Moderately priced audio

So I have been a audiophile for 40 years and in that time I have seen and owned a huge amount of equipment. Lately I have been reading Sterephile magazine and attended the last 2 years of Axpona. My question is what about the people that love the craft and get tremendous joy out of their audio systems that are in the $2-5K price range. Are they to be ignored? I know this hobby holds a lot of enthusiasm by people that have great sounding systems of new and vintage gear that they are proud of and enjoy listening to. While I appreciate the sound and the technology of the systems that cost more than a house I think there is a slice of enthusiast that are silent. Back in the 70s I worked at a stereo store that your average person came in and spent $600-$1000 and got a good sounding system. And we sold a lot of them. Seems a lot less interest today. Could it be the price of what you see in magazines and shows? I am curious to see if you people are out there that love the music and get great joy out of listening to your moderately priced audio equipment. Feel free to share what you have. I know you are out there. 
I have a second rig with older Spendor speakers, a modest tube phono preamp, vintage tube power amps and a vintage idler with a used Decca cartridge. Excellent sounds for about $4k.
My PC rig is streaming Tidal hifi with a T-amp and old Wharfdale Diamonds. Cost about $100 and sweet as a nut.

Hi schmitty1

There are some great systems being built on a budget but you may not see them talked about in HEA circles as much.

Michael Green

That $1000 system in 1970 would cost $6552 today. People get stuck thinking the value of money is static and are shocked by $6552. The only thing that doesn't change are the hours and minutes required to make this amount. I.E., It takes the same amount of time to earn $6552, in 2019, as it did to make the $1000 in 1970.
In my opinion, there has never been a better time for getting great sound on a budget. Grab a Bluesound Powernode 2i and a pair of decent speakers and the quality is shockingly good for the money. Sure, we go much higher than that, but for many, this is a great system and is very affordable.
My system is made up of moderately priced components.It does take some research to seek out and put together a budget conscious system.It's not as glamorous and exciting to discuss or dream about owning someday:) Presently I'm enjoying simply tweaking with various tube,cable,and vibration control devices.Keeps things interesting.Most of my kit is on my system page.

Vincent CDP,LTA MicroZ2,Aric Audio Transcend Push Pull amp,Tekton Impact Monitors,SVS sub(probably adding more subs),GIK room treatments.
As an example of an affordable system, all brand new:

Magnepan LRS             $650
Schitt Freya                     700
Schitt Vidar                       700
Rega Apollo CD player 1,100
All Canare cables             300
Total                               3,450  

My system is also made of  vintage top of the line headphones and amplifier, and very good speakers, and a contemporary very good dac; my experience is there is more upgrading effect to gain in cleaning the audio grid and the electrical grid of the house, and controlling vibrations, than with the buying of an expansive piece of gear... This experience of mine is gold for me, nobody says that to me 7 years ago when I begins my audio travel,on the contrary almost anybody on all forums speaks about  buying products to upgrade... And past some level of musicality, upgrading is a costly illusion... Tweaks and cleaning are the most important audio facts...
I am curious to see if you people are out there that love the music and get great joy out of listening to your moderately priced audio equipment.

I've posted about this before. It was well enough known at work that people would come up to me for advice. Not only advice, but a few hired me to set them up a whole system. I always asked the same three questions: what's your total budget, how's it being used, and what are your special requirements? (Must have turntable, must have CD changer, etc.)

None of these was over $2500 all-in, and the best one, the one I actually miss and wish I'd have duplicated if for no other reason than to have around to show people what's possible, was barely $1200.

The key to these, which is just my opinion but is founded on a whole lotta evidence, is these were complete systems. Despite the low total budget every single one included quality power cords, interconnects, speaker cable, and Cones under every component. The amount or proportion of the budget that went into these "tweaks" was the same high share that has gotten me grief around here every time its mentioned. All I can say, unlike the "audiophiles" who all know better all the people who heard these systems were stunned and the owners thrilled.

The first one I did, $2500, was a wife's birthday present for her husband. He called me up to complain it was making him late for work. He would get up each morning intending to listen for just one track, which became two, three.... This guy was so happy he could hardly contain himself. His work took him into a lot of really nice homes. A lot of these guys would show off and play him their high end systems. He knows his wife did not spend anywhere near that kind of money, and he knows his system sounds light years better than any of those, and he just couldn't thank me enough.

The cheapest and best though was only $1200 total for my father in law. Set up in my listening room to burn-in before delivery it sounded so good I kept dragging people in to listen just to prove to them you do not have to spend a lot of money. And he wanted a changer. That's right. One of the best most engaging systems people ever heard and it used a budget CD changer.

There's a couple others I know and they all really enjoy their budget systems. You hit a nerve here. The way everyone's knee jerk reaction is to run to the showy spendy big name gear is a tragic, crying shame.

Its one thing for people who've been doing this for decades, adding here upgrading there, to wind up with a five-figure (or more) system. Its quite a different thing altogether the way we automatically try and shove everyone into that box. One of the worst features of this site, the way so many are so eager to push everyone into that box just as fast as they can. 

People will argue about inflation. That's monetary, don't get me going. Especially when the guy above is right. There's never been a better time to build a fantastic musically engaging system on a budget. Just be sure to include all the tweaks in the budget. I've got the happy customers to prove its what works. You won't find them here though. They're too happy to be at home enjoying their music.

My second system constantly impresses me by its sq for its relatively cheap cost and simplicity.

Before I decided I needed to add a tt and separate streamer it was well under 1k.
Now closer to 2k but still on the lower side of affordable.

It's in my virtual systems and in my " what's in your second system" thread.

But quickly.

Peachtree Nova
Auralic Aries Mini
Technics SL-10
Pioneer DV 79
Tannoy Eclipse 2
Graham Slee Gram2
Today there are a ton of fantastic products and systems that are very affordable and excellent sounding.

We recently discovered one of the best and most featured electronics pairings ever:

NAD C 658 integrated preamp/dac/streamer $1,500.00
Nuprime STA 9 amplifier 120 watts stereo 290 watt mono $ 700.00 each

The NAD C658 has Blue OS built in so it is an excellent streamer and a great app comes with it, the C 658 also has Dirac room correcton built in, which can really help make a bad room sound way better.

The Nuprime STA 9 is a hybrid Class A/D amplifier with a deliberatly tubey sound, Nuprime used FET’s in the front end and the little amp is both punchy with great dynamics and bass but also has a rich engaging sound.

Also with true separates the consumer can upgrade by adding a second Nuprime amp and bridging to mono which sounds even better for an additional $700.00

Upgrade to an even better preamp and use the C 658 as a Dac/streamer

Upgrade to an even better Dac and use the C 658 as just a streamer.

Upgrade by moving to an even more exotic and expensive amplifier

so with this modular approach a person can continue to build as their budget and knowledge increase.

For loudspeakrs the New Dali Oberons are wonderful at $1,500.00 a pair

Other speakers we would recommend the Quad S4 at $1,800.00 pair with an amazing ribbon tweeter.

So other than cabling you can get a system for
$2,200.00 electronics
$1,500.00 speakers


Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ

J. Gordon Holt was always on the lookout for high-value products, and reviewed them regularly. For instance the Dynaco A25 loudspeaker, which he put into his Recommended Components list.

Harry Pearson with The Absolute Sound was on a different mission. The name of the game was no longer high value and bang-for-the-buck, but State Of The Art and bragging rights (not "mine is bigger than yours", but "mine cost more than yours"). He even introduced the elitist, snobby term "High End" into hi-fi reviewing. In that mag, only products that were the "best", or that had pretensions of advancing the state of the art, were deemed worthy of attention. Cost be damned; if it took a price increase of 25% to reap a sonic dividend of 5%, so be it. The Law Of Diminishing returns became an irrelevant, boring concept. Enter Mark Levinson and his ilk. Harry and his writers also established in the minds of serious and knowledgeable music lovers the image of audiophiles as people who put the sound quality of recordings before and above their musical qualities.

The High End Audio "Salons" (that a hi-fi shop would even refer to itself as such is SO unintentionally funny to me) that sprung up to sell the products of the new companies started to cater to the readers of TAS themselves displayed the elistist, snobby attitude of the mag. Lyric Audio or Sound By Singer, anyone? When businessmen saw the fortune to be made in High End, the race was on. And things have gotten completely out of control.

I say BRAVO! Schitt Audio, and anyone brave and talented enough to follow their lead. Finding a way to deliver high quality sound at as low a price as is practically possible is the Art of hi-fi engineering.

Great conversation. Great sounding systems at moderate price points was never in question. I was saying where are they in magazines and shows. Maybe millercarbon is correct the people are home enjoying their music. Anyway I’d like to here more. 
In one word the quality of sound is less related to the price paid for a system than to the method used to lower the noise floor...Best kept audio secret...And indeed I enjoy my music so much that I dont think to buy anything ….

Ego, arrogance and guilt! Want to get a guy to buy something, one of those 3 will usually work. The HEA magazines knew how to play their audience and that's what they did to a very gullible crowd. The shows followed suit because the magazines were the only kids on the block talking at that time, and a lot of these reviewers were not really great listeners of the sport, but they were convincing and gifted writers.

Have you guys never stopped to ponder why the mom & pop shops mass exited? Did you never ask yourselves how HEA started calling quality by price amounts and not sound?

The ego trips in HEA are enormous. Now that HEA is getting called out, you'll see the moderate priced products getting more praise. The wild part will be watching these guys who have spent truck loads and those pushing truck loads adapt and adopt reality.

Social media is the great equalizer.

Michael Green

Listed below are some great sounding audio components that I owned or have heard in the recent past. Not the very best but seriously good, especially compared to 20 years ago. Comparably priced products I owned 20 years ago do not come to the level of quality of these new lowish priced items.

- Benchmark DAC3 (analog preamp + DAC)
- Benchmark AHB2 (amp) *
- NAD M12 (analog preamp + DAC)
- NAD M22 (amp)
- Peachtree Nova 150 (integrated with DAC) *
- KEF LS50 (speakers) *

These components are in the range of $1500-$3500. However, they are rather popular and can almost always be found used for close to half the price. The items above with a * listed next to it are items I bought at one time in the used market usually 35%-50% less than MSRP.

That is another point to consider. Back in the early nineties when I started my first system the used market was nothing like it is today. The internet has given visibility to what was an obscure market. Heck I myself have sold a lot of moderate priced gear.

I agree that you can get great systems easily under 10 K . A thousand dollars spent wisely could get alot ! I have 7,000.00 in my current set .
I have a customer absolutely thrilled with his $2500 Rogue Cronus Magnum II. He has upgraded speakers to the $10k Personas and DAC to the $5k Luxman, but the integrated amp still serves. I think the Parasound Hint6 provides good value for solid state only folks. Cabridge Audio CXA 80 is very nice for $1k.

"The internet has given visibility to what was an obscure market."

That's a big statement and so true that I think we should look at how today offers so much, both past and present.


+1 on the Rogue. I’ve recently heard it and it’s a pretty sweet and good sounding amp.

I did not do extensive listening tests with it, but I think I could be quite happy listening to it for a long time.  I heard it with some moderate sized Klipsch, probably the Fortes.

I have loved music since I was a kid many years ago and I developed an interest as a teen in the science of improving the sound.  I remember being thrilled when I found the first stereo console in a Sears store with separate bass and treble controls.  I had never heard a bass note thump.  When in college about 1965, I walked into a hifi salon and in the sound room they were playing Sinatra at the Sands.  I was stopped in my tracks.  I had never heard such realism, Sinatra was right in the room and I could even hear the tinkle of glasses at the tables. The amp was probably a 30wpc tube model and the speakers were JBL Lancer 44s. I've had better systems, but none impressed me as much as that first experience. There is definitely diminished returns as the price goes up.
@schmitty1 - think about this.  If you pop open any one of your components and see what is inside you will see that the moderately priced gear is not much different than the higher priced gear.  You can do many things yourself to upgrade a component.  Do you see $100K amps with caddock, shinkoh, V-Caps inside, or a top of the line volume control, well no.  Just those changes will probably get you 70-80% of the sound of the higher priced manufactured components.  Once you try this, you will kick yourself for not learning how to do these upgrades.

You do not need to buy really expensive components, just start lerning to upgrade your own componetns.  Many people had made pretty good money for doing upgrades for other.

Happy Listening.
Reading many posts on Audiogon, you would think that people are embarrassed to admit they have a hard time affording anything over, let's say, $2000. Numbers discussed and thrown around are in tens of thousands for speakers and thousands for phono cartridges and cables.

However, a couple of years ago, price of an average audio system owned by a Stereophile reader was around $12 000, if I remember correctly. There was even a number how much an average reader was planning to spend on their system in the next year. It was relatively low. I forgot the number but way lower than $5000. It is somewhere on the Internet. Maybe $1500? I am not really sure anymore.

There is some discrepancy between what we read and what we do, it seems. Maybe magazines need to "review" more expensive products because those products do need more advertising. Cheaper products may be selling themselves just based on price and manufacturers do not allocate so much into their marketing/reviews. See how much noise there is about new Magnepan speakers. They are $650, if I remember correctly.

Car magazines are full of tests of expensive cars while Toyota Corolla still sells well.
Here are some data about Stereophile readers. I was wrong with numbers in the post above. Time for Aricept.

Hi-Fi Equipment & Accessories

Average number of audio systems in home 2.2
Average amount invested in systems $18,500
Have budgeted/expect to buy hi-fi components in next 12 months 71%
Average amount expect to spend in next 12 months $2,400

Home Theater Equipment

Have home theater/video/TV equipment 92%
Average amount invested in equipment $6,700
Average amount expected to spend in the next 12 months $1,590
My main 2 channel system set me back about $3500. It took many years of swapping, selling, buying and research to get to this point. I love to listen to music and generally play around with my audio "stuff", but, I think I have maxed out the budget on the major components. The reason I think I have reached that point is less about expendable income and more about the physical limitations of my listening area, my choice of sources and my 63 year old semi-damaged hearing. Considering I generally stream music that is played back in varying bit rates of MP3, serious equipment upgrades are not really warranted for my needs.  Some years ago I did invest in a new, but discontinued Arcam DAC for $200, to connect to the digital out of my so-so stearmer. That made the biggest difference in sound for my usual source material.
One possible issue with the stereophile survey data is that it is likely that those readers having lower cost systems were less likely to respond. Would be nice to know the distribution of the data. 

I have had a subscription to Stereophile and TAS for many years while owning a $2000 system. One one I owned for 25 years with only 1 change in speakers. One I was proud of and many who listened to it were impressed. I did not respond to the survey, mostly due to lack of interest. Now I am retired, my kids are out of college debt free, and my 2nd system would retail at $2000. 
I took a recent interest again in improving my stereo system.  I found it all a bit confusing so I decided to keep it simple and not too expensive for now. My good friend confessed to me that over the years he probably spent $50k buying, selling, trading, upgrading, etc. and added that if he could start over again he could build an equal system for about $10K.  That caused me to slow down and try to learn more before jumping in too deep. So, I purchased a Yamaha N803 receiver and a Yamaha CD player. I still have my old Sansui SR-525 turntable and the Vandersteen speakers I purchased years ago from my good friend for $400. I upgraded my speaker wire and bought a better power conditioner. I'm right around $2K all in and I'm reasonably happy with the sound. I'm sure I'll upgrade at some point but I'm ok for now. Although that little MAC MA252 has been calling my name!
Seems a lot less interest today
I think that due to the better technology now available, people are "generally’ opting for the convenience of Bluetooth/wireless devices and the smaller, more streamlined looks, which do sound very good e.g. Bluesound/Sonos/Soundbar products.

Gone are the days of BIG speakers in order to get "good sound"

Many people also do not have the time to sit down and appreciate "great sound" because of their busy lifestyles.

Also, simply commanding a device to play a certain genre of music and getting "instant service" puts us in the "Back to the Future" scenario.

But I still like the opening scene in I Robot, where Will Smith uses a remote to activate his "antiquated" CD transport.

I think there will always be a market for high end gear, because current technology of the day will still have audible limitations - but it is pretty darn good now and getting better and smaller.

High end systems will be for those that still want to pursue truly great sound.

Regards - Steve

The internet has given visibility to what was an obscure market.

Couldn't agree more. The vast majority of my system consists of products by small manufacturers with an internet-only presence. In fact, only my server and router are from large manufacturers. There's such tremendous value to be had with a bit of careful research. Thanks to community's such as this one it's pretty easy to find some gems. BTW, my system is in the $6000 - $7000 range all tolled. The sound quality is sublime.

Old and used Mission Cyrus speakers 781 (50 bucks) in nearfield listening,
New Starting point systems NOS dac (50 bucks on ebay bid),
Old and used Akg 701 (100 bucks) Vintage AKG 340 (120 bucks),
Vintage Sansui AU-7700 (120 bucks +upgrading components 150 bucks).

Total around 600 bucks...

I must say that the cost of all my homemade tweaks is higher than the cost of my system by 2 times... But without that my system let me totally unsatisfied and however all component were praised top notch gear of their times... The lesson is the secret is in the implementation, treatment and cleaning...The price paid is a secondary factor... Someone could say that with this money I could have upgrade 2 of my components; that is  true, but I know that this upgrade would had been unsatisfying also...Sansui is a too much "flexible" amplifier and very good in his own term to  easily upgrading it with only 1000 thousand bucks for a modern amp, the modern SPS dac is too extraordinary to upgrading it with only 1000 bucks actual dac, the Akg 340  is too good to be upgraded with 1000 bucks...Then only my tweaks  could raised all my gear to the roof or audio heaven...

And I know that my system is really an audiophile one, his musicality for his level and price is top notch...

The reason, I will repeat myself ( except for upgrading the components of the Sansui by technician) is cleaning the electrical line and the audio grid, and damping adequately all components...Exposing my method will ridicule me here I will not try that... My point is : the right TWEAKS are the secret of an audiophile sound If you had carefully choosen old or used or vintage top of the line components...The price for killing my system cannot be lower than the price paid but must be relatively much higher...I enjoy it much after this 7 years of reading how to purchase , what to purchase, how to tweaks etc... I proudly devised my own tweaks by experiments and that works miracles... I wish you all the best...
+1 for williewonka and each word written.
Hard to say nobody could get into a fair prices vinyl setup at well under a grand today.

Just one example at needledoctor.
Many more starting at just $400.

Nice aspect of the one highlighted is the active speakers accept a line level source as well.
+1 williwonka and glubson

The manifesto of those who’ve given up. 🤗
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There are always the PPT products to blow some dough on when you get restless.....

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+1 geoffkait

The manifesto of those who’ve not caught up. 🤗

This thread helped give me some perspective. 

I felt like I have a fairly "modest" system, especially in comparison to some I've seen at friend's houses. 

In fact, I have 4 systems, and the one I am listening to as I read this thread is my second system that I use mainly for streaming from my PC and listening to headphones.  I started adding up the list price of the components in this system and it's somewhere around $12-$13K before cables, power cords, stands, vibration control, headphones, etc.  Needless to say, there are more expensive pieces in my main system. 

Having said that, for the most part, I've cobbled all of my systems together one piece at a time, often buying used gear (so this system probably cost me more in the realm of $5-$7K) and often "flipping" pieces I don't like or that don't work well with the rest of the system for close to what I paid for them.

I ask myself when I'll be happy.  I always seem to be close, but there's always "If I just add______ or change ______, I'll be good". 

I went through this phase with my photography hobby, and over the last 2 - 3 years I've hardly bought anything.  That may be in part due to most of my purchases being for this hobby, but I think it's more that I've reached the point where I'm happy with what I have for the most part.  There are always new camera bodies, lenses, and accessories coming out, but once I reached the point where I felt like I had all my bases covered and the gear wasn't holding me back, I felt like I could stand pat for the most part.  

That's where I hope to get to with this hobby.  I think I'm close, but I see my speakers changing in my main system at some point and there may be a better integrated in my future.  For now the most pressing issue is to see about getting some acoustic treatment done as I think that my room(s) are probably holding my enjoyment back more than anything else.

I sincerely hoped your attitude towards PPT and the possibility that their products do truly work may have changed somewhat.

I guess not.

You may not want to believe it but unless you think myself and many other members are on some bad sh#t, they do their intended job.
Nope, no idea how or why and could not care less tbh.

But I will leave that touchy subject alone as far you are concerned in the future.

You are all grown up and can make up your own mind.

After all it is your system .

Enjoy your music this fine day, I certainly am!

Jackson Browne playing right now.
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Well, who put a bee in her bonnet? Elizabeth, you are on several threads praising how much of a positive effect it had on your system when you installed many expensive upgraded duplex outlets. How about your upgraded cables? Power conditioning? Or your tweaking the internals of your speakers? Aftermarket fuses? Speaker placement? How are the things you’ve done and the money you’ve spent any different than what anyone else is doing or using to enhance his system? I don’t see anyone spitting vitriol at you for what you’ve done to enhance yours...
Gee whiz, you get MY post removed and yet your disgracefull post remains, well sort of glad because now everybody can see you for just what you are.

You are more than old enough to be held accountable for your words and in the full knowledge that said words could and most likely will provoke repercussions.

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But back to our regular programming....
I decided to put my money where my mouth was and ordered a pair of the AudioEngine 2+ speakers for my computer room, at that price well worth a risk.

This will be fed from Win10 pc, will play ripped cds, real cds (using JRiver) and stream from Qobuz all over USB to the speaker direct.

Should be a tidy little system for not very many bucks at all.

I decided I did not need to add the turntable as we already have 4 tables in the house......
NOBODY TOLD you to "join in" at all, you need to learn to read!

It was merely a suggestion that you should consider it instead of dissing it and its MANY users so disparagingly out of hand.

If you cannot take some heat yourself maybe you should count to 200 before you post.

Let go with both barrels? nope what you did was post a truly disgracefull diatribe which you should be thoroughly ashamed of.( very probable as you have now deleted all your posts on the subject here)

Enough said on the subject but do NOT try to place blame elsewhere , you knew full well what type of reply your post would garner.

Now you have a great day dearie....
For my home (office), pair of SONOS Play 3’s and a Sub, all under $1300. The sound is freakishly good on all genre of music. Unlimited streaming via Tidal/Qobuz. 
In my bedroom system I use a $140 Chinese tube amp fed by a Sony blu-ray player from Target with my Zu DefHead speakers.  Sounds just as good as my living room system.  I tried much more expensive amps/DACs in that room and realized it didn't really sound any better.  
I put this together for my work space for under $400:

$100 - Dayton Audio DTA-120
$120 - Pioneer SP-BS22-LR
$100 - Apple TV2
$  50 - Monoprice cables

The old Apple TV2 has since been replaced with a Bluesound Node 2 ($500) bringing the price up to just below $800. This simple system sounds far better than expected and I can't tell you how many nice comments/compliments I've gotten on the sound over the past few years. 

And who said you can't have great sound on a budget!
3 perfect examples right there.

It's going to be interesting to see what the AudioEngines sound like. Be here Wed.