Holiday Shopping for Audiophiles

The feedback on our past two holiday lists (here and here) have been great, and some of the emails have been very heart warming tales of family and friendship.

Dave’s email was a bit more motivational to me: “You’re a big music guy — how about some suggestions for us shoppers who are not as plugged into the latest music gadgets & electronics?

That is a great idea — lets start small, and work our way up:

Microsoft Limited Edition Zune HD 64GB . . .  Snap! Hahaha,  just kidding, whoTF buys a Zune?

• We start off with the iPod, the Sony Walkman of the 21st century. I have 3 around the home  — a Touch, (really a phoneless iPhone); the 5th Gen Apple iPod nano 16 GB (discontinued) and lastly, a classic 7th Gen 160 GB Black Apple iPod in the cars — the 7 gen 160gb remains my favorite at ($229).

Which ever iPod you choose, the next step is playback — through headphones, computer or dock.

On my iMac at home, I have been using the Harman Kardon SoundSticks. They sound great, look cool, and have held up well to my abuse. (Sounds great/looks cool is a theme you will soon recognize). $190 at Amazon; (They were briefly on sale at J&R for $119 NYT print advert).

I am not a fan of the iPod earbuds, and I always use something else.  There are countless headphone options, depending upon your listening preferences. For travel, I use the Bose NoiseReduction phones ($200, but they get discounted refurbished at Bose occasionally).

Watch for when Amazon either discontinues items or runs a special — I really like the Monster Turbine High-Performance In-Ear Speakers — but at $179.95, they are way pricey — I paid a mere $59 for them during some special.


• When it comes to sound docks, there are lots of choices, and lots of price points —

Just understand the law of diminishing returns — just cause something is 3X the price, do not assume that it sounds 3X better. Here are 3 “sounds great/looks cool” options:

Bose Sound Dock ($229) These look good, sound very good, and were the first mainstream audiophile product for the iPod. (I have one in the Kitchen/dining room)

Bowers & Wilkens (B&W) Zeppelin ($600)  These look even cooler, and sound better than the Bose, but are nearly 3X the price.

Yeah, I want one . . .

Bang & Olufsen (B&O) ($1000) Kinda funky looking (In addition to Black or White, you can dress them in all manner of colors). Sure, they sound great — but $1,000? (Seems a bit over the top).

I would do the B&W if I didn’t have the Bose already.


Enough of mobile audio, lets talk serious equipment:

In terms of home theater and audio, there are unending choices.And of course, the same rules of diminishing returns apply. Spending more gets you some incremental improvements, but it is not proportional.

When we moved into this house, it allowed me to have a man cave. The first purchase was the  Pioneer Elite TV (spectacular video). My audio is a Marantz AV receiver and Kef speakers — its good, solid gear, but I am ready for an upgrade.

About those upgrades: Every few years, it seems I have a new object of desire. I rarely act on these, and so only every 5th desire comes under serious consideration. A few years ago, it was the Arcam AV receiver with the big Kef speakers. Now, I am lusting after Rotel separates with B&W speakers. (My audio limitations are not so much as space as what I can get past the wife).

My pal Dennis is the owner of Park Avenue Audio — I’ve known his family, who owned the shop in NYC since the 1960s, for literally decades. He and his brother Jeff have been tremendously insightful and educational to me over the years. I told him about this post, and he helped me put together a few systems in different price ranges. (For more info, you can email Dennis  at

$50k, $20k, and $5k system suggestions are after the jump . . .

Here are three audiophile systems for different budgets (note that I did not include BluRay player, subwoofer, center or rear channel speakers; I assume most people will want some or all of these add ons):

3) Under $50k: McIntosh/B&W pairing:

B&W 800 Series Diamond ($24,000/pr)

Spectacular speakers regardless of price — vivid, life like, powerful…

click picture for more info

McIntosh MX150
12-channel, 2-zone Audio Video Preamplifier ($12,000)

Money no object? McIntosh has become the audiophile’s standard:

McIntosh MC205
FIVE CHANNEL POWER AMPLIFIER x 200 watts per channel ($6,500)

The McIntosh/B&W800 system is perfect for the 2 + 20 Hedge Fund Manager who had a good year . . .


2)  Under $20k: Rotel/B&W

For those with discretionary income, but trying not to show off, this is an excellent combination of quality and price:

B&W 802 Series Diamond ($15,000/pr)

Fantastic speakers, near the sound quality of their more expensive siblings (B&W 800), but at 40% less cost:

Rotel RSP-1570 Home Theater Surround Processor/Preamplifier ($2199)

Outstanding quality sound relative to pricing, very simple to set up and use, with a very nice clean design. I really like this Rotel combo.

Rotel RMB1575 Power Amplifier ($2799)

Rotel’s 5 x 250 watt power amplifier


~$12k: Rotel/B&W

Note that the system above can be had for under $12k by swapping the amp to the 1565 (its a 100 watts x 5) at $1299 and then using the B&W 804 speakers for about $8k.


1) Under $5,000

Marantz SR7005  A/V Receiver   $1599

Marantz makes solid products at a reasonable price point. Clean design for this all in one AV receiver.

Definitive Technology Mythos STS     L/R      $3000/pr

The Mythos are consistently a very highly rated speaker:

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