I want to show you a no-snake-oil approach to building an affordable, good sounding hi-fi system.

When I was 16, I built many audio systems from parts I bought off eBay and Audiogon that cost less than $1000, sometimes even using parts seen in big box stores.

My First HiFi System

I was young and I know it’s not perfect and we all have to start somewhere! Those B&W speakers are actually older than I am! I will never forget my first time listening to that setup because wow, did it sound sweet!

Random Vinyl

Music is such a rich and rewarding activity to get into. Just like painting a highly detailed work of art is a treat for the eyes, listening to a highly detailed clear track of music can be for the ears. Now we are not all rich enough to afford to the $100K+ systems that are flaunted by the wealthiest of audiophiles, so instead let’s look at ways to get great sounding audio for under $1000.

Secrets Sponsor

The Source

  • First, you will need a source. This is key, because no matter how expensive the system, it can’t make poor source material sound good. I prefer FLAC audio files played from a laptop or other PC. I also like a good quality track played from my phone or iPod. There are definitely others, but these are the two I commonly use.

Digital/Analog Converter (DAC), Preamplifier and Amplifier

  • Now that source needs to feed into something to amplify it and for a budget system, flexibility can be a good thing. That’s why I would choose to use an Audio/Video Receiver or AVR as they are better known. They can do many other things then just amplify your music, but for this article, we are going to focus on the fact that most have a built in DAC, pre-amp and amp which is a nice money saver. These are quite common in most big box stores, but they are not all made the same.

Shopping For an AVR

  • My advice would be to stick to a well-known brand. Here is a great tip to know if the AVR you are looking at is of good quality. Look at the speaker terminals. Spring-type terminals generally indicate a lower end unit. On flip side, a 5-way binding post speaker terminal usually indicates a higher end unit.
  • In addition to the binding posts, look at the overall construction of the unit, is it heavy? It’s a common audiophile tradition (or curse!) to judge a piece of gear by its weight. The heavier and beefier the piece of gear, the better quality it may be.

Spring-type Speaker Binding Terminal
A spring-type speaker binding terminal
(Image credit Sparkfun)

5-way Binding Post Speaker Terminal
A 5-way binding post speaker terminal
(Image credit Denon)

Secrets Sponsor

The Speakers

  • Okay, so you have your source picked out and an AVR, now you need a key part, the speakers! Speakers come in many shapes, sizes, colors and types. But since this is your first setup, let’s start with the basics, a 2-way bookshelf. The same suggestions I mentioned about the AVR in regards to the speaker terminals and weight, can also apply the quality of speakers you’re looking to buy. However, try not buy speakers with your eyes, buy with your ears. You may prefer a $500 pair of speakers over a $5000 pair and I may prefer the opposite. It all depends on what you are hearing and what you like.

Things to remember…

  • Don’t forget interconnects, you will need a cable to connect the source to the AVR and another set to link the AVR to the speakers.
  • Expensive cables can sometimes make a difference but it is often related to the quality of your components. Pricey interconnects won’t make cheap gear sound better.

Always remember to have fun with hifi. Try out new speakers you just found on sale. Dust off that old amp your dad gave you. Sound is meant to be enjoyed, so take your time, tweak your system and always enjoy the music.

Indiana Lang