The Best (Our Favorite) Budget Audiophile Gear Right Now: Headphones, Speakers, Amps, DACs, Etc.

We’re fortunate to have a lot of affordable high-end audio or budget audiophile gear pass through our doors regularly. Out of that group, there are some components that we fall in love with instantly. Usually, this is because they sound extraordinarily musical or they’re remarkably practical. Or both. We call these items our “Favorites.”

Here’s a list of our favorite affordable audiophile gear right now!

The Best (Our Favorite) Budget Headphone: Technics EAH-A800 Wireless ANC Headphones ($349)

The $349 Technics EAH-A800 Wireless Noise Cancelling Over-Ear Headphones are a new premium set of Bluetooth earphones that promise industry-leading battery life (up to 50 hours), class-leading active noise canceling, and LDAC Hi-Res wireless audio.

Price-wise, they’re in direct competition with the current top-selling ANC headphones from Sony, and they do compete, providing awesome noise-canceling, more balanced tuning, and good ol’ fashion buttons for those who hate touch controls. They’re also amazingly comfortable! Full review coming soon.

What we love:

  • Amazingly comfortable
  • Class-Leading Noise Cancelling
  • Crisp, Balanced Sound

What to think about:

  • No aptX
  • No Touch Controls

Honorable Mention: Hifiman Edition XS Planar Magnetic Headphones ($499)

The Best (Our Favorite) Budget Speaker: Polk Monitor XT20 Bookshelf Speakers ($299)

With the $299 Monitor XT20, Polk Audio has proven that it can make an enjoyable hi-fi speaker at any price point. While its looks are plain, the overall build quality is solid, and the compact size will fit many applications.

With the Monitor XT line, Polk promised speakers with clarity, high output, and effortless bass, and they delivered that for the most part. They kind of run out of steam when you play extraordinarily fast and loud music, but for most tracks, they provide a wide-open sound with natural midrange and deep bass.

I think these speakers are a great all-around speaker for those building an entry-level hi-fi system, especially if you listen to a lot of Jazz and Acoustic music. If you catch these speakers on sale, grab them! Read the full review here.

What we love:

  • Solid Build Quality
  • Nice Tonal Balance
  • Breathtaking Natural Sound

What to think about:

  • Slight Midrange Coloration
  • Dynamics Can Be A Little Soft At Times

The Best (Our Favorite) Budget DAC: iFi ZEN One Signature Digital To Analog Converter ($349)

The $349 iFi ZEN One Signature is an exceptional DAC for $349. It has a nice easygoing sound with good dynamics and a natural presentation. While it could use a touch more focus, it does an excellent job of bringing out the music’s essence and emotion, which is the most important thing. In addition, it has a remarkable array of connections and impressive wireless sound. This is an excellent option for those adding digital capabilities to a modest system. Read the full review here.

What we love:

  • Great Build Quality
  • Warm, Natural Sound
  • Extraordinary Bluetooth Performance

What to think about:

  • Could Use A Touch More Focus

Honorable Mention: Hidizs S3 PRO Ultra-Portable MQA DAC/Amp Combo ($69)

The Best (Our Favorite) Budget Amplifier: Cambridge Audio AXR100 Stereo Receiver ($699)

Many budget amps are either too bright, too weak, or have too little connectivity to live with for long, but the $700 Cambridge Audio AXR100 Stereo Receiver has all the power, connections, and refined sound quality needed to build an affordable high-end audio system.

The capable amplifier has 100 watts x 2 into 8 ohms (20-20,000 Hz), is 4-ohm speaker capable, has three digital inputs (2 optical, 1 coax), and a sub output. It also has an MM phono stage, two sets of binding-post speaker connectors, plus a built-in Bluetooth receiver for quick wireless connections.

In addition, the AXR100’s massive toroidal transformer allows it to provide lots of clean high-current power to the speakers of your choice. We recommend the Wharfedale Diamond 12.2 Bookshelf Speaker as a good match. Read the full review here.

What we love:

  • Great Build Quality
  • Warm, Natural Sound
  • Remarkable Power

What to think about:

  • It could use a touch more transparency

The Best (Our Favorite) Budget Accessory: IsoAcoustics zaZen I & II Turntable Isolation Platform ($199 & $229)

If you have a turntable, you know that any vibrations in its environment can be quite detrimental to sound quality. That’s why most vinyl aficionados have some kind of isolation system for their turntable, even if it’s just some foam padding.

While that will help somewhat, the IsoAcoustics zaZen Isolation Platform is an attractive and sturdy option with IsoAcoustics’ award-winning isolation feet (just like the OREA and Aperta Stands we reviewed) integrated on the bottom. This base provides a neat, effective, and easy-to-use solution for detail robbing vibration, and it’s also very affordable. You can also use it for other equipment like tube amps, CD players, etc.

The zaZen Isolation Platform comes in two sizes: The $199 zaZen I has a weight capacity of​ 25lbs, and the $229 zaZen II has a weight capacity of 40lbs.

What we love:

  • Solidly built
  • Easy To Use
  • Nice Looking

What to think about:

  • No height adjustment, must be used on a flat surface

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