Blue Jeans Cable LC-1 (3 ft.) Interconnect for $38.75 – Best value around and the only interconnect that I buy:
BJC LC-1 Stereo Audio Cables, 3 foot
Blue Jeans also sells raw cable at rawcable.com. I often make my own interconnects with the Belden-manufactured cable shown above but upgrade the RCA plugs to the ETI bullet plugs, which go on sale at partsconnexion.com, or whatever other plugs I have on hand.
I also favor Belden speaker cable, in particular Belden 1313A Multi-Conductor 10AWG Speaker Cable, which can be hard to find. If you find it, expect to pay $100 or so for 50ft, but it is worth it. Particularly in my bedroom setup, where I have long cable runs, I’ve noticed a tremendous increase in clarity and detail using this cable. The 10AWG is unnecessary for shorter runs, but in my experience it doesn’t hurt to use a larger gauge. In any event, Belden offers the same cable in smaller gauges, so you can get whatever size you prefer.
I don’t believe in spending money on USB cables and won’t recommend one. I have tried multiple offerings and have never been able to discern any difference in A/B comparisons, which makes perfect sense if you know how the digital connection between a music server and a DAC works. Buy an Amazon Basic cable and be done with it. I don’t call most things snake oil, but I will continue to believe that expensive USB cables are a fraud until someone proves me wrong. Hell, I will be the first one to eat my words if someone can send me a USB cable that makes ANY noticeable difference in the sound of my system.
If you are looking for a great deal on bookshelf speakers, the KEF Q150s go on sale for $300 about twice a year. There is no better value in audio. Set an alert on Amazon or keep them in your cart until the price drops.
For a higher end speaker, the KEF LS50s are not overhyped. They are my reference bookshelf speakers and they never disappoint. They are power hungry, though, and thus don’t do well with vintage amps that are less than 40 watts or so into 8 ohms. These do go on sale occasionally (my were $900 on Amazon at one point), but it is rare. You can also pick up a mint used pair for around $800, which is a nice purchase at that price point.
For a higher sensitivity speaker, I recommend the Klipsch RP-600M, which are a joy to listen to and a steal at anything under $600. Amazon had the high gloss black versions on sale for a while at around $450, and I would have jumped on those if I didn’t already own the ebony, which are not nearly as nice visually.
I’m also a fan of the Elac Debut 2.0 B6.2, which are a great deal at $$340 on Amazon and an even better deal when they go on sale for around $250. I prefer the Q150s at the $300 price point, but these are still a great speaker. I also recommend the B&W 600 range as an all around great value, particularly given some of the great used deals that are common.
For a floor standing speaker, I recommend anything by Monitor Audio, which are an incredible value at the $2000 or so price point. I own the Silver 8s and could not recommend them more. Don’t expect booming bass, however. I pair them with an SVS sub, but they have a beautiful midrange and great highs. Although I have never owned a pair, I’ve also been impressed with the mid-range Revel speakers. I recently heard a pair of Revel F208s and was blown away. I was surprised at the $5000 price. That is obviously a ton of money, but I’ve heard $10,000 speakers that didn’t sound nearly as good.
As for vintage speakers, I’m not a fan given what you can get new for $300. I’ve heard very few vintage bookshelf speakers that can compete with the KEF Q150, and those that can are well known and have risen dramatically in price. Sure, you can buy a pair of AR-3A speakers for $900 or a pair of JBL L100s for $1,500, but I think your money would be better spent on a pair of LS50s or another modern offering. The fact is that the materials used to manufacture speakers (and particularly the tweeters) have improved dramatically over the years, while the basic transistor at the heart of most amplifiers is still made of silicon. There is a reason that vintage receivers are far more in demand than vintage speakers.
But don’t get me wrong, there are certainly exceptions. You can find some amazing deals on used full-range speakers from the 90s or even the 80s that most of us would be quite happy to own. It is just hard to find them, let alone recommend that the average audiophile try to do so.
For amplifiers and integrated amplifiers, I almost always recommend that friends buy vintage. In my experience, the most reliable vintage brands are Pioneer, Sansui, and Yamaha. Most of the Pioneer receivers and integrated amps from the mid to late 70s sound great, although I’m shocked at how the prices have risen lately. The Sansui integrated amps are also great, but suffer the same issue of price inflation. With Yamaha, you need to be more discerning because there are more duds out there, but there are still plenty of good deals to be found on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. I find that the Sansui and Pioneer stuff gets scooped up more quickly, while the Yamaha stuff lingers a bit longer.
I absolutely love the warm sound of vintage Marantz receivers, but they are difficult to recommend at their current price points, which have gotten out of control. My theory is that they are all being shipped to Brooklyn and marketed to hipsters who are willing to pay $500 for a 15 watt receiver that was at the low end of the Marantz lineup and went for less than that in 1978. If you find a good deal, by all means scoop it up, but don’t shell out the prices that are being asked on eBay these days.
If you insist on buying something new, take a look at Schiit Audio and their Vidar and Ragnarok amps. Both sounded great when I heard them in a friend’s high-quality system. I also think it is hard to beat the value of the big John Curl-designed Parasound amps. The Halo A21+ is one of the better sounding amps I’ve heard and a great deal at $3150. It competes with far more expensive amps. I’d love to audition the Halo JC 1+ monoblocks, but haven’t had the chance. If you own a pair in Manhattan, shoot me an email!
Finally, the best deal in audio, hands down, are the Nelson Pass-designed projects at DIYAudio.com. With the time and proper motivation anyone can build these projects, and there is an amazing support network when something goes wrong. I recently had a problem with a pair of F5 Turbo Monoblocks that I am building, and an eagle-eyed observer spotted it right away when I posted pics. It would have taken me weeks to identify the issue, if I could have done so at all! I will be posting more details of my experiences with these projects in the coming months, but I can say this with certainty: for around $500 to $700 you can build an amp that is comparable to amps in the $3000 range. For around $1000 to $1300, you can build an amp that is comparable to amps in the $5000 to $7000 range. It’s hard to beat that deal.