How do you buy your first real hifi system? A good hi-fi system is a good investment. Good loudspeakers usually last for decades, even good electronics can be very durable, in this case an upgrade due to new functions (streaming, room measurement, ...) can make sense after a few years.
Based on my personal experience and convictions, one rule in particular applies when buying new hifi components:
If there is no defect in the hifi chain, the sound depends mainly on speakers and acoustics. It should not be invested on good luck in particularly expensive electronics or cables.
Below you will find some personal advice how to get a nice system for your personal use.
Student: I want to put together a cheap sound system for 300-500€.
- Cheap surround sets from Creative or Logitech can be connected directly to a PC or TV. The sound quality is quite usable, and the surround effects are great during a movie night.
- If you listen to music more intensely, you should consider active near-field monitors. Companies such as KRK, Nubert, JBL have reasonable priced speakers on offer. You could control them with a headphone amplifier with preouts - or from your soundcard.
- A complete system like a Yamaha Pianocraft can be fun.
- Alternatively you could think about good headphones like Beyerdynamic DT880 (150€/piece).
- Would a used purchase be ok?
The Computer user: I would like to have a "real" sound system for music in my rented flat which will last the next years, I would like to use my PC. What do I have to spend?
- A headphone amplifier like the V90-HPA can be used as a good preamp for about 200€. A PC can be connected via USB, a streamer or CD player can be connected via analog inputs. Decide what you kind of sources you want.
- Very good active monitors like the KH120A (about 600€/piece) can sound impressive in the right room. There are plenty of alternatives. With a free setup on stands and a listening position in a stereo triangle such a setup can be a lot of fun.
Prosumer: I would like a flexible setup that will last for the next few years, I would also invest a little more money.
- A modern AV receiver of a solid brand manufacturer is about 350-500€ depending on the equipment and offers many features like HDMI, streaming, room calibration, etc. The workmanship and equipment of the AV receiver should be the decision to buy, sound differences between good amplifiers are not to be expected.
- Depending on personal preference, a cheap BluRay player (approx. 80 €) can be used as a source - alternatively a record player, PC, gaming console,...
- As loudspeaker you could connect good passive loudspeakers. Nubert, ELAC, Canton, Magnat... It's best to listen to the speakers before buying. Good floorstanding loudspeakers start at about 400€/pair - although it gets more expensive quickly.
- Or you can become active: An AV receiver with pre outs could be used for stereo with Neumann KH120 (about 600€/piece), in the course of the years it could be upgraded to 4.0. or even to 5.1. A good subwoofer could come from Nubert or SVS.
The audiophile: I want a really good setup. But I dont want to maste the money.
- With the AV receiver and digital source devices, there's not much going on sound-wise. It's best to buy a branded device with all the desired features - important are the room calibration, pre-outs for active speakers, well thought-out streaming options, enough HDMI inputs for all source devices to be connected. A Bluesound Vault could serve as a streaming solution.
- For the loudspeakers one should concentrate on good midfielders. A Neumann KH310 (approx. 2000€/piece) is a more compact variant, a number larger would be ADAM Audio (2500€/piece) or Neumann KH420 (approx. 3500€/piece) a listening tip, otherwise the One series from Genelec would be a good choice. The rear speakers may be slightly smaller, a subwoofer is optional. A similarly professional look with a visually pleasing wood veneer is available from Music Electronic Geithain, for example.
- One should pay close attention to speaker placement, choice of seating and acoustics. Maybe experiment a bit with absorbers.
Open end audiophile: Money is no problem. I want the best.
- The AV receiver and digital source devices don't do much sound. It's best to buy a branded device with all the desired features - important are the room calibration, pre-outs for active speakers, well thought-out streaming options, enough HDMI inputs for all source devices to be connected. A Bluesound Vault could serve as a streaming solution.
- The best loudspeakers currently available are in my ears the KH420 from Neumann (3500€/piece), the large coax monitors from Music Electronic Geithain (from about 5000€/piece) and the midfielders from Genelec (from about 3000€/piece). You should try to listen to the models in comparison. Alternatively, the line array speakers from Backes&Müller are a possibility. A surround setup can be quite expensive. Optionally one can try to implement more special subwoofer concepts: SBA or DBA systems.
- You should pay close attention to speaker placement, seat selection and acoustics. Possibly hire an engineering office.