By Don Lindich
Week 27, 2019
Q. I have a new Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB turntable with an LP Gear The Vessel A3SE cartridge. I am ready to upgrade my Onkyo amplifier and large floor speakers, both of which are quite old. Can you give me a few options for an amplifier and matching speakers, up to $1,500 total?
-M.O., Union City, CA
A. A few weeks ago I promised I would be announcing an Amazon Prime Day deal on an excellent amplifier. That deal is the Cambridge Audio Topaz AM5 integrated amplifier for $100, a 50% discount from the $200 list price. The Topaz AM5 is a high quality 25-watt amplifier in the classic British hi-fi tradition, with great sound and real-world power that belies its modest rating, including the ability to work with 4-ohm speakers. The Topaz AM5 is also beautifully made in a way you would not expect from a $200 component. I loved it when it was on sale for $169, and for $100 it is practically a giveaway. This deal provides a unique opportunity to build an exceptional system at a low price. Prime Day starts Monday, July 15, 2019, so mark your calendars!
I am going to start with some lower-priced speakers and work my way up to your $1,500 maximum. Then, for those starting from scratch I will suggest a Bluetooth streamer, some turntables and a few CD players that can be used to complete an entire system.
Sony’s Core SS-CS5 bookshelf speakers usually sell for $120. Add the amp for $100 and you have a nice system foundation for only $220, little more than the list price of the amplifier itself. sony.com
Polk Audio’s Signature S20 bookshelf speakers sell online for $229. With the amplifier you are at $329 total. The Polks are great speakers and this system will sound much better than you might expect for the price. polkaudio.com
The $399 Emotiva Airmotiv T-Zero tower speakers have been praised at length in this column, with their enticing, transparent high-end sound. With amplifier, this combo is $499. emotiva.com
Now it is time to go big! The $1,400 GoldenEar Triton 7 towers are my favorite speakers under $1500. If you are not afraid to spend all of that $1,500, get the Triton 7 towers and the AM5 amp, then prepare for audio nirvana. Seriously, nirvana. The Triton 7s will make your jaw drop open with their detail, realism and utter transparency. goldenear.com
Now it is time for music sources. The $23 esinkin W-29-us Bluetooth audio adapter will connect to one of the amplifier inputs and stream music from your portable devices. amazon.com
Some great turntables are the $99 Audio-Technica AT-LP60, $249 Fluance RT81, $349 Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB with The Vessel A3SE, $499 Music Hall MMF-1.5 The Vessel Special, and $799 Audio-Technica AT-LP7. The two turntables with The Vessel cartridges are available exclusively from lpgear.com.
You do not need to spend a lot on a disc player. The $33 Sony DVPSR210P DVD/CD player would be perfectly adequate. For $126 the TEAC CD-P650-B offers a full-sized chassis, a USB connection for an iPod or iPhone, and can record from CDs to USB flash drives.
The sweet spot for performance and price? I would say the Topaz AM5, Emotiva T-Zero, MMF-1.5 The Vessel Special, esinkin Bluetooth receiver and Sony DVPSR210P for a total of $1,053. The AM5, Polk S20, AT-LP60 with esinkin receiver and Sony DVPSR210P for $385 is extremely strong, too.