I should make a bog called the skinflint audiophile.
1: Unless you have special requirements, if all you need is basic sound reproduction, amplifiers are pretty much the same. All you should care about is basically the power transformer and how much current the thing can handle. It's a pretty good way to rule out adequate versus no good without really getting into specific models. All you really care about is one spec beyond the "how heavy is it" test - and that's how many watts into 6 ohms. Ignore any amp new or used that can't drive a pair at 6 ohms, as the best speakers are actually going to be in the 6 ohm range, and it's also a good way to rule out cheap junk as well.
But truth to be told, an amplifier is just a piece of equipment. Don't get too invested in this part of the equation, as as long as they are working properly, and aren't being driven too hard, they will all work pretty much the same.
2: Stick to two speakers at first. Add more later. The least expensive surround system that is any good here (actual good speakers and not flimsy consumer grade junk you'd find and a department store) in the U.S. is a whopping $800 including amplifier and 5 speakers. That's way outside of your budget, since we don't have shipping/import fees or VAT to deal with. A good amplifier and 2 speakers is better.
3: The big deal is the speakers. Sound differences here are immense. If you spent 300 Euros on speakers and 100 on a used amplifier(which would be my recommendation), you'd do far better. In a typical system, in fact, you should spend most of your money on speakers if you can, since upgrading the amplifier is easy compared to the money you lose on upgrading your speakers later on.
This leads to the following scenario:
- Get a used 2 channel old-school 1980s or 1990s era amplifier. You can pick up a used Kenwood or Pioneer amplifier with Dolby Digital, for instance(this is outdated and useless surround technology) for probably as little as 50 Euros in working condition. Most of these are rated for 4 or 6 ohm operation into only 2 speakers, but that's just fine. Dolby Digital is nice as everyone is getting rid of these for nothing or even giving them away as DTS is the new standard. Almost any 5 channel AV amplifier will be easily able to handle almost any 2 speakers that you chose.
This leaves pretty much the entire budget for two good speakers.
- Speakers... You can build them yourself with a kit. This gives you the best results for your limited budget.
If you have to buy speakers, my #1 recommendation is to get a pair of towers as they have good bass response. But some large bookshelf speakers also work.
My favorite used speakers: JBL PRO 4400 series, Tannoy Saturn, and B&W. And one I'll talk about later...
The B&W 602 is the best of the smaller bookshelf speakers, IMO. It's what I would consider a minimum standard for decent range speakers that will fill your room with fairly decent sound. But the tower 603s are better, of course. If you see a pair for 300 euros, buy it immediately.
Next up is the JBL Pro series. This is older and larger, but they are studio monitors and can shake your house as well. This is serious old-school sound and is great for rock. But they are large. I suggest 4410As. Thanks to the 10 inch speakers don't need a subwoofer in the system at all. This is a $400-$500 savings, and is why your main speakers should be towers or large bookshelfs(these aren't tower speakers, but are the same volume - think guitar amp sized "bookshelf" - heh ) The only issue here though is that the foam on the surrounds typically goes bad - pass on any speaker with any sort of tear or problem no matter how small in the material between the speaker driver and the outside rim.
Lastly, is my favorite. The Saturn was Tannoy's least expensive speaker with their high-end pro driver in it. The S8 and S10 were towers that are... Let's see - if you have ever heard a pair of Grado headphones or high-end Sennheisers ($200+), the sound is nearly identical. It's clean, spot-on, and sounds perfect. They make a newer replacement (Eyris IIRC), but the older ones can be had for less money. The killer deal though is that they also made surround speakers. The S8 is JBL huge. But it sounds so good and is so loud that nothing else really compares. Originally the tower versions cost $1200-$1500 a pair, so used they might still be out of your budget. But the bookshelf speakers sold for $800 or so a pair.
The S8L/R are the best deal nobody knows about or paid attention to. Since the surround material on the speakers is rubber, it should be fine - if it looks good and sounds good, given that only audiophiles typically bought them, you're good to go. JBLs are trickier as a lot have had a hard life. B&W are boutique speakers, so they should be fairly easy to shop used without any real issues.http://cgi.ebay.com/PAIR-B-W-DM602-S3-S ... 0444447143
Good pair of 602 bookshelf speakers.http://cgi.ebay.com/Bowers-Wilkins-B-W- ... 0593855875
603s - awesome sound for not a lot of money. New, these cost close to $1500 a pair. Used and a generation old, a steal.http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/PIONEER-5-1-DOLBY ... 0747048853
This is a typical "I want to get rid of it as it's not usable for blu-ray" ad. This is retail, so expect half this price used.
I did mention one other speaker option. This is the cheap*** alternative.
Get a 8-10 inch bass amplifier with a tweeter in it. I have a couple of old Ibanez Soundwave 65s that I picked up for $100 each. These sound great and have an EQ in the amp. Good bass and nice tweeter. And it has a presence effect as well which if you dial in about 5%, it makes it sound like a live concert if you play Guitar Hero or Rock Band through it. Complete win-win scenario as this also makes the amplifier a moot point - or basically any old POS will work as the amplification is being handled by the bass amp.
Any bass amp will work but it does need to have a speaker that is no larger than 10 inches as well as a tweeter. You want it to have a decent mid-range and a 12inch+ woofer just won't have that. Note, a 2x10 and a 4x10 will also work great - as long as it has a tweeter in it. But the smaller ones usually have an amplifier built in, which makes it useful for guitar or bass, stereo, computer, tv, vocals, or whatever else you want.