What are/were the best sounding cheap components you have ever had?

It is easy to like the best of the best, so to say.  However it is always satifying and memorable when an inexpensive product turns out to be very good to great. 

Some that come to mind from personal experience"

Large Advents (original)

Early Nakamichi SR receivers

Original Monster interconnects and speaker wire

Pioneer Pl-12 turntable

Shure M-95

Early Stax and Audio Technica headphones

MoFi "special" pressings

Magnum Dynalab Etude.  Yes some were better, but a real value

The Absolute Sound mag in the beginning 

Early Conrad-Johnson and Audio Research tube electronics

Early Classe integrated amps.

The original Sony Trinitrons

And there are others....but part of this hobby is enjoying the journey.

Have you had cost effective items that were successful for your enjoyment?


If my memory would serve a bit better, I am sure that there are more than this. I found that the Superphon revelation preamp to be just amazing back in the day. Since I bought it used and payed not a lot for it, then it becomes one of my most memorable buys. A little later in time, I purchased on ear headphones that were open backed. Damned if I can remember the brand and model, but for $100 they were such a step up from the Koss pro4 A phones before them. 

 Interestingly, a long-ago company by the name of Speaker Lab, had speakers that I bought, not as the usual kit that they offered but plug-n-play instead. The reason that I found it interesting is that I considered them to sound better than the previous set of Speaker Lab K-horns (in a kit no less) that cost so much more. No, you couldn't beat the monster bass of folded horns, but the rest played in neat.

  I found during my hobby as an audiophile that kits in general could be great or greatly disappointing. I am usually willing to take the chance and as far as price is concerned, they can be unbeatable. This of course, would not extend in just any case for me, since if there was ever offered a turntable kit, I would quickly pass!


 I look forward to future responses guys. What was your best (cheap) date in hi-fi? 

The first that comes to my mind is the Schiit Mani phono pre. I still have it boxed as an emergency back-up, too inexpensive to sell and then be without should I need it.

Besides that? My two B&K amps I bought used. Great bargain, and sound great. Still have one in my bedroom system

And not necessarily ‘cheap’ for their day, more mid-fi by todays standards, but I really liked my Polk 5 Jr speakers bought in the early 80’s. Still have them, not in use, but keep them as they have a sentimental value.

"Cheap" is a relative term.

What I now see as cheap I probably didn’t then. I am sure that many here would consider the stuff I now see in my system as higher dollar to be "cheap."

But the first pair of 2 way speakers I bought back in ’93 or ’94 were NHTs for probably $300 & change from Crutchfield, and I thought that they sounded quite nice, up until the time I bought a pair of B&Ws.

Later on in the mid 90s I bought a Muse Model 2 Dac for around $1500 which I thought had a significant positive effect on my system.

A few years after that, the CD player I was using for a transport started doing goofy things on occasion, so I boughtt a Rega Jupiter for under 1k that I thought was a good value & performer.

My first tube amp (in ’94) was a Cary SLA 70, and I seem to remember it being around 1500. I still have it & fell back on it while I was working on my bigger tube amp and I still like the sound.

In ’99 I bought a second hand Cary SLP90 for 1k and I absolutely loved that preamp.

I can't remember exactly what they cost, but my NOLA Boxer speakers have essentially taken me out of the speaker market for a modest fee.

I only buy cheap. Just got a new 5 year warranteed SVS Micro delivered (Sunday), FedEx for $766 including 7% sales tax.

It's pretty good with the app on an old phone.


I dislike the word cheap, inexpensive works best for me. Purchased a mint Technics SL-P500 CD player(1986) for the price of a pizza at a thrift store several years ago

Early on, Acoustic Research had good speakers but not particularly cheap for the time.  But they did offer some bargain stuff --

AR Turntable  (Legendary bargain,)

AR Amp  (Good value back then.  Still have mine.)

AR Tuner  (Another decent value.  Still have mine.)

My Quicksilver Mono Amps were reasonably inexpensive and offered up luscious tone and imaging. The thing is, its all-important 8417 power tubes eventually became scarce and costly. Worse, the tubes didn't hold their tone past about six months. The tubes were also prone to failure, especially if the pairs weren't truly matched.  Even when they were assiduously matched I could never quite trust them.

B&K amp and pre-amp.

Allison speakers.

In 1982, I had the first Sony CD player, the CDP-101, which was a revelation.  



  I had the same CDP back then. Wow, I could skip tracks, pause, even program the play. The convenience was a big step from a TT. 

Bought a Heed Elixer for a few hundred bucks. Great little class A integrated with phono. Now my 19 year old daughter has it and loves it.

Picked up a Cyrus One on ebay for $500.00 and it is a fun compact class D. 

I had a Radio Shack stereo amplifier that I believe put out 3 1/2 watts a side.

My first tube phono preamp was a steal at $200 in 1987—the then new Croft Micro. I replaced all the resistors with Holco metal films, doubled up the power supply for each channel, and swapped the 12AU7 for a black plate CV5042.

Garage sale Harman Kardon 330C receiver for $15.  I believe it was dual mono.  Sweet little piece.  Cleaned up volume pot and we were off.

A Hafler DH101 preamp I got for like $75 used many years back. Sounded fantastic and I gave it to a friend to start his stereo journey.


- Acoustic Research XA turntable, $78 retail (!) in 1969.

- Decca Blue pickup, $140 in 1972.

- SME 3009 Mk.2 Improved, $295 (iirc) in 1973.

- Townshend Audio Rock Elite turntable, $650 in the early-90’s.

- A couple of used Zeta arms, $600 and $800 iirc.

- Herron VTPH-1mm, direct from Keith for $1225.


Even better are the LP’s and CD’s I’ve acquired over the past 55 or so years (Music Millennium in Portland had it’s bi-annual sidewalk sale a week ago, thousands of VG+ to Mint condition LP’s for $2 apiece. My racks swelled by another 40 or so discs), the value of which is to me immeasurable. As Mazzy (Norman Mazlov) has been reminding us in his latest Vinyl Community YouTube Videos, "It’s about the music, stupid."


NAD 3020 bought new in 1978 for $200. Unfailingly musical and quite versatile with its pre/amp in/out jacks. A favorite recommendation of The Audio Critic.

Parasound Zamp3 is my number 1 answer, just love that little sucker.

Schiit Saga Pre, simply operation and transparent as can be.  

Fo.Q TA-102 tape stuck to the capacitors of my system.  Their positive impact far outweighed their cost

 I'm surprised Magnepan hasn't been mentioned yet (unless I missed it somewhere). I bought a pair of the LSR's for my son and a was simply amazed what those speakers could do at that price. 

I had Loxjie a30 ($180) + Sony sscs5 ($90).  Resolving treble and non-sluggish bass with reasonably large soundstage.  I enjoyed it.  

Dayton Audio class D amplifier - for less than $100 it punched a crazy sound! 
Amari LP10 turntable - around $500 in China. Very very good at this price. 
Dali Zensor 1 speakers. Surprisingly fantastic entry level speakers. 
Pure Avalon tabletop radio - it is by far my most listened piece of gear. It’s playing  almost 24/7 and it sounds great in my kitchen. 
Oppo bdp 103 - second hand. Great player!

Bluesound Node - second hand. This really made a change in my house for the best. 

Yard sale LPs and CDs some amazing finds for $1.00 or less great rock, jazz and classical music in mint condition especially back in the day folks were getting rid of their vinyl. Sometimes I’d come home with 50 pieces for under $25. I’ve ended up with thousands of great musical gems.

NAD 3225PE 40 watt integrated amp. It did it's job for the time being while being not expensive.

Used Marantz Model 7 for $200 in 1976!

Double Advents

Schiit Yggdrasil GS (biggest personal bargain)

2-way Pioneer stand-mounts (designed by Andrew Jones)

Topping Pre90 preamp

Schiit Freya preamp

NAD receiver from the 80s

NAD integrated from the 80s

Anticables SCs and ICs

Oppo 103 UDP

Vincent SP-331 amp

NAD 3155 integrated, bought as a floor demo in 1985 with an NAD 5325 CD player (same vintage). Both still performing flawlessly in the third system, what a deal.

Sansui AU-505, bought new in 1974. Amazing sound, currently being rebuilt.

I bought my 1984 Rogers LS3/5a from CBS studios in 1993 for $350.


they're worth more now 


1976, Olm Walsh, new, forget model number, loved them.

1982, Stereo 70, second hand store, $25, worked, rebuilt and mild upgrades, sold years later for $500

1983, ADS (200?) little aluminum housed two ways, filled with sand, bought at yard sale $10, cleaned them out, upgraded caps, offered $500 from a higher end audio shop back then, I still have them.

OPPO bdp 83SE, bought new, going to sell it finally.

Most everything else was bought wholesale or DIY, very nice but moderate cost gear.


Car Audio

Eclipse 8443 head unit, had 6 at one time, $50-100 each, still dang fine sounding.

Image Dynamics R2R DAC, $1000, list price was $2500, 20v balanced outputs, blind tested against top line home audio DACs, it did quite well.

Image Dynamics rack mount EQ's and crossover (custom Yamaha built), 20v balanced through them. DAC and above where upgraded after bought as well.

Dynaudio, McIntosh(spelling?), Zapco, Arc Audio, Rainbow reference.....

With the right vehicles, very intense layout and install effort, one can do things in mobile system that are very difficult to do in a home audio system and for very CHEAP, under $2k though I have built a $30k mobile system that of course was better but not 15 times better.





Onkyo 9110 Integrated. Nothing should sound this good for $300.

Pioneer bookshelf speakers designed by Andrew Jones. Absolutely great and can be had for next to nothing.

I have inherited and been gifted some great sounding stuff, but what cheap things have I bought and paid for?

latest, for my office system: 

1. AR-2ax speakers, buy, ship, restore: $750. total, sound terrific office system. Just bought a 2nd pair to restore. All/any needed parts readily available.

2. DAC, Topping D10s, $110. based on advice here. Was using PC's headphone jack to Luxman 10 wpc tube amp. Now PC's usb out to Topping to that little luxman. OBVIOUSLY Better SQ (exactly what I asked for) 75% typically, now vol at 35% typically, prior needed 75%.

gotta go, more to come

Denon DRA-355 receiver I found at a yard sale for $15. sounded stooopid good compared to my Parasound A21/P3 combo. Sadly, it didn't last too long.  It was already tired. 

Rectilinear 3A and Rectilinear 7 speakers

GAS Son of Ampzilla amp

Ambient 66 speakers

Odyssey kismet Reference Floorstanding speakers

Kenwood KA9100 integrated amp

I am afraid to say "nothing in hi-fi is cheap", There are a few bargains, but they are far to few to mention. Schiit audio comes to mind.

Advent 300 receiver, NAD 3020B integrated amplifier, original Advent Loudspeakers and Precision Fidelity C7A preamplifier.

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My first Sony CDP, from around 1984, 14 bit player that lasted me almost 20 years as a primary source

My first  "high end" electronics. A Hafler DH 101 preamp mated to an Audionics CC2 amp. Nice balanced sound.

NAD 7225PE 25W receiver I used from 1991 to 2015...beautiful sounding and the most reliable component I've ever owned. It remained powered on for years (no kidding) with not one hiccup.

My first was cheap... pioneer amp 25 watts with Kenwood speakers when Kenwood was made in Japan. They were my first set and I thought everything sounded as good and when I tried to change as they got older, boy was I wrong. This was so long ago that if you bought something older than this, you have to be dead.

schiit modi 3. since buying it i've had multiple $500-1000 dacs through here and none offered enough improvement to justify the additional spend for me. going to try the denafrips one all the reviewers rave about before writing off that whole price bracket as a waste of money for me...don't know when i'll get to it though, because i am playing the cartridge upgrade game at the moment (ultimately i care more about vinyl than digital playback, and funds are limited.) but yeah the modi is a killer little piece of equipment in my experience

ear 834P clone. the good one with the covered torroidal, black board with gold traces

$300 shipped. didnt mod it at all. just put in good tubes and WOW. 

You know. I saw this thread a while ago. Unless I can think of a way to add value… I tend to just follow it and not comment.


After some thought… my answer is never. I have never had a cheap component that sounded great, I have had cost effective… or good budget components. But, the only components that have blown my socks off have been incredibly well thought out and constructed audiophile equipment. Not one “cheap” component that I can think of ever sounded great. I have owned at least a hundred components. I would imagine after over fifty years of pursuing the high end for my main system, portable speaker system (I spent over ten years living in motels), portable headphone systems (I spent over 40 years while traveling and listening (pursuing the best possible sound), permanent headphone system (20 years pursuing the best), and permanent office system.


While looking for bargains is great. The way to get a truely great audio system is not to look for cheap stuff. You just get cheap stuff… and it might at best sound OK.

Great sound comes from dedicated companies willing to invest in research and development, quality components, and outstanding manufacturing quality.

ghdprentice,  Your advice is always "sound".     There is no cheap way to good sound,  no matter what your budget is.

Forty plus years into my HiFi journey I am finally able to afford some better gear.  I try to put those $$$ into well planned upgrades that are not subtle.  Most recent was my Toolshed 300b ,  in fact it's so good I sold my soul for it's companion preamp that's under construction now.   I took inventory of stuff I wasn't using,  sold some stuff including my existing pre and put my trusty Sonic Frontiers SFL-1 in the system temporarily.   That move demonstrated how good the Zesto Leto was , it was a giant leap backward in sound quality with that no longer in the system.

I think your rational in spending two or three times more than the component being replaced  for an appreciable impact is spot on.   Anything less is often a lateral move or slight improvement.  I'd rather be patient,  save a little more and enjoy marked improvement.