Audiophile newbie

I'm a mid-twenties yuppie. I love good sound, but I'm also not reckless with money. What are some basics I should know about when in comes to audio set-up (pre-amps, amps, speakers). I actually don't understand what purpose a pre-amp serves.

Here are a couple straight-up questions:
What does a pre-amp do?
What are the concerns to consider when choosing cables?
What are the best "bang-for-your-buck" brands? (ifi, Arcam, Vanatoo?)
Go shopping for a couple of weeks, read a couple of magazines, then get back to us. You need to decide on a rough budget, types of music you like, the location of the system, 2 channel or home theater, does size matter, do you love bass or will the neighbors kill you...
A preamp is where you select the device you want to listen to i.e.. Vinyl, CD, Server, it also serves as a volume attenuation / gain device and it drives the cable and the power amp. Its the control center of your hifi system in short.

A integrated amplifier is a preamp and a power amp in one box.

Cables, contrary to what others may chime in with, is the least important thing to worry about, not saying they don't matter, however they are secondary. Source components, speakers, amplifiers and the room they go in should be considered first, then start worrying about cables.

There are many choices for "best bang for your buck" brands, of the ones you mention the only one I have any experience with is Arcam, they make very decent equipment.

Good Listening,


Welcome to what can be an insane hobby. To get an idea of what brands, prices, and components do, get your hands of a "recommended Components" issue of Stereophile, jump on a few sites, and read a lot: AGon, Absolute Sound, Enjoythemusic, etc. Most of us are self-educated (and much poorer than when we startedÂ… ha ha).
Personally I find when starting a system find speakers that sound the best for you for the type of music you like and what is in your budget. A very general rule of thumb is to spend approx 50% of your budget on speakers. I would then suggest an integrated amp to start (pre and amp in 1 box). Then there is the source (garbage in garbage out).

That said there is something known as system synergy. That is when all the components sound good together. So once you have picked out speakers you need to find an amp that can drive them and sound great. Not all amps - speakers or sources sound good together. Some will be better than others. What may sound great to me may sound like cr@p to you or visa versa.

What you really need to do is get out and seriously listen to as much as you can to get a feel for what you like and can afford.

Best of luck
the nice sound is achievable at reasonable price points. it should be way cheaper than s-class mercedes benz, but there are systems that worth more or even a-couple more and there are systems that priced beyond sanity as well.

it's nearly same with any merchandise. as an example prada shoes worth $$$$ not because they're best. in most cases it's quality and even design will be inferior to a large array of more affordable manufacturers to choose from.

b smart and sane when listening to someone's advice and always try to make your own sense.
the main principal i've learned that not always higher priced component will sound better than lower priced component and if lower priced component sounds just as good as much higher priced component, i hope you definitely know which one is to choose.
Audition, audition and audition some more. Then remember that whatever you're listening to will sound very different once you get it home. This was easier back in the day when audio shops were more common than they are now. Regardless, take your time, check out as many rigs as you can, do your homework and buy what sounds good to you. My rule of thumb is that if it isn't fun, it isn't worth it.

Good luck & happy listening!
I will offer a few first hand suggestions on bang for buck brands that are reasonably available due to broad distribution ( and therefore likely to find a place to audition):

Speakers--Vandersteen, B&W

Components--Rotel, NAD

Although I have other much more expensive gear, I still own and ise all of them in ancillary systems (0ffice, garage, bedroom) and still find them very satisfying.
At your age you're smart for knowing that if you don't manage your money it'll manage you. It also depends on what you like more. Money or music. Better to wait. You can always pull the trigger later when you are in a better position financially, and avoid a lot of upgrading and losing money. Tubes can be costly. Hint Hint. Take the above advise, the others have provided and study, audition, and learn. Your ears will help you make the right choices. Good luck.
Give some thoughts to your listening habits. Where in the room will you be listening from? Where will/can the speakers go? How far away from walls?

Get speakers that will work well in your room and sound good where you listen from. Different kinds of speakers disperse sound in different directions differently. Are you going to set up a sweet spot and stay in it? If so, there are many options. If not, you should consider speakers that disperse sound more and sound better from more locations. Omnidirectional speakers are worth considering if you want good sound from many listening locations in the room.

Also consider how loud you will listen and if speakers can deliver clean extended bass as needed. LArger rooms are usually more of a challenge and may cost more to do really well in terms of speakers and amp to match that can bring out the best possible. Smaller rooms are easier.

These things are most important to think about up front. THen you are better prepared top decide what will likely work best.

Audition as much as possible before buying. In home demos are best but dealer demos and audio shows are good tools.

Lastly, do not overpay. Consider buying used if you are comfortable with that. That will make it easier to tweak and change as needed until just right without taking a big financial hit.
Listen up. I will actually answer your question. I've owned dozens of high end components and listened to hundreds.

Buy an all NAD system. NAD makes electronics.

For speakers I would buy Monitor Audio RX6 or Silver6.

This will give you an entry level system that will provide amazing sound quality likely far exceeding anything you previously heard from a home stereo. Trust me, this will give you a superb system at a high end entry level price.
Going "all NAD" for electronics is a pretty safe and easy way to go. Many people have done it that way for many years and for good reason. Tried and true, fewer decisions to make. Simple is often better.
Starting out, I would first establish a budget. Then decide what your primary
source will be. Let's say your primary source is digital.

I would suggest an integrated amp - NAD, Rotel are great choices. I've
owned both, and have a slight preference for Rotel, but only slight-

If you're using a laptop to Download music, you'll want to get an
inexpensive DAC such as an Audioquest Dragon Fly.

Speakers- we are blessed these days with many very fine speakers in the
$300 to $500 range

Speaker cables- my go to inexpensive speaker cable is QED 79 strand.
Hard to find in the US, but online you can get this easily from the UK.

Interconnect? - Kimber PBJ is a great low cost cable.

With intelligent shopping, you can put together a really nice system for
$1000 to $1200, and that's without buying used.

Auditioning- trust your ears and audition stuff only with music you are
familiar with.
I agree with the NAD suggestion as well. I had a c350 integrated for a few years as my main amp and I often wonder why I ever sold it.
A preamp is rather a dinosaur type of device. Back before CD, thhe main thing all preamps did was include a phono secction.
So when CD started and took over, the phono section started to disappear. Along with that went the tone controls and the modern 'Zen' do nothing preamp was born. So nowadays all a preamp does is select, and a volume control.
Lots of folks do without.

For a newbie the main concern when picking cables is NOT MUCH MONEY, and a brand everyone says to buy.
Like BlueJeans cables. and no more than 10% of you elelctronics cost. Then you will not go wrong.
After you learn all am=bout everything and are a guru like so many here, you can spend a fortune on some no name cable you learned about fourth hand which costs a thousand bucks a foot and be happy. But NOT until then.

Best bang for your buck is to buy used. Read up on the big names and wait until one pops up for less than an arm and a leg.

But stick with names which ar e still around...
"Receiver" is another term you may run across. A "receiver" is an integrated amplifier along with a tuner (which is an AM/FM radio) in one box, i.e., a tuner, preamp, and power amp in one box.

For someone starting out, I wholeheartedly second going "all Nad" for electronics with one possible exception. If you will be buying a CD player and have as much as $500 to spend on that one component, then the player to get is the Oppo 103. For someone starting out, I also wholeheartedly second going "all bluejeans" for ALL cables.

As for speakers, I second two fundamental rules of thumb already mentioned: (1) devote approximately 50% of total budget to speakers, and (2) don't buy any speaker that you cannot hear first.

Over time as someone has more money and decides to get more into this "hobby," one finds that further investment often finds its way into power conditioning, power cords, cabling, room treatments, and various and asundry other tweaks. And no doubt, there may be worthwhile investments to be made in these areas. Just be aware, however, that these are also the areas where the most money is likely to be wasted because of the degree of trial and error and guesswork that's involved.

Last but not least, when researching specific products, never rely purely on a review in any print and/or online publication that relies primarily on advertising dollars for its lifeblood. Most of them rarely say anything negative, and when they do, they sugar coat the negative finding to such a degree that it no longer comes across as the negative that it is. I'm not saying don't read the Absolute Sounds of the world but just make sure to also read forums like this one and several others.
I agree too NAD is good start!
Agree it's hard to go wrong with NAD and Blue Jeans cables. For speakers you should really go to as many dealers as you can and listen to as many speakers as you can so you can start to nail down what aspects of sound reproduction are most important to you. Often there's "The One" that stands out from the crowd for your personal tastes, so it's worth some effort to try and find what that is. And it's fun. You should wait to decide on a specific amp until you know what speakers you're getting as you'll need to know how much power they need and what matches well with them from a sound characteristics perspective. Best of luck.
You can spend a fortune to get good sound but you don't HAVE to spend a fortune to get good sound. Set up a budget, then find speakers you really like after auditioning. THEN find a good integrated amp (new or used), a moderately priced turntable (Pro-ject comes to mind), a CD player (Marantz possibly)and some reasonably priced cables (Blue jeans is a good start). NAD is okay, but I'd check out Marantz too since some of us feel that it has a better sound and reliability in the same general price ranges for integrated amps, CD, etc. Good luck.
What do you use now for sound reproduction, clarifying that "you love good sound?"

Read this book first: Sound Reproduction:The Acoustics and Psychoacoustics of Loudspeakers and Rooms. Understand it.

- And lastly, take all that money you earn as an "urban professional" and were going to spend on an "audiophile system" and donate it to a worthy charity/cause. You'll feel better about yourself in the end.

YEah, gotta know what your source is/will be.

Unless you have an existing library of music in some other format to use, like vinyl or tape for example, then digital is the place to be these days for starters.

You can use an existing computer as your main source for digital either by streaming from the internet (many very good quality music stations/sources there for free) or buying and downloading files, or by ripping CDs.

Then you do a digital connection from computer as a source to play music on the music system to-be. Many ways to do this connection. USB is a popular way to do this. Wireless Wifi network connections another. FOr Wifi, you need Wifi on teh other end as part of the hifi system. SAme for USB.

Then you need an amp and speakers as discussed, just like in the olden days....

Do not think in terms of traditional pre-amp/amp terms. You need a device to do those functions, but these come in many forms these days. At minimum, you need to be able to connect your digital source (via wired USB or wireless Wifi most likely) have a volume control, and an amplifier suited to drive the speakers well. This can all be in one or many boxes. One box keeps things simple for now. One box is essentially a modern integrated amplifier, like those from NAD for example, but geared mainly towards modern digital source gear. AN extra traditional line level input is all that is needed to start to add a phono or other analog source later if needed (or not).

One other important thing to mention with a computer as a source is to make sure all your valuable music files get backed up and can be restored reliably, just like with any important/valuable computer files.
Have not heard anyone describe themselves as a Yuppie in 20+ years(lol)! I smell troll house cookies.
Yuppies are so 80's/Reagan era.

What is the modern equivalent of a yuppie then?

Do all smart phone owners qualify?
Something a little different to consider. Dynaudio Xeo wireless/amplified speakers. All you need is a source which connects to the transmitter and power near where the speakers will be located (since they have built in amps).
Have not heard Xeo but have never heard bad sounding Dynaudio and the Xeo design makes things very easy it would seem. Nice product!
Yuppies are so 80's/Reagan era.

What is the modern equivalent of a yuppie then?

Do all smart phone owners qualify?
The key word for yuppie is young, so "old farts" with a smartphone do not qualify. :-)
Thanks for all the responses everybody! Looks like NAD is a front-runner.

I'm a yuppie and I'm sticking to it. :)
I'm going to go in a different direction from most. It is almost impossible to establish a "budget" without answering a few questions for yourself.

1. How much of a music lover are you? Do you really sit and listen to music, use it as background music or both?
2. Do you know what real musical instruments actually sound like? and if so, do you want your system to accurately reproduce such sound?

Once you answer these questions, then go to as many stores and friends houses as you can and listen to your favorite music (music you are intimately familiar with) and hear the differences and determine at what level you can "live" with the reproduced sound.

That way, now you can establish a real budget. This may mean that you can only purchase one piece of equipment at one time and upgrade slowly. For example, say you already have a relatively inexpensive Yamaha system, comprising some bookshelf speakers, receiver (tuner, pre-amp and amp in the same box), and CD player. once you've established your price point, you might want to purchase a pre-amp and amp to replace your receiver. You can still use the tuner output of your receiver to plug into your pre-amp. Then later when money comes along, purchase some speakers, then a CD player or CD transport (takes the digital information only) and a DAC (digital to analog converter). All of this will be within your established listening appreciation range and price range over time. Avoid the impulse of purchasing everything at once. That is typically a huge mistake people make when getting into this field. So, go listen to your music and determine the level of sound reproduction you really like first. There will some that is not so good, some that is okay, some really good and some that is rediculously great. Which most people short of kings, queens and stupidly high paid entertainers can't afford. Once your music appreciation level and subsequently your "budget" is set, you might want to look at the used equipment market. For your "Budget" for new equipment, you can buy some really good used equipment that will be better than the more expensive new equipment.

"03-27-14: Elizabeth
A preamp is rather a dinosaur type of device. Back before CD, thhe main thing all preamps did was include a phono secction.
So when CD started and took over, the phono section started to disappear. Along with that went the tone controls and the modern 'Zen' do nothing preamp was born. So nowadays all a preamp does is select, and a volume control.
Lots of folks do without."

Well if that's true, why do you have so many preamps? Not to mention that they're all in the same system, and linked together.
Where do you live? Maybe someone can recommend an audio store in your area.
Whats a speaker?? HO HO.
I have a NAD M55 Cd player. Love it.
I will note here a thread you might find informative.
Tekton Lore vs Zu Omen.
I have a Zu Omen paired with a Peachtree Audio Decco 65. For the money it will blow your socks off. Bought it for the living room system and makes me think about cashing in my big system.
Audition and learn the functions and types of different equipment options.
Try to find a good dealer who might be able to get you into used/demo gear and provide valuable asssistance.
Utilize the collective wisdom in the online audio forums.
Buy used gear to stretch your dollar but be careful.
If you want to skip to most fun and satisfying sound, seek vinyl playback with tube gear.
yep, bet an integrated nad amp on amazon or similar with at least 60 wpc. get an oppo universal disc player that will allow you to play any disc available, except hd cd for some reason, ( maybe they fixed that), and a pair of nice $500 2 way bookshelf speakers and a 400-1000$ powered sub. buy some gold banana pin connecters with quick snap features and make your own cables with some high quality monster cable from best buy cut to your length. simple inexpensive starter set will hopefully satisfy you for yrs. THERE! solid advice that i will regret having given in ten minutes. then in 5 yrs switch to tubes and buy a turntable and dac and costly cables and pre amp and mono blocks and wilson watt puppies and room treatments and line conditioners and sit there in the dark all alone and listen to bach fugues and sip bordeaux and listen for defects in a state of perpetual paranoia and angst.
Blue Jeans cables, some sort of music server so you have the option of streaming music (I wouldn't buy a cd player, and not a turntable either), look at used gear (NAD, if you have a little more $ look at McCormack amps, Conrad Johnson, Classe,).

ZU Speakers, Tekton Speakers (very efficient so these play loud with less watts; 80 watts should be plenty.

You'll get sound advice here. If you want the easy road, give us your budget, room size and decore (wood, glass, etc), type of music you're after and whats most important to you... Tone, imaging, dynamics..??
i have changed my mind.... i am gonna back the tekton lore or zu speakers mentioned above, might as well bypass the typical stuff and get straight to the really dynamic musically realstic sound. get an inexpesive t chip amp and whatever sacd/cd player you find on sale from a reputable seller. i forget the sound quality exists now that is sooooo much cheaper than only 5 yrs ago. personally i am in love with a full range driver and small amp combo. beats hell out of very very expensive gear in its sheer speed and realism.
Truemaineiac nailed it-

"Buy used gear to stretch your dollar but be careful.
If you want to skip to most fun and satisfying sound, seek vinyl playback with tube gear."

I recommend "all tube" designs, such as the ones from Audio Research and VTL, I have two sets of monoblock amplifiers from each, they both make excellent products. Used VTL stuff from the 90's is gloriously inexpensive, and so delightful, many audio research vintage (80's, 90's) stuff is as well.

Don't be afraid to buy used, BUT don't fall into the trap of letting a seller make you fix their broken stuff. Many industry people share the view that I've come to have, and that's if the gear arrived broken, it was broken when it shipped! If someone sends you junk, return it. Your job is not to fix their problem.

Pay with credit cards or paypal, look at the feedback, and consider that, sometimes, tube gear is so satisfying that people don't sell it unless it doesn't work. Plan of retubing any used tube gear you buy unless the seller specifies new or newer tubes.

I'd skip NAD stuff completely. I've had a receiver, an integrated amplifier, and an amp from them, and _all_ became unusable after the "magic smoke" leaked out of them.

If you want to get a good cheap CD player, find an Oppo on Craigslist, you can sometimes get a good one for 50$.