There were a number of spectacular, cost-no-object components drawing stereo fans at the Los Angeles Audio Show, but the room I had the hardest time getting into featured a $350 USD rig.
Even late Sunday – a typically slow-traffic time as the event wound down – seats were full and a line stretched back to the door of the “Getting Started/Audio for the Rest of Us” exhibit.
The room, sponsored by Positive Feedback, was filled with gear that could be used to assemble systems ranging from the dirt-cheap example above up to around $5,000 USD.
The third time I pulled the door back and faced another tightly packed crowd, I decided to just wedge in and wait for a chair to open up. After a demo ended, I quickly nabbed a vacated seat and settled in to see what could be had these days at the low end of the high end.
“The system we are going to hear is just under five grand,” said the room’s host, Steve Lefkowicz.
He ran through the simple component list: A $3,000 USD pair of Tekton Design Double Impact floor-standing speakers; about $1,500 USD worth of electronics, primarily from Schiit Audio; and a Vulcan rack from Pangea Audio ($149 USD).
Soon, Diana Krall’s familiar whisky-and-honey contralto was crooning “All or Nothing at All.” There were a few grumbles in the crowd – not for the sound, which started promisingly with fairly decent extension on the opening bass notes – but for the selection.
It was my impression that the few naysayers were likely audio-show veterans who were curious about the bargain gear, but had heard this recording one too many times. It likely was chosen for the newbies, however, who might not be familiar with other audiophile-approved tracks.
As the song continued, I marveled at the quality of sound available today at this price level. It wasn’t going to challenge the $100K system a few doors down, or even a stunning $22K rig I’d heard earlier. The highs didn’t have the same air or refinement and there wasn’t as much weight, authority or black background as the mega-gear.
Yet, the bargain rig did have reasonable balance within its more limited range, a fairly clear midrange and no glaring faults, such as the tubby lower midrange that usually plagues department-store systems.I looked around the room and noted the other entry-level models on display.
Speakers included the Elac Debut B6 ($280 USD/pair) and the Magnapan .7 ($1,400 USD/pair). Among the electronics was the Schiit Freya remote-controlled tube hybrid preamp ($600 USD), Schiit Fulla 2 DAC/headphone amp ($99 USD) and an Auralic Aries Mini streamer ($499 USD).
Turntables on hand were the Music Hall mmf-2.3se ($750 USD with a MH Spirit cartridge), a Pro-Ject Audio Systems RPM-1 Carbon ($499 USD with a Sumiko Peal cartridge) and a U-Turn Audio Orbit Plus ($309 USD with an Ortofon OME5E cartridge).
It was all quality stuff that I’d heard before making good sounds in various combinations.
The $350 system? That was a pair of Audioengine A2+ powered speakers ($249 USD) and the Schiit Fulla 2 DAC, which added another hundred bucks. The source was a laptop, which was not included in the price since it was assumed most buyers already would have one.
It was heartening to see so many people – the majority of whom seemed to be lapsed stereo listeners or fairly new to hi-fi – come out to a show to hear starter equipment. As long as audio events make an effort to extend an olive branch – or maybe an interconnect? – to this potential market, there’s hope for the hobby yet.