Just thought I’d share my recent thoughts on bang-for-the-buck portable audio and answer the simple question – is it possible to spend next to nothing on a complete audio chain and still have pretty good sound?
I was recently involved in an argument with my friend, who is convinced that his iPod Nano (latest gen), used with apple iBuds, of course, is a great-sounding “budget” setup. Well, I consider the $150 he paid to be quite a lot of money for something that sounds, in my opinion, mediocre. Obviously the question had to be asked: how much could I beat that by and still have something that sounds better for casual listening?
The point wasn’t to match the iPod feature-for-feature. The emphasis here was only on the sound quality per dollar, as my friend does not use any of the features anyway and only has a few hundred songs on the Nano. Here’s what I came up with:
4Gb Sansa Clip Zip, refurbished. $29.98 on ebay
Xiaomi Piston 3 Youth Edition, $7.99 shipped from Gearbest.com
Bonus points for getting both in white.
I used the above rig as my primary setup for several days, and I can say that I enjoyed every second of it. I never felt like a huge chunk of the music was missing like I did when I listened to my iPhone 6 with stock EarPods for a day. Yes, it might be harsh and lacking in detail and extension compared to even my everyday “grab-and-go” setup (iPhone 6 and Xiaomi Crystals), but it is still hugely enjoyable with better bass, separation, and even soundstaging compared to the EarPods – and all at just about 1/4 of the cost. If I ever needed money so badly I had to sell all the gear I have and just keep that setup, I wouldn’t be much worse off for it.
I honestly think that with the above setup, one could get much, much better sound than what lots of people listen to. Combine that with the fact that 90% of us already have a viable mp3 player in our phones and we see that portable “Hi-Fi” (and I use the term loosely, to signify sound that had to be “Acquired” by switching out stock components) has no entry cost at all these days – one could simply skip lunch and get started in the hobby.
My complete setup comes out to less than $40, and it sounds great. As a final test I had my friend listen to it and his response, ironically, was that while mine may sound better, the stock buds on current-gen Apple products are “good enough” to save some money by not replacing them.
Yes, people often say that hi-fi as a hobby is a terrible drain on the wallet. But thanks to knowing where to look and what to buy, I can enjoy wonderful tunes for under $40 total. I’d say that’s a good deal.