Hifi Systems

What are the best speakers I've heard?

On this page, I recommend the best hifi systems I've personally heard. It took me a year to compile this list—wading through an unbelievable number of speakers.

Before we dive in, let's introduce the stack of components involved in speaker setups, because the sonic characteristics of your system are dictated by these too.

The component stack

The hifi chain begins with your streaming service. With hifi speakers, you should use higher quality, lossless streaming—best streamed from Apple Music and Qobuz. (Learn more here about why Spotify and Tidal are lesser options.) You can transfer music playlists across streaming services using Soundiiz.

I curated a playlist of hifi songs to test speakers with. Here's the Spotify version, but I recommend using Qobuz or Apple Music.

On hifi speakers, higher bitrate is heard in the form of lesser distortion at louder volumes, cleaner instrument separation (instead of a muddled soup of sound), a quieter noise background, plus more (discussion).

However, I prefer Spotify’s interface so much that I use it as my daily app for midfi listening on my less-resolving computer speakers. I then use Soundiiz to keep my Qobuz playlists synced with Spotify so that when I switch to a hifi setup elsewhere, I have all my tracks on-hand at higher quality.

Your streaming service connects through a component called your streaming source, which could be your computer, TV, or a dedicated “music streamer” like the one pictured below:

Your source feeds its digital signal into a digital-to-analog (DAC) device, pictured in black above, which converts the 0s and 1s of digital into an analog signal that your preamplifier can work with.

The preamp itself serves two functions: (1) act as a router for the incoming audio signals—meaning, a switch between your TV, video game console, computer, and streamer, plus (2) allow you to adjust volume.

The preamplifier feeds its volume-adjusted signal into the your amplifier, which gives the analog signal enough current to power your speakers. Your speakers connect into the amp using cables, and that's the end of the chain.

Often, these distinct components are integrated into a single box—called an “integrated” amplifier (pictured below). The upside is its simplicity and space savings. The downside is you forego the ability to mix and upgrade distinct  components to create your own sonic signature, which can be half the fun of hifi.

List of speakers

Speaker buying starts with a few questions:

  1. How big is your room? This determines whether you'll buy bookshelf speakers, small floorstanders, or big floorstanding speakers.
  2. What are you using the speakers for? Is it a computer setup, a home theater, or only music?
  3. If it’s just for music, are you entertaining guests with loud rock and hip hop—or are you casually listening to jazz at lower volumes?

The following systems include options for all three scenarios.

If you're wondering, no I don't own every speaker on this page. This isn't me boasting about being rich 😂 For a speaker to be on this list, I either own it or I've heard it extensively—at stores or in other people's setups.
Also, I use no affiliate codes in this guide and I make no money from these recommendations.

Computer Only: Axiom M2 — $875+


The best casual computer setup, in my opinion and in that of many reviewers, is one that's not harsh in the highs and not too powerful in the lows either. Otherwise, the highs fatigue your ears and the low notes rumble your desk, which is annoying when working at a computer desk for hours.

This is why I recommend the Axiom M2 computer speakers. I've used them daily for 6 years. These are not true hifi speakers—given their limited dynamic range. But, as mentioned, that's a good thing; the full range isn’t needed for casual work tasks, plus you want speakers that pair well with lossy, lower-quality Spotify streaming.

I consider these Axiom M2s the perfect "midfi" speaker for casual computer audio:

Here’s how my non-audiophile friends react to the Axioms: “It’s like going from a CRT monitor to a 5K resolution monitor. You can’t go back afterward.”

However, for high-end hifi listening, these are not the right purchase. They're also not good enough to double as full-room standmount speakers: they aren't clear enough, they don't separate instruments enough, they lack full dynamic range, and they have too small of a soundstage.

But, for casual use at your computer, they're a perfect upgrade.

Axiom has a generous 30-day in-home trial period with full refunds, so it can’t hurt to try them out if you can afford them. Let me know how it goes on Twitter.


To maximize sound quality, you can bypass your computer’s internal digital-to-analog conversion (via its 3.5mm jack) by using a third-party, higher quality converter. I recommend the well-reviewed AudioQuest Dragonfly Black ($120, review). You’ll need a USB-A to C adapter ($7) if your computer only has USB-C ports.

However, if you have a modern Mac (perhaps post 2019), you can skip this converter purchase and directly plug the Axiom M2s into your computer via its 3.5mm jack—because the built-in Apple DACs are surprisingly good when connected to midfi speakers like the Axioms that aren’t super resolving anyway.


Always use stands to raise computer speakers so that their tweeters are level with your ears when you're seated (explanation). Tweeters are the smaller drivers at the top of the box:

You can use any stands (my favorite) and if you have money to blow, you can buy these pretty ones! You can also get away with tilt stands that angle speakers upward toward your ears instead.

In either case, tow the speakers inward so they point directly at your ears; the speakers shouldn’t face straight forward, otherwise music will sound "unfocused" at your seating position.

Where to buy

Buy from Axiom’s website. They offer 30-day returns with full refunds. When purchasing, select the I Can Wait 25 Business Days option to save $50.

For the USB adapter, I recommend purchasing via Amazon or Crutchfield to access their return policies.

Note: If you need computer speakers for professional mastering, you’ll want neutral studio monitors instead—not these Axioms. Professional mastering is outside the scope of this guide.


If you want a more impactful, more in-your-face speaker option for desktop use—especially for immersive gaming—I’d recommend the KEF LS50 Wireless II ($2.8K). The KEF are true hifi—whereas the Axiom M2s are midfi. However, some people find the KEFs fatiguing in the treble after long listening sessions. They don't blend as much into the background while you work. They also cost 3x more than the M2s, and I think most people would be happier with the midfi Axioms.

Computer Only: Harbeth P3ESR XD — $4,200+


Some of the speakers on this page are considerably cheaper in Europe—even accounting for currency conversion. Harbeth is one of them, which you can sometimes purchase for around half the American price.

The Harbeth P3ESR XD ($3.2K or $2.6K open box) with $1K in amplification is as good as a computer speakers can get—for my tastes, at least. Numerous reviewers, including Zero Fidelity, use this as their desktop endgame setup. Why? Because the Harbeths do something perhaps no other speaker does: recreate the human voice with gorgeous, captivating realism.

When voices come out of this Harbeth speaker, they don’t sound like voices coming out of a speaker. They sound more like talking heads are on your desk. In short, Harbeths make mid-range vocals and string instruments sound more luscious than you’ve heard—more full and more satisfying.

This effect is achieved through two design approaches: During development, Harbeth tunes (“voice”) their speakers using tracks of humans talking instead of just music tracks, plus they use a proprietary, injection-molded driver material that, as far as I understand it, helps enrich harmonics (discussion) to achieve a lifelike and gorgeous sound. You should watch their factory tour to learn more about their approach.

The reviews, of course, are glowing:

“If I could keep only one pair of all the stand-mount speakers I have stowed in my bunker, it would be the Harbeth P3ESRs. These small, finely crafted loudspeakers sound more right-of-tone and correct-of-balance than any other speaker I know.” —Stereophile

More reviews can be found here: video, video, video, video, article, article, article (some reviews are for the previous model which used lesser internal components).

Like the Axioms M2 computer speakers, these Harbeths are perfect for desktops:

Are these Harbeths worth their price tag? No, not for the casual listener. They’re egregiously overpriced.

However, nothing else sounds quite like them. That’s what you’re paying for: maximally pleasing sound reproduction for acoustic and vocal-heavy music in a computer-friendly form. If you’re an obsessive audiophile with cash to spare who wants this sonic signature, perhaps consider them.

They’re just so unique that I had to include them.

The downside of these P3ESRs that they don’t play loud and they lack the room-filling scale needed to be stand-mounted speakers for larger applications. They’re only for nearfield desktop use.


Since this is an endgame desktop system, we’ll indulge with electronics here by splitting them into separate components. I'll recommend (1) a DAC and preamp combo plus (2) an amp. These will take up more space on your desk, but they’re still small for quality electronics, and most people should have enough room.

The products I recommend here are the Schiit Aegir ($800) and the Schiit Modius ($230). If you’re feeling extra rich, you can upgrade the Modius to the Schiit Bifrost ($800, review, review), which adds a more lifelike presentation and better timbre. Schiit Aegir reviews are here: video, video, video, article.

You’ll need to pick up a short pair of cables (you can get the SBAN plugs for both ends) at about 3ft per cable so you don’t have an overlong mess of wires. You’ll also need a pair of RCA interconnect cables (consider the 0.5M length with the Ultratike connectors) to connect the DAC/preamp to the amplifier.

(If you want to buy cheaper cables on Amazon, go for it.)

This Harbeth plus Schiit pairing is also recommended by the premiere hifi magazine, Stereophile: “I am always searching for the perfect amp to drive them—and damn, if the Schiit Aegir didn't wave an excited hand saying, ‘Pick me! Pick me!’” —Stereophile.


Always use stands to raise computer speakers so that their tweeters are level with your ears when you're seated (explanation). Tweeters are the smaller drivers at the top of the box:

You can use any stands (my favorite) and if you have money to blow, you can buy these pretty ones! You can also get away with tilt stands that angle speakers upward toward your ears instead.

In either case, tow the speakers inward so they point directly at your ears; the speakers shouldn’t face straight forward, otherwise music will sound "unfocused" at your seating position.

Where to buy

Buy from The Music Room, which offers 60 day returns and has great customer service. Buy the Schiit electronics from Schiit’s website, which offer 15-day returns with a 5% return fee.

For Music: Magnepan LRS+ — $3,200+


Here's our first entry into magical hifi: the Magnepan LRS+ ($1K) with $2.2K in amplification.

These are engineered to make music sound stagelike and tangible. A life-sized, reach-out-and-touch-it feeling; a wall of sound that makes performers sound like they're in the room with you. Your living room comes alive.

You've probably never heard anything like this from speakers before.

Their spatial realism is thanks to their large surface area and open-back (dipole) nature. Instead of sound coming out of a small cone, their massive faces cast a large, immersive soundstage that covers your field of view. Since it partially projects backward, it also features a deep soundstage—my favorite hifi quality.

Further, because their large surface area requires less distance to be traveled to create similar sound pressure levels (discussed here), they incur less driver distortion. This translates to a cleaner, crisper, more hifi transient impact from instruments. As a result, these $1K speakers rival $15K+ hifi setups. Hear reviewers explain why: video, video, video, video, article (review of the previous model).

You should absolutely watch those reviews to understand what makes the LRS+ special; I’m not going super in-depth here. And watch the Magnepan factory tour to learn more.

The tradeoff of the LRS+ is that it doesn’t get super loud (without distorting) and they’re not as deep and as impactful in the bass as bass-junkies might like. They're also not as full-sounding and voluptuous as traditional speakers.

Therefore, they’re not the best fit for very large rooms or for home theater use—and possibly not for hip hop. But they’re perfect for intimate and immersive music listening with a touch of hifi magic you won't get from normal speakers.

You can trial them at home using The Music Room's 60 day return period. (Just don't take advantage of their program—only trial if you intend to buy if you're happy. Otherwise they'll close down the program for everyone.)

You may be wondering: How can speakers get better than the LRS+? Well, you'd be looking for speakers that retain their lively magic while also being fuller range, meatier, and louder without distortion. That brings us to our next speaker recommendation (in a moment).

First, one more note of comparison: Do the LRS+'s offer all the magic of the Audiovector R6 Arreté? No, there's more to be had—the airier highs, the incredible soundstage depth, and the meaty, absorbing bass puts the R6 Arreté in a higher class of euphoria.


Pair the Magnepan LRS+ ($1K) with a Hegel integrated amplifier—either the Hegel H95 ($2.2K) or the H120 ($3.2K) for more power. The H120 will play louder and sound a bit better than its H95 sibling, but the H95 is great if you don’t play at very loud volumes—and it saves you a thousand bucks.

As always, in addition to the Hegel, you’ll need speaker cables (review).

The Hegel amplifier choice is expensive relative to the speaker. There is no way around this; these Hegels are necessary for the Magnepans to deliver their magic without fatigue (discussion). So, don't substitute in another amplifier before hearing these paired with the Hegels; amplifier pairings are notoriously hit or miss with the Magnepans, with many sounding plain bad.

Optional upgrade: I soon test a rigid stand plus a Magnepan fuse replacement, which reportedly significantly improve sound quality. I’ll report back.


To start, the LRS+ should be 5-7 feet away from the rear wall. Further, tow them in 2” toward your seating position and sit about 10ft back from them. Also lift the rear of the speakers up so that they tilt forward to be perfectly perpendicular to the floor. From there, you'll need to make micro-adjustments to find the right positioning. Learn how to do that on the next page.

Keep the Magnepans away from non-UV-blocking windows as UV light can damage the speakers’ drivers over time.

Where to buy

Buy from The Music Room. They offer 60 day returns with full refunds and have fantastic customer support. To buy the Hegel, Dedicated Audio offers 30 day returns with full refunds too.

For Music: Klipsch Cornwall IV — $8,500+

Source: Safe and Sound


I haven't heard this system yet. I suspect I'll love it, so I'm including it.

The beloved Klipsch Cornwall IV ($6.5K) represents a category of speakers called horn-loaded. These have a meaningfully unique sound signature that they serve as an alternative sonic flavor. Many audiophiles have a setup in this category as their secondary (or primary) system.

Vocals are airy, full, and startlingly present in the room. You can recreate the true-to-life midrange tone of a voice like Johnny Cash's and give yourself goosebumps. Like the Magnepans, they are lively and lifelike, but they're more vibrant and forward.

When tweeters are horn-loaded like they are here, they get louder for every movement, which means they move less, which translates to less distortion and a uniquely vibrant sound. And thanks to the waveguides that surround the tweeters, they cast a large soundstage and have a wider listening sweet spot for group listening.

The Cornwall IV's reviews are glowing, and numerous hifi reviewers consider it an at-home endgame system—including Steve Guttenberg, Zero Fidelity, and Andrew Robinson. Click their names to watch their reviews.

These speakers pair well with tube preamps or tube integrated amps, which smooth out the high notes and add a bit more body. Perhaps test pairing it with the Heaven 11 Billie Mk2 ($2K, review). And if you want more bass, you can pair it with 2x REL S/510s ($5K from TMR for easier returns), which are discussed here: video, video, video.

There’s a more expensive alternative in this horn-loaded category: the Fleetwood Deville ($16K). Credit to hifi reviewer Steve Huff for bringing these to my attention. He’s a YouTuber who goes nuts for them here. He’s never heard anything better in 30 years. There’s also a glowing review in the venerable Stereophile magazine here where the reviewer says it’s the best speaker he’s heard of this style.

Music & TV: Polk R200 — $1,750+


The Polk R200 ($750) is one of the best deals in sub-$1K hifi. When paired with $1K in amplification, the total price is $1.75K. Watch the reviews here: video, video, video, video, video, video, article, article.

These give you an entry-level taste of real hifi without paying the full price tag. They do all the basic hifi tricks that we demo’d on page two; they sound robust, clear, and punchy—and they’ll impress any beginning audiophile for both music and home theater use.

They're bookshelf speakers, which means they lack full bass extension, they don't cast the largest soundstage, and they're not suitable for very large rooms. But they pack enough bass impact to be a fit for home theater plus all genres of music.

While these are hifi, they don’t offer above-and-beyond sonic magic. They're not euphoric; they’re not the Audiovector R6 Arretés that hijack my brain, and they can't do what the Magnepan LRS+ can with soundstage and liveliness.

However, I’ve not seen better-reviewed stand-mounted speakers near this price that also have great bass relative to their size. Most people who aren't looking to get deep into hifi and just want great speakers for their living room at a reasonable price will be happy with these.

More expensive hifi speakers will provide clearer detail, larger soundstage, greater dynamic range, and more refined bass.


As an entry point, consider powering the R200s with a Bluesound Powernode 2 ($950) all-in-one (“integrated”) amplifier (video, video, video, article, article). Plus, get yourself a pair of speaker cables (review). That’s all you need. To save up to $400, perhaps you can find a used Powernode 2 for half-price on eBay. For additional input connections, you’d need to upgrade to the NAD C 700 amplifier ($1.5K, video, video, video, article, article).

Yes, the amplifier costs more than the speakers. In hifi, good speakers require adequate power or they sound hollow and distort at higher volumes. If you're a beginning audiophile, I do not recommend using amplifiers other than those recommended here when first setting these up. Not all amplifiers pair well with all speakers, and these Bluesound and NAD products are well-reviewed and are frequently paired with Polks.

I'd recommend experimenting only after you've first heard this pairing.


Follow the speaker setup instructions on the next page.

Where to buy

Buy from Polk’s website. They offer 60 day returns with full refunds, and Bluesound offers 30 day returns.

Music & TV: Arendal 1732 Tower — $6,200+

Now we’re entering top-tier hifi with the Arendal 1732 Tower THX ($3K) with $3.2K of amplification. This is an incredible speaker for both theater and music use, and it rivals the sound quality of many $30K+ floorstanders. Reviewers agree: video, video, video, video, video, video.

When compared to the Polk bookshelves previously discussed, here's how the Arendals are better:

In other words, they’re more of everything hifi. Plus, they introduce a delightful high frequency sparkliness that's enjoyable.

Now, are these much better than the Polks?

Yes, and it's not subtle.

As for how they compare to the Magnepan LRS+: These Arendals do not have the same seductive sense of “the instruments are in front of you.” But few speakers can do what the Magnepans do, so that’s no knock on the Arendals.

The Arendals, meanwhile, get much louder than the Magnepans without distortion, sound fuller and have much greater bass, and they’re appropriate for both home theater and larger rooms.

They're extremely good, but, no, they're not endgame transcendent. If you’re curious how it gets better than the Arendals, better speakers have:

But when you hear these Arendals, you won’t long for those other things if you haven't heard them. Plus, those qualities—while better—enter the zone of diminishing returns. So, here’s the bottom line:

Most people will never need to upgrade beyond the Arendal 1732 Towers—in their lifetime. For many, this is their endgame setup.

But, if you’re an obsessive audiophile like me, you still want to know: How do they compare to the Audiovector R6 Arretés that I love?

Well, the Arendals lack the R6 Arreté's absorbing soundstage depth and they don’t have the same enormity of bass. But most people won’t care much about that, and there’s no way the R6 Arreté is worth the extra $30K. (Unless you’re an obsessive audiophile.)

The truth is that once you own a great hifi system like this, it’s usually no longer about buying something “better.” Instead, it’s more about trying different sonic flavors: Do you prefer a more rich and velvety sound that’s euphoric with vocals and guitars? Then perhaps consider the Fleetwood Devilles mentioned earlier, or the popular Harbeth C7ES-3 XS ($5K) paired with a Hegel H120 ($2.2K), or the supposedly magical Klipsch Cornwall IV ($6.5K).

But if you want an electrifying, diamond clear, rock machine that grips you—for every application from home theater to hip hop—then the Arendals are worth a 60 day in-home trial if you can afford them.

To dive deeper into how the Arendals are engineered and why they’re inexpensive for such top-of-the-line sound, watch this interview with Arendal’s lead engineer.


As long as you’re spending ~$3K+, you probably can’t go wrong with any major amp brand here. So feel free to experiment. Just make sure it produces ~100W or more of power into 8 ohms, which is a spec you'll see listed on the product page.

The Hegel H120 ($3.2K) is again the all-in-one integrated amplifier I’ll recommend by default here (video, video, video, article, article, article, article, article). You won’t need to buy anything beyond the Hegel other than a pair of speaker cables (review).

As an upgrade, you can also buy this Doge 8 tube preamp ($2K, video, video) to make the midrange more forward and the soundstage more holographic on the Hegel.

Alternatively, reviewer Jay Lee reports that the Vincent SV-237MK II ($3K) is a great pairing that opens the soundstage like the combined Hegel+Doge pairing—but for less money. You’d need to pair the Vincent, however, with a source+DAC like a Bluesound Node ($600) to have a complete component stack.

Where to buy

Buy from Arrendal’s website. They offer 60 day returns with full refunds. To buy the Hegel, Dedicated Audio offers 30 day returns with full refunds.

Music & TV: Audiovector R6 Arreté — $43,000+


Now we’ve reached my personal endgame: the Audiovector R6 Arreté ($33K). These are the speakers that made me fall in love with hifi.

This is the only speaker on this page that captures the full euphoric magic I teased in this guide’s intro. At least, that I've personally experienced. To each their own.

The reviews are, of course, glowing: article, article, article, article, article, article, article. This is a product that hifi audio store owners in Europe often keep as their at-home endgame system. That says a lot—I value what people buy for themselves.

To cut to the chase: the R6 Arretés lack almost nothing and have just about everything. They’re full-range, suitable for both music and home theater, and are—for my tastes—as good as you can get until you pay $200K+. But even in that higher price range, I’m not sure I’d prefer much over this, except perhaps the Wilson Chronosic XVX, which I don't have $320K to pay for.

What makes the Audiovector R6 Arreté special?

The R6 Arreté has the most delicious treble I’ve heard. It’s airy and smooth, yet still detailed and commanding—without ever being fatiguing. Instead of music sounding like a laser beam shooting at your ears, it feels like a stream of music you’re standing in the middle of.

The bass is big, clear, and clean. It produces bass twice the size that its cabinet would suggest due to a dual-mounted, isobaric bass woofer configuration that leverages a physics principle to produces double the sound pressure level (discussion).

Finally, their soundstage is the deepest I’ve heard (other than from omnidirectional speakers)—thanks to their open-back chassis and rear-firing driver.

Altogether, the Audiovector R6 Arreté is the cleanest, most satisfying, and most absorbing speaker I’ve heard—second only to its even more egregiously-priced big brother: the R8. How is all this possible? Here's a technical breakdown.

That said, my confidence should not compel you to blindly purchase them. Never buy speakers in this price range without hearing them. Everyone has their own tastes and there’s no right or wrong. This is just the top for me. I simply hope I've compelled you to find a local Audiovector dealer here and listen for free! It’s a fun way to spend a couple hours.

When demo’ing in-store, ask to listen to the R6 Arreté or the bigger brother R8 model. The rest of Audiovectors’ products do not have the same magic I’ve written about, and at each of the other models’ price points there’s an alternative speaker brand I’d probably purchase instead.

Also, make sure the store has them positioned 5+ feet out from the back wall. Otherwise, they may not know how to set them up properly.

Should you ultimately buy this speaker? No, of course not. Not unless you're obsessed and have a lot of money to spare.

Most beginning audiophiles wanting top-tier hifi for most applications should start by trialing the Arendal 1723 THX Towers (if you can afford them). They're so darn good and so much cheaper that you’ll likely never want to upgrade. And when you do get the itch, you'll probably be more interested in testing lucious, horn-loaded speakers for their alternative sonic signature than spending even more money on the same signature.

Component Package #1: Devialet — $10,000 (Used)

As for electronics, there’s a hundred directions to go in. I’ll suggest a few at various price points.

Starting at the lowest price, you could buy a used Devialet Expert 250 Pro integrated amplifier for $8K-$10K (video overview). I’ve heard these paired with the R6 Arreté and they sound magical. It’s all you’d need to complete your system other than speaker cables (review), and it’ll show off the great qualities I’ve discussed. This is actually the pairing I first heard these speakers with.

However, I wouldn’t buy this amplifier new for $20K because it’s not necessarily worth the price (and hifi reviewers don’t rate Devialet as one of the best amplifier brands). At $10K used, though, it makes sense. You can buy them used here—try to avoid being scammed.

Note that the Devialet 250 model provides sufficient power for the R6 Arreté—do not go lower or you risk damaging speakers or producing thin bass. The danger of underpowering speakers is potentially generating square sign waves at high volumes, which can overheat tweeters and eventually destroy them (video).

If you buy the Devialet, you’ll be very happy. You don’t have to pay more to upgrade to the other packages I'm about to discuss.

But, if you’re curious how much better it gets, more expensive components can get you more bass texture and slam, slightly cleaner and smoother mids and highs, slightly better instrument separation, and a slightly bigger soundstage.

Is that worth paying more? Certainly not for most people—you’re entering the territory of extremely diminishing returns reserved for obsessive audiophiles.

But, hey, let’s see what more money gets you—just for fun.

Note: I haven't tested an even cheaper component package at $7.1K. It consists of 2x Schiit Tyr ($3.2K), the HoloAudio Spring 3 L2 DAC w/ Preamp module ($3.1K), and the HoloAudio Red streamer ($800). It might sound better while being cheaper.

Component Package #2: Parasound + HoloAudio — $14,000

If you don’t like to buy used gear or want to maximize bass, this next package splits out the components (as per the image above).

How much better does this Parasound and HoloAudio combo sound over the Devialet? You'll get a slightly bigger soundstage, slightly smoother mids and highs, and more bass grip. But this isn’t game-changing, and you’d be happy with either.

The key benefit, however, is that by splitting out electronics, you get the flexibility to mix and match components. Like trying tube preamps to enrich harmonics. This is where nerding out on hifi gets really fun:

Component Package #3: Boulder  + HoloAudio — $37,000

Now we’re reaching “as good as it gets” territory—as far as my taste and experience goes, at least.

In this package, we’re buying the world-class Boulder 1160 amp ($28K) paired with the reference HoloAudio May KTE DAC ($5K) and the HoloAudio Serene preamplifier ($3K) alongside the HoloAudio Red Streamer ($800).

Personally, I can’t think of how I’d significantly improve this setup other than fooling around with the Doge 8 tube preamp ($2K, video, video) to make the midrange more forward and the soundstage more holographic.

The Boulder amplifier is simply the cleanest, clearest, quietist, most dynamic amp I’ve heard. You get more of everything by 25%, I’d say. For this reason, it’s a favorite among American hifi stores (article, article, article, article), and the reviewers I’ve consulted with agree that it’s at the top or near the top of amplifier rankings.

Separately, the HoloAudio stack is famously low noise, low jitter, and a favorite among reviewers.

How much better does this setup sound than the Parasound or Devialet? If you’re listening critically, it’s cleaner (more "grain-free") plus more snappy and dynamic. But for its insane price, we’ve arrived at hugely—laughably—diminishing returns. Not a single listener would say it’s worth ~4x the price of the Devialet.

If you hear both setups side-by-side, yes, you’ll notice a moderate difference. It’s just a bit more of everything—with bass being most noticeable—but far past the point where you’re already very happy with what you have.


These speakers must be moved several feet from the back wall. This is not optional. I’ve found around 6ft (1.8m) to sound best at stores. Follow the instructions detailed on the next page for speaker setup.

Notably, these speakers are listening height sensitive. Meaning, get the tweeters near ear height when seated because the Audiovector’s AMT tweeters don’t have as good of a vertical dispersion as dome tweeters. If necessary, tilt the speakers forward using the provided spikes. Finally, these speakers don't need to be towed in much—just slightly if at all.

If you buy this system, it's recommended to play it for 100 hours at medium listening volumes before critically assessing it. Some casual YouTubers commenters remark that this burn-in process is a myth, but every hifi reviewer and store owner I’ve ever met swears by it. Many speaker manufacturers insist on it too (video). On Arendal's website, they write:

"Break-in for optimal performance: 50 hours." —Source

Why? Apparently it helps flex woofers into their final state of flexibility, explained by speaker designer Andrew Jones here.

Where to buy

Find a local hifi dealer using Audiovector’s website. You may not encounter good return policies, so extensively demo these plus other speakers before buying anything.

Remember to buy the Arreté version. The lower-priced models don’t have the same soundstage depth or magic.

If you buy the Devialet integrated amplifier, consider buying it used on Hifi Shark—although you may get scammed since it’s a wild west out there. Alternatively, if you chose the Parasound JC5 with J2 combo, buy them from Crutchfield, which offers 60 day returns and free refunds.

How to buy hifi

I use two approaches when buying hifi. These help me avoid wasting money on the wrong equipment.

1. Go to local hifi stores

By far the best option is listening to hifi setups at a local hi-fi store:

To find hifi stores, look for the speakers you’re interested in then check their sites for their Dealers page. See if their dealers are near you.

If you like an in-store system, try to buy the full system so you don’t mismatch with different components at home that may not sound good together. (Unless you know what you're doing, of course.)

If you're in San Francisco, go to Music Lovers and ask to speak with Spencer. He's amazingly helpful, and the store has a great selection of speakers. If you're a serious buyer, ask to listen to the Sonus Faber Amati with a Boulder 1160 amplifier.

2. Use reviews to decide on returnable speakers

My second approach entails buying a complete system as recommended by a reviewer without first hearing it. However, and this is critical: only buy from manufacturers and retailers with generous (30+ day) return policies and free returns. Because, once again, you have to hear a system for yourself first.

As a last resort, if there’s no return policy, you can consider buying used from Hifi Shark to later resell the purchase at a lesser loss. But it's a wild west out there, so you might get scammed.

I find these YouTube reviewers to be knowledgeable:

And these blogs are good:

Avoid buying a speaker from one review and an amplifier from another. This is because pairing speakers with amplifiers is hit-or-miss: their sonic profiles often mismatch, resulting in speakers that sound lifeless or irritating. Hifi Reviewer Jay Lee told me that his equipment pairings are wrong 70% of the time—even after doing this for years (discussion).

Also, note that almost all hifi reviews are positive. This is because reviewers typically return products without review when they dislike it. They do this to maintain relationships with manufacturers and to give them another chance with new products in the future.

Accordingly, here’s how I leverage reviews: (1) to understand a component's acoustic signature, (2) to see which equipment pairs well together, (3) to learn whether something was so exceptional that the reviewer bought it for themselves.

Send me your photos

Send me your hifi system photos if you'd like: tweet me.

How to set up speakers

How to set up your electronics and acoustic treatment.