As a geek videophile audiophile there’s the tendency for that interest to be conflict with my critical side that questions our modern consumerist capitalist economy. I believe that balance can be found, as long as one accepts that it’s nearly impossible to be entirely non-comsumerist without checking out of modern technological society altogether. Yet, it is possible to temper the consumerist side while still having enthusiasm for good audio and video and the aesthetics of sound and vision.
In particular, I think I’ve always been an audiophile. I’ve been obsessed with sound and music since I was a child, and I’ve always been interested in finding better, more pleasing, more realistic sound reproduction. While in high school in the mid-80s I bought my first component cassette deck, amplifier, CD player and turntable. All of this gear was decidedly “mid-fi” by audiophile standards, but still whet my appetite for sound that was significantly better than the boomboxes and discount-store compact stereos used by most of my peers.
Cheapskate Speakers: BIC RTR 43-2
While I’ve been willing to spend some amount of disposable income on audio gear, I’ve also been hestitant to lay down the kind of cash required to buy in to what is considered the “high-end” of audio gear. This is the world of $1000 CD players, $5000 turntables and $10,000 speakers. Certainly, the kind of craftsmanship and design excellence that goes into many of these products has real value. At the same time I think much of it is the audio equivalent of Ferraris and Lamborghinis — semi-impractical exotica meant to give the affluent something to spend their money on, while giving the less-affluent something to aspire to.
My experience in slogging around in the low-end of the high-end has proven to me that good sound does not have to be an exotic rare commodity only for the rich and golden-eared. In fact, very pleasing and accurate sound can be had for as the same or less money than it costs to buy a home-theater in a box system at Wal-Mart or Best Buy.
There are multiple paths to being a cheapskate audiophile, many of them DIY. The more industrious or crafty amongst us build some of their own gear, either from kits or from scratch. Others perform minor modifications on mass-market gear that results in sonic gains.
Possessing neither the skill nor patience to take these routes I instead keep my eyes and ears open for the bargains — gear that achieves unusually good results at an unusually low price-point. The ‘net is a real boon for all of us cheapskate audiophiles by giving us easy access to this sort of info that otherwise would come by word-of-mouth, technical books or low-circulation specialty magazines and newsletters.
Top to bottom: T-Amp, TEC Pream, SoundBlaster Extigy
To demonstrate I’ll show off my current cheapskate system which I use in my home office for music listening and audio production. The core cheapskate item in the system is the Sonic Impact T-Amp
, which I’ve written about before
. It’s a cheap, plastic $25 stereo amplifier based on a new digital amplifier design that rocked the audio world three years ago by producing sound more like an amp some 20x its price. The T-Amp is rated to produce 15 watts of power, and I think that’s probably stretching it. More likely, it delivers around 8 watts into most speakers. But they are still an incredibly clean, transparent 8 watts.
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