heres the text of a superlong pm i just typed up for jablue's home stereo needs.
Like i said before, a lot of this depends on your willingness to go without surround sound. since i despise everything about surround sound, i will proceed as such.
As far as dormroom speakers go, some nice bookshelf ones are pretty much exactly what you need.
These are fantastic bookshelf speakers.
I really really love KEF. i think they make some of the best speakers on the planet, and the ones above are pretty impressive imo. If you end up making a large home theatre room or something down the road, you can still use the bookshelf speakers in your room to listen. But getting floorstanding speakers for a dorm room is beyond overkill.
In my mind, the system you would get would be something like this.
Music plays from computer or ipod. Then you can connect the computer/ipod through an rca to mini cord and plug the rca into your amplifier. From there, just hook the speakers to the amp and you have a super simple system.
The hardest thing to decide on will be a reciever/amplifier without a doubt. I would say buying an integrated amplifier beats a reciever in a few ways.
1) most modern receivers use way too much electronics and the signal has to travel through way too many filters and all that crap. the easiest way for me to think about electronics is to visualize the audio signal moving along the wires and circuit boards. the more components it has to move through, the more it degrades.
2) Integrated amplifiers are more powerful. and while youre not going to be blowing down the walls in a dorm room obviously, that extra power will give you a richer, less tinny sound even at lower volumes.
3) recievers have an eq, integrated amplifiers usually dont. This is because amplifiers are usually tuned correctly. and if you really want to use an eq and youre using a computer and ipod, they both have built in eq's anyways.
The amp is where you will be spending the money.
I mean, you could spend like 900 bucks and get a rega mira, which is like the best consumer level amp like ever. or you could go with something around 500, like a marantz PM7001. This is really up to you. I really wish i could recommend places to go listen, but there is a severe lack of them.
The only place that really comes to mind is century stereo in saratoga. Century is probably the craziest audio store i have ever been in. They specialize in home theater installations for the ultra rich(jerry rice and ronnie lott were mentioned to me as clients). But they also sell small 2 channel systems. I know they carry an amp that you should really check out. I believe its called the Integra ADM 2.1. I just called there and the clerk said it was $399. Which is a pretty sick price for it. I would say go down there, and ask them if they can hook it up to a couple different sets of speakers for you to listen to.
the other option is to find an electronics store that specializes in used stuff. This is how i built my system. there is a store in santa cruz that some guy runs out of his house. I went in and he had 5 marantz integrated amplifiers sitting in a stack. I bought a 1970's marantz 1060b. Which is a ridiculously powerful, awesomely old and bright sounding amplifier for like 200 bucks and i think i paid the same price for my speakers. To be honest, amplifiers were made just as well, if not better in the 70s as they are today. Too many companies now sue cheap japanese electronics that kind of underproduce in the power department.
If the system is good for music, it should work great for movies. I just never liked surround sound and i just remember watching star wars and trying to believe the tie fighters were flying past me and hearing the sound behind me, but it never really struck me as believable.
Okay, i think thats all i can type about audio.
hope that helped.