How To Be An Audiophile On The Cheap

You love music, but even if you consider yourself a true audiophile, the cost of high-end sound can be, frankly, a little absurd. We talked with a handful of audio experts to find out how to get audiophile-calibre sound without emptying your savings account. Here's what they had to say.

Photo: Shutterstock

Simply put, an audiophile is a person obsessed with sound. Most often, they're people interested in a stereo system that sounds as close to a live performance as possible. Audiophiles are a picky bunch, and while a number of the tweaks we look at here will increase the sound quality and listening experience on your system, you still may not get a full-blown audio-nerd seal of approval. But that's OK, because you'll have a great-sounding stereo and won't have to blow your life savings.

Before we move on to how you can tweak and upgrade your stereo, let's get a better understanding of what an audiophile is listening for and what components they often use.

What Does an Audiophile Listen For?

To understand how to upgrade a stereo system, you have to know what to listen for. I talked with experts to see what they tune their ear to. For home audio, I asked Michael Fremer, Senior Contributing Editor for Stereophile and Editor at Music Angle what he listens for in a good home stereo:

You should be listening for accurate instrumental timbre, dynamic range (squashed out of too many modern recordings), spatially — the ability of a recording to convey the space in which the recording was made and the placement of the images within the space. A good recording played back on a properly set up system will produce focused images placed in a definable space. Such a recording and setup should have any music lover saying to him or herself "Who needs video?"

For headphones, Jude Mansalla, founder of Head-Fi.org, offers a similar opinion for what matters for headphone sound:

As for sound, I don't have just one sound signature preference. The sound signature I want at any given moment may vary with mood, or with the music I'm listening to. If I'm listening to well-recorded music (regardless of genre), I tend to reach for my most revealing, most accurate gear. However, a lot of poorly, harshly, recorded 80's pop and rock might have me seeking a more forgiving (usually warmer) sound signature. When I don't know what I'm going to be listening to (or when I know I'm having a day where my music preferences are all over the map), I'll generally reach for my rigs with sound signatures somewhere between the two.

The key similarity between both of these ideas is the sound emulation. To get the most accurate sound from your stereo, you want to reproduce the situation it was recorded in. Let's look at the ways hardcore audiophiles do it.

The Main Components of an Audiophile's Stereo

An audiophile's stereo rig is often a towering system of knobs and components. We'll get to what you really need below, but let's start by getting an understanding of what audiophiles use and why they use it.

  • Speakers: The one thing you need to know about being an audiophile is that the most important gear is the speakers. A good set of speakers can make almost anything sound like the golden voice of an angel. Most audiophiles will tell you that you need to drop big bucks on a set of speakers, but it's possible to get around spending a lot with a few clever hacks we'll detail below.
  • Media Player (CD/DVD/Vinyl): Nearly just as important as the speaker quality is the player quality. Thankfully, most CD and DVD players supply a good sound, but turntables might require a little tinkering if you have an old one. It's an easy and cheap upgrade we'll detail below.
  • Receiver: The receiver is the central hub that the audio flows through. This is the component you connect your media players into that send the sound to the speakers. It's an important facet in connecting everything, but the price point you need to spend depends on what you're running through it. If you want to upgrade your vinyl rig, for instance, the new digital receivers aren't worth the cost because you don't need modern inputs like HDMI.
  • Preamp: On a fundamental level, a preamp makes sound louder without adding noise. Plug a smartphone into a stereo with the volume maxed out and you'll likely get a lot of distortion. A preamp adds that volume without the noise. The need for a preamp bounces back and forth between audiophiles. Some prefer not to introduce an extra step between the music's source and the speakers, but others find it helps create a "warmer" sound. What does this mean for your cheap setup? You can skip it from the outset because most modern receivers handle this fine.
  • Cables: It can be tempting to try justifying the purchase of expensive Monster cables for speakers or other components, but when it comes down to true sound quality, it doesn't matter. As a general rule of thumb, don't buy cables that look like junk and have cheap-looking insulation. Even speaker wire purchased at home hardware stores work fine. Michael Fremer is an advocate for quality cables but suggests, "A good audio store will let you use a credit card to take home cables to try. If you don't hear an improvement, you can just return them."

So what does this mean for your stereo? I talked with Ethan Winer, audiophile and author of the upcoming book The Audio Expert, about what components matter. He had this to say:

The most important components to own are the source (CD and Blu-ray player), a receiver of some sort and good speakers. Buying a separate preamp and power amp gains nothing, and is more expensive and more complicated to set up. I would never recommend separates for a normal stereo or home theatre surround system. Likewise for most add-on products, such as "power conditioners", fancy cables and most accessories. The only "add-on" product I can think of that actually improves sound quality is acoustic treatment.

As Winer suggests above, you only need speakers, a media player and a receiver. That's it. These are probably components you already have and we'll detail how to upgrade their sound in a bit, but first we need to get your room in order. The most important free tweak you can do to increase the quality of your sound is to calibrate your speakers and test your room. Acoustic treatment and stereo calibration require a little work on your part and we'll start with that in the next section.

Set Up and Calibrate Your Stereo to Find Where You Need Improvement

Photo by audiophilia.

Before you go out and spend your life savings on a bunch of stereo gear, it's best to take a look at what you already have and see how much quality you can push out of it. To test your current stereo, calibrate your speakers and look at how the room affects the sound.

You will need a good album to test your setup. How do you pick which recording to start with? Michael Fremer weighs in:

A good recording of acoustic music is the best way to judge a system's quality, especially if you attend live music performances. That way, you have a known reference. But ultimately it all depends upon your musical tastes. If you like rock mostly, you can't go wrong using "Nirvana Unplugged" or "Alice in Chains Unplugged". Both are superbly recorded and feature both acoustic and electric instruments. I promise you the double vinyl issue of Alice in Chains sounds so much better than the CD version, it's ridiculous!

If you don't trust your ear and want to take a more analytical approach, Ethan Winer recommends a free program called Room EQ Wizard that can help analyse speaker placement and a room's sound quality. Let's walk through both processes to get you current gear up to snuff.

Calibrate Your Speakers and Room Condition for a Free Upgrade

A great set of speakers can still sound like junk if you set them up incorrectly. The direction and placement is just as important as everything else. It's a complicated process we could spend pages talking about, but Wired has an excellent guide to set up speakers that covers everything you can imagine. Ethan Winer adds this:

The key is to optimise the low frequency response, to minimise the peaks and deep nulls that are typical in all home-size rooms. Another goal is to have the speakers and listening position centred left-right in the room, with the left and right sides symmetrical (see the image on the right taken from Winer's article How to Set Up a Listening Room). If there's an opening on one side wall, set up so that opening is behind where you listen, to keep the left and right sides the same in the front half of the room. Adding even minimal absorption at the side-wall reflections points will improve audio quality significantly. Same for adding even a few corner bass traps.

What does that actually mean? It means sound reflects off corners of the room and destroys the quality. You can find where some of these traps are with a mirror. To fix these issues you can take simple steps. Place a blanket over a couch or a rug on the wall and you will notice a difference in the sound.

You can also use Room EQ Wizard to get a more technical look at your listening area. You need a computer hooked up to your stereo, a sound card capable of input and output, and a microphone to pick up the sound. Winer has put together tutorial for how to use the software and more importantly, how to read the data you get from it to help optimise your room. The data you collect shows where your room fails acoustically. To correct this, you can rearrange the room using the ideas above. If something isn't sounding right, you might need to upgrade your speakers. Instead of spending a lot of cash on new speakers, let's look at what you can do with the ones you have.

Improve the Sound of Speakers and Headphones with DIY Upgrades and Tweaks

Instead of purchasing brand new speaker cabinets, you can upgrade the individual speakers in the ones you already own, or pick up an older, used set and do the same. Used gear is always a great way to get a deal, but a set of nice speaker cabinets with a blown speaker are even cheaper. People ditch old speakers all the time for simple and easy to repair problems, so let's look at what type of fixes you can do yourself.

Upgrade Cheap Loudspeakers

Speakers are the most important part of your system. You can't expect to upgrade a pair of new $20 speakers to a $500 sound. But a few clever hacks can turn your current speakers or a second-hand purchase into a great-sounding speaker. If all else fails, we'll also show you how to build your own speakers.

  • Repair old speakers: This is one of my absolute favourite ways to upgrade a stereo system. It's easy to find a pair of vintage loudspeakers on Craigslist or eBay. The most common problems you run into with these are a blown out speaker, torn insulation, or a small crack in the speaker itself. To repair most problems it's as simple as installing a new set of speakers in the cabinet. This only requires a screwdriver and new speaker, which you can order from places like Simply Speakers, Madisound or Parts Express. If the foam lining around the speaker is blown out, it's simple to replace and only costs a few dollars. Better still, if your find a speaker with just a small tear in the speaker, you can repair it with glue and a paper towel. You can apply the same basic principle to upgrading the speakers you already have by using the cabinet you own and replacing individual speakers.
  • Build your own: Building your own speakers isn't easy, but it can save you a few hundred dollars. Popular Mechanics has a great guide to doing it for yourself, but if you're not into woodworking, you can also order cabinets from the same sites you order speakers from.

If you do have to shop for new speakers, don't pay attention to loudness or think they sound better because they have a high price; pay attention to quality. Listen if instruments sound like they do at a live performance. If you find something you like, remember to ask about the return policy. Just because a speaker sounds great in a store doesn't mean you will get the same sound at home.

Upgrade or Shop for Headphones

A great-sounding stereo is handy for your own home, but what if you rent a small apartment or share a space and need headphones? You can always convert a pair of $30 headphones into a $300 pair. This hack is essentially the same as upgrading the speakers inside a cabinet, but on a much smaller scale. One thing that bothers me about this hack is the headphone shell (aka the chassis or, the plastic piece with speakers in it) used. I asked Jude Mansilla his opinion on the importance of a good chassis:

The driver (aka the speaker) itself is of immense importance, but the chassis it's housed in is also absolutely critical. I've heard prototypes that contain highly advanced drivers in a less-than-optimal chassis, with poor results. I've heard headphone prototypes with legacy drivers in new, specially optimised chassis that blew me away. Both are critically important.

So when you pick the headphones to hack, use a pair that has a reasonable set of cans around it, otherwise your work will be for nothing.

It is possible to get great sounding headphone for a reasonable price. If you're in the market to purchase a new pair of headphones, we've covered everything you need to know to find and purchase a good pair.

Upgrade the Sound Quality on the Player and the Source

A good set of speakers is key, but they won't sound great unless you push music from a quality player through them. For most people, any old media player will do, but let's take a look at the ways you can hack and upgrade your current gear to sound better.

Find High-Quality Digital Downloads

If you run music out of your computer, it's likely you use low-bitrate files like MP3. As we noted when we looked at whether bitrate really matters, the chances of you noticing the quality of a digital source is dependent on the quality of your speakers. Since we have a great set of speakers calibrated and angled perfectly in our stereo system now, it's time to take a look at high quality digital music files too.

For true high quality sound, you need lossless audio files (FLAC, WAV or AIFF). Lossless means the digital file has the exact same sound properties as a CD. You can import your own CDs in lossless in most audio programs by changing the import settings. If you prefer to shop online you don't have a lot of options. That said, a few smaller music stores sell lossless files:

  • Beatport: Beatport specialises in electronic music of all types. Integrated into some selections in its store are AIFF formatted lossless files.
  • Bleep: Like Beatport, Bleep also tends to lean more toward the electronic or experimental side. You can downloads lossless WAV or FLAC files.
  • Bandcamp: Bandcamp sells a wide variety of independent music directly from musicians. Downloads for most albums are available in FLAC without added cost.
  • HD Tracks: HD Tracks specialises in a wide variety of music, but it's the only place you can find a lot of classic albums from the likes of the Rolling Stones or Nina Simone. Downloads are usually $US2.49 per track or $US17-$US18 for an album.

Hack Your CD or DVD Player Some cheaper players have a power supply that introduces noise into your audio setup, but soldering in a new power supply can fix the problem and give you a clean sound quality on par with $US1k+ players. If you can't hear any big problems with your current player, then skip this part. But if you think you can hear the difference, it most likely has to do with the power supply on your player picking up noise from the other electronics in your house. Rather than spend $US1500 on a player, you can hack the power supply on relatively cheap Toshiba and Samsung players. You can find the guide to do it yourself here.

Upgrade Your Analogue Source

A lot of audiophiles swear by the quality of sound from vinyl records and if you're looking to dig into new music, vinyl is a great, cheap place to start. When you use a record player as a source, you might be tempted to ditch the old Sony turntable you found at a thrift store in favour of something with a bit more punch. However, as long as that turntable spins at the correct speed, the only part you need to worry about is the piece that touches the record: the needle.

You can find replacement needles and cartridges (the case that holds the needle and attaches to the arm) for most turntables at sites like Turntable Needles and Needle Doctor. A new needle will dramatically increase the sound quality from a turntable.

A new needle alone can't save the sound if your records are dirty. You can clean your records with glue or make your own putty cleaning block. A clean record and a new needle will sound terrific, we promise.

Decide What You Need From a Receiver

The receiver is the final component in our simplified three-piece setup, but its importance is reliant on what you want from it. A lot of modern receivers feature HDMI inputs for a home theatre setup, but if you plan on only listening to vinyl and CDs, stick with a cheap receiver. Ethan Winer offers this suggestion:

Even a $200 receiver will have a response that's flat enough to not matter, with distortion too soft to hear at normal power levels.

What does that mean? It means when you power on the receiver you don't hear distortion. One simple way to test this is to turn up the volume with no source connected to see if you hear a hum. If your current receiver sounds fine, don't bother looking for a new one. Basically, the main quality to look for in a receiver is how quiet it is and how little it alters the sound of your music.

The most important thing to take away from this is that even cheap gear can sound great, but if you're looking to upgrade, you can do it without totally breaking the bank. Sound quality is often dependent on your ability to listen more than anything else, so when you get your stereo to a happy place, relax, turn of the lights, and enjoy it. It might not be that $US20,000 stereo you covet, but it can sound nearly as good.

Have some clever tricks to get more out of your stereo or upgrade it on the cheap? Sound off in the comments.

This story has been updated since its original publication date.


Comments

    I got second hand Mission speakers with a NAD Player and Reciever. RRP in the thousands, actual outlay - $500.

    The best thing about high quality equipment? It lasts forever when its looked after.

    Do yourself a favour and read a few reviews from here http://www.digitalaudioreview.net.au/index.php/audio-reviews/amplifier-reviews/item/182-redgum-sonofagum-5500-integrated-amplifier

    In today's age what you need if you want audiophile on the cheap is a digital source and a DAC (Digital Analog Converter) to send a signal to your amp. You can go the vintage amplifier route if you want or get a small Class D http://www.digitalaudioreview.net.au/index.php/audio-reviews/amplifier-reviews/item/245-trends-ta-102-se-class-t-integrated-amplifier

    A good digital source for ipods/iphones is the Pure i-20 at around $130

    Agreed, don't buy monster cables, but don't buy the $2 ones. There are lots of better quality low-mid range cables on ebay and the like!

    At the budget price also consider a pair of active speakers (they have a built in amplifier - hence active) so you can save on an amplifier

    Above all, listen before you buy - otherwise you might be selling shortly after!

    Hard waste collection day is a great way to find some of this stuff for free.
    Picked up a nice set of speakers and an AMP for free.

    Also surprised a DAC isn't on this list, a very important item if listening from a computer.

    Also building your own speakers is annoying as you can only order drivers from parts-express. Also in America they get fantastic prices on passive speakers

      Hey I play exclusively from my PC (lossless files) any recommends on what sort of DAC?

        The Dragonfly DAC is your best choice for USB DAC.

        http://www.stereophile.com/content/audioquest-dragonfly-usb-da-converter

        http://www.computeraudiophile.com/content/499-2012-computer-audiophile-product-year/

        Also when playing from your PC there is only one choice for audiophile quality playback software and that is JRiver Media Center. Download the 30 day trial and compare the audio quality to any other software media player if you need convincing.
        It also supports resolutions up to 24 bit 192,000khz.

    My advice is don't pick this up as a hobby, it is addictive! :-)

    Best thing is to set a budget, and go to as many places to audition as many speakers as possible and amps as possible.

    In my opinion, a crap amp will make good speakers sound crap, but a good amp will make even crap speakers sound good.

      A good amp can never make crap speakers sound good. Crap speakers introduce massive amounts of linear distortion that no amplifier can compensate for.

      My advice:
      - Don't trust the hype. Price doen't equate to quality.
      - Speakers, and the way they are integrated to the room are the most important component, by an order of magnitude. 80% of the budget should go here. Stereo subwoofers are a good option if the main speakers are small.
      - Amps, as long as they are power enough to drive the speakers, are much of a muchness. Avoid tube amps unless the speakers are engineered to match. A modern Class D or a 80s/90s Class A/B integrated amp is the way to go on a budget.
      - Sources, as long as they aren't terrible, are much of a muchness. Get an outboard DAC if playing from a computer if you must.

      The Beringer B2031P + used integrated amp + sub(s) is a combination that is very hard to beat for the price. I've heard a lot of $10,000 systems that aren't any better.

        Amps are much of a muchness? I have to massively disagree so many parts/features of an amplifier effect your sound. Though you won't notice it unless you do have good speakers connected to it.

        Agree, modern amps, when operating within their non-distorting range, are very much, much of a muchness. In an ideal world you'd spend 95% on speakers and 5% of the amp. But even the cheapest amp capable of decent non distorting output will set you back $250, so that ratio isn't possible.

    Best advice: listen before you buy, with one or two reference tracks on CD. Don't just listen to things you plan on buying either. Listen to equipment that's way out of your price range, and listen to shitty mini-stereos too. You get a feel for how much your ears are "worth".

    My ears aren't able to distinguish, with any certainty, between my own sub-$1500 setup and my mates' $60,000+ setup. But the difference between my system and the "sound bar" in the lounge room is very noticeable to me.

    For a 2 channel setup, using a receiver is quite inferior to using a quality 2 channel integrated amplifier. Most recerivers are based around multi channel solutions or have unneeded video incorporated in.

    Secondly to that, the description of a preamp here is incorrect. A preamp exists in a system whereby you use a separate power amplifier (i.e. no volume control). If you are using an integrated stereo amp, or a receiver they have the preamp built into them. A $200 integrated amp will almost always outperform a $7-800 receiver.

      Yes and no. A preamp is designed to boost the signal to the amplifier to allow the amp to reach its maximum output. If your signal is strong enough and your amp has enough gain you don't need a preamp.

    I would have thought a "media player" meant some kind of non-physical media playback. So much more convenient than dealing with physical media.

    I would suggest to pickup old Play station 1 and jacking it up on audio synth. Trust me PS1 has best audio player and now a days you can pick it up for dirt.

    Some terrible advice here - good speakers won't make a bad sound better. If anything they will just highlight how bad the sound really is. No, the original sound source must be of high quality, so that every component in the sound chain can deliver the best possible results [sound].

    If any component can't match the quality of the signal being passed to it, then the resulting sound quality will be degraded. Even cheap cables can reduce the sound quality.

    Can I also suggest independant review sites in general. Sites that don't take advertising surely have zero bias, well almost zero. http://inside-av.com/index.html seem like a couple of old shool honest blokes who know about sound and run a semi amusing podcast as well. Have fun with sound, Bill.

    For my 2 cents as someone who keep amassing expensive headphones.

    Don't lose sight of the reasons why you wanted better sound quality. Instead of enjoying the music you like, you'll pick it apart and end up chasing your tail looking for the next best piece of kit while listening to 'pretentious old man music'. Which is about 90% of what you'll find on places like HD tracks (they don't 'sell' outside the US, but they take paypal and give product and seem not to care)

    With better gear, you can still enjoy modern material, you just have to accept it for what it is. (squashed dynamic range mostly)

    Also, no snake oil. Go to a electronics shop, buy some decent cable. No more. No less.
    Cheap can be good. Consider the ObjectiveDAC designed by NWavguy. It was cheap from JDSlabs, and it has a full array of measurements backing it up if that interests you. Loving mine.

    The amplifier is just as critical as the speakers. Go for vintage Luxman, Yamaha, Pioneer , Marantz or even some of the Technics stuff going cheap nowadays. When I say vintage I mean late 1970s gear. The catch is you must have some diy knowledge about soldering and cleaning switches and pots. A good technician is just as important if you are not one yourself. This equipment is cranky sometimes.
    Speakers- look and American and English vintage speakers with original drivers. There is more to speakers than bits in a box. Look at what speakers recording engineers use or used to make the recordings you hold dear. Many legendary rock albums were mixed on REAL old JBL monitors, like the 4320. I am a vintage JBL enthusiast for a reason, the stuff was made to a standard and in 2013 can still rock with the best. [email protected] speakers are nice too if you want a more laid back sound - Dm110 bookshelves can be had cheap and punch way beyond their weight. AR 17s are killer too for a couple of hundred dollars today in good order. Refoams on the mid bass are about 70 buck a go.
    Cd players are still viable look at the NAD and Marantz models at about $600, well made for a reasonable price, cds are still good provided you can well recorded discs, be careful of copies on net sites.
    Just some brands I have found to be great value over my many years of audio collecting. It is addictive as anything else so be warned.

    I know this thread is stale now but..

    I started keeping an eye out and a Rotel receiver fell in my lap with some old Bose monitors. Fantastic. Then later I paid $100 for a Rotel 2 channel amp and $ 120 for some old B&W dm 560s. For $220 the sound quality is startling. For pocket money. Just running my various phones and computers.

    People tend to look after this stuff so it lasts. My system makes people stop and listen. For me, it makes me care about recording quality, resolution etc because now I can hear it. Good luck!

    I still use an old Rotel 820 amp from around 1982/3. It sounds as good as the day I bought it paired with polk audio speakers and cambridge audio cd10.

    This post is a bit old, but I wanted to ask a question. I have just been given a rega turntable for my birthday, but I don't have the amp to go with. I've been checking out Rotel and want to go with something like the RA 11 https://www.aussiehifi.com.au/rotel-ra-11-integrated-amplifier

    Will this work?

    Just reading this thread for the 1st time hence the late reply.
    Lucky you for getting a great b'day present!

    The RA11 will work, certainly, as it has a Moving Magnet (MM) Phono input. I haven't heard it but a review on witchdoctor.co.nz indicates it's a little cool sounding - depends what you're looking for, so go and listen to one! The digital inputs could be useful too.

    To toss out another option, Rega's own Brio-R gets great reviews and has a decent MM input too (but no digital, if that matters). Well worth a look/listen I reckon.

    I've also just read some amplifier recommendations from thevinylfactory.com's Paul Rigby who also reckons second buys such as the Cambridge Audio Azur 340A or Audiolab 8000S are worth consideration, bearing in mind I have no knowledge of the 2nd market where you are.

    Good luck and enjoy that deck!

    My system burns just about anything out there and is about as cheap as you want to go.

    Thiel 3.6 Speakers, nothing finer out there really, $1000-2000 depending on condition
    Conrad Johnson Sonographe SA-400 200 watts per channel pure sound $600 to $1000 awesome no frills sonic power house, or CJ sa-250 a little cheaper still awesome.
    CONRAD JOHNSON PV 10AL preamp with phono, why mess around? works pefect with the SA-400 $700-1100 superior sound and even has tubes.
    CD player ONKYO DX-7555 $300 amazing sound
    OPPO BDP-83 $300 Awesome Blu ray player

    Turntable Technics SL 1200 awesome plus upgradeable $250

    $5000 and you have a system that will knock your socks off. Check the reviews of these units and you find they are bank for the buck.

    PS Speakers should not be 80% of your budget, get some nice Thiels used, amazing for the Price

      Wow just happened upon this conversation and I presumed those comments were dated considering your quoted prices. Firstly, your $5000 system recommendation jives none at all with the spirit of the original article. Secondly, i have no idea where you are shopping, as i have been watching local used markets and international Ebay for months for a used Technics SL-1200 turntable and they go for at least 2-3x your quoted 250. As for the Theils, perhaps Bill Gates would consider them budget--there is 1 pair on Ebay right now for $4200 with shipping. I'm sure i would be absolutely amazed to share a beverage or 2 in your listening room, but audiophile on a "budget" you are not! I would likely really enjoy the Theils if some fell into my lap. I guess I'll stick to my Klipsch RF-28s i picked up on year-end holiday clearance for $450 as they already make the neighbors think i hired a live band to play my living room for Sunday brunch, and they are bright and clear as well as loud.

        Hello all and frugal, I just wanted people to know that from many years of trial and error I found a very good system bang for the buck at $5000 that is 'Audiophile". I have owned a few systems and the components I recommended, will give a person audio near a level that is almost perfection. You can spend a lot more money but you will only be getting small amounts of better performance for a great amount of price. Below that you are sacrificing quality and would be defined as mid-fi. Nothing wrong with mid-fi but Audiophile is what the article is about.

        As far as the Thiels go, I have a pair for sale right now for $1500, that I paid $1500 for. I follow the Thiel market and not many pay $4000. Those prices usually have make a offer and they take much less. If you are patient, I see them sell at $1200 to $1800 all the time. Sure the price varies but if you only want great sound, get the less desirable cabinets or those with some cosmetic problems. Watch Craigslist for the best deals. If you want, buy the Thiel 3.5, they lack bass of the 3.6 but sell for $500 to $800 a pair. Also Vandersteen makes some great units (2C) that you can get for Under $500. If you know that person buying $4000 3.6's let me know because I would rather get $4000 than $1500 for the pair I have right now.

        The Conrad Johnson Sonographe line of amps are superb, if you can't get a sa-400 buy a sa-250 for under $400. Also Parasound makes some great equipment some of the amps can be had for $200 and have enough gain that you can skip the preamp. But if you want a pre amp you can get a decent one from B&W will only be $200, or get an ARCAM for $300. As far as the Technics table, your right, I would probably get one that is $400+ as the cheaper ones often have been beat on. But if you really want to save money, skip the Vinyl all together. Just get the Onkyo CD player, or even better yet get an OPPO bdp-83 DVD/CD player. It uses a Wolfson converter and you can play everything with it including sacd and bluray. They run $300. Lexicon rebranded the unit and charges Thousands for the same electronics.

        If I had to go a cheap as possible without losing too much, I would still wait for a cheap 3.6 Thiel for $1500, get a HCA-1000 from parasound for $200, skip the preamp and get a OPPO BDP_83 for $200. At $1900, its a bare bones awesome system. Truth is buy the best mastered CD's; the best system can't fix an awful recording. I use the band Chesapeake for testing.

        PS, If your in the area, I would gladly show/hear you the system, with beverages, it would be great fun. Although do quickly as I am moving soon and am selling some of the items as my next accommodations are not defined as yet.

        If there is confusion on prices here, it is my fault: I am in The US, and used Ebay USA for prices. I did not realize this was an AU site. I apologize for the misunderstanding. Wish everyone the best, Steve

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