Cheap amps and expensive speakers

September 5, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

29 comments on “Cheap amps and expensive speakers”

  1. I’m interested in what Paul has to say.
    For myself, there is a difference between cheap and inexpensive. If what you hear is to your likings, it’s all good. The cost (dollars, euros, yen, pound sterling…) does not always equate to one’s personal sound choices or values.

    1. Good evening Veronica!
      I don’t mean to step on your tows or anything like that, I just wish to give you the benifet of my many years of experience with things like that.
      If you have a pare of speakers that were designed to really tell you the truth about what you’re listening to, you’ll really be able to hear the diffrence between a really good amp, verses something that you can pick up at stores like Radioshack and or Walmart.
      Those cheeper amps and or receivers, have a higher gane of distortion.
      A pare of expensive speakers, will really expose the flaws in those cheeper amps and receivers for what they really are.
      Just some food for thought!

      1. Yes, I agree with you John. “Expensive” electronics will often give better sound. Especially with accurate revealing speakers. I draw the difference in terminology between Cheap and Inexpensive. Radio Shack (cheap) vs. a Chinese single ended amplifiers (inexpensive) vs. Ps Audio (Expensive).

        I know this elderly lady, older than 67 me! who was a “rocker chick” from the 70’s. Someone gave her a Magnavox All in One. Turntable included. Our version of “cheap”. Paired to Sony cardboard box speakers. I helped her hook up them together. She Loved them. a year later or so, she wanted to hook up a cd player to that system. Yes. The Magnavox had an Aux input. When I hooked up the cd player, I gave her a pair of B&W speakers I had laying abouts. Now she’s dancing in her wheelchair.

        BTW. I use a Luxman tuner to a small Radio Shack integrated amp feeding a pair 2 way Celestion speakers. I listen to Nation Public Radio news, talk, occasional jazz and NPR “live” Symphony concerts. Serves well as background listening. Not for critical listening. In fact, I find Listening to their live symphony concerts on my regular system, Intolerable. That is why I setup this less than “cheap” system.

        1. Good evening Veronica!
          Sense you brought up all in one stereo consuls, how do you feel about the ones that were made in the late 50’s and early 60’s?
          I am a lover of tubes.
          Some people may disagree with me on this, but to my ears, the more tubes you have in the signel paths, the better the music sounds to me.
          I’m also a lover of alnico magneted speakers.
          Something that’s not seen much in the hifi world anymore.
          I was a little boy that got one of those for Christmas when I was only 7.
          I don’t know how my dad done it, but some how, he got RCA Victer to custom build me an all in one system like the one that we’re talking about here.
          But I was the only kid on my block that could cut my own mixed records.
          One time, I cut a cupple of songs to a 7 inch disc, and took it to school with me.
          At the time, my music teacher kept on playing this song, that none of us kids liked at all.
          But when I caut her back turned, I got to her record player, and slipped her record off of it, and put my record on it.
          My record, didn’t have a marked lable on it.
          She had no idea of what was on her record player, until she dropped the needle on it.
          What came out of the 6by9 speaker that was built in to that portable record player, was I’m Coming Out by Dianna Ross.
          She flipped it over, and Inside out also by Dianna Ross came out at all of us that were in that class room.
          A lot of us, got up and started dancing to it.
          It was the top of 1980, and a lot of us, wanted to hear what played on the radio at that time.
          Most of us kids, didn’t like kiddy songs anyway.
          And so, that was one little idea that I cooked up myself.
          Go figure this one!

          1. OMG 50’s, 60’s yes! Furniture. With TV!
            I remember going to the Salvation Army with my dad. For $5.00 we could go thru the tv/stereo consoles outside and take whatever we wanted. I think we were helping them take the units apart as they were going to trash them anyway. I learn all about the components. Visualizing back, some have tube amps behind each the left and right speakers. Speakers. Round, square, rectangle, oval. Each one made a different sound. The small ones went pst pst. The big ones went boo boom woo woo. The tubes got hot. Touching underneath would hurt. We put together my first stereo using salvation army parts.
            It wasn’t till high school did I purchase my first “real stereo”. Criterion speakers and amplifier. Remember Lafayette? I think I got a BSR? turntable from Goodwill. Why BSR? I took the model number down. Went to Sears to get a replacement needle for it. If it wasn’t listed, I didn’t buy that table. I was rocking high on the fi. lol.
            Between 1975 and 80, I was working full time and had money. The big stereo shop was Audio Center and a bunch of smaller stereo shops. One weekend I strolled into a small one. Met a salesman who I still in contact with today. Rat led me down the audio rabbit hole. Soon introduced to Kef, Magnepan, Fried, GAS, Audio Research, Linn, Sota, Grado, Sumiko… And the prices went crazy. Went thru a bunch of equipment. And money. The last system I had was double stack Quads, Flutterman OTL, Luxman preamp, I modified a B&O 4002 turntable and ran a Talisman mc cartridge on it. Then marriage came. That all went away. Now retired and started back into it, on a budget. Equipment has gotten sooo extremely expensive. So, my system now consists of good brands of the time but was broken. Or given to me. No tubes. It’s a consumable and they have also gotten expensive. I remember small12ax7s were $3.95. 6550, 6ca7 power tubes were $9.95. I put together as good as I can afford and live with it till death do we part.
            Those B&W speakers? They were awful, then the tweeters went out. I put a pair of $9.00 car air motion? tweets in there and gave it away.

            Bozaks!!! I was trying to remember their name. Furniture speakers. So were Wharfedale, McIntosh.

            1. Good afternoon Veronica!
              I love a lady that can get down like that!
              The girls that I grew up with, including my mom, were scaird of doing stuff like that.
              They were afraid that they would get shocked.
              Those Bozacks that you were talking about, reminded me of a quod of Bozack 210 speakers that my dad got me when I was only a 2year old baby boy.
              I still have the JVC 4VR-4554 receiver that he got me back then.
              And surprisingly, that 48 year old receiver still works!
              But when I was about 17, my dad dug up another stereo system that I didn’t even know he had.
              It was a Mcintosh system.
              It had a pare of MC-275 tube power amps, a C-2200 preamp, and an open reel tape recorder.
              He also had a C-210 turntable with it as well.
              I don’t remember the mottle of the AM FM tuner, but he had that too.
              When I got ready to move out of my fokes house and in to my own, he gave me that system.
              He told me, “son, you can use this, way more then I can.
              So, when you get ready to move, I want you to take this with you.”
              I said, WOW!
              Thanks dad!”
              But he also thru in a pare of really tall RCA Victer speakers.
              I mean, those things had 10 15 inch drivers in them each!
              I had to borrow my truck from him to get them over to my new place back then.
              But I put those down stares in my theater, and drove to Gainsville and picked myself up a pare of Inergee speakers.
              In then, shortly after that, I went to Rome, and came back with a pare of speakers that were half the size of the ones my dad gave me.
              Except only, each one had 10 12 inch drivers in them.
              If I had time to stick around my house back then, I probly would have had the hole block rocking.
              In my late teenage years in to my early twenties, I produced records for other people.
              Some of them, were already superstars.
              Others became superstars because of little old me.
              I said little old me, because I’m 50 now.
              I don’t get out like I yoost to much anymore.
              I lost the ability to see almost 30 years ago.
              And so now anymore these days, I work remotely from my home for the state of Florida.
              I am now a Department of Children and Families agent.
              They don’t pay me that much.
              But I’ll tell you what, it’s better then living from SSI check to SSI check.

              1. My dad loved music but was not into equipment. Let’s just say chinese depression child. Literally Make Do something just as good. For the times anyway. Kind of hard to do now.

                Wow. Monster speakers. I thought Klipschorns and Voice of the Theatres were huge.
                I remember going to Audio Center. Drooling over the McIntosh units. Actually, everything they had in there. Oh! Speaking furniture units and Audio Center. They had this speaker called the Paragon. 2 foot tall. 6-7 foot wide. Beautiful.

                Reel to reel tape. My dad had a Roberts reel to reel. Couldn’t build that. It was a used unit he bought from a coworker. I forget the model. Tall. Slim. Silver knob over the heads with a X on it. Two tube mono amplifiers stacked one above the other. Flaps on the side to open the internal speakers. He had that for years. Worked till my parents tore down the old house and rebuilt. They just took out what they wanted and needed. The rest was demolished and hauled away.

                I don’t remember what I did with the old units we built. Probably just threw them out when I got the new. We didn’t have the space to store used things. Nor did my mom want the clutter.

              1. Veronica,
                There have been some stunning sounding ‘cheap’ amps that have hit the market down through the years.
                Three that come immediately to mind are the NAD – ‘3020’ (1978), the Pioneer – ‘A400’ (1990) & more recently the Onkyo – ‘A9010’ (2015)
                All three got rave reviews & ‘five star’ ratings.

                1. Hey Mr. Rat
                  Yes! Pioneer, NAD, Rotel… Very good units. Some models quite expensive too.
                  They are in an upper league to the Walmart – Target RCA, Magnavox, Symphonic. Truely Cheap units.

                  1. My point is that those three particular models were outstanding for their price.
                    Not all Pioneer Onkyo, Rotel or NAD amplifiers were/are as brilliant as those three in particular.

                    1. The manufactures you mentioned, regardless of the model, are not what I consider “Cheap” units. I don’t think I have ever read a review of a Walmart Symphonic product in Stereophile.

                      I don’t think I have ever worked on Mass Market HiFi that had cardboard or fake wood cabinetry. One good thing about “cheap” units. Most of the time, they were affordable to fix. Not so with the less than NAD, Pioneer, Kenwood… And gets worst going up the audio quality ladder.

                  2. Veronica,
                    OK, well now we’re getting into semantics & difference of opinion.
                    Again, I’m only referring to those three amplifiers (models) in particular & at around $300-$500 each at the time that they were on the market, that to my mind is cheap when you consider that many amplifiers of the same sound quality can cost ten times as much.
                    I was in Hi-Fi retail from 1988-2010 so I’m also comparing the three that I mentioned with what was generally available in the home-audio retail market during that 22 year period.

                    1. You’re right. To me Cheap points to low quality of a product. Not the price. However. loI, I admit using your terminology myself. I bought my Audio Research preamp for $300.00 included shipping. It was broken but was “dirt cheap”.

  2. What you pay has nothing to do with sound quality. It’s a matter of whether the amplifier provides enough power to drive the speakers without easily clipping. And of course how it sounds to your ears. Many times expensive speakers are hard to drive requiring an amplifier that is built to handle more complex loads. That less expensive amplifier might sound beautiful on less complex speaker loads perhaps even better than a more expensive amplifier sounds on less complex speaker loads.

    1. that’s over simplifying it. You left out the quality of the parts, both the drivers and the crossover parts. Then there’s the crossover implementation. Where are the drivers crossed over?, how steep are the slopes? Then there is the driver configuration, 3 way, 2 way, MTM. Money spent plays a role in most
      these factors.

      1. The only parts that matter are my ears. A terrible cook can have the best ingredients and mess up dinner. There are some good sounding moderately priced amplifiers that can even drive complex speaker loads and some cheap amplifiers if not asked to drive complex speaker loads that can sound as good or better than the best amplifiers out there. The only reason to make a very expensive amplifier is so you have an amplifier that can drive any speakers out there but if your speakers don’t need that there’s no reason why a lower priced amplifier cannot sound extremely well. Sure there is a lot of inexpensive crap put there that I wouldn’t use in any system but not all inexpensive amplifiers are crap nor are all expensive amplifiers worth the money either. Trust your ears. They are best test instruments out there. Like FR said you don’t need a test instrument to tell you if your food tastes good or not.

  3. Isn’t the question to be put first rather: what are the criteria for “improved sound quality, better resolution of fine details, more bass, higher unclipped SPLs, etc?Take as a reference a decent pair of headphones with a good headphone amp and you will get a sound quality concerning unclipped SPLs and resolution even better than mega-buck amp-loudspeaker speaker systems costing 100 times more. And for the magic of stereo (instruments and voices detached from the loudspeakers, 3-D soundstage) you probably should first invest in room treatment and a loudspeaker set-up rarely having a high WAF.

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