Build to perfect hi-fi system
"It’s no good having a band with the 10 best guitarists if I don’t have a pianist,” said former Real Madrid manager Manuel Pellegrini after losing his job.
It’s an elegant metaphor, whether it’s describing a musical ensemble, a football team or a hi-fi system. In essence, it’s about balance as much as individual quality. The whole should amount to more than, or at the very least equal, the sum of its parts.
But balance is one of those concepts that can be hard to define, let alone to find. While a lot of it boils down to trial and error, there are certain guidelines that will aid and, hopefully, ease your path to sonic enlightenment.
The first two questions you need to ask yourself are: what will you be using your system for, and how much are you willing to spend?
The latter relates to the former. It’d perhaps be easiest to begin at the start of the chain – what will you be using as your source?
Each decision will have a knock-on effect: if you play all your music from your smartphone or tablet but still want a traditional hi-fi system, you’ll likely want something with Bluetooth built in. If you play mostly vinyl, you’ll need to think about whether you want a turntable or stereo amplifier with a phono stage or will buy the latter separately - a stand-alone phono stage will ensure greater versatility when upgrading in the future.
And if you've taken on the task of digitising your entire music collection, maybe it's time to retire that CD player and invest in a well-featured music streamerinstead?
It’s probably worth making a check-list of the features you want - such as a headphone output, or Bluetooth - and then prioritising the things you need most and those you can do without. It'll help to stretch your money further.
Having a realistic budget from the off will also help you spread your money more evenly. It should stop you buying your dream amplifier with the lion’s share only to match it with a budget turntable (the flaws of which it’ll emphasise), and exacerbating things further by playing through a pair of speakers you found by your neighbour’s bin.