The first thing I learned from the forum is that stereo systems have not changed much through the years. Unlike AV receivers that need to support different video and audio formats, integrated amplifiers only need to support two-channel audio for stereo music. That means a good integrated amplifier from the nineties can still compare with newer amplifiers. Armed with that knowledge, I searched the classified and bought a used 1994 Marantz PM-44 SE for US$160 without auditioning. It was a What Hi-Fi Group Test Winner so it has to be good. If you are going this route, invest on an electronic contact cleaner and spray generously on all knobs, switches, and speaker relays to clean the electrical contacts.
I next considered getting a used pair of bookshelf speakers, but found a store in the mall selling brand new Wharfedale Diamond 10.1 speakers. I knew that it got the What Hi-Fi Product of the YearAward in 2009 so I auditioned it. The Diamonds were good and it only costs as much as my Marantz. I bought it. I now have a basic hi-fi stereo system costing less than a brand new Marantz integrated amplifier. Next is the audio source.
The Audio Source
Using the iPod’s headphone out would not produce the hi-fi audio that I wanted. I need to tap the line out signals. Luckily, I found a FiiO L11 Line Out Dock at an audio store and this completed my hardware. It was a very cheap solution. I then had a mini stereo to RCA cable custom-made by a forum member.
I wanted to use FLAC and take advantage of its lossless format. However, Apple does not support FLAC and I had to contend with 320 kbps audio for a more than a year. I have a decent stereo system, but it is limited by my chosen audio source. It was only last week that I learned about ALAC, Apple’s lossless format. I could not believe that my old iPod supports ALAC and I did not know about it.
I also learned another trivia. Apparently, older iPods use Wolfson DAC chips and that includes my iPod Nano3G. Wolfson DACs can be found in expensive CD players from companies like Harman Kardon. Using an old iPod as audio source for my stereo system does not make it less hi-fi after all. True enough, listening to my stereo setup makes me forget that my audio source is just a seven-year-old iPod playing digital audio files.