I am not sure you are asking the right question but I get your drift.
In my ever so humble opinion you have to sort your system from the front end. Get your source right then work on the amplifier (please note this does not necessarily mean spending more money on the amp or the speakers for that matter).
I have heard some pretty expensive speakers that sound terrible on the end of the wrong amp.
Aim to get a quality amplifer and if that means spending more money on it than the speakers then so be it - get the amp wrong and it doesn't matter how expensive the speakers you hang off the end it will still sound rubbish!
if im playing from an ipod will it be nessacery to get a DAC as well as an amp?
Not necessarily. a DAC may improve your sound quality depending on the quality of source files on your ipod and whether it is sonically better than the amps' DAC (if it has one!). If you are on a tight budget, there are a number of options like plugging your ipod into your amp directly via a cable (russ andrews perhaps) for an analogue input (using the ipod's built in DAC) or a dock to supply a digital source (like the Onkyo ND-S1) which allows your amp's DAC to do the conversion (and should sound better). It depends if you have a Hi-fi amp (analogue source inputs) or AV amp (analogue and digital source inputs) in mind.
Whatever you do, get a dock that bypasses the iPod's terrible internal DAC so that you are streaming the digital files to an external DAC (then into the amp) or a DAC built into the amp. If money is tight, you might want to look at integrated amps that have a built in DAC. Practically anything will sound better than the output from the 3.5 mm headphone jack on the iPod straight into an amp (whether you are using a generic cable, one made by Russ Andrews or one made by Santa!)
Carve - a good question. Generally speaking if you are going for a
separates system - either amplifier and speakers, or amplifier, CD
player and speakers to note the most popular two combinations, you'll
be spending roughly an even amount on each as part of a well suited
Having said that there are those in the "source first" or
"speakers first" school of thought who might suggest its better to lean
on spending more on either of these areas to get the best from your
set-up. Generally speaking we've found the actual matching much more
important than the budget so its always useful speaking to a dealer for
If you're going for active speakers as a possibility
though you needn't consider the above as you'll be looking for the best
possible single pair of active speakers within budget. Those that include an iPod dock digital connection include the Aktimate Maxi and Aktimate Mini both of which are superb active speaker systems.
im basically after the best QUALITY sound i can get from my ipod which are 192kbps or higher.
Then I'd recommend using a digital transport (i.e. an iPod dock like the abovementioned Onkyo ND-S1) and a DAC. AFAIK the best you can get from an iPod is 24bit/48 kHz, but iTunes running on a computer will support 24/192, but as there is relatively little music available at this resolution (or even at higher than CD resolution), I assume that most of your music will have been ripped from CDs so limited to CD resolution (16/44)
what job does the Onkyo ND-S1 do from what i can gather its neither a dac or an amp?
Most iPod docks output an analogue signal, i.e. the original digital file has already been processed by the iPod's on-board DAC. The Onkyo however outputs a digital signal by-passing the iPod's on-board DAC to allow the processing to be carried out by (hopefully) a more competent DAC, i.e. within the amp or a stand-alone component. Also, the Onkyo has a remote that allows you to control the iPod from the comfort of your own armchair (although I understand there are some track/info display issues).
Carve:thanks Nick, so if i were to for the Onkyo ND-S1 i would still need a DAC and an amp?
As I said previously, you would only need a DAC if you were buying a 'hi-fi' amp (like the Fatman) which only accept Analogue inputs. If you bought a Home Cinema amp (like the Denon AVR 1910 for example), these already have a built in DAC and can accept a digital input. There appears to be another alternative suggested by Andrew also.