The best stereo system one can buy? This is quite a vague question – the question can be asked by a billionaire with money no object and by a typical majority of budding and mature audiophiles. I’ll answer to the latter.
There’s no endgame stereo system. Getting into the audiophile/HiFi hobby is an endless cycle plagued by upgrade bugs. There’s simply no end to it! Having said that, let’s consider the following scenarios:
Starting From Scratch
This is where most of us tend to go cheap (not frugal) with the components. I myself made the mistake of buying the Marantz PM5005 as my first stereo amplifier, connected to the good old JBL Control One speakers. Though it was a fantastic starter system, I realized that the Marantz could do with better speakers. So, bit by the upgrade bug, replaced the JBLs with Monitor Audio Bronze BR2…and the upgrade journey continued.
If your budget is limited to under $1000, go for a used NAD C 316BEE or NAD C 326BEE and pair it with the lovely JBL Stage A170 floorstanding (tower) speakers at around $500 a pair. Steve Guttenberg of Audiophiliac has an interesting video comparing JBL Stage A170 and Klipsch RP-5000F tower speakers. Take your pick! (Note: If you still have a bit more $, stretch to JBL Stage A180 or A190).
Finding the Right Speakers
In my opinion, one must spend the right amount of money on the speakers, because that’s something you will have it for a long time (well, in most cases). I invested in GoldenEar AON3 bookshelf speakers, and I plan to have it for a long, long time — these are bloody brilliant!
Once you zero in on the speaker type depending on how you like your music to be delivered — warm, bright, punchy, energetic, mellowed and so on, decide on the form factor. Many prefer bookshelves with stand mounts, and others tower (floorstanding) speakers. Either ways, make the right choice.
Finding the Right Amplifier
Now that you’ve decided on the speakers (and bought them), audition the amplifier that works with the speakers. When I say ‘work,’ it means ‘synergy’ — matching warm speakers to bright amplifiers and vice-versa is a good thing. Matching bright sounding amplifiers with bright sounding speakers will be a disaster for your ears. Likewise, matching warm sounding speakers with warm amplifiers will make the music lifeless and dead… well, not dead, but pale with no energy.
Connections, and Connections
If you are like me, listening to Apple Music, via Schiit Modi 3 DAC, your setup will be simple, yet scalable. I can change the DAC anytime. If you’re going for an amplifier, like the Marantz NR1200 stereo network receiver with all the bells and whistles to wirelessly connect to Spotify, Apple Music, etc– your setup will look even cleaner, but the budget will cross $1000 when you include your favorite speakers.
Also, remember, the upgrade bug will strike you any time! How about adding vinyl? How about a power amplifier and bringing in a AV receiver for home theater sound?