By Don Lindich
Week 45, 2020
Q. I am helping my son put together a stereo system that will have speakers placed on shelves that are somewhat high on a wall. He has a total budget of $600 to $750 and wants a Bluetooth-capable amp with wired speakers. What do you recommend in this price range?
-S.C., Turtle River, MN
A. Your correspondence gives me an opportunity to combine some gift recommendations with a Q&A reply. But first, I need to comment about gift-giving challenges some may encounter this year.
I have been in touch with my industry contacts over the past few weeks and they report there have been product shortages and backorders related to disruptions in the supply chain, an ongoing effect of the pandemic. After all, if you are trying to manufacture a stereo receiver but the subcontractor who makes the knobs can’t deliver the parts, you can’t deliver the finished product. It may be a good idea to do your holiday shopping early and if you see something you really want in stock, best to get it now rather than later. It may not be available if you wait.
The speakers are the key to great sound and that leads to my favorite sub-$500 bookshelf speaker, the 3020i from British manufacturer Q Acoustics. The 3020i has racked up an impressive collection of awards, including a speaker shootout win in “Wirecutter” where it defeated two dozen other speakers to take the crown. One of the keys to the great sound is the tweeter, which combines a concentric ring radiator tweeter with a conventional dome tweeter. Ring radiator tweeters are typically only found in expensive speaker designs, for example the Polk Legend L100 bookshelf speakers that I have praised so often. The 3020i speakers are also quite compact, much more than one would expect given the overall sonic output and the small footprint is perfect for shelf mounting.
The Q Acoustics 3020i bookshelf speakers list for $314.99. Until November 10th you can save 15% with the code SA15, bringing the price down to only $267.74. The code only works on qacoustics.com and shipping is free.
If you want to stay around $400 total you can get the Yamaha R-S202B stereo receiver. It lists for $179 but typically sells for $149. Yamaha lists the power as “140 watts/channel at 10% distortion” which means nothing, because 10% distortion is completely unlistenable. Though the true amount of power the receiver produces is a mystery and certainly far less than 140 watts per channel, the Yamaha will do the job for those on a tight budget. usa.yamaha.com
The Cambridge Audio AXR85 stereo receiver is $399, leading to a total of $667. If the Yamaha is akin to a Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic that provides basic transportation, the AXR85 is more like a BMW or Mercedes that combines performance, style and luxury. The AXR85 is rated at 85 watts per channel, sounds great, feels solid, is beautifully finished and has a wonderful tactile feel. The AXR85 and the 3020i make an excellent combination that is smack-dab in the middle of your budget range. cambridgeaudio.com
In the cost-no-object category you should check out the $499 SVS Prime Soundbase. When combined with the speakers you a bit above the $750 budget, but you may find it worth the extra expense. It produces a potent 150 watts per channel and has advanced digital capabilities, all combined in a compact component with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity. It works with the DTS Play-Fi app to connect with your favorite music and streaming sources. svsound.com