A (budget) guide to great music

by Goh De No
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There are a handful of streaming sites out there now, and for music lovers, if you haven’t signed up for one you’re missing out.

My choice is Spotify; yes, the free version is not available in Brunei, but I have managed a workaround and got the “Premium” or paid version of Spotify to work.

I spend about $10 per month to keep the subscription active, and the best part about it is that it gives a high resolution option.

On your mobile, the default would be 96kbps, whilst the high-resolution option would give you 160 kbps, whilst on your desktop the default is 160 kbps, and high-res is streaming at 320kbps.

For audiophiles (I am in no way one or claiming that I am one), the source of the music would be the most important.

If you don’t have a good source, no matter how much you spend on gear, your equip- ment would just be transmitting whatever is coming from the source. So bad source, bad sound.

So we’ve established that I stream my music now on Spotify with the high-res option on.

I had previously been using a small Bluetooth speaker connected to the com- puter because it was convenient, and I spent about $100 on it.

After browsing the internet for a few months, I now have a small setup at home which consists of a small amplifier, a digital to analogue converter (DAC) , and a pair of bookshelf speakers. All of which, did not cost more than $500. I have seen people spend more than $500 on a pair of headphones and just speakers alone, so I had set out to spend the least amount of money, to get the best sound.

First of all, the DAC. I connect this to my PC, which turns the digital signals from Spotify (or Deezer, Soundcloud, Apple Music and so on), into analogue signals, so Left and Right which will be sent to the speakers.

The Modi 2 DAC adapter from Schiit. Image courtesy of Schiit.

I’ve bought a DAC from Schiit known as the MODI 2, for US$99 ($136) after reading a lot about how well it does and also because it looks the best. Cheaper alternatives can be a FiiO E10, or the Behringer UCA202 for US$79 and US$29 respectively.

So work according to your budget. When I first received the MODI 2, I plugged it to my PC and a really old pair of speakers as I hadn’t received my other purchases, and the before and after results are staggering. So if you don’t want to spend too much money and already have relatively nice speakers, be sure to pick up a DAC to enhance what you already have.

So after sorting out the DAC, I went shopping for an amp. The general consensus is a Lepai/Lepy TA2020A Stereo Amplifier would get the job done. I bought it for $29 online, and if you feel like this is too cheap, feel free to check out any other amplifiers from SMSL or Topping. Do a quick search and you’ll see plenty of budget options.

Finally, the speakers, which should take bulk of the budget. After much shopping around town, where there is an extremely limited selection, I settled for the Q Acoustics 2010i for $299. Again, I listened to a lot of speakers before making my final decision, and it is usually better to buy them in person as you can try them out, as compared to on- line.

There are other cheaper alternatives, for example, the Q Acoustics 2010 for $199, and you can look online for a pair of old Sony SSB1000 which go around US$39 to US$49, which has extremely good reviews. Alternatively, there are audiophiles online declaring the Dayton Audio B652 speakers as one of the best for the price, and they are usually available for US$70 or so.

Another great budget speaker option is the SSB1000 bookshelf speakers from Sony. Image courtesy of Amazon.

Bear in mind that all the above work for speakers as well as headphones. So if you are using headphones, you just need to ignore the speakers section and go with a DAC+Amp combo, to plug into the headphones.

You will never know how much difference a good DAC+Amp combo will make to what you’re listening to, so it is definitely worth picking them up to enhance your sound. Bear in mind that I found all the products mentioned above online after failing to find any retailers in Brunei selling them, and also made sure that shipping is available to Brunei. So don’t feel like you need to fly somewhere to create a system like this for yourself.

So after about a month of research, I now have a Spotify-listening station at home, which I listen to almost every day after work!

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