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Best sounding STEREO setup for under $500?

post #1 of 17
Thread Starter 
Asked this question over at hydrogenaudio, but I thought I'd ask here too as I always get helpful answers from here

Okay so I have a set of Logitech Z-5500 5.1 speakers and I am not happy with the sound of my music from these. Even with a nice sound card my music sounds muddy and uncontrolled.

What I want is the absolute BEST sounding setup for under $500, from any combination of Speakers, Amplifiers, Receivers, CD Players, Subwoofers, even Headphones. I want to use this purely for music and nothing else.

This is all your opinion so list the BEST combination you can think of for under $500, and if you don't think there is a big enough difference between a $500 and a $300 setup, I wouldn't mind saving some extra cash
post #2 of 17
Used?
post #3 of 17
Yes, will you consider used? Would you be willing to wait a bit for somethng to turn up? Are you interested in DIY? Anyone can learn DIY and the DIY'ers here are knowledgeable and always willing to lend a hand.

For me, I break down components like this:

1. Quality of recording
2. Transducer (speakers/cans)
3. Amp
4. Digital playback device

Jewelry and dress-up:
5. Cables and miscellaneous tweaks

The only exception is analog playback. There, you have to spend money to get a quality device. It always pays to buy the best for vinyl, reel-to-reel and FM tuners/antennas. Antennas are about half the game with FM.

For $500, new, I'd look at the PSB Alpha B1 speakers. I got my parents a pair for Christmas for $179. They're terrific and much better than you'd expect, especially for the price. Pair those with any receiver you can find and you'll be happy.

If you're willing to buy used, keep an eye out for a used Magnepan MMG. They go $400-$450 and are worth every cent. You can find other older Magnepans for less, but I'm not familiar with them. Another superb used speaker is the ESS AMT-1 and variations. I got a pair for $300 last summer and love them to pieces. They don't come up that often, but grab them if they do. There is real magic in an AMT.

If you're willing to build your own, drop $350 or so on a pair of Jordan JX92S full range drivers. They have a couple of easy plans and singledrivers are wonderful. Another one to keep an eye on is the reintroduction of the Cicada driver at Eddie Current. A few years back, I got a pair of the Moth (Craig's previous company) Cicadas for $120 each. They're like little Lowthers. Craig said he's bringing them back, and they're well worth considering.

As for power, just get any receiver you can find. Preferably two channel. I like the older models from Marantz and NAD, but I have a 20 year old Kenwood I bought new that has soldiered on all these years. I should probably replace the caps in the power supply, bu it keeps going. You can definitely find something like that cheap if you look around garage sales, thrift shops, Craigslist, etc. If you want something stylish, check out the vintage Bang & Olufson Beomaster units. You can get the earlier ones for under $100 and they're made of metal and wood. They still look great (IMHO), too. I've got an old Beomaster 1900 here that I need to wrench on; probably the power supply. It cost me $40. You know, a Beomaster with MMGs would make people think you dropped several thousand on your rig while sounding pretty damn good, too.

For a digital player, check into a refurbished Sony SCD-CE595. Sony sells refurbs for $50-$60 now and then. They play SACD and CD, and is good enough to demonstrate the benefits of SACD.

As for cables, etc., forget them. If you want something that looks cool and is well made, reterminate Home Depot power cords and put black Techflex on them. They'll work and will look just like the high-end ones. Probably sound exactly the same, too.

Anyhow, get out and start scouring the used stuff. You'll be able to build a great stereo for $500.
post #4 of 17
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Uncle Erik View Post
Yes, will you consider used? Would you be willing to wait a bit for somethng to turn up? Are you interested in DIY? Anyone can learn DIY and the DIY'ers here are knowledgeable and always willing to lend a hand.

For me, I break down components like this:

1. Quality of recording
2. Transducer (speakers/cans)
3. Amp
4. Digital playback device

Jewelry and dress-up:
5. Cables and miscellaneous tweaks

The only exception is analog playback. There, you have to spend money to get a quality device. It always pays to buy the best for vinyl, reel-to-reel and FM tuners/antennas. Antennas are about half the game with FM.

For $500, new, I'd look at the PSB Alpha B1 speakers. I got my parents a pair for Christmas for $179. They're terrific and much better than you'd expect, especially for the price. Pair those with any receiver you can find and you'll be happy.

If you're willing to buy used, keep an eye out for a used Magnepan MMG. They go $400-$450 and are worth every cent. You can find other older Magnepans for less, but I'm not familiar with them. Another superb used speaker is the ESS AMT-1 and variations. I got a pair for $300 last summer and love them to pieces. They don't come up that often, but grab them if they do. There is real magic in an AMT.

If you're willing to build your own, drop $350 or so on a pair of Jordan JX92S full range drivers. They have a couple of easy plans and singledrivers are wonderful. Another one to keep an eye on is the reintroduction of the Cicada driver at Eddie Current. A few years back, I got a pair of the Moth (Craig's previous company) Cicadas for $120 each. They're like little Lowthers. Craig said he's bringing them back, and they're well worth considering.

As for power, just get any receiver you can find. Preferably two channel. I like the older models from Marantz and NAD, but I have a 20 year old Kenwood I bought new that has soldiered on all these years. I should probably replace the caps in the power supply, bu it keeps going. You can definitely find something like that cheap if you look around garage sales, thrift shops, Craigslist, etc. If you want something stylish, check out the vintage Bang & Olufson Beomaster units. You can get the earlier ones for under $100 and they're made of metal and wood. They still look great (IMHO), too. I've got an old Beomaster 1900 here that I need to wrench on; probably the power supply. It cost me $40. You know, a Beomaster with MMGs would make people think you dropped several thousand on your rig while sounding pretty damn good, too.

For a digital player, check into a refurbished Sony SCD-CE595. Sony sells refurbs for $50-$60 now and then. They play SACD and CD, and is good enough to demonstrate the benefits of SACD.

As for cables, etc., forget them. If you want something that looks cool and is well made, reterminate Home Depot power cords and put black Techflex on them. They'll work and will look just like the high-end ones. Probably sound exactly the same, too.

Anyhow, get out and start scouring the used stuff. You'll be able to build a great stereo for $500.
Thanks man, tons of information! I'll look into all of those.

btw I have a cruddy Pioneer amp, I'll look up the exact model when I'm at home. I'd like to know if it would good enough to power "nicer" speakers
post #5 of 17
I recommend you try and get an used panasonic XR series digital HTR receiver and bi amp some speakers that have two sets of posts like Mirage OM10's
post #6 of 17
Still didn't answer the "Used?" question.
post #7 of 17
If you wait long enough, you might be able to pick up a used NAD C320BEE and Vandersteen 1B or 2C for a total of around $500.

If you want new, this might be a good option: KEF iQ3 + Pioneer A-35R.

I believe both those amps also have decent headphone outputs.
post #8 of 17
Thread Starter 
Yeah used is fine
post #9 of 17
If you happen to live close to these guys...:

AudiogoN ForSale: Polk Audio SDA-2B
AudiogoN ForSale: Polk Rti 10

Haggle this guy down if possible, but price isn't bad as is:
AudiogoN ForSale: AV123 x-sls - classics

Or grab these: NIB Onix ELT 525M bookshelf speakers (rosewood) - Home Theater Forum

Then grab a real cheap stereo amp like this one (or I could point you to others): AudiogoN ForSale: Adcom GFA-5002

Then add a decent powered subwoofer: Energy - ESW-8 - Powered Subwoofer-Audio Advisor
OR
Parts Express:*Dayton SUB-80 8" HT Series 80 Watt Powered Subwoofer

Btw, how big is your room? And can you use rear-port or rear-firing speakers?
post #10 of 17
Yes, your old Pioneer would likely power good speakers. You'll get better performance from an audiophile amp, but old receivers will give you most of the sound. That's why I think the value proposition has switched to speakers lately. Headphone amps have never been made in mass quantities, and Head-Fi is relatively new. In 15-20 years, when decent vintage headphone amps are cheap and plentiful, you'll be able to walk away with a real bargain. But today, especially in light of the stratospherically priced new "statement" headphones, speakers are the bargain.

If I were you, I'd go with the Pioneer and focus on the best speakers you can find. You'll be surprised how good they sound with your receiver.

I haven't heard Vandersteens, but I've read so many good things that I think you should consider them. I've been so tempted to grab a pair now and then when they come up locally. So take a look at them, too.

Also, do not be afraid of any speaker that needs to be refoamed. Yeah, they look like hell and like they'd cost a fortune to fix. Not true at all. Iilf you Google "foam surround repair kit [speaker model]" you should find at least one supplier, if not several, for almost every popular model. Most kits are $20-$30 and usually feature modern surrounds that hold up way better than the originals. The kits usually come with the right glue and thorough instructions, too. You don't need any special tools or training, either. Just an hour or two per driver, patience and slow, careful work will make them like new. Lay out some newspaper, put on a movie or two, and sit down with them. Anyone can do it and you'll save a fortune.

Also, be sure to browse Craigslist and Audiogon for your area. Real bargains are coming up left and right. On Sunday, I'm driving down to pick up a pair of Quad ESL-63 speakers I got for $650. I have to rebuild the panels and plan to rebuild their electronics, too. However, these things cost $4,000 new. The newest Quads, which are similar, run north of $8,000 per pair. I've always wanted a pair, but figured it was five or ten years off, not two days. So keep your eyes open and don't be afraid of projects. There's enough help here and at other forums for you to fix almost anything.
post #11 of 17
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Alai View Post
If you happen to live close to these guys...:

AudiogoN ForSale: Polk Audio SDA-2B
AudiogoN ForSale: Polk Rti 10

Haggle this guy down if possible, but price isn't bad as is:
AudiogoN ForSale: AV123 x-sls - classics

Or grab these: NIB Onix ELT 525M bookshelf speakers (rosewood) - Home Theater Forum

Then grab a real cheap stereo amp like this one (or I could point you to others): AudiogoN ForSale: Adcom GFA-5002

Then add a decent powered subwoofer: Energy - ESW-8 - Powered Subwoofer-Audio Advisor
OR
Parts Express:*Dayton SUB-80 8" HT Series 80 Watt Powered Subwoofer

Btw, how big is your room? And can you use rear-port or rear-firing speakers?
It's a pretty big basement, I'm not home right now so I can't measure, but at the moment my speakers are in the corner of the room with my computer.

I know that when I get some new speakers I'm going to have to position them better, but I'm not exactly sure how. What's the best position for a stereo setup in a big basement?

idk what you mean by being able to use rear-firing speakers? I have a lot of space if that's what you mean
post #12 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by Uncle Erik View Post
Also, be sure to browse Craigslist and Audiogon for your area. Real bargains are coming up left and right. On Sunday, I'm driving down to pick up a pair of Quad ESL-63 speakers I got for $650. I have to rebuild the panels and plan to rebuild their electronics, too. However, these things cost $4,000 new. The newest Quads, which are similar, run north of $8,000 per pair. I've always wanted a pair, but figured it was five or ten years off, not two days. So keep your eyes open and don't be afraid of projects. There's enough help here and at other forums for you to fix almost anything.
Yes, please check around your local craigslist. Mine has $350 for a pair of CMT-340 SE and I just got the GFA-555MKII for $300. Pretty sweet if you ask me.

Also, you will probably want something other than the ELT525M, then because they will be more for a desktop or small room setup. The other deals are nice. Check them out and other local deals out (ie pawn shop or craigslist) and come back and let us know. When and if you have money left over, we can get you a subwoofer.
post #13 of 17
Get the MMGs
post #14 of 17
Thread Starter 
Audioklassiks Hifi Vintage » PIONEER SX-727 l RECEIVER

Will this do? This is close to what I have.
post #15 of 17
If I had $500 I would buy a sonic impact T-amp or a zero dac, modded xbox and blow the rest of it on Aurum Cantus speakers.

I just checked and the speakers are indeed out of your price range
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