The Entry Level #2

It's an early Sunday morning in Jersey City, and I'm sitting on the old orange couch, keeping myself warm with a cup of coffee, wondering which record to play next. The mellow fall sun is peeking through my white cotton curtains, casting happy shadows throughout my listening room.

It's been a couple of hours since I dismantled my hi-fi. The Rega P3-24 turntable now rests quietly on my bedroom dresser. Beside it are the DeVore Fidelity Gibbon 3 loudspeakers. The Exposure 2010S integrated amplifier is vacationing in my Uncle Omar's system. The Furutech Evolution cables and interconnects are neatly coiled and tucked away under the couch. For a few nervous moments earlier today, all that remained of my system was its silent skeleton: the sand-filled Target speaker stands, the Polycrystal equipment rack, the Furutech e-TP60 power distributor and GTX wall receptacle.

Altogether, that old system cost about $8000. It took me five years to put it together, five minutes to take it apart, and another 15 minutes to replace it. The system residing here now costs just around $1500—five times less than its predecessor. Of course, I was afraid that moving from my familiar hi-fi to one costing so much less would pose some problems. I was worried. Had I moved so far from my modest boom-box beginnings that trading down to a $1500 system would leave me feeling cold and uninspired?

My fears were eased as soon as I unpacked the first brown box.

The thrill of uncertainty and expectation that comes with unpacking any new piece of audio equipment is not unlike tearing through wrapping paper on Christmas Day, and this Sunday morning I experienced that thrill over and over again. Although my hopes were high, I was never disappointed. I began with the Wharfedale Diamond 10.1 speakers ($350/pair, footnote 1). They were securely packed inside their outer box, and removing them from their polythene bags was like drawing back heavy curtains on a brilliantly bright day. These speakers are gorgeous. I first noticed their quilted vinyl finish—so fine I initially mistook it for real rosewood. The cabinets, which measure about 11.75" H by 7.5" W by 10.75" D, are gracefully curved, widening at the center and tapering toward the rear, to both minimize internal standing waves and enhance the speakers' fine appearance. The four vertically oriented speaker terminals are good quality—not cheap plastic but gold-plated metal, probably brass—and can accommodate biwiring or biamping. Side by side above them are two reflex ports, which increase bass extension. Grilles of black fabric protect the Diamond 10.1's soft-dome tweeter and Kevlar mid/bass cone, but you'll want to remove these to reveal the piano-black front baffles—a surprisingly fine touch that gives the speakers an air of luxury uncommon at this price.

Holy shit, I said to the pigeons that had gathered on my fire escape to bathe in the mellow morning sun. Holy shit. I was impressed.

More than impressed, I was already falling in love. Damn, maybe John DeVore is right—maybe I do fall in love too soon. But falling in love is so easy to do when someone—I mean something—is as pretty as this. If these speakers sound half as good as they look, I thought, I'll definitely want to keep them.

Similar thoughts ran through my excited mind as I unpacked Rega's new RP-1 (for Rega Planar One) turntable ($450), which replaces the company's esteemed P1. While the RP-1 uses the same phono cartridge as the P1, Ortofon's OM5e moving-magnet, it replaces its predecessor's MDF platter with one of phenolic resin, and adds Rega's new, solidly built RB101 tonearm. Additionally, the P1's rather drab gray finish is left behind for the RP-1's choice of White, Cool Gray, or Titanium. I'd chosen Titanium, which this morning turns out to be more of a subtly metallic silver than the reflective gloss I had imagined, but is nonetheless very cool. A clear dustcover is included, but I immediately ditched it, along with the Wharfedales' grillecloths. (I prefer the look and sound of my Rega when its cover gathers dust in a closet.)

Close inspections of the Rega RP-1 and Wharfedale Diamond 10.1s revealed some flaws in their finishes—minor rough spots near the edges—but at these prices, I can overlook such tiny imperfections. The RP-1 is stripped down to a turntable's barest elements, and resembles other Regas—the earlier P1 through my own P3-24 come to mind—in size and shape, measuring about 17" W by 4" H by 14.5" D. Nothing is wasted in the Rega. The Rega is designed and manufactured in the UK; the Wharfedales are "designed and engineered" in the UK, but manufactured in China.

Footnote 1: Robert J. Reina reviewed the earlier Diamond 9.1 in November 2005.

soulful.terrain's picture

Wharfedale has been making great loudspeakers for quite some time now. I'm sure these are no exception. And your right, These are absolutely gorgeous.

Those drivers look like they could withstand an atomic bomb. Quality!

Mark Evans

popluhv's picture

I must have missed something in an earlier thread, but what inspired you to move to the less expensive system, yet keep the old one in storage?

Stephen Mejias's picture
"The Entry Level" is our print magazine's new monthly column. It made its first appearance in our January 2011 issue. I write the column -- an honor and privilege. The column focuses on lower-priced products (stuff typically well under $1000) and it'll try to explore how and why people become audiophiles.

You can read the first installment right here, and it might answer your questions. Basically, in order to write the column, I had to set up a less expensive system.

ack's picture

After all didn't the guy reviewing the Marantz cd5004 hint at a system for starters like this:

Marantz PM5004
Marantz CD5004
Paradigm Atom Monitors?

If you read the Pro-Ject Debut III review and throw it in for the love of the Marantz's phono stage you got an entry level system.

I am actually surprised Mr Mejias did not go for the starter system mentioned now in passing in like three different reviews in the magazine pages.

Stephen Mejias's picture
Please see my response above for background info on "The Entry Level."

I know that Bob Reina has been building his own version of an entry-level system, and I'm confident he'll do a good job. But should we stop at what Bob has achieved? Aren't there other options and other ideas to explore?

There are many, many ways to put together a high-quality, low-cost system, and I plan to explore all sorts of options and share my experiences with the readers.

While Bob's entry-level system is undoubtedly fine, what value would it offer readers if I were to simply do what he's already done? In addition, we don't have on hand multiple review samples of each product reviewed, so it would be impractical for Bob and I to review the same product at the same time. I could come up with countless hypothetical systems, but what good would that be to anyone? I actually have to listen to these things, too. (One would think that last point obvious, but, unfortunately, it's not obvious to all.)

That said, there will be some overlap from time to time. For instance, Art Dudley is contributing a full equipment report on the Rega RP-1 turntable, and Bob Reina will be contributing a full equipment report on the Wharfedale Diamond 10.1 loudspeakers, in future issues.

ack's picture

Very cool will you stick with the Playstation 1 as your CD player choice?

I am sort of making a budget list of known good products plus sort of a list of "magic" products like the Paradigm Atom or Playstation or those T-Amps that are better than they ought to be for the price.

Good luck with your system and I will look forward to Rein's speaker review considering your comments above.

Stephen Mejias's picture
I haven't listened to CDs for hi-fi reviewing purposes in a very long time. The only time I listen to CDs is when I'm reviewing promo discs for our Record Reviews section, and, in those cases, I've been using my Exposure 2010S CD player. But, when I do get around to reviewing a CD player, my reference will be a Sony Playstation 1.
Leo Fassbinder's picture

Does your PS1 have the RCA jacks or the proprietary plug on the unit? Do you think it makes a difference which machine you get?

Lostcase's picture

Great read.

swimkinney2's picture

I am really enjoying reading the Entry Level. Being a college student who is into vinyl and obviously is on a very limited budget, this is perfect. Please keep this going!!

fishhead's picture

from my point of view.

I'm a big music fan who regularly buys vinyl. Up until now i've been using an old, cheap all-in-one hi-fi but i'd now like to invest in something a bit decent.

Unfortunately I have pretty much no technical knowledge so this column could become essential

I have a few questions/comments -

- It would be useful if at the bottom of the article you could list all the equipment you used inc. wires, etc. As an aside, how crucial is wiring to a good audio system? Again keeping in mind that as a beginner, i'm looking at as much plug-and-play as possible!

- If I was to buy the set-up mentioned in this article, could I get up and running and notice a large improvement in my listening or are there any basics missing in the article that I would need to know?

- Using the amplifier mentioned, would I be able to connect this to my PC to digitize records? I currently do this by running everything to my pc speakers via a soundcard

A lot of questions, I know, if there is a more appropriate place within the website/the web, i'd be more than happy to be directed!


Stephen Mejias's picture
Thanks very much, fishhead.

It would be useful if at the bottom of the article you could list all the equipment you used inc. wires, etc.

I think I understand what you mean, but I mention everything I'm using in the body of the column. I would really like people to read the stories, and actually pay attention, because everything within -- from the settings to the music selections -- is purposely placed. I would like people to think of my columns as works of art -- like a movie or a song or, more precisely, a piece of literature. Everything inside is part of the story, and I think readers will get more out of my column if they pay close attention. I realize I may be asking too much, but even if you don't pay close attention, you should still be able to get something valuable out of the work. The reader who pays close attention will simply get more.

As an aside, how crucial is wiring to a good audio system?

Well, obviously, you need cables to make music. But, for now, I would put more emphasis (and money) on every other aspect of the system and I would upgrade the cables later. Which is exactly what I'm doing in my column. If you read from the beginning (January 2011 issue), you'll note that I'm using Radio Shack cables. In a future column, I'll discuss some other options.

If I was to buy the set-up mentioned in this article, could I get up and running and notice a large improvement in my listening or are there any basics missing in the article that I would need to know?

I don't know your system, room, or listening preferences, so I can only guess that you would probably hear a big improvement. Some effort will be required in placement of your speakers, and setup of your turntable, to get best results. You can search our site for tips on those things.

Using the amplifier mentioned, would I be able to connect this to my PC to digitize records?

Not with the Cambridge integrated amplifier, but with the NAD PP3 USB phono preamplifier. You can read Bob Reina's full review of the NAD right here. In our May issue, I'll discuss the Music Hall USB-1 turntable and Audioengine 5 loudspeakers, which is a cheap, easy, and versatile system that delivers very good sound. With those two components, which include all the cables you'll need, you can play and digitize vinyl records, play and charge your iPod, stream music from iTunes, and enjoy high-quality sound. All for $600.

Members of our forum may also have tips and suggestions for you.

Leo Fassbinder's picture

Mr. Mejias:

Consider this a follow up to my other post about the $500 record cleaner. It appears I have somehow read these columns out of order, because this one is labeled #2.

This was a great column for The Entry Level, and exactly the kind of stuff I want to know about, both on the low price/high value speakers and gems you enjoy from the universe of music that is available. I could easily see myself buying some Wharfedales for my office. Thank you for the tip, and this column is exactly the place in your magazine where I would expect to get such a tip.

Jacques's picture

As a long-time beer-budget audiophile, I really dig this column and look forward to future installments. I'm particularly anticipating your review of NHT's new Super Zero 2.0 minimonitors. I recently bought a pair with a Super 8 subwoofer and am blown away. Mind you, I bought this kit to replace a pair of Martin Logan Aerius i electrostats because the latter could not accompany me to an overseas post and the Super 8 has an auto-switching power supply that can run on 240V. The 'stats were the pinnacle of my audiophile acquisitions, and I was expecting to be merely satisfied, if not thrilled, with the NHT kit. I couldn't find any reviews or a dealer where I could audition it, so I took a leap of faith, based largely on Corey Greenberg's 1995 review of the original Super Zeros and NHT's assurance that they would pay return shipping if I decided not to keep it. Well, I'm keeping it. In fact, in my smallish 15'x20' living room in a Brooklyn brownstone, I like it even better than the 'stats or the Spica TC-60s that preceded them.

I drive it with modest gear: Apple Lossless files fed from iTunes through an Airport Express wi-fi unit connected via Toslink cable to my $100 eBay Special Behringer DEQ2496 EQ that also serves as a DAC into a $100 eBay Special Adcom GFP-555 preamp and matching $100 eBay Special Adcom GFA-5200 50wpc power amp. I got $8 balanced/RCA cables at a pro audio store, and the pre-power interconnect and 15' cable lengths are Radio Shack's best. Stands are $55 28" Pangea Audio LS02s from AudioAdvisor. Total cost for the entire system is just over $1,000. The sub is fed a full-range unmodified line signal from the DEQ2496's aux out jacks, and the EQ curve cuts output to the Super Zeros below 100Hz and, with a mild dip in the midrange and a mild rise in the treble, yields flat response at the listening position.

So, this is a cheap, digital-only, single-source system that performs miracles. I did notice an increase in clarity when I upgraded the connection between the Airport Express and the DEQ2496 from analog to Toslink cable. Due to the higher voltage abroad, I'll have to replace the Adcom gear with a budget Marantz integrated while I'm overseas, but the DEQ2496, being multi-voltage pro gear, will be able to go with me.

Anyway, I'm mighty impressed with the NHT kit. I won't explain exactly why, so as not to bias your upcoming review. But, I consider it a revelation and an absolute steal at $500, and I think you'll be doing a great service to beer-budget audiophiles everywhere by reviewing it in your column.

idsearcher's picture

Great column. I have a pair of the 10.1 Wharfedales and can confirm the sound is amazing and the value is amazing. Surprisingly the bass is quite rounded (not heavy) on these things for speakers so small. The bass won't rattle the windows but it is certainly very noticeable and I would argue an audiophile doesn't want ridiculous bass levels. Where these speakers really shine are in the mids and highs. I'm mainly listening to percussion and brass heavy 70's salsa records and guitar and vocal heavy flamenco music and when I close my eyes it feels almost like you are listening to them live. 

My setup is a Project Debut turntable with an Acrylic platter (bought that recently, definitely improved the sound), Cambridge Audio DACmagic connected to a PS3 (which i play MP3's and CD's through), and my pride and joy is the Primaluna Prologue 2 Tube/Valve Amplifier (which I bought at a great price off an audiophile i met at work who was upgrading his setup).

My next upgrade will probably be an Ortofon 2m Blue cartridge for my Project turntable within the next few months. After that I will probably look at getting more serious in 1 or 2 years and get a VPI Scout turntable, upgrade my speakers around the same time but not sure what yet (I would really like Magnepans but if I do that then i'd also need to totally change my amplifier setup and I just love the PrimaLuna so that in another 5 years or something).

FockerRN's picture

"But, when I do get around to reviewing a CD player, my reference will be a Sony Playstation 1."


LOL, yep, you can definitely tell this guy has been hanging around my boy, John DeVore!