Really Inexpensive Systems That Sounded Great?

I think there is a big difference between "cheap" and inexpensive. I have blown money on "cheap" cables and immediately regretted it when my ears started bleeding from the brightness in my digital components. I also don’t mean "bargains" like the time I scored $2000 speakers for $200 on Craigslist, that is basically luck.

I am talking about inexpensive (less than $1500) for a system that sounded really great to you.

I fell into a whole house audio system from DTS Play-Fi because I wanted to try and compare different brands. I picked up Play-Fi amps, preamps and active speakers made by Polk, Paradigm, Klipsch, Onkyo and DefTech all for less than $1000 a pop. For what it is, whole house audio/casual listening it sounds great.

What inexpensive great sounding systems have you tried?



How about Triangle Borea BR02 speakers for $250 and sometimes under. Surprisingly room fulling, enjoyable sound.

Also believe it or not the Aiyima A07 amplifier, under $100. It features the Texas Instruments 3255 amp chip, that sounds as good or better than pricier amps I have owned. If you’re looking for more features and something to look,  at this one is not for you. If you tucked this away in a secondary system to just provide clean power it is a great bang for the buck.  

lastly I’ll recommend the Sabaj A10H it is a preamp / headphone amp with a remote control. Relay stepped volume control. It doesn’t feel cheap at all and sounds and works very well.




Those types of Texas Instrument chip amps are great for powering surround speakers in a HT, small and powerful.

I'm all for high performance budget gear as anyone but I can't honestly say that any of them sounded great.

Some were surprisingly good.

I remember a 1980s Rega Planar 3 / AR 18 bookshelf system playing Dylan's Blood on the Tracks with far more detail than any system I'd heard before, but in hindsight it was still a relatively small scaled sound in both image size and bandwidth.

I don't think that any inexpensive system can sound great, if they did, that would be the end of the so called 'high end', there and then.

Unless of course, there already is a brilliant budget full range loudspeaker out there that I not yet heard?

Did someone mention Polk?

I mentioned Polk, I use the Polk S6 Omni speaker for sound in the bedroom, the patio (its enclosed so it won’t get wet), and in the home gym. Just a single speaker and amazing. No amps needed because they are active, no dac needed because it has a dac inside, and the source is the playfi streaming app on my phone. These are all parts of the house where I don’t have a "sweet spot" to sit and listen but just want good music.


I can’t tell you of anything current, but in the beginning of my hifi journey, I did a bit of buying/selling used or buying kits. Those Halfler kits were really good for the times and as tech improved, you could pretty easily mod them.

REGA SYSTEM ONE…all analogue .

I’d add on the REGA APOLLO cdp, and you have a surprisingly good system. 





I’ve always been very impressed with the sound quality out of the Bottlehead kits. Back in the late ’90s their company was called electronic tonalities, then at some point they rebranded to bottlehead. Strong focus on single ended triode, back in the early 2000s I brought my original Foreplay preamp kit they made available for like 130 bucks to a local Hi-Fi shop after the owner poo-poo’ed the DIY stuff - on reflection I don’t think that he actually expected me to walk out and show back up with a kit build- but a couple of the guys that had been hanging out at the store stuck around and were pretty embarrassed for the dude when my home built pre-amp sounded better and had a better soundstage than the very forgettable $15,000 something or other in his top of the line setup.

Since then I have built a number of their kits, perhaps my favorite is the Bee Pre, a 300B based preamp. Surprising because that tube is typically a power amp tube, the soundstage and detail is phenomenal, with nice full bass extension without the bloat you can get with a lot of tube designs  I typically pair them with a fairly neutral power amp, currently a Parasound 21A supporting a pair of PSB T3i’s, although for a long time I ran a set of straight8 line arrays based (again) on a Bottlehead design which was another "punches far beyond it’s class" performer.

Some people criticize the Bottlehead kits on the basis that the sum total of the parts rarely exceed a quarter of the price of the kit, but I think the value is there with the quality of the instructions and also the attention that goes into the design.

A suggestion for someone who is interested and doesn’t want to overextend budgets or skill - the crack headphone amp kit is fantastic for high impedance cans, it puts out about 1/3w and is a very accessible project for a newbie at ~$300



KEF LS50 driven by a good entry level integrated (LUMIN M1, Simon Audio AIO, …)   Crazy potential when paired with serious amps and complemented by a Sub 

Next level up is Boenicke W5 speakers driven by crayon CIA-1T amp and the source/dac if your choice.  Difficult to do better unless you spend x2.5 the budget




My current 2nd system: Ifi Zen Streamer ($300) -> Smsl Do200 ($400) -> Parasound NC 2125 v2 ($600) -> NHT SB3 ($250) = $1550 😊

Carver 500t amp with Carver c2 preamp bought off ebay for $700.00. Klipsch SB3 speakers used on ebay for $165.00. Sony SMP200 player for $36.00 on ebay and a small tv to show the selection from the Sony player for less than $100.00 from goodwill. It sounded great! Around $1000.00 total.

Nothing , at that price point , I just built a second audio system for the Mrs.

it has a Parasound A23+ amplifier shop,around I got a open box $1400, 

AudioGD  demo model $1k very under the radar, 

the very much reviewed Gustard R26, better then my pontus-2/after synergistic purple fuse  local dealer $1600+ fuse, Pangea sig mk2 power cords ,

Wireworld Eclipse xlr Audio cables . Older Klipsch speakers I rebuilt the Xovers 
the Equinox is a lower cost cable option still very good for others on more of a budget.

It sounds like a $10k system all day .having owned a audio store and 40+ years in making system synergy . There are a lot of bargains out there 

My current system. Conrad Johnson PV12 preamp ($500) score!!!!

Super Clef Ribbons ( free!!! ) given to me by the late Bob Gross’s wife from his listening room. Amazing speakers!!!

2 Bryston 3b NPR amplifier that’s bridged to each Clefs ( $500 for the pair )

Kenwood KD500 with Signet XK50 tonearm ( free!!! ) also from Bob Gross personal stash.

The reason I’ve gotten much more free stuff from Bob Gross is that I’ve build new Clefs bookshelf and the TL using all his parts that he had and audio gear he used for shows and sold them  to help Mrs Gross financially.

I’ve built myself a set of his Super Clef and TL and are truly amazing speakers.


I have a pretty tube based system that my wife doesn’t feel comfortable using but enjoys listening to music so I bought her a Sonos powered speaker (about $500) that you sink up w/ your phone w/ any source on it. That could be Qobuz, iTunes, whatever you have.  It sounds surprisingly good w/ just one speaker; nice midrange, some extension on each end & can play pretty loud. I think for what it is, is a great product. 

For the tool using hobbyist, get Akitika PR102 and GT108.  For speakers, PE Morel Ardons.  For source, Wiim Pro and if a turntable is needed, a Teac TN3.  This would all set you back under $2K.  Much less if no phono and no preamp…just plug Wiim into amp, and you’re under a grand!  
For non-kit builders, a pair of B&W 606S2AE speakers and a Rega Io integrated with a Wiim Pro…$1800.00.  To stay under $1500, NAD C316BEEv2 and Wiim Mini.

The kits are a brilliant idea, I want to get one to build with my teenager. 

I have a Carver AV505 amp that uses trickle down tech from the Lightstar, craigslist find for $200. I really like Carver/Sunfire gear.


+1 for crustycoot and the Akitika Class B DIY amplifier kits for around $400. If you don't want to DIY, they will build it for you for another $100 or so.

Luxman R-1050, KEF 103.2, Auralic Aries Mini, Geshelli DAC. If you look hard you can put this together for $1500+/ a few bucks. Be HARD pressed to do better. Just my opinion...

My small setup consists of a Sherwood S7100A receiver, Samsung DVD-HD841 player, and ADS L300 speakers.  Doesn't take up much space and sounds GREAT.

+1 on the Akitika, they are amazing. Stereo Times has a nice review. I have a modest system ( $12K ). I pulled the SEP tube amp and rotated in the Akitika, sounds amazing. Pair it with the matching pre or use Shitt Audio gear. I ran the amp with Zu Omens, Klipsch Heresy’s, and JBL 4312’s. Sounded great, but was a little under powered for the JBL’s. I bought mine off AGON ,homebuilt as new with upgraded chassis and parts. Paired it with a used Cambridge DAC Magic 200. Add a pair of budget bookshelves like Borea 3, Klipsch 600, or Elac. As far as vintage gear , I gave my son a 23 wpc Marantz receiver and Klipsch KG 1.5’s and a Bluesound Node 130. Total cost with decent IC’s and Speaker cables was $1100. If you can experiment you’ll find that budget amp speaker combination that has a little synergistic magic. Happy hunting , Mike B. 

Great thread. I love the challenge of putting together the best system you could afford.

My wife and I have three systems. 

Master bedroom, living room, listening room.

The living room system is the least expensive by far and consists of a pair of Pioneer stand-mount 2-ways designed by Andrew Jones, 14 gauge cheap speaker wire, and a  Denon AVR bought used. Source is streaming.

Total cost is under $600.

Sounds amazingly good for what it costs. Helped in no doubt by a large room with tall ceilings. Best bang for the buck of our three systems.

My second system is in my woodshop.  A very simple combination:

  • Klipsch RP600M Bookshelf Speakers
  • NAD C316 BEE Integrated
  • BlueSound Node 2i

The Klipsch are efficient (96 dB) and make plenty of sound (including bass) with the 40W NAD.  Total price before tax a couple of years ago was $1600.  This system has exceeded my expectations.  I couldn't be happier with it.

Tekton Lore

Aiyima A07 chip amp

Schiit Modi DAC

Wiim Mini Streamer

The weakest link here is the Aiyima amp. Upgrade it with a Van Alstine SET 120 amp like I did or maybe a Schiit amp.

A $1500 System - Based on Reviews and Personal Experience

Terrific flexibility - but easily upgradeable.

$80   WIIM Mini Streamer -Optical SPIDF->DAC.  USB Laptop Streaming via USB->DAC is also somewhat being assumed.

$279 SMLS M200 DAC - Balanced, Remote w Volume Control, LDAC Bluetooth

$400 2 units - Sabaj A20a AMPS - Balanced, 2x 350W Monoblock or can Biamp depending on speakers

$320 Elac Debut 5.2 Speakers - flexible, ported

$109 Xduoo MT-602 2 Tube Preamp and Headphone AMP - for DAC->RCA outputs

$170 Drop 6XX Headphones - great on Tube Amps

$40   Blue Ray CD Player with Coax Output - to DAC.  For the analog vibe…

$100 for Cables

Total:  $1498 for a Streaming Headphone setup and powerful speaker setup w remote volume control

Sabaj RCA inputs and XLR/RCA switch make it possible for a tube preamp connection - for optional flavor.

Or… use one Sabaj A20a unbalanced and substitute other speakers for ~$520. You lose balanced and flexibility, though.

An Xduoo MT-604 could be used for the balanced DAC output to a tube Amp - but is more expensive.

I use an MT-604 as a balanced preamp to a balanced AB power amp - and the sound is great.

It is amazing how Moores law works in favor of audio. Many of the systems being discussed in this thread would have been $$$ just 3-5 years ago.

20wpc Philips receiver paired with Epi 100 speakers.  

Problem was, once they heard it, it embarrassed a lot of people who spent a lot more on big, fancy, expensive, and/or blingy stuff... 

I still have those Epi 100 speakers to this day, though updated the simple capacitor crossover... and they still challenge speakers far more expensive and larger speakers.  Plus, they are attractive to look at, modest in size, and flexible and non-picky in placement.  The Epi 100 has a practically hemispheric high frequency dispersion, tight low musical bass, and a wide off-axis response.... all while being sweet and non-fatiguing all day long with whatever type of music one chooses.

Fosi Audio TB10D (upgraded version) $80

Wiim mini streamer                              $80

Geshelli Labs J2 Dac                           $250

Klipsch RB5II                                       $250

Decent sounding budget system IMO



I have a little Fosi amp as well in one of my systems and was shocked to hear how well it does with kef ls50s. I’ve heard some way more expensive amps fail miserably at that task.  A no brainer for <$100. 

Lots of new equipment sounds nice if well matched thanks to trickle down…my thoughts go back to the old days of Hafler pre and amp, Dahlquist DQ10s or Roger’s JR149s (a friend is still using my old ones and they sound great). Tough to evaluate how inexpensive these pieces were given decades of inflation, but I could afford them new and used when I was pretty poor…

The KLH Model 20 "Amazing Music Box" was my first experience with hifi sound. A buddy was telling me great his new stereo system sounded, so I decided to drop over after school for a listen. Here was this dinky little chassis with a turntable stuck in the middle of it with cutesy little knobs. Speakers were not small, but lacked the awesomeness I that I envisioned. The expectation of a mind-blowing musical interlude had already dropped to near zero as he cued up the music on this glorified table radio.

Then, he played WIth a Little Help from My Friends, a song I’d heard on my dad’s dual chassis 12" 4-way Admiral console stereo many times before. There was a delicacy to Ringo’s voice I hadn’t heard before. Hum? Other selections revealed details and the feeling of "being there". Okay. This was IT. I was hooked.

Chromcast audio ($35) streaming Tidal to my Sony AVR ZA3100ES ($400)and Klipsch KG 5.2 ($350) superb sounding 

Anything in the Sony ES line is going to be good and Klipsh are a good match, nice job!

I have a little system in a back room with some home brew loudspeakers with a 5" Vifa bass driver and a 1" soft dome Peerless tweeter.  Damn things sound GOOD.  I got the drivers from Madisound.  The Vifa was being remaindered and I paid $15 each for them.

Your best value is always in a good DIY loudspeaker, whether you build it yourself, get a friend hobby builder to knock 'em out, or find them used.

The Linkwitz LXmini system can be done for as little as $1000 and that will embarrass a lot of systems costing many times as much.

This is doesn't refer to a system but a while back I purchased two tower speakers under the Plaisir name made by Triangle for $100/pair new and they are amazing.  As far as I can tell they contain the same components as their Color speakers with cheaper cabinetry.  

Speakers : Q Acoustics Concept 20 (launched at 500$, now 250$) Easily outperform the 707S2 B&W.

Amp : Yamaha A670 class D ($300). Incredible soundstage and very powerful 2x30W amp, lots of dynamic.

Q Acoustics Concept 20 (launched at 500$, now 250$

I see them at $600? That would be a great price

Though it took time to find what would work well together, I have combined a Keces E40 with an Aune X8 with a Sparkos op amp on Triangle Plaisir Zetas.  All three at the price I paid plus blue jeans cables, interconnects and a glass stand I place the amp under and the dac atop cost under $1400.    You can throw in the Solid sub  picked up at a yard sale for $7 for that total price as well.

1-My office desktop has sport PS audio$599.0 connected to BW T7 speakers(dead battery); I stream from I phone via Qobuz

2-Home desk top-Oppo 105D>>shitt tube preamp>>chord Etude amp>>RevelBE126 speakers

I use a Nakamichi Soundscape 5 in my office. It sounds surprisingly good. Selling for $100 - 200 on eBay 

My system consists of a Rotel RCD 971, Muzishare X7 with upgraded Jupiter Copper Foil Caps, modified ProAc 1mkii speakers (more like DIY speakers), Van den hul D102 mkiii cables, Linn k400 speaker cables and Shunyata Venom 3 power cables. Many of them were bought used and total system cost me about $3,000. I have had this system for the longest time and up till this point don’t have an upgrade itch.


Oh. And a few DIY acoustic panels that cost me a couple hundred bucks.

Happy listening!

Thank you Kota1,

Schitt freya+ is wonderful preamp for the money. transparent, detailed sound w/o much noise. 

I have 6^N7 tubes in operation,;preamp  is highly rated in reviews.

I recently put together a 4th listening area in my home, due to the fact I had picked up a couple of pieces of new, inexpensive gear, and I was tired of the boxes remaining unopened.  Since November when I undertook this project, that system has received the majority of my listening pleasure because it just sounds so damn good -- or maybe it's the newness and my excitement of bringing a pair of my older speakers into use.  Whatever the reason, this inexpensive project punches way above its price-point.  The goods:


Polk Audio Monitor 10 speakers I bought new in 1987, still in mint condition

Boyuurange Reisong  A10 EL34 Tube Integrated Amp (tubes upgraded through Brent Jessie) bought in 2020 and just unboxed

Bluesound Node bought in 2022 utilizing Tidal

Fluance RT-85 Turntable bought in 2019 and just unboxed

Interconnects by Monster Cable bought almost 20 years ago and DIY Speaker Wire with 12 gauge wire and Gold Spade connects just purchased


I had forgotten how much I enjoyed listening to those Polk Audio's.  I know Polk is a "4 letter word" (not in the good way) to many in this Forum...but I love them and that's all that matters in my home.

@allenf1963 Nice, I use Polk s6 active speakers in my playfi streaming whole house audio. 1 in a bedroom, 1 on the patio, and 1 in the gym.

A fantastic dac/amp out of Canada that is, absurdly.. only $265, and it can drive most speakers... the Musical Paradise MP-303. I have bought more expensive cable elevators (...and they were cheap cable elevators). I was the first customer to write a review of the unit. It drives NEAR 10m speakers ($300 eBay) in a near-field setup and sounds sweet, detailed, transparent, and images insanely well.

Add to that an Uptone Regen (or comparable), and plug in your laptop.

I’ve read people finding synergy with the Klipsch Cornwall, also.


Looking through this thread I think it is a treasure trove of matched systems for new members or people starting out in the hobby. The systems posted here may seem simple at face value, but it ain't easy getting system synergy that can really sing on a budget. I have already gotten a few ideas for my wish list.