Q: I have been searching for a quality shelf stereo that has FM radio and can play music CDs. Call me old-fashioned, but I don't need any of the i-whatever or Wi-Fi or Bluetooth features, and I refuse to buy something that looks like a boombox. I am having a difficult time finding anything in the stores. I bought one inexpensive system and hate it. The sound is so bad and the design so poor that I want to replace it as soon as possible.
I would like FM radio and CD playback. I do not need anything else. Can you offer any recommendations in the $100 to $150 range?
A: There is definitely a dearth of quality radios that play CDs. Even when they were more common, it was hard to find good sound at the $100 to $150 price point. But we can adapt one of my recent recommendations for your purposes, and you will get the best sound for the price, guaranteed.
Not long ago I recommended a Dayton Audio T-Amp and B652 bookshelf speaker bundle that sells for $69 on Amazon. Combined with the Audio-Technica AT-LP60 turntable for $99, it makes for a surprisingly decent vinyl record playback system.
If you look on Amazon, you will find the NAXA NPC330 personal CD player/FM radio for $24 and a matching AC adapter for $16. Get the Dayton combo for $69, add the NPC330 and the adapter for $40. You can connect the player's headphone output to the Dayton Audio amp using the amp's included miniplug-to-miniplug cable. Turn the player volume to about 90 percent and control the master volume using the amplifier. You now have excellent quality, room-filling CD and FM sound for a little more than $100.
It's not as seamless of a solution as an all-in-one system, and it does not have the panache of a receiver, CD player and speakers, but it will accomplish your goal and sound good, too. If you want to expand the system down the line, you can add components like a cassette player and turntable by using RCA-to-miniplug cables and switching them at the amplifier input.
As an alternative, you could run the CD player into a powered speaker system, either a portable Bluetooth model or a powered pair of speakers. But good powered speaker pairs are expensive, so I think you will get the best value from using the Dayton combo.
A surprising benefit is that you can use this system anywhere, just like the boombox you disdain. Both the Dayton Audio T-Amp and the portable CD player/FM radio can run on AA batteries.
Send questions to Don Lindich at firstname.lastname@example.org. Get recommendations and read past columns at soundadviceblog.com.