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Best stereo amplifiers 2021: best integrated amps for every budget

Best stereo amplifiers 2021: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best stereo amplifiers you can buy in 2021.

Stereo amplifiers aren't as simple and stripped back as they used to be. The days of equipping them with just analogue inputs and outputs and a pair of speaker terminals are now no longer the norm.

With laptops, smartphones and streaming services becoming ever-more popular music sources, the integrated amplifier has moved with the times. Many now contain built-in digital-to-analogue converters (DACs), phono stages for turntables, USB connections for laptops and hard-drives, and Bluetooth streaming. Some even have network streaming integrated, making them a fully fledged just-add-speakers system.

We've rounded up a wide selection of the best integrated amps on the market, offering a vast selection of features across a range of prices. We're confident there will be something here to suit all budgets and requirements, and to get your music system singing.

1. Marantz PM6007

One of the best stereo amplifiers we've ever heard at this level.

Specifications

Power: 45W per channel

Remote control: Yes

Phono stage: MM

Digital inputs: coaxial, optical

USB: No

Bluetooth: No

Headphone output: Yes

Dimensions (hwd): 10.5 x 44 x 37cm

Reasons to buy

+Clear and punchy performer+Broad connectivity+Solid casework

Reasons to avoid

-No Bluetooth or USB

The new Marantz PM6007 takes the winning formula of the Marantz PM6006 UK Edition, (a former What Hi-Fi? Award winner) and manages to squeeze even more performance out of it.

Let's get the negatives out of the way first, though. There's no USB input or Bluetooth connectivity, which some users might demand but apart from this, the PM6007 is pretty much faultless.

The PM6007 boasts trademark Marantz styling and is a solidly built, nicely-finished integrated amplifier with traditional hi-fi appeal.

Improvements include a new DAC and new filters, which can be switched between when you're using the amp's digital inputs, plus new components in the power amp and phono stages. The latter also gets upgraded circuitry.

And the results speak for themselves. The sound is smooth, full-bodied and balanced, with a pleasing spaciousness. Another quality hi-fi amplifier from Marantz.

Read the full review: Marantz PM6007

2. Cambridge Audio CXA81

One of the best stereo amplifiers you can buy at the money.

Specifications

Power: 80W per channel

Remote control: No

Phono stage: n/a

Digital inputs: S/PDIF coaxial, Toslink

USB: Yes

Bluetooth: aptX HD receiver built-in

Headphone output: Yes

Dimensions (hwd): 11.5 x 4.3 x 34.1cm

Reasons to buy

+Strong presentation+Great timing+Awesome detail

Reasons to avoid

-Nothing at this price

Despite some minor cosmetic tweaks, the CXA81 might look a lot like its predecessor, the CXA80, but all the improvements are where it counts: on the inside. 

Cambridge Audio's engineers have upgraded the signal path, as well as the capacitors in both the preamp and power amp sections. Also on board is a new DAC and an improved USB input that supports hi-res audio. 

What does this all mean? It means there's a world of difference when it comes to performance. It's as punchy as anything, with a bold, powerful sound. Yet detail is never sacrificed, and it's lean and agile enough to handle anything you can throw at it. 

Add in the addition of aptX Bluetooth for wireless playback, and you've got the best stereo amplifier around at this price and a very worthy 2019 What Hi-Fi? Award-winner. It sets a new standard for hi-fi amplifiers in this price bracket - one we can't see being surpassed any time soon.

Read the full review: Cambridge Audio CXA81

3. Rega io

A brilliant stereo amplifier in an affordable package.

Specifications

Power: 30W (8 Ohms)

Remote control: Yes

Phono stage: MM

Digital inputs: 0

USB: No

Bluetooth: No

Headphone output: Yes

Dimensions (hwd): 6.8 x 18 x 29cm

Reasons to buy

+Detailed, rhythmic and fun sound+MM phono stage+Good headphone output

Reasons to avoid

-No digital inputs

This excellent budget integrated amp borrows the power amp and moving magnet phono stage from its elder sibling, the Rega Brio, which you'll find in position six on this list. And it's quite obvious when you power up the io, that it's a descendant of this excellent amp. It showcases a fantastic sense of rhythm, impressive dynamics, detail. It's a whole lot of fun to listen to. In terms of stereo speakers, we'd look to partner the Rega with something like the Elac Debut 2.0 B6.2 or Bowers & Wilkins 606.

One slight drawback is that in order to reach this level of audio quality, Rega has made the decision to stick purely with analogue inputs. The lack of any digital connectivity might be a hindrance to some, but it's not unheard of at this price point, and it doesn't dampen our enthusiasm for what is one of the best stereo amplifiers we've heard in 2020.

Read the full review: Rega io

4. Naim Nait XS 3

This third-generation Naim integrated amp is better than ever.

Specifications

Power: 70W

Remote control: Yes

Phono stage: MM

Digital inputs: n/a

USB: No

Bluetooth: No

Headphone output: Yes

Dimensions (hwd): 7 x 43 x 40cm

Reasons to buy

+Dynamic sound+Decent MM phono stage+Able to be upgraded

Reasons to avoid

-Bettered for features

This is the third-generation instalment of a model first introduced in 2008. The XS 3 adds a moving magnet phono stage and better responsiveness, and that's about it. If that sounds negative, it shouldn't – the XS 3 is a killer stereo amp, earning a well-deserved five stars, and picking up a 2019 What Hi-Fi? Award for its trouble. 

Why? Attention. To. Detail. Open it up and you'll see what we mean - there's immaculately assembled audio circuitry, with fantastic care shown in reducing the degrading effect of outside interference and unwanted interactions between components.

And it shows. The sound is much crisper and more agile than its forebears, thanks in no small part to this exacting eye for detail (it even goes as far as the shape of the connecting wiring and the exact number and placement of tie clips holding it in place). It might not be enough of a difference to justify upgrading from its predecessor, but it still makes for an awesome amp nonetheless.

So not a massive change, as we say. But if it ain't broke...

Read the full review: Naim Nait XS 3

5. Cambridge Audio CXA61

At this level, there aren't many better hi-fi amplifiers out there.

Specifications

Power: 60W per channel

Remote control: No

Phono stage: n/a

Digital inputs: S/PDIF coaxial, Toslink

USB: Yes

Bluetooth: aptX HD receiver built-in

Headphone output: Yes

Dimensions (hwd): 11.5 x 4.3 x 34.1cm

Reasons to buy

+Detailed, dynamic audio+Stacked feature set+Great build quality

Reasons to avoid

-Pricier than the previous model

The CXA61 is the lower-specced stablemate to the CXA81 at the top of this list, and successor to the CXA60, a winner of multiple What Hi-Fi? Awards. So it's in good company. 

Thankfully, it doesn't let the side down: it has the same digital inputs and Bluetooth capabilities as the CXA81, but only outputs at 60W per channel instead of 80W, giving you less power. But for most listening scenarios, that won't be a deal breaker. 

What's more important is the sound quality. And we're happy to report it's a real step on from the CXA60, being more transparent and fun, but always staying composed even when the music gets frantic. It's a presentation style that works well across a wide range of musical genres and speakers, and should please all but the most demanding of listeners. If that's you, you'll have to spend a little more to satisfy your audio taste buds.

Read the full review: Cambridge Audio CXA61

6. Rega Aethos

A superb stereo amplifier with that justifies its premium pricetag.

Specifications

Power: 125W (8 Ohms)

Remote control: Yes

Phono stage: No

Digital inputs: No

USB: No

Bluetooth: No

Headphone output: Yes

Dimensions (hwd): 9,5 x 43.3 x 36cm

Reasons to buy

+Impressive agility and punch+Rhythmic and dynamic+Solid build

Reasons to avoid

-Runs warm-Some minor ergonomic issues

The Rega Aethos delivers an fantastic combination of insight, dynamics and rhythmic precision to produce a class-leading sound. It's not the most highly-specced stereo amp we've seen, though. There are no digital inputs, nor is there a phono stage for a turntable, which is surprising at this level. You do get five line-level inputs and a 6.3mm headphone socket, though.

IF you can live with that, the Rega will reward you with a captivating sound, that majors in clarity and dynamic fluidity. Its sense of timing is second to none at that level, which is part of the reason it's a What Hi-Fi? Awards 2020 winner.

Read the full review: Rega Aethos

7. Chord Anni

Chord's diminutive amplifier offers a premium twist on desktop sound

Specifications

Power: 10W (8 Ohms)

Remote control: No

RCA inputs: x2

Digital inputs: No

USB: No

Bluetooth: No

Headphone output: 3.5mm, 6.3mm

Dimensions (hwd): 43 x 160 x 97mm

Reasons to buy

+Detailed, dynamic and musical sound+Pleasing sense of sonic stability+Fine build

Reasons to avoid

-Only two inputs-Ergonomics aren’t great-Runs hot

Chord Electronics has proven to have quite some talent in finding new market niches. And the diminutive Anni desktop integrated amplifier is a perfect example of that.

Make no mistake, this really is a proper Chord amplifier in miniature, using as it does the Ultima dual feed-forward circuitry seen in the latest generation of the brand’s high-end power amplification. However, this little box is only the size of the Chord Qutest digital-to-analogue converter – for the uninitiated, think smaller than a pair of coasters laid end-on – and it’s intended to be an ideal partner for that DAC and the company’s Huei phono stage. The important thing to note is that it’s designed for desktop use with either headphones or suitable speakers.

This is one of the most capable headphone amplifiers we’ve heard. It sounds clean, clear and articulate yet captures the manic energy of Nick Cave & The Bad Seed's Babe, I’m On Fire superbly.

Use it as a desktop amplifier as intended and it shines. Sure, there are operational quirks – something that’s proving to be a Chord trait – but when the Anni sounds this good we can forgive a lot.

Read the full Chord Anni review

8. Rega Brio

A talented integrated amplifier, with bags of detail, precision and dynamics.

Specifications

Power: 50W (8 Ohms)

Remote control: Yes

Phono stage: MM

Digital inputs: No

USB: No

Bluetooth: No

Headphone output: Yes

Dimensions (hwd): 7.8 x 21.6 x 34.5cm

Reasons to buy

+Detail and dynamics to die for+Agile and rhythmic presentation+Good headphone output

Reasons to avoid

-No digital inputs

If it's heritage you want, the Rega Brio has it in abundance. The original Brio launched in 1991, when Bryan Adams was topping the charts with (Everything I Do) I Do It For You. And it wears its heritage on its sleeve, with a redesign that harks back to those earlier models.

It's now in its sixth generation, and we had to wait six long years for this model to touch down. Thankfully, it was worth it.

It takes audio performance to a whole new level at the money, making it the kind of amplifier we want to leave on and play our entire music collection through. Again and again. 

Yes, your main inputs are limited to standard RCA sockets and a moving magnet phono stage, but we're willing to overlook this, given the amp's amazing sense of musicality. It sounds terrifically fluid with precision and scale in spades. In fact, almost anything you play on it will sound amazing. Even Bryan Adams.

Read the full review:Rega Brio

9. Cambridge Audio Edge A

A stunning flagship integrated amp with an array of musical talents.

Specifications

Power: 100W (8 Ohms)

Remote control: No

Phono stage: n/a

Analogue inputs: line-level x3, XLR

Digital inputs: optical, coaxial, HDMI (ARC)

USB: Yes (type B)

Bluetooth: Yes

Headphone output: Yes

Dimensions (hwd): 15 x 46 x 40.5cm

Reasons to buy

+Superb all-round presentation+Lots of insight and drama+Excellent build and finish+Good feature list

Reasons to avoid

-Runs warm-Needs plenty of rack space-No phono stage

As far as flagship stereo amplifiers go, the Edge A is a stunning piece of kit. The casework looks slick thanks to its curved corners, while the knurled input selector ring works with wonderful precision. It even comes with a classy remote handset. Features include an array of digital and analogue inputs including balanced XLRs and USB (type A), plus Bluetooth aptX HD, and even an HDMI ARC socket to help your TV sound better.

And the Cambridge sounds like a truly complete amplifier for the money. It generates a huge sense of authority and scale, with amazing dynamic reach. The amp also has a fantastic grasp of low-level details, thanks to a display of clarity and control you'll struggle to beat at the price.

If you're looking for a fit-and-forget hi-fi amplifier, we can't think of anything better at this level.

Read the full review: Cambridge Audio Edge A

10. Naim Supernait 3

A brilliant premium integrated amplifier.

Specifications

Power: 80W (8 Ohms)

Remote control: Yes

Phono stage: MM

Digital inputs: No

USB: No

Bluetooth: No

Headphone output: Yes

Dimensions (hwd): 8.7 x 43 x 31.4cm

Reasons to buy

+Punchy and dynamic sound+Excellent rhythmic drive+Sonic authority+Upgrade potential

Reasons to avoid

-No digital inputs

This is another integrated amp with some serious pedigree. This third-gen model doesn't break any moulds, but then it doesn't have to. A slight improvement on its predecessor would be enough to make it one of the best around in its category.

And that's exactly what we have here. Changes over the previous version are limited to the addition of a (good quality) moving magnet phono stage and a tweak in the power amplifier section. It makes the Supernait a little more useful and a little bit better. But such was the quality of its predecessor that that's enough to keep the Supernait at the cutting edge at this level.

Some may baulk at the lack of digital inputs, but these can harshen the analogue performance. And they never sound as good as a dedicated outboard unit like a Chord Mojo. So we support Naim's decision to keep it strictly analogue.

It certainly shows when it comes to sound quality. In fact, we can't think of a more talented alternative when it comes to punch, dynamics and rhythmic drive.

Read the full review: Naim Supernait 3

11. Cambridge AXA35

Cambridge Audio's budget integrated amplifier strikes gold.

Specifications

Power: 35W (8 Ohms)

Remote control: Yes

Phono stage: MM

Digital inputs: No

USB: No

Bluetooth: No

Headphone output: Yes

Dimensions (hwd): 8.3 x 43 x 33.5cm

Reasons to buy

+Punchy, precise sound+Good detail resolution+Expressive midrange

Reasons to avoid

-Remote struggles off-axis-No Bluetooth

Let's be honest, the world of budget stereo amplifiers isn’t exactly brimming with superstar products. So when we come across something as talented as Cambridge’s AXA35 we’re especially pleased.

This is a well-built, cleanly styled product that packs all the essentials. True, we’d like to see Bluetooth as well as a couple of physical digital inputs, but we’re willing to overlook such things when the amplifier is as sonically capable as this. And if you have a budget turntable, you can take advantage of its built-in moving magnet phono stage.

The AXA35 delivers a bold and composed sound that practically overflows with detail. It’s an even-handed performer that’s as happy playing a large-scale Mahler symphony as it is Jay-Z’s latest, along with everything in between. And when it comes to rhythmic drive and dynamic expression, few alternatives do better. 

At this price, you really can't ask for more.

Read the full review:Cambridge AXA35

12. NAD D3020 V2

It’s difficult not to love this spruced-up version of a classic NAD amp.

Specifications

Power: 60W (8 Ohms)

Remote control: Yes

Phono stage: MM

Digital inputs: optical/coaxial

USB: No

Bluetooth: Yes

Headphone output: Yes

Dimensions (hwd): 18.6 x 5.8 x 21.9cm

Reasons to buy

+Full-bodied performance+Fine timing and dynamics+Phono stage

Reasons to avoid

-Nothing really at this price

If you want an interesting alternative to the Marantz mentioned above, then we suggest the NAD D 3020 V2. It has a smaller design, and the fact it can stand upright means it's more versatile with positioning. 

The NAD is also packed with useful features. There's Bluetooth for offline streaming and a moving magnet phono stage for connecting a turntable. Which give you far more options when it comes to audio sources. Plus you get optical, coaxial and RCA connections, along with a subwoofer out for adding lashings of bass.

And if this wasn't enough, it's an enjoyable listen too. Dynamics and timing are up there with the best, while detail levels are impressive for this class. Even if the Marantz does pip it for all-round sound quality, this NAD more than makes up for it in terms of features and ease of use. Definitely one for your shortlist.

Read the full review: NAD D 3020 V2

13. Audiolab 6000A

A hugely capable hi-fi amplifier for the money.

Specifications

Power: 100W (8 Ohms)

Remote control: Yes

Phono stage: MM

Digital inputs: optical/coaxial

USB: No

Bluetooth: Yes

Headphone output: Yes

Dimensions (hwd): 6.5 x 44.5 x 30cm

Reasons to buy

+Clear, refined and articulate sound+Big, spacious presentation+Good spread of features

Reasons to avoid

-Fierce competition

Arguably, this is the only stereo amplifier at this price capable of troubling the Rega Brio (at no.6). So needless to say the Audiolab 6000A is a very accomplished performer. 

It's well-equipped on the connections front - four digital inputs, three analogue inputs, and a pair of moving magnet phono inputs. Add Bluetooth and a headphone output to the equation and you've got a list of options the Rega simply can't match. 

So how does it sound? Very good indeed. Though considering it uses technology derived from the top-of-the-range 8300A series, and the same DAC chip as the Award-winning Audiolab M-DAC, its prestige audio quality comes as no surprise. 

The 6000A's open and airy presentation gives music plenty of room to breathe and there's bags of refinement on offer too. It's clean and articulate, with a gorgeous sense of clarity and an absolute tonne of detail to get your teeth into. Take it from us, the 6000A doesn't disappoint.

Read the full review: Audiolab 6000A

14. Musical Fidelity M2si Integrated Amplifier

Short on features but still a superb stereo amplifier.

Specifications

Power: 60W (8 Ohms)

Remote control: Yes

Phono stage: None

Digital inputs: None

Bluetooth: No

Headphone output: No

Dimensions (hwd): 10 x 44 x 40cm

Reasons to buy

+Expansive and fluid sound+Impressive dynamics+Refined yet muscular performance

Reasons to avoid

-Line level unit only-No headphone out

Let's start with the negatives. The Musical Fidelity M2si doesn't have the features list of most rivals – there are no digital connections, no phono stage and no wireless connectivity. In fact, it's one of the most stripped-back amplifiers we've ever tested. But that means every penny you spend on it goes straight to making a great-sounding amplifier. 

So what do you get for your money? There's a remote control, six line level inputs, including a tape loop and a home cinema bypass option to help integration into a surround system. It feels better built than many rivals, too, while the simple, clean cut design will appeal to many. 

Sours: https://www.whathifi.com/best-buys/hi-fi/best-stereo-amplifiers

Audiophile’s Guide: How to Buy a High-end Audio System on any Budget

Excerpt reprinted with permission from Audiophile’s Guide: The Stereo — Unlock the Secrets to Great Sound by Paul McGowan

The Budget

The cost of building a high-performance, audiophile-grade two-channel stereo system can span quite a range, from next to nothing to more than the cost of some homes. I’ll let you in on a secret, though: there’s often little correlation between stereo cost and performance.

In the half-century I’ve devoted to the high-end audio industry, I have heard every manner of system. Some of the very worst have been the most expensive and some of the best were quite affordable. Like anything else in our lives, simply throwing money at a problem or a project doesn’t guarantee success. In fact, unless you are equipped with some basic knowledge, your investment may backfire. Without adequate information, preferably coupled with a knowledgeable, trusted guide to steer you in the right direction, plowing your hard-earned money into a two-channel audio system can be a real crapshoot.

When someone asks me what equipment to buy, I start with a series of three questions: 1) What are your goals? 2) What are your limitations? 3) What is your budget? Let’s follow that same process here.

What are Your Goals and Limitations?

This simple question is often the hardest for people to answer, or at least to put into words. Typical answers range from a simple “just give me good sound” to “I want the biggest, baddest, most bone-rattlingly killer sound system on the planet.” These answers are adequate to get us started, but the real answers I am looking for would go something closer to this:

Comic: Pay Here

“I am hoping to set up a modest system in my living room that the family can easily use for everyday listening, and on occasion, I want to crank it up and have it sound like there’s a rock band playing in my living room.”

Or:

“I’m looking for a small, unobtrusive set of speakers to go on either side of my television—something that can render classical and jazz in lifelike proportions and that I can easily switch to play the television audio.”

Or:

“I want a no-holds-barred high-end system that just blows me and my friends away.”

Answers like these give me a better idea of where to point you in terms of equipment choices and budget.

The trick to getting what you want is to first have a reasonably clear idea what that is

To help you understand how this can be applied in the real world, let me tell you about my own home setup. While at work, I get to enjoy one of the greatest high-performance two-channel reference systems in the world, PS Audio’s Music Room Two, but at home it’s a different story. My wife, Terri, wanted to build our home system herself. Since she too loves music and high-performance audio, I took her through my three questions to help identify her priorities. Her answers looked something like this:

Goals:

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  • Turntable-based system with the ability to stream
    radio, Pandora, Tidal, and Qobuz
  • Full range but it’ll never be played at live concert
    levels
  • Speakers need to sonically disappear

Limitations:

  • Must be small in footprint and not intrusive on the
    décor
  • Must be simple to operate so even our grandkids can
    use it
  • Budget: $4,000 maximum

With these answers in mind, it was easy for Terri to start her search and come up with her dream system. Here’s what she ended up with:

  • Turntable: Rega P3 with MM cartridge $1,100
  • Amplifier: PS Audio Sprout $699
  • Speakers: KEF LS50 $1,200
  • Subwoofer: REL T5i $600
  • Cables: $200
  • System total: $3,800 or so

Our home system is affordable yet high-performance

This system images beautifully, sounds great, and achieves Terri’s goals. Had she been a little less particular about primarily playing vinyl records, she could have gotten the same quality at an even lower cost. For example, for those looking for a primarily streaming music system, at PS Audio we often pair our Sprout Integrated Amplifier with Elac speakers from Germany for under $1,000.

So, step one is to think about what you hope to achieve with your system. In other words, write down your goals. Step two factors in your limitations, such as where the system will be placed and how much real estate and visual prominence you and your significant other are willing to cede to the system. Once you’ve identified the answers to these two important questions, we can move on to the third question of budget. How much are you willing to invest in great sound?

What Is Your Budget?

Now that you’ve identified your goals and limitations, let’s talk budget. I’ve broken down system types into three general categories: the Casual System, the Serious System, and the Whacked-Out System. For a point of reference, my home system that I just described might fall into the upper end of the Casual System category, while the PS Audio Reference System would most certainly land in the Whacked-Out category.

Though it may seem counter intuitive, knowing what not to buy is often more helpful

What Not to Buy

Before we get into system specifics, it’s important to distinguish what I mean by a high-end two-channel stereo system from what the general population might consider to be “high-end.” These days, you can find impressive-look- ing stereo equipment at big-box stores like Best Buy, large furniture outlets, and even Walmart or Target. Their systems mostly consist of a receiver—a fancy all-in-one box with everything you need except the speakers—from a big-name manufacturer like Sony, Yamaha, Marantz, Denon, and so on. Salespeople will assure potential buyers that this is the crème de la crème, as high-end as it gets. It can do 12-channel surround sound, has a radio tuner, pumps out lots of watts, features plenty of bells and whistles, and, according to them, is pretty much God’s gift to music. If someone is trying to sell you one of these Swiss Army Knives of stereos, I suggest you run away as fast as you can. A piece of equipment that does everything generally does nothing well. Big box retailers’ stereos might be fine for home theaters and casual listening, but when it comes to rendering musical truth, they generally aren’t in the same league.

Don’t be fooled by the glitz, bells and whistles of receivers with all their features

Here’s a tip: take a look at the unit’s rear panel. If it bristles with more connectors and gadgets than you have any idea what to do with, leave it for someone else. You’re not going to fall into that trap.

Comic: Look at all the Connections

Casual Systems

The vast majority of serious two-channel audio systems would fall into this first category. We want great sound and we’re willing to spend a few bucks and invest a few hours of setup to get there.

What to Buy

For a Casual System, you should plan to budget between $1,000 and $5,000 for everything you need. Next, select the various pieces of equipment from trusted manufac- turers of two-channel separates. You’ll be able to identify these manufacturers because:

  • They don’t make the receivers you’re running away from
  • You’ve done a little homework, by reading this book, to find out whether or not they are invested in bringing life to music
  • Their products are purpose-built, to provide a specific outcome for a limited set of variables
  • They are respected by the greater high-end audio community
  • Their stated goals are to honor musical truth

Serious Systems

Serious Systems are more committed to a single person listening with intent. Their primary purpose is to help the listener forge a more intimate connection with the music than is possible with the Casual system, recreating a more believable live performance in the home. That means they require more money to build, more space in the room to place, and more time and care to set up.

Achieving great sound doesn’t require a great deal of money. What’s important is HOW you spend it

What to Buy

For the Serious System you’ll need to budget between $3,000 and $30,000 for everything you need. Now, for those unfamiliar with high-end audio, 30,000 smackaroos might at first seem like either a misprint or insanity, but I assure you, among audiophiles it’s a perfectly normal investment. The average Serious System falls somewhere in the middle of this price range, hovering between $8,000 and $15,000, though I’ve heard some great Serious Systems that people cobbled together for around $8,000.

Next, select the various pieces of equipment from trusted manufacturers of two-channel separates. You’ll be able to identify these manufacturers because:

  • They don’t make the receivers you’re running away from
  • Their products are purpose-built, to provide a specific outcome for a limited set of variables
  • They are respected by the greater high-end audio community
  • Their stated goals are to honor musical truth

Whacked-Out Systems

As the name of this genre implies, the sky’s the limit. I’ve seen some seriously unbelievable setups exceeding a million dollars, but, for the most part, you could put together a beautiful and impressive rig for as low as $15,000. More likely, though, the sweet spot’s going to start at $25,000 or so.

The key for a Whacked-Out System to be worth its cost in both time and effort requires skill, knowledge, and tireless effort in addition to going for the cost-is-no-object components that synergistically mesh into audio nirvana. This level of system needs a personal guide and is certainly not for the faint at heart. Once built and experienced, there’s few pleasures on Earth that compare.

Making an intimate connection with the soul of the music is one of the more rewarding benefits of a stereo system

What to Buy

For the Whacked-Out System you’ll need to budget at least $25,000 and more likely closer to $50,000 and up. It’s rare that all the components in these upper-end systems are sourced from one manufacturer. Perhaps the electronics are of the same breed, but then the loudspeakers, cables, AC power components, room and tuning products are likely from a variety of vendors. In these systems, everything matters. Components are chosen for performance as well as synergy within the chain.

Few manufacturers produce components worthy of a whacked-out system, though claims to the contrary often overwhelm one’s search for the perfect component. Aside from a great deal of research via forums, reviews, audio tradeshows, and connections to others with similar goals, a personal guide is really helpful (that’s my goal through this series of books). These guides can also be found at the companies making the components, a trusted dealer, or a fellow traveler along the path to audio nirvana.

Regardless of what level of system you choose to work towards, they all can bring magic

The Bottom Line

Truly great sound can be obtained in your home for under $1,000. It’s not all about the money! It’s far more important to understand what you want to achieve, then approach it methodically to make the most efficient use of your money, your time, and the real estate in your home you’re willing to devote to music.

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If you let me help you, I’ll make sure you get the right equipment to meet your goals at a price you’re comfortable paying, and then we’re going to have fun setting it up and maximizing the music’s potential.

Comic: Percentage of Budget to Spend on Speakers

To continue reading purchase the Audiophile’s Guide: The Stereo (2021 Edition), along with its companion Reference Audio disc. This book is the ultimate how-to instructional method for turning two-channel home music systems into magical reproduction chains. A must-have for any audiophile or lover of great sound. This instructional guide works for any level of 2-channel audio system, from the most humble to the most aspirational.

Paul McGowan in his Whacked Out Music Room

About the Author

Paul McGowan is the CEO and co-founder of PS Audio®, a world-renowned designer and manufacturer of high-end stereo equipment. He is also the bestselling author of the book 99% True and a popular YouTube presenter, with more than 130,000 subscribers.

With over 45 years of experience designing, engineering, and crafting hundreds of high-end audio products, ranging from phono preamplifiers to exotic digital audio innovations, Paul has helped build a strong community of audiophiles and stereo lovers around the world.

Book Cover: Audiophile's Guide: The Stereo

About the Book

The Audiophile’s Guide: The Stereo, is more than a setup book. Inside you’ll find a rich history of 2-channel audio from its humble beginnings to its modern-day incarnation. For those readers new to high-end audio, the Guide covers what it means to be an Audiophile, how to listen, how to think about budgeting for a new system, and understanding the listening room as both friend and foe before wrapping up with a primer on choosing both electronics and speakers. More advanced audiophiles can skip ahead to the setup section where we learn the secret of getting the bass right, finding our perfect seating position, and then it is on to learning the art of wrangling three-dimensional audio from your 2-channel speakers. Following the basic setup process, the Guide delves deeper into the finer aspects of system tuning: making the speakers disappear, adjusting depth and soundstage, room tuning techniques, setting up a subwoofer, the importance of cables and AC power.

About the Companion Music

Key to the success of the Guide is its companion Reference Music Tracks. The Guide and its companion SACD (playable on any CD or DVD player) were designed together so that for each step in the instructional process, a reference audio track is designated to check and verify the results. Between the reference disc and the Guide, you can make magic with only a few hours of tweaking invested on a Saturday afternoon. The depth tracks help users attain perfection when it comes to soundstage depth and width. The first center channel track is simple yet essential to getting correct. Once a perfect center image is attained, it’s time to move on to the next more complex center channel track. Moving between music tracks and the Guide’s easy-to-follow instructions, readers benefit from the system’s checks and balances bringing users that much closer to sonic perfection. As an added bonus, there is a specially designed burn-in track that can be used every time you get a new piece of equipment, or if you just want to tune up the sound. And the last three tracks on the Reference Music Disc are alone worth the price of the disc. Sonic fireworks!

About the System

Unique amongst instructional manuals or textbooks of stereo setup, the Audiophile’s Guide Book and its companion Reference Audio Tracks SACD (or download) together form the basis of an easy-to-implement system of magic making. Using the Guide and its companion Reference Music Tracks as they were designed—as a system—helps 2-channel audio rigs that sometimes sound more HiFi than live suddenly take on a level of musicality most audiophiles only wish they could achieve. Three dimensional sound—where the speakers disappear and the musicians seem to be in the room with us—can often be an elusive goal. That need no longer be the case. With the Guide and Reference Audio track System, it’s easy to wring all the potential hidden in your stereo by simply following the Guide’s step-by-step instructions and verifying the audible results in real-time. There are books aplenty on setting up a stereo system, but rarely a complete system of both step-by-step instructions accompanied by specific musical examples.

Where to buy

The music and book together are only available at psaudio.com ($58). The book is also for sale at Amazon.com ($26.99) in printed or Kindle formats.

Sours: https://www.ecoustics.com/articles/how-to-buy-high-end-audio/
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Best budget hi-fi speakers 2021

Best budget hi-fi speakers Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best budget hi-fi speakers you can buy in 2021.

The best budget speakers will fill your room with sweet stereo music far better than any one-box wireless speaker, without breaking the bank. We've filtered through our reviews of the very best cheap speakers - standmounts, floorstanders and desktop speakers - to create this selection of our favourite performers. 

Our list spans speaker brands such as Wharfedale, KEF, Mission, Elac, Monitor Audio, B&W and many more, which just goes to show how many excellent budget hi-fi speakers are out there.

A tight budget may rule out flagship technologies and expensive materials (and the flawless sonic performance that goes with them, of course), but it's amazing how good sound quality can be at this level. In fact, we're often shocked by the arrival of new speakers that manage to squeeze out even more performance for the money at this price. 

So whether you're building a separates hi-fi system based or adding a pair of speakers to a micro system, take your pick from our list of the best budget speakers that we've tested.

1. Elac Debut B5.2

Brilliant budget speakers for the money.

Specifications

Impedance: 6ohms

Sensitivity: 86dB/w/m

Speaker terminals: Single

Dimensions: 34 x 18 x 23cm (HxWxD)

Tweeter: 2.5cm cloth dome

Mid/bass: 5.25cm aramid fibre

Reasons to buy

+Cohesive, insightful sound+Unfussy about placement+Solid build

Reasons to avoid

-Nothing at this price

There's no shortage of talented budget speakers on the market, so it takes something really special to top our list. Needless to say, these Elacs sound sensational for the money.

At 34cm tall, they're a relatively compact single-wired design and use a 5.25cm aramid fibre mid/bass driver partnered with a 2.5cm cloth dome tweeter. The only downside is you've only got one vinyl finish (black ash) to choose from. But we're pretty certain you can live with that.

The Elacs are unfussy about placement but we'd definitely partner them with quality entry-level separates - this will allow their rhythmic talents to shine through. Anything less and you're doing them a disservice. They're dynamic and expressive performers capable of dealing with any genre you throw their way - dense instrumentation and complex rhythms pose no problems for these Elacs.

Overall, they deliver sound with a precision and cohesion that’s rare for this level. Buy with confidence.

Read the full review: Elac Debut B5.2

2. Dali Spektor 2

These great-value Dalis offer unrivalled entertainment for the money.

Specifications

Impedance: 6ohms

Sensitivity: 85dB/w/m

Speaker terminals: Single

Dimensions: 29 x 17 x 24cm (HxWxD)

Tweeter: 25mm soft dome

Woofer: 13cm wood fibre

Reasons to buy

+Agile and expressive sound+Good detail resolution+Unfussy nature

Reasons to avoid

-Nothing of note

These previous Award-winners are excellent speakers, combining Dali's traditional strengths (agility, articulation and good insight) with a generous dose of entertainment. 

They're built with a great attention to detail that filters down to every aspect of these speakers. They're not huge, but would benefit from stand mounting.

Sonically, they're a cut above. Vocals drip with nuance and passion, while instruments come through with finesse, precision and energy. They even stay composed when pushed to high volumes, keeping tracks organised into an involving and musical whole.

Dynamic shifts are handled with aplomb, with both large-scale swings and low-level subtleties dealt with equally skillfully.

That makes them sound ever so serious, but actually, they're a hoot to listen to. In fact, they deserve a spot high on this list for offering a level of fun even their most talented rivals struggle to match. And at this price, they're virtually impossible to fault.

Read the full review: Dali Spektor 2

3. Wharfedale Diamond 12.3

Refined, entertaining and affordable floorstanders

Specifications

Type: 2.5-way floorstander

Sensitivity: 89dB

Nominal impedance: 8ohms

Frequency response: 45Hz - 20kHz

Dimensions: 98 x 18 x 32cm

Weight: 19.5kg (each)

Reasons to buy

+Superbly balanced presentation+Expressive and revealing midrange+Pleasing build and finish

Reasons to avoid

-Nothing at this price

The Wharfedale Diamond range of speakers has an almost unrivalled reputation, predominantly forged on the performance of the standmount speakers. But now, thanks to the the Diamond 12.3, we have a superb entry in the range in floorstanding form. 

Smartly finished, these speakers are available in black, walnut, white and a rather classy light oak. They are a 2.5-way design where the upper 13cm driver covers everything from midrange downwards, leaving the second one to reinforce the lows. The tweeter is the 25mm coated woven polyester soft dome model seen across the range.

We found they performed best around 50cm away from a wall and with a slight angle but they're pretty unfussy and will play nicely with any price-compatible amplifier. They deliver a lovely layered sound that’s brimming with detail and dynamic nuance. The Wharfedale’s chief rival is the multiple Award-winning Fyne Audio F302 (below), which sound more enthusiastic but are notably less refined at high frequencies and lack the Diamond’s sophistication. 

Working well at low and high volume, you really shouldn't buy another pair of speakers at this size and price without hearing the Diamond 12.3 speakers.

Read the full review: Wharfedale Diamond 12.3

4. Bowers & Wilkins 607 S2 Anniversary Edition

A happy anniversary for these upgraded B&W 607 S2 speakers.

Specifications

Impedance: 8ohms

Sensitivity: 84dB/w/m

Speaker Terminals: Bi-wirable

Dimensions: 30 x 16.5 x 20.7cm (HxWxD)

Tweeter: 25mm micro fibre

Mid/bass: 13cm Continuum

Reasons to buy

+Improved clarity and detail+More expressive than predecessors+Tighter, more agile bass

Reasons to avoid

-Nothing at this price

On the face of it, the changes that have been made in the transition from the 607 standmounts to these 607 S2 Anniversary Edition versions might appear minimal. Nevertheless, they're are a huge step forward – and the best bookshelf speakers we’ve heard at this price.

Aesthetically, these 30cm-tall speakers remain dominated by the 13cm silver Continuum drive units. Placed above them is still the same 25mm decoupled dome tweeter, too. The change, however, lies in the improved bypass capacitors that have been used across the Anniversary series.

Sonically, there is no great difference in character, dealing out a performance with immense gusto. This is a cleaner, more insightful and overall more engaging performance, though, from a pair of speakers that were already among the best you could buy for their outlay. The older versions would have remained on top of the tree, had they not been knocked off by the 607 S2 Anniversary Edition.

Read the full review: Bowers & Wilkins 607 Anniversary Edition

5. Fyne Audio F302

A fabulous pair of entertaining and affordable floorstanders.

Specifications

Impedance: 8ohms

Sensitivity: 90dB/w/m

Max power handling: 120W

Mid/bass driver: 15cm multi-fibre

Tweeter: 25mm polyester dome

Dimensions: 93 x 19 x 27cm (HXWXD)

Reasons to buy

+Full-bodied, entertaining sound+Fantastic timing and dynamic range+Plenty of low-end presence

Reasons to avoid

-Need some care in system-matching

The F302s feature a two-way, rear-ported design, housing a 25mm polyester dome tweeter and 15cm multi-fibre mid/bass driver in each of their relatively sturdy cabinets.

Looks-wise, it's an uncomplicated design, but simplicity is often a sign of quality in hi-fi. And so it proves with these.

Run them in and you'll be treated to a class-leading sound. This is a confident, forward presentation, with all the detail and refinement we might expect from the best standmounters at this price.

There's acres of space to let the instruments do their thing, so things never sound too busy, while the bass is taut and well restrained, though still ample. It’s a more mature performance than we were expecting, even having heard what Fyne is capable of further up the food chain. 

It’s rare to find such capable floorstanders in this price bracket. Their blend of awesome dynamics and accurate timing makes them a pleasure to listen to. Only the Wharfedales (above) are worth considering as an alternative.

Read the full review: Fyne Audio F302

6. Q Acoustics 3030i

An excellent addition to the 3000i series of speakers.

Specifications

Impedance: 6ohms

Sensitivity: 88dB/w/m

Speaker Terminals: Single

Dimensions: 32.5 x 20 x 33cm (HxWxD)

Tweeter: 22mm micro fibre

Mid/bass: 16.5cm coated paper

Reasons to buy

+Insightful and expressive+Impressive, well-integrated bass+Fine build

Reasons to avoid

-Tough competition

The Q Acoustics 3030is are the largest of the three standmounters in the 3000i range and latest to receive a glowing five-star review.

Give these boxes a few days to settle and they produce a sound that’s familiar yet surprisingly muscular compared to other Q Acoustics speakers. Like the other speakers in this 3000 range, these are impressively cohesive performers with a smooth tonal balance and easy-going nature. 

There's impressive weight at the low-end, but bass remains well integrated and controlled. Dynamics are impressive and they stay composed when asked to work hard at high volume. Detailed, rhythmic and ultimately rewarding, they're a great addition to the speaker market at this price.

Read the full review: Q Acoustics 3030i

7. Dali Oberon 1

High-quality small speakers with an unfussy nature.

Specifications

Sensitivity: 86dB/w/m

Impedance: 6ohms

Max power handling: 100W

Woofer: 13cm wood/fibre

Tweeter: 29mm soft dome

Dimensions: 27 x 16 x 23cm (HxWxD)

Speaker terminals: Single

Reasons to buy

+Bold and articulate sound+Excellent with voices+Fine build

Reasons to avoid

-Limited bass depth-Lack a little authority

About the size of a shoebox, these Dalis keep strictly to convention as far as design is concerned; they are a two way, rear ported design, just like all their closest rivals. And to look at, you might think they're nothing special. But you couldn't be more wrong.

For these Dalis are actually quite exceptional. They're wonderfully articulate performers that marry a bold, forthright nature with the kind of refinement and insight that’s rare at this level. They're particularly stunning with vocals, delivering them in a solid and expressive manner that really enhances the listening experience. You'd need to spend around three times as much as these to better the vocal performance - it really is that good.

Admittedly some rivals are able to dig up a tad more detail, but few deliver it with such a sense of passion and enthusiasm.

Tonally they tread a fine line, with a smooth treble that's not short of bite. The full-bodied presentation always sounds impressively confident and composed, no matter what it has on its plate. Although be aware that speakers this small are never going to produce loads of bass.

Read the full review: Dali Oberon 1

8. Wharfedale Diamond 12.1

Surprisingly sophisticated standmounters for their size and price

Specifications

Impedance: 8 ohms

Speaker terminals: Bi-wirable

Mid/bass driver: 13cm 'Klarity' polypropylene/mica composite cone

Tweeter: 25mm textile dome

Sensitivity: 88dB

Dimensions: 31 x 18 x 28cm (HxWxD)

Reasons to buy

+Detailed but easy-going nature+Seamless and fluid midrange+Pleasing build and finish

Reasons to avoid

-Tough competition

Pretty much everything here is new for this generation of Diamonds, from the drive units to the cabinet construction. It's a neat and compact box – standing just 31cm tall, it won’t dominate any room. The polypropylene/mica composite 'Klarity' mid/bass cone is tuned by a rear-firing reflex port, rather than the elaborate downward facing design used in previous models.

Tonally they’re smooth and forgiving but remain nicely balanced, with enough in the way of bite. They have a surprisingly bold and full-bodied presentation and sound confident and composed in a way that evades most budget rivals, and top that with a good degree of refinement. They deliver more authority and scale than their modest price and size suggest too.

Lastly, they're good and flexible no matter their task. They sound balanced wherever placed and are both forgiving and transparent enough whether used as part of a micro system or put with dedicated separates – well worth your shortlist.

Read the full review: Wharfedale Diamond 12.1

9. Triangle Borea BR03

A new contender for best in class.

Specifications

Impedance: 4.2ohms

Speaker terminals: Single

Mid/bass driver: 16cm paper cone

Tweeter: 25mm silk dome

Sensitivity: 90dB/W/m

Dimensions: 31.4 x 20.6 x 38cm (HxWxD)

Reasons to buy

+Sophisticated, detailed sound+Impressive sense of scale+High-quality, agile bass

Reasons to avoid

-Aesthetic won’t be for everyone-Slight peakiness to treble

These are some very savvy musical performers with a great sense of scale and an even greater appetite for presenting music in a transparent and mature manner. There’s a nice tonal balance to the delivery, which is careful and considerate, and the Boreas also demonstrate an excellent sense of timing.

There's detail and insight across the frequency range and, given their size, plenty of weight to the bass too. Some might lust after a more musclebound delivery, but it’s the texture and quality that give the Triangles an edge. Think of them as a very nimble gymnast, as opposed to a meatheaded bodybuilder.

It’s not often we stumble across a pair of speakers at this price that sound as sophisticated as the Triangle Borea BR03s. They look pretty punchy too, thanks to the contrasting colour of the mid-bass cone, the silver trim that runs through the driver’s surround, plus that eye-catching diffuser. And if the fronts look a bit crowded to you, just cover them up with the magnetic speaker grilles. Simple.

Read the full review: Triangle Borea BR3

10. Mission QX-2

Fun, easy to listen to and, at this price, excellent value for money.

Specifications

Sensitivity: 88 dB/w/m

Impedance: 8ohms

Max power handling: 120W

Mid/bass driver: 15cm pulp/acrylic fibre

Tweeter: 38mm ring radiator

Speaker terminals: Single

Dimensions: 32 x 22 x 31cm (HxWxD)

Reasons to buy

+Energetic and insightful sound+Good rhythmic drive+Fine build and finish

Reasons to avoid

-Tough competition

Let's cut right to the chase: the Mission QX-2s are terrific speakers. This is principally down to their awesome sonic abilities.

They manage to sound at home across a wide range of music and have an infectiously energetic character that makes them a pleasure to listen to. There's plenty of agility, making them versatile performers, and they dig up bags of insight to breathe new life into recordings. The bass isn't short of punch, either - it charges ahead with vigour and a surprising amount of weight for speakers this size. We like the way they time too, delivering even demanding songs' hard-charging rhythms with verve.

Add to this their distinctive looks, and you've got quite a proposition on your hands.

If you’re in the market for standmounters that don't require you to remortgage your house, you simply have to consider these. Another set of speakers thoroughly deserving of a place on this list.

Read the full review: Mission QX-2

11. Elac Debut 2.0 B6.2

A mature and understated pair of speakers.

Specifications

Speaker terminals: Single

Driver: 16.5cm mid/bass

Sensitivity: 87dB

Impedance: 6 ohms

Dimensions: 37.4 x 19.5 x 26.8cm

Reasons to buy

+Transparent sound+Unique character+Good sense of rhythm and dynamics

Reasons to avoid

-Show up poor sources

These speakers' smaller siblings are previous What Hi-Fi? Award winners, so we were very keen indeed to see what their larger stablemates could do. Suffice to say, we weren't disappointed.

They feature a more rigid and better braced cabinet to reduce resonance and distortion. And they sound pretty much how they look - unassuming and understated are two words that leap to mind.

They boast an open and well-balanced frequency range, free to reach high into the treble and deliver ample bass without forcing any more than is comfortable. If you want more low-end, you’ll need a bigger cabinet; these Elacs aren’t going to pretend they’re bigger than they actually are, at the expense of transparency.

There's plenty of punch and rhythm on show, and they even perform well at low volumes, which shows a maturity sorely lacking from some rivals. A great buy, at a price only just approaching mid-range.

Read the full review: Elac Debut 2.0 B6.2

12. KEF Q350

Sophisticated, insightful speakers that belie their affordable price.

Specifications

Speaker terminals: Single

Driver: 16.5cm UniQ mid/bass with integrated 25mm aluminium dome tweeter

Sensitivity: 87dB/w/m

Impedance: 8ohms

Dimensions: 35.8 x 21 x 30cm (HxWxD)

Reasons to buy

+Stunning levels of clarity and detail+Huge scale of sound+Good timing

Reasons to avoid

-Lack some punch and drive-Not best at low volumes

The first thing you'll notice about these is how clean and modern the design is compared with their predecessors, the Q300s. Gone is the strip of chrome across the front baffle, as well as any holes for attaching the grilles (which now snap on magnetically).

It's a sleek, minimal look that's matched by their sonic performance. They display a level of clarity and subtlety that’s unheard of at this price. Previously unheard levels of detail are exposed, as these speakers unearth nuances with composure and precision.

It's a well-timed presentation that goes surprisingly deep into the bass notes, too. Yet they always manage to not sound too clinical. It's an impressive feat that few at this price can pull off.

If your budget can stretch as high as this, these standmounts are no brainers. They offer stunning sound and elegant looks at a competitive price that see them taking the trophy at the top of their class. Another triumph for KEF.

Read the full review: KEF Q350

13. Mission LX-2

One of the best-value budget speakers around.

Specifications

Sensitivity: 85dB/w/m

Impedance: 6ohms

Max power handling: 80W

Woofer: 13cm fibre composite

Tweeter: 25mm microfibre dome

Dimensions: 30 x 19 x 26cm (HxWxD)

Speaker terminals: Single

Sours: https://www.whathifi.com/best-buys/hi-fi/best-budget-hi-fi-speakers
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End audio high budget

Sounds are like smells—you might get used to bad ones, but you never regret upgrading. Maybe you've recently found a gaping hole in your music or podcast listening setup—you don't have noise-canceling headphones to tune out the toddlers, or you're trying to make your speakers sound better in your living room. Whatever your problem is, we've got you covered. These are our tips for upgrading your home audio.

This isn't the only list of audio-related stuff we have. Be sure to check out our guides to the Best Gifts for Audiophiles, Best Headphones, and Best Bluetooth Speakers for more. Need other work from home gear? We have an Ultimate Work-From-Home Gear Guide.

Updated July 2021: We've added a few new picks, updated tips, and tweaked language.

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Free Home Audio Tips

Most big audio improvements just take some menu diving and feng shui.

Check Your Streaming Settings

I can't tell you how many friends and family I've had check their streaming settings, only to realize they didn't have them set on the highest possible audio quality.

Enter your music streaming app's settings menu and make sure you set audio to high quality. Apple Music, Spotify, and YouTube Music make the music quality settings easy to find. You can download your favorite playlists and albums if your home Wi-Fi cannot handle the higher bitrate stream.

Speaker Location Is Everything

Bass loves to hide in corners, so try to set up your speakers far from them—ideally in the middle of a wall. If you're wondering where to place them relative to your usual listening position, keep this in mind: The ideal stereo image (big, wide, live-sounding audio) comes when your head forms an equilateral triangle with the two speakers. Also, do your best to make sure that the tweeters (the smaller round drivers that put out the high notes on most speakers) are as close to ear-level as possible, because higher-end sounds are affected by direction the most.

Move Your Furniture to Deflect Sound

Your own room is one of the most important aspects of a speaker's sound. Just like a terrible singer using a fantastic microphone, if you put an amazing pair of speakers in a terrible room, you'll have terrible sound.

Most rooms have similar problems: They're a bit too reflective and a bit too bass-heavy. Flat walls and corners are, by and large, the culprit. Sound is a wave, and if that wave ricochets straight back off a wall, it can interfere and cancel out other waves coming at it, making for weird frequency dead zones in your room.

Try putting a chair or other dense furniture in the corners. Also, consider placing a bookshelf or other irregular furniture on the far wall that faces your speakers—where the sound reflects back into the speakers—so that the different sizes and shapes of books on the shelf bounce sound waves in different directions.

If You Wanna Go Pro

This tip isn't quite free, but it can be cheap. If you want to get fancy and make a dedicated listening room, look for proper sound treatment materials. Do not buy those weird foam squares you see on Amazon. They won't work very well. Broad-spectrum sound waves are absorbed by dense, porous material, so while high frequencies are absorbed by the foam, the mid and low frequencies go nuts.

Instead, snag some rock wool insulation and some fabric so you can make your own panels. Be sure to place them in corners and at reflection points, and you'll notice wildly improved sound. Seriously, if you're going to do one thing to improve your sound, do this. Better gear doesn't matter in a bad room!

A Few Easy Upgrades

I get asked about affordable ways to upgrade sound quality a lot. Here are my go-to tips.

Modernize That Old Stereo

If you've got a stereo from the pre-streaming era, check out the Audioengine B-Fi ($189). It's a little box that can connect to any stereo via optical or RCA cables and allows you to stream your music via Wi-Fi, so you don't have to change out your whole system. I use one in my living room, and it works more reliably than many other streaming devices I've tried.

Get a Digital-to-Analog Converter

The sound card in your computer is fine, but I always notice a significant difference in sound quality when I plug in a dedicated digital-to-analog converter like the Audioengine D1 ($169) or S.M.S.L. SU-9 DAC ($460).

Unless you're rocking a really nice system (read: your system costs more than a used Honda Civic), you don't have to spend more than about five hundred bucks for one. That said, you probably won't find a good converter for less than $100.

Computer Speakers, Remember Those?

If your PC could use some audio magic, I'm a big fan of the iLoud Micro Monitors ($300), which feature Bluetooth and sound almost as good as speakers twice their price. If you're looking for something more affordable, try the Presonus Eris speakers ($100), which offer a similar (though not quite as immersive) studio-style sound.

Another option, if you've started to find yourself podcasting, streaming, or doing any other kind of home recording, is to snag a cheap audio interface like the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 ($170), which serves as both a digital-to-analog converter, microphone or instrument input, and a hub where you can connect powered, studio-style monitors like the JBL 305P MkII ($155 each) or Yamaha HS5 ($200 each). These powered speakers are bigger than typical computer speakers and are what musicians and mixing engineers use to create tracks. Needless to say, they sound better than nearly any comparable computer speakers.

Try Some Studio Headphones

There are a ton of amazing, expensive audiophile headphones, but you'll find the best value in studio headphones (headphones designed for audio producers). They're not the flashiest, but they sound good for the money and are super durable.

You can find great studio headphones in the $100 to $200 range, like the Audio Technica ATH-M50xBT ($179), Sony MDR7506 ($155), and Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro ($159), all of which sound excellent. Studio headphones also last longer than many models, with ear pads and cables that are often easy and affordable to replace.

Get a Soundbar!

We've been shouting this from our rooftops for years, but an affordable soundbar can be a huge, huge upgrade to your home TV and film viewing experience (these are our favorite soundbars). Many modern soundbars, especially those with separate subwoofers and surround speakers like the Vizio Elevate ($800), sound as good as comparably priced wired systems with dedicated speakers and traditional A/V receivers.

You don't have to spend a lot for a noticeable upgrade from regular TV speakers, though. Unless you're still rocking a monstrosity from the '90s, there's a 99 percent chance your TV speakers sound way worse than a $90 soundbar like this one from Vizio.

Vinyl Audio Gear

Vinyl is a great way to physically connect to your favorite music. Just don't let your friends (or the folks at r/Audiophile on Reddit) tell you that analog always sounds better than digital. It can sound better, but you'll need a good turntable, amplifier, and speakers—and you need to make sure your records are clean and your turntable is properly set up. If you're looking to use this time to get into the hobby, here's some starter gear I recommend.

  • Record Brush ($20): A cheap and decent record brush should be your first purchase if you don't already have one. Get that dust off your vinyl! I like this Audio Technica brush, but nearly any brush will do.
  • Record Cleaning Kit ($30): Can you hear clicks and pops? They really shouldn't be there. They indicate your vinyl needs to be cleaned, even if it's new. Unfortunately, the grooves on a record are so small that a simple wet wipe-down or spin on one of the "record cleaning" machines you find on Amazon won't do the job properly. You'll need something with vacuum suction to pull the cleaner out of the grooves (no cloth is fine enough to really get in there). Lucky for you, there's a cheap shop-vac attachment called the Vinyl Vac that does just this. Make your own cleaner, brush it on your records with a cheap paintbrush, and suck up the crud. You'll be amazed by how much better your records sound.
  • Level ($8): If your turntable isn't sitting evenly, it can play back records slightly out of balance. Use a level to check.
  • Stylus Scale ($15): This is also great to have around for setup. It lets you set the weight the stylus presses onto the record to exact factory recommendations. If your stylus is too heavy you might damage your records, and if it's too light the needle might jump out of the groove.
  • Record Weight ($25): Record weights sit on top of your records while they play, and are great for adding mass (therefore a tighter low-end) to your tunes. I like this cool-looking one from Hudson Hi-Fi.
  • Turntable ($200 to $400): I think $200 to $400 is the sweet spot for a quality turntable. I've been a big fan of models like the Fluance RT81 ($250) and Audio-Technica LP120 ($279). If you don't have one, make sure the turntable you're looking at has a built-in phono preamp, which allows you to plug it straight into the stereo. Check out our full list of the best turntables here.
  • Phono Preamp ($99): If you have a turntable without a built-in phono preamp and you're looking for sonic improvements, get one. I like the Pro-Ject Phono Box.
  • All-In-One Speakers ($900): In the past few years, we've started to see better and better compact speakers with built-in phono inputs. My favorites are the Kanto Tuk, which feature ribbon tweeters for excellent high end, plus built-in Bluetooth and RCA inputs. On the higher end, I love the KEF LS50 Wireless II ($2,500), which look just about as beautiful as they sound.
  • Shelving for Your Records ($40): Looking for a spot to store your records? I use this basic crate from Crosley, which looks great (and can be painted!). They're even stackable for when your collection expands beyond the 40 albums they hold.

Avoid Bad Audio Advice

As with all technology, there are a number of myths and misunderstandings in the world of audio. Here are some big ones to know (and avoid).

You Don't Need Expensive Cables

There are companies that will attempt to convince you that cables will make a huge difference in your sound. They don't. If you need some speaker cables or a power cable for your amplifier, buy anything that doesn't seem super flimsy—the only real concern with dirt-cheap cables is that they aren't durable enough.

Don't Take Any FLAC

Many streaming services recently added lossless formats to their catalogs. But don't let the marketing hype around FLAC and other lossless audio formats fool you. Sure, they sound great, but very smart, very well-paid engineers at every streaming service have done a fantastic job of making sure artists' music sounds as close as possible to CD quality. Unless you're listening to extremely subtle music (things like live acoustic jazz or orchestral music), it is very unlikely you can hear the difference.

Sometimes Cheap Is Better

Like all tech, there are fantastic affordable audio products that easily compete with luxury options. You do not need to spend tens of thousands of dollars to hear your favorite music the way the musicians intended. Many modern recordings are made using relatively cheap gear—even in pro studios, they're nearly always mixed on relatively affordable speakers.

A Higher Sampling Rate Is Not Always Better

Let's get nerdy for a sec. Most music is recorded at 44.1 kHz. That's very high resolution already, but modern digital converters and powerful processors mean that music can now be recorded at sampling rates up to 192 kHz. The thing is, most studios don't do this, because it takes way more storage space and processor power to record this way. The higher sampling rate is also essentially inaudible; the human ear can't hear the difference.

Just because your fancy, new digital media player, streamer, or other product says it does 192 kHz (I've even seen ones claim they do more!), the music you're listening to probably wasn't recorded at that resolution. Don't worry about it.

Headphones Can Sound Better Than Speakers

Because rooms have such a big (and often negative) impact on sound quality, a good pair of headphones is an excellent way to get great sound no matter where you listen. They're great for smaller spaces, where you don't want to deal with tons of gear. Read our Best Cheap Headphones, Best Wireless Headphones, Best Noise-Canceling Headphones, and Best Wireless Earbuds guides for recommendations.


More Great WIRED Stories

Sours: https://www.wired.com/story/home-audio-gear-and-tips/
HIGH END AUDIO vs BUDGET GEAR! The Law of Diminishing Returns in Hi-Fi

How to build a budget hi-fi system with high-quality sound

The best CD player and amplifier for a lower budget

Cambridge Audio AXC35&AXA35
£279/£299

Paired with the equally excellent value AXA35 (£299) amplifier, the AXC35 CD player offers a big step up from entry-level, boasting sleek looks, excellent build quality and an assured performance that will make the most of your CDs. It’s a no-frills option, but the high-quality digital to analogue converter (DAC) does a commendable job of managing all the intricacies of a lavish orchestral recording. cambridgeaudio.com

The best value hi-fi speaker system

Q Acoustics 3020i
£249

Regular readers will be familiar with my appreciation of all things Q Acoustic; for my money, you’ll not find better sounding speakers for less. The 3020i has 20mm soft dome tweeters and 12.5cm mid/ bass drivers inside a solid cabinet, with vibration-reducing technology inherited from their £4,000 Concept 500 loudspeakers. The result is a bargain that boasts unrivalled levels of dynamism and detail. qacoustics.co.uk

The best budget complete sound system

Denon DT-1
£259

Admittedly, many audiophiles spend more than £250 on cables alone, but with the DT-1, Denon has proven, and not for the first time, that you can enjoy great sound and a multitude of features without spending thousands. This traditionally styled all-in-one hi-fi features two 15-watt amplifiers, CD player, FM/AM radio and Bluetooth streaming convenience and both aux and optical inputs for connecting portable music players and TVs.

Add in their pair of stereo speakers (12cm woofers and 25mm soft-dome tweeter) and you’ve got a complete audio system in one neat, easy-to-use package. Don’t expect to be blown away by the sound quality, but compared to the majority of similarly priced all-in-one streaming speaker systems, the DT-1 offers a confident and assured performance with plenty of punch. It’s a pity there’s no DAB radio, but you can still stream your favourite stations via Bluetooth and the BBC Sounds app. denon.co.uk

What you need to know before buying budget hi-fi equipment

Which features do you require for your step?

Make a checklist of the features you need, such as DAB radio, Bluetooth or headphone output; but be warned, if it’s cheap and bursting with hi-tech features, sound quality may well be an afterthought. Look for products that do the basics well, with the money spent where it counts on quality components such as DACs and robust speaker cabinetry.

Which are the best brands for high-quality budget audio equipment?

For the best sound quality, stick to well-established audio brands such as Denon, Marantz and Cambridge Audio who have a track record in great-value products, plus their reputation to maintain. Bigger brands also drip down features from premium ranges to the cheaper collections.

What add-ons do you need for your system?

Remember to factor in costs such as speaker cables, speaker stands and possibly even a phono stage if you’re looking to connect a turntable to your amplifier.

Words by Chris Haslam

Sours: https://www.classical-music.com/features/articles/how-to-build-a-budget-hi-fi-system-with-high-quality-sound/

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Perhaps the boy would have thought earlier - but the hormones boiling in his blood interfered with him. It must be admitted that having finished three times it seems much easier. Chapter 4 The rest of the way passed in silence. Julia did not try to interrupt her son's thoughts.



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