The ‘Beat The System’ System (Part III)
I’ve had some requests for how to set up a budget hifi system so I guess Ill ramble out one more of these diatribes before I review some records.
First off, you need to steel yourself to two things; You can’t get a decent sounding system for less than about $1000 (unless every component is used and mint) and you need to be willing to setup a dedicated listening room. The first part is pretty self explanatory, the second really means that you need to be able to commit a space that will allow for proper speaker placement/adjustability and a center listening position. I find this is actually the more difficult part for most folks. Setting the speaker and listening position in a room is EVERYTHING. You can have $50,000 speakers and they can sound like hot garbage in the wrong position, which may only be the difference of a few feet or a 15 degree toe in.
So, if you just want a turntable in the corner as a piece of furniture then by all means stop reading and don’t waste your money.
Heres a good primer on speaker placement in case that was your next thought and saves me writing one: http://www.theabsolutesound.com/articles/insider-with-robert-harley-the-six-rules-of-loudspeaker-placement-1-2/
Ok, everyone thinks vintage turntables look awesome, myself included. The wood plinths are so damn cool. However they just dont sound that good and I've heard dozens of them. The factors that determine a good turntable can be overly simplified into two things, speed stability and lack of resonance. In the 60s and 70s just about everyone thought that the most important part of a system was the speakers, and therefore turntable design suffered as the average consumer didnt think is was an overly important component and wants willing to drop serious coin on them. The only turntable designer that I'm aware of that was truly concerned with speed stability was Linn. The LP12 model is very sweet, however, it rings like a bell because of the resonant frequencies of the other components of the turntable. Those resonant frequencies color the sound of the record and make for all sorts of tracking problems with the tonearm. Armando and I did a side by side comparison of a beautifuly restored LP12 (because I kept foolishly wanting to buy one) and the lowest end Basis table, the results were laughable.
After demoing most of the lower end audiophile tables there is only one that stands out as a worthwhile investment. The Project Debut Carbon. This has been the gateway drug table for many people getting into high end audio. It usually goes for around $400. Id strongly recommend upgrading to the acrylic platter if you can afford it, which is an extra $120. It’s one of the few cheap upgrades that will actually make a difference. Acrylic is an exceptional non-resonant material and since this turntable has no true isolation base, it will help to get more detail out of your records.
Make sure it comes with the Ortofon Red cartridge, this is actually a pretty darn good one. Don’t waste your money upgrading to the Blue one, Ive had both and they are audibly identical.
On the cheap, I recommend an integrated amplifier. No need to separate into a pre and power amp unless your budget is closer to $6000 for power. Ive tried a few and found that the Marantz PM5005 came out on top every time. It runs about $500. At this point just don’t mess around with tubes, I know its tempting but don’t do it until you have a bigger stack of cash to blow. Ive heard the new budget tube integrated amps. They are typically super cheesy sounding, overly warm and goopy, really a caricature of a good tube amp sound. Dont waste your time or money.
Yay! You can buy vintage here if you want. The Klipsch Heresy II. These speakers came out in the 60s and have had a cult following ever since. They are truly fantastic and I use a modified set in my personal system. The best part is that you can pick them up for $400-600 on craigslist all the time! If you don’t want to deal with the hunt, you can just buy the new Heresy III for $1000 a pair.
Now, if you don’t have room for the Klipsch’s and want bookshelf Id recommend the Paradigm Atom v7, a pair is $400. Smaller speakers can sound really great actually as they dont typically extend into the trouble frequencies like larger loudspeakers, these in particular can reproduce some truly exceptional detail.
One of the biggest scams in the audio industry. Unless you can afford Basis cables (about $1000 a foot) just go buy monster speaker cable from amazon. Seriously.
Dont skimp here and put your turntable on an Ikea desk, c’mon now. The best stands I've found on a budget are made by Salamander, check out the archetype line.
There ya go! As a closing note, I really mean it about not buying any ‘upgrades’. It’s really the same argument for not buying most intermediate saxophones. You get marginal difference for a crazy mark up. Briefly here’s my list of next level upgrades from the aforementioned setup. Again, anything in between seems like a waste of money in my opinion.
Cartridge: Dynavector 10x5 (for high output) 20x2 (for low output)
Turntable: Basis Signature 2200
Clamp: Basis Reflex
Tonearm: Basis Vector 4
Pre-Amplifier: Audible Illusions Modulus 3B, add the 'gold board' upgrade for a low output MC cartridge.
Power Amplifier: Dynaco ST70 (unmodified) or QuickSilver mono blocks
Speakers: Upgrade the Klipsch Heresy II with Bob Crites crossovers, Klipsch Heritage Series Hersey III or Vandersteen Treo series
Cables: Basis interconnects and speaker cables