What were your humble beginnings on the path to high end audio?

Recently there has been a discussion as to the “price point where mid fi tops out and hi end systems begin”. I’d be willing to bet that there are not many folks who started out in this field of interest spending $100K, $50K or even $10K. Going back to your very beginnings, what was your first serious audio system?

I’ll jump in the wayback machine with Mr. Peabody and Sherman and give you a look at my beginnings.

My journey began at around age 13. I started out with a Lafayette KT-630, stereo tube amp that I built from a kit in my 9th grade, “electronics shop” class. The speakers were built at home from plans in the 1968, July issue of Mechanix Illustrated. I upgraded the cabinet construction from plywood, to solid mahogany. The twin woofers in each cabinet were also upgraded to 5” from the specified 4” units and the tweeters were also upgraded from the specified 2-3/4” units to the deluxe 3” units. The inductors in the 6db per octave passive crossovers were hand wound and the caps, terminal strips, L-pads, magnet wire and grill cloth were from Lafayette Radio Electronics as were the woofers and tweeters. The turntable was a purchased Garrard SL72B with a Shure M91E magnetic cartridge.

Check out the amp specifications on page 42 of the Lafayette 1968 summer catalog #648.

The raw speakers are shown on page 55 of the Lafayette 1971 catalog #710. Woofers, 99-F-01554, figure D. Tweeters were at the bottom of page 55, 99-F-00499. The Garrard SL72B is on page 69 of the same catalog.

I still have the speaker systems and the amp and they all still work! Alas the SL72B is long since gone. I mowed a lot of grass and shoveled a lot of snow in the neighborhood to buy all that high end gear at age 13! :-D By todays standards, not very impressive, but to a 13 year old in 1968, it was awesome!

So to reiterate, what was your first serious audio system?

P.S. - If you are interested, check out some select old Lafayette, Allied Radio, Heathkit, Radio Shack, Olson and other old catalogs from what I think of as the “good old days” of electronics and my youth.

I can only remember some components. My first amp was an AR, the first turntable I remember was a Dual of some kind, with a Shure cartridge, and my first reel to reel was a tube type Roberts Rheems! The earliest speakers I remember are Rectilinear III highboys. My father was in the radio and tv broadcast industry and I remember some exotic tube amps and weird RCA cartridge type tape decks, which got me interested....
My first “killer system” by the standards of my earlier years came at about age 21. I moved up from my Yamaha receiver and bought a separate amp and preamp by Acurus. I also added an Acurus CD player. This powered a pair of $1,200 Canton monitors (US dollars in 1995). For speaker cables I used Audioquest type 4. I think I had about $5k all in at the time.  I loved that system!
When I learned about the industry of high-end audio in USA I realized it's not humble at all for starters...
Great question!

Boy, that was a long time ago. I was 15 years old in 1967 and was cleaning windows at a carwash for my "Work Experience" class. I was making a whopping $1.25/Hr. and managed to buy a Pioneer receiver, turntable and two speakers. I set it up in my bedroom and loved listening to music by Cream, Buffalo Springfield, Hendrix and others.
Fisher 500C receiver, AR 2ax speakers, Dual 1019.  Still have the Dual.  Thinking of getting it refurbished...
Not sure how high end but a JVC receiver and JVC direct drive TT and I can not remember the speakers other than large boxes with the beige cloth probably JVC as well. I started out working on a farm for the huge sum of $3 a day at 12 years old, worked my way up to $20 a week, saved enough for a car as well. 
My first real job as a teen was sales at Lafayette Radio Electronics, then Tech Hifi and Radio Shack.  My first "real" system was Lafeyette 40 watt integrated amp and tuner with Lafayette Criterion brand short towers with Heil Air Motion Transformers.   Sounded pretty good for a first system when the Heils were not getting fried.
When I was little my folks had a stereo some type of receiver, Japanese I am pretty sure and a turntable I don't remember anything about the components or speakers. That was it for stereo's in my life no idea what happened to that stuff. Bought myself a boombox in college which also became my car stereo because the one in there was FM only. Sat it on the back seat and played tapes.

When I got my first real job and had some extra dough, circa 1999/2000 I reading Stereophile and did some shopping. Ended up buying a Bryston B-60 integrated amp and Rega Planet CD player from Gifted Listener Audio in Centreville VA. Paired with a pair of Acoustic Response speakers better know as White Van speakers. That was my first real system.
KLH model 11 then graduated to Nikko with Rectilinear XIb speakers and BSR table with Shure cartridge.
Do not remember the model numbers but think I got all the makes.
I worked weekends while at school to save up money and then still had to sell my bicycle to buy the "system" No help financially from parents, the way I was brought up!
Bear in mind this was in England back in 1975.
Trio TT with Shure cart
Trio integrated amplifier, think it was 25wpc
Aiwa cassette deck
Mission speakers
All strung together with whatever came with them in the boxes, no fancy ic,pc etc!
I regularly blew the tweeters out of the Missions as my parties were famous for volume but in retrospect it would not be sheer volume destroying them at just 25wpc but clipping I am certain, ahh the brio of youth! Ignorant bliss!
All purchased from along defunct hifi chain in England, Laskys.

They hated me in there as I lugged my Mission speakers in time after time!
Scott R74S Receiver, Kenwood turntable (later upgraded to a Garrard Zero-100), and Altec 893C speakers. Served me very well for years...
My first real system was when I was 21yo (15y ago)...

Yamaha Receiver
Polk LSi9 bookshelves

Now I have 3 systems based off the British the French and the Italians.

Sonus Faber Olympica 3 with Rotels.
Focal Kanta 2 on Rotels.
And the main system is based on Bowers and Wilkins 802d3 on Emm Labs and Cary Audio Preamp and Boulder stereo amplifier with Audioquest WELs.
I was 4 when the stereo arrived - parents bought it ahead of carpet and furniture... perhaps one of my first memories....
Bozak B-305
Dual 1018
Shure TypeII
pretty awesome, spoiled me rotten ...

my first
Infinity Qb
Onkyo A-5
Denon DP-790
Grado G-III ( I think...)
Dokorder 4 track RtR

Kenwood KR-77 receiver. 24/wpc @ 8 ohms, solid state
Allied Radio Horn speakers w/12 inch acoustic suspension woofer
Gerrard SL-95B turntable w/Pickering or Shure cart
Led Zeppelin I & II

My first good rockin gig was in about 1982 i bought a Parasound receiver and AAL speakers with a Technics belt drive turntable. Bought it from CMC stereo in Illinois which stood for Chicago Music Company and the owner started out of his backseat installing stereos in Chicago. CMC went out of business because he was murdered by his younger wife and his financial planner.
Weird story but was great stores at the time, every Friday night they had a huge spotlight shining in the sky to draw you in. 
My first: Creek 4330 integrated, JM Lab micro carat speakers and a Rotel RCD-02 CD spinner, with Kimber 4 strand speaker cable and PBJ interconnects.  I think I spent about $2,300 in the 1980’s.  Still respect that system. 
Wow! A lot of interesting equipment, most of which I remember well. I used to look forward to my family going to the local mall about every other week. My sister and mother would go clothes shopping and my father and I would go to the Lafayette Radio Electronics store. I would walk up and down the isles looking at all the electronic parts and gadgets, but my favorite part of the store was in the back. That is where they had a lot of the LRE branded equipment. Tuners, amps, receivers, speakers, open reel recorders and such all hooked up for a listen, but off to the side was an enclosed glass room that was the best part, the sound room. A big switchboard where you could connect any turntable, tuner, amp, receiver, speakers tape deck, etc. together to have a listen and a dedicated store employee to handle the switching and commentary. Fisher, Sherwood, AR, Dual, Garrard, ADC, KLH, Dynaco, Ampex and more were all on hand. I had always liked the KLH Model 5's, but they were way out of my price range at the time.

My next step up in the audio world was a Fisher 210-T receiver and a pair of ADC 303AX speakers. I still have them as well and they still work, but the FM multiplexer in the receiver is out, so no FM stereo, but it will get fixed someday!

When mapman mentioned the Heil Air Motion Transformers, I started having flashbacks! Good flashbacks! I had a lot of good times in that sound room! Whenever the switchboard guy saw me and my father coming, he would always go out and fill up his coffee cup, because he knew we were going to be there a while! :-)
My first high end system was a GAS Son Of Ampzilla amp, Kenwood LO7C preamp, Sansui tuner, Teac A450 Cassette deck, JVC direct drive turntable with a Shure V15 cartridge and a pair of Ambient 66 floor standing speakers. Sadly I sold the system to help finance my wifes college education in 1979.
This must be the humblest of all posts on this one. There was an ad on the back page of Parade magazine ( you know, basically a sunday paper insert). It was for an ELECTROPHONIC stereo system. Wow! It was crap of coarse but man, I put the headphones on and rattled my brain. I took the headphones with me into the army. One guy liked them so much he kept bugging me to sell them to him. The day he left, my headphones disappeared along with him. 
Purchased a t the main (P/X) in Saigon....late summer of 67
1 Teac A6010S reel to Reel Tape recorder
2 A.R. (3’s i think) speakers
3 H.H. Scott Reciever
4. Gerrard S.L.95 turn table
All long since gone
Now i have all Mcintosh With Platinum audio speakers, Krell C/D player
1969. Marantz 2220 receiver, Garrard 510 TT. and pair of "The Small" Advent Loudspeakers.
Pioneer SX-450 Receiver
Yamaha NS-4 Speakers
Technics SL-B2 Turntable
Grado cartridge

I'm still on the path looking to make more progress when my son graduates from college. ;-)
I didn’t start at the bottom (but all of this gear was 2nd hand)

Dual 1019 turntable with a Shure cartridge
Hadley 621 Preamp (Serial # 0001 !)
Sony TA-3120 amplifier
Rectilinear III highboy speakers
In the 70's I didn't know what high end was or the equipment needed for that level. All of my friends had a system that required an amp, speakers, and some type of media source.
In those days the amp of choice was a receiver since a lot of people listened to FM radio. A few of the brands of the day were Kenwood, Pioneer, Sherwood, and some others. For some reason I went with the Pioneer. My system was.....
Pioneer SX-850 receiver.Pioneer PL-530 turntable (which I still have)Pioneer cassette deck with "metal tape capability". Wow. CD's hadn't taken over then.Soundshaper 110 Mk.2 eq.
Syngergistics S-51 speakers (still have them). A 3 way design with 12"woofer, midrange, and tweeter. They even have 2 adjustable crossover controls built in. Another Wow.

I thought, in those days, my system sounded as good or better than others. Technology has come so far since the 70's. The only people I knew that had what was probably considered high end were the age of my parents. Of course, I didn't hang out with them or have parties at their houses or even care about how good their systems were.
Days of yore.
Technics SL-Q2 (stock Technics EPC 207C cartridge)
Rotel RA-414
AR 18S

As far as I am concerned now, I have never needed anything better than that since then.
In 1980 I got a Toshiba Tuner/Receiver, a set of gigantic "Lyric" floor speakers a Teac tape deck and a turn table of some sort. I was a junior in high school and was in heaven. I still have and use the Toshiba.

When I got to college my wealthy roommate my junior and senior year had a Carver amp, NAD pre-amp, Nakamichi dual tape deck, Bang and Olufson turntable and Dahlquist floor speakers. Not bad for a room in a military college in 1984.

Between now and then....not much.

Was recently given an Audio Research LS16 tubed line stage, Madrigal Proceed HPA2 amp, Arcam CD96 CDP, Aerial Acoustics 7B tower speakers,  Transparent SuperBiCable speaker cables and all Transparent XLR and RCA cables. All free.

It is my first and last hi fi system...unless it fails beyond repair. I love it. No need for me to upgrade.
This is fun. Hi End is relative when you're a poor teen in the 70's. Had a Ross 8 track 4 speaker system for the princely sum of $100.00. Ok, it made music, of sorts. First "real" system was a Marantz 2225 receiver with a Dual 1225 TT and Shure M91ED cartridge. Added Marantz HD 660 speakers which quickly became JBL L110's. That was courtesy of the US Air Force in Berlin, Germany...
Memories!  Mid 1970’s :

yamaha receiver
dual 510 turntable with shure M 95ED cartridge
large advents
Fun topic! I’ll start with the era, I’m 16 a sophomore in H.S. In 1972. Saved my $ working for Grand Union Supermarket at around $1.60 per hour and saved up for a very long time.

First receiver - Sherwood later a Sansui
First speakers - Infinity Pos2’s.

Kept those through college and in 1978 bought my first pair of KEF’s, 10AB’s which I still own and have had “totally” restored out of nostalgia, thank you Speaker Exchange in Tampa, Fla. Keep thinking one of my kids would want them but they are happy with their phones and maybe Sonos. I may need to do a second nostalgia small system here in the house only I can understand,  “smile”..

I’m  62 now and finally sold my B&W N802’s this year and graduated to Paradigm Persona 7F’s.

Thanks to all of you for giving me enjoyment each day reading the latest topics here on AG.

Dave AKA “Bogey”

Panasonic boom box, cassette and radio. Best sound in the neighborhood. Then Technics turntable with homemade, not by me, amp and speakers. Kept my Panasonic for many years.
 My intro goes 'way back - to 1952:   A Meisner 16 tube 2-chassis
tuner-preamp-amp combo, a Webcore changer w/GE Var reluctance 
turnaround cart, and a University 6200 12" speaker + corner base reflex.
A year later, a Revere Tape recorder (all but the Meisner from Allied Radio).   Nirvana in Mono !!
Sansui AU222 - amp
Sansui TU555 - tuner
AR 4ax -Speakers
Pioner Pl12 - Turntable

Oh, and I don’t want to forget my Kight kit color organ. You know, it really was a very decent sounding system.  A little soft on the top end it's sins were those of omission but what it did it did well. 
My into was a loan.. Yep, went to Beneficial loans and borrowed 168 dollars to buy my first Marantz Turntable. Made monthly payments on it for a year or two . I had a 200 customer daily paper route that was earning me 40 dollars per week .  Model 6300 (I think.) . I believe the bill is still laying around here somewhere. A few years later I bought a Hafler 500 Amp and matching pre-amp kit that my future wife threw a fit over after it sat on our kitchen table while I assembled them … Good times ! And that system kicked out ALOT of rock and roll..... Thanks for asking
@broockies - In 1952, I was but a twinkle in my Father's eye! The true "Golden Age" of Hi-Fi...
Around 45 years ago I won a $5 am radio selling magizines. I have fond memeories listening late into the night to stations in Chicago and NY. My first decent stereo was a 50 watt Sansui receiver and some Altec Lansing speakers at 18 and then at 20 some NIKKO equipment and a linear tracking Mitsubishi TT. A B.I.C. T4m 2 speed 3 head cassette deck about the same time. I progressed up the chain for 45 years. For me Rome wasn't built in a day. I savored each upgrade.
$1/hr at General Cinema in Dallas in 1969  plus all the tickets you could sell at the end of the line!! I saved and bought a Marantz 3300 preamp-$350 model 120 tuner $400 -and a Phase linear 400 amp also $400.. AR XA turntable $59, Speakers - Bose 901's series 1 or 2. Really wanted the JBL century 100s but they were a bit too much.. A week after I finally got everything it was all stolen while I was at work. A few months later I replaced it all at a new locale except the Bose. I went to a new store called Speakerlab in Seattle on 35th Ave and bought the kit based on the Klipsch corner horn. Came with plans and a material list plus all the speakers and crossovers. It was the best kit they sold and set me back about $400 as I recall. Then I bought 5 sheets of high density particle board and went to work. 
Post removed 
1963 a 6" x 3" x 2" transistor radio bright blue with chrome speaker grille. With one ear plug speaker
A Sears metal cased portable flip down turntable with removable attached speakers. Sounded good back in 1966.
Then 1973 JVC receiver to go with my Koss headphones from Inkley Camera in SLC. Nice sound.
Then 1978 a CR 820 Yamaha receiver and Tannoy Cheviot speakers. Really nice system. From Broadway ?Stereo? downtown Salt Lake City.
Then 1988? Sumo Polaris amp, Sumo Athena Pre, Sumo Aurora Tuner, Thiel 1.2 speakers from Soundings, Denver.
Then 3 systems after that to the present.
I had a Motorola receiver I bought with my paper route money, home made speakers. I took the drivers out of my parents console stereo. A junky turntable, can't remember what kind but my next one was a Garrard Zero 100, which I thought was the greatest thing in the world. I loved it all.
My first corporate job (large publishing company) paid enough to get me started on The Path in 1976. So: Marantz 2270, Koss Pro4AA phones, Empire 698 TT/MA 2001 cartridge, Infinity Monitor 1 speakers. Kept it for a year and sold it all! Bought: AGI 511 pre, Son of Ampzilla, Diatone (Mitsubishi) DA-F10 tuner, Ariston RD11S TT/SME 3009/Sleeping Beauty mc cartridge/Verion (Cotter) P sut, DCM Time Windows, Verion IC's and Mogami 2477 Blue Neglex speaker wire. 
Now in 2018 I own three rooms full of hifi gear and guitars! Enough to start a store! Still have that Ariston TT (now with a Grace 707/Denon 103). Bought a replacement DA-F10 tuner, two Son of Ampzilla's and Time Windows. Am listening right now to WUSF 89.7 FM (Tampa) "All Night Jazz"! A wonderful hobby!
@firstnot: Speaker Lab had some good stuff! Three years ago I bought a pair of Model 7's from Habitat. $100! I like them more than my Heresy's! Smoother mids and highs, superior bass! They won't win any beauty contests! Flat black, white-speckle finish, no grills. But they sure can ROCK! In use with a Bryston .5 pre and 3B amp.

Fun topic. You can tell a person’s general age by what comprised their first hi-fi. My best friend was sick of the Dean of Boys at Cupertino High sending him home for a haircut (public schools had dress codes up until the end of the 1960’s; boys hair couldn’t touch their ears or their shirt collars. Didn’t want no damn hippies spreading anarchy in the schools), so he moved in with the family of another friend who had just moved to Santa Cruz---the bohemian beach town just over the mountain range separating the Santa Clara Valley from the coast, which had no such code.

I visited him shortly thereafter, and saw my first component hi-fi that he had assembled (both our families had the consoles found in just about all American homes in the 60’s). He had bought a Rek-O-Kut transcription turntable from a radio station (with a massive arm, and unknown pickup), a Scott 299 integrated amp (tube, of course), and a pair of Scott 2-way bookshelf loudspeakers. Best sound I had ever heard!

I had saved a little money made playing dances in my teen combo, and with it in my pocket headed to the electronics store in downtown Sunnyvale, the only place I knew that was selling turntables. I had money enough for only the cheapest Garrard, the Model 30, which came with an integrated arm and (I later found out) ceramic pickup. I borrowed my combo’s guitarist’s Fender Bandmaster head, plugged in the turntable and a set of headphones, and let’r rip.

Waiting for college to start in September, I got a Summer job, specifically to buy a car and a complete hi-fi. I bought a ’59 VW camper bus, and my first real system---a Garrard SL55 with Shure M44 pickup, a Fisher X-100C integrated (again, tube), and pair of AR-4x 2-ways. Having discovered Stereo Review, High Fidelity, and Audio Magazine (but not Stereophile---it wasn’t on the newsstands, and hi-fi company’s ads didn’t include quotes from JGH’s reviews ;-), I salivated for better. I got an AR XA table and Shure M91e pickup, and AR integrated amp (solid state---a move backwards from the Fisher?!)---an all-AR system. But I was becoming an audiophile now (my friend in Santa Cruz stalled in 1st gear, putting his money instead into recording equipment. He now owns a studio in LA with a 2" 24-track 3M machine, all the great mics, etc., and a playback system of all 50’s components---Altec-Lansing monitors, McIntosh integrated, Empire 598 table---the turntable Ralph Karsten rebuilds), and wanted better. Like a Dynaco pre, McIntosh power, and speakers from a new company---Infinity Sound Systems.

I finally discovered J. Gordon Holt and Stereophile, and the network of mostly one-employee/owner specialty shops popping up all over the country to sell the products of the emerging "High End" specialty companies (many of them also one-employee, or close to it, operations). One day in 1972 I made a fateful trip out to Livermore, California for my first visit to one such shop, the newly-opened Audio Arts, owned and operated by Walter Davies, now known for his great line of LAST LP, CD, and tape care products. That day just happened to be the day the head of a company I had just read about in Stereophile was also making his first visit. It was William Z. Johnson, and he had brought with him (in the plane he flew himself---must have been a pilot in WWII) a complete ARC system---SP-3 pre-amp, D51 and D75 power amps, a pair of the Magneplanar Tympani T-1 loudspeakers ARC was at the time distributing, and a Thorens TD-125 Mk.2 with a prototype ARC tonearm (it never went into production) fitted with a Decca Mk.5 (Blue) pickup. The exact system (except for the arm---I got a Decca International Unipivot) I bought from Walter later that year.

My parents had some cheap Stereo by K Mart and that was what I had until I went away to College in Ann Arbor in the mid seventies.  I had various odd jobs at school as I had to partially pay my way through undergrad but finally put together the $300 to buy the entry level Pioneer receiver of the day, the entry level Dual turntable, and Advent 3 speakers.  That remained my core system for the next 25 years, with the subsequent additions of a Nakimichi cassette player and the first Sony 14 bit CDP.  I remember when the Pioneer died and I was so excited to be buying seperates—a Carver PreAmp Tuner combination and and a SAE power amp.  That was such a major upgrade that I finally bought some floor standing Polk speakers to complement them and was amazed at how much more detail I was hearing from Music .  I hadn’t really paid that much attention to gear until that point in my life, and with expenses for Education, mortgage, and then Children, that was probably a good thing, but  then I started to read Audiophile material and got hooked
Prototype David Berning push pull tube amp, Rogers LS3/5a, Promethean modded Grado cartridge, British tonearm, Denon turntable, tonearm survival kit, oil in sardine can tonearm damper.
When I was still at school my first system was;
Pioneer PL12D Turntable,
Lux L30 amp (still have,(lol)
VideoTone Mini Maxes.

Summer of 1959, built Eico Kit 12 Watt mono tube integrated. Speaker was Stevens bookshelf model. It had a single 8" speaker and was made from real wood. Weighed a ton. Garrard changer with GE cart. Later added HeathKit FM tuner.
I don’t believe ‘high end audio’ or better term ‘high quality sound’ should be measured by the amount of dollars spent..
1980--finally got some money and bought a McIntosh MA-6200 integrated amplifier, and a MR74 FM tuner. I later gave the amp to my mother but still have the  Modaferri modiifed MR74 tuner. Not many years later I bought a pair of Apogee Duetta II loudspeakers. I still have them and they sound great.