There are a number of key components that make up a successful stereo system. Understanding how to purchase, budget for and assemble said components is how audiophiles around the world “chase the audiophile dragon” in search of the best possible audio experience that money can buy and ears can hear.
The benefits of listening to music have changed a lot since the Boogie Nights days of the 1970s. Gone is the machismo bullshit where you try to impress your friends with girth and size of your system. Today’s audio systems are sleek, efficient, high performance music playback machines. They are capable of health advantages like lowering your blood pressure better than many blood pressure drugs. A great audio playback system is capable of giving you more and more amazing access to some of the greatest art ever created. For the price of one single, physical Compact Disc today, you can have access to nearly EVERY RECORDING ever made in every musical genre including live, studio and other recordings. That’s simply amazing.
So how do you assemble a great audio system? I’ve dug into my audiophile component notebook for some tips for you on a component by component basis. Here we go.
CD Players and Digital Sources are the portal that you get your streaming music and likely still play your legacy Compact Discs assuming that you still have some left in your collection. Mine are all ripped and stored on a hard drive. Today’s USB-C thumb drives are so big (1 TB) for under $100 that you can put over 100,000 songs on something smaller than your pinky finger and have access to all of your music. Wow, right?
Audiophile Turntables are so chic these days. Along with their messenger bags, house plants, pickles and craft beer, Millennials love vinyl now too. The format isn't HD but it does give you access to music in its original format and it also allows you to listen in the format that the artist, engineer and producers intended it. Not bad. Also, today’s audiophile turntable aren’t too expensive at the entry level. $500 is a good starting place for a well-made deck.
Stereo Preamps are the next component in line here. A stereo preamp boosts a line level signal to higher levels that allow an amp to work. The also tend to switch inputs for you which is nice and useful too. Today’s stereo preamps might also come with an internal digital to analog converter which takes digital signals (zeros and ones) and converts it into an analog signal. With so many digital devices out there, being able to input a digital audio signal right into a preamp is pretty nice. Bass management for subwoofers is sometimes found in modern audiophile stereo preamps. Lastly, the best of audiophile preamps come with digital room correction which can fix all sorts of room acoustic issues right in the digital domain.
Audiophile Power Amplifiers are the key to making your signal louder. There are all sorts of audiophile power amps in the marketplace today. Class-D “switching amps” are very popular in the modern era because of their small size and low heat. Class-A amps use a ton of power but tend to sound like tubes. Old-school enthusiasts love actual vacuum tubes which are still popular. The most popular type of amp is a class-AB amp. All will work. Some have a different sound. Some have more power. Some drive tougher “loads” from crazy speakers better.
Audiophile Floorstanding Speakers are the biggest and badest players on the market. They are also the most expensive. Bookshelf audiophile speakers are smaller and less expensive and when paired with an audiophile subwoofer can produce top-level sound for less money than audiophile floorstanding speakers.
Don’t forget audiophile headphones and audiophile accessories. Headphones are all the rage and why shouldn’t they be? They bring audiophile sound, often wirelessly to the gym, an airplane seat, late night in your living room or to a shared office space. That’s cool. Audiophile accessories include AC power conditioning, cables, equipment racks, acoustical treatments and more.
Was this guide from my notebook helpful? We hope so. If you follow these tips and system configurations – you can’t fail. Remember to enjoy your trip. The audiophile hobby is about the journey – not the destination. All the best to you!