I get it. Most people stream their music from Tidal, Qobuz, Etc. I do too. (Qobuz for Free) That said, I also have CD and Vinyl collections, and I love the feeling of playing a piece of physical media. I also love looking at the cover art and reading the liner notes.
I highly recommend all music lovers keep physical copies of their favorite recordings, especially if you don’t have a top-notch internet connection. Your physical recording will probably sound better than a stream in those cases.
That’s why I set up this affordable system (a little over 2k!) that combines a stereo amplifier, matching CD player, turntable, and speakers. If you don’t have speaker stands, I recommend spending a little more on those to get your speaker placement right.
The amp also has Bluetooth built-in, so you can quickly stream music from your phone if you wish.
This combo will provide a well-balanced sound with plenty of soundstage, detail, and weight. Musicality is the name of the game, and these components will have you glued to your chair as each song fully unfolds in front of you.
- The Amp: Cambridge Audio AXR100 100-Watt Stereo Receiver with Bluetooth ($699)
- The CD Player: Cambridge Audio AXC35 Single-Disc CD Player with High-Performance Wolfson DAC ($399)
- The Turntable: Pro-Ject T1 Turntable ($429)
- The Speakers: Wharfedale Diamond 12.2 6.5″ 2-Way Bookshelf Speaker ($599)
- Speaker Stands: Monolith – 124794 24 Inch Speaker Stand (Each) ($54.99)
- Wi-Fi Music Streamer: Andover Audio Songbird Plug-and-Play Hi-Res Internet Streamer ($179)
The Amp: Cambridge Audio AXR100 100-Watt Stereo Receiver with Bluetooth ($699)
Many budget amps are either too bright, too weak, or have too little connectivity to live with for long. However, the amp we picked for this system, the $600 Cambridge Audio AXR100 Stereo Receiver, has all the power, connections, and refinement needed to build a quality system.
This capable amplifier has 100 watts x 2 into 8 ohms (20-20,000 Hz), 4-ohm speaker capability due to the huge toroidal transformer, three digital inputs (2 optical, 1 coax), a sub output, MM phono stage, plus two sets of binding-post speaker connectors. We love the AXR100 because we feel it’s the most well-rounded unit at the price point!
Buy Here: Amazon
The CD Player: Cambridge Audio AXC35 Single-Disc CD Player with High-Performance Wolfson DAC ($399)
Along with the AXR100, we have the matching AXC35 CD Player, which shares a remote with the amplifier. This player is nicely built with a smooth operating drawer and an easy-to-read display. It doesn’t have the fastest mechanism, but it’s pretty quiet, which is the most important thing.
If you like to burn CDs (do ppl still do that?), it will play CD-R, CD-RW, and CD-ROM discs. It will also play discs with MP3 and WMA files, but I don’t know anyone who still listens to those.
In addition, you get multiple outputs. The single RCA output taps into the AXC35’s excellent sounding built-in Wolfson DAC, then the coaxial out allows you to use the player as a transport, going to an external DAC like the MQA equipped DacMagic 200M. Gapless playback is also part of the package.
Most importantly, the AXC35 sounds damn good. The internal Wolfson DAC sounds very natural, producing plenty of separation and depth without the digital glare of lesser CD players.
Buy Here: Amazon
The Turntable: Pro-Ject T1 Turntable ($429)
The Pro-Ject T1 is a well-equipped entry-level turntable from Pro-Ject. It’s a component that lets newbies to Vinyl get up and running with minimal setup, which is one reason we chose it for this system.
This turntable is plug-and-play, meaning the tonearm and cartridge are set at the factory. You need to install the drive belt, put the glass platter on, then plug in the turntable to get up and running.
In addition, the T1 has a clean, minimalist design with a nicely finished MDF plinth, glass platter, and black aluminum tonearm. It will look good in any decor.
The T1 is also supplied with an Ortofon OM 5E Moving Magnet cartridge with an elliptical diamond stylus tip for good tracking; this is a proper hi-fi playback system that will give you a weighty, smooth presentation.
The easy-going warm character of this turntable will go well with the detailed, highly technical speaker we have chosen for this setup…
Buy Here: Amazon
The Speakers: Wharfedale Diamond 12.2 6.5″ 2-Way Bookshelf Speaker ($599)
The Wharfedale Diamond 12.2 is a beautiful, well-constructed speaker that clearly demonstrates how far the sub-$1000 speaker segment has come. Computer-designed bracing and heavy-duty materials do a great job of cutting down unwanted resonance. They set a new standard for build quality at this price range.
Soundwise, it does things unimaginable at this price even a year ago. The soundstage and imaging are class-leading; the bass is fast, deep, and precise. When I first heard them, I thought they could use just a touch more warmth and richness in the upper bass and low mids, but the AXR100’s richness in these areas brings these speakers to life very nicely.
At the end of the day, I haven’t heard another speaker at this price range with such precise separation and placement. They provide a nice transparent window to the rest of this system.
Buy Here: Amazon
On The Whole:
When put together, these nicely budgeted components (check out our system building article) provide a very sophisticated-sounding system that plays with a lot of focus, depth, and soundstage width. The amplifier is very musical and dynamic, which allows the speakers to play with a good pace and bass weight. They will get out of the way and get your head nodding to the music! In addition, The CD Player complements both of them with a clear and detailed performance; then, the turntable will provide a warm, natural analog alternative.
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I’m an audio writer who started as a young audio salesman/consumer electronics professional back in the late 90s. That’s where I discovered the magic of 2-Channel sound. My hunger for great sound has led me on a delightful music quest that continues today.