Lepai LP7498E stereo integrated amplifier ($130)
The LP7498E amplifier is a little thing, just 4.5x8.4x1.6 inches. It's rated at 160 watts per channel for 4-ohm speakers, and 100 watts per for 8 ohm speakers. The LP7498E is a Class D design, so it never gets more than barely warm to the touch. The black chassis and laser engraved metal faceplate won't win any beauty contests, but it's attractive.
U-Turn Orbit Basic turntable ($179)
Audiophile turntable prices have been stuck at the $400 price mark for ages, but with the Orbit Basic you can discover the glories of vinyl sound for $179 and the price includes an Audio Technica phono cartridge.
Onkyo TX-8020 stereo receiver ($200)
If you listen to more music than watch movies a stereo receiver might be a better option than an AV receiver. For one thing, it's much easier to use, you'll never have to navigate setup menus (it doesn't have any), and it sounds great for the money. The TX-8020 has a built-in phono preamp, and that's a big plus if you already have, or plan on buying, a turntable.
Audioengine 2+ speakers ($249/pair)
The newly revised A2+ adds an onboard USB digital converter and upgraded connectors, but the basic Audioengine A2 sound is unchanged, and still pretty amazing.
Schiit Asgard 2 headphone amplifier ($249)
This refresh of the original Asgard amp not only sounds sweet with headphones, it has preamplifier output jacks, so it can either drive powered desktop speakers, like the Audioengines, or a power amp for a hi-fi system.
MonoPrice 10565 satellite/subwoofer home theater speaker package ($249)
The 10565 has an effortless sound, and handles the demands of action movies played at fairly loud levels with ease. The sound with two-channel music is also exceptional, and that's not always the case with budget sub/sat systems with tiny speakers. The 10565 takes it all in stride.
Beyerdynamic T 51 P headphones ($289)
Made in Germany, these lightweight on-ear headphones are comfy enough to wear for hours at a time, sound big and spacious, and have beautifully defined bass and clear treble.
JBL LSR305 monitor speakers ($398/pair)
JBL's big, but not too big, desktop monitors deliver state-of-the-art stereo soundstage and seriously potent bass. The LSR305 sets a new standard for sound quality in its price class. Sweetwater sells the LSR305s for $240 a pair.
Pioneer SP-SB23W sound bar speaker ($400)
We didn't have to compare the SP-SB23W with other sound bars to know it was special, as the sound was unusually "quick" and clear. Still, we had doubts that the tiny wireless subwoofer would deliver adequate home theater muscle, but the little guy delivered!
Marshall Hanwell 'iPod' speaker ($800)
The Hanwell sounds like a Bluetooth speaker on steroids. This 100-watt beast sports a pair of 6-inch woofers and dome tweeters, and the solid, 23-pound cabinet looks like a mini Marshall guitar amp! Priced at a hefty $800, the Hanwell is more expensive than most BT speakers, but the its sound crushes the competition. Yup, size matters. Amazon sells it for $600.