For most of the audiophile world, middle-aged duffers that we are, a "system" is simple to describe and understand in its basic form. You have a source: turntable, CD-player, tuner, tape deck; you have amplification, either an integrated or separate pre- and power-amps; and finally, speakers. Easy squeezy.
Question is: do your teenage kids/grandkids/neighbors/coworkers think of a sound-system in the same way? Probably not, given that they're used to gear that doesn't even have knobs or buttons. They're also used to expressions like "easy squeezy". I don't claim to understand, I just repeat what I hear.
Anyway, today's newbies have a lot of options available to them, some of which have only appeared in the last few years. I will attempt to muddle my way through the choices facing today's first-time buyers, but I once again welcome readers to share their own expertise, which is likely far greater than my own. I'm not as bad as Jay Leno's dad, who put a TV remote away in a drawer because he thought it might catch fire if he used it...but I'm close.
Unless your newbie is one of those discovering vinyl for the first time (more on that subject another day), the source is going to be digital, in one form or another. The simplest system will consist of an iPod or similar MP3 player feeding an amp; a way-cool and reasonably priced amp for such apps is this Class-T unit
Earlier versions of the Trends TA-10 have been written up all over the planet, praising both sound-quality and build-quality. I've paid more than the $225 cost of this little guy just to SHIP an amp; the price of the Trends amp includes an AC adapter, connecting cable and a 2-year warranty! There's something appealing about conserving power, material and space, and this piece certainly does that. Pair its 15 watts per channel with some reasonably efficient speakers and an iPod (or iPhone!), and newbie can have a nice starter system for well under a grand; careful shopping might bring in a system as low as $500.
The next step up would be the iPod coupled to the Wadia 170i Transport
, or a similar DAC-dock. The 170i bypasses the iPod's D/A conversion and output stage, yielding a cleaner signal to feed to the amp. The 170i even has video outputs and a remote control, allowing it to act as a music server. At $379 the Wadia is also a deal; it might still be possible to put together a system for a kilobuck, if one works at it. It's also an attractive unit, well made and not very big, in keeping with our modest aspirations.
A big leap up would be getting into the realms of NAS (network-attached storage), which can allow newbie to rip all of dad's CDs to a music server. One of the nicest is the Music Vault
, which also handles hi-res downloads, unlike many units. Unfortunately, something of this sort takes the system well out of the "budget" range.
The options available in low-buck amps,CD players and speakers are legion, especially if newbie elects to go used. I can imagine a new digital dock front-end coupled to something like my thrift-shop system of a Sansui 5000a receiver and highly-efficient '70's Jensen speakers (grand total, $75); it would provide relief from earbuds and provide party tunes without breaking the bank. And it might even sound decent!
Brought a newbie into the fold recently? Let's hear what your recommendations were for a $1500-or-less system. Bonus points for systems under $100!