The budget hi-fi system challenge Part 2

Some of me wishes I hadn’t started on this budget hi-fi system challenge. It is turning into an expensive and very time-consuming exercise.

It is a simple target: set up a budget hi-fi system that sounds good and that could be purchased for ideally less than £500.

I started with a Creek 4040 S3 amplifier, Mordaunt-Short MS20i Pearl loudspeakers with a computer audio source.

Let’s start with the computer audio source. My first plan was to use my HP 2133 Netbook, a beautifully finished netbook with a great screen that runs Windows 7 acceptably. Then I planned to use JRiver as the software as it seems to have the reputation as the best sounding of the non hair-shirt players. First problem: JRiver on the HP uses up all the CPU cycles and the netbook runs at 100% processor all the time and runs very warm with the fan blasting at full. Foobar, however, on the HP runs perfectly. So, initially I had the HP 2133 with Win 7 Pro and Foobar playing into an Arcam r-DAC into the Creek 4040 S3 and the MS20i Pearls.

It didn’t sound too bad actually; plenty of detail and well balanced it seemed, and in fact far better than many budget systems I recall.

In the beginning the amp, DAC and netbook were sitting on an Ikea Lack table purely for convenience. Cables were a computer grade USB, two very old Audio Technica PC-OCC interconnects and some Belden silver-plated copper cable I had bought on a reel and twisted together into pairs. I did solder 4mm Multicontact nickel Z plugs to the Belden cable to ensure a good connection.

Going back again to the sound: it was remarkably pleasant and easy to listen to but perhaps not quite as ‘grippy’ as I’m used to.

Here’s where the trouble started.

Click here for Part 3.