How little can you spend on a system and still get a glimpse of the High End? (In US dollars)

How little can you spend on a system and still get a glimpse of the High End? (In US dollars)
Less than $500
3% (10 votes)
Around $1000
10% (37 votes)
Around $1500
16% (57 votes)
Around $2000
13% (45 votes)
Around $2500
10% (36 votes)
Around $3000
17% (62 votes)
Around $4000
8% (27 votes)
Around $5000
17% (60 votes)
Around $10,000
4% (16 votes)
More than $10,000
3% (9 votes)
Total votes: 359

It is often claimed that high-end audio is a rich person's pursuit, while others feel that prices are secondary to careful selection and the right attitude.

Isiah Johnson's picture

I'm sure everyone is going to be putting together their versions of ideal high-end systems in their minimum price ranges. But I say the cost should be at whatever point you forget about the equipment and just enjoy the music. What point that arrives is totally up to the individual. Don't hold yourself to a price point. Go for the music.

Chris Ellersick's picture

It really helps cut the cost if you make the speakers. There are plenty of companies (Madisound, Zylatron, etc.) that sell drivers and parts. This can cut the cost of speakers by more than 2/3.

Brian Garvin's picture

While spending more money brings almost inevitably more quality, returns diminish rapidly at over 1k per component. It is important to emphasize the accessability of good reproduction. Once addicted nascent stereophile's will provide the economy of scale necessary for prices to drop as well as ensuring a vibrant market for used gear.

Charles Purvis Kelly, Jr.'s picture

Around $1,500.00, if you are buying new gear, otherwise maybe less if you buy your gear at either closeouts or buy used (in which case, you can buy better gear with the money that you're spending).

Federico Cribiore's picture

I'd say around $5000 (especially if the used/demo market is employed), and that is assuming an integrated amp, single-box CD player, and a pair of speakers. I have opted for separates in both CD transports/DA and amps and that obviously swells the cost hugely. Overall though, I feel like a taste would be finely achieved for $5000. For example if one bought a Cary integrated amp (say the SI-50- $2000), a pair of B&W CDM-1s ($1000) and a Sonic Frontiers CD-1 ($2000) that would be a highly musical and satisfying system. Now I have opted for bigger (not necessarily better), but...I am sure that one could do it for under $5000.

Jonathan De Vito's picture

With either a savvy dealer or through bargain-hunting, if experienced, one can assemble a terrific system. But it ain't easy.

Alex Voss's picture

If you invest the time needed for proper setup in your environment, you could purchase the Cambridge SoundWorks PCWorks 3pc powered speakers (around $70 these days) and a decent portable CD player ($99-$150) and get good nearfield sound for nothing. I've had this setup for months now, and have been shocked at the sound I've been able to obtain with some creative placement and damping (such as a sand bag or similar item placed on the bass unit). It may be a better glimpse of the High End than you thought you could get for the money.

David L.  Wyatt, Jr.'s picture

For psychological reasons, I'd rather it be a $999 (with a functional FM section and CD), because that number is a lot easier for people to justify. Thirty-grand systems are supposed to sound great, but what hooks people is a great-sounding system Joe Sixpack can afford. Barring Powerball, I will never be able to afford most of the gear reviewed by Stereophile.

Nathaniel C.  Moffat's picture

A glimpse of the High End for less than $500? Budget $350 for a pair of headphones, $145 for a portable CD player, and $5 (your entire interconnect budget) for a 1/4"-to-1/8" headphone adaptor. Voila.

Eric Bergman's picture

Sad but true: I replaced one component at a time over the years, until I finally hit the type of sound where I was really satisfied. Are there better systems out there? Sure, but I no longer pull the green stuff out when I hear something just a bit better.

Stephen Curling ('s picture

i'd imagine that most anyone can build a good system, its no flagship but music is the goal not who can empty their bank accounts first.

August Timmermans's picture

Awareness has its price. As soon as you realize how artificial the sound of most audio systems is, you want to go for quality components. However, quality does not come cheap.

Craig Copeland's picture

If decent bass response is not critical to your enjoyment of music $3,000 might due. Good bass down to 30 to 35Hz brings the minimum up to around $5,000. Much less $s and you have to fill in the parts missing with a lot of that 'right attitude' mentioned in the preface to this week's questions.

Brooks Bollman's picture

Speakers 800-1000 CD player 300-500 Integrated amp 600+ Cables 300 PS: purchase used!

Adam Bovill's picture

If you get used and demo equipment... other wise... more like $1500... 300 for the cd... 600 for the amp and speakers...

Eric Goh's picture

Why music lover has to pay very high price to enjoy natural music for relaxation and enjoyment?

Bob Currul's picture

I think you can get a glimpse at a reasonable rate. But is a glimpse enough?

Doug Cline's picture

I think a "glimpse of the High End" is 80% with the listener and 20% with the equipment. If you carefully select by listening critically to the systems, then $2000 should get you a speaker, amplifier, and CD unit that can give several years of satisfaction for musically pleasing and critical rendition aspects. Somewhere in that couple of years, the overall interest will either grow or dwindle, and the focus will: stay the same; shift to the quality of rendition; or shift to the musicality. I have probably spent a little time going down each of these roads, and have found that, once you are in an increasing interest mode, the pursuit of the next level always costs more than you expect, but generally just about what you can afford. People often criticize single-viewpoint pursuits---i.e., deeper bass, or 120dB SPLs, or triode only, or only soprano reproduction, or only piano harmonics, or blue lights on the faceplate, etc., etc.---but if that is the direction of pursuit and that is what gives solid satisfaction for plunking down your $$, then that is your High End. Re-reading this, it sounds more like a religion than a hobby!! Anyhow, there was a business axiom going around a year or two ago that perception is nine tenths of reality. I guess it applies fairly well to this question.

Stephen Westbom's picture

$2500 if you want bass performance, $1300 if you can do without the lowest two octaves.

Mark Miller's picture

The way I figure it is $200-$300 for a decent pair of minimonitors (TDL,Tannoy, Mordaunt-Short). Then around $400-$500 for a musical integrated amp. Finally, around $400-$500 for a CD player. Add speaker stands, decent speaker cables and interconnects, and it comes out to around $1500. And if you can find it used and in good condition, so much the better.

jorge luis's picture

reciver, dvd, cd, md, and bose acousticmass 6

Michael Pratt's picture

A package deal offered in Canada, consisting of Cambridge Audio CD and integrated with Mordaunt-Short speakers, sells for $1350 Can. and sounds very hi-endish indeed.

Kent Johnson's picture

Assuming an integrated amp, CD player, and a pair of speakers; each costing $750-$800. Cables and tax take up the rest. The dilemma this sort of system creates is why my system is composed almost entirely of used equipment. For someone whose funds are limited, it's much more satisfactory to have used high-end than new high-middle-end.'s picture

Deep bass is what really costs. A 20W integrated, some decent monitors, a modest source component, some zip cord, and you're in audio bliss. Like I said, bass costs mucho moolah . . . or did I hear that somewhere else?

Mike Otis's picture

There are a lot of good products that can be had for low prices; e.g., Golden Tube Audio, JoLida, etc.

Louie's picture

With careful selection of all associated components and cabling, $3k should crack open the door to the good listening. If I hit the PowerBall, I'm not going to get a Fabio system. I'm going to have several $3k systems around the house. Mixing and matching within the limits of a budget is more fun than splurging.

Brian Bradley's picture

Vandersteen 2Ce Signature series, Exposure integrated amplifier, Rega Planet CD player, Exposure speaker cables and interconnects.

Scott Miller's picture

As long as you're satisfied with listening to just CDs, and aren't a bass fanatic, you should be able to put together a relatively nice system for $800-$1000.

Michael Berkeley's picture

I would think that a minimum of $4k would be required to give a person a glimpse of the "high end." Go for a quality integrated amp (like Classé) and a solid pair of speakers. At a street price of around $700, a Rega Planet CD will make a nice addition. Don't forget cables---maybe some MIT Terminators.

Paul's picture

High end describes the sound not the price. You can use good quallity stuff and get a good sounding setup. I am learning audio for car and home. I just love music. I am a DJ for a christian radio station. I have around $3,000 in my audio system, but that does not mean that you can not do it for less. I like the mag, thanks alot