The Entry Level #2 Page 2

Like other lower-priced models in Rega's line, the RP-1 is basically a plug-and-play design: Setup couldn't be simpler. I placed it atop my Polycrystal equipment rack, making sure the turntable was level. The RP-1's bias slider is preset to accommodate the 1.5–2gm tracking weight of the factory-fitted Ortofon OM5e cartridge. The turntable is designed so that all the user need do is install the included balance weight at the end of the RB101 tonearm, then rotate the weight until it's as close as possible to the stop point. This is extremely simple to achieve—there's no guessing or measuring involved—and should take no more than a few seconds. The Rega's power cord and phono leads are hardwired at the rear of the plinth, making external connections almost mindless. Plug the phono leads into the phono inputs on your amplifier (or the moving-magnet inputs on your external phono preamp), plug the AC cord into the wall or power distributor, lay the included wool mat over the platter, and you're all set.

I placed the Wharfedales exactly where the DeVore Gibbon 3s had sat before them: atop 24"-high Target stands, secured by small globs of Blu-Tack, and angled so that their pretty front baffles pointed directly at my listening position. They looked so good like that, nicely matching the dark brown of my IKEA Expedit LP shelves and adding a sophistication, or maturity, to my listening room that I hadn't known was missing. In exchange for the Furutech Evolution speaker cables, I prepared 7' lengths of RadioShack's 14-gauge, braided Flat Megacable speaker wire ($24.99/50', catalog no. 278-1273). I opted against adding banana plugs or other connectors, and instead simply removed small amounts of the cable's clear plastic insulation to expose sufficient lengths of the braided copper wire. In place of the Furutech interconnects I used RadioShack's stereo audio cables ($6.99/3', catalog no. 42-487). On the bottom shelf of my Polycrystal rack I placed a Cambridge Audio Azur 340A integrated amplifier (40Wpc, $359 when last available) borrowed from Uncle Omar. The build quality of this amp is surprisingly robust—it's less tinny than my Exposure 2010S. And atop the Cambridge I set Stereophile's review sample of NAD's PP3 USB phono preamplifier ($199).

I powered everything up and realized I had to address an important question: Which LP to play first?

The answer came easy. It would have to be John Prine's self-titled debut (LP, Atlantic SD 19156), a recent gift from my friend Michael Lavorgna. Prine was only 24 when the album was released in 1971, but, as Kris Kristofferson enthuses in the liner notes, Prine "writes like he's two hundred and twenty." Yeah, there's a great and tender wisdom in songs like "Spanish Pipedream," "Sam Stone," "Angel from Montgomery," "Six O'Clock News," and "Donald and Lydia," to name just a few from this masterwork. It's a mystery how someone so young could compile such an outstanding collection. The world is rich.

I started at the beginning, with "Illegal Smile," and my first thought was that this simple little system was doing nothing wrong. In fact, it was doing a lot right: Prine's gentle twang was nicely centered between the Wharfedales, within a surprisingly wide and fairly deep soundstage; the bass guitar was round and taut, the snare drum had good snap, and everything was moving along at a sure and steady pace. Though the system may have lacked some low-end solidity and impact, there was a seductive ease to the overall sound, a quality that would soon lead me happily through many sides of music.

From John Prine I traveled to Archie Shepp and Horace Parlan's Trouble in Mind (LP, SteepleChase SCS1139), recorded by Freddie Hansson on February 6, 1980, at Sweet Silence Studios, in Denmark. Some might write this off as "an audiophile recording"—ie, great sound and little musical value—but that would be an unfortunate mistake. Harlan is deep in the pocket here, and Shepp blows rings of notes as if they were so much cigarette smoke, chuckling and wheezing and whistling into the dark night like some sad blues singer whose woman has just left him for some other musician not half as good. It's all so lovely and lazy, and though Shepp's tenor sax through this system wasn't as round or as full-figured as I've heard it through my previous system, there was enough resolution that I could hear his deft fingers on his horn's keys—and I had no problem following pianist Harlan's graceful blues runs on numbers like the sultry title track and the determined "Goin' Down Slow."

Something about that last song—I won't say what—reminded me of a book I've just finished reading, Gabriel Garc°a Márquez's hot and dirty Memories of My Melancholy Whores. In it, the protagonist, an old columnist and music writer, decides to give himself, on his 90th birthday, the gift of a night with a virgin. The book should be required reading for all audiophiles—as awful as it might sound, it's actually the story of love's crippling and inspiring power, a power that persists even as we approach our final days. In the novel, our bachelor enjoys listening to records. One scene has him "taking refuge in an exquisite program of music: Wagner's Rhapsody for Clarinet and Orchestra [sic], Debussy's Rhapsody for Saxophone, and Bruckner's String Quintet . . ." He describes the last as "an edenic oasis in the cataclysm of [Bruckner's] work," so I knew I had to purchase it (Heutling Quartet with Heinz Otto Graf on EMI Electrola 1C 063-29 100, recorded in 1972.)

From the very start, this music is ravishing, and while it's a chamber work, it approaches in texture and scale the ambition of a symphonic piece. The system seemed to struggle a bit during climactic passages, just hinting at a loss of cool and loosening its otherwise firm grip on the music, but nevertheless managing to follow the lithe, sweeping movements, their swelling themes and sudden downrushes.

This put me in a mood. I carried on from album to album, creating my own exquisite program of music, including Four Tet's There Is Love in You (LP, Domino WIGLP 254), Mark McGuire's Living With Yourself (LP, Editions Mego 107V), and January's "Recording of the Month," the Sun City Girls' Funeral Mariachi (LP, Abduction ABDT045). Each filled my listening room with warmth and light, and memories of people, places, and events that I hold dear. The system played no favorites, but seemed to enjoy each recording as much as I, showing its versatility and impressing me with its ability to impart to me the music's emotional substance, leaving me with nothing to do but look into the sunshine, and with nothing to worry about but what to play next.

Share your stories.


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!