Audiophile 101: How to Set Up a Basic Hi-Fi System | Guide to Life


(upbeat music) – Hi, my name is Tucker Bowe. I’m a senior staff writer at Gear Patrol, and I’m here to walk you through a basic vinyl hi-fi setup. (dramatic music) – [Narrator] 15 seconds. That’s about how long it takes to open up a whole new sensation in the all new Lexus LC convertible. The feelings of warm sun and cool breeze.

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– Hi-fi is short for high fidelity, which is high resolution audio that is way more detailed than the compressed digital files you grew up listening to. These days it’s actually easier than ever to list, to stream high fidelity audio with services like Amazon music HD, and Title, but we’re gonna focus on a pure analog system, because it’s way more fun.

(whoosh) (whoosh) So there are four basic components of any true hi-fi system. There’s passive bookshelf speakers, there’s a powered amplifier, there’s a turn-table, and there’s a phono pre-amp. In this kind of current setup, we’re using Q-acoustics 3020I passive bookshelf speakers, which are some of our favorite entry level bookshelf speakers.

We’re using actually a high end Cambridge Audios CXA61 power amplifier. Pro-ject Debut Carbon turntable, which is a belt-driven turntable, and it’s actually like their best-selling turntable. It’s like 400 bucks. And then we’re using back in here Pro-ject photobox S2 ultra as our external phono pre-amp. So let’s start with the turntable.

This is Pro-ject’s Debut Carbon. It’s a belt-driven turntable and it’s one of their most popular kind of entry-level audiophile options. And we love it because it looks good, it sounds good, and it’s really easy to setup. It essentially works with most phono pre-amps and is a good kind of place to start with any hi-fi system. When you’re looking or judging the quality of a turntable, there are a lot of different things to consider.

Obviously things like material and connectivity and there’s a lot of other features that you can add to turntables that can drive the cost. But basically you want a turntable that picks the signal up accurately and looks good and minimizes distortion. Here we’re using the Pro-ject’s phono box S2 ultra, which is a kind of higher end external phono pre-amp. Better quality external phono preamps can equalize and amplify the record so that it not only is loud enough so that it can send to the power amplifier but it also equalizes in a way that is more true to the artist’s kind of intent on when they recorded it. We’re using Cambridge Audio’s CXA61.

It’s a pretty high end power amp. You don’t actually have to get one that is this nice in your entry level system. I think this is just shy of a thousand dollars.

But the job of the power amplifier is to take the signal from the phono preamp and amplify it again and also ready it so that the signal can be read by the speakers and eventually get played. When talking about what makes a good speaker, you’re evaluating it on a number of different things.

Of course the materials, the weight, are gonna of course play a big factor, but you’re also paying extra for the quality of the crossovers and kinda the quality of the drivers. Higher quality speakers are able to handle more power, so they’re able to play louder. But they’re also able to play a wider range of frequencies. They’re able to get higher highs and lower lows and it’s just going to sound like a more room filling, more realistic sound, kind of like you’re in the theater or in the concert venue.

So that’s kind of what you’re paying for when you’re going for high quality speakers.

(whoosh) (whoosh) So we’re gonna walk you through all the steps of how to set up your own hi-fi system in more detail, but if you want them all in one go, here they are. (light music) So step one is you need to determine what kind of system you actually want. Do you want a pure analog system? Or do you want an analog digital system that you could potentially stream to? In our system we have a four component system, but you can also get a combination of those, in terms of there’s a lot of turntables with built in phono pre-amps, and there’s a lot of speakers, powered speakers, that have their own powered amplification.

So you can kind of narrow these four components into two or three, but it’s kind of just what you want your system to look like, what you want it to sound like, and how much you want to spend. So step two is determining your budget and actually buying the components. Now you can get a perfectly good entry level hi-fi system for between five hundred dollars and a thousand dollars.

Or you can go way over the top and spend like I don’t know, an insane amount. The sky’s the limit, essentially.

But a general rule of thumb is that around 30-40% of your budget should go to your speakers, they’re the component that you actually hear. And then 30-40% of your budget should go to your turntable, because it’s the thing that actually picks up the signal and looks cool, and also plays a vital role in sound quality. And the remaining percentage, 40-20% of your budget depending on what you have left, should go to your phono pre-amp and your power amplifier.

Now those are just general rules of thumb, but it’s kind of a good place to start. Step three is you want to arrange the components to minimize distortion.

Essentially, everything in a hi-fi system can affect the other components, both positive and also negative. Vibration and distortion is the enemy of hi-fi. If you play the music too loudly and the speakers are on the same surface as your turntable or your power amp, it’s causing them to shake, and it’s gonna have a ripple effect on all the other products. So for the best possible sound you want to arrange them so that they don’t negatively impact the other components that are in your system. Ideally, in this setup, I would have these speakers on separate floor-standing stands and I would have the power amplifier and the turntable kind of separated so they’re not one on top of the other so that if this shakes it doesn’t shake the turntable which could also cause the stylus to shake and just have a negative negative reaction.

Step four, let’s talk about where to actually place the speakers so that they sound the best. A general rule of thumb is that you want the speakers to be around two to three feet away from the wall. That way you get good bass and a wider sound stage. In terms of where you should place each speaker relative to one another, a general rule is you want bookshelf speakers to be around four feet away from each other, and if you have floor-standing speakers, you can widen it up to around eight feet. Ultimately, you want the tweeter of the speakers to be about the same height as your ear.

If you researched speaker placement a lot, you’ll come across the term equilateral triangle. And essentially what that means is it’s the two speakers in relation to you the listener, where you’re actually hearing the music, and you want to be perfectly positioned in the middle of the speakers so that the left and right channels both reach your ears at the same time and it’s gonna sound the best. (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (whoosh) (whoosh) So we walked you through a basic hi-fi setup, and I know it looks and sounds complicated. There’s a lot of parts, and they’re kind of expensive, and they can affect each other in ways that can screw up the audio quality. But that’s also the beauty of you know getting into hi-fi, it forces you to care about the different components and ultimately pay more attention to the music.

You can’t just press a button and the music will play. You’ve gotta you know move the tone arm, pick out a song, and then lower it, and then there’s this little anticipation before the music starts, and then it goes.

(snaps) (music) So it’s fun in that way. Another thing to kind of consider is that listening to these hi-fi tracks on vinyl might actually not sound as good as if you kind of stream on Title or Amazon Music HD, or even if you listen to CDs, because you know those are digital files that have been remastered and sound super crisp and super clean. And with vinyl you’re getting that little scratchiness, you’re getting the pops, you’re hearing all the imperfections the stylus picks up when it’s reading the record, and that’s also part of its charm as well.

It’s nostalgic and sounds familiar to some people, and you’re listening to music the way that like your parents used to listen to music, and that’s fun.

Now I know there’s four different components here and it looks a bit complicated, but there are much simpler ways to do an entry-level hi-fi system. For one, you can get a turntable with a built in pre-amp and hook it up to a powered speaker like a Sonos Play 5, a new Sonos 5, and that essentially combines two products, which is the powered amplifier and the speaker, and the turntable and the phono pre-amp. And so instead of four, you’re only getting two, and that’s less complicated and also a little less of a weight on your wallet.

The one thing I would say is that you should probably not or stay away from all in one turntables, and I say all in one turntables, I mean turntables that have a built in powered amplifier, a built in phono preamp, and a built in speaker, because they are all stacked in one on top of each other, and they get in each other’s way and they vibrate and you’re ultimately gonna have a kind of not great sound.

They’re cheaper, because they’re kind of an all in one package and they’re made of like lesser materials, but you’re ultimately sacrificing the overall sound quality. Finally the last thing I’ll say is that the best thing you could do when getting into vinyl or building your own hi-fi system is start small. Start with a good pair of speakers, a good entry level turntable, a good power amp, and pre-amp, and then you can upgrade from there. All right guys, thanks for watching. Like and subscribe below.

And if you have any comments, we’d love to know what kind of setup you guys have at home, or if you have any questions about ours, let us know. Thanks for watching..

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