Cuttin-Edge, On-the-Spot Reporting

Can You Still Build an Entry-Level System for Under $1000 at CES?

If you’re an audiophile on a budget reading our show coverage and becoming frustrated by the lack of affordable gear, it may be a function of the fact that there were fewer specialty audio manufacturers at this year’s CES. And as with everything, the prices of audio gear are going up. But if you’re shopping for a truly budget-friendly audio system, there’s still hope -- Emotiva introduced a slew of very affordable products at this year’s CES, including all-new electronics and speakers that you might consider.

Emotiva BasX IA-100Roger Kanno with the Emotiva BasX IA-100

The heart of any budget audio system is usually an integrated amplifier, and these days you probably want to get one with a built-in digital-to-analog converter to save cost and keep things convenient. The $399 BasX IA-100 not only has a built-in DAC that has a USB input; it also has an FM tuner and MM/MC phono stage to go along with its 50Wpc rated output. You can see in the picture the robust build quality of the IA-100 -- something that Emotiva is known for. The BasX components also have updated cosmetics that are more attractive than some of their earlier designs. And if $399 is too rich for your blood and you only have sources with analog outputs, the $199 BasX A-100 integrated amplifier, which is also rated at 50Wpc and comes in a half rack-width size, might suffice for an even simpler compact stereo system.

Emotiva B1

Emotiva introduced additional models in its existing Airmotiv line of speakers, including a large floorstander, a center-channel, and a surround speaker. The company also debuted the less-expensive line of BasX loudspeakers, but I still prefer the sound of the Airmotiv line, with its folded-ribbon tweeters and woven Kevlar bass-midrange drivers. To my ears, and for my money, the bookshelf Airmotiv B1 that the brand introduced last year, priced at $299 per pair, still offers the best combination of price and performance. The B1 is a relatively large and solidly built speaker for a $299-per-pair bookshelf-type design, and it has surprisingly good bass. But its natural sounding mids and highs and excellent imaging make it my choice for a truly affordable budget loudspeaker that should be capable of being driven by any good entry-level integrated amplifier, like the IA-100.

Ah, but these days audiophiles don’t live by digital sources alone. At a price of only $299, including an Audio-Technica cartridge, adding the Musical MMF-1.3 belt-drive turntable to this system will still keep its price under a thousand dollars! And with the MMF-1.3 you can experiment and use either the phono stage built into the turntable or the one included in the IA-100 integrated amplifier.

Music Hall turntable

So although the options for budget-conscious audiophiles have become much more limited in recent years, I found that I could still find components at CES to assemble a very competent and musically satisfying audio system for less than a thousand dollars.

Roger Kanno
Senior Contributor, SoundStage!

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