if you were to throw a ton of dead presidents at just about anything one can or should be able to come up with a high quality strong performing top notch, result.

but what if your angle is to squeeze the most out of coins and cupons and piggy bank savings. just how far might you get with real world budget constraints holding the whip of accountability in the pastime of audioland?

using your system building experience, noteable auditions, and or imagination, let’s jot down on ‘paper’ what you think, or indeed have put together that should be or is, an enjoyable, engaging, stereo rig for the least investment.

For simplicity sake, please use just one source. analog. Digital. Streaming.

although there is no real dollar amount being targeted merely try to provide good ideas on minimally invested rigs which likely or do exceed entry level outfits audio performance.

naturally, show your component choices and their overall cost.

Looking forward to reading about your various 2 channel outfit builds either practical or imagined which adhere to pedestrian rather than provocative investments yet possess the attribute:

“its hard to turn it off, once its turned on”.

thanks to all.
My system is what I consider outstanding poor man’s high end, but it’s exactly what I like to hear and what I think it should sound like, so depending on what you like...YMMV. It’s important to please your own ears. I’m all about clarity, natural sounding subtle detail without sibilants, open, spacious, soundstage, separation, and quick transients. I want to hear the hall, and feel like I’m there. I was exposed to some amazing high end systems expertly setup that I couldn’t come close to affording, but I loved the sound and mimicked that as best I could with the budget available. Not all of my components can even be purchased now, but I think tubes and vinyl is the best way to achieve that engaging realism I seek, and there are some really, really good performers that are reasonable that sound far better than average mid-fi components. I’ve owned some really good solid state amps, but none have floated my boat like a good tube amp, and vinyl still offers that resolution I look for that I’m don’t quite get from CD, though I do own both.

- The Wharfedale Denton 80th anniversary speakers are on sale for $500/pr (50% off)., and are extremely well balanced, high resolution, neutral, smallish speakers. (for a larger room, more deep bass, I’d add a decent low cost powered subwoofer like the and Dayton SUB1200 for < $150, and would keep the crossover point low, and the gain down) - If you want to stretch the budget for larger speakers - The Wharfedale Evo 4.4 Towers are $1500/pr. Speakers are very subjective - I’d also listen to Elac, Rodgers, PSB, Focal, Paradigm, Spendor, or Harbeth.

- VTA ST-70 - 35 watts per channel in ultralinear mode, or 20 wpc in triode - kit to stretch your budget, or assembled if you can’t/won’t solder. Absolutely the finest sounding, best built amp anywhere near this price range. Excellent clarity, dynamics, and soundstage. An incredible upgrade from the original Dyna ST-70 that was very good. It’ll hold it’s own against many amps over $3000. You can pick your tubes to tailor the sound. $800-$1300

- Audio Technica LP-120XUSB with the VMN95SH shibata stylus (or VMN95ML). $425. This is the new and improved version, and offers the most advanced stylus profile in this price range, thus the best chance of getting really highend sound from a modest deck. The arm is decent and is perfectly matched with the cart, the motor is quiet, the platter benfits from some help from an upgraded slipmat (cork, rubber, cork/rubber, leather, etc), the external RCA jacks allow for cable upgrade, and the nude shibata stylus is stunning. You can add a record weight for increased mass. Many audiophiles look past this deck, but it’s a true sleeper that’ll more than hold it’ own.  Better tables exist, but for a lot more money and offer diminishing returns.

- Schiit Mani phono preamp - $130s

- Cables and interconnects to suit - suggest SWK cables, and Monoprice 12 awg OFC cables in bulk - terminate yourself (< $60 and are as good as any well marketed brand names I’ve tried.)

$2500-$3000 for a system I could listen to as my main system for years.

Thank you for the insights. very nice rig.
I dig tubes too, though SS with tubes has a strong attachment still.
This is one of the configurations I've had in my computer room system (I've since replaced the Vincent).

Vincent SV-237 integrated $1,250 (second hand)
Harbeth P3ESR SE $1,050 (second hand)
MHDT Labs Orchid $750 (second hand)
Onkyo DV-SP205FX SACD player approx. $130 (second hand, required a $20 step up transformer)
SVS SB12-NSD $400

In some ways, this system rivals or betters my main system, which costs many times more than this system.  
TAKE YOUR TIME (wait for the luck of the Irish)


USED (with caution)

If using PayPal, have seller send you an invoice for the goods. If you just send money without an invoice, you have no protection from PayPal.

Talk to your credit card company about their help, even consider taking an advanced card level with yearly fee for a while, get ’extra’ protection, then buy, then, next year drop back to prior level or keep it.


SPEAKERS are primary,

I would look for used, returns/full refund accepted, then the only risk is return shipping.

So, used speakers: only ones I could drive to, pick up, get home in one day, and then if a bust, return in one day, no shipping to/from needed. Many people will meet you half way, or at least drive 1 hr toward you.

Seller might even let you hear them at his place. Tell seller you will be wearing a mask and gloves of course. Or, pick up at the end of a driveway, transfer money with a 6 ft stick!

I agree, that AT120 turntable is quite good, I had one for years, I used my cartridge, the new optional cartridges/stylus is a great move up.

When pricing cartridges, remember, average life of advanced shapes increase, so figure the cost per 50 hours for true cost comparison

Avg. Life chart I found:

150 hrs conical.
250 hrs elliptical, (+67% longer than conical)
400 hrs MicroLine (ML), Shibata, ..(+60% longer life than elliptical)
500 hrs SAS (+100% longer life than elliptical) (+25% longer than ML).

And don’t forget, advanced shapes equates with less wear to LP grooves, and, less Tracking Weight equates to less wear to LP grooves

FEATURES list prior to components
FUTURE Considerations NOW


Play good speakers with any damnnnn thing, replace each piece as you get lucky


sonos streamer   150
chord mojo   300
naim nait  500
modest little proacs   500
modest rel sub  300

I consider my system #2 a poor-ish man's system. Though some normal friends have said it is expensive.

Benchmark: HPA4 + DAC3B + AHB2 x 2. 

This is not a system for rose colored glasses view of the music. It is neutral but not fatiguing. The headphone section on the HPA4 is phenomenal.

Some other options for money in pockets systems.

The NAD Master M33 sounds interesting with the Purifi module. Not sure if the DAC in it is great, but most DAC are good enough nowadays. It would be a one and done component. The Hegel 390 integrated is also a one and done component. The older Hegel 360 was a component I thought about buying after hearing it.

Don't get mad if these are considered expensive options. I have a rich wife.
TMR has a pair of Hales T3s for $1300. IME, I am not sure one can get a better sounding "full-range" for the money.

thanks so much for these insights thus far.

the thrust of this thread is to examine and illustrate the actual real world facts of high end audio, and that is most high end audio arrangements begin quite modestly for many people.

its an acquisition  of this and that at first and then we see the grass being greener now and then and begin updating and or upgrading this or that with replacement gear as desire, time, and $$$ permit.

more to this point, the last two Florida Expo audio shows I’ve attended have shown several rigs which were not uber priced deals but did impress. substantially. I heard systems ranging from $7K to $14K and all new gear to boot which at that time I felt were true keeper rigs!

i previously owned via Agon, a main rig whose value was north of $40K in total MSRP. some pieces were bought brand new, some were acquired in the used mkt.

untoward and unexpected circumstances blew that outfit away and an eye to the future then began to dwell  on if or even when I’d be able to be a player once more in the audio  past time. 

that period is just about here. weeks perhaps, though by year’s end to be sure as  the process is now favorably completed and only some loose ends and $$ transfers are left to occur.

originally and of course from prior experiences I thought to drop an investment this time of around $70k to $90K, initially though other accessories would be needed! looking in fact for a ’turn key’ system  predominately made the most sense to me then. 

then something happend. likely from being off the audioland traedmill for years and losing that ever present push to upgrade & update & replace with things new to myself at least, I became less a fan, and lost the audionervosa bug.

hearing what rigs from raven Audio, Sound Smith, Project, and others such as the Luxman & Hagle  amongst other likewise INTs, and many others which in total could be joined for an outlay under $15K for sure, really got my attention. and, it still does! 

Consequently, allowing   senseibility  to hold the wheel, but enabling performance to have as much a say so, pondering satisfying musical systems which are quite atainable by the majority of audio enthusiasts has a strong attraction.

speaking plainly the issue facing me is that I could easily ignore this vastly more prudent direction and still drop a large wad on components without harming myself very much if at all. 

it follows then posting and developing a thread which aims squarely at hobbyist’s systems whose finaincial outlay is or was more modest seems appropriate for a number of reasons. in such outfits synergy rather than investment is crucial to overall performance.   

likely this latest exploration and or new build will be  as intriguing as was my very first assortment, especially given how SOTA has continued to escalate performance across the board with so many componnents. 

so for a bit, my focus will be on assembling a high value hopefully ‘giant killing’ rig which is as satisfying as it is interesting, but does not demand inordinate outlays of $$$.

thanks to all for your experiences and thoughts herein. I appreciate them immensely and those which may follow. as well.