Everyone has different performance expectations, required features, placement issues and other needs for a music or home theater system, so there is no perfect universal system. Even more important, the combination of components is very critical to getting a good result. One can easily select a good CD player, receiver, and pair of speakers, each in isolation, and have them perform poorly together. Even the choice in cables makes a difference. The system approach is the key. Here are a few rough starting points, a few favorites that we think really stand out. Please stop by and we can fill in the blanks or fine-tune something just right for you! Please note, prices do not include custom installation where necessary.
Please read our note about audio systems vs. audio/video systems.
A word about audio systems vs. audio/video systems:
Most people come in the store today assuming they should get a surround sound system. This is probably because the media and most other stores bombard us with the wonderful abilities of surround sound. The truth is, unless you rent at least a couple of movies a week, you may be better off with a good stereo two-channel system.
Surround sound is only really useful for information that has been recorded in a surround format- which is primarily movies and some TV broadcasts, but not the vast majority of music on CDs, records, etc. You'll also get a higher quality sound from a two channel system than a five channel system for the same amount of money. This should be obvious, if you consider that you can spend x amount of dollars and allocate it over either two amplifier channels and two speakers, or five amplifier channels, five speakers, and additional processing. It's a bit like a single disc CD player vs. a CD changer. You'll generally get better sound for the same investment from a single disc player, since there's no requirement to spend part of the money on the additional mechanics and features of a changer.
In fact, many people find that they are happier with the sound of their movies played back through a superior two channel system than a lesser multi-channel system. Plus they get better performance for their music listening. We think this is something that you should consider. Of course, we do sell both the best possible home stereo systems and multi-channel audio/video systems.
A Fine Starting Point
NAD D 3020 hybrid digital integrated amplifier
PSB Alpha B1 bookshelf speakers
Total price: less than $800
This is a terrific entry level system that's perfect if you have a digital music library on your laptop or phone. You can stream your music library via Bluetooth to the D 3020, or connect a computer and other devices via the digital inputs. There's a built in headphone amp, and handy wireless remote. For the money you would spend at an electronics mega store, you can have a system that actually sounds good. If you have a tight budget but want something that performs, give this a listen. You'll be pleasantly surprised. (If you still spin compact discs, just add the NAD C516 CD player for $300.)
Better Living Through Vinyl
Rega RP1 turntable and cartridge
Rega Brio-R integrated amp
Rega RX1 bookshelf speakers
Total price: about $2700
A terrific budget system that lets you discover how good vinyl records can sound, and is flexible enough to enjoy a wide range of music. For even better sound from LPs, add the Rega Performance Pack upgrade which includes better cartridge, mat, and belt, for $195. Add the Rega Apollo-R CD player or Rega DAC for excellent digital playback. You can also step up to the Rega floorstanding speakers, the RX3 and RX5, for more full-range performance. This system ranks very high on our fun factor.
Bluesound Node digital music streamer
NAD C356 integrated amp
Magnepan MG1.7 speakers
Total price: about $3300
Our NAD / Magnepan system pushes performance to a surprising level. Few speakers can deliver a sense of life-like scale and realism as the Maggies, and none pull it off anywhere near the price of the new MG1.7s. The Magnepans do require a fair amount of power to live up to their potential, and that's where NAD comes in. The C356 integrated delivers 80 watts per channel and has a smooth, transparent sound that's a perfect match for these speakers. With the Bluesound Node, you can stream your digital music collection and also enjoy internet radio and cloud music services. You can also add an optional internal phono stage module to the C356 for playing records, or a DAC module to improve the sound of the Bluesound Node. If you'd like to play CDs, consider the NAD C546 CD player at $500.
Minimalist Naim Setup
Naim UnitiLite music player
Linn Majik 109 bookshelf speakers
Typical system price: about $5000
Looking for the perfect compact music system that does it all, sounds great, and is compact and stylish too? The Naim UnitiLite is our favorite Naim component, and that's saying a lot for a brand that has been dear to us for thirty years. The UnitiLite combines an integrated amplifier, CD player, internet radio, and network file streaming all in a slimline enclosure. Add a pair of bookshelf speakers and you have a very nice music system that won't take up a lot of space and yet can still fill a room with great sound.
Linn Majik System
Linn Majik DS-M Integrated Amp / Digital Streaming player
Linn Majik 140 speakers
Total price: about $7,700
Linn is a distinguished manufacturer of some of the world's finest audio components, and the same company that created the ground breaking CD12 CD player, and the Sondek LP12 turntable which continues as a reference product today. Stemming from 35 successful years of pitch accurate sound reproduction, the Majik System brings new levels of excitement to music playback. Linn's Majik DS-M integrated amp is one of the most versatile and fully featured products available, with accommodations for digital inputs, analog inputs, HDMI AV inputs, a phono stage for a turntable, a headphone amp, and Linn's Digital Streaming technology for serious performance. The beautifully designed Majik 140 floor standing speakers are a popular choice for their great sound and ease of placement, and also come in several handsome real wood finishes including oak, walnut, rosenut, cherry, black ash, and white, making them easy to integrate into any decor. If you need smaller speakers, there's also a bookshelf version of the 140, the Majik 109. This Linn system can also be easily upgraded for even better performance, by converting the speakers to aktiv and adding extra amplifier channels.
Audio Research and Vandersteen
Audio Research CD6 CD player
Audio Research VSi-60 integrated amp
Vandersteen Treo speakers
Total price: about $20,000
Audio Research has been the most respected manufacturer of high performance stereo electronics in America for over forty years. The ARC VSi60 integrated amp delivers classic Audio Research vacuum tube performance from a small chassis, making it easy to place in your room. The CD6 is an overachieving work horse, featuring near-indestructible Audio Research build quality and unmatched performance for the price, and also includes digital inputs to let you connect Sonos or BlueSound streaming devices or a computer music library. Add a pair of Vandersteen Audio's elegant floorstanding Treo speakers and you have another system that's a big favorite here at AudioConcepts. The Treos are available in a range of attractive wood finishes, and their natural, open, full range performance will give you terrific listening pleasure with all types of music. Don't need a CD player or on a budget? Substitute a Hegel or Rega DAC for the CD6 CD player and you can get into this system for around $14k.
Boulder and Wilson
Esoteric X-05 CD / SACD player
Boulder 810 preamplifier
Boulder 860 power amplifier
Wilson Audio Sophia3 speakers
Total price: about $44,000
The first thing that you'll notice about these components is the incredible precision manufacturing and acute attention to detail. Solidly built and gorgeous to look at, but designed entirely around form following function, the performance of this system is very compelling. Precise, detailed, even spectacular, but most important it's extremely fun to listen to, and not for just one or two great recordings but for a whole diverse music collection. Sensible upgrades to this system would include the Esoteric X-01Limited disc player and the Boulder 1000-series preamp and power amp.
Audio Research REFERENCE System
Audio Research REF CD9 CD player
Audio Research REF 5 SE preamplifier
Audio Research REF 150 power amplifier
Wilson Audio Sasha speakers
Total price: about $66,000
What do you get when you pair one of the top models from the world’s most highly respected speaker designer with components built by the leading manufacturer of high-end electronics? A truly amazing system that delivers more pleasure and enjoyment than someone could ever dream possible from anything other than a live performance. This system satisfies the disappointment that sometimes occurs after leaving a great concert and realizing that no audio system will ever sound as good the show you just attended. Just one listen and you will immediately understand why Wilson speakers are THE speaker to have if you really want to enjoy the best sound possible in your home, and why Audio Research is an American legend in state of the art electronics. You'll be transported to the live event, while remaining comfortably seated in your own living room. Vinyl lovers can add a Linn LP12 turntable and Audio Research phono stage and enjoy an even more staggering experience. We can assemble many different Audio Research and Wilson systems, all optimized for your room, placement considerations, and budget. Just stop by and ask.
Simple On-Wall Solution
NAD T748 AV receiver
NAD T567 Blu Ray disc player
GoldenEar SuperSat 50 speakers or SuperCinema 3D Array
REL T-5 subwoofer
Total price: about $3000
If like many people you're facing a room design that doesn't allow floorstanding or even bookshelf speakers, but you still want good sound to accompany your film and TV viewing, the GoldenEar speakers may be a perfect solution. They're far better than any in-wall or in-ceiling speaker system and yet are still very unobtrusive. Two suggestions are included- a pair of thin SuperSat50 speakers that can flank a flat panel display, or the new SuperCinema 3D Array which includes left, center and right channel speakers in a thin low profile solution that can mount above or below the display. We like either paired with NAD's AV receiver and Blu-Ray disc player. And the compact REL subwoofer makes the system sound like a much bigger one. If you want the complete surround sound experience, you can add a pair of GoldenEar's compact SuperSat 3 speakers for the rear channel. The GoldenEar speakers are a nice solution that can keep the decorator happy and won't compromise too heavily on performance.
A Fine Starting Point
NAD T757 AV receiver
NAD T567 Blu-ray disc player
PSB Imagine XT front speakers
PSB Imagine XC center channel speaker
PSB Imagine XB rear speakers
REL T/9 powered subwoofer
Total price: about $4600
This NAD / PSB system makes up our most affordable home theater setup that features full range floorstanding speakers. Compared to other similarly priced combinations in the market, this one will sound far more natural and realistic, and do an equally good job at reproducing music. The new NAD receiver has all the latest HDMI features allowing you to take full advantage of the performance Blu-ray discs can deliver, and includes NAD's MDC modular design concept which lets you change out card slot audio and video modules as technology changes, reducing the risk of obsolescence.
NAD T777 AV receiver
NAD T567 Blu-ray disc player
Magnepan MG1.7 front speakers
Magnepan MC1 rear speakers
Magnepan CC5 center channel speaker
REL S/3 powered subwoofer
Total price: about $9500
Magnepans have long been known for their fantastic sound, and they're also great for home theater applications. The MC1 surround speakers mount to your rear or side walls, and can be folded flush against the wall when not in use. With the proper center channel and subwoofer, the Magnepan system delivers a remarkable sound that is rich, clear, and open- whether you're listening to Terminator 2, Ben Webster, or Beethoven. The NAD electronics complete the package, providing the right kind of power and all the current surround sound modes available. NAD's MDC modular design construction in the new HD-series of receivers also puts all audio and video circuitry on individual replaceable modules, and the operating and processing software are also upgradable via a serial port connection.
GoldenEar Triton Theater
NAD M17 A/V preamplifier
NAD M27 seven channel power amp
NAD T567 Blu-ray player
GoldenEar Triton One front speakers
GoldenEar SuperCenter XL center channel speaker
GoldenEar onwall or inceiling surround speakers
GoldenEar ForceField Five subwoofer
Total price: about $18,000
Recommended display device: Runco front projection system.
A perfect choice for a more serious system for movie watching. The NAD surround sound processor offers a fantastic combination of audio quality, video switching, and functionality for the price, and can be configured to make operation extremely easy. NAD's multichannel amp serves up 160 watts per channel, and the elegant, slim PSB Synchrony speakers look great in any environment and deliver a natural, full range sound. For a smaller room or smaller visual impact, the Synchrony Two speaker range is a great substitute. This is a system any of us could spend a lot of time enjoying!
Wilson Audio WATCH System
Wilson Audio Sophia 3 front speakers
Wilson Audio WATCH center channel speaker
Wilson Audio WATCH wall mount rear speakers
Wilson Audio WATCH DOG subwoofer w/ controller
McIntosh MVP891 universal disc / Blu Ray player
McIntosh MX151 A/V preamp and processor
McIntosh MC205 five channel power amplifier
Total price: about $80,000
Recommended display device: Runco QuantumColor 1080p LED projector and Stewart screen.
“For over a decade more award winning film scores have been mixed, composed, or recorded with Wilson Audio than any other loudspeaker.” Wilson Audio
Some of the best sounding movies ever are on the long list of those produced on Wilson Audio speakers. With this system you can be absolutely sure that you are hearing every detail, every whisper, and every dinosaur roar that the director wanted you to hear. Your favorite music will also make you sit up and be amazed. With the new McIntosh player, all of your DVD, CD, SACD, DVD-Audio and Blu Ray discs will look and sound their best, and the awesome new McIntosh MX150 preamp delivers fabulous performance and makes the system simple for anyone in the family to operate. Built in Lyngdorf room correction raises the sound quality even further, diminishing any room acoustics issues. With this reference quality sound system, the only choice to consider for a matching video display should come from the company that created the entire front projection home theater industry, Runco. The QuantumColor uses LEDs as a light source so there are no bulbs to replace and no noisy fan to cool the bulb. Colors are stunning, and black backgrounds are truly dark, deep black. This new Runco is sets a new standard for large-screen home viewing.
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