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This just in: Most audiophiles aren't rich

Good-quality gear doesn't have to be expensive to have audiophile appeal, it just has to sound good.

Master & Dynamic MH40 headphones Steve Guttenberg/CNET

All that separates audiophiles from everybody else is we care about what our music sounds like. That, and audiophiles pay more attention to music than most other people because we, at times, focus solely on the music. It's that important to us.

Once you're really listening you start to notice sound quality, and then you'll be well on your way to becoming an audiophile. You may find yourself comparing one speaker or headphone to another, and notice one sounds clearer or more lifelike. Fuzzy or harsh-sounding treble grates on your nerves and muddy bass is a turn-off. Keep searching and you'll find that decent-sounding headphones or speakers don't have to be expensive.

For starters, listen to Dayton Audio's B652 bookshelf speakers, matched with the Lepai LP2020A+ integrated amplifier. Audiophile quality headphones start with the Beyerdynamic DTX 350P or Grado SR80e full-size 'phones, or Hifiman RE400 in-ear headphones. They all deliver entry-level audiophile sound quality for not a lot of money.

You can get into vinyl on the cheap with the Audio Technica AT-LP60 turntable, it's more than good enough to help you understand why some folks are so taken by the sound of LPs. You can buy records online, or start building a nice collection for not much money at thrift stores or yard sales. Ask around, you might get lucky and have an older relative with a large collection they're ready to part with.

If there's one thing I've learned over the years in the audio business it's this: most speaker and headphone companies don't prioritize sound quality. Sad but true, because the companies know most audio shoppers buy with their eyes and marketing, features and gimmicks are more likely to sway potential customers than stellar sound quality. After all, today's speaker buyers rarely listen to speakers before they buy them! With headphones the chances are only slightly better that folks listen before they buy.

That's where I can help: most of the products reviewed on this blog are chosen for their sound quality. I cover a wide range of gear, priced from entry-level to sky's the limit. If you're searching for speakers or headphones check out my top 10 lists above. I'll post a new top 10 bookshelf speaker list in March.