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The best of the best affordable audiophile gear

Today, we're not just talking about affordable audio, we're discussing truly budget-priced audio. The top price for any product on this list is $500, but many are well under half that price. The emphasis is on the lowest priced -- but still terrific-sounding -- gear for the money. Proving once again that great audio can still be affordable! I'm only including products that I've heard or used, so I know they're truly worthy. 

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ELAC Debut 2.0 B6.2 speakers

The Debut B6.2 is an update of ELAC Debut B6 which betters the original on a number of counts, and costs just $20 more! The B6.2 a rather powerful speaker for its size and price, it's $300 a pair in the US, £249 in the UK and AU$699 in Australia.

Published:Caption:Photo:Sarah Tew/CNET

Audio Technica ATH M50x headphones

The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x boasts excellent build quality and very detailed, balanced sound with tight bass. They're also very comfy and come with three user-replaceable cables. The M50x sells for $164 in the US, £113 in the UK and AU$199 in Australia.

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Yamaha R-S202 stereo receiver

Yamaha's handsome 100-watt-per-channel R-S202 stereo receiver has a lot going for it. First, its clean, good looks put most similarly priced receivers to shame. Plus, it sounds good! There's a headphone jack on the front panel, and around back you'll find four pairs of RCA inputs, plus Bluetooth, but there are no phono or digital inputs. Yamaha sells the R-S202 direct on its Web site for $130, with free shipping in the US, and Amazon does the same for Prime customers. In the UK it's £199 and in Australia it runs AU$479.

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Emotiva Airmotiv B1 speakers

The Emotiva Airmotiv B1 is a small, affordable two-way bookshelf speaker with a folded-ribbon tweeter and a 5.25-inch (160mm) mid-woofer. It offers a good deal of flexibility and can be used as in-room or nearfield stereo desktop speakers, or as front or surround speakers in home theaters. They run $299 per pair in the US and AU$699 in Australia.

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Yamaha YAS-108 sound bar

The Yamaha YAS-108 offers clean, intelligible sound from a compact sound bar. Unlike competing models from Vizio, the YAS-108 includes HDMI connectivity with support for 4K HDR video. The subwoofer out means you can add your own sub for more bass. It sells for $200 in the US and AU$349 in Australia. UK pricing isn't yet available. 

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Dayton Audio B652 speakers

The Dayton B652 is a midsize, two-way loudspeaker that might surprise you. Bass is full, if not deep or punchy, and treble is acceptable. Going for just $30 a pair in the US, £68 in the UK, and AU$157 in Australia the B652 will do well in bedrooms, basements, dorms and offices.

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NAD C 538 CD player

Despite all the naysayers, the compact disc format is far from dead. So if you own a CD collection and you're looking for a new player, the C 538 will bring out the best in their sound. It sells for $299 in the US and £249 in the UK.

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Grado SR80e headphones

The Grado SR80e is one of the few open-back headphones you can buy for $99 in the US, £99.95 in the UK or AU$179.00 in Australia. This made-in-Brooklyn, NY headphone sounds more open and spacious than most, and it has lively dynamics, but bassheads my be unsatisfied by the SR80e's lightweight sound balance. 

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Audio Technica AT-LP60 turntable

Despite its ultralow price the Audio-Technica AT-LP60 turntable features a built-in phono preamplifier, cast metal platter, a user-replaceable stylus and fully automatic operation. It plays 7- and 12-inch records with precision and verve. The AT-LP60 sells for just $99 in the US, £99 in the UK and AU$249 in Australia.

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Q Acoustics 3020i speakers

The new Q Acoustics 3020i is a bigger, deeper speaker than the original 3020, so the new one makes a bit more bass. It sounds better overall too; a pair runs $300 in the US, £249 in the UK and AU$599 in Australia.

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Onkyo TX 8070 stereo receiver with HDMI switching

I've long been an advocate of stereo home theater, but there was one stumbling block: stereo receivers and integrated amplifiers lacked video switching of any kind, so I'm especially happy to report Onkyo's TX-8270 stereo receiver sports four HDMI inputs and a boatload of other features like ultra high-resolution 32-bit/384 kHz digital converters, a moving-magnet phono input, Bluetooth, Chromecast, DTS Play-Fi, Spotify and AirPlay. The TX-8270's street price is $499, £539 and AU$1,199. 

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Emotiva BasX A-100 integrated amplifier

The Emotiva BasX A-100 stereo integrated amp is built like no other $229 amp I've ever seen. It delivers 50 watts per channel for 8-ohm speakers, and 80 watts per channel for 4-ohm speakers. The fact that the BasX A-100 even has a 4-ohm rating is noteworthy; few AV receivers selling for three or four times the BasX A-100's modest price can happily drive low-impedance speakers. That says a lot about the BasX A-100's quality.

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Koss PortaPro headphones

It's downright lovable! Koss' PortaPro on-ear headphone sounds more open and clearer than just about any other on-ear for the money, just $35 in the US, £36 in the UK, and AU$70 in Australia! They come with Koss' lifetime warranty for headphones in the US.

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Lepai LP2020TI integrated amplifier

The pint-size Lepai LP-2020TI mini power amplifier dishes out 20 watts! Harnessing technology from Texas Instruments this amp is perfect for using on any desk, countertop, workbench, and even in DIY projects or mobile audio applications for just $25! Sorry, there's no UK or Australian pricing. 

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Schiit Mani phono preamplifier

If you're getting into vinyl and just bought a decent turntable, your next move should be a nice phono preamp, and Schiit's Mani is a doozy! It handles moving-magnet and moving-coil cartridges. The price is nice too -- the Mani sells for $129 in the US; UK pricing runs £112 and it's AU$199 in Australia.

Published:Caption:Photo:Lee Shelly
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U-Turn Orbit turntable

The Orbit Basic is a perfect starter turntable if you're just getting into vinyl, and you really care about sound quality. It's made in the US and sells for $179 in the US; alas, there's no UK or Australian pricing. 

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Sony STR-DN1080 AV receiver

The Sony STR-DN1080 sounds great and offers all of the features you could want in a modern receiver -- multiroom music, Chromecast streaming, AirPlay, Dolby Atmos -- and a slew of 4K-compliant inputs. Sound quality is excellent, especially for movies. It sells for $498 in the US, £439 in the UK and AU$1,178 in Australia.

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Audioengine A2+ speakers

The Audioengine A2+ desktop self-powered speaker is a perennial favorite for good reasons. They're tiny and they sound sweet, even with less than stellar recordings. The A2+s sell for $249 a pair in the US, £200 in the UK and AU$379 in Australia.

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Etymotic MK5 Isolator in-ear headphones

The MK5's sound falls in line with Etymotic's house sound -- very clean, clear, with a smooth frequency response -- the MK5 is an accurate sounding headphone. It also offers unusually good isolation from external noise, Etymotic claims 35 to 42dB of isolation (depending on fit) while most competing in-ears deliver less than 30dB of isolation.

Best of all, they sell for $65 in the US, £60 in the UK and AU$100 in Australia.

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Schiit Modi 2 Uber digital converter

Made in California, the Schiit Modi 2 Uber has USB, optical and coaxial digital audio inputs, and stereo RCA analog outputs. It will make your computer, CD or Blu-ray's two-channel music sound better than ever. It's $149 in the US, £150 in the UK and AU$299 in Australia. 

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Audeze iSine 10 in-ear headphones

Audeze pioneered planar magnetic in-ear headphones, which sound very coherent and spacious, with low distortion. Included Cipher Lightning cable has a built-in DAC that improves sound quality for iPhone and iPad users. The iSine 10 doesn't look or sound like any other in-ear headphone -- it's $400 in the US, £346 in the UK and AU$499 in Australia.

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Fluance RT81 turntable

The Fluance RT81 turntable's build and sound quality is way above what I'd expect from a $250 turntable (with free shipping in the US). If you've haven't yet been seduced by an Audio Technica, Music Hall, Pro-Ject, or Rega turntable, maybe the Fluance RT81 will be the one. It's £249 in the UK.

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Wharfedale Diamond 225 speakers

The Wharfedale Diamond has a long history as a budget audiophile favorite, and the Diamond 225 is the best one yet! This small, two-way bookshelf speaker sports a 1-inch (25mm) soft dome tweeter and a 6-inch (165mm) woven Kevlar mid-bass woofer in a ported cabinet. They sell for $400 a pair in the US, £269 in the UK and AU$599 in Australia.  

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NAD C316BEE V2 integrated amplifier

The C316BEE V2 is a modern classic, an old school Class AB amp that harkens back to NAD's original 3020 amp from the 1970s. The C316BEE V2 may be rated at just 40 watts per channel, but it sounds great with less sensitive speakers like the Magnepan .7s. The C 316BEE V2 goes for $400 in the US, £299 in the UK and AU$539 in Australia.

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Ortofon 2M Red phono cartridge

This $99 Ortofon moving-magnet phono cartridge may not offer the most exciting sound or pummel your ears with bass, but this cartridge just goes about its business playing records without calling attention to itself. It's £95 in the UK and AU$159 in Australia.

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Schiit Valhalla 2 tube headphone amplifier

This all-tube headphone amp can also be used as a stereo preamp, but with very limited connectivity. Sound quality is rich, but not overly so. The Valhalla 2 is $349 in the US, £360 in the UK and AU$599 in Australia.

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Onkyo TX 8020 stereo receiver

The Onkyo TX 8020 stereo receiver sounds is awfully good for a budget component; its only real downside is it lacks digital inputs. It does have a phono input and a subwoofer output. US price is $199, £200 in the UK and AU$599 in Australia. 

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Denon DL-103 phono cartridge

Denon's DL-103 moving coil cartridge debuted in 1962 and was legendary when I first heard it in the early 1980s, and incredibly enough it's still around. Thanks to its conical-shaped stylus it's unfussy about setup, and sound is always sweet. It's $299 in the US, £249 in the UK and AU$389 in Australia.

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Vista Spark integrated amplifier

The Vista Spark is exactly what the audiophile world needs: A small, no-frills, no-nonsense high-quality yet affordable integrated amplifier. Spark is super-basic in functionality, and that's what I like about it. 

You get two stereo analog inputs, but no digital inputs or remote control; Spark's prime directive is just about maximizing sound quality. And it does that very well. Build quality is decent enough for a $349 audiophile-grade component built in the US. It's £251 in the UK and AU$437 in Australia.

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