With the advent of streaming, most people are not paying attention to the quality (or fidelity) of sound they are being fed through their headphones or speakers. However, a select few of us still appreciate the sheer joy that high-quality audio can bring.
If you fall in that category of rare beings who are not merely satisfied with the sound that your average pair of earbuds can give and are willing to experiment, then this article is for you. Join me as I take you through what I consider a sound beginner audiophile setup.
But, a caveat before I begin. This article is not meant to be a comprehensive guide to an entry-level audiophile setup. I am only attempting to give first-timers practical suggestions and what they can expect to achieve on a limited budget.
The most crucial aspect of your audiophile journey begins here. This is the source of your sound. If you have a crappy audio source, even a high-end hi-fi system can’t save the sound. Likewise, streaming services like Spotify and Amazon Music won’t cut it if you are looking for the highest quality audio source.
For the most accurate representation of the studio recording, you’ll probably have to rely on digital masters, but they are tough to get and not accessible to average listeners. So what do you do as a beginner audiophile to get the best out of your audio source?
Well, depending on your budget, I have listed three options.
1: Vinyl Records
Let’s start with the most popular choice among audiophiles and also somewhat cumbersome. A lot of purists will tell you that this is the only way to really listen to music. I am not entirely sure if I agree with that sentiment, but I can say from experience that there is something magical about listening to your favorite album on vinyl.
There are a few things you need to consider before starting your collection, though. The most important one is the condition of the record itself. You’ll want to ensure it’s as close to mint condition as possible.
Another thing to keep in mind is the weight of the record. Many audiophiles will tell you that a heavyweight vinyl record is better than a standard one. The reasoning behind this is that heavyweight vinyls are less prone to warping and are, therefore, less likely to damage your needle.
The next thing you need is a good turntable. I would recommend something entry-level like the Audio-Technica AT-LP120 USB. It’s a great beginner turntable that will do an excellent job of spinning your records. This one also has an inbuilt preamp which is necessary to amplify the weak signal from the turntable’s phono cartridge, so your speakers can play it at a reasonable volume.
Suppose you happen to choose a turntable without an in-built phono preamp. I would recommend something like the Schiit Magni Heresy, which is a great budget preamp.
If you are not willing to invest in a vinyl set up just yet, your next best bet would be CDs. They are easier to store and handle than vinyl and will give you pretty good sound quality. They are also more accessible than Vinyl records.
The only downside is that they can be expensive if you want to build a decent collection. But, when starting out on your beginner audiophile setup, I’d recommend buying a few of your favorite albums on CD.
The best way to play your CDs is through a dedicated CD player. I would recommend something like the Sony CDP-CE500 5-Disc Change CD Player. It’s a great entry-level player that will do an excellent job of playing your CDs.
3: Lossless Streaming
The last and probably most convenient option is to use a lossless streaming service. Lossless audio is basically CD-quality audio that has been compressed so it can be streamed more easily. The two most popular lossless streaming services are Tidal and Qobuz. Both of these services offer high-quality audio streams at a very affordable rate.
The only downside is that you need a good internet connection to stream lossless audio without any hiccups. I would also recommend using a wired connection instead of Wi-Fi to avoid any potential dropouts in the signal.
If you want to take your entry-level audiophile setup one step further, you can connect your streaming device to a DAC (Digital to Analog Converter). There are many out there, but I would recommend the Schiit Modi 3A if you are on a budget.
Digital Audio Players
The final option on our list is for those of you who want to take their music on the go. If you are looking for the best sound quality in a portable form factor, then you’ll want to look into getting a digital audio player (DAP).
There are many great options out there, but the one I would recommend for beginners is the Fiio M11. It’s a great-sounding DAP with a built-in amplifier and supports high-resolution audio files. You can also pair the Fiio M11 with a good pair of in-ear monitors (IEMs) or over-ear headphones and get excellent sound quality.
Now that we have discussed the source, the next step of your entry-level audiophile setup is to figure out the output. A lot depends on this step of the process as well. A good set of speakers or headphones can make a world of difference to your listening experience.
If you want to use speakers, you’ll need to figure out what speaker system you want. There are two main types:
Active Speakers: These are powered speakers that come with their own amplifier built-in. These are great for beginner audiophile setups because they are easy to set up and don’t require much additional equipment. I would recommend something like the Edifier R1280T Powered Bookshelf Speakers.
Passive Speakers: Passive speakers require an external amplifier to power them. These are a great option if you want to upgrade your system later on down the road. But, for beginners, I would recommend getting active speakers. However, if your heart is set on a passive speaker, I recommend getting something like an Audioengine HDP6 bookshelf passive speaker.
If you do decide to go for a passive speaker system, the next piece of equipment you’ll need is an amplifier. The amplifier is responsible for taking the signal from your source and amplifying it so that your speakers or headphones can play it at a higher volume.
There are many different types of amplifiers, but the two main types are solid-state amplifiers and tube amplifiers.
Solid-State Amplifiers: Solid-state amplifiers are the most common type of amplifier. They are typically more affordable than tube amplifiers and offer excellent sound quality. I would recommend something like the Audioengine D1 if you are looking for a great-sounding budget-friendly solid-state amplifier for your speakers or headphones.
Tube Amplifiers: Tube amplifiers are less common than solid-state amplifiers but offer a warmer, more natural sound. They are more expensive, but they are worth it if you want the best sound quality. I would not recommend this for your beginner audiophile setup, as you want to pair them with much better quality equipment to get the most out of them.
If speakers are not your preferred choice, then the next best things are a solid pair of audiophile headphones. If you want to use headphones, you have a few options. You can either get full-size over-ear headphones, on-ear headphones, or in-ear monitors (IEMs).
Full-Size Over-Ear Headphones: These are the largest type of headphones and offer the best sound quality. They are also the most comfortable to wear for long periods. I’d recommend something like the Sennheiser HD 600 if you are looking for a great pair of full-size over-ear headphones. Or a Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO if you are on a tighter budget.
On-Ear Headphones: On-ear headphones are smaller than over-ear headphones and sit on top of your ears instead of around them. They don’t offer the same sound quality as over-ear headphones, but they are more portable and can be worn for long periods without causing too much discomfort. I recommend something like the Sony MDR7506 if you want a great pair of on-ear headphones.
In-Ear Monitors: In-ear monitors (IEMs) are the smallest type of headphones and fit directly into your ear canal. They offer excellent sound quality and are incredibly portable. They are my personal choice when it comes to listening to my favorite music, as I believe they are optimal for an immersive audio experience. For your entry-level audiophile setup, I’d recommend something like the Shure SE215 if you are looking for a great pair of under $100 IEMs.
Depending on your chosen headphones, some might perform best when driven using a dedicated headphone amplifier. This is particularly true for full-size over-ear headphones, which require more power to reach their optimal sound. But you can also extract more sound quality from your smaller IEM by driving them with a headphone amplifier.
Quality cables are the last piece of equipment you’ll need for your beginner audiophile setup. Cables are necessary to connect all of your gear together. There are many types of cables, but the two main types are interconnect cables and speaker cables.
Interconnect cables are used to connect your source to your amplifier. For this, I’d recommend something like the SKW Audiophile interconnect cable. The second type is Speaker cables, which connect your amplifier to your speakers. They come in various lengths and can be either single-ended or balanced. I recommend something like the Coaxial Speaker Cable (Mogami 3082) if you are looking for a great speaker cable.
So there you have it, your own beginner audiophile setup guide. Now that you have all of the information you need, it’s time for you to go out there and experiment!
But remember, it’s not always just about the gear. The listening experience is what counts. So whatever gives you the best music listening experience, go for that setup and slowly upgrade over time. This way, you’ll have the most fun in your audiophile journey!
Ushan appreciates all things audio. As a self-proclaimed audiophile, he has amassed a healthy collection of audio gear including HiFi, IEMs and headphones. He loves to write and share about tech and audio.
This post was last updated on 2023-09-25 / Some images from Amazon Product API & some links may be affiliate links which may earn us a commission from purchases.