Budget systems

August 8, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

People new to our corner of the world of high-end audio often find what we do daunting.

Eyebrows are raised at the idea of many thousands of dollars spent on electronics and speakers.

What often brings them back to planet Earth is knowing that for around $1,000 one can bring the magic of high-end audio into their homes. A system built around a Sprout and a pair of Elacs makes wonderful music.

That same $1,100 spent on a cheap receiver and speakers is light years away from what even a modest budget audiophile system can bring.

It’s not the money.

It’s how you spend it.

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63 comments on “Budget systems”

  1. Don’t forget to add your sauce…sorry source…streamer, CD player, turntable & cartridge…it all adds up.

    Just for the hell of it, I decided to add up what it would cost me to fully kit myself out with a
    flagship ‘PS Audio’ home-audio set-up…in Australian money.
    So, here it is:-

    PST (perfect Wave SACD Transport) AU$8,400
    DS DAC (Direct Stream) AU$8,400
    BHK- Signature Preamplifier AU$10,500
    2x BHK-600 power amps AU$38,000…based on 2x BHK-300 being AU$27,500 per pair.
    2x P-20 (power plants) AU$27,180
    I pair of ‘aspen FR30’ loudspeakers AU$50,000

    So that’s AU$152,890 MSRP not including the cost of balanced interconnects,
    loudspeaker wires(cables) & power cables…add another AU$30,000 for those.

    So, AU$182,890 all up…& this is for CD only….add more for a streamer, t’table, etc.

    AU$182, 890 is currently US$128,000.

    If the PS Audio importer/distributor/retailer in Australia, ‘Magenta Audio’, feels generous & gives me say 15% off the MSRP because I’m buying everything in one hit, then it would look more like AU$155,500 (US$109,000)

    Oh wow…my wife just had a myocardial infarction 😮

    1. A full PS Audio system with BHK600 streamer and cabling in the UK is now at the £100,000 mark, no phono or turntable included, budget at least £50,000 for that. That said, my dealer will sell me a phono stage for £50,000.

      Name any price and you can find an audio system to match it. The trick, given you have heard what you consider your absolute best (mine was Wilson Sasha DAW, Trilogy 995R power and Brinkmann source), is to get a pleasurable system for the lowest possible cost. For me there is no pleasure tripping over wires, so the whole thing has to be wireless, and Roon Ready.

      Paul assumes a stereo system, but even that is a bit old-fashioned. A single speaker with high dispersion is very popular, or in my main living area where I have about 11 speakers.

      1. 100,000GBP is currently AU$180,000.
        I’m ‘CD only’ these days, so that saves me some money.
        Luckily for me, since I sold my Celestions (Dec 2018), I am now back where I want to be sonically, as of 6 weeks ago, with having only spent AU$17,700 (10,000GBP)…phew!
        All wires/cables are situated well behind my current rig, so there’s no hope of tripping
        over any such for me…except, on a bad day, my own toes.
        “A single (loud)speaker with high dispersion is very popular…” not with me it’s not.

          1. Mike,
            Yeah I got the aspen FR30’s wrong too.
            I geusstimated that they would go for AU$38k a
            pair here & they ended up being AU$50k a pair.
            So my quoted AU$38k for a pair of BHK-600’s
            will probably be more like AU$60k a pair.

            Everybody loves an optimist 😀

            1. FR,
              I would guess that in addition to your list you also need one P15….
              (Space between speakers is quickly becoming limited)
              You forgot to negotiate a free copy of the Gabriel Mervine SACD 😉

      2. Is this the same “Steven, etc.” who has the Wilson Sabrina? What’s this other room with eleven speakers that you’ve been hiding from us? 😎

        1. Hi Longplayer,
          Yep, he is the very one!
          However, for the last six months Steven has been telling us about how
          he has loudspeaker drivers in the ceiling of his newly renovated castle.
          I’m shocked that you missed the many bulletins on the subject 😮

          1. I’ve been very busy this year, FR. I don’t stop here every day, much less read the comments.
            Thanks for the reminder, though. I do remember something about ceiling speakers, but having little interest in them, I didn’t place it in long-term memory. 😎

  2. I do think the budget market has a long way to go. The B&W Formation Duo is a 125w fully active Roon Ready system operating wirelessly at 24/96, but costs $5,000. I’m surprised Dutch & Dutch have not come out with a much cheaper system using their great tech (although they took years to go Roon Ready), instead their prices just go up. The ceiling system I use is 75w fully active Roon Ready with every streaming service onboard operating at 24/192 and costs under $500 per unit, plus it includes lighting and Alexa voice control with Amazon HD music. Put it in a decent pair of stand-mount speakers and you’ve go a pretty much state of the art system for about $2,000 – $2,500. I wonder if they go in that direction, given one of the founders was Chief Engineer at B&W for 15 years before founding Vivid, so he knows how to make a speaker. We have a Devialet Phantom II that for £1,000 is great product, as much because it works great for home audio, in retail, in my wife’s therapy clinic, in the garden, and is easily portable.

    So just as phones have largely eliminated the camera market (the DSLR is now officially retired), I can only see budget home audio getting better and being fully wireless single units.

    1. When ‘Alexa’ & ‘Roon Ready Freddy’ can make me a cup of coffee
      & two Vegemite’s on toast, then I just might be interested.
      Until then I can get off my big Fat Rat arse & change a CD in my player.

      1. @Fat Rat please do not think of Alexa and Roon in the same vein. I listen mostly to vinyl, but Roon, which I am only now beginning to fully appreciate after being a Roon user for 5 years, opens up a world of exploring the connections between various pieces of music in a manner far more rewarding than I could ever have imagined

          1. Alexa legitimises talking to yourself without the risk of being certified. It can turn on the coffee machine, but I can’t actually make a cup of coffee. It’s quite good for an afternoon nap, you just tell it to wake me up in 15 minutes. It’s rather useful for turning the lights on and off, up and down, changing the colour, because we don’t have light switches. Of course it’s for people who live in the modern world and it’s very useful being able to tell the postman where to put a parcel when sitting at the golf club having a cup of tea.

            1. Ye-a-a-a-ah…it’s just a bit creepy having an active 24/7
              microphone ‘On’ in the middle of my living-room that the
              CCP can listen-in through while I plan my trip to Taipei.

    2. I don’t know much about photography but from what I read the only people buying camera’s these days are professional photographers and niche high end hobbyists. As there are no professional audiophiles out there (are there?) it makes me wonder who will be left to buy expensive high end audio in the future. If I was a manufacturer I’d be thinking about diversifying, like maybe opening a recording studio. 😉
      BTW, is your wife busy? I think we all need therapy.

      1. Quite a lot of professional photographers rent camera equipment, if they are not given it as a brand ambassador. Bit like audio, analog photography is now all the rage. I see more people walking around with film cameras the digital ones. I’m guilty of that myself. Whilst I have a digital camera that allows me to be creative, most of the time I just use a very high quality point-and-shoot camera often in touch-and-shoot mode. I’ve seen people use it professionally, even though it has a fixed lens and weighs only 800g. It goes along with my philosophy there is no reason why you can’t make all-in-one audio equipment that is just as good as separates. It’s just a matter of trying.

      2. Incidentally, my audio dealer has been as busy as ever, as I my wife. They have a fantastic store with an international clientele. I don’t think they specifically target audiophiles, they just happen to be a well-known business that treats every customer the same, whether they are spending £1,000 or £1 million. I suspect most of the customers are just people who want a good sound system and will go to a store for advice rather than browse the internet. There are more than enough people around these days with plenty of money.

        There is another equally high-end store about 5 minutes away, owned by Cadence Audio, who own a number of audio brands (Siltech, Garrard, SME, Crystal Cable, Spendor and Loricraft). So I have no fears for the top end audio companies that have their marketing and retail distribution sorted out.

        1. There’ll be winners and losers but being a true audio enthusiast requires a certain amount of dedication and time. If the move is to simpler one box systems that requirement will be lost or future buyers may prefer to let the dealer do the work for them. I just think that the audiophile, as represented here, is a dying breed and once we’ve gone, may become extinct. 🙁

          1. Music systems will just be different. Just expect the unexpected. Whether there will be a market for 100kg amplifiers, who knows? At Least Fat Rat is saving up for a pair.

  3. One of my favourite budget cameras is the Nikon D40 DSLR: only 6 mp, great photos, maximum flash synchronisation of 1/500 sec.

    The Sprout reminds me of classic amps such as the Pioneer A400 and NAD 3020.

    1. Rich,
      You can add the newest five star budget performer to the two esteemed
      Pioneer A-400 & NAD 3020 (drum roll please)…the ✨ Onkyo A-9010 ✨

      1. I have that Onkyo in a second system. It is remarkable. Paired with a pair of the Andrew Jones Pioneer bookshelf speakers….great sound for next to nothing.

    2. Richard. First a confession. I’m a Canon shooter. Love the 5D series and have owned each successive generation. As for a cheap goto camera, I’d suggest your smartphone. It’s always with you. The optics, functions, features and clarity are superior to any point and shoot . Images captured on a smartphone can be absolutely amazing. And as I said before, it’s pretty much always with you and the best camera you can ever have is the one you have with you. The most expensive camera is quite useless if it’s stuck in a closet or desk when an opportunity to capture a striking image arises —like seeing Elvis shopping at Walmart or an alien encounter. The second best go to camera is probably a mirrorless. It has all the functions of a basic DSLR. Plus you can stuff it in your jacket pocket or purse. Or carry an assortment of lenses and gear in a small satchel or fishing bag. All my Canon 5 D’s require a bag for the camera and a backpack for all the gear. A mirrorless with a memory card sets you back less than a Sprout or a new smartphone and all major brands offer great selections of mirrorless . A perfect beginner camera for someone interested in taking photography to the next level .

          1. There was no waterslide sculpture when I was at Salisbury Cathedral in 2013 and 2015. In 2015 there were some scattered temporary funny-looking gnomelike figures on the grounds and a maze of strands of LED lights with changing colors in one of the side entrances.

            1. The funny funny-looking gnomelike figures were probably just the locals on the way home from the pub. Was last there September 2020. It’s very impressive. The water slide was not as big as it looks.

          1. Thanks, Tony. I snuck in through an unlocked side door just before 6 am. The sun had just risen and there was no one else there. The Salisbury Cathedral organ is one of the Hauptwerk organ sample sets I own, so I can play it virtually on my digital organ console.

      1. Thanks for the brief camera resume Bret. I’ve often thought about upgrading from a smartphone myself but haven’t for the reasons you mentioned, I likely wouldn’t have the camera with me. To be honest I don’t take many photos, I just like the idea. Crazy!
        On the other hand, if you’re in marketing that’s all you’ve got to sell, the idea.

      2. Hello Bret,
        Good to hear from a fellow photo enthusiast.
        Everything you say is true. I’m embarrassed to detail my photo gear as it would reveal an obsession with all things optical and photographic.
        Canon is among my gear. Lovely reds and whites.
        Enjoy your photography and audio gear.

  4. I agree about a cheap modern day receivers but not the vintage receiver from the late 70’s. I have Technics SA 500 SA 600 SA700. These blow away most modern day receivers and are as warm sounding as the best components on the market regardless of price. Buy a good SA500 and have a listen for yourself.

  5. What is the “magic of high-end audio”??? Wonderful music, imho, is wonderful for itself independent of the reproduction system. I could enjoy wonderful music listening to stereo CCs recordings from my LPs via my first mono car stereo! Is the magic of high-end audio achievable in a not treated listening room with full-range loudspeakers without using room correction via DSP? I strongly doubt!!!

  6. There is a difference between “flagship” and better than mass market.

    I remember back in 1990 a friend was going to buy a new receiver and I talked them into buying an Adcom GTP tuner/preamp and GFA-535 amp instead, and they absolutely loved how it sounded.

    1. Bill,
      Would you consider the Marantz – ‘SA10’ or/& the Holo Audio – ‘May (Level 3) KTE’
      as ‘flagship’ or better than mass market?

      1. Martin,

        I can’t answer that one, but I can say I have a Marantz SACD30n and it sounds wonderful. I got it open-box with a full warranty for $2200 US. And, it has a nice discrete DAC and music server builtin. No I2C though. I think it is the follow-on product to your SACD.

      2. The SA-10 is the flagship… of the Marantz offerings.

        Certainly even their CD6007 CD player would be considered better than mass-market.

        However the SA-10 is certainly not the pinnacle of what is available in terms of SACD playback as a whole.

        Likewise the Holo Audio May (Level 3) KTE is a higher end DAC and is much more capable than mass-market, but doesn’t represent the same level of playback quality (IMHO) as say dCS.

        I can’t comment on the DirectStream DAC as I haven’t heard it in several software revisions.

  7. Don’t forget certified used equipment. Some high end companies have such a program. I’m not sure about PS Audio. Basically it’s current production equipment that’s been traded in, lightly used, and has had someone authorized by the manufacturer go through it on the bench to make sure it conforms to all pertinent specs. It comes with a real warranty, not a 30 day dealer warranty. You can often save a serious chunk of change this way.

  8. I belong to a Facebook group called “Audiophiles on a Budget”. There are over 60,000 members. There is constant banter in the group about what constitutes “budget”. For many (who I internally refer to as “broke-ass motherf**kers”) their idea of budget is the broken down crap that someone laid out on a curb to throw away. 15 year old plastic home theater in a box type of stuff. Those folks lay it on anyone who actually buys a quality piece of gear (and heaven forbid if someone mentions they spent more money on a cord or cable than these fellows have involved in their whole setup). It is an interesting follow at times. Everyone’s budget is different of course.

    I have gotten more bang for the buck by buying open box and used. Half price for my Yamaha WXA-50, a third of the retail price for my Totem Dreamcatchers, and about half price for the Kimber bi-amp cable connecting the two. About 1,200 all-in. I had looked early on at the Sprout and it’s a better amp than I am currently running, but, I wanted app control, built-in streaming services such Tidal and Pandora and also network streaming (Jazz24 is a favorite) so went a different route. It’s a very satisfying system tucked on my work desk as I am sure the Sprout and Elac combo is as well.

  9. This makes me thing of my first system. It consisted of a Thorens TD150 turntable ( $150 ) with a Shure MM cartridge ( $50 ), a Heathkit AR1500 receiver that I build ( $300 ) and a pair of JBL L88 two way bookshelf speakers ( $372 ). This comes to a sum of $872, not bad for a started system! There is only one problem, I did this in 1972. I spent every penny that I had saved in four years of college. In today’s money my 1972 $872 is a little over $5900!

  10. Tony,

    Like you, I was curious that the $1,000 number Paul used is the amount I walked into an audio shop with 45 years ago to buy my first stereo system.

    I was just shy of my 20th birthday’ and was working as an engineering intern at General Motors. I had just a month before returning to college, and was going to use my hard saved dollars to buy a complete audio system. Walking into the small independent audio shop I made the mistake of being lured to the beautiful fronts on the McIntosh audio equipment. The feel of McIntosh the knobs and the quality of the machine’s case told me it was quality. But looking at the price tag my jaw dropped to the ground. This shop sold other manufactures like Sansui, Marantz, and Onkyo. But those units all felt cheap in comparison.

    Having been spoiled by something I couldn’t afford, I started towards the door when the owner asked if he could help. I told him that I have $1000 to spend on an audio system, but that all the lower price brands did not pull my trigger for what I wanted. The man smiled and took me over to his Yamaha display, and left me to listen to a receiver and speakers he set up.

    The quality of the Yamaha components and the sound they produced was a quantum leap above what all my friends owned. The owner told me he could sell me the two Yamaha NS670 display speakers (little brothers to the famous NS690) and the Yamaha R620 40 watt receiver for $1000. This left me no money for any sources like a turntable, but I had very few records, and after tuition would not have money to buy any.

    So 45 years ago, my budget system with no sources other than AM/FM cost $1,000. In today’s money that is equivalent to $4900. So in comparison, a Sprout and two ELAC’s speakers is quite a deal. Even without any sources.

    Note, while relegated to my office and later the garage following the procurement of more expensive systems, my college purchase served me for 40 years. Until I sold it to a delighted college student for almost what I paid for it.

    1. Yamaha makes good stuff! Icon is three tuning forks. I have a Yamaha PAC402s Telecaster style guitar. Fit, finish, play-ability, and sound are great. Its translucent green burn-maple top with white pearloid pick guard and gold furniture gets a lot of complements and would be buyers. I have a Schecter that cost 4x more and sounded dead until I replace the pickups with DiMarzio’s.
      Yamaha made the high speed smt pick and place machines for Phillips / Assemblion. Those machines are still in service and backward compatible with new Yamaha equipment. Summary: Yamaha makes good stuff!

  11. A friend’s Philips combo system gave it up a few years back. She asked for guidance, specifying CD playback, streaming audio, and LP playback.

    I had recently set up a Sprout-centric arrangement in the back room of my summer residence in Western NY so it was easy to suggest Sprout/Elac. I promised to find and install a turntable and CD player. She already used an iPad for streaming (not feeding the Philips stuff) so the Sprout’s Bluetooth was a MAJOR step up from the internal iPad sound. In fact, Bluetootht turned out to be the main feed. The LPs and CDs are there, but seldom used.

    She’s in a retirement community in the Tucson area and has a lot of people drop in all of whom comment on how splendid the music is at her place.

    The Elacs are up at ear-level, by the way.

    For me, I’m amazed that my own Sprout-based listening easily bests what’s at my main home in the Tucson area. I’m convinced that major contributors are the bookcases along the front and back walls, but that’s another story.

  12. The most budget system I own is my computer ASUS desktop and inexpensive Altec Lansing speakers. It won’t produce the low bass but for most nearfield online music listening, it is very satisfying.

  13. The US government is budgeting something like 87,000 new IRS agents to collect tax. Its going to get harder for those with the means to buy expensive anything.

      1. The IRS is more than doubling in size and will be larger than the DOD, State department, FBI & CIA put together.
        It’s not hard to imagination how this is going to turn out… after they are done chasing after energy star windows and doors deductions and “auditing” the 780 billionaires in the US who have tax lawyers and accountants guiding them thru the twisted tax system containing non-profits, charities, trusts, and other tax avoidance laws many of whom get audited every year and know well how to work within the rules that congress made.

    1. At the risk of becoming persona non grata, I will say that the free world’s economy is based not only on making a profit, but also growing. Draining off funds to grow the government removes funds the company could use to grow the business. I would expect to see slowing of the GDP growth. It would be interesting to see if some businesses counter with layoffs to rebalance spending on hiring and growth initiatives. At the end of the day, there’s still no free lunch.

  14. My neighbor Phil is 81 years old, LOVES listening to my PS Audio system and has probably never had an audiophile-grade system in his life. That finally changed when he purchased a PS Audio Sprout 100 and some vintage Infinity RS6b 3-way bookshelf speakers and a Polk subwoofer. He has since upgraded to Amazon Music HD, and with the help of @Paul’s advice, purchased an Echo Link module that allows him to stream HD music directly to the Sprout. (all under $1200.00!) He can’t keep the smile off of his face!

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