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Video: A Newbie's Guide to Stereo Systems

Steve, Crutchfield Senior Editor and audio enthusiast, and Tara, Crutchfield writer and digital audio enthusiast, set up a dedicated stereo listening system. They show you what you need to enjoy your music to the fullest, from a basic system to one that's more complex.

Tara: We're gonna show you the basic ways to set up a dedicated music listening system in your house. So that way you can get the best sound from your iPhone, your iPod, your computer, a CD player—

Steve: Turntable.

Tara:—turntable— and send that out to really good sounding speakers for a great listening experience at home.

Steve: And we're just talking about a two speaker stereo system today — no surround sound, no home theater — this is really all about music.

Tara: So we're gonna show you a basic system, a little higher-end system, and then a couple of ways to kind of build upon those systems, too.

This is our basic set-up here and that starts with a high quality stereo receiver. This is where you'll connect all of your sources. And this Teac receiver is on the compact size.

Steve: Right. It's kind of designed for apartments or any situation where your space is limited. You could maybe even squeeze it on to a desktop.

Tara: And we also carry a lineup of more component-sized bigger stereo receivers as well. And they do the job just as well. And what the receiver's gonna do is process the signal, and then send that signal and power out to your speakers. Another option for listening though is headphones.

Steve: And if you've never heard a really good pair of headphones you'd probably be amazed at how much detail you can hear and what a — just a complete, enjoyable experience it is.

Tara: Yeah. And these headphones will connect to the front of your receiver here, and they'll pull power from the receiver.

One way to boost a stereo system whether it's one you're building or maybe one you have at home is a DAC, or a digital-to-analog converter. And when you add this to your system, this is where the processing is going to take place instead of taking place in the receiver. And a DAC will really kind of transform your music. This is gonna make your music clearer. It's gonna give more detail. One great place to use a DAC is with a computer because the sound card that's in your computer probably isn't going to do as good of a job processing the signal as this will.

Steve: Right. And another good use would be if you have an old CD player. It will have a DAC inside it, but it's not going to be as advanced as this DAC. So all you have to do is plug a digital cable out from your CD player into this DAC and all of a sudden your music will sound a lot better. So these bookshelf speakers will give you pretty full range sound, but if you like more bass one option is to go with a powered subwoofer like this one. You can put these small speakers, you know, where you want them and then just tuck the subwoofer out of the way.

Tara: Yeah — under a desk, even in the corner of your room. And stereo receivers will let you connect the sub because they'll have a subwoofer output so you'll run the signal from the receiver to the sub, and the sub's powered so it's actually gonna draw it's power from the wall.

So this is another set-up, and here we have a CD player, an integrated amp, and some really high performance floor standing PSB speakers.

Steve: So like Tara said, this is an integrated amp, and it's a little different from a receiver. A receiver is kind of three components in one. It's an AM/FM tuner, a pre-amp, and a power amp. And when you go to an integrated amp, it gets rid of the tuner so it's just the pre-amp and the power amp.

Tara: Because this integrated amp is only doing one job, it's really a specialist. Its only job is to take the signal and power, send the power and that signal out to your speakers. So it's gonna do a great job at that one thing it has to do.

Steve: Yep. So we've just shown you a couple of different system options today. There's a lot of different ways you can go depending on which sources you want to want to listen to.

Tara: Yeah. In this case you might want to add a DAC, digital-to-analog converter, especially if you're going to be connecting a computer or an iPod. That'd be essential for this system.

Steve: And there are lots of other ways you can improve the sound too. You can go with better cables, you can go with power conditioning, which is great for protection and improving sound quality.

Tara: Yeah. And what we've found is that it is really easy to get hooked on good sound so you'll likely want to keep tweaking the system for years to come. And if you have any questions about building a system, adding on to a system, anything about good sound, just give us a call.

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