Smaller music please.
January 27, 2010 8:38 AM   Subscribe

*Affordable* home audio (not home theater). Various Q's inside.

I have a component setup that's probably about 15 yrs old, consisting of Yamaha RX460 receiver whose radio no longer works; JVC 5-CD changer XL-F254, whose tray is irritable and balky; Technics LB-D22 turntable; and two Pioneer speakers CS-G203. The speakers say Max power 100W, Frequency range 40~20kHz, and Impedance 6 ohms. The speakers might be as old as 20 years!

I move often and I'm getting sick of moving these big boxes that contain relatively old equipment. So here are my questions: What makes the sound, sound good? Is it just the speakers? Can I replace everything but the speaks with a compact system (aka a "rack system," IIRC)? And if so, I'd appreciate recommendations.

Already looked at this thread, but those prices are way out of reach.

Oh, and here's what I listen to: old rock and roll rekkids; some blues recs; CDs mostly indie rock, and rock rock, and punk rock. No jazz (instrumental or vocal) or classical.

All responses appreciated. Thanks.
posted by scratch to Technology (6 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Man, there's a lot of audiophiles out there, but I think you can own a 'system' (if a system you really 'need', consisting of components) that sounds decent and doesn't cost a ton.

A lot of people are of course starting to turn everything into digital audio formats and just use a computer as a media center with some decent speakers and/or subwoofer (which you could do for a couple hundred bucks). But if you want to use your cd player, or get another (they're not as common as they used to be, though typically blu-ray/dvd players will also play them now), and use your turntable - I would advise seeing if you can dig up a place somewhere near you that might sell used analog stereo gear. You say you have 20 year old speakers, but old does NOT necessarily = bad.

I think my friend bought a system a couple years ago, refurbed, from a used collector stereo place - an old marantz amp and some speakers, to use with his stuff. Might have cost him $250 or $300. They might have been 'old', but they were in great condition since the dealer had cleaned them up.

Myself, I use a boring $25? channel switcher box to switch between my components, one of those little T-amp doodads (google on T-amp to see the new versions/variants people make, they're usually $50 to $200, depending on how snazzy them make em), which is not warm at all but super flat and transparent, which is fine by me, but certainly nowhere near the warmth of a decent analog amp as it really barely colors the sound at all, and a set of Polk audio speakers I bought for $100 for the pair.
posted by bitterkitten at 9:15 AM on January 27, 2010

So here are my questions: What makes the sound, sound good? Is it just the speakers?

No. It's everything. However, in your situation, unless one of your components is straight-up broken, you'll probably get the most punch for the buck upgrading your speakers. Almost definitely. You *can* just replace the speakers, and you can replace them with something smaller, and you can also do something like replacing the speakers now, then replacing the other stuff. Well-regarded brands of inexpensive smaller speakers include Paradigm, Axiom (I personally regard Axiom alot weller than Paradigm), and B&W.

Can I replace everything but the speaks with a compact system (aka a "rack system," IIRC)? And if so, I'd appreciate recommendations.

Yes. Some of those little compact systems you see are not actually designed to work with any speakers but the ones they come with, so double check that. Also, these systems are usually crap. Many, many super-compact all-in-ones are crap, so definitely listen before buying, or at least get a lot of trustworthy reviews.

It's worth noting that even if you go to a more compact system, you're turntable can't really get appreciably smaller. So you're always going to have at least that one thing be big. Without going to the compact systems, you don't generally find substantially smaller versions of normal components. You might find one that's thinner or shallower, but they generally run to the same width. So you're best bet is going to be to try to eliminate components: do you need a CD changer? etc.

I think my friend bought a system a couple years ago, refurbed, from a used collector stereo place - an old marantz amp and some speakers, to use with his stuff. Might have cost him $250 or $300.

A lot of old Marantz gear is awesome and overbuilt. The downside of this is that the good old Marantz stuff has attracted the eye of collectors, and the prices on it have risen tremendously. Also, it is super heavy. If your concern is moving, I'd imagine weight's as big of an issue as size.
posted by jeb at 9:30 AM on January 27, 2010

Seconding the Marantz. I think what makes a system sound good is the speakers and the receiver. The best system I've had in my own home is an old 70's Marantz receiver a friend gave me coupled with some cheap Best Buy speakers that cost me about $80.00. Rather than use an iPod, I stream music to this system from a Logitech Squeezebox with all the CD's encoded in a loss-less format. Everything is relatively compact, and the sound is just incredible (some of my friends are audiophiles and have commented on the quality of sound). We recently replaced this system with a fancy and expensive Harman Kardon home theater system -- and let me tell you, the pricey H/K just cannot compete with the old and free Marantz. I go so frustrated with the sound, that I hooked the Marantz up in another room to listen to music and use the H/K for movies only. You can find Marantz' on eBay, collector stereo places, or even (rare) garage sales.
posted by rtodd at 9:40 AM on January 27, 2010

Care to DIY? You can make some great speakers with not much more than a drill and some way to cut a big round hole. Lowes will even cut MDF to size for you.

My setup at home cost something like $500 and sounds beautiful. Not earth-shakingly loud or rumbly, but more than enough to annoy my neighbors.

Amp: I'm using an old NAD 3020 that was around $100 on ebay, and had a T-amp before but that didn't sound as clear and wonderful
Speaker cables:

How you get sound from the computer to the amp is up to you. My macbook pro sounds fine hooked straight up to the amp, though there are better (more expensive) ways to do it.
posted by paanta at 9:53 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

The amp and speakers make the system. If you're after keeping the cost to a minimum I would recommend checking Freecycle (A Yahoo group in case you're unfamiliar). Over the past two years I've managed to obtain three NAD amplifiers which overall sound quite good and a pair of B&W bookshelf speakers. The NAD 2600 series amps sound killer, and after years of listening to different amps (the one it replaced was a Carver unit called "The Receiver") it was the first one to really blow me away with the clarity of the sound. The same can be said for the B&W speakers.

A lot of the time as people upgrade their systems, move, cohabitate, or go in a different direction (home theater) they'll just jettison their old gear. Put up a wanted post on Freecycle and see what comes your way.
posted by BishopFistwick at 9:54 AM on January 27, 2010

I've been very happy with wee Dennon systems. I've had one for more than 10 years, my brother has had two (one got stolen), my parents one as well. They can't drive much power per channel, but do produce nice sound. The one I have has an aux in (for, say, a turntable), but do check before you buy. I had to buy separate speakers for mine---Energy bookshelf, I don't remember the model number off hand---but they seem to come with these days. All told about $800.

I'm no where near an audiophile, but I am a satisfied listener.
posted by bonehead at 10:32 AM on January 27, 2010

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