Reviewing budget audio gear

January 26, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

13 comments on “Reviewing budget audio gear”

  1. Steve Guttenberg the audiophiliac has a budget review , I have my mega dollar supersystem (maggie 20.7 ,Tenor Hp300 monos and ps Perfectwave DAC and DSD Player ect…) but i built Steves 1200 dollar recommended complete system for my Kitchen/computer with a little 249 dollar record player, system and its amaaaazing I must say.

  2. Can we assume that a serious reviewer has not only a high-end and high resolving system but also an optimized system best matching his listening room acoustics? If that’s true and if your dogma, Paul, claiming that it is all about SYNERGY then it makes no sense at all to review a lo-fi or mid-fi component or any component in a system which hasn’t been adapted to the component under test. At least the reviewer has to tell which components are required for getting the best synergy effect. In the end it will be a most time consuming process finding the holy grail of synergy, a frustrating trial & error procedure. Maybe one should better look for a “system design” (the manufacturer has designed and voiced the complete chain from source to loudspeaker) or at least active loudspeakers. It would be interesting which chain of components would give the highest synergy effects for PS Audio’s FR30, FR20, FR10, FR40, FR50 loudspeakers. 😉

    1. The goal is to review the gear in question not find synergy. While finding synergy can reveal something about said gear, it will never say everything as synergy is only one of the many characteristics a reviewer must look for.

  3. cheapaudioman on youtube, a bit of a goofball, but does a lot of thoughtful comparison and assessment of low end audio gear paired with low end audio gear, using tracks that are not the usual audiofile suspects.

  4. There’s at least 1 magazine reviewer…I wish I could recall who….that at least will try, say, an amp, with various speakers. Seems like that would be helpful.

  5. Way back in the day, first year of my teenage years, I did come by some audio equipment that was cheep, but good quality at the same time.
    For quite awhile, I once had a thing for Pioneer stereo equipment.
    Most of my piers back then, were in to equipment made by companies like Panasonic and SONY.
    But the closes I’ve gotten to the Pioneer sound without paying Pioneer money for it, was equipment made by JVC.
    So, basically, it all depends on the kind of a system you’re looking for, how much money you’re willing to spend, and what kind of music you’re gonna be listening to on it.
    And when you have enough money saved up to do better, then go for it!

  6. Here’s are a couple slightly different reasons why audio reviewers don’t (normally) use cheap gear to review lower end or budget audio components. First, most people who review audio components professionally (meaning that they do this for a living, or it is at least a function of their job) have much better than average equipment available to them, mostly because they need better equipment to conduct reviews, and the components they’re reviewing are generally higher end products. You can’t review a $3000 turntable on $400 speakers and a $250 receiver and expect to be able to tell as much about it as you would with much more expensive equipment, so the audio components and speakers they have will generally be good enough to review any piece of gear, regardless of cost.

    Another key reason that they don’t switch out their very expensive amplification, speakers, etc is because they’re familiar with that setup (or setups, more on that later), and how their system sounds. It’s much easier to evaluate a piece of equipment when you put it into a system that you know very well. If they were to put together a system of low cost gear that would be more likely for someone to use with a lower priced component, they wouldn’t have any point of reference, and they couldn’t really evaluate it properly. That’s why they call it a reference system.

    As Paul said, the better the equipment that the person doing the review is using, the better the sound quality is, and the easier it is to tell what a new component actually sounds like, and whatever flaws it might have sonically. Once you reach a certain price point, there are usually diminishing returns of course, but the most expensive pieces of audio components tend to be amplifiers and speakers, and as long as the rest of the system is “high end” enough, it will be pretty easy to tell what the new component sounds like, along with all of the little nuances.

    Most inexpensive gear doesn’t really get reviewed all that seriously, mostly because most buyers of inexpensive gear aren’t generally that picky; they know that they’re buying inexpensive components, and they don’t necessarily have the same discerning tastes of an audiophile. For that reason (and others), it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for audio reviewers to have setups that they can test components in at every price level, and the low price level is the one they’re going to leave out first, simply because it makes the most sense.

    It depends on who’s reviewing the component in question, but most reviewers do have a couple different systems that they can use to review that component in. I have 3 systems that I could choose from when I review something (although it’s been awhile since I was asked to), all of which I know very well, and I’d choose the system that would be the most suited to that component. At the end of the day though, we only have so much room in our homes. Most people who review audio components have nicer, higher end gear because audio is something we’re passionate about, and to have a system compromised of lower end gear that we’d never really use other than for reviews would be a waste of space and money.

    I understand why some people would feel that it would be nice to have a component reviewed with a system comprised of other components in the same price range, but honestly it wouldn’t help that much in my opinion. Sure, a $1000 pair of speakers will probably sound better with a $5000 amplifier than it will with a budget or mid range receiver that they’re more likely to be paired with, but you can tell more about that speaker’s potential by using better equipment. An audio reviewer’s job is to tell potential buyers of that component as much as they can about it, and you’ll generally get more insight into the abilities, strengths and weaknesses of a component by pairing it with better equipment than if it was paired with budget equipment.

  7. Herb Reichert, Art Dudley, even Darko have music rooms so small as to be non-representative of the setups most of us have.
    And upper-midfi amplifiers.
    And mini monitor speakers.
    HifiCritic. Now that fellow knows high end.
    Or Mr Beekhuizen.
    I trust them.

  8. I follow various reviewers such as Steve Guttenberg, John Darko and others and they normally align the level of complementary gear to the item they are reviewing. Most I listen to target the middle to lower costing gear too. I think they are trying to speak to a broader audience.

  9. I take all reviews of audio equipment with a grain of salt, and it’s not because the reviewers are bad or not educated on audio. I have read reviews of speakers, electronics, etc that were glowing and after listening to them shook my head and asked what was the reviewer listening to. It’s all subjective and I might hear things the reviewer doesn’t and vise versa. To me it’s critical to listen in home. Listening to gear at dealers or at shows might give you a general idea of how something sounds to you but it’s the home/home listening room where you are parking all this gear and doing the real listening. I don’t like gear comparisons either because besides measurements it never gives you a real sense of what it sounds like to you in your listening location.

  10. Those were cheapskate budget components of the year. Stereophile budget components are giant slayers. Loved Sam Telligs reviews. Did a great one on the classic B&K ST140 amplifier. PSB Subsonic one Subwoofer. NHT Super One speakers. Many others. He had the ear for those giant slayers.

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