Check out our updated list for 2019: 10 Building Blocks for Your Budget/Affordable 2-Channel Audiophile System! (2019)
1. Elac Debut B6-This speaker has become a legend of sorts in the audiophile world due to it’s insane value for the money. When paired with a quality amp like the NAD C338 on this list, you will have a nice starter hi-fi system that will give you a nice soundstage, decent imaging and nice excitement without being too forward in any one area. What that adds up to is a system that is easy to listen to for hours and hours without any fatigue to your ears.
2. Kef Q350– If you want an speaker that is more refined with a little more definition and air than the B6, then go with the Kef Q350. It will also go lower than the B6, with some well controlled bass.
The sound is well beyond what I would expect from a speaker under $1000. As a matter of fact there are some speakers well over a thousand that don’t give you the same “you are there” feeling. Especially when paired with the next component on the list…
3. Rega Brio (2017 model) – The design is definitely high-end with its two part aluminum case, but the half rack width of this integrated amp gives no hint of what a powerhouse this little wonder is. The Brio is a class AB design, with 50 watts per channel into 8 ohms, and while that may not sound like much, it is fully capable of providing a sweet, huge and palpable performance out of floorstanding speakers or larger bookshelf speakers, like the Kef Q350. The transparency of the performance is also excellent for a sub $1000 amp.
No digital inputs on this one, but it has a great phono stage that will bring the best out of turntables like the Project Debut Carbon. You can also connect a streamer like the Bluesound Node 2 and bring it into the digital domain.
4. NAD C338-If you’re not ready to spend around $1000 on the Brio, or you want some network connectivity built-in, this is another quality 50W per channel option that sells for $649. While it doesn’t have the same speed, attack and transparency of the Brio, it will give the great soundstaging, imaging, and detail that NAD is known for. The tonal balance is also excellent for an affordable Hi-Fi amp.
This unit will also give you some features that the Brio doesn’t, like built in Chromecast for Hi-Res streaming from your smartphone, along with remote control from your smartphone via the NAD app. It also has 4 digital inputs so you can connect your TV or Cable Box, something else the Brio doesn’t have. Pair this with either the Kef or Elac speakers on this list and you have a great affordable Hi-Fi system ready to go, just add streaming music from Tidal or Spotify.
5. Bluesound Node 2-If you have a an old amp or just purchased an amp that doesn’t have streaming capabilities, then the Node 2 is a steal. For around $500, you get a great sounding music streamer that will connect to just about any music service out there, stream Hi-Res files from your network drive, or play them from a hard drive connected directly to its USB port.
It also has a lot of audiophile-centric features like compatibility with Roon music software to manage your music collection, MQA compatibility, and Burr-Brown DAC to give you great sound from the RCA out and Headphone out. It will also stream music to Bluesound speakers placed throughout the house like Sonos does with it’s speakers. This unit does so much for so little, it’s really a no brainer to most people looking to add streaming to their Hi-Fi rigs at at reasonable price.
6. Chromecast Audio-If $500 for a streamer is too rich for your blood, or you just want to dip your toe into music streaming, then the Chromecast Audio is what you need.
While the sound quality won’t quite be up to the standard of the Node 2, Google’s $35 accessory plugs into any stereo, provided you have the proper cable, and it will stream music via Wi-Fi from a multitude of Android apps in up to 24/96 Hi-Res quality.
You can even play to two of them at the same time for a multi-room setup. This little device is awesome!
7. Monoprice Affinity Premium 14AWG Braided Speaker Wire– I’ll just say this..Quality speaker wire is essential to get the most out of your system.
8. Blue Jeans Cable Canare 4S11 Speaker Cable-This wire is of slightly better quality to eke even more great sound out of your system. Blue Jeans Cable cable gives you great value for the money, and budget conscious audiophiles swear by it.
9. Audioquest Beetle DAC– A good DAC is essential to convert music coming from a laptop or desktop PC into an analog signal that can be input into your amp. While most PCs have an inexpensive DAC built-in that will output into your stereo, the result is usually subpar since PC are normally not equipped with the circuitry needed to remove digital noise from the music being played.
The Beetle, however has one of the best ESS Sabre DAC chips, combined with a quality power supply and quality digital timing circuitry, two things that are needed to provide a clean, clear signal to your amp. The Beetle also has Bluetooth so you can send music from you or your friends smartphone in a pinch.
10. PRO-JECT Debut Carbon (DC) Turntable – If you’re looking to put together an affordable vinyl rig, then you can combine this quality entry-level turntable with either of the amps on this list, since they both have integral phono stages. That means they are built into the amps, taking away the need for a stand alone phono amp. BTW, if you are looking to play a lot of vinyl, then you may want to check out the Rega Brio, since it was actually made to be used with high-quality turntables.
This unit is a good starter turntable, since you can upgrade the cartridge for better sound, plus it also has a carbon tonearm along with a heavy platter and base, to cut down on vibration. That is good because when you are playing vinyl vibration is the enemy.