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How to build the stereo of your dreams



Building the perfect hi-fi system is the dream of audiophiles around the world – and it’s not as out of reach as you might think.

These days, building the best hi-fi system for your needs doesn’t have to cost the world dearly or fill your entire house with boring cables and cumbersome equipment; there are plenty of options for choosing the best speakers, amplifiers, turntables, and music players for the space you have.

Many of these devices also come with modern conveniences like wireless connectivity, built-in voice assistants, and multi-room capabilities, meaning your hi-fi system can be as modern (or as old school) as your heart. the desire.

However, before embarking on a shopping spree, it is important to understand all the different components that will make up your new stereo, as well as to have a rough idea of ​​what features you want and what you budget for. want to respect. at.

That’s why we’ve put together this handy guide on everything you need to know about building the hi-fi system you’ve been dreaming of since buying your first record.

The best buys for your new stereo

Are you just looking for some quick hot buys? Before going any further, check out the products below – all of which could make fantastic additions to your new hi-fi system.

The bottom line: what is a hi-fi system?

Three basic elements make up a hi-fi system: a source, an amplification and speakers.

Your source can be anything from a music streaming service played on your smartphone to a turntable – you can even use a CD player if you still have one.

An amplifier takes the weak electrical signal generated by your source and feeds it enough to power your speakers. It should be noted that many sources come with built-in amplifiers – even your smartphone contains a small amplifier, although using a separate DAC (digital-to-analog converter) significantly improves sound quality.

Finally, there are the speakers. There is a lot to choose from when it comes to this component, whether you are looking for smart wireless speakers, powerful floorstanding speakers, or space-saving bookshelf speakers.

rotating plate

You can use a record player as the primary audio source. (Image credit: TechRadar)

Define your budget

Building a hi-fi system doesn’t have to be a huge drain on your bank account; Sure, you could be spending thousands or even millions on a huge, state-of-the-art setup, but you really don’t have to.

What do i need?

At TechRadar, we have plenty of guides on what audio kit items you might need to build your new hi-fi system.

Let’s start with the speakers; Check out our guides to the best stereo speakers, the best bluetooth speakers, the best smart speakers, the best soundbars and the best wireless speakers. Listen solo? Check out the best headphones you can buy.

Need to buy a source? Read our guides to the best turntables, the best TVs, the best phones for music, and the best laptops. If you’re using a record player, be sure to check out our guide on setting up a record player.

If the audio source of your choice does not have a built-in amplifier, you will need to purchase one. Check out our amplifier reviews for more information, as well as the best portable DACs to amplify the metallic sound of your smartphone.

If you’re trying to limit the amount you spend, it’s a good idea to figure out what type of kit you might already have at home. As we mentioned, you can use a smartphone, laptop, or TV as your music source, which would work well with wireless speaker systems like Sonos, Bowers & Wilkins, and Harman Kardon.

A turntable is spinning in your attic? Check to see if your turntable has a built-in phono stage – if so, you could save money on purchasing an external amplifier. Likewise, you can save money on an amplifier by purchasing an all-in-one music player like the Naim Uniti Atom – all you have to do is add speakers, and you’re good to go. from.

Only budget for one speaker right now? Discover models equipped with 360-degree grilles and diffusing sound from all angles; the Amazon Echo Studio is a good place to start.

Whichever source-amplifier-speaker combination you choose, be sure to set a realistic budget – and remember that you can always add components to your hi-fi system down the line, letting it grow. with you over time.

music streamer

The Naim Uniti Atom is an all-in-one streamer – just add speakers. (Image credit: Naim)

Cables, brackets and other add-ons

If you opt for a wired system, be sure to budget for cables; high quality cables can cost up to $ 40 / £ 40.

Likewise, you must be wondering whether you should buy brackets or a wall mount kit for your speakers. Again, these extras can add up quickly and it’s easy to forget to factor them into your budget.

For your source device and amplifier, determine whether you need to purchase an AV bracket or an AV rack to keep everything neat and tidy; If you are using a record player as a source, make sure you have a solid, solid surface for it to sit on. You don’t necessarily need to buy new furniture for this – you can save money by reallocating what you already have.

Design for your home

There’s no point paying for huge floorstanding speakers if your space is small; Likewise, a pair of tidy bookshelf speakers is unlikely to suffice if you are building your hi-fi system in a large space.

Likewise, you need to think about the purpose of your stereo. For example, if you want it to double as a home theater setup and use your TV as the source device, you can invest in a sound bar that can be easily mounted on the wall or placed on your TV stand.

The placement of your speakers is extremely important for the audio quality that your hi-fi system will be able to achieve; ideally, the stereo speakers (left and right) should be at least two meters apart and very slightly tilted towards where you are going to sit and enjoy your music.

While space constraints can leave you with little to choose from, try not to place your speakers in corners or too close to walls – this can cause bass to jam other frequencies.

In addition to saving money, purchasing built-in components – like a turntable with built-in phonostage or an all-in-one music player – saves valuable space when it gets expensive.

Make sure to take into account any additional furniture that might take up space; AV racks and racks, for example.

stereo speakers

Stereo speakers should be placed at least two meters apart in an ideal world. (Image credit: KEF)

Additional features to look for

Many of the components that will make up your hi-fi system these days come with additional smart features such as wireless connectivity, multi-room playback, and built-in voice assistants.

Let’s talk about wireless speakers first. In the old days, we might have discouraged you from relying on Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to connect your audio devices, but nowadays the difference in quality between wireless and wired connectivity will only be noticeable to the most ears. experts.

Sonos and Bowers & Wilkins wireless speaker systems are very convenient, avoiding annoying cables and instead relying on your home Wi-Fi network to communicate with each other. They can also be grouped into different zones so that you can have different systems for specific areas of your home.

These systems don’t come cheap, however, and there’s no harm in looking for cheaper Bluetooth speakers as well. Check out brands like Ultimate Ears; speakers like the UE Boom 3 can be paired with each other for true stereo playback, without the need for cables. Keep in mind, however, that these smaller models won’t be as powerful as their larger counterparts, and you won’t be able to enjoy lossless audio.

wireless speakers

Wireless systems like the Harman Kardon Citation line (pictured) don’t come cheap. (Image credit: Harman Kardon)

Remember, wireless connectivity isn’t just for your speakers; Many source and amplifier devices have built-in Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connectivity, including turntables, music streamers, portable DACs, and CD players.

Besides Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, other wireless connectivity methods like Google Chromecast and Apple AirPlay are worth researching, especially if you already have other devices that work in these brands’ ecosystems.

Another important consideration when choosing your source device is whether you want your hi-fi system to be part of your smart home. Many speakers come with built-in voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and Google Assistant, which means they can be used to control your other smart home devices, as well as to enable hands-on control. free.

Many source devices, including smartphones and smart TVs, come with or at least work with built-in voice assistants.

Last but not least, you need to think about how you want your new hi-fi system to sound and look for specific features that will help you achieve it. For example, if you plan to use your hi-fi system as a home theater setup, you might want to consider speakers and soundbars that support Dolby Atmos immersive audio.

Additionally, if you’re going to be streaming primarily from Tidal or Qobuz – or playing your own high-resolution audio files – make sure all wireless speakers support 24-bit / 192kHz streaming over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.

This article is part of TechRadar’s Tech Resolutions series, an explosion of motivational incentives showing you how to boost your New Year with technology. From Sunday December 26 to Sunday January 2, our series will also reveal how we aim to improve the lives of our gadgets in 2022. So whether you’re looking to become an advanced Chromebook user, beat your take-out obsession with a new air fryer. or use a smartwatch to propel yourself to new fitness heights, we’ll show you how to spend the new year in a flyer. And when things inevitably go wrong, you can always blame the gadgets.