A Powder Dusting of Audio Interest

Your enthusiastic response has inspired Kristina to come out of blog-retirement. She could only stay away for an evening. Ladies and gentlemen, it seems she may be hooked. Any suggestions for an amp and CD player?


So I lied in my last blog entry. It wasn't my final goodbye after all, but the beginning to an interesting process of putting together a nearly-affordable audio system.

Now let's remember that I still need to buy several pizza pies a week, and my budget is limited. However, before I contemplate jumping off a bridge, as the cost of high-end audio equipment boggles my mind, I've decided that I may not in fact have my full system until I graduate next year. Not to fear, I tell myself. All of this may be working up to a graduation gift — to me, from me. I may not know what state I'll live in, but what can you do? I will have the more important items — beanbag chairs, a Foreman Grill, and an amazing audio system! I've clearly got my priorities all straightened out and Stereophile may have rubbed off on me — a powder dusting of audio fanaticism.

Perhaps "fanaticism" is too strong a word. Let's go with "interest" instead: A powder dusting of audio interest.

So here's what I've found...

Stephen schooled me a bit in his office, explaining the other things I would need to actually power my speakers. I hadn't given it much thought because I think speakers are cute. I wanted those picked out first. No harm, no foul. So I did some research, putting to good use the spreadsheets I've been working on all summer, and came up with a few CD players and integrated amplifiers I think are absolutely glorious.

Not knowing a whole lot about CD players, except maybe how to use one, I fell in love with Tangent's CDP-100 because it's sleek and it's not black. (Typical me.) The Cambridge Audio Azur 340C CD player ($329) was another piece that caught my eye. I found a ton of CD players that were a little more or less expensive, but their bulkiness, in addition to their ordinary black color, killed it for me. In comparison, Tangent and Cambridge Audio were easy choices.

As for amps, I also liked the Tangent AMP-100 ($349) and the Cambridge Audio Azur 340A ($329) integrateds. I figure either of these two would do the trick. Although keeping the CD player and integrated amp within the same brand would probably look nice, like a matching tea set or wine glasses, I'm not particularly picky about sticking with the same brands just for continuity's sake. I'd mix and match my wardrobe of audio equipment like I would shoes and handbags.

Pieced together, my potential hi-fi system would consist of the following:

— Tannoy's Mercury F2 speakers ($185/pair) or Monitor Audio Radius Speakers ($229) from my last blog. (Although I am researching Gallo's Nucleus Micro and the Usher Audio S-520 because they are both simply adorable.)
— Tangent CDP-100 ($349) or Cambridge Audio Azur 340C CD player ($329)
— Tangent AMP-100 integrated amp ($349) or the Cambridge Audio Azur 340A integrated amp ($329)

So all together, my little home audio system comes in at approximately $900. Not too shabby, if you ask me. Not needing an elaborate or expensive system, I like the idea of having sleek, sexy components that are eye-popping and subtle at the same time. I'm not going for the macho, "look-at-my-hemi-truck" type of attention. Just something classy, sophisticated, cultured, unique... Any or all of those descriptions. That's what I'm going for.

Ward's picture

I'd keep the Arcam Solo in consideration. One piece of gear covers everything but the speakers...As far as receivers/integrateds go, also look into NAD's C320BEE. Should be a good unit, and it's in the same price range. The Cambridge is also a good unit, I think. CD player? Put that on the back burner. Grab the speakers and the amp first. You've got a DVD player, right? Or at least an old Discman? Start with that, and your iPod. Or grab something like a Slim Squeezebox and just pull the audio files you have off your computer. I can't remember the last time I put a CD in the player. And then, you can always buy the CD player later. But you could start listening to music *now*. The DVD player and Squeezebox options are particularly compelling if your receiver has digital inputs (in which case the player doesn't have to sound good, the amp will take care of that for you).

Ward's picture

Oh, and remember. We all want components that look nice, but don't dismiss something on the basis of looks without having heard it. Or maybe you don't want to do a whole lot of auditioning, which is understandable. In which case, the guidance you're getting here will make sure that whatever you end up with, it sounds good.

Gerald Clifton's picture

The Gallo Nucleus Micro? Say, aren't those the ones that look like eyeballs? Are you SURE you want detached eyeballs in your room with the lights out? You may not see them, but they'll be looking at you...Music Hall makes some nice silver amps (and CD players) that are unblack -- did you try those? And they don't have eyeballs, although one of them has a Polyphemus-like centercirculargizmo. I don't think it can see, though. I'm sure your new system will sound terrific and wish you the best of luck (don't let the house parties infect you with senioritis...you hit those books, young lady!). Cheers, Clifton

Christian's picture

I own the previous model to the Azur line. I absolutely love my Cambridge A500. Silver, and the blue led looks good too! Sounds like you are well on your way. You may be able to find a good deal if you can find a shop that can put a package together for you, but that might mean a compromise on the speakers or the amp.

Monty's picture

Here's another vote for Cambridge! Although I suggested you consider the B&W LM1 speakers in response to your previous post, the Tannoys would give you a more complete sound because they are bigger. That is the speaker I would go with," but the B&Ws are heavy on the ""cute"" and ""fashionable."" They do sound good and have been blessed by Stereophile in an older review. I'll tell ya what", if you commit to getting the speakers, I'll donate an old NAD receiver and CD player that I have in the audio cavern to tide you over until you get the other gear. You can pass them along to someone else when you get the Azur stuff. The NAD stuff is in nice shape for their age, but the CD player isn't a remote control model. Have Stephen PM me with a shipping address and he can see that they get to you...if you are up to the challenge;)

Ward's picture

Hey, you can't beat that deal.

Kristna's picture

First thing's first. You guys seriously kick ass. Ward: I think you have a good suggestion with putting the CD player on the back burner. I wrote a blog at the beginning of the summer admitting I don't buy a whole lot of CDs. My iPod where most of my music goes. But I'm tired of listening to it from head phones and my tiny computer speakers (I actually own a pair of Harman Kardon computer speakers and they're surprisingly loud for their size...but not loud enough obviously). I need bigger, brighter sound in my life! So thanks...I really do like the Arcam and the less boxes I have to take back to school, the better.Gerald: Good point about the eyeballs. The Gallo's are really different than anything I've seen, but the eyeballs creeping aboud my room is questionable. And I will hit those books Sunday through Thursday morning.Monty: I am thinking about taking you up on your offer! I will write a blog about the speakers I intend on getting and will get back to you soon. Thank you so much for your generosit

WonkoTheSane's picture

I assembled a system while in college facing the same considerations as you are. I spent more on beer than pizza, but hey," to each their own. Although ""cute"" is not their strong suit", the smaller paradigms can rock a small room, and you can get them in a few finishes. As for the gear to drive them, the entry level parasound gear is a fantastic bargain, and you can easily upgrade a piece at a time, as either need, or itch, hits home. The paradigm / parasound combo is not a popular one with audiophiles because it isn't very esoteric, and the audiophile brag level is low. They are, however, bulletproof, good sounding, durable, and flexible pieces to use through a bunch of moves, and will probably survive the idiots at parties who think your amp is a coaster. Also, keep in mind that some gear is better than others at presenting a variety of musical tastes without specializing. Happy hunting, and remember, in stereo, as in most things, the joy is not in getting what you want, but wanting what you have.

Cindy's picture

Kristina! I am a girl. I know, seriously. A year and a half ago when I started my first job and moved into my first studio apartment I went shopping for my first hi-fi with the same requirements as yours. I ended up with the Cambridge Audio Azur 540 amp and CD player and Mission M71 speakers. The Cambridge Audio stuff I love to this day. The Mission speakers I loved too, but they didn't quite fill the studio with that warm, enveloping sound I'd wanted, so I switched to the bigger Monitor Audio Bronze B2s, and I've loved those ever since. The Missions are in the back of my closet just in case I ever move into a place with a bedroom. The Tannoys you're considering seem to be similar to my Monitor Audios. I like when the speakers have the front firing port cause then I can place them closer to the wall. I love my system, but if I were shopping present day, I would also consider the Arcam Solo (just for the shelving it frees up) and the Usher S520 (so sexy!).

Kristina's picture

Cindy," ""warm"," enveloping sound"" is exactly what I'm going for. I will definately keep the Usher's in mind. Thanks!!