone jack. The look and feel connote luxury; the CS-300XS is a class act.
The Rega RP6, decked out in high-gloss black, is elegant and unfussy to set up and use. I was having such a good time listening to LPs, I forgot pop on a CD. The low, rumbling basslines coursing through Kraftwerk's "Tour de France" LP had me looking for a subwoofer in the room, but the Focus 160s needed no assistance in that area. Yo La Tengo's "Summer Fun" was big and atmospheric, and Iron Maiden's "Number of the Beast" cranked up nice and loud didn't faze the system. In fact, its clarity was perfectly balanced with a big and juicy tonal balance that flattered all types of music.
The Rega-Leben-Dynaudio system is expensive, but quality gear is never cheap. It is, after all, the sort of system you buy for the long haul, and I would expect it to deliver great sound for decades to come.