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Intro to Hi-fi Audio: An Entry-Level Examination

Written By: 
Michael Friedman
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Interested in setting up a hi-fi audio system in your home but not sure where to start? The team behind In Sheep’s Clothing hi-fi takes you through the basics while sharing some of their favorite pieces of entry-level equipment.

Building your first hi-fi audio setup may seem a little intimidating at first, but it needn’t be! A typical home setup consists of just 3 pieces of audio equipment: a turntable, an amplifier, and a decent set of speakers. If that’s not simple enough, a lot of stereo companies these days also offer hi-quality speaker systems that have amplifiers built right in them, so setting up your first hi-fi system can be as easy as purchasing a turntable and a set of “powered speakers.”

We’re going to try to keep things simple here by showing you a few examples of these two primary listening setups. We’ll also explain the differences between them so you can be better informed when choosing the system that is right for your listening needs.


SYSTEM ONE- Turntable +  Bookshelf Speakers (Powered)

Illustration by Gena Milanesi

Over the past few years audio companies have invested in, and vastly improved the sound and performance of stand-alone speaker systems. Sometimes referred to as “powered speakers,” these bookshelf-type speakers have built-in amplifiers and are designed to easily fit in compact home setups. While they may be limited in bass response, higher-end ‘bookshelves’ can achieve a crisper and more refined sound than larger ‘passive’ floorstanding speakers. Some acoustic, classical, and jazz listeners actually prefer bookshelf speakers because of the more detailed sound and fidelity that they can offer. Moreover, new bookshelf systems are often loaded with modern functionalities like remote control access and wireless Bluetooth streaming, making them a fast and easy way to get your home setup running.


SYSTEM TWO- Turntable + Amplifier + Floorstanding Speakers (Passive)

Illustration by Gena Milanesi

With the addition of a separate amplifier and larger speakers, this setup is already going to feel more substantial than the bookshelf speaker system. Floorstanding speakers are typically multi-driver designs, meaning they have a dedicated speaker for highs, mids, and lows. The additional power from the amp and added speaker components will result in a fuller range of sound than bookshelf systems, especially with bass frequencies. With this type of setup, it’s important to be extra mindful of the size of your room and the placement of the speakers in relation to the listening area. Usually you will need a larger room and proper spacing to fully enjoy the benefits of floorstanding speakers, but the rewards of a fuller sound are well worth the time and investment. 

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Ultimately, the journey into hi-fi audio is all about personal discovery, so take your time, do your research, make some new friends through in-person or online communities, and have fun along the way. Remember, the system you choose will be just one part of the journey. The other, will be the music itself. Happy listening! 

Below, we’ve listed a few examples of some of our favorite components from each category that we have personally tested and like a lot. You will also find a resource guide to some retailers, online shops, and friends of ISC that will be able to accommodate all of your Hi-Fi needs. 


TURNTABLES

U-Turn- Orbit Basic- $179.00

U-Turn- Orbit Plus- $289.00

Pro-Ject- Debut Carbon Esprit SB – 599.00

REGA- PLANAR 3-  $945.00

AMPLIFIERS (INTEGRATED) 

YAMAHA- R S202 – $179.95

NAD- C 316BEE v2 – 449.99

Cambridge Audio AXR100 – $499.99

YAMAHA A-S501- $549.95

Marantz- PM7000N – $999.99

POWERED BOOKSHELF SPEAKERS

Klipsch- R-51M- $289.00

Audioengine- A5+ Wireless- $499.00

Klipsch- The Fives- Powered Speakers- $799.00  

KEF LSX Wireless – $1250.00

KEF LS50 Wireless – $2500.00

FLOOR STANDING SPEAKERS (PASSIVE) 

JBL- ARENA 170 – $499.00

ELAC DEBUT- 2.0 – $700.00

Paradigm- Monitor SE 3000F – $750.00

ZU- Omen DW- MKII- $999   (next sale Oct 1,2020)


AUDIO RESOURCE GUIDE

Common Wave– A retail Hi-Fi Boutique in Los Angeles that specialize in everything stereo equipment. They are very helpful in finding the right gear to suit your needs whether you are just getting starting or have more audiophile needs. They will steer you in the right direction.

https://www.commonwave.net/

email- [email protected]

U-Turn– An independant turntable company that also sells speakers to help you get started.

https://uturnaudio.com

Yamaha– The celebrated audio company has recently re-entered the hi-fi stereo market with a line of exceptionally priced quality audio gear specializing in Hi Fi Receivers.

https://usa.yamaha.com/products/audio_visual/hifi_components/index.html

Paradigm Speakershttps://www.paradigm.com/en/

Fly HiFi– This is an excellent used audio equipment store in Sacramento. They specialize in vintage, but are very reputable and will give you a warranty with your used purchase. Something not often heard of in the used audio market. The update their website every week, with (new) vintage equipment.

http://www.flyhifi.net

Audiogon–  An online marketplace for high-end lightly used audio gear. Great deals can be found here! 

www.audiogon.com

AudiomartUSA–  Excellent “Craigslist” type classifieds site for second hand Hi-Fi equipment. https://www.usaudiomart.com


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