How to Spend Your Money? (beginners guide)
This is intended primarily as a guide to those starting out. At the lowest budgets, speakers are very important, as the prices go higher, amplification & source components become increasingly important. At upper-mid, source will dominate (because there are very good cheap amps like the McCormacks, Aragon) At the beginning hi-end, amplification dominates (cos 'transparent' pre-amps cost a lot :)), and at the 'high-end', you get back to speakers with 6 figure prices.

The 2nd hand /hand me down option
If you're just starting out and have very little money (say under $1,000), buying second hand is a very good idea. Of course, buying 2nd hand is a mindfield in itself. But hopefully, you might know someone who wants to sell his old hi-fi stuff. If you buy 2nd hand, the equipment probably doesn't have any warranty and might break down any time, so it all depends on how well the equipment was treated - which is why the safest would be to buy from someone you know and who is honest about how he treated it. (my office amp is 12 years old)

But enough rambling. You're going to keep your first system for a couple of years anyway, especially if its a cheap $1,000 system. So why not buy at $1,000 a 2nd hand system worth $2,000+ new? You can then save up for new components, and you can replace the ones that break down with new 'upgraded' components.

The upgrade path for a completely new system is more problematic. Here you are with a perfectly good component. Its just that you want something better now. You can sell off the component 2nd hand for a pittance, or you can keep it around the house because one day, you'll find

Prelude: Which is more important: source, pre-amp,amp, speakers?

In my everchanging opinion, amplification just edges out the source. But anyway, when you're first starting out with a low budget, i suggest you get a decent pair of speakers. The cheap speakers are in truth, not much better than a good mini-compo (but with the advantage of upgradeability of course). When do decent (i.e. not too seriously flawed) speakers cost? Currently, based on my listening experience, it starts with the tiny Tannoy 631SE at $365. Don't expect it to fill the room with sound, but it has class and refinement that larger cheap speakers cannot provide (like the Tannoy M2 at $285).

Prelude 2: Accessories?
The temptation to get tweaks is always there. I would advise on getting anything other than dirt cheap cables and/or tweaks while you're still starting up your first system. Or even better, just use the supplied interconnects. Speaker cable, some cheap $1/m stuff? Please don't get influenced by my tweaks section ok? :)

The New Hi-Fi Path


Save your money until you have $2,000? The big problem at this price range are the speakers. The budget standmounts are really not 'hi-fi'. Stuff like Tannoy M2, Ms10i, Missions (i.e. speakers in the $300 range), are severely compromised, if not flawed. Frankly, decent standmounts cost at least $500 and you have to add a pair of $200 stands to it.

Good hi-fi is something you can sit down and listen to. Severely compromised speakers are only good for background listening, and for background listening, a mini-compo is just as good (I would've bought a mini-compo for my office, except that it was cheaping to just buy a pair of Ms05s as I had a spare amp/cd player). Otherwise, just get a $299 Aiwa LCX-20 first and endure till you save up.


This should be Ms10i classic territory, which is quite a decent speaker. The Epos ES12 is far better value thanks to Absolute Sound's low prices. But the Epos is very, very difficult to drive and is not for budget systems. But the breakdown is:

Speaker/stands - $800
Amp - $850
CD Player - $350

If you have a small room, you can try for a Tannoy 631SE and put the extra money into a better CD player. CD-67SE perhaps?


At $3,000, the cost of all the components should be equal. You might try getting a floorstander though at this level, the choice of good standmounts is far better. (and yes, you can try and buy a B&W CDM 1 SE by cutting back on the CD player) For amplifiers, think only about integrated amplifiers or driving directly a power amp.

Speaker (floorstander)- $1000
Amp - $1000
CD player - $900
Cables - $100

Higher amounts

Very few people actually spend $4k+ outright on a completely new system. A $4k+ system is usually one reached through upgrades. So for buying advice, see my 'another way to buy hi-fi'.

Another way to buy hi-fi.

Don't look at your finances. Just look around, listen to various stuff. Suddenly, you might fall in love with a particular component that you must have. After that, think of the partnering components to match that component of your dreams, then add up the figures. Thats the amount you're going to spend on your new hi-fi.

I suppose that its most likely that 'the component' will be a speaker because it has the largest influence on the sound. Basically, the speaker will have a certain character which appeals to you. By choosing top-notch source and ampflication, you can thus maximise the traits of this speaker.