This week, I got a question from a reader asking roughly the same thing that I’ve noticed from a few of my friends and folks posting on audio forums online. I guess it’s time for a column on the matter.
Jack Straw from Wichita asked via Instagram — my preferred sosh meed outlet (is there an established shorthand for social media? If not I humbly propose sosh meed): What would be the best first steps for someone making a move from entry level in home audio, or just above entry level, to something of a higher quality but not full-blown, spendy and tricked-out audiophile craziness?
I know exactly what he means by that, and I’ve written here about $200,000 turntables and the hefty average prices of the gear we see reviewed in magazines like Stereophile and The Absolute Sound. By the way, if you’re looking to learn more about what makes these high-priced devices special and/or worthy of their price tag, you could do way worse than those two publications as your guides to this data- and specs-rich hobby.
Conversely, I think many people looking for the same advice as Jack might wander over to Reddit’s r/audiophile sub to see if knowledge can be had about the budget side of things in home audio. I’d recommend against that, as my experience there is that it’s the blind leading the blind. Nothing like a youngster who’s never heard sonic differences in speaker cables in a well-set-up and designed system freely offering his disdain and offense at the idea that cables might make a difference whatsoever, on every thread he sees about cables. Sheesh.
There are a lot of options available to someone in Jack’s position, which makes the decisions harder. So I’m going to focus on this topic for a few weeks and see if we can flesh out a basic guide on how to land an achievable, affordable system for less than thousands of dollars but which competes with the higher-priced fare that’s better publicized.
We’ll begin with speakers, and we won’t finish the speakers topic today because (and this is why I started with speakers) they are the most important factor in the equation. The name of this game is truly “knowledge.” Research is where you start, but I’ll help kick that off with the following nugget.
Consider that Apple became what it became because of the influence of one person — Steve Jobs. If you need a computer, the options are Mac or PC. Without knowledge, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between them before you got a chance to experience each for yourself.
Most of the legendary designs in the audio industry (i.e. high performance for a low price) also came about because of the brilliance of one person. Take, for example, speaker designer Andrew Jones. The man who put TAD on the map with its $30,000 Evolution One speakers has now designed more budget speakers than anyone in his class.
Would a $250 speaker sound like garbage if it’s designed by a savant? Probably not. This weekend, read up on Mr. Jones and his approach, and we’ll continue with more speaker fun next week.