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 sounded better, so getting more system for your money is easy if you know where to look! We here at Hifitrends.com eat, sleep, and breathe affordable hi-fi, so we have both studied and auditioned the best budget audiophile gear.
This list aims to showcase some of the most well-designed and best-sounding equipment we have come across this year, so you have a quick reference and starting point for building an affordable high-end audio system that will give you hours of musical enjoyment.
The list has both portable and home equipment, so we have you covered whether you’re looking for good sound on the go or in the house!
In this Edition, we have some cool stuff, including the new Audiolab Omnia All-In-One system, which is one of the only integrated streaming amps with a built-in CD player (based on one of the best CD-Transports out there), along with the 7Hz x Crinacle Salnotes Dioko Planar Diaphragm Driver in Ear Earphone, which is the first Planar IEM under $100! By the way, it sounds excellent!
Note: Now there’s a Planar IEM that’s actually cheaper than the Dioko, the CCA PLA13. It sells for $65, but we doubt it has better tuning than the Dioko. We need to get our hands on a pair!
We also have Sony’s latest flagship noise-canceling headphones, the WH-1000XM5. While I think they are slightly behind the Technics EAH-A800 from a sound standpoint, the Sony breaks a lot of new ground in terms of technology and comfort, making them the best all around.
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 (Fall Edition).”
1. Best Headphones Under $500: HIFIMAN Edition XS Headphones ($499.00)
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 full review)
2. ANC King: Sony WH-1000XM5 Wireless Noise Canceling Headphones ($398.00)
That’s because, while we prefer the EAH-A800’s sound over the XM5’s by a slight margin, especially regarding low-end control, the Sony headphones win in many areas, like more effective adaptive noise canceling, a more advanced app, and better comfort. The XM5 may be the most comfortable headphone we have ever worn.
3. Value-Priced Ear Speakers: RAPTGO Hook-X IEM ($239.00)
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 that you can go from a 3.5mm Single-Ended connection to a 4.4mm Balanced connection in seconds flat.
4. The Best Earphones Under $100: 7Hz x Crinacle Salnotes Dioko Planar Diaphragm Driver in Ear Earphone ($99.00)
The 7Hz x Crinacle Salnotes Dioko is a nice set of earbuds with a decent fit, good build quality, and an excellently balanced tuning. While they could use just a little more air, separation, and depth, the sound has a speed, crispness, and articulation I haven’t heard in dynamic driver earphones for around $100. That alone makes them stand out amongst the sea of IEMs out there. (read our full review)
5. Best Value Portable Audio Player: FiiO M11 Plus (ESS) High-Resolution Digital Audio Player ($699.99)
If you’re not satisfied with using your smartphone as a music player, you should check out the FiiO M11 Plus Digital Audio Player. This high-res music player gives you the convenience of a smartphone, using the Android 10 operating system (w/Google Play), but then you have dual ESS DAC chips and a powerful amp section for crisp high-res audio you can’t get from a phone.
In addition, the M11 Plus has powerful wireless capabilities (Bluetooth 5.0 w/ aptX HD and LDAC codecs), compatibility for DSD, MQA audio formats, a 4.4mm balanced output, and 1000hrs Standby. The high-resolution touchscreen is beautiful as well. You get a lot for your money. Full review coming soon.
6. Head-Fi for Beginners: IFI ZEN Air DAC/Headphone Amp ($99.00)
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. It matches well with Sennheiser HD 560S and Hifiman Deva Pro headphones (read our full review)
7. Killer R2R DAC: HIFIMAN EF400 DAC/Headphone Amp ($599)
We have spent a reasonable amount of time with an EF400 DAC/Amp review unit on our desktop, and we have to say it impresses us more every day. The combination of build quality, looks (check out that thick aluminum faceplate), powerful, balanced head amp section and smooth-sounding R2R DAC make this a killer desktop component for $599! In addition, it matches nicely with the HIFIMAN Edition XS Headphones mentioned above. Full review coming soon.
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 full 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 full review)
10. 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 more significant 90° x 90° silicone composite Tractrix horn for a crisper, clearer sound. It also has an upgraded cabinet with improved internal bracing for less distortion. During our review period, we found improvement in several areas, including greater transparency than the originals, enhanced detail, and deeper, more articulate bass. On the other hand, we did find the top end to be a little brighter than the first 600M, necessitating more care when it comes to matching electronics. (read our full review)
11. A Do-It-All Amp For CD Collectors: Audiolab Omnia All-in-One Music System ($2,299.99)
The $2299 Audiolab Omnia is a do-it-all integrated (with a CD Player!) that builds off their 6000A Play streaming amplifier. In actuality, it’s a combination of the previously reviewed 6000A Play and 6000 CDT CD Transport since it has the DTS Play-Fi streaming capabilities of the 6000A Play, along with the exact CD Mechanism as the 6000 CDT. It also provides 50w per channel (8 ohms) or 75 per channel (4 ohms) of Class AB amplification, just like the 6000A Play. From our initial tests, this system has an authoritative sound with improved transparency and smoothness compared to the aforementioned 6000A Play, along with remarkable soundstage and focus. Full review coming soon.
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