how to choose a hifi system

Audiovector SR Series speakers NOVO magazine

Setting up a quality two channel audio system for a beginner is an exciting prospect. There are many different options and directions a budding audiophile can choose to follow. It can be a very rewarding experience, and something that can be enjoyed for a lifetime. This guide will offer the newcomer to the audio hobby some food for thought and present a myriad of choices that are available. It should also prove useful to the seasoned audiophile.

BUDGET
Set a budget, but be prepared to go over it. Setting a budget will provide a general idea of what class of gear you should be looking at. Of course, when looking online or visiting your local dealer, it’s very easy to start lusting over the really high end stuff and justify spending more money. This may not be a bad thing. If you outlay more cash in the beginning, it can help mitigate the disappointment factor in the future, as well as the compulsive desire to upgrade that afflicts almost all audiophiles. Buying quality also helps ensure, but does not guarantee, that your investment will not malfunction or come to an early or untimely demise. In the end, the most important thing is, how does it sound to you? Conversely, more money does not necessarily equate to better sound. I have spent a lot of money to realize you don’t need to spend a lot of money.

IDENTIFY YOUR PRIORITIES
A good friend of mine, who sold audio gear for over twenty years once offered me a piece of advice that has always stuck with me: Identify your audio priorities before buying. There are certain adjectives that come to mind with HiFi. “Bright”, “warm”, “laid-back”. There are also attributes that can be used to describe how a system sounds. Words such as “soundstage”, “image”, “deep bass”, “glorious midrange”, etc. No system is going to deliver every adjective and attribute perfectly. Decide which of these matter to you most and design your system around that. For example, some listeners value resolution and precision over all else, but this results in a bright, eventually fatiguing listen for some. Other listeners prefer a more rolled off, less precise sound that can provide many hours of listening. Different genres of music naturally lend themselves to certain priorities. For those into “heavier” music such as Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath or Metallica, a wall of sound approach is usually preferred. A system that can throw a huge soundstage would be ideal for this type of music. For those who prefer lighter fare, such as Jazz, different priorities come into play. For example, a Jazz aficionado may prefer a system that emphasizes the mid-range. This could explain why a lot of Jazz systems feature low wattage tube amps and single driver, full range speakers, which are known for their mid-range.

COMPONENT TO COST RATIO
Decide how to divide your budget between components (speakers, amplifier, sources, cables, power conditioner and component stand). There is no absolute formula for this, but the general consensus seems to be that spending money on speakers will offer you the biggest bang for your buck since they have the most influence on how the system will sound.

RESEARCH
The internet is the ultimate resource for researching new gear, but consider it as just a starting point. There is no replacement for actually hearing a piece of gear for yourself. But as a starting point, internet forums are a good place to ask for advice. It’s a good idea to take advantage of the knowledge and experience of seasoned audiophiles. Reviews are also a very good resource, such as the ones found here in NOVO magazine. Be wary of products that have no reviews. The lack of reviews could be simply because the product is obscure or too new and no publication has reviewed it yet, or it could indicate something more problematic. Generally reviewers don’t write about products that don’t perform well.

RELATIONSHIP WITH A DEALER
These days it very easy to do all of your research and subsequent purchases online but you will lose out on the advantages of having a good relationship with a local dealer. This is advantageous to you four-fold. First of all, once you have a established a relationship with a dealer, they generally won’t mind taking time to let you audition gear in-store that you are interested in (with your own music!). Secondly, a good dealer will allow you to borrow gear to take home and try in your own environment. Third, you gain the vast experience and knowledge that your dealer has of their product line. Fourth, and perhaps most advantageous, is that once you establish a good relationship (i.e. spend enough money at their store), you will generally be given preferred pricing on future purchases.