My budget 2nd-hand system

ukplc

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Over the last year, I’ve put together my first Hi-Fi system from second-hand components. In the end I spent just shy of £600, although you could imagine a similar system at a lower price (e.g. leave out the turntable and headphones). I’ve relied quite heavily on comments in this forum and a handful of others, both about general pointers and about individual components. I wanted to say thanks to all those whose advice has guided me (often posted years ago, since I was mostly looking at equipment made in the early 2000s!) and thought it might be useful for others in a similar position to hear about how I got on.

The system:

Arcam A65+ Integrated Amp (£97)

NAD C521BEE CD Player (£58)

Arcam rDAC (£120)

Akai AP-B20C Turntable (£63) plus Audio Technica AT95e cartridge (£27) – total £90

Quad 11L speakers (£150)

AKG K49 headphones (£50, New)

Cables (QED 42 speaker cable; budget interconnects and coaxial cable) (total £20, New).

Total £580.

Just over a year ago, I came back to the UK after a few years travelling, in which time I had mainly listened to music on an iPod. Reunited with my CD collection (and vinyl – not very many records, but enough to make me want to find a way to play them), and wanting a step-up in quality from the iPod, I’ve been putting together my first system. I listen to quite a range of music – rock/indie, electronica/ambient, some classical and a little bit of jazz – so I wanted versatile gear; and I have a general preference for a ‘reserved’ sound rather than anything bright or harsh.

My budget was fairly modest (the original aim was to get an amp, CDP and speakers for about £300) so I was looking at second-hand options from the outset. Since I don’t drive, auditioning was always going to be a bit of a challenge, and I knew that putting the system together would involve a mixture of gathering enough information to make educated guesses, and some trial and error.

A major error was the matching of the amp to the CD player. Although it was more of a budget component (I think that in the early 2000s when they were released, the amp was originally priced at £400, and the CDP about £200), I suspect that these two are just not suited to each other. That is why I bought the rDAC quite soon after the CDP, which pushed my expected budget up by quite a bit. But with the rDAC in place, the system sounds absolutely great to me. And for a system at this level, the NAD cannot be faulted as a CD transport – it is reliable, solidly put together, and is silent during playback. The rDAC’s USB input also gives me a nice option for streaming from a laptop, which I have used a bit more than I expected to.

In a couple of areas, I got lucky. Firstly, I got every component (except the speakers) posted to me, but none was damaged in transit. Secondly, a library near to me has back issues of What Hi-Fi, so I was able to go back to c. 2005 to look for comments on speakers to go with the Arcam amp (quite a few online comments mentioned it was a bit fussy about partnering). WHF’s verdict was the Quad 11Ls; a quick look revealed that these would be the most expensive component in the system. Luckily, I was able to stretch my original budget a bit more, but I was still wary of making such a big purchase online without a chance to audition them with my amp. Then I got really lucky. I was searching on ebay, and discovered that a HiFi store very near to me were advertising a second-hand pair that they had taken as a part exchange. This store is mostly very, very high-end – Devialet CD Players and the like, and so I’d barely set foot in there before. But fair play to them, they were happy for me to bring my amp in and audition the Quad speakers, which were probably the cheapest thing in the whole shop, including their cables! Well, the Quads really were a great match for the amp, and that was my system sorted. I’m very happy with the results, and I’m enjoying music on a level that wasn’t there when all I had was the iPod. For the time being, I’m not feeling any desperate urge to upgrade anything; at the back of my mind I’m thinking about a better set of headphones and possibly a headphone amp. For the other components, I feel like I’d have to make a sharp jump up in price to get a bit improvement.

Tl;dr: the main things I learned:
[*]I ended up spending a lot more than I planned to! Apparently this is quite common
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[*]System-matching really, really matters. That means auditioning is a very good idea when you have the chance.[*]That said, there are some real bargains to be had in second-hand gear, if you’re working to a limited budget.[*]In my opinion, an outboard DAC is a strong alternative to an expensive CD player.[*]It’s worth looking around for as much information as you can get. You shouldn’t ever go on one person’s opinion, but if you read around for a while, you can pick up some valuable tips.[*]There are some goldmines of information. One is http://www.hi-fiworld.co.uk/index.php/olde-worlde/295-old-buying-guide.html

Thanks to people who have posted on here about these and other bits of gear (in some cases, years ago when these products were new). I’ve learned a lot from reading old posts!
 

newlash09

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Loved reading your journey. And glad you have used all available resources to get a great sounding system. The biggest of which is information. I have done mostly similar, going by a lot of research and not much audition. But you are right, need a big slice of luck to succeed like that.

Congratulations again . And thanks for posting those valuable links and making it easy for the rest of us :)
 

jjbomber

Well-known member
ukplc said:
The system:

NAD C521BEE CD Player (£58)

Arcam rDAC (£120)

[*]In my opinion, an outboard DAC is a strong alternative to an expensive CD player.[*]

A Arcam DVD player, non Blu-Ray or even non-HD would have been the best bet. You can pick up a £1,000 player for £100 these days. It would have been the perfect system match as well.

Some great kit there at the price and well done. It is difficult when you have been abroad for so long.
 

gasolin

Well-known member
I would only use the nad cd player without the dac

https://www.stuff.tv/nad/c521bee/review

for a pc mabye a used dragonfly red or the Optoma NuForce uDAC5 that supports dsd (got mine for less than £100)

And mabye change the speakers to Mission LX-2

Do you use any stands?
 

ukplc

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Cheers, all.

jj -- I haven't heard an Arcam DVD player, but it wouldn't surprise me if they are very strong performers -- that's a good tip.

Gasolin -- I haven't heard the Mission LX-2s, but I've heard a lot of praise for them. If they are a match for the Quad 11Ls, then at £150 new they are an absolute steal.
My Quads are on a pair of (pretty solid) tables at the moment. They sound good like that; in fact, to my surprise, they sound pretty much as good as they did on stands in the shop's listening room when I auditioned them. Even so, proper stands is probably the next thing I should be looking at, as well as generally moving the furniture around a bit, to see whether I can find improvements that way.
 

lindsayt

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Yep, set up is important. Time spent trying different room layouts, speaker and listening position is worthwhile. Even if it just confirms that the initial positioning was good enough.

Speaker toe-in or firing straight across the room is worth spending a few minutes on too.
 

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