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HiFi Office Setup on a $200 Budget


Sep 15, 2023
Okay, well, sometimes life comes at you fast. I had been planning on making some major upgrades to the home theater arrangement. But my partner is suddenly a little less employed than we would like them to be. We are fortunate enough that we will survive comfortably, but not so fortunate that we can be extravagant whilst she is unemployed. So alas, budget has shrunk, from, "Sure Honey, do whatever you want," to "Don't spend any serious money until I find another job." I thought I would share what I have put together. Many thanks to all of the fellow cheapskate and/or destitute audiophiles out there who have given me inspiration and ideas for how to put something together that I can live with for a price that my wife can live with.

So, I have put off adding hardware DSP and subwoofers to the main stereo and shifted focus to making some targeted improvements to my much neglected office setup. For many years my setup was a laptop running through a pair of 6$ Goodwill computer speakers with my Pixel earbuds for the headphone option. So it won't take much of a financial outlay to drastically improve things.


Here is everything I would like to have in the "mini" system:
Audio Streamer / Bluetooth
AV Streamer / Screencasting
Phono Stage
Headphone Amp
Equalization/Room Correction
Calibration Mic
TV/Second Monitor

And my budget is about $200, LOL.

I do have some existing tech. My laptop will work as my main AV source and give me equalization and room correction options. I have an old calibration mic from an Anthem MRX AVR. I am going to use an emergency radio as my AM/FM tuner. Definitely not hifi, but it has a 3.5mm out and will work fine for when I need some background noise. I already bought it. And it has a built in flashlight! Not too many Hifi tuners with a built in flashlight.

I also have a few purchases I made before the hard times that will make things a little easier to meet budget. I bought a Fosi DS1 DAC dongle and a pair of Sennheiser HD 569 headphones for travel that will work fine for my DAC and headphones. The Fosi makes a very nice headphone amp, but it won't work for analog sources and won't power speakers.

My partner gave me a hand-me-down monitor that I can use as a TV/second laptop monitor. I found an old Roku stick in the attic that I can use for TV and AV streaming source for when I don't feel like firing up the laptop. I will have to use the monitor's 3.5mm jack out if I am watching something on the Roku, which isn't ideal hifi either, but not a big deal to me.

Ok, so that leaves me with needing to come up with the following for $200.
Audio Streamer
Phono Stage
Analog Headphone Amp

Still a daunting list. And I am not 100 percent happy with all of the choices I made, but I will have plenty of time to upgrade what I have here bit by bit after the household returns to its full income potential.

I have purchased two ebay units. I bought a broken semi-auto turntable with no dustcover for $21 all in with shipping and taxes (from here out, all prices are all-in).
It needs a belt ($22) and I bought a new cartridge ($52) and a new stylus ($20) for it. I have received and installed the belt and the motor works and it spins at the right RPM for 33 and 45s respectively. I will try the replacement stylus first and if that works I might send the new cartridge back. But all in right now I have sunk $115 into the turntable.


Of course after I had pulled the trigger on all of that stuff I won an auction for a similar turntable, except working, better condition, good belt, functional cartridge/stylus, in tact dustcover, etc for $45 all in.


So now I have spent about $160 total on turntables. But I should end up with two functional turntables and I will try and sell one of them and I probably will return either the cartridge or stylus.
So let's call my net investment there $80.

Audio Streamer - I could just use the computer, but I sometimes don't want to mess with the laptop. I remembered that I had a Bluesound Node 2 in the attic that I purchased in about 2017. It worked for 2 years or so and then died. I tried to fix it then but didn't have much luck so it got packed away and forgot about. I dug it out and did some more recent research about the issue (solid red light, won't power up). Turns out that the issue is likely caused by the failure of two capacitors on the power supply. I cracked my unit open and sure enough, bulging capacitors right where they said they would be. I have never soldered anything in my life. But I figured for another $12 for a soldering iron and some solder and another $8 for a couple of capacitors we would give it a shot. I got the old capacitors out, waiting for the new ones to arrive.


So that is another $20.


I figured that almost anything would be an improvement over my computer speakers. I mostly listen to music and watch youtube videos at low volumes while I am working. If I want to listen to something really loud or really critical then I can go listen to my Rotel and Martin Logans in my main system. I put bids on several pairs of bookshelf speakers that looked like they at least worked, lol. I ended up winning an auction for a pair of Koss Dynamite M80s for $24 all-in. I was right that they are better than my computer speakers, but only barely. This will definitely be the first place I put some real dollars once my financial situation improves. I also bought a pair of RCA to bare wire speaker cables for them for another $8.

That leaves my budget at about $68 for the following:

Pre-Amp / Phono Stage / Headphone Amp for Analog Sources / Amplifier

I did a lot of research about how to get all of these components in a way that didn't cost a whole lot of money but wouldn't sound like total crap.

I tried piecing together something from the Chinese hifi usual suspects. But ultimately, I went another route and I am very happy with it.

I decided that my best option for cost, reliability and the features that I really NEED, as opposed to want, would be to find a small vintage integrated amp with a built in phono stage. I ended up with a Realistic SA-155 Radio Shack special from the 1980s. $50. It includes a phono stage and headphone amp. It has RCA inputs for phono, tuner, and an aux port for my Node. And it has a bonus 3.5 mm input jack on the front that I can use with my Fosi to connect a phone, tablet, laptop, etc. And it has a tape out. So when I upgrade the Koss speakers to something that needs more power, I can just invest in a power amp and continue to use the Realistic as my pre-amp, phono stage, and headphone amp.


I used REW and Equalization APO to do my room correction. The Koss speakers still suck, but not as much. I can definitely live with this arrangement for awhile. Hopefully I get the turntables and streamer working soon without too much more capital outlay for tools and parts.

All in I spent $262 but I hope to get $80 or so back by selling one of the turntables and returning either a stylus or cartridge. Total cost: $182.

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