19 Yamaha MCRN470This is how a can of worms opens. A reader in Shepparton, Victoria, wants to buy his daughter a ‘record player’ for her 30th birthday and asks for suggestions. He nominates a budget of $1000. She has been brought up listening to dad’s vinyl and loves it. I warn him that if she truly loves music I’m going to blow the budget because he really should be thinking about an amplifier, a turntable and a pair of speakers. I have certain standards.

There are lots of good stereo amps around from $500 or so. Yamaha’s AS201 is a ripper. NAD starts its range with the C316BEE around $550, there’s Denon’s PMA520 at around $600. The choice of amp depends to some extent on the speakers; it needs to be powerful enough to drive them comfortably so he should take advice on this. She might like an amp with a radio tuner built in. Hi fi folk call these receivers.

The Denon and Yamaha have a phono input which saves buying a separate phono pre-amp to boost signals from the turntable, otherwise she’ll need a phono pre-amp between the turntable and the amplifier.

19 Yamaha AS201Speakers have by far the most influence on the system’s sound and they’ll cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars. As a starter I’m mightily impressed by Q Acoustics 3010s at $399 a pair. They’re compact, good looking and great sounding. Monitor Audio is doing some good ones around $500 and there are some gorgeous Italian Sonus Fabers for $700. It’s a highly personal choice; when people start listening around they’re amazed by how different speakers sound.

19 Pro-ject Debut CarbonTurntable? Pro-Ject’s Debut Carbon 2M Red is brilliant for $629, but when money’s tight the Debut Carbon with the OM10 cartridge is $549 and good value. I’m also partial to the Rega RP1 at around $550. There are many all-in-one turntables, with amp and speakers built in, for a few hundred dollars but they sound pretty crook and most have a ceramic stylus rather than a diamond. Ceramics have a reputation for damaging the grooves of vinyl records over time. Go for a good quality cartridge with a diamond stylus.

All this yields a terrific starter system from around $1500.

But there’s a problem. “This daughter is the youngest of our three and we’re reluctant to spend more than we spent on our other daughters,” my reader explains.

I’ll trim my cloth, but only a bit – she’s a music lover after all. Get Yamaha’s MCRN470 mini system, a really terrific and highly featured stand-alone stereo finished in piano black at $699. Plug a Rega RP1 turntable or the Debut Carbon into a phono pre-amp, say Pro-Ject’s Phono Box E at $119, and plug that into the aux input of the Yamaha; $1300 odd and that’s as low as I want to go. If he finds the right retailer he should be able to swing it for less, but he’ll need one that handles all relevant brands.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed in audio stores. There’s some equipment that costs as much as your car and plenty of other stuff well into four figures, but the folk in these shops enjoy nothing more than getting a new convert to hi fi, even when they’re not spending much. Be totally honest, tell them that you know nothing at all about hi fi (even if you do), that you’re starting at the bottom and you want the flexibility to upgrade in coming years. And take some music with which you’re thoroughly familiar to use for auditioning whatever equipment they suggest.

First published on smh.com.au May 2018


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