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Editorial Reviews | Feature Articles

Editor’s Choice Best Entry Level Hi-Fi Components

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

Sennheiser HD 555 ~ $100

Sennheiser HD 555 made it onto our Editor’s Choice Best Headphone Guide for good reason.  They are constantly sought after by audiophiles on a budget.  Their open constuction and cicumaural fit (around the ears) makes them comfortable, big sounding, and doesn’t cause listening fautigue.  The HD 555 are good straight into a source but really shine with a headphone amp. Sennheiser, a headphone company with one of the best reputations, has made one of the best budget hi-fi headphones out there.


  • Type – Circumaural, Open-Back Dynamic Stereo Headphones
  • Frequency Range – 15 Hz – 28 kHz
  • Impedance – 50 Ohms
  • Connectors – 1 x Detachable 1/4″ Stereo Phone Adapter | 1 x 1/8″ Stereo Miniplug
  • Cable Length – 10′ (3 m)
  • Weight – 9.2 oz (260 g)
Other Recommend Headphones – Sony MDR-V6, Koss PortaPro, Grado SR60, Sennheiser PX 100, Sony MDR 7506, Sennheiser HD650, AKG K701
Also see our Editor’s Choice Best Headphones Guide
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Trends Audio PA-10 Tube ~ $450

Headphone Pre/Amp

Leaning back, sinking into the warmth of high end headphone and tube amp combo is like bathing your ears in silk. The Trends Audio PA-10 Tube headphone pre-amp/amp combo has been getting good reviews across the web.  Plus the nice thing about a tube amp is you can change out the tube for sound tweeks to fit your exact needs.

Other Recommend Headphone Pre/Amp - Benchmark DAC1, KingRex Headquarters, Creek Audio OBH-21SE, HeadRoom Total Bithead


  • Innovative circuit design
  • Provide TWO sets of switchable audio inputs
  • Besides the normal audio output in the back panel
  • Compact design (mini-size & light weight)
  • All audiophile-graded parts and components

Read reviews of the PA-10 here

Pro-Ject Debut III ~ $379


Nothing says I love you to an audiophile like a gift of vinyl. The Pro-Ject Debut III is one of the top selling budget turntables because it has one focus, accurate audio playback.  There are no bells and whistles, no cheap USB connections, nothing you don’t need.  Also the nice thing about it, if you want to take your turntable to the next level there are plenty of aftermarket upgrades for the Pro-Ject tables that can turn a $400 table to the next several levels.

Other Recommended Turntables- Rega P2, Rega P1, Music Hall MMF2.2, Denon DP-300, Thorens TD158


Phono Amps – Bellari VP130, Pro-Ject Phono Box USB.Thorens MM 001,  Rega Fono,

Cartridges – Shure M97xE, Stanton 681 Mk III,  Audio-Technica AT440ML,  Denon DL 110


  • Tonearm bearing comprises inverted hardened stainless-steel points and sapphire thrust-pads
  • Steel platter with felt mat
  • Low-tolerance chrome-plated stainless-steel axle runs on a polished ball bearing in a brass bearing housing
  • Motor decoupled to reduce vibration
  • Supplied with Ortofon OM 5E cartridge fitted
  • Pro-Ject 8.6 tonearm
  • Nominal speeds 33 / 45
  • Available in matt black, glossy black, glossy white, silver, red, yellow, blue and green

Emotiva ERC-1 ~ $399

CD Player

The ERC-1 CD player is designed to be an audiophile player. Separate, shielded power supplies for the CD carriage, display, and digital and analog sections ensure noiseless operation. Using Analog Devices 1955 DAC, with 384k oversampling, and 1V rms (7V peak for extended dynamics), the ERC-1 will be your guide to rediscovering your CD collection and your love for music. Even the look of the ERC-1 will turn heads, with a sleek faceplate that features a halo-lit slot load mechanism.

Other Recommended CD Players – Cambridge Audio 340C, NAD C51BEE, Marantz CD5003, Denon DCM-370


  • Digital Output Filter: 24-Bit, 384 times oversampling (Analog Devices 1955)
  • Sampling Frequency: 44.1 kHz
  • Analog output filter frequency: 80 kHz (-3dB)
  • Amplitude output linearity: 0.2dB
  • Phase linearity: 30°
  • Power consumption: < 25W
  • Output connection types: digital coaxial, digital optical toslink, unbalanced RCA, balanced XLR
  • Weight: 17.5 lbs. (unboxed)

Read reviews of the ERC-1 here

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

Use the comments below to help inform others of all the awesome gear out there this year.

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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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