An audiophile system at moderate costs.

Updated: 10-12-2017

The limits for audiophile systems are not defined. The old HI-FI norm (DIN45500) did put explicit limits based on achievable performance in those days. The more recent norm DIN EN 61305 is focusing on measuring methods and specification of performance.
Wikipedia writes: “An audiophile is a person who is enthusiastic about high-fidelity sound reproduction”. Thus, an audiophile systems is one considered appropriate by audiophile persons. Indeed a subjective definition. At least it is about high-fidelity sound reproduction.

For a system with loudspeakers you need as a minimum:

For a moderate cost system it is proposed to use music data-files (preferably in FLAC format) on your smart-phone or laptop, streaming the information to an external DAC (eventually using Bluetooth) and then send the analog signal through the power amplifier to the loudspeakers.

You probably have a smart-phone or a laptop already. The DAC should be at least 24 bit and able to handle a sampling-rate of at least 96KHz. Such can be found from around 40 EUR and upwards. The better ones have an optical input (Toslink) as well as a USB input. You may even buy a DAC with a Bluetooth input that accepts the aptX protocol. Building an external DAC from scratch yourself is a lot of work and typically without performance gains or savings. The power amplifier with a volume control is ideal for DIY and inspiration may be found in these pages. The loudspeakers should, as it has been repeated for decades, be where you invest most of your money. Poor loudspeakers always leave a poor system. The speaker cables should be of good quality with a large cross-section without being excessive.
Excluding the smart-phone or laptop, such a system can be made for 300-600 EUR and it will perform much better than most fully commercial systems at higher costs.

One statement will be made here: It is much more important that a system sounds good and has a low distortion (Total Harmonic Distortion / THD) than it is particularly powerful (Watt). Just 10 Watt will do for most daily listening and 20-50 Watt will normally do in your living room.

For dance parties or public address purposes more hundred Watts may be needed but the quality is less important. Borough a party amplifier when you need it. Be aware that excessive sound levels may damage your hearing for the future and limit your abilities as an audiophile.
High quality sound is much more relaxing than dull sound and you may start appreciating even other kind of music than what you used to listen to.
Also, remember there is a limit in the human physiology. Differences between music with 0.01% distortion and 0.0001% distortion is only possible to hear for very trained ears. Often the loudspeakers set the limit anyway. You can spend thousands and even ten thousands on a system and your gains in sound quality are not correspondingly large. Most of us have moderate means and this is why the focus here is on how to get most out of a limited budget.
Audiophile sound is subjective and often characterized by a "transparent" sound where you can hear all instruments playing better and where details, like breathing of the singer, can be noticed. Sometimes such sound is described as “analytic”. An audiophile music system must be able to handle even deep bass well, but not with an unnatural level. The bass must be well controlled and die-out naturally (fast) such as it is the case with the sound from a bass drum.
Far more competent audiophiles than us can tell you more about what to appreciate from a high quality sound system.

As power supply for the power amplifier you can, at least for a start, often use a power adapter of the type typically used for laptops. For amplifiers with a single supply voltage a standard 19V/90W adapter will in many cases do fine with some extra decoupling capacitors (4700uF-10000uF/35V) connected at the output. Even better are 12V-24V adjustable 96 Watt adapters where you can vary the supply voltage according to the amplifier.

Money can be saved by re-use of certain components from elder amplifiers or receivers that are due for being trashed. The power transformer and eventually the large electrolytic power-line decoupling capacitors are often worth saving. Heat-sinks, some connectors and good quality potentiometers as well. In the past components were often manufactured with a higher quality (and price) than today and deserve a second life. Elder, high quality DAC's (external) have with success been re-worked to include modern OP-AMP's.

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