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How to build a budget hi-fi system with high-quality sound

BBC Music Magazine's audio expert Chris Haslam picks out the best CD player, amplifier and speaker systems for audiophiles on a budget

How to build a budget hi-fi system with high-quality sound

The best CD player and amplifier for a lower budget

Cambridge Audio AXC35 & AXA35
£279/£299

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Paired with the equally excellent value AXA35 (£299) amplifier, the AXC35 CD player offers a big step up from entry-level, boasting sleek looks, excellent build quality and an assured performance that will make the most of your CDs. It’s a no-frills option, but the high-quality digital to analogue converter (DAC) does a commendable job of managing all the intricacies of a lavish orchestral recording. cambridgeaudio.com

The best value hi-fi speaker system

Q Acoustics 3020i
£249

Regular readers will be familiar with my appreciation of all things Q Acoustic; for my money, you’ll not find better sounding speakers for less. The 3020i has 20mm soft dome tweeters and 12.5cm mid/ bass drivers inside a solid cabinet, with vibration-reducing technology inherited from their £4,000 Concept 500 loudspeakers. The result is a bargain that boasts unrivalled levels of dynamism and detail. qacoustics.co.uk

The best budget complete sound system

Denon DT-1
£259

Admittedly, many audiophiles spend more than £250 on cables alone, but with the DT-1, Denon has proven, and not for the first time, that you can enjoy great sound and a multitude of features without spending thousands. This traditionally styled all-in-one hi-fi features two 15-watt amplifiers, CD player, FM/AM radio and Bluetooth streaming convenience and both aux and optical inputs for connecting portable music players and TVs.

Add in their pair of stereo speakers (12cm woofers and 25mm soft-dome tweeter) and you’ve got a complete audio system in one neat, easy-to-use package. Don’t expect to be blown away by the sound quality, but compared to the majority of similarly priced all-in-one streaming speaker systems, the DT-1 offers a confident and assured performance with plenty of punch. It’s a pity there’s no DAB radio, but you can still stream your favourite stations via Bluetooth and the BBC Sounds app. denon.co.uk

What you need to know before buying budget hi-fi equipment

Which features do you require for your step?

Make a checklist of the features you need, such as DAB radio, Bluetooth or headphone output; but be warned, if it’s cheap and bursting with hi-tech features, sound quality may well be an afterthought. Look for products that do the basics well, with the money spent where it counts on quality components such as DACs and robust speaker cabinetry.

Which are the best brands for high-quality budget audio equipment?

For the best sound quality, stick to well-established audio brands such as Denon, Marantz and Cambridge Audio who have a track record in great-value products, plus their reputation to maintain. Bigger brands also drip down features from premium ranges to the cheaper collections.

What add-ons do you need for your system?

Remember to factor in costs such as speaker cables, speaker stands and possibly even a phono stage if you’re looking to connect a turntable to your amplifier.

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Words by Chris Haslam