Building a stereo with a budget of $1,000 to $2,000 (Week 17, 2022)

Sound Advice
By Don Lindich

Week 17, 2022

Q. I want to set up a stereo with a record player and CD player in my garage gameroom, which is 400 square feet. What would you recommend for a budget of $1,000 to $2,000?

-D.D., San Jose, CA

A. When building a system you should start by choosing speakers, then a receiver or amplifier with adequate clean power to drive them in your room. After this you add sources. When playing records the turntable is or paramount importance, right up there with the speakers. Playing CDs is not as critical and you can get by with a less expensive component.

With a 400 square foot room you will be best served with floorstanding speakers, which will make more bass than bookshelf speakers of the same price. The $799 Emotiva Airmotiv T1+ sound phenomenal and are the big brother of the Emotiva Airmotiv T-Zero floorstanding speakers, my Product of the Year winner for 2019. I think the T-Zero+ is a little bit small for your room though you could probably get by with it, but since you have the budget I am recommending the larger T1+ model.

The T-Zero speakers I loved so much are currently on closeout as the updated T-Zero+ model for $399. The original launch price for the original T-Zero was this same $399, but it was raised to $499 due to the pandemic and increased costs all the way around. I still loved these speakers at $499, but I love them a whole lot more at $399 and they are once again one of the best buys in audio. I don’t know what Emotiva has planned for the future but I hope they make an updated Airmotiv floorstanding speaker for under $500. If you missed my columns about the T-Zero over the past few years and are in the market for speakers under $400, I strongly suggest you check them out on my website and then head to to get a pair while you still can.

The $549 Cambridge Audio AXR85 is my favorite mid-priced receiver by virtue of its beautiful workmanship, excellent sound and ease of use. It will make an excellent match to the Emotiva T1+ speakers.

The Music Hall MMF-1.5 Vessel Special turntable with its upgraded cartridge is still available from for $498. Snag one while you still can! The Panasonic S700 DVD player will also play CDs and sounds quite good doing so, though it does not look fancy or feel expensive. For only $49 though it saves funds to be used towards other parts of the system that are more critical.

This all comes out to $1,895. Don’t buy expensive cables or speaker wire as they are a waste of money. Amazon Basics or Monoprice connection cables will do a fine job for under $10 per set, and you only need one set (for the DVD player.) A 50-foot roll of 16-gauge Amazon Basics speaker wire is $9.98, the 100-foot roll, $13.48.

At the lower end of your price range my recommendations are somewhat similar. Get the $399 Emotiva T-Zero+ speakers mentioned above, a $399 Cambridge Audio AXA35 Integrated Amplifier, and the $49 Panasonic S700 DVD/CD player. A $249.99 Fluance RT81 turntable finishes your system for $1,096.

Even if you buy the less expensive system I think you will be shocked at how good it is for a little over $1,000. Readers, if any of you try out these systems please contact me with your experiences. I look forward to hearing from you!