System for a teenager

I need advice to build a system for one of my sons school mates and his father. I have been advised to keep budget as low as possible but strive for quality sound.

My idea is buy used gear here at Audiogon starting with 2 series Vandersteen's, DVD-CD player with volume control and moderate power tube amps.

Would especially appreciate ideas for the DVD-CD with volume control and ideas for moderate power tube amps.
128x128Ag insider logo xs@2xalbertporter
Not knowing these individuals, but taking the teenager into account, I would probably favor auto-biasing desings for the amps, or at least amps that don't require a multimeter. Getting your ears on and learning to take care of equipment (let alone tubes) can take time, no sense in adding too much too soon.

Why a DVD/CD with volume control instead of a tube integrated plus DVD/CD? Rogue Tempest or any of a number of ASL or Jolida integrateds would fit the bill and be quite affordable. Seperates will cost more and add IC requirements (which is not just cost but matching).

I think this is the first time in any thread I've ever advocated an integrated.
I may have to do exactly as you suggest. Robert and his father had hoped for remote control. A player with volume was the only economical way I could think of to achieve that goal without exceeding budget.
Albert, I agree with looking for an integrated amp. How much power does the Vandersteen's need? The Audio Refinement Complete is a nice little 50 watt integrated amp. It is made by YBA. It has a remote control which also controls the selection of the component inputs, as well as volume.

Other low cost integrated amps with remotes are Cambridge Audio and Creek. They both also have optional internal phono stages that can be added for like $50.

You may also be able to get Gilbert Yeung of Blue Circle to add to his CS Integrated Amp, the optional remote volume control he offers with his BC21.1 preamp.
I second (third) the integrated idea. Assuming tubes will NOT trigger adolescent curiosity to "check out how these work"... (think of the heat & the voltages), Croft makes a reasonably priced integrated (Chameleon? $~1300 new) with MM phono I think -- but no remote, unfortunately.
Admittedly, it's difficult to surpass the price/quality of Sugar's Audio Refinement. Another ss integrated that has prodigious driving power (for its size & price tag, of course) is the Symphonic Line (#9# I think). Maybe Odyssey could propose a used one. That should easily drive the Vandersteens & it sounds good too.
Albert, what is the budget they gave you to work with? Sounds like the speakers are a "given" and you want to add amp and front end. Would the young man be interested in a budget analog rig too?
Albert: If you're not wed to tubes, here's an idea. Get a used Classe CRCD, which is an integrated preamp/amp, plus a tuner, plus a CD player - all with a single remote control - packed into a single high-quality unit. The amp puts out a solid 40 watts/channel. I believe Classe stopped producing this model since it became too way too expensive relative to their price target.
Good suggestions, I am looking at Audiogon and other places on the internet for pricing. As to the question of budget. I am restricted to $1500.00 max. I assumed Vandys at about $400.00 (+) and $200.00 or $300.00 for DVD-CD. That only leaves $800.00 for the tube amp, cabling and shipping and insurance.

The reason I choose Vandersteen 2 series is that I know what they sound like. Buying used does not allow for comparison listening and they are a good value and solid performer. I am open to ideas, but there are not a lot of choices with the budget I've been given.

Anyone heard the Consonance "Ella"? An attractive integrated with about 40 watts per channel.

I like Tom's idea of using the AR Complete with the Vandys, and perhaps adding a tubed CD player? One of the more inexpensive tubed CDP's I used for a while is the Dynaco CDV-2. Not a bad unit and you can roll tubes to dial in the sound (uses 6922's). This would bring the system to:

Vandy's $400
AR Complete $600
Dynaco CDP $300

Leaves a few bucks for interconnect and wires
Albert, you might take a look at the Jolida JD302B tube integrated amp. It has 50 wpc, and uses EL34 tubes which I know you like. It has a retail price of only $950, and also has a very attractive appearance. I also read an interview somewhere online, with Chesky, and he said that he felt the Jolida amps were the best sounding budget amps around. They also have a 100 wpc model using EL34 tubes for about $1600 retail. Sometimes the 302B comes up on Audiogon in the used classifieds.
Hi Albert,

I like Jeff's idea about the AR with the Dynaco tubed CD player - though I've never heard the Dynaco. I wonder if a teenager is going to be more attracted towards tubes or SS, given the bass characteristics. For SS, I've been hearing good things about the Oddysey Stratos, and am going to be trying one of their dual mono's on 30-day trial soon. But I think the stereo version of the amp costs $800 used (low), and that could blow the budget. I like the idea of a volume controlled CDP into the amp, as it leaves room for later expansion (e.g. buy a preamp later). Are there any low cost CD/DVD's with a volume control? I don't know.

I had a Jolida 302b for a while - I felt it didn't approach the liquidity of midrange that it should have, and wasn't too impressed. It certainly wasn't "detail" oriented. I think you can get more bang for your $$ in SS.
Albert.. Just adding that the AR Complete is pretty much a budget YBA Integre (which lists for $2500). It shares many of the same parts and design elements; it is just made in Asia instead of France.

I like to shy away from this terminology, however it also shares the Integre's smooth "tube like" sound for a solid state amplifier.

YBA stopped making the single transformer version of the Integre DT, mainly because the AR Complete sounded so close, at a much lower price. The Complete usually sells for around $600 used. If you go for it, make sure they have the remote (it was optional).

Finally, if look at my work office system under my Audiogon system link; I put it all together used for under $1000 (cables and all). Look at Jeff's systems also; he has done one for each of his children.

Long time no see! I have used an Ella before and it sounds fantastic. With a little tweaking and NOS tubes, it is a killer. Highly recommended!

I might be off-base here, but a good mid-fi system with NAD components might be the most enjoyable and hassle-free system for a teenager. Do an Audiogon search and you can find very reasonably priced gear from NAD, either DVD/CD or CD players, stereo or surround receivers, etc. NAD uses one remote for all it's equipment. There's one vendor who is also selling the PSB lineup at a discount, along with new, B stock or demo NAD. That could get a nice setup for under $1500 that could even be converted to (gasp) a home theater setup.

Kids like a sound with some punch to it, not SE triode midrange and no bass drive, IMHO.
For something completely different:

I assume as a college student he already has a computer with CD-ROM and a reasonably large hard disk. Use the CD drive to rip music onto the computer's hard disk (store them at full 16 bit/44.1KHz resolution). There are any number of available programs to order and access the music. For output use an Apogee MiniDac (w/ the USB connection) into a pair of JBL LSR25P powered monitors.

This system would be very compact (great for dorm rooms) and simple to set up (uses only a single audio cable). The JBLs are near field pro monitors and don't require the space of a Vandersteen to be properly setup. The Apogee MiniDac is a substanially better converter than those used in sub $1,000 CD/DVD players. A computer hard disk makes an excellent CD transport. A 60Gb HD can hold about 85-100 CDs and you can always add additional HDs to expand.

A link to MiniDac info:

A link to JBL info:

The street cost of the Apogee and JBL is around $1,400.
I have a friend with this exact system, it is easy to set up and the price is just about what you are looking at, though there would be no remot control.

Meadowlark Kestrels (easy to ship)
Jolida 202 integrated 40 watts
Rotel 855 or 955 CD player
Signal Cable throughout

This could easily be had for less than 1500.00. I know you had the speakers figured out, but I just had to throw in my opinion, I am always amazed at what a simple excellent sounding system this is for such a low price.
By the way Albert, let us know what you come up with and how it works out!!! We'll be interested.

Oh - one other suggestion. Perhaps the yungin' should go listen to a few systems and tell you what is most important to him.
Albert, the Vandersteen 2's need about 50 watts per channel to play loudly. I am guessing 88 or 89 db efficiency. I have 2ce's and have driven them with an old ARC 70wpc tube amp with absolutely no problems, but have had vol. problems with a 30 watt Pass Aleph 3. Knowing teenagers they are going to want to show off to their friends by playing something loud, so you do not want to embarrass them here. So obviously you know much more about this stuff than me, but I would recommend something with a little juice. Such as....a Counterpoint SA-100 (used) for about 450 or less, or an old 100 watt class AB Forte amp (not the low power class A versions) for around the same price. These are sweet sounding amps and look you can get tubes in the counterpoint. As I have a SA-100 I can tell you the SA-100 and the vandersteens are a great match. However, I know of no CD/DVD with a volume control.....Perhaps Sony makes one as I have a sony cd with volume control in my office. about a D/A with volume control...can't think of one of those either except Proceed, which prob. doesn't have enough gain to go very loud into an amp. Anyway, if you can find the Cd/DVD you can do it for way under budget and have a great system.
Albert--are you serious? Tubes for a teenager? Imagine if we used tubes when my friends and I were that age! LOTS of retubing!!!

I would get a decent used DVD-CDP and send it to Dan W. to install a tube circuit board (or mod an Ah!), get the kid a simple, decent and beefy SS integrated and some very efficient speakers...

Talk to the teenager first! What he wants may be very different than what you, or his father, envisage. If you don't find out what he has in mind, his father runs the risk of spending a lot of money but ending up with something his son doesn't want. As you are one of the long-time posters on Audiogon, and I am relatively new at this, I offer my own views with some degree of circumspection. Still, you might want to consider the following.

When my older son graduated from high school, he resolutely refused to accept as a graduation present my offer of a traditional audio system of standalone components. He did not want, and would not let me buy him, a CD player, integrated amp or receiver, or bookshelf or floorstanding speakers, regardless of brand. What he did want, and what I ended up getting him, was a Dell laptop PC with a fast processor and large hard drive, a pair of Sennheiser m@h80 headphones designed for laptops, and a Cambridge Soundworks MicroWorks multimedia amplified sub/sat system designed for computers. After having this setup for a year and a half, he's very happy with it, and wouldn't trade it for anything.

Why? He's going to college, and he lives in a small dorm room with another student. Audio components and bookshelf speakers would take up too much room on his desk and shelves. There's enough ambient noise outside (taxis, buses, police sirens) that sonic purity is fundamentally unobtainable. There are also enough other people studying hard nearby that playing music at high volume for any length of time is socially unacceptable. (Hey, it's a tough school, and this is a different generation.) His setup lets him use the computer to play CDs and MP3s, and also to research and write papers, send and receive e-mail, and surf the web. The Sennheiser m@h80s sound decent, are very comfortable to wear for long periods of time, and don't bother his roommate the math major. The satellite speakers take up very little room on his bookshelves, the sub tucks away under the desk, and they sound good enough and play loud enough to enjoy when friends drop by to visit, without screaming "steal me."

You'd be incorrect to assume from these choices that he is a troglodyte addicted to lo-fi rock MP3s. He listens more to classical music than to rock, attends live classical concerts, broadcasts a classical music show on the campus radio station, and plays in the school's wind ensemble. He's broadcast Alisa Weilerstein live in person from his radio studio, and he's heard Hilary Hahn, Joshua Bell and Renee Fleming perform live in concert (cheap student tickets are a wonderful thing), so he knows what well-played music sounds like. He is, however, a college student, so what he wants is a laptop-based multipurpose system that fits into his net-centric, dorm room lifestyle. Things change over time...

My other son, who's in high school, was willing at least to consider a more traditional component-style audio system. He did not, however, want it to take up too much space or cost too much money. He definitely did not want three or four components stacked on top of each other. I hunted around for a while, and found an NAD L40 available as a demo. If you're not familiar with the unit, it's a CD player, 20 wpc integrated amp, and tuner built into a single chassis. The CD player and tuner both produce very clean sound, the amp seems to have more reserves of power than the rating would suggest and has no trouble playing cleanly at any volume he wants to listen to, and the price for the demo unit wasn't much more than one would expect to pay for a single component. NAD got this one right. ("Hey, Dad -- this sounds, uh, clearer than what I had before.") Good compact speakers come next; I'm still working on those. PSB Alpha B's, maybe.

If your son's friend wants a more traditional set of separates, and his father doesn't want to break the bank, you might consider the following $1,537 system which, although not the ultimate in sound, would probably sound good for the money. These items and prices were located on the net using Google without much effort. Others would doubtless offer alternate choices for any one of the components, but the general point would be to allocate the budget reasonably between components and get decent but not overpriced cables.
-- NAD C320BEE integrated amp, $399
-- Cambridge Audio D500SE CDP, $429
-- Vandersteen 1c speakers, +/- $449 used
-- Kimber PBJ ICs, $84 for 1m pair
-- Kimber 4VS speaker cables, $80 for 6 ft. pair
-- Cardas Twinlink power cable for CDP, $96 for 5 ft.
-- Total = $1,537 plus shipping

While the Vandersteen 2 speakers you mentioned offer excellent sound from everything I have heard, they may be too expensive, and require too much in the way of amplifier power, to be affordable for the kind of budget-oriented system the father of your son's friend has in mind. A lot depends on how much he's willing to spend, of course, and how good you are at sniffing out bargain prices for equipment. Still, by the time you are done finding an amp, a CD player and some cables good enough to do justice to the Vandersteen 2 speakers, the total cost of the system will probably exceed the budget available.

Well, there you have it, three completely different approaches to pick from. I don't know which one will work best for your son's friend and his father. Before you decide, talk to your son's friend first, ask him in an open-ended way what he wants, and listen carefully to what he seems to have in mind before offering suggestions. It's not just about sound quality, it's also about the way he lives. Talk to his father about budget, too. The closer you are to the living situation, type of system and budget that he and his father have in mind, the more likely they both are to be satisfied with your recommendation.
Great responses, and thank you Pete for the extensive post. There are many thoughtful examples of what may be done with only $1500.00.

This teenager is not typical. He spent much of his 16 years in Switzerland and after arriving in the USA two years ago, enrolled in the same school as my son. Since then they have become best friends.

In these two years, there have been several occasions where both the father and son sat and listened to my system. They will share the system and both are convinced that they want tubes. They have been after me for several months to put together a system.

Fast forward to this week. Robert and his father treat my son to ski vacation in Colorado over Presidents day weekend. They return and the system is on and the discussion begins again. The son is VERY sophisticated in his taste, way beyond his years. I agreed and after asking many questions, lead to this thread.

I appreciate all the suggestions. I am researching prices for many of these items to see what can be done. Honestly, I am being more careful than if it was my own money. I hope they will be happy, certainly it will be a better system than what the father originally suggested. A trip to Best Buy and get whatever the salesman suggested for about a grand.

And Pete, like your kids, mine and Robert both have portable systems and Dolby 5.1 hooked up to their computer systems. This is to be the shared "living room" system.

In any case, I will be doing them a favor by following any of the suggestions here. Sincere thanks to you all.
Maybe a Dynaco ST-70 amp and PAS-3 preamp, if your son's friend is really interested in tube equipment. The ST-70s typically go for $350 to $500, sometimes as low as $250 for kit-built units in working condition; the PAS 3 for about $150. While these are older amps, they were good to begin with, and there have been a variety of mod plans and kits available over the years from Audio by Van Alstine, Curcio Audio, Parts Connection, Welborne Labs, and others. (See, for example, the listings at .) You might be able to persuade someone to sell you a ST-70 and PAS-3 together as a package for $400 or so. If a tube amp is important but the project budget won't cover an amp costing more than $400 or so, a Dynaco setup seems like a more reasonable approach than something newer. There's one Audiogon listing for a Jolida JD-202 integrated for $500, but most of the other tube amps listed cost a lot more and would put this project over budget.

I wish I got that when I was a teenager. Dirt cheap too.
Considering the budget and the audience, I wonder if going with tubes is the best idea. I agree with the Vandy's in a big way. I would think a McCormack or solid state c-j might fit in nicely with the rest of your plans.
Albert, sorry I scanned your last post too fast, and I didn't read that your friends requested tubes. IMHO, the Vandy 2's could use a bit of power. I know Vandersteen recommends a minimum of 40 watts, but, I think some where between 80 and 100 would be much better. I would also avoid some of the "classic tube sound" amps like c-j and Quicksilver. These speakers are already on the warm, flabby side. Mind you, I love them, and think they are one of the best values in audio ever. They don't have the best reputation for reliability, but, the Counterpoint stuff always worked well with Vandersteen. Wish I could be of more help. Good luck.

Getting a tube amp for a teenager to use, especially with Vandersteen 2s??? I don't know about that. I think that's like committing suicide if you ask me. His old man??? Well.... that's a different story. If this kid is anything like I was when I was a kid (though he may listen to rock..... when I was his age, my thing was the latest uptempo R&B jams that was out at the time, and later on.... Rap and Hip-Hop..... and in both cases, they involved plenty of dynamics and lots (and I do mean LOTS) of deep bass, and I wanted it VERY loud....... and given those three variables and parameters, I don't see anyway in hell as to how a tube amp fits into that equation), then I don't think that a tube amp should fit into his plans. The Vandersteens are fine (because due to their full range response, they're ideal for rock and roll, R&B, and Rap/Hip-Hop), but for a teenager, I would mate the Vandersteens to a 100W s/s amp instead (and a used amp would do for a kid..... and I wouldn't get anything terribly expensive either). Get a decent CD player, and he should end up with a pretty damn nice system if I don't say so myself. It would be a hell of a lot better than what I had when I was a kid.

Now for his old man on the other hand, if he likes the Vandersteens as well, I would say go for it. I can see using tubes for his system and all. And in that case, I would look for a used Counterpoint hybrid just like "Unsound" has suggested. I would also look for a Audio Research or "conrad-johnson" model in the 60W to 85W range. I would top his system off with a with a decent DVD/CD/SACD player.

I'm sorry if I wasn't that much helpful here, but I tried anyway.

Good Luck, Albert!!!! I am going to leave you on your own on this one.

OK, I just had some fun "shopping":

Meadowlark Vireo Hot Rod supurb, obm, black, warranty
Asking $595.00 obo
(this is an AWESOME sounding full range monitor, with front ported bass so it can be placed against a wall; I liked this model better than their next higher up model, the Kestrel I think)

Golden Tube Audio SE-85 (6SN7 and EL34 -- love those tubes)
Asking $600.00 obo

Nordost Solar Wind, RCA 1m, pics
Asking $70.00 obo

Asking $85.00 obo

Adcom GCD-575 (variable and fixed output )
Asking $140.00 obo
New Retail $575.00

Good Luck Albert.
Dave was out of town on business, the teenager was ready to go the first moment.

I insisted they read these ideas, and view some photographs of the equipment before dropping the cash. It's difficult to help friends who don't share our knowledge. Neither the father or the son has heard of any of these brands names.
Albert, please let us know how it turns out. BTW, in as much as like the Vandersteen 2's, they can be fussy with regards to room and placement.
Well, I guess I lost my mind. I saw an ad for Vandersteen 3's that were in my market (Dallas, TX.) advertised here at Audiogon for $875.00.

More than I intended to spend, but no shipping, insurance or chance for them to be damaged. Plus, I got to listen to them before I handed over the cash.

They sound wonderful, and the (previous) owner was using a small integrated transistor amp to power them. They were bi-wired and came with Sound Anchor stands and some cones and spikes. Bob and Dave are excited even though they have not seen the speakers yet.

I could not find any of the AR Complete that Sugarbrie mentioned, nor the other solid state brands mentioned. I looked here first, then EBAY and AudioShopper. Any other ideas or know of the "right" integrated for this system that happens to be for sale?

By the way, the DVD/CD is off my budget. The father bought one on sale somewhere, leaving me about $625.00 for power.

Pick up the Magnum IA170 integrated (that has been listed here forever). It's $549 (used) and includes a MM phono stage, plus a mono switch.

This model compared well with the Plinius 8150 when I auditioned both a bit more than two years ago. A little known "sleeper" amp from a UK manufacturer.

If I were into SS this is the amp that I would be using (no glory, just good sound).