The best sound quality $150 can buy
July 12, 2012 12:11 PM   Subscribe

I have a (squishy) $150 to throw at a speaker setup for my living room. Help?

I don't own a teevee. I'm looking for something that will play music from my ipod and computer to go on a desk or bookshelf. Probably 90% of my listening is classical, so I don't need a bass that will make my spleen vibrate. What setup (speakers + amp/powered speakers/ipod dock/etc.) gets me my best bang in the $150-ish price range? I can't even look at anything over $200, and the closer to $150 the better.

Searching the archives, surprisingly, hasn't found me anything, although I might not be searching well.
posted by pdq to Technology (9 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
The M-Audio AV30/AV40 is a popular choice. I've used them for something similar in the past. Small, powered, lots of input choices (no digital), clean sound.
posted by kcm at 12:37 PM on July 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm looking at this too and one thing to consider is that the next batch of iPhones/iPods will almost certainly have a new and different dock connection. Because of that I'd probably avoid getting anything with a dedicated iPod dock at this time.
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:40 PM on July 12, 2012

If I was on that budget, I'd go the on-the-bookshelf route and do the following:

Dayton B625 speakers paired with a Qinpu Q-2 Amp.

The amp isn't a true tube amp, but their sound is pretty good...and they have the bonus of looking quite pretty IMO. I've not owned one, but when my current amp kicks the bucket, that's where I'll be going. A good buddy has had one for a few years and it works quite well, and sounds much better than I expected it too.

Same story with the speakers. They sounded way better than I thought they would. They were purchased as garage speakers, but after a move, we started using them in the living room, because the sound was really damn fine.

2nding the whole dock thing. It sounds like you want to run audio off your computer and ipod, so I'd just get an RCA to 3.5mm cable. 3.5mm and RCA jacks aren't really going anywhere soon, so you're almost assured that they'll be compatible with jacks for (hopefully) the next decade.
posted by furnace.heart at 12:50 PM on July 12, 2012

Seconding the AV40s, I've got a pair and they sound phenomenal. The even response means there's no bias at any range, and playing .FLAC files at full blast is awesome.

Even without a dedicated subwoofer, they're the best pair for a cramped student apartment I've found. Further anecdata, my old undergrad radio station (KSDT at UC San Diego) had a pair of AV40s for mastering/playing in their station and I loved the quality of those speakers. :)
posted by kurosawa's pal at 12:51 PM on July 12, 2012

How about under $150:

I've only heard good things about:
, but have never owned or listened to them. I believe I learned about this setup from metafilter, but can't find the reference anymore...
posted by csmason at 1:19 PM on July 12, 2012

As I understand it, your requirements boil down to a $150–200 price limit, decent sound, will look good in a living room, and will work with both an iPod and a computer. Here is what I would recommend:
  • An inexpensive pair of bookshelf speakers. The sound quality of the $29.98 Dayton Audio B652 6.5" speaker pair is hard to beat for it's tiny price. You'll also need some speaker cable, the price of which will depend on length, e.g. $4.29.
  • An inexpensive amplifier. The $24.48 Lepai TA2020 Tripath-based mini audio amplifier is more than adequate for a small pair of bookshelf speakers.
  • You don't say what kind of iPod you have, but if your iDevice has WiFi (like the iPod touch), I'd encourage you to get a $99 Apple Airport Express Base Station. This will let you wirelessly stream audio from your iPod or iTunes on your computer. If you don't have WiFi-capable device, try the $59 Apple Universal Dock. In either case, you'll need a 3.5mm male-to-male stereo cable. Get a short one if you're using WiFi ($2.75), longer if you use the dock ($3.90). Without WiFi, you'll need to manually move one end of the 3.5mm cable between the dock and your computer (most computers have a 3.5mm analog audio output, check yours).
All told, the above setup will cost you somewhere between $120–160, not including tax and shipping.
posted by RichardP at 1:39 PM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I suggest you save for a few more months so you can buy a decent amplifier and speakers, but that may just be me.
posted by wierdo at 4:52 PM on July 12, 2012

This one has great reviews and is about $180.
posted by bendy at 9:34 PM on July 12, 2012

At $200: Audioengine A2
At $170: Harman Kardon Soundsticks III
At $140: Altec Lansing MX6021
At $132: Logitech Speaker System Z623
At $70: Swans Hi-Vi S3W
These are all powered speakers that don't require an amp.
Alternately, if you have time/energy/interest, you might try searching for vintage japanese receivers & speakers on craigslist - if you get lucky you can meet your budget, conserve resources, and get a great deal on cool old gear.
posted by jcrcarter at 7:49 AM on July 13, 2012

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