Keeping things simple

Friday, August 4, 2023

I recently asked some customers on our facebook group what they’d like to see from us and one customer's question was so simple and on the nail that it stopped me in my tracks.

“A basic breakdown of kit - what the various parts do and when you need them. Things like Amp, Dac, Phono Stage. A bit of a newbie guide. I see loads of posts here but don't know or understand what some of the things do or whether I should consider them for my system”

So I’ll attempt to tackle all of that here and I’ll try to keep it short and sweet.

Here is a list of all the kit you might need to listen to music and a brief description of what they do.

Source components

Record player/turntable

Rotates vinyl and recovers music from it. Still one of the best ways of listening to music and quite complex if you really want to dig down and understand it. But in its simplest form a record player plays records.


Received radio signals. There are three types; FM, DAB (digital audio broadcasts) and internet radio. All offer good performance.

CD player

Plays CD’s.

Streamer/Network music player.

Plays digital files. These are on the internet and the Streamer is connected to your internet either wired or wirelessly. You can buy and download these and store them locally on a hard drive. Or you can use subscription services like Spotify, Tidal, Qobuz and others to listen to their content. All this can be done at very high quality. Streamers also allow you to connect music stored on your mobile phone and also give you access to internet radio.

DAC - Digital to Analogue Converter

DACS are built into most digital products. The reason for this is digital products are digital whilst amplifiers are mostly analogue. A DAC will convert the digital signal to an analogue one which an amplifier can understand and make louder. Digital to Analogue converters are available to suit all budgets. If you have any digital product and you wish to improve the sound then a DAC can sometimes be the most sensible way of doing it. 

Phono Stage

This is only for people who want to play records. These can be required because turntables have a very low output. Actually it is less than a tenth of a CD player. So an additional unit is required to step it up or make it louder. Some amplifiers have these built in. Some don’t. Hence the requirement in some but not all instances.


Amplifiers are needed to make the small signal recovered from the source component louder in order to pass the signal to loudspeakers and give you control over the volume. 

There are three types of amplifier. Integrated amps are the most popular and the most affordable. An amplifier is made up of two parts. The first is the pre-amp which deals with the signals coming in from the sources. The second is the power-amp which generates watts to power the loudspeakers. An integrated amp has both parts in one box and is “integrated”.

When higher performance is needed then these two parts can be isolated and put in their own enclosures. This generally offers better performance but increased cost.


Speakers come in all shapes and sizes and all prices. From very small to quite large. Larger speakers are generally better for reproducing bass. But there are exceptions because not everyone has a large room or wants a large speaker.

Speakers reproduce the sound but are actually not the most important component in the system. In terms of importance we find the source is the most important, amplification next and loudspeakers last. This sort of sounds counterintuitive but the speaker can only reproduce the quality it is given. So very high quality speakers can only do a good job if they’re given a superb signal. 

All-in-one systems

These are systems where as much as possible is built into one box. This has advantages and disadvantages and sometimes these are worth looking into before deciding which items you decide to purchase.

You do not need all of the above. Just the source component that suits how you enjoy music, an amplifier and speakers.

We’re aware that this is complicated and it is our job to help guide you through this mire of information. We have listening rooms where you can listen to equipment that suits your budget, the size of your room and your requirements. Our 41 years in business will help guide you to getting something that will transform your enjoyment of music.

Please ask any questions you might have at the bottom of this page or get in touch with us however you prefer for some clarification, advice or help.

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