If you’re putting together an audio system on a budget, it’s an excellent time to be alive. Affordable hi-fi gear has never been better made or better sounding, so you get more system for your money.
The first six months of 2022 have produced some innovative products, like iFi Audio’s Go Bar, an ultra-portable DAC Headphone amp that crams the features and performance of a desktop headphone amp into a device the size of a pack of gum.
Hifiman has been going crazy with its releases as of late, producing several affordable products that push the value/performance envelope, like the Edition XS planar headphones and the EF400 R2R desktop DAC Headphone amp, which has a mind-blowing list of features for the price.
We also saw Technics’ latest flagship wireless noise-canceling headphones, the EAH-A800, a product with ANC performance that goes toe to toe with headphones from long-time class leaders like Sony and Bose. Along with that, some people may think they sound better as well.
Speaking of Sony, they have also just released their latest flagship noise-canceling headphones, the WH-1000XM5. While I think they are slightly behind the Technics’ headphones from a sound standpoint, the Sony breaks a lot of new ground in terms of technology and comfort, making them a desirable option.
Regarding 2-channel gear, you have Denon with their first full-fledged streaming integrated amp, the PMA-900HNE, and Klipsch with their sequel to the wildly popular RP-600M bookshelf speakers, the Klipsch Reference Premiere RP-600M II. We have a set coming any day now and can’t wait to see they compare to the originals.
We spend a lot of time following the hottest new audio releases and reviewing new gear so we can give you the scoop! So without further ado, here’s our list of “The Best Budget Audiophile Gear Of 2022 (So Far).”
1. Stealth Bomber: HIFIMAN Edition XS Headphones ($499)
Building on the foundation of the highly respected Edition X headphones, the new Edition XS utilizes HIFIMAN’s increasingly ubiquitous Stealth Magnets, which allow waves to pass through the magnet array without sound-damaging interference. This allows for remarkable transparency and detail for the price point, along with a wide soundstage. One of our favorites for daily use. (Read our review)
2. The ANC Contender: Technics EAH-A800-K Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones ($347.99)
The Technics EAH-A800 Wireless Noise-Canceling Headphones are a very nice package. We loved their comfort and call quality, plus the sound quality slightly edges the current class leaders. In addition, their active noise canceling is top-notch, and the companion app is excellent. (Read our review)
3. New ANC King !?: Sony WH-1000XM5 Wireless Noise Canceling Headphones ($398.00)
While we love the Technics EAH-A800 listed above, the new WH-1000XM5 is Sony’s follow-up to their WH-1000XM4, which many consider the king of the wireless ANC headphones. While the competition is a little tighter this year, the XM5s make a good case for claiming the throne again.
As stated above, we prefer the EAH-A800’s sound over the XM5’s by a slight margin, especially when it comes to low-end control. That said, the Sony wins in many areas, like adaptive noise canceling, an advanced app, and comfort. The XM5 may be the most comfortable headphone we have ever worn. Conversely, overall ANC strength is basically a wash between the two.
4. Ear Speakers: RAPTGO Hook-X IEM ($239)
These open-back Planar/Piezo IEMs provide a remarkably open and detailed sound that sounds amazingly speaker-like. The RAPTGO Hook-X also has a cable with swappable connectors so you can go from a 3.5mm plug to a balanced 4.4mm plug in seconds flat.
5. The Best Budget IEM. Period: Moondrop CHU Dynamic IEM ($19.99)
If you’re looking for a balanced-sounding IEM and don’t have a lot of cash to spend, the Moondrop CHU is a no-brainer. It’s comfortable, well-built, and has clarity and soundstage beyond what is expected at this price point. The only knocks I see are a slight lack of punch for the bass heads and a non-detachable cable that could fail down the line. The bottom line is…get a pair. (Read our review)
6. Head-Fi for Beginners: IFI ZEN Air DAC/Headphone Amp ($99)
A $99 Desktop Amp with MQA and Bit-perfect DSD? Sign me up! Ifi Audio’s new ZEN Air DAC is the perfect starter component for those looking to get their feet wet in head-fi. If you have any doubts regarding the improvement in sound you can get from a quality DAC/Amp, then grab one of these, and it will surely make you a believer. A must-have for TIDAL listeners. Matches well with Sennheiser HD 560S and Hifiman Deva Pro headphones
7. Killer R2R DAC: HIFIMAN EF400 DAC/Headphone Amp ($599)
We’re still waiting for our review unit, but we spent a good amount of time with the EF400 DAC/Amp at Axpona. We have to say it impressed us. The combination of build quality (look at that thick aluminum faceplate), looks, powerful balanced head amp section, and smooth-sounding R2R DAC make this a killer desktop component for $599!
8. Mighty Mite: IFI Audio Go Bar Ultraportable DAC Amp ($329)
While the IFI Audio Go Bar is just a touch larger than the competition, there is no other USB DAC/Amp in the ultra-portable category with the same power, features, and refined sound quality. As a result, this product, which is about the size of a pack of gum, can competently drive flagship headphones, a fact that changes the game. (Read our review)
9. Astounding Digital On The Cheap: iFi ZEN One Signature Digital To Analog Converter ($349)
The iFi ZEN One Signature is a ridiculously capable DAC for $349. It has a nice easygoing sound with good dynamics and a natural presentation. We love how it brings out the essence and emotion of the music. Add in its remarkable array of connections and impressive Bluetooth sound, and you have a great DAC option for those who want to add digital to a modest system. (Read our review)
10. High-Current Powerhouse: Denon PMA-900HNE Integrated Network Amplifier ($949)
We’re shocked that it took so long, but Denon just released their first integrated amp with a built-in streamer. The PMA-900HNE Integrated Network Amplifier features a High Current amplifier design (85w x 2 into 4 ohms) similar to the excellent PMA-1600 integrated amp we reviewed a while back. Alongside the HEOS (multiroom platform) based streamer, it has a Phono input and digital inputs for TV sound, etc.
11. More Clarity: Klipsch Reference Premiere RP-600M II Bookshelf Speakers ($749)
This is the sequel to the top-rated RP-600M speaker we reviewed a while ago. The new Klipsch Reference Premiere RP-600M II has a larger 90° x 90° silicone composite Tractrix horn for a smoother top end and a crisper, clearer sound. It also has an upgraded cabinet with improved internal bracing for less distortion. Can’t wait to get our review units!
12. Heavy Duty: Cambridge Audio Alva ST Turntable ($999)
The Alva ST is the new affordable manual belt-drive turntable from Cambridge Audio. We had a chance to check it out at Axpona back in April, and we loved the build quality, sound, and features. The three-layer plinth with an aluminum top plate absorbs resonance, and the thick aluminum platter comes with a vibration-damping rubber mat.
The included Audio-Technica cart (MM) comes pre-installed on an aluminum tonearm with a removable headshell. It also has an Apt-X HD Bluetooth output for private listening. There’s a lot to love for the price.
Hifitrends is reader-supported. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Prices are subject to change at any time.
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.