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$6,000 Recommended Two-Channel Stereo System

by June 04, 2014
Contributors:

Listening to music on headphones, car speakers or a boom box is how most people have grown accustomed too. Unfortunately, none of these methods can evoke the emotion or sense of realism that comes in a properly setup two-channel stereo system. For many people, listening to music on a great two-channel system for the first time is like rediscovering their music collection. There are innumerable combinations of equipment that one could choose and it can be a very daunting task for anyone to sift through the options and put together a well rounded system. It is possible to put together a great budget stereo system, but this is not that system. We chose to put together a system that will allow someone to take a leap into high-end audio with confidence that the end result will be sonic bliss. If you want a serious music listening rig that looks good, sounds great, and is properly matched, then here is our recommended 5k-6k two-channel setup.

Our goals were to:

  • Build a system that will last for many years, much longer than typical home theater equipment
  • Put together a balanced system so there is no "weakest link" in the chain, every piece must be high quality
  • Allow listeners to experience music in a way that they likely never have before
  • Be aesthetically pleasing on the eyes and evoke a sense of pride in ownership

Speakers and Amplifier

Speakers - Martin Logan ElectroMotion ESL

MSRP: $2,195/pair

Martin Logan ElectroMotion

Let’s cover the most subjective and expensive piece of the system first, the speakers. There are a lot of great choices on the market, but we decided on the Martin Logan ElectroMotion ESL speakers for a number of reasons. Elecrostatic (ESL) speakers have historically been very expensive, but Martin Logan has brought that price down to $2,195/pr and advanced the technology more than any other ESL speaker manufacturer. With the ElectroMotion you can step into the exact same ESL technology used in their $25k/pr CLX loudspeakers for much, much less. When properly setup these speakers have very clear highs, an airy sound quality and excellent imaging. The ESL panel handles frequencies down to 500Hz, below which an 8” paper cone driver takes over and plays down to 42Hz. The cabinet is bottom ported for added bass response. They are pretty easy speakers to drive thanks to a 6 Ohm impedance and 91 dB sensitivity, which means you should have plenty of headroom with the recommended amp. In addition to superb sound quality, these speakers are visually striking, especially for anyone who has never seen an ESL speaker before. The only real knock against these speakers is that you need to be pretty much on axis for optimal listening, but with critical two-channel listening that shouldn't be a problem. Also, they are not made to play quite as loud as some other speakers in this price range. If you want speakers with a wider dispersion pattern and that can play to ridiculous volume levels, then some of the alternatives below should meet your needs nicely.

Alternatives:Salk SongTower QWT | Aperion Verus Grand

Integrated Amplifier - Yamaha A-S1000

MSRP: $1,799

A quality amplifier is likely to outlast everything else in your system, we so felt that it was necessary to recommend an amplifier that is robust enough to handle almost any speakers you might purchase in the future. Yamaha has gotten back to their HiFi roots with the A-S1000 2ch. integrated amplifier. This 48.5lb amplifier puts out 90w per channel at 8 ohms and 140w per channel at 4 ohms. While many amplifiers fudge their amplifier ratings with high THD or other marketing gimmicks, the 90w and 140w ratings are full bandwidth 20Hz-20kHz at 0.02% THD RMS power ratings with both channels driven. Based on the size of the power supply and heatsink area, we expect the A-S1000 to deliver above and beyond its conservative power ratings.  This amplifier supports A and B channel connections for bi-wiring.  On the back of this amp is a dedicated phono input with ground and 4 other line-level inputs. There are also bass, treble and balance controls. A ¼” headphone jack is available for use if you want to listen to music without bothering anyone else.

AS1000 Silver Front            AS1000 Silver Top

Yamaha A-S1000 Front Panel View and Top Down View

Sources

SACD Player - Marantz SA8005

MSRP: $1,199

Marantz SA8004 SACD Player

In this setup we are relying on each source to have the same build quality as the speakers and amp. The Marantz SA8005 not only supports CD and SACD formats, but also brings this system into the 21st century with the inclusion of a USB input. We know that SACD is a limited format but thought it necessary to include it because so many extremely high quality recordings are available on SACD. However, we also know that many new recordings are available in Hi-Resolution digital downloads and wanted to make sure all of the new music would also work with this system. The front and rear USB ports on the SA8005 can be hooked up to a computer, flash drive, or iPod for music. They also support 24-bit 96kHz files for lossless or uncompressed audio. If you don’t need SACD support or would rather forgo a USB input for a focus on CD and SACDs, then check out some of the alternatives below.

Turntable - Pro-Ject Debut Carbon

MSRP: $399

Pro-Ject Debut Carbon

The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon is widely regarded as a great record player for the money. The Debut Carbon is an updated version of the Debut iii. It has a 8.6” carbon tonearm, sorbothane motor suspension and precision belt drive with synchronous motor. The main platter is also improved over the Debut iii with higher diameter and more weight. It also comes with a high quality cartridge from Ortofon. Finally, because vinyl is just as much about style as anything else, it is available in 7 different high-gloss colors


Cables and Protection

Cables: Blue Jeans Cables (~$150)Blue Jeans Cables

Blue Jeans is our go to cable vendor for a simple reason: they offer high quality products at affordable prices, and unlike so many other cable companies, they hold the BS. They offer raw 12AWG speaker wire starting at $0.52/foot, though they also sell terminated cables for a bit extra. Blue Jeans also sells no-nonsense interconnects (including balanced XLR cables) and subwoofer cables. Prices will of course vary based on the lengths that you need; however, the total seen above is based on the following:


    Pair of 15’ Belden 5000UE speaker wire terminated in banana plugs: $75.50

    2x 3.5’ Belden LC-1 stereo interconnects from sources to the Yamaha A-S1000: $65.00

Power Center - Panamax MR4300

MSRP: $299

Panamax MR4300

If you are going to put thousands of dollars into an awesome stereo system it would be foolish to not spend a few hundred dollars to protect the equipment. The Panamax MR4300 is an updated model of the M4300-PM and will allow you to rest easy during a big storm. Unlike a basic surge protector, it constantly monitors the incoming voltage and will automatically disconnect and reconnect power to your equipment if the voltage is too high or too low. It addition to bullet-proof protection, it also has two isolated filtering banks (one of which is high-current) to make sure any noise present in the electrical lines is removed. Finally, the MR4300 has a few convenience features, such as two front mounted LED lights that shine down on your equipment (45 degree rotation) and an extra outlet and USB charging port on front.

Alternatives: Panamax M8-AV-Pro

System Break Down & Conclusion

Speakers Martin Logan Electromotion ESL $2,195
Amp Yamaha A-S1000 $1,799
SACD Player Marantz SA8005 $1,199
Turntable Pro-Ject Debut Carbon $399
Cabling Blue Jeans Cables
~$150
Power Center Panamax MR4300 $299
Total  
$6,041

If you purchase everything at MSRP this system will set you back $6,041, sans tax. However, in general we don't expect it to cost that much; really, who pays MSRP anymore? If you decided that you didn't want SACD playback, you could save another few hundred dollars by going with one of the other recommended CD players. Less costly alternatives are also recommended for speakers, turntable, and power center. All in all, you should be comfortable mixing and matching any of the equipment on this list and still be confident that you will end up with a great sounding two-channel music system that will last you for many years.

 

Confused about what AV Gear to buy or how to set it up? Join our Exclusive Audioholics E-Book Membership Program!

 

About the author:

Cliff, like many of us, has always loved home theater equipment. In high school he landed a job at Best Buy that started his path towards actual high quality audio. His first surround sound was a Klipsch 5.1 system. After that he was hooked, moving from Klipsch to Polk to Definitive Technology, and so on. Eventually, Cliff ended up doing custom installation work for Best Buy and then for a "Ma & Pa" shop in Mankato, MN.

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Recent Forum Posts:

fmw posts on December 03, 2015 16:35
haraldo, post: 1106791, member: 32412
Well, perfect technology doesn't really mean anything does it? if it doesn't support what we are seeking….
Did I say something about a perfect technology or make a suggestion of what anybody is seeking? I only commented on differences in the sound quality of digital vs. analog vinyl. I did that only because you asked. Why did you ask? Did you want to start an argument? I don't care what you believe or what you prefer. That is your business.
haraldo posts on December 03, 2015 15:07
fmw, post: 1106790, member: 26848
You misunderstand. I don't care if you spin records. I just answered your question. If you don't like the answer then I'm not surprised.

Well, perfect technology doesn't really mean anything does it? if it doesn't support what we are seeking….
fmw posts on December 03, 2015 15:02
haraldo, post: 1106789, member: 32412
You seem to not mention the one single thing that, at least to me, is the one most important facet of everything: musical pleasure = enjoy the music

Some of the best musical pleasure I had was way back, when I had a proper vinyl rig with a quite good Ortofon mc pickup going to a Nikko pre/power set and Stax electrostatic headphones … The music and enjoyment from this rig is beyound what I experience today, and my rig is significantly more expensive and high resolution than what was those days…
(Squeezebox, Benchmark DAC1, Krell KAV-400 xi, Meadowlark Kestrel 2 / Duntech PCL-15)
- Maybe the vinyl rig was the difference…
- Maybe I'm much more fuzzy now than I was…
- Maybe my memory is cheating me…
- Maybe I'm scr$£% by listening to $500k+ systems in a hi-end shop and I'm never gonna enjoy a cheap hi-fi system again
- Maybe it's something else…

However, I am not confident about the “technical superiority” of a digital perfect playback chain…

A while ago I was listening to a pair of Sonus Faber Guarneri Evolution driven by a Devialet 200 using the SAM digital correction that supposedly is going to correct phase and frequency issues, but the funny thing is that I enjoyed the music more when SAM was turned off as opposed to on. In this situation, it was apparently more live and dynamic when SAM was off!!!!!
So how can it be that the digital correction wonder that supposedly is magic makes the music less involving? Beats me?

I believe that our brain can to some extent ignore the socalled flaws of vinyl, I believe in vinyl and for sure the vinyl rig will be going back into my house, maybe then I will understand that I was wrong about my views on vinyl, or maybe I will understand that I was correct.

I suggest that maybe in a low-end rig you will get more musical pleasure from a vinyl rig than a similarly priced digital playback chain, don't throw out the vinyl rig guys

You misunderstand. I don't care if you spin records. I just answered your question. If you don't like the answer then I'm not surprised.
haraldo posts on December 03, 2015 14:35
fmw, post: 1106767, member: 26848
Simply the fact that vinyl has more noise and lower dynamic range than digital. Digital provides better sound. As long as the same content is available digitally there is no reason other than nostalgia to get into an old technology like that. Most of us old timers are thrilled we don't have to spin records any longer.

You seem to not mention the one single thing that, at least to me, is the one most important facet of everything: musical pleasure = enjoy the music

Some of the best musical pleasure I had was way back, when I had a proper vinyl rig with a quite good Ortofon mc pickup going to a Nikko pre/power set and Stax electrostatic headphones … The music and enjoyment from this rig is beyound what I experience today, and my rig is significantly more expensive and high resolution than what was those days…
(Squeezebox, Benchmark DAC1, Krell KAV-400 xi, Meadowlark Kestrel 2 / Duntech PCL-15)
- Maybe the vinyl rig was the difference…
- Maybe I'm much more fuzzy now than I was…
- Maybe my memory is cheating me…
- Maybe I'm scr$£% by listening to $500k+ systems in a hi-end shop and I'm never gonna enjoy a cheap hi-fi system again
- Maybe it's something else…

However, I am not confident about the “technical superiority” of a digital perfect playback chain…

A while ago I was listening to a pair of Sonus Faber Guarneri Evolution driven by a Devialet 200 using the SAM digital correction that supposedly is going to correct phase and frequency issues, but the funny thing is that I enjoyed the music more when SAM was turned off as opposed to on. In this situation, it was apparently more live and dynamic when SAM was off!!!!!
So how can it be that the digital correction wonder that supposedly is magic makes the music less involving? Beats me?

I believe that our brain can to some extent ignore the socalled flaws of vinyl, I believe in vinyl and for sure the vinyl rig will be going back into my house, maybe then I will understand that I was wrong about my views on vinyl, or maybe I will understand that I was correct.

I suggest that maybe in a low-end rig you will get more musical pleasure from a vinyl rig than a similarly priced digital playback chain, don't throw out the vinyl rig guys
slipperybidness posts on December 03, 2015 12:54
haraldo, post: 1106727, member: 32412
Not sure I understand, could you please enlighten me…. What are the well known reasons for not getting into vinyl?
Hipsters
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