Beta Yourself: hi-fi

Unleash the full potential of your ears by building your ideal hi-fi setup
Beta Yourself: How to build a Hi-Fi system from scratch

So, your Grundig boombox has finally packed in and it's time to build a new hi-fi system. But where to start?

Luckily for us,What Hi-Fi? editor Simon Lucas sits only a few desks away from the Stuff district, and we managed to get him to share his pearls of audiophile wisdom:

The basics

Beta Yourself: How to build a Hi-Fi system from scratch
Beta Yourself: How to build a Hi-Fi system from scratch

Start at source. Where is the music for your hi-fi coming from? Your huge collection of CDs? Those vinyl LPs that are finally coming back into fashion? The files on your computer and phone? Or a streaming service?

Choose your style. Is this hi-fi system confined to one room? Or do you want music to follow you wherever you go? Multi-room audio is booming, but it's not automatically your first choice where sound quality's concerned.

Set a budget. No matter if your idea of 'hi-fi' is a single mains-powered speaker with a Bluetooth connection to your phone, or a whole rack's worth of amplifier, CD player, turntable, streamer, network-attached storage and a pair of speakers - stick to your budget.

Prioritise. Be honest: do you want your money to buy the best sound possible, or do you want it to buy as much futuristic gadgetry as it can? The best kit isn't necessarily the coolest.

Plan ahead. It's like a job interview: where do you see yourself in five years' time? If you imagine your system expanding into more rooms, say, or incorporating some home cinema action, you need to factor it in now.

Audition. A hi-fi store is a rare sight these days, but there's no substitute for hearing the products on your shortlist before you commit the cash. And it's ultimately less of a pain than having to keep sending things back to Amazon.

System matching

Beta Yourself: How to build a Hi-Fi system from scratch

Check compatibility. If you have a record player, you'll need an amp with a phono stage. For wireless speakers, make sure your home network's up to the strain.

Don't overdo it. The bassiest amplifier, driving the bassiest speaker, will end up - yes - sounding too bassy.

It can all be hi-fi. Plugging a laptop straight into an amplifier seldom ends well. But using a dedicated off-board DAC like an AudioQuest Dragonfly (£130 (RM710), audioquest.com) turns your laptop into a hi-fi component.

READ MORE: Cyrus Lyric 09 review

Setting up

Beta Yourself: How to build a Hi-Fi system from scratch

Get into position. Put the speakers as level with your head as possible and closer to each other than they are to you.

Don't interfere. Interference (electrical and physical) can ruin the sound of your hi-fi, so make sure equipment is isolated: ideally electronics on a rack and speakers on stands.

Care and attention. Don't play records that are thick with dust, CDs that are covered in thumb-prints or music on a speaker that's down to its last 3% of battery life. All these could create problems in your system.

Digital domain

Beta Yourself: How to build a Hi-Fi system from scratch

Archive properly. Digitising your music collection only needs doing once. LAME is a brilliant MP3 encoder - use it with Exact Audio Copy to keep it sounding pristine.

Pay the premium. The likes of Qobuz (qobuz.com) and Tidal (tidalhifi.com) stream CD-sized files rather than the compressed Spotify equivalents. They cost more, but they offer more detail.

Make the most of iTunes. Get into the 'preferences' menu and have a proper experiment with the equalizer settings.

READ MORE: Naim Mu-so review