Big Bang For Bucks

Big Bang For Bucks

Written by Bill Leebens

Feeling a bit inspired about low-fi and mid-fi based upon the Paul’s Posts series this past week, I thought I would send some shots of my latest room to give readers an idea of how to acquire a very satisfying and rewarding system at very minimal cost.

After a lifetime of tweaks and upgrades in the world of two-channel audio, I decided a couple of months ago to reduce clutter and make my life much easier.  So, away went the racks, the power cords, the custom speaker wire, the separate components and interconnects and in its place came this setup.  This is all located in a basement space that I have created for myself, where I have free rein to put out cables and cords and move things around to my heart’s content!  No wife acceptance factor needed here!

I have employed no sound treatments in this space.  The terrible looking silver junk in the background is insulation that was required in my part of the country to be installed on basement walls down to the frost line and I kept it in place for sound absorption or to reduce reflections.  There are some oversized stuffed couches in the space as well for seating and to also help with reflections and there is a rug or two on the concrete basement floor.  The walls  to the left of this kit are covered in racks of albums and CDs and bookshelves which perhaps add to the anti-reflection features of the space.  No ceiling treatment was done at all as you can see.

Speakers are Infinite Slope Model 1s bought from the original owner at a garage sale, for $100, in pristine condition.  I have always liked this brand of speaker, previously owning the .6 models.  I always have traded out speakers far less frequently than electronics (I subscribe to the school of thought that says a good set of speakers will make substandard components sound better than great components through substandard speakers).  The speakers employed Dynaudio drivers and featured the Richard Modafferi crossover which is in use to this day in Joseph Audio speaker products.  The speakers came with the optional stands, as well as the original casters still in plastic wrap.  I did have to invest in some new baskets at the back of the speakers but that was a very inexpensive repair courtesy of Parts Express.  Being 100% a subwoofer guy, I complimented these speakers with a Velodyne analog VRP12 sub.

Powering the whole thing is a Yamaha R-N602 network two-channel receiver.  This produces 75 watts a channel and is stereo only.  What attracted me to this unit was the fact it comes with wired and Wi-Fi network capability, AirPlay, tuner, DSD compatibility, phono inputs, tape inputs and a host of apps built in such as Spotify and Pandora (sorry, no Tidal as of now).  With AirPlay capability it can be seen as an endpoint for Roon (although only 16.1/44) through a wired network.  It also features a subwoofer out and I employ that as well to the sub for great bass extension.

Digital sources for me are a full complement of NAS stored files which can be pulled to the unit over the network via the MusicCast app on my various iDevices,  or I can push to the unit via JRiver, or Roon, or various Internet sources including streaming radio stations.  I am rarely a CD spinner anymore, so, just have a basic Blu-Ray player installed in the mix and feeding the receiver via optical for listening to silver discs or watching TV.  Analog sources include my 1970s Thorens 145 turntable with Grado Prestige Gold cartridge, a vintage Denon 3-head cassette deck in black and a Teac X300 reel-to-reel I just acquired (not pictured).

My old kit had seven separate boxes to do what is now combined in one.  I can sit on the couch in this space (the couch is as equally ratty looking as the wall behind the rack and won’t be pictured) and browse away and listen in quiet, well satisfied.  The speakers sit about eight feet from my listening position and about three feet out from the wall and provide a quite immersive sound.  I most definitely feel this is mid-fi in terms of performance, it more than meets the “good enough” standard for me and compared to what I used to have exhibits so little difference in sound as to be negligible.

The biggest upside to this?  Cost!  Most everything in the photos was acquired via barter or Craigslist or eBay and adding up the cost of everything you see (including the 50” plasma TV and stand) would not total $1,500!!!!   The Yamaha was the only thing bought new in the box, and even then it was at about two-thirds the manufacturer’s list from an online retailer.

I suppose one could pooh-pooh all this based on the cost alone and propose it to be totally entry level, or low-fi even on its best day.  For me I would disagree.  I can spend my time now listening, enjoying the music, sitting with the dog on the couch while reading and just taking it all in without obsessing over pieces and parts; life is good!!  Happy listening.

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