It’s the time of year for saving money!
So, it happens. You didn’t really see it coming, but you got fired from your job. Your nest egg isn’t what you really needed it to be and your cashflow is flowing in the wrong direction. Like any self-respecting audiophile, your music playback system is one of your biggest assets, and sadly selling it off on Audiogon.com or eBay.com is the quickest way out of your pending financial doom. So, you pull the trigger. Photos get taken. Ads get posted. Gear gets boxed and your dream system only really exists when your eyes close and your head hits the pillow. You have liquidated, but you are safe from monetary disaster for now and will be re-employed soon. And once you have an income again, you even have a few grand left to start over. What the hell would you buy with your old champagne tastes but a new beer budget?
The $1,000 Barebones System
If I was trying to put together a truly barebones system on a budget of less than $1,000, there would be some seriously tough decisions to be made. Vinyl is out for me. Yes, you can buy a cheap turntable for $200, but if you want the novelty of vinyl, I’d still hold off until I got a few new paychecks under my belt and focus on the meat and potatoes first. Source components would likely be in the iPad, Roku range. If you are spinning silver discs (they aren’t worth much on the used market) then perhaps an Ultra HD Blu-ray player that supports some legacy HD formats (most don’t do all in a post-Oppo world). Perhaps you can find a pre-UHD Oppo player used on the cheap? An iPad with the Tidal app is an incredible source component. You might also need a nice external hard drive for your music storage, which these days can be sub-$100.
For electronics, you need to be looking at an integrated amp and not a very pricey one. PS Audio’s Sprout might make the budget. For affordable speakers, bigger might be better in terms of covering more octaves of music, but entry-level bookshelf speakers from any number of audiophile players may be more fiscally sensible (think: Paradigm, Definitive Technology, Polk, MartinLogan, Monitor Audio, GoldenEar, Aperion, ELAC, SVS, and many others). If theres left-over budget, something like an RSL Speedwoofer 10 for $379 could really add some impact to your new system without blowing the budget to the next level right out of the gate.
Another system configuration twist could be to buy something like an MQA-capable AudioQuest Dragonfly Red DAC ($199) and use it with some powered speakers. There are any number of great sounding, affordable powered speakers in the market today–many which can be found on Amazon.com. Our staff that went to CEDIA raved about GoldenEar’s prototype powered speakers. They also spoke kindly of ELACs more affordable but great sounding powered speakers, which also easily pair with a small form factor ELAC subwoofer for a system like this. Some ripped music, a bit of Tidal streaming, and you are back in the game without effecting your FICO score.
The $2,500 Budget System
In the $2,500 range, I still like the powered speaker option, specifically something like theKEF LS50 wireless system. What I like about it is not just the sound and the price ($1,299ish) but the fact that it’s a Roon endpoint, meaning you can use an iPad or something similar to control your music (plus Tidal, plus Spotify) with the slickest of interfaces. The LS50 wireless also has an LFE output, so you can easily add a sub to the mix to increase the impact of your system. Something from SVS’ 1000 series ($499) might eke into the budget with a little room to spare.
By all means, you could start looking at more audiophile grade electronics, which are becoming more affordable every year. Today’s modern AV receivers can be pretty good if just used for two-channel listening, and they come with room correction and can be augmented with an aftermarket amp if you ever need more power. A Marantz receiver with a Monoprice stereo amp could be the heart of a creative two-channel setup that also manages modern HDMI sources if you want to integrate a video display. You get Alexa integration and other goodies too. At this level, you can start looking at bigger, better speakers from the same group of players as mentioned before, as well as a number of other, more exotic brands that a slightly larger budget would allow. Heck, why not go ahead and add a decent display to the mix? TCL makes a super-cheap Roku TV that’s under $700 for 55 inches.
The Used Debate
If you want to flip this discussion on its head, you extend the bang of your buck quite handily by buying pre-loved gear. Warranties will be hard to come by, but if you play your cards right, you can find some bigger, better products for your newly diminished audiophile budget. Heck, you sold your gear used so of course you can buy it back at a lower price, if you felt compelled. You likely will sacrifice the latest in DAC technology, room correction, and a lot of the advances that come with today’s pretty awesome, sub-$1,000 setups, but you likely can get more blue-chip products, more power, and so on.
So, let me bounce the question to you. God forbid you had a financial hiccup: what would you buy if you had to really strip down your audiophile system? Where are the best values? Used or new? Online or brick-and-mortar retailer? Cook us up your coolest system or system options below in the comments. We look forward to hearing from you.