B&K Ref 20
I love my Denon DVM 3700 cd/dvd changer. Video and audio quality are consistently excellent. I've compared it to many other digital front ends and I keep coming back. I got it for @ $400 on Ubid, but you can find them at Good Guys still too and can probably talk them down.
B&K Ref 20
I recently got a NAD L40, pre, amp, tuner, CD all in one, B stock with 1 year warrantee for $399. For anything close to the money this cannot be beat.
Excellent tuner, so if you up grade, it still will have a function.
The CD is not as detailed as my Krell KSP 20i, but I never feel like I am missing anything. And it has a digital out if you want to use it for a transport.
Pre outs, so that you can increase the power (only 20w per from the amp), but sounds great if not pushed hard.
I have it hooked to a pair of outdoor Energy speakers ($400 retail) for my deck and it is awesome sounding for the amount I have in it.
Any older Naim gear - 32.5, 72, NAP 110, 140, 180. Not very expensive, will run until the next ice age, very musical, especially for the dollar outlay. Does not want or need expensive interconnect and/or speaker cable. These pieces reward a good source, yet tend to accomodate a weaker source as well. Also, any speaker in the Energy Conisseur (spelling???) line - outstanding value.
I can start with the $89 Aiwa XC-30M, XC-35M, or XC-37M Five Disc CD Changer used as a transport for any DAC with a Delta-Sigma design. The MSB Link DAC is a Delta Sigma DAC, so if you pick up a Link DAC-1 for $150 used, you can have a nice setup with the Aiwa for under $300 (including the digital cable). Put a 5 pound bag of sand or lead shot on top of the Aiwa as a tweek and maybe some vibrapods (another sleeper at $6 each) New Aiwa's are available on eBay for around $55 usually.
I agree with a previous contributor, McCormack's Micro Line Drive is an awesome product--and not just at the mid-line price point. It betters all preamps I've heard in the $2000 price range. It may not be the last word in transparency but it betters everything I've heard in pace, punch, and sheer musicality--when used in the ACTIVE mode. It just sounds right!
One of 2 post-digital processors: Margules ADE-24, or Taddeo Digital Antidote (Active or Passive).
The Margules is built in a cheap plastic case, and does wonders for inexpensive digital front ends (CD, DVD, or Laserdisc). It takes the analog outs post-DAC.
Same concept with the Taddeo. The Active version is more expensive, about $1k list, but I've bought one used, and seen another one for around $500. This thing is AMAZING, even using the output of my (no longer owned) Sony SCD-777ES playinf SACD's !
There is a new version of the Antidote II, a Passive model for all of $99. Female RCA inputs, a small box, and small "tails" with male RCA's, so no extra cable required. Haven't compared these in my main system to the Active version, but the Passive makes a hell of a difference with output from a Sony Discman, and one of 3 DVD's I have (Pioneer, Apex, and Panasonic).
All thes units bring a focuse to the sound, adding clarity, and allowing me to hear more of the music so it seems.
The Margules is under $200. As mentioned the Taddeo's range from $99 Passive to (list) $1k active (street price less if you can find them used).
My LOOOOOOOOONG 2 cents. Sorry if I bored.
Good thread. My objective has always been to get the best possible sound out of reasonable price equipment. Currently I am very happy with the following purchases, all through audiogon:
C-j PV10a $600
MusicHall MMF-5 turntable $350 new
MusicHall MMF-cd25 cd player $450 new
Musical Fidelity A3cr amp $875 (dealer demo with warranty)
Spica TC-60's $450 (dealer demo with warranty)
I just picked up a 1973 Kenwood tuner for $65, had Don Scott modify it for around $200 and hope to install it this weekend.
Good value is always the prerequiste, especially here in the Midwest.
Greetings Martin, Interesting thread question. The best "sleeper" I own is a 1984 vintage Sony PS-X555-ES linear tracking, bio-tracer turntable. I purchased the unit new in 84, and it has been a main stay since. All other supporting equipment has been replaced several times since then. The beauty of linear tracking can not be beat! (that's how the master was cut) The bio-tracer system actually supports the arm in four directions with magnetic coils. Utilizing the laws of physics, changes in the magnetic field control VTA and arm travel. I have looked at $30K linear tracking tables that don't even come close to the Sony's accuracy. My fear is that some day it will die, and I will not be able to repair it.
Passive linestage preamplifiers with stepped attenuators are as good as megabuck active preamplifiers. In some cases the're even better. Most beginners don't even know that passive linestage preamps exist. I have never seen these gems in a high end audio store; you have to order them over the internet. The limitation is that they provide no linestage voltage gain as with active preamplifiers. If you have efficient speakers and don't use a phono source, then you don't need this voltage gain from expensive active preamplifiers.
For those who are just starting out, an ADCOM SLC-505 will do a fairly good job for about $100. The problem is that Adcom does not make this model anymore (stupid move). You will have to get one used (if you are lucky) at ebay. This model is cheap because it uses a potentiometer, not a stepped attenuator. You can get a high quality stepped attenuator volume control box for several hundred dollars at GOLDPOINT. None of the above have a remote control. At the top of the line is PLACETTE with a remote controlled stepped attenuator volume control box, or linestage preamplifier. For around a thousand dollars, you can have the clear, transparent, three dimensional sound of the name brands, but without the voltage gain that many audiophiles don't need anyway.
I agree that Passives are a great alternative.FT Audio's LW-1 I had for close to a year and miss it already.
Other products I know t be sleepers are.
Digital Amps-Just coming onto the scene.Panasonics SA-XR25\45's are under $300.
These Hook-Up cables are almost identical to what comes in Kit Form for around $700.
For those having a poor DAC section for Redbook ot's a great deal.
Pioneer 563A Universal DVDP
You can get this unit for around $160 now which is great for those just wanting a unit to play stuff that is not redbook.
Samsung TV Monitors
For the price they cannot be beat.
I am using the Panny 45 mated with a Panasonic DVD F-65 to test. Someone posted that it beat their Rotel setup and that is a stretch. So it is about the best value you can get in audio at the moment.
The Panny unit can be tweeked for better performance.Wayne of Bolder Cables shall be coming out with a modified unot soon so you will be able to further the sound performance.
The panasonic digital amps are certainly great values at the lower end of audio excellence. If you are after the higher end, the best value product is the CarverPro ZR1600 power amp. $10,000 performance for $840. Is it the best? Probably not: I just saw a power amp listing at $99,000, and I think that some are even more. What fun it would be to do a blind listening test comparison!