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Editorial Reviews | Feature Articles

Editor’s Choice Best Entry Level Hi-Fi Components

Entry level doesn’t mean cheap or bad. There are plenty of great entry level components out there that are a great place to start your hi-fi journey .  If you like to listen to good sounding music, there is no reason to just get the cheapest thing on the shelf.  For a bit more money you can have something worth its weight in cash.  Here is a list of of components you should consider if you are just starting to dip your toes in the world of hi-fi, or you’ve got discerning taste with a lack luster wallet size.  Like me.

Below is a list of budget components that has caught our attention over the year.  This is by no means a definitive list, so if you want something we did put on the list, let others know.  Put your wish list in the comments below.

Floorstanding Speakers | Bookshelf Speakers | Amplifier | Receiver | Combo System
Headphones | Headphone Amp | Turntable | CD Player

Monitor Audio Silver RX6 ~ $1200
Monitor Audio RX6 Floorstanding Speaker
Floorstanding Speakers

Monitor Audio RX6 are the latest model in an outstanding line of floorstanding speakers.  Their predecessor, the RS6, had extremely favorable reviews in Stereophile, WhatHi-Fi and from AudioREVIEW users.  The RX6 has a 5 of 5 from WhatHi-Fi and made the AudioREVIEW forums drool when the images were released.  They are on my list of most recommended speakers for about $1000.


  • System Format: 2 1/2 Way
  • Frequency Response: 38Hz – 35kHz
  • Sensitivity (1W@1M): 90dB
  • Nominal Impedance: 6 Ohms
  • Recommended Amplifier Requirements (RMS): 40-125W
  • Bass Alignment: Dual Chamber, Bass reflex with differential tuning.
  • Drive Unit Complement: 1 x 6″ RST® Bass driver.
  • 1 x 6″ RST® Bass/Mid driver.
  • 1 x 1″ (25mm) C-CAM® gold dome tweeter
Other Recommend Floorstanding Speakers – Wharfedale Diamond 9.6, Paradigm Reference Monitor 7, Axiom Millennia M60 Ti, B&W 683, Magnepan Magneplanar MMG
Also see our Editor’s Best Floorstanding Speakers under $1000 Guide

Bowers & Wilkins 685 ~ $600
Bookshelf Speakers

Bowers & Wilkins is one of the most well known names in the audio industry.  Their speakers have a known reputation for being fantastic, though they do tend to carry a specific type of sound.  Being best for Jazz, Vocal, Classical.  The 685 come as highly recommended for bookshelf speakers under $1000.

Technical features

  • Nautilusâ„¢ tube loaded aluminium dome tweeter
  • Kevlar® brand fibre cone bass/midrange Flowportâ„¢
  • Description 2-way vented-box system
  • Drive units 1x ø25mm (1 in) aluminium dome high-frequency
  • 1x ø165mm (6.5 in) woven Kevlar® cone bass / midrange
  • Frequency response 49Hz – 22kHz ±3dB on reference axis
  • Sensitivity 88dB spl (2.83V, 1m)
  • Nominal impedance 8Ω (minimum 3.7Ω)
  • Recommended amplifier power 25W – 100W into 8Ω on unclipped programme
Other Recommend Bookshelf Speakers – Dynaudio Audience 42, Usher 701 speaker kit (DIY), Totem Acoustic Rainmakers, Klipsch RB-61, B&W DM 602 S3, Audio Note AX-2

Adcom GFA-5400 ~ $650


Adcom GFA-5400 is a solid state amplifier with a track record of working well and being improved upon over the last decade.  Adcom is name that comes up time in time again on the AudioREVIEW forums and are generally highly recomended. This amp gives a good full bodied sound, not being too bright or muddy and slow in the lows.

Other Recommend Amplifiers – Van Alstine Insight 240, Onkyo M282, NAD C275BEE, ROTEL RB-1562


  • Dynamic Headroom 1.7 dB
  • Frequency Response 20Hz-20KHz
  • Number of Channels 2
  • Signal to Noise Ratio >100 dB
  • THD 0.018% @ 8 Ohms and 0.02% @ 4 Ohms
  • Watts Per Channel 4ohms 200
  • Watts Per Channel 8ohms 125

Read more reviews of the GFA-5400 here

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TEAC AG-790A ~ $150


Listen to your favorite radio stations on the AG-790A AM/FM stereo receiver from TEAC. Its discrete output circuit configuration provides 100x100W RMS output power at 8 ohms. Its quartz PLL-synthesized tuning system delivers quality sound through your stereo system. You’ll also be able to take advantage of the built-in speaker terminals (four pairs) to connect your speakers to your stereo system.

Other Recommend Receivers – Sherwood RX-4105, Sony STR-DN1000, Yamaha RX-497, Denon DRA-697CI, Cambridge Audio Azur 540R


  • Channels 2
  • Type of Receiver Stereo
  • Radio Station Programmable Memories (Presets) 30
  • Manufacturer’s Warranty – Hardware 1 Year
  • Watts per channel 100

Read reviews on the AG-790A here

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EMP Tek VT-40.2 Tube & CS100 ~ $349

Combo System

This little system maybe the coolest thing I’ve seen all year. A hybrid tube amp and speaker combo specifically to get the iPod generation into hi-fi. The amp is tailored to play loosy files and streaming audio well. And with an output of 40W at 8 Ohms it is sure enough capable to drive most bookshelf speakers if you aren’t happy with the ones it comes with. The $595 version of this with the Beryllium Cone speakers so out so fast they had to raise the price! This $349 version is a steal and a must for any college student or cube mole. It wouldn’t be shabby on an executive desk either.

Purchase online from site.

*4/’11 – Combo no longer being sold - Here is the link to the amplifier.


  • Model Name- CS100
  • Frequency Response – 60Hz — 20kHz ± 3dB
  • (1) 4” (102mm) Aluminized Fiberglass Matrix (AFM) Woofer
  • (1) 1” (25mm) Nano-silk Dome Tweeter
  • Impedance – 8 Ohms
  • Model Name – VT-40.2
  • Amplifier Type – Integrated Tube Hybrid
  • 40 Watts Per Channel @ 8 Ohms
  • 60 Watts Per Channel @ 4 Ohms
  • Frequency Response – 20Hz — 20kHz

Next up, Headphones, Turntables, CP Players >>

Floorstanding Speakers | Bookshelf Speakers | Amplifier | Receiver | Combo System
Headphones | Headphone Amp | Turntable | CD Player

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  • Poppa Chubby says:

    Great List! Xmas and the holidays is certainly a good time to review budget products. The great thing about this compilation is they are all quality items.

    The EMP Tek really resonates with me. It’s great to see a quality product being aimed at the Ipod generation. Most docks and speaker centers are mostly style, no substance. Cheap drivers cloaked in a stylish casing. The EMP offers the user an opportunity to experience the sound of seperates at a great price. Speakers and tubes are upgradable which again creates value for the user. Personally, I think exposed tubes are the sexiest look that audio has to offer! Nice product for sure.

    I think the list was missing an important product. Dac’s have become all the rage lately. Even hardened analog types are bending, and finding out the benefits of a digital to analog converter are many. There are plenty of budget dac’s on the market. Infact, too many. Don’t sweat it though, with a little research it’s possible to find the stand out models.

    On the top of my budget dac list, sits the Grant Fidelity Tube dac-09. Pacific Valve’s Xiansheng dac-01 is another option, almost exactly the same as the Grant model. At $275-$300 USD you’ll be hard pressed to find a unit that offers as many options as the dac-09. Inputs include coax, toslink and USB. It has a pre-amp section which inputs 2 pairs of analog RCA’s. There are 2 pairs of analog outputs, one for the tube stage and another for solid state. So many options, it’s similar to a pre-amp. Actually, a simple modification will allow the dac-09 to function as a dedicated pre-amp! The dac-09 also has a dedicated headphone amp onboard. It can power cans up to 600 ohms!! As you can see, not your typical dac. For more specs and details visit http://www.grantfidelity.com/site/Grant_Fidelity_Tube_DAC-09 or http://www.pacificvalve.us/XianshengDAC01.html

    The other budget dac that’s grabbed my attention is the Musiland SVDAC06. Considerably less than the Tube dac, it costs approx. $185 USD from Pacfic Valve. This dac is an affordable workhorse. Inputs include coax, toslink and USB. The DAC06 has a headphones amp and LED display screen as well. Great value for anyone needing a quality dac on a shoestring budget.

    In short, these are just a couple of budget dac options. Here’s hoping you’ve been nice this year, at least by Santa’s standards.

  • Sam says:

    This article needs to be fixed. The second page isn’t working at all! And I agree DACs need to be added as well as musical subwoofers on a budget :)

  • adam says:

    Sam -

    See, now you are a helpful user. Thank you. It seems late one night someone decided shortly after the article was published that changing the URL for better google search indexing would be smart. And it was. It is just all the internal links didn’t get updated! doh!

    Thanks for the heads up Sam, things have been fixed.

    What sub would you want for x-mas?

  • Sam says:

    Glad I can help.


  • Sam says:

    To papa chubby: you leave out the all popular “Cambridge Audio DAC magic”. Some say it really is magic! A component that does not WOW you but rather grows on you with its accurate production of sound. How it should be if you ask me.

    For budget sub woofers, in my opinion, look no further than HSU and Outlaw. The two port design is a must for music and room tuning. Though the speaker company evidently makes a dirt cheap sub that sounds alright as a stand in. The model escapes me.

    Also for headphones I feel as an honorable mention the HD595 is an important one. Though I can see why you left it out as it seems to be right between the HD555 and the HD650. Still it might be the solution out there for some one so, cheers everyone.

  • michael says:

    Those Sennheiser for $100 – 73 are really well priced, wow i didn’t know the prices had dropped so much! Actually all these headphones are so low priced, getting them here is a good idea. Two thumbs up.

    For those audiophile fans, this website is really great to get up to date info
    Check out squidoo.com/best-audiophile-headphones-of-2010-2011-review for the greatest headphones review of all time.

  • PuppyJoe69 says:

    Hey Poppa Chubby! Cool name :) yea…those EMP Tek looks really cool. I’ve always wanted to try out tubes but can’t afford them. Thank you for the links to the other budget DACs…going to check them out.

  • WhyMyName? says:

    Just a heads up, the link to the tube amp is broken but the product is still for sale. The bad news being it no longer comes as a special; its $379.00 without any speakers. Kind of a let down but it seemed crazy the company would sell the amp+speakers for a lower price than the amp by itself.

    Also I’m amazed the Ascend Acoustics CMT-170 se’s aren’t on this list… under $400 and they will absolutely floor you with how much detail and musical nuances they bring out.

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