Front end- Tosh 4960 or 3980. Both around $50 and incredible for the price.
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I assume you are talking used, since that opens up the possibilities. I still have and enjoy a Fisher all-in-one 100wpc, 24 CD, dual tape unit. It is always reliable and sounds very tube like with it's monolythic output chip (probably 2nd order harmonics). So sometimes a musical sound is hiding where you would least expect it. It also saves on interconnects. At this price point I would definitely give the lion's share of the budget to the speakers since they establish the foundation and will reveal system upgrades as the audiophile adventure continues. Also good speakers will allow flat sound reproduction so the new listener won't be addicted to tone controls. It takes a lot of searching and listening a this price point to find audiophile potential. I've had great sucess with Infinity speakers from the 1980's, but the cosmetics will be a little rough at low prices. Of course if full range isn't nessessary, good 2 ways start around $100, so it depends on what type of listening and music is in play. It's a noble cause, best of luck in it, JAY
I would look at the Energy XL-150's or the newer C-10 speakers. Used should be around $120. (Paradigm Titans would be a second choice) Use Audioquest F-14 speaker cable. I have some used for .50 cents a foot. Solid core cable.
Find a used Onkyo TX-8211 receiver. Maybe $200. and find an older Magnivox CD player that has the #4 transport in it. Every year for an 8 year run you could get 1 Magnivox that had that transport. (or Phillips) Try to find one that has been modified and/or call repair places where one was fixed and the customer didn't pick it up.
Also an older Arcam or Rotel player is good.
Even though people think that the Digital part of our industry moves fast, in reality, a lot of the older and nicer CD players blow away the new entry level players.
Get a used pair of Audioquest Topaz interconnects to finish it up.
Here is a great system that I don't think can be beat for the money. It is a serious sound system. All component prices are quoted new, only the B&W speakers are quoted as used found here on Agon.
Art Sla 1 amp - $165 (One input for CD player). Sound is 80% of any amp I have owned from JC1 monoblocks to Marsh Sound. Has volume knobs.
100 watts per channel. Clean and wondeful sound. You can read on this amp here on Agon threads.
Toshiba 3950, 3960 CD/DVD player. I got mine for $50 at Best Buy. Best CD sound for this price.
B&W 601 speakers any version (MK I,II, III), $150 - $300.
Mission makes great monitors for little money also - used on Agon.
Audio Art IC's $39 - $69 (one meter RCA) The IC 1 is $39 and the IC-3 is $69. I use the IC-3 in my big $$ system as they replaced $700 IC's from Tara Tabs. Need Radio Shack 1/4" to RCA adaptors to use on the connection from Toshiba to Sla 1 amp. The Sla takes 1/4" and XLR inputs only. The adaptors cost $4 and work great.
Use Audio Art or Signal speaker cable - $50
This system will sound amazing and as good as many systems costing up to $3000. Again, I have heard it and have owned and heard many other systems - this one sounds fantastic and will please.A pre can be added later if more inputs are wanted.
Amplification: I'd start with something like the Pioneer VSX515-K receiver. It's 110w/ch in stereo, and could serve in a starter HT set-up as he upgrades. Street price $170.
Source: Pick it. Any name-brand DVD player. The differences are trivial. Street price: $50-60.
Speakers: Here, your friend has to listen. PSB Alphas, Paradigm Atoms or Titans, Infinity Primus 150 or 160. Do not make this decision for him. List price: $200-260.
The DVD player comes with an I/C. Use it. Hardware store speaker wire runs 20-30 cents per foot, depending on gauge. Do not spend money on wire in a sub-$500 system. Spend every penny you can on the best speakers you can find.
Be careful not to use Radio shack IC's and cable (or other very poor cables)) for you will greatly impact your sound for the worse. Good IC cables can be had for $39 - Audio Art IC-1. Good used speaker cable can be had for $40. Audio Art, Paul Speltz and others.
This will improve your sound more than spending $100 on a CD player vs $50. The Tosh players are fine for $50.
Wire is important and should not be just cast aside. For your $500 budget you can have both!
Others are right in that you should not spend $100 for an IC. Please don't ignore wire however. If you do you you may as well buy a used $30 JC Penny MCS series receiver - classic :-) That is the sound you will get!
NAD L40 CD Receiver (about $400 on A'gon) and Paradigm Atom or PSB Alpha B speakers (about $100 on A'gon). Home Depot bulk 12 or 14 guage extension cable for speaker wire - puts you over budget about $10 though. Maybe the L40 comes with some rough speaker wire, or you can negotiate it into the deal. Good luck - a rough price point!
Toshiba or Sony entry level DVD player (unbeatable for $50-$60), Infinity Primus 150 bookshelfs and a Cambridge 340A integrated.
I've recommended that system to several friends and almost turned one into an audiophile with it. Stick with basic cables, if your friend shows interest add cables and power conditioning...then bring over your best music to enjoy it!
Start with Swans M200 powered speakers (http://www.enjoythemusic.com/magazine/equipment/1101/swanm200.htm).
Spend the rest on the source. Traditionally, a competent CD/Universal player. Alternatively, an iPod or a "digital media receiver" (e.g. Roku Soundbridge, Squeezebox).
P.S. The Swans are not good if you like to play it very loud. Otherwise, a shortcut to quality sound.
"Hmmm, anybody want to ponder the logic of hooking up a $50 DVD player with a $40 cable?"
I think your just joking? A good sounding cable makes good sense always on any component that sounds good. A poor sounding cable makes no sense on a good sounding component.
Pretty simple. The fact that a DVD/CD player only costs $50 and sounds good as a wonderful treat! Now enjoy that treat as you should with a good cable. Put a poor cable on it and spoil the treat. If you can find a $5 IC that sounds as good as the Audio Art $39 IC, then buy it! You won't however.
Good basic cables, even older ones do make a big difference. I loaned some Audioquest IC's and speaker cable to a guy that had a Kenwood rack system a few years back and the $70 worth of cables I loaned him doubled his sound quality.
He got too excited though and decided to spend $400 on cables and his system wasn't up to it so it only sounded 10% better than the $70 cable package.
Grannyring -- a small point: the cable doesn't "sound". By linking components, it makes THESE "sound" one way or another.
The same cable. As you know, it can often sound one way with one system & another way with another system.
You know the drill: output stage, wire, connector, plug, wire, plug, connector, input stage. Impedance, capacitance, contact material, resistance, wire material, diametre, stray noise & fields, you name it... all these act as variables.
One of the selling points of "expensive" cables is to try to limit these effects and sound more or less similar fm one system to another...
2nd the Denon UD-M31 only $300 new. I'd spend the $200 on better speakers.
Radio Shack DOES sell great speaker cable in the form of magnet wire for ~$3.50. Twist a few strands together with a hand drill and strip the enamel off the ends. Hi purity, polished surface finish, virtually NO dielectric, can't get much better than this, especially for low powered Denon mini-system.
An older 80's Sony "Legato" Rec. or a 70's Pioneer Rec. An ADS L400/500 spk. Energy XL-16/Tannoy MX1-M or newer "Fusion" 1 spk. . Plateau stands filled w/lead shot/sand,etc. Tara labs Prism 33i Interconnects or Straightwire's entry-level IC's/ spk. wire. Kimber 4VS spk. wire/ AQ Type 2 or 4 spk. wire. Inexpensive DVD/CD Player as mentioned by others. Can easily be bought under your budget and if you're able to find the ADS L500 spk. do not hestitate. An awesome sounding spk! A system such as this will really make you wonder why anyone would need to spend anything more!