Drowning in the hi-fi hobby is not that difficult. Whereas in the computer world a few brands rule the roost, just as in the automobile industry, in the hi-fi world there are an unprecedented number of brands. And an unprecedented number of possibilities that in turn lead to an unprecedented number of combinations. In short: it is difficult to see the forest for the trees.
But how should you start? Suppose you are just starting out with the hobby. Then it is extremely difficult to find a starting point. If you ask for advice on a forum, you will get twenty – mostly useful – advices from twenty helpful enthusiasts. But anyway: no matter how well intentioned the advice is, the starter is once again faced with choices he or she cannot make because the background knowledge is not there yet.
What we really advise is: go and listen. Visit stores, friends and enthusiasts who can demo some stuff. That way you can develop a taste and on the basis of that taste you can make a start. Without that starting point, you will continue to search endlessly. And nobody is waiting for that either.
When we talk about taste, we mean: do you like: open, fast, fresh, warm, analytical, smooth, raw, up-front, deep, distant, big, intimate, et cetera. Many enthusiasts think they like warm and very polished, until they miss some detail and – in the end – like a neutral reproduction.
Now it is also part of the hobby to discover this. And the journey is incredibly educational. But it’s no fun stepping into countless pitfalls. There are also less financially demanding means of discovering taste. Means that are also more sociable. Think of listening evenings at other enthusiast’s houses. Grab some cheese, a nice drink and enjoy the music.
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Virtually every enthusiast has started with secondhand stuff. So did your editor and presenter. With a NAD 7175 vintage receiver – never should have sold that! – and a pair of Chario speakers to be exact. Then it went very quickly to a pair of Infinity Kappa 6.2 with a Densen 300B and Van Medevoort CA230. And then to Magnepans. Then a serious CD player had to be added: a Van Medevoort CD222 with a DA333 dac. Later with clock modification.
Point is: almost everything was bought second hand. Because these things are – when new – not affordable for a 22 year old. Not even with three jobs. And through the second-hand market, many gems can be found for very nice prices. You can search online where a rich offer is ready. On Facebook in the audio groups you will also regularly find good deals.
Start with the basics
Now it is very tempting to try all kinds of tweaks. But we ask you to wait with that until you have the basis. That basis consists of a pair of good speakers with a good integrated amplifier and a nice source. Or perhaps even better: a pair of active speakers with a decent source that also controls volume.
The credo is: keep is simple. Because simplicity just sounds better. Active speakers have the advantage that the amplification is perfectly matched to the speaker. This prevents errors in matching between amplifier and speakers; an error that occurs very often.
As a source, a nice streamer with volume control is an option, or maybe just a d/a converter with volume control that you can connect a laptop to. Simplicity..
The next start
The moment you have found some nice (active) speakers and a good source, you can start looking further into optimizations. We recommend to first deal with the acoustics. This is the next, very big factor where you can gain a lot with minimal investment. Only then can you look at cables and other tweaks. Especially if you are just starting out, this is not the area to dive into very deeply. You will still be replacing a lot of components and searching for your ideal system. Only when you have reached a certain level is it worthwhile to look for progression in tweaks.