Getting equipped to groove
December 3, 2009 11:21 AM   Subscribe

Please help me choose an inexpensive home stereo for a teenager. I'm overwhelmed!

I'm looking for a stereo for my 17-year-old daughter and getting overwhelmed by the options. I remember my audiophile ex teaching me, "No highs, no lows, must be Bose," but I don't know much of anything about brands beyond that.

I'm thinking shelf system, but if components can be done within budget and would be a better choice, I'll do that.

Here are the relevant data points I can think of:

- Budget is about US$200. Less is better, slightly more acceptable if it makes a big difference in quality/durability.

- It would be great if it's something I can order on Amazon. Second choice would be other reliable web sites that will ship to continental U.S. and stay within above budget. Third choice would be retailers like Best Buy.

- Build quality is the most important factor after price, then sound quality.

- Treble quality is more important than bass. She listens to more female artists than male, and more pop, folk, and country than r&b, rock, rap, etc. though there is some of all of those in her collection.

- Prefer clean lines in black, chrome, grey, white, etc., not pink or red or funky designs.

- It should be able to play CD-R as well as regular CDs, and preferably would also handle MP3 CDs. Multiple CDs would be nice, but unnecessary.

- She has no need for a turntable.

- She has an MP3 player (not iPod and not likely to be anytime soon) and it would be good to have a hookup through the headphone jack of the MP3 player to the stereo, and hopefully decent sound through that connection.

- Bluetooth or USB would be nice but is not necessary.

- The ability to hook up her TV and output sound through the stereo would be nice but is unnecessary.

- She's planning to move out next summer, and it's possible that this will be the sole system for her and roommates for a while, so it really should be up to taking some bumps from being moved around, bumped by a clumsy kid, etc.

What do you recommend, and why? Thanks for your help!
posted by notashroom to Shopping (10 answers total)
She has an MP3 player

Which one? It might be a better idea to just buy a speaker dock for it instead of going through the headphone jack. She can turn those CDs into mp3s too and be done with it. Dunno, but having an old school stereo for a teenager doesnt seem like a good solution. Everything is digital now.
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:25 AM on December 3, 2009 [3 favorites]

Like damn dirty ape, I was going to suggest an ipod dock or some similar technology. Do kids even use stereos anymore? It's probably been a year since I played a CD and I'm almost 40.
posted by jon1270 at 11:57 AM on December 3, 2009

You can usually find a 70's era Pioneer, Akai, Sansui, or Yamaha receiver with 20 - 40wpc for $20 - $60 on kijiji / craigslist, etc. They're generally built very well, and sound quality compared to anything else in that price range wouldn't compare.

Most will have an auxillary and tape input. On one you get a $5 cable with rca plugs on one end, and mini jack on the other to plug her MP3 player into. The other can be input from the TV, the computer... or something else.

Decent vintage loudspeakers can also be had via the same means...
posted by csmason at 11:59 AM on December 3, 2009

Response by poster: I don't remember which MP3 player she has right now. It's about her third one, because she's rough on her electronics, especially portable ones. She periodically laments the demise of her previous shelf system, which she'd saved up for and purchased, and that's why I was thinking a replacement for that would be a good gift. She's expressed no interest in docking systems and is well aware of their existence. Thanks for the idea, though.
posted by notashroom at 12:01 PM on December 3, 2009

Best answer: Get her a good DVD player, which will serve as the CD and CD-R player. Then build the rest from Craigslist or thrift stores. She can upgrade components in the future.
posted by hydrophonic at 12:12 PM on December 3, 2009

If money is an issue, I just saw a few refurbished Zunes for 40 dollars or so at Frys. 4GB each and Zunes are dirt cheap to source in case she destroys it. Zune speaker docks are easy to get too.
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:43 PM on December 3, 2009

Best answer: I have this in my bedroom and it works quite nicely (it can act as an alarm clock and has a sleep timer too). The only thing missing is a line-in.

Looks like it's been discontinued but there are some similar newer models.
posted by vsync at 12:50 PM on December 3, 2009

Then build the rest from Craigslist or thrift stores. She can upgrade components in the future.

As someone who has bought a fair amount of stereo kit from thrift stores and Craigslist I must caution you about this approach. Yes, there are great deals. If you know what to look for and what to check. The truly good stuff of the right age (mostly silver-face and heavy) often has various problems like scratchy controls, left or right channel cutting out, inputs that don't work, burned out tweeters, woofers with bad foam surrounds, and so on. Many of these problems are fixable but if you can't do it yourself it will get really expensive. The newer plastic stuff isn't much worth picking up.
posted by 6550 at 1:40 PM on December 3, 2009

If you can give up the "plays CDs" requirement, Audioengine A2's are really really fantastic powered speakers for the price. Cables included, you can just plug in an iPod and go. Here's Stereophile Magazine's gushing review of them.
posted by joshuaconner at 1:01 AM on December 5, 2009

Response by poster: I'm not giving up the "plays CDs" requirement, because she's not ready to give up CDs.

I'm not buying used because I don't have the A/V expertise to know a diamond from a dog in the used market.

I'm not buying a docking system because it won't plays CDs and only makes sense with an MP3 player with sufficiently high quality sound output to function as sole/primary audio device.

I'm not buying a high quality MP3 player because she already has a working MP3 player and it'll be smashed on pavement by a friend spinning her over his head or crushed into carpet by wrestling with her bestie or run over by a car she sets it on top of and forgets to retrieve from before it pulls away. They always are, as are her phones. If it's portable, it will have a short lifespan.

I appreciate the alternative suggestions, but I just wanted some help sorting through the many options for a stereo to buy my kid. I think I'm going to (mostly) follow hydrophonic's suggestion and get her a network-ready blu-ray disc player, which will cover music CDs, MP3 CDs, and obviously DVDs and BDs. Thanks.
posted by notashroom at 9:45 AM on December 7, 2009

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