Tom’s Recommendations for Getting into High-End Audio

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The Entry

I will title Episode 22 Entry to Expert because it’s allowed me to re-conceptualize what an entry level system, and an expert level system might look like. In this little piece of advice, I’ll go over the entry level for those just getting into it. This is based on many years in and out of the hobby and what has made people, including myself, happy and unhappy.

If your just thinking of getting into High-End Audio and don’t want to spend over $5000 and you want to own a turntable the difficult part is finding a good phono-preamp. Most turntables are going to be around $1600. That’s the price of the Technics SL 1200GR. You can also get a Marantz. However, there are a lot of other turntables at this price that are very excellent such as the SOTA, Rega, VPI and Well  Tempered. Many audiophile turntable companies have entry level turntables at this price. Listen and play what you will be listening to. Some high-end turntables have trouble tracking some old records that are warped or scratched. As mentioned in the interview the strength of the Technics is it’s build and flexibility. It will play almost anything. And, by the way, get a record cleaning machine.

On the other end of your system are the speakers. Once you settled in on your turntable, I’d then recommend you settle on speakers. Not all people will advise you to go in this order but I do and I’ll explain why later. For around $1000 you can pick up the cool looking and fashionable Tozzi ones at $445 or Twos at $1095 or for around $2000, you can pick up something more traditional like the Harbeths, the exceptional Audio Note or something impressively exotic like the Martin Logans or the down to earth Ohm. If you want to go used you may find something like Vandersteen, Spica, Celestion, Acoustic Energy, B&W, Thiel or ProAc. Take your time. This is the most crucial stage. If possible, try a pair in your listening room before you buy.

I’m not making suggestions for complete systems like Stereophoile or The Absolute Sound does because they match systems and most people want to customize the system a bit and end up making variations. With high-end the tricky thing is getting equipment that works well together. Once you start changing the recommended system configuration you change the synergy they accomplished. And they’re probably not the best choice for you.

The reason you want to start with the turntable is because this is your source. If your source is a CD player or streamer, I’d focus on this first. Like Linn used to say, if you can’t get it in in the beginning there’s nothing you can do to bring it back later. The reason I go for the speakers second is because they, more than anything else, are going to characterize your music. They introduce the highest level of distortion or variation. Getting something you like here is crucial.

Now you have the difficult part. If you didn’t want a turntable you could bump it up significantly to the Electocompaniet at about $3000. With a turntable you’ll need a phono stage, which I recommend, so you’ll have to get the entry level integrated such as the Marantz or Technics interviewed. But there are a lot of good integrated amps at this level including the Outlaw, Peachtree, Rega or even the NAD. You will need to match the amp you choose with the speakers and cartridge. This is why simply getting the recommended list amp isn’t going to work. Most good dealers will let you borrow the amp to try it with your chosen speakers. Few will let you borrow a turntable or speakers – though some will. If you have the turntable and amp in your house it’s a lot easier to tune your system by choosing the electronics. And it’s fun. If you get stuck consider used.

My final recommendation is that once you’ve decided on your system to rid your house and life off all those magazines and your browser of all that research. Forget about it. That stuff will mess with your head. All the gear mentioned here is exceptional. Once you’ve found the perfect system for you – enjoy the music.