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benjaminahudson
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Entry level system on a $1500 budget: recommendations requested!

Greetings

I've been a long-time reader, lurker of the site, but my following of systems and equipment has fallen behind in times over the last 3-5 years.  I am finally in a position to return some hand-me-down entry-level equipment to my uncle and buy a from-scratch system.  I envision this coming in stages over the next few years,so the initial outlay of $1500 should cover the get-me-up-and-running costs.  I listen to a wide variety of music from a whole host of sources:  Funk, blues, jam bands, classic rock, indie, etc; mainly from CDs, digital conent, and LPs. 

 

To that end, my inital items to buy appeared to be:

Integrated amp; preferrably with a phono stage and an onboard DAC

Speakers

Disc player (can always use the panasonic blu-ray from the house I guess)

connection cables

 

Things to get later:

better (or an actual) DAC

record player

better disc player

 

That said, I could sure use some advice or anecdotal experience from others in the same boat. 

benjaminahudson
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forgot to add that I am

forgot to add that I am planning to use this setup in one of two family rooms; haven't decided yet.  Both have couches, TVs, and other things in them; and probably measure 10x16 and 12 x 13 respectively

Bill B
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a few comments

Your uncle might prefer that you, in turn, pass on the entry-level equipment to the next person.  He probably doesn't need the old stuff back (I'm speaking from experience as one who has passed equipment on to younger relatives, etc.)

At this price level, I would buy the best speakers you can.  They make a greater proportion of sound difference, so cheaper speakers + better electronics will (IMO) be much less satisfying than fine speakers and competent electronics.

I prefer floorstanding speakers (instead of bookshelf or stand-mounted ones) for room filling sound, are you leaning that way?

For cables, I suggest Monoprice.com.  Amazingly low prices for good quality cables.  Later, you can compare more expensive brands with them, but you might not detect any improvement.

silpio
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$1500 Complete Separates System

At this price point you can have a pretty good stereo system that too SEPRATES like i do. After a countless hours of researching on net just like you, i finally made it. Here is the list of what i have, some other options as well, with estimated MRPs. (** SECRET = not so well known).

Pre Amplification:
Pre: For tubes based pre: its a SECRET, look for (i own this) Aric audio tube preamp model 3.7 only for $375, hand built in the US of A (but No Phono). If solid state is your taste you can go for Emotiva's USP 1 stereo preamp $429 or Project preboxes which are around the same price.

Power Amplification:
Power: (i have) Emotiva's UPA 500 (80Wx5) price $399. The other SECRET option, which might increase your budget, but worth mentioning is ATI's AT602 (60Wx2), priced $645, US made with gain control for each channel at this price point is hard to find.

Speakers:
Well another SECRET Magnepan's on wall MMG W (i own), priced $325/PAIR add $30 disposable speaker stand kit, makes it $355, again US made. If somehow you can't house the Magnepans (due to placement issues), then go to option 2. Emotiva floor standers or keep an eye internet sites like best buy, wwstereo, etc there always magnificent offers/steals going on.

Sources:

Turntable:
(not owned, but on my HIT LIST) Audio-Technica LT-LP120 (price $250) has good, decent sound with excellent features like Integrated Phono-Stage, USB, Adjustable Tonearm etc. But if you want to up the ante audiophile wise, one can never wrong with the Pro-ject Debut Carbon $400.

Digital:
(i own ) Panasonic DMP-BDT 500 blu-ray player, it is perhaps the last its kind player, i:e it has complete sets of audio (7.1) and video (component) analog/non-HDMI connections, which was quite a norm few years ago, Analog Sunset they call it. Make sure you buy this one while it lasts, believe me it is one of those classic rare gadgets that come once in a while at very good price ($170). It is the only player under $200 with dual HDMI, analog, ethernet and integrated wifi connections. IT'S CD PLAYBACK IS EXCELLENT.
SEPARATE DAC:
Sorry, no recommendations for DACs, i have not ventured in this part of the audio world, as i don't need a DAC, my Panasonic blu-ray player connected to my PC via LAN and pre/power combination handle that part quite well.

Interconnect/Connections:
Only one word for it: Monoprice.

Note: If you decide to go ahead with Magnepan's MMG W, you might feel the need of subwoofer. Be very careful selecting subs for Maggies, they need fast paced and tight bass. Generally speaking one should ONLY go with NON-PORTED OR SEALED/CLOSED ENCLOSURE SUBWOOFERS, but they are a bit costly. Recommendations: Hsu research or keeping an eye on other internet offers from different brands. But before deciding to buy a subwoofer, check whether you like the system without it.
My Maggies are bridged with the Emotiva UPA 500, giving decent power of 160Wx2.

So you too can have a complete music system between $1299-$1500 or just bit more.

IT FEELS GOOD HAVING A SINGER OR AN ORCESTRA WAITING TO PERFORM FOR ME AT THE END OF A HARD DAYS WORK.

silpio
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Last seen: 6 months 2 weeks ago
Joined: Feb 7 2014 - 1:09am
At this price point you can

At this price point you can have a pretty good stereo system that too SEPRATES like i do. After a countless hours of researching on net just like you, i finally made it. Here is the list of what i have, some other options as well, with estimated MRPs. (** SECRET = not so well known).

Pre Amplification:
Pre: For tubes based pre: its a SECRET, look for (i own this) Aric audio tube preamp model 3.7 only for $375, hand built in the US of A (but No Phono). If solid state is your taste you can go for Emotiva's USP 1 stereo preamp $429 or Project preboxes which are around the same price.

Power Amplification:
Power: (i have) Emotiva's UPA 500 (80Wx5) price $399. The other SECRET option, which might increase your budget, but worth mentioning is ATI's AT602 (60Wx2), priced $645, US made with gain control for each channel at this price point is hard to find.

Speakers:
Well another SECRET Magnepan's on wall MMG W (i own), priced $325/PAIR add $30 disposable speaker stand kit, makes it $355, again US made. If somehow you can't house the Magnepans (due to placement issues), then go to option 2. Emotiva floor standers or keep an eye internet sites like best buy, wwstereo, etc there always magnificent offers/steals going on.

Sources:

Turntable:
(not owned, but on my HIT LIST) Audio-Technica LT-LP120 (price $250) has good, decent sound with excellent features like Integrated Phono-Stage, USB, Adjustable Tonearm etc. But if you want to up the ante audiophile wise, one can never wrong with the Pro-ject Debut Carbon $400.

Digital:
(i own ) Panasonic DMP-BDT 500 blu-ray player, it is perhaps the last its kind player, i:e it has complete sets of audio (7.1) and video (component) analog/non-HDMI connections, which was quite a norm few years ago, Analog Sunset they call it. Make sure you buy this one while it lasts, believe me it is one of those classic rare gadgets that come once in a while at very good price ($170). It is the only player under $200 with dual HDMI, analog, ethernet and integrated wifi connections. IT'S CD PLAYBACK IS EXCELLENT.
SEPARATE DAC:
Sorry, no recommendations for DACs, i have not ventured in this part of the audio world, as i don't need a DAC, my Panasonic blu-ray player connected to my PC via LAN and pre/power combination handle that part quite well.

Interconnect/Connections:
Only one word for it: Monoprice.

Note: If you decide to go ahead with Magnepan's MMG W, you might feel the need of subwoofer. Be very careful selecting subs for Maggies, they need fast paced and tight bass. Generally speaking one should ONLY go with NON-PORTED OR SEALED/CLOSED ENCLOSURE SUBWOOFERS, but they are a bit costly. Recommendations: Hsu research or keeping an eye on other internet offers from different brands. But before deciding to buy a subwoofer, check whether you like the system without it.
My Maggies are bridged with the Emotiva UPA 500, giving decent power of 160Wx2.

So you too can have a complete music system between $1299-$1500 or just bit more.

IT FEELS GOOD HAVING A SINGER OR AN ORCESTRA WAITING TO PERFORM FOR ME AT THE END OF A HARD DAYS WORK.

shawndaiki
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Joined: Dec 10 2013 - 11:00pm
Hi Ben Just sharing my

Hi Ben

Just sharing my personal experience as my budget and music tastes are quite similar to you. You're definitely ahead of me as my only knowledge of vinyl playback was the gramophone. I never knew the world of hifi except having seen massive speakers.

After listening to some Pro-Ject equipment at a local dealer I was hooked and nearly purchased a Pro-Ject Essentials with USB impulsively as I loved what I heard but did not want to spend a bomb on hifi. The dealer was trying to sell me the Debut Carbon but having just started out a job I did not want to part with that kinda money. I decided to go home and do some research and was thankful I did. My hour long introduction to analog source and components at the dealer was overwhelming but it was enough to get me started on where and what to look for. 

While others might recommend a different approach, I was a completely sold, vinyl groupie and could not resist the gear lust to look into a record player first. My initial budget naive or not was set at less than USD800 for the entire rig, however that notion didn't stick very long for obvious reasons.

I wanted musicality and a system that was able to convey it accurately, however I did not want to spend less than USD800 only to have to upgrade components later on. Hence I decided to look into the best of audiophile quality components at the lowest price points, which led me to Whathifi. 

I found Whathifi to be more accessible compared to Stereophile as they had a bigger range of component reviews across a larger price point and while they are audiophiles no less, they were less technical in their reviews and it was written for the average consumer in mind.

It was there I found the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon to be the best record player at the lowest entry price under $500. Not ready to settle for any bias I continued searching for any weakness that the Debut Carbon might have in its category and I found its performance was unanimously praised in the audiophile community for an entry level turntable.

It was my first purchase in London from retailer Superfi and the salesman seeing how ready I was to spend my money could not resist trying to sell me a pair of Monitor Audio BX2s and Dali Zensor 1s, both 5 stars speakers in the lowest price points. I was unable to carry that much luggage which was a blessing and allowed me to do more research on the rest of the components. I did however pick up a pair of Chord Crimson Vee interconnects which he boasted would be superior to the stock interconnects Pro-Ject provided, that would later prove to be false.

So with only a turntable sitting in the corner of my living room, I began to research my next component, amplifiers. At this point it was laugahble I had no clue what's the difference between a preamp, power amp, and the remaining components I required to play music on my turntable. 

As I was not going to London any time soon, I got a little anxious about buying ANY amplifier and speakers to play my turntable with hence I made my way to a local hifi centre and went around asking for recommendations within my budget and auditioning them. For speakers I heard the Q Acoustics paired with the Marantz 6004, which for its size impressed the hell out of me, and I never knew Yamaha made amplifiers like that. Dali Zensor 1s paired with I can't remember if it was a Cambridge or Rotel amp just felt like something was missing and my audiophile vocabulary was limited then.

I then entered a Rega dealership and struck a conversation with the dealer who was happy to part with his demo Rega Brio 3 for a discounted price as they were selling the updated Rega Brio R. I heard both amplifiers on both bookshelves and floorstanders and they seriously blew me away. I recall the Pro-Ject dealer mentioning the purists always go for separates for better sound but I was more than impressed with both price and performance and couldn't imagine having to research preamp and power amplifier combinations. 

I would have been happy to pay for the Rega Brio 3 but a quick google made me realise I was able to purchase the Brio R in London after VAT rebate for the same price as what he quoted me for the Brio 3. And honestly the Brio R looks amazing and was more space saving compared to the bulky and chunkier 3. 

So it was back to Whathifi and the forums for reviews, and I decided on a Brio R and once again I found myself looking at a pair of Monitor Audio BX2s and boy was I pleased with the looks. The speaker impedance also matched the recommended impedance output for the Brio R. I found no reasonable objections and I was comfortable with the price. 

After returning to Singapore with everything I could not wait to listen to a vinyl collection that already began to amass. Imagine my shock when I realised the passive speakers did not come with leads and only then I realised passive speakers required them to connect them to an amplifier. I hurried down to the hifi centre before closing and purchased a pair of Chord Silverscreens with banana plug terminations for a longer lifespan. 

Some learning points on hindsight:

1. I might have approached the forums like you did to cut the learning curve in half. The audiophile community is filled with knowledgeable enthusiasts who cannot help but share their wisdom and would be happy to advice on recommended components within price points. It was also interesting after every trip to a dealer, I would end up purchasing the component they recommended, which also created a sense of integrity and trust in the audiophile community, I didn't feel like they were trying to squeeze me out of every penny, they were trying to sell me what they thought I would like.

2. While my research on paper might have been sufficient, I could have narrowed down a few components and visit dealers who might have that availability, along with some test music I like listening to and spend a fair amount of time auditioning them. To be honest I think I am extremely lucky I got away with a sound I enjoy considering my approach to building my system.

3. Audition components one at a time, and with the same set up where possible. It is good to have certain control variables and also recognise that speakers work differently with different amplifers so as far as possible audition them one at a time with a component of your choosing. While publications like Stereophile serve as an important and informative reference, it is almost impossible to replicate their results considering the average consumers budget and living space limitations.

4. Know what you expect from the system. Are you looking for transparency? Clarity? Bass? Considering our similarity in music tastes I would dare to assume accurate bass reproduction, being able to play music at a reasonably loud volume, and warmth in the vocals.

5. Listening room. You should also consider where you plan to listen to music, the layout of the room and how much length of cables you require, that can add up to significant cost.

6. Allow room for budget adjustments. When I started I planned on spending no more than USD800, that figure nearly doubled but I am enjoying every second of what I purchased. I am also fortunate I have a natural oak table from IKEA which could have been freed up just to place my hifi on, you might however want to consider proper stands for speakers, or a hifi stand for your components. All these accessories may add up.

Considering the wide variety of sources you listen to you might want to consider the NAD D 3020 which comes with an integrated DAC and bluetooth for your digital sources. Believe it or not if you can get your hands on a first generation Playstation off eBay, it might serve your CD playing needs until you expand your budget. Stereophile has an article written on it. I personally LOVE LOVE LOVE my Monitor Audio BX2s I would highly recommend you audition them. Speaker cables shouldn't cost too much but terminations might.

Good luck and I hope to hear you raving about your new system soon.

shawndaiki
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About interconnects

When you get around purchasing a turntable and BEFORE you upgrade your pair of interconnects, make it a point to pair them with said turntable. I have highly raved about interconnects however they do nothing but introduce crazy hum to my speakers due to its floating shield design, something I learnt from commsysman on Stereophile forum.

I also brought the interconnects to the local Pro-Ject dealer to have them test it and it is unanimous among their customers that the stock interconnects seem to do a far better job than any upgrade across price points yet. 

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