Hi-Fi Lo-Fi

There has been a fair amount of discussion about how hi-fi seems to be a dying hobby. Most people just don’t get it.

And when we suggest that they need to have their house rewired and buy $1000 speaker cables to get good sound it is no wonder that that average person thinks we’re nuts.

We are nuts. Of course.

But that’s another story.

Anyway, I feel like a better way to expand the hobby is by showing folks that they can put together a decent system for less that a half decent speaker cable.

I recently did this. By accident sort of.

My old Toshiba receiver from high school (1980) finally bit the dust. It was the basis for the system down at my cabin.

I’d already replaced my Bose bookshelf speakers with Polk Audio Monitor 70 towers, $180 Craig’s List.

So I needed an amp and radio. We listen to the radio a lot down there. I had a Denon tuner in my home system that I never use. Approx. $110 eBay.

I just bought an NAD 316BEE on eBay, $200. Its 40 wpc and gets great reviews.

I had a Toshiba DVD play. $15 at thrift shop.

That’s $505. Add 12 ga low ox speaker cables and some banana plugs and an outdoor FM antenna and I’m close to $550. Interconnects are mid level RCA that I already had.

Results? Surprisingly good. The old Toshiba receiver was not bad but this NAD really opened up the sound stage...well outside the speakers in fact. And the room (larger main room in a small log cabin) is far from ideal. Bass seems great to me but I’m no bass fetish. I have a large B&W subwoofer but don’t feel the need. Volume and energy are excellent far exceeding levels I would ever actually listen at.

Of course it does not have the richness, clarity and sound stage of my home system. But it cost about 30x less.

Many folks won’t be willing to spend even $500 for a system. I only did so reluctantly and piece by piece.
But for those who really want to get started in hi-fi I think we all ought to be able to point them in this sort of direction to get them started.

Once they’re hooked we can steer them toward the $10,000 speaker cables. ;-)

Streaming and portable audio is where its mostly at these days.  

Many folks won’t be willing to spend even $500 for a system. I only did so reluctantly and piece by piece.
But for those who really want to get started in hi-fi I think we all ought to be able to point them in this sort of direction to get them started.
I agree, however the elitism often encountered on this site doesn't help matters. The ironic part is that many are listening to their $20K+ systems in rooms that are severely limiting performance, sometimes in rooms so small or bright that they'd be better off with headphones. 

I recently pit some $200 Advent speakers against a pair of brand-new $3K speakers and the former were far more enjoyable. It's not difficult to piece together a $500 system that's better than any Bluetooth speaker and anything 95% of the population owns.
I don’t find the site particularly elitist, but sure, you could go to Steve Hoffman forums for a more engaged group discussion around more affordable audio HW. Why is it so bad to have a place where people confer on higher end products? It’s not like it’s a private club ... anyone can ask anything. 
Sure, anyone can ask anything, but ever notice how the threads that elicit the most responses are those involving 4 and 5 figure products? Ask about a $300 item and you’re lucky to get 2 responses. Audio shows are full of the same elitist mentality. The "budget" systems at these shows still have $500 pairs of cables. In the real world, that’s more than the average Joe would be willing to spend on an entire system.

Recently a newcomer to the site asked whether it was worth reviving some speakers that originally retailed for $4K. All the speakers needed were some tweeters, and possibly some crossovers. This member was basically told he’d be better off putting them out to the curb. Let’s examine that logic - spend $500 to complete a $4K pair of inherited speakers or assume them a total loss and dump them on the curb:
Have you considered that there just aren’t that many people here that know about the less expensive products? That’s not being elitist. If you go to the Porsche forums and ask about your Kia, no one will look down on you, but you probably won’t get a lot of responses either. 
Audiogon serves one segment of the audio market and Ebay serves the $500 system market.  I don't want to sort through ads for $100 receivers and people looking for $100 receivers don't want to see ads for $1,000 cables.  There's nothing wrong with having two different marketplaces.
People who really love listening to music and have heard a decent system are not going to settle for MP3 files. It is a matter of priorities.
Those same people who are looking for cheap used stuff on e bay are buying $10,000 snowmobiles so they can run around going no place burning fossil fuel or 75 inch TVs with tiny little speakers. The people here would rather buy Hi Fi gear. The trick is not just building a cheap system it is building a great system inexpensively. No offence n80 but the stuff you are talking about is not even remotely on our radar. If that is all you can afford than go for it. And, if you really love listening to music you'll get a good job, save money, skip the snowmobile and build yourself a great system. 

So many strange stereotypes in one post!

For the record, I have a good job, access to capital is not a real problem, a snowmobile would be useless where I live and I have already built a great system.

The lo-fi system I’m talking about is down at my cabin. It is for casual listening. And as mentioned, sounds pretty good. Better than you, or I, might have expected.

But, you’ve helped make my point. Telling someone who is new to hi-fi and thinks they might want to try it out that they need to get a job and save money is problem a big reason hi-fi is having a hard time maintaining traction.

To other responders, I did not intend this as a criticism of Audiogon. Audiogon is what it is and it is primarily about high end.

I’m just saying that the audiophile community should consider starting people off from a point they can actually start from.....rather than suggesting, for instance, that they get a job and or give up other things that interest them.

Excellent post and some of these responses do in fact prove your point. Never is the law of diminishing returns more applicable than in hifi. There are some who may even, deep down, resent the fact that you CAN achieve really nice sound for very little outlay. If people are honest with themselves then up to a certain price band, its about the music. Above that price band, it becomes about the equipment and what is possible to reproduce. The chase to determine what kind of drumhead or microphone was used in the recording is mercurial I will readily admit.

It really ticks me off when someone posts something about “well, if its all you can afford, then...”. Priorities are different for everyone and just because one person is willing to spend their entire social security check on a new cable is hardly the test. 

Thanks for posting this and I hope someone new to the hobby happens upon it one day and gets into the hobby. The system you put together truly can be the on ramp or the finish line, to each his own.
Thanks. And I don't want anyone to get me wrong here. I'm not knocking high end audio. I'm not even knocking people who just like the super expensive equipment just because that's what they're into.

Its all okay.

But if someone says, 'wow, your home system sounds really great, I'd like to listen to music that way too' it is helpful to be aware of an entry point for them without suggesting that they need speaker cables that are bigger than a garden hose and cost over $1000 (like mine). For most people that either puts them off because they think such things are not obtainable
 or because they think I (we) am a pretentious snob and don't want to be associated with a hobby full of people like that.

On a more practical level, being able to assemble a system like this is handy for situations exactly like mine. Let's say you've just plopped down $10,000 for those awesome looking speaker cables.....or that snowmobile...and you want a system for the garage, cabin, shop or office and you only have $500 or so..............
n80 OP
And I don’t want anyone to get me wrong here. I’m not knocking high end audio. I’m not even knocking people who just like the super expensive equipment just because that’s what they’re into.

Its all okay.

>>>>That’s mighty decent of you, partner.
One way to achieve greater return on your investment is to buy used equipment from fellow Audiogon Forum members. Items are almost always very well cared for and you can get a lot of advice...at least that approach has helped me. I'm not knocking Craigslist, but dedicated audiophiles may sell here preferentially.

I would certainly consider Audiogon for a high end purchase but when I was putting all this together I did not find a lot of low end stuff here....which makes sense of course.
I agree with n80

After the divorce and in my 50's, I became interested in Hifi again. In the beginning I bought some entry level gear, PSB speakers, NAD c326bee etc. Didn't have a lot of cash in the beginning. (Child support and my sons tournament golf). After a while I got the upgrade itch. I've read a ton of threads on various components and different subjects and have enjoyed this re-entry into hifi. When I was in my late teens I worked for a midwest electronics chain called Burstein Applebee. It was there that I learned that there were certain components that "punched above their weight", I remember purchasing a KA-5500 integrated amp that several of us at the store thought very highly of, for not much money.

What I have enjoyed, is buying decent sounding stuff on the cheap. Anyone can go into a Hifi store or order on line, gear at full retail. The challenge is to find decent and or vintage gear cheap (inexpensive) in a city with 3 hifi shops. One is a Magnolia..Yuk! and if you combined the other 2 stores together, I'm not sure that someone from NY City would consider it decent. I'm not sure that good sound always correlates dollar for dollar with money spent. I went to hifi shop a couple of months ago and listened to a pair of Wilson's (30k) on one end of the showroom and a pair of Sonus Faber's (5k) on the other. With the right amp and tt, I would have taken the SF's.
I found a pair of Zu Omen's Mk1 in excellent condition for $300.00 on Craigslist, the NuForce amp on AA for $500.00, Marantz tt15s1 with the Virtuoso wood for $600.00 in Omaha, and one of my favorites was a HK t65c turntable for $270.00. tmraudio for a phono preamp and DAC.  A new audio friend sold me an Audio Research LS3 for $500.00. I think they should have a dedicated thread for "audio pickers". (tv show Maybe?)

Don't you think stuff sounds better when you've gotten a good deal?

I have had several people that have been very helpful on here.. One is Mr. D.  I also have asked some very sincere questions and gotten few reply's. It is however, rather entertaining to ask a question on this forum and then read veteran Audiogon members correct and insult each other over some esoteric fact. You think to yourself.. wow! I didn't plan on creating this kind of trouble.

In closing I'd like to compliment n80 for taking that slight

I have been a mid-fi enthusiast for years. My system is usually comprised of a mixture of new and used, entry-level okay stuff and Craigslist/garage sale purchases. The Audiogon forums are populated by folks who are generally into more expensive and esoteric equipment than I am. I like to read hi-end hobbyist's posts, even though I am unlikely to be in their ranks. Audiokarma has a myriad of posts about great cheap equipment scores from thrift stores and such. There are outlets for all of us.
n80,  Again, for most people it is a matter of priorities. I seriously doubt that homeless people are on this web sight. There are snobs here and some advise might not be useful but I think most of use here like to help people build great systems at a reasonable price. I have seen good advise given to newbies frequently and contrary to popular thought I do not think this love for accurate music reproduction is dying. I think it may be growing. The surge in vinyl sales particularly to young people is evidence of this. 

The only forums I enjoy more than Audiogon are the ones which give me pointers on how to make my $ 10,000 snowmobile go faster, make more noise and burn greater amounts of fossil fuel. 

"Don't you think stuff sounds better when you've gotten a good deal?"   

I think I agree with this comment.

My system has a "list" price of over $23,000 but I bought everything "gently used" for $6,200.

The only new piece I use is my Dialogue Premium preamp.

Now the discrepancy between these figures and my bank account is all the new stuff I previously purchased and then discarded.

I guess my point is that Audiogon is a great way to learn about good equipment. Then one needs to exercise patience until a good buy comes along.

Thanks for listening,


I guess my point is that Audiogon is a great way to learn about good equipment. Then one needs to exercise patience until a good buy comes along.

This ^^^^ I learn so much reading on this site.With no shops nearby I'm very appreciative of the members here sharing their experiences and expertise.
dsper, you spent $6200. You over paid. I could have gotten it all for $3851. 23, lol. To the OP....you and I have been on a roller coaster here, with many " differences of opinion ". Generally, with your " doctor stuff ", pointing fingers at me, and others, that much of what have claimed to hear, is all in our heads. I will no longer debate these issues with you, as we will go our own ways on this. ymmv...I do feel, your thread here, interesting. You " acquired " a $25 K plus system, from a relative ( when you started posting here ), and back then, during this time, you indicated, as much as you have enjoyed it, you would never have spent that amount of money, yourself, on a music playback system. As you have just stated, access to capitol, is not an issue for you. So, I would like to ask you a question, if you will respond, and this is up to you, as other readers, besides myself, will be reading. The question is : Owning these two systems, the one at your home, and the one at your cabin, knowing what you now know, specifically, the world of higher end audio, would you spend $25 K, on a system, for your home, at this point in time? I hope I asked this correctly....As a retired audio consultant, I can tell you, I have helped multiples of 100's of people, over the many years of doing this, get into systems, for recorded music reproduction, in their homes, and studios, and, at many different price levels. The two biggest lessens I learned, over these years, is, 1 : Awesome systems can be put together, at every price level. 2 : Excluding high end earphone / headphone systems, the " room " , can make an entry level system sound awesome, or, a mega buck system, sound awful. Of course, the goal is, to make all systems sound awesome. I will end it here, as this thread is not about me. Enjoy ! MrD.
MrD., first I think I’d have to modify the estimate on the system I inherited. I think it probably cost around $15k, maybe a little more. That would have been in early 2000’s dollars.

So to answer your question, based on the adjusted cost of around $15k, the answer is no, I would not spend that much right now if I needed to replace it even if I had that much cash in hand.

You may read that answer as a snub toward high end audio but it isn’t. It simply comes down to a few simple things: 1) I could think of a few other ways I would enjoy the money more. 2) I probably just don’t have the ear or taste for the level of performance that others hear in their high end systems. In other words, those dollars would probably be wasted on my ears. 3) After hearing my low end system I’m certain that I could be well satisfied with a home/primary system that cost way less than $15k.

The fourth reason would be that I think I would enjoy doing the shopping and research to put together a good system for, say, under $5k.

That would probably be my cut off point; $5K.

And in my book that is still a lot of money.

But yes, I think I could assemble a system that would more than meet my needs for that amount and have a blast doing it.

In fact, given that my system is over 15 years old, I could probably nearly duplicate it for $5k. There is a chance I could better it with more modern gear at that price too. Who knows?
n80.. a very honest and admirable response. I still believe, at " retail "pricing, your gear that was acquired, was over 20 K, based on my familiarity with the gear, as well as some research. And, never hard feelings. The past is the past, an I enjoy many of your music posts. All good, my friend. Thank you. Enjoy ! MrD.
" I still believe, at " retail "pricing, your gear that was acquired, was over 20 K, based on my familiarity with the gear"

That could be true. I was never able to find actual prices for when some of the components were new.

For what its worth, I'm still enjoying the system and impressed that it works so well after all these years and the abuse it endured before I got it.
It does sound better when the whole system was bought cheap with killer good deals. I put together a $600 system that really sounds good. My main system would retail over $30,000 without wire. I bought it all used so maybe little more than 1/3 of that. Every time I listen to $600 system I'm amazed what little money can do. I bought a Scott lk48 for $225. I read about the $1000 speaker shootout and a speaker I never heard of won. It was AV 123 Encore with Sking Ninja mods. Which is a GR Research speaker, alpha core, mills, sonicaps for $125 on eBay . A old Exemplar Audio tube Denon 2900CD player for $300 on Audiogon. When the good deals pop up there no time to think about it you have to hit the Buy Now button quick because it's  gone within minutes or hours.

How can we expect people to see the light when their eyes are closed.If all you hear is what comes out of your phone's ear buds or the built in speakers on your TV or laptop, why would you spend the money?If more people could somehow be exposed to high fidelity sound, perhaps they will better understand the reason for our addiction.
tony1954, I think you are correct for a certain percentage of people.  Which is probably small.

My (limited) experience has been otherwise. A few times to my amazement. I have had people who like music listen to songs that THEY LIKE on my system who come away utterly unimpressed. My wife being one of them. They are even less impressed when they find out what such a system costs and when they consider how it would affect the decor of their home (my speakers are 4 feet tall, weigh 140 pounds each and a black......my wife hates them).

So yes, I agree. Folks have to hear good sound to appreciate it. But once that appreciation develops they also need a way to do something about it. If you tell them it will cost as much as their mini-van, BMW......or hot rod snowmobile..... it becomes a harder sell. 

Anyway, I've been down at the cabin listening to my $500 system and it is all too clear that it is not a $20,000 system. But it is also clear that it sounds good enough to enjoy even from an audiophile standpoint, even for periods of serious listening.

I should also clarify something. I'm comparing it to my home system which was probably around $20k new. The system at the cabin would probably have cost around $1200 new. A quick eBay search shows my home system's basic components could be purchased used for about  $6000, closer to $7000 with similar cables.