Good-sounding audio components?

How do you decide if something is worth buying? Are there any hints or typical things you look for? 


For DACs, headphone amplifiers, CD players etc.


Wow. What a question.

One many of us have spent thousands of hours on.

In general, it sounds good. But that is so loaded. If I was starting off again. I would recommend listening to lots of high end systems and attend as much live acoustic music as possible. Not because you can afford a high end system, but it can help you identify where you want to go. Also… try to listen to the music, not the components… when you find a system that emotionally moves you. That is it, get that.


Do not jump for the most detailed sound. Auditioning trebly speakers / systems sound good immediately and then later sound fatiguing. Listen, listen listen.


Then read, read, read. Robert Harley’s book The Complete Guide to High End Audio. Get a subscription to The Absolute Sound, Stereophile, and HiFi+. Be very carefull until you feet on the ground what you listen to here in this forum. You have to be able to discriminate between good advice and poor advise, there are many that know little… headed down a dead end and are convinced it is all junk, or made one good purchase and think they know it all. Check credentials… see if there system is shown under their ID. Every ones values are different and each audio system is different and say the same DAC put in a dozen different system will have a different outcome.


Also, while not always true… usually true, you get what you pay for. There is budget, mid-fi, high-fi, and audiophile products. In general there are big differences in performance at each level. While you can definitely put together an astonishingly good system on a shoestring…  you got to put in the work, lots of it… hours and hours of research and listening. Most of us started this way… used, carefully chosen components. Read, read, read, listen, listen, listen. Buy.

each has its own bespoke sonic signature … one size does not fit all.

- Do your background reading(s) first to get an initial grounding of options.

- try to physically attend a major audio fest for  multiple brand and multiple model unit hands-on direct personal auditions …that way you will be able to experience what the different price point strata performance options  (… and there IS a difference.)

. the many unknowns will be largely addressed and the key point is now shaved down primarily to a debate if the step-up in audio performance as the price ascends is worth to you as it stresses your pocketbook. 

- even if audiofests don’t work, then establish a relation with your local dealer(s) regardless. 

- You now have a distilled list of contenders and you carved out the pretenders 


+1 attend as many audio shows as you can. Inevitably certain rooms will jump out at you as sounding really good to you. Take notes on what you really liked about the sound of each of these rooms and all the equipment therein — including things like interconnects, speaker/power cables, and power conditioners — then you can read reviews of all the components and you’ll probably start to see similarities in what their strengths are that, in turn, will tell you a lot about your personal tastes and direct you to what other equipment you can explore that exhibit similar characteristics and are in your price range (if the show gear isn’t). To me, this is the most efficient and comprehensive way to learn and get up to speed faster and will put you in a better position to make good purchase decisions. Oh yeah, and it’s a helluva lotta fun to boot. Hope this helps, and best of luck.

For me, reviews of all types, but mostly backed-up by recommendations by friends (including a few I hold in high regards here) and dealers (remote) I trust. Unfortunately, I don’t have many good HIFI dealers in my area except a couple good used dealers), and the one dealer who does carry very good stuff is very high end (albeit I got my used Vandersteen Treo’s from him that he took on trade), thus, I have had to purchase many of my components without listening and comparing.

It’s worked out well thus far, but I do a lot of reading, talking, and investigation now days.

All of the above.    It is an easy hobby to make big money mistakes on.  That's for sure.    I always try to listen to the product,  what ever it may be.  Thats's often difficult depending on where you live.

I always try to buy something that is low risk, 30 day trial, maybe used equipment that I can buy at a good price and there is minimal risk.

Avoid lateral moves.   If you really like something and its a bit out of your budget, save and buy that ,rather than something that is just ok

All of the above, and I would add try to audition a piece in your own system.  If there are still bricks and mortar stores in your area and they will allow for such a thing, then great, but I would also strongly reward them by giving them your business and not stiffing them by purchasing  for 5% cheaper on the Internet.  If that isn't possible, buy from a company that has a good return policy, and be prepared to pay a restocking fee.

I try to buy from sellers who offer a return policy so I can hear gear in my system, in my room. 

I got burned very early, basing purchases on showroom demos and vowed to never make that mistake again. 

That being said, there will be circumstances where this is not possible and you'll  have to decide, based on reviews, whether you want to take a risk. Purchasing  used, in-demand/well-reviewed components that can easily be re-sold is a way to minimize the downside of \such risk-taking. 


No one has mentioned the obvious point yet, but one of the first things you need to do is decide what you can afford. Then, see what your options are within your budget.  While it doesn't hurt to listen to high end systems out of your price range, you might be surprised how good many of the items are within it.

As I pointed out, I listen to determine if it sounds good and worth it to you. 

Given your budget, you are going to be looking in budget category. Hopefully you can listen before you buy.

At your price range, you should check out the DACs and headphone amps from Schiit. They have some great sounding items available in your price range, though they do not offer CD players.