Show organizer Marjorie Baumert asked people to sponsor a series of RMAF 2017 rooms with complete systems at certain price points; $500, $1,000, $1,500, $2,500, and $5,000. I thought this was a great concept, especially since at most shows it seems that our hobby is skewing to higher and higher price points. This article is a review of these systems with “little” price tags that, in many cases, could compete with systems that cost much more.
The $500 System
The first of these rooms that I visited was the $500 system. This room used the powered Vanatoo Transparent Zero speakers at $359 a pair. I reviewed, loved and purchased these speakers, and we are giving away a pair on our site this month. They are a great choice for any beginning system, and they were paired with the $120 Pioneer PL-990 turntable with built-in phono stage and a $110 Polk PSW10 subwoofer. If you add the subwoofer, you are nearly at $600, but what a system for $600.
I encourage you to read my review of these speakers to learn more about how they sound. The system put together for this room had a surprisingly open soundstage, which helped it sound more like an audiophile system. What I loved most about this system was the big, smooth and vibrant tones it could produce, even from the digital source of the speaker’s built-in DAC. By the way, the digital-only system comes in under the $500 price point.
The $1,000 System
Moving up from $500 to $1,000 provided a sound that was more sophisticated than the $500 system. The analog rig was $1,278. It was built around the Audioengine HD6 powered loudspeaker at $749 per pair. This speaker has both a phono stage and a built-in DAC. The speakers were connected to a U-Turn Orbit Special turntable that cost $529 with a cartridge. If you choose to just go digital, this system costs only $749 for the Audioengine HD6 and your own smartphone, tablet or computer. For all of its sophistication, I personally prefer the big tone of the Vanatoo Transparent Zero speakers.
Note: If you are wondering about the $1,500 system, I omitted it from this article because it just wasn’t sounding good at all on Friday when I stopped by the room. I’m sure whatever was wrong with the sound was corrected as systems frequently aren’t their best on Day 1, but I didn’t get back by later to check.
The $2,500 System
The $2,500 room was where I encountered what I would call a real hi-fi system; in fact, it was shockingly good. The $2,500 system was built around the really unbelievable Elac Debut B6 loudspeakers at a mere $269 a pair! At this price, they could be driven by Peachtree Audio’s Decco125 SKY integrated amp that cost $1,199, and yes,the Elacs are good enough for this pairing. The source was a VPI Cliffwood turntable with included a VPI cartridge for $895.
This system was true hi-fi to my ears. It was rich, with great micro-dynamics. It also had enough detail and transparency to sound like a high-end system.
The Roksan/Monitor System
The next “little” system that I heard that was better than the system at the $2,500 price point was in the Roksan/Monitor room. This system cost $6,300 as a digital-only system or $7,000 for a vinyl-only system. Monitor now owns Roksan, and there did seem to be a real synergy in this system. It had a British sound in the best sense of the word. Yes, it was slightly warm, but not much. It had great musical flow and produced a very nice, coherent soundstage. This was a room that took the sound of the $2,500 system above and refined it and gave you more of everything.
The speakers were from Monitor Audio’s 300 Silver speakers from their 6G line. The integrated amp was a Roksan K3 at $2,000, and the source was either a Roksan K3 CD DI Player at $2,300 or a Roksan Radius 7 turntable at $3,000.
An Under $10,000 System
The last of my “Little Systems That Could” is an under $10,000 system from Salk and Schiit. Let’s start with the fact that you get a pair of Salk Song 3-A speakers with cabinets so beautiful that you would think the speakers would cost more than this entire system. The electronics were Schiit Audio’s high-value priced audiophile separates. They were not designed for headphones, but are an attempt at real high-end products at a reasonable price.
The Salk/Schiit system started with a Salk Streamplayer Gen III-SE prototype for $2,495. It was the source feeding a Schiit Gungnir Multi-Bit DAC at $1,249. The preamp was the new Schiit Freya at $699 connected to a pair of Schiit Vidar monoblock amplifiers at $1,398. So, the total for this system is $9,536.
I’ll be honest I didn’t expect the quality of sound that I heard from this system. I could not believe that such a relaxed and listenable sound came from an all digital and all transistor system. This was very simply a system that made listening to recorded music fun.