I want to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas. This is the season of gifts. The greatest gift is the one that God has given us: the birth and life of his Son. This gift is priceless. All we have to do is unwrap it. Kids do not need to be told to unwrap their gifts. We are God’s kids. Let us be sure to accept this gift with thanksgiving.
Are there any real bargains in audio components and can those bargains compare sonically with the expensive high end ones? This answer is yes. I am going to mention some components in the $100 price range. This price is not cheap, but by audiophile standards is well below the norm.
Let us look at some of these components. Some are stocking stuffer size, but most will require a small box if we are giving them as gifts. Some of the components could be put together to from a complete audio system for under $500. And yes, in a medium size room this system can compete with the best, at reasonable listening levels.
Let us look at two systems, one analogue and the other digital. Both of these systems will include the greatest bargain in stereo loudspeakers of all time: the AudioEngine A2+’s. The speakers include their own builtin class A/B amplifier, perfectly balanced for neutral sound. The price is $250, sometimes on sale for $200. Stereophile lists them as their only class D loudspeaker. Add a subwoofer and these speakers easily move into class C in my opinion. How much for the sub? Try $100 for an Acoustic Audio SW-6 subwoofer. So far we have spent $350.
For an analogue input get the Audio-Technica $100 turntable with built-in preamp and phono cartridge included. We have $50 left to get some decent cables. If we want to spurge, then we will substitute the Schiit Mani phono preamp for the built-in one. This will significantly improve the sound for an added $129. This is our first stocking stuffer. It may be too larger for most stockings and it goes a little over our $100 target, but is well worth the added price.
For the digital system, forget the expensive CD transport and DAC. Use the power of your personal computer. It is more powerful than some DAC’s. Don’t bother spinning CD’s. Download or stream high-resolution files. But to process those files correctly and make them sound at their best get the Audirvana Plus music player for $79. It now works for both Mac and Windows. It will handle all types of files, including MQA. Wonder of wonders, it will even make those iTunes files sound better – so much better. Now add an external DAC. Try the AudioQuest DragonFly Black v1.5 for $100 if you want a portable DAC. This is our second stocking stuffer.
If your DAC does not have to be portable the $100 Schiit Modi 3 DAC will offer better sound. This is our third stocking stuffer. It will stuff in a large stocking.
The Schiit will not handle MQA files as does the Dragonfly. Otherwise, it is superior to the Dragonfly. We have now spent $179 on top of our $250 loudspeakers for a digital system that costs $429. Add a $50 AudioQuest Jitterbug to clean up the USB noise and we have a complete digital system for $479. A little money left over for improved cables. The Jitterbug is our third stocking stuffer.
Our next stocking stuffer is the Grado SR80 headphones for $100. These headphones are made in America in Grado’s factory in Brookland, New York. It has a very smooth midrange with a lively top end. The Audirvana Plus music player will help tame those highs and subdue any listener fatigue that the Grado’s may cause over lengthy listening session.
All the stocking stuffers above should make great additions to most any home audio system. Some of them are foundational. They could form the basic components of a superb system.
Inexpensive record and stylus cleaning brushes also make inexpensive stocking stuffers for the vinyl lovers. AudioQuest makes a nice one for only $15.
For digital lovers, maybe a monthly subscription to Tidal HD files for $19/99 per month might be the thing, though a little expensive.
Best wishes to all my readers. Have a wonderful Christmas. Hope you enjoy your family and friends along with your music.