The hobby of audiophila is a very personal journey that often starts with a very modest music playback system that can cost a mere hundreds of dollars but can lead to a life-long process in search of the finest music reproduction one can find in his or her (like there are any women audiophiles we just wanted to be politically correct here) homes. Beware that much like collecting any luxury good product that building a top performing audiophile system can be expensive, sometimes frustrating but always worth it. High end audio has a deep history but is based on modern technology.
The Basic Components in an Audiophile System
Source Components: Source components for a modern audiophile system can include: a turntable , a Compact disc player, a DAC (digital to analog converter), a media server, an iPad/iPhone/iPod and or other legacy products like a a cassette deck, reel to reel deck or an FM tuner. Modern systems are using computers more and more. Computers allow you to use your processor to "reclock" your audio files to make them sound better.
Stereo Preamp: To switch your sources and to boost your source's signal to a level that a power amp can really run with you need a stereo preamp. The question is: tubes or not to go tubes.
Stereo Power Amp: Once you've selected your source component and gotten the signal boosted – you are ready to get your signal really ready to make to your speakers but it needs to be amplified first thus your stereo amp. Note: some people merge their stereo amp and preamp into a component called an integrated amp. Others merge their DAC and preamp. It's a matter of personal preference for system design.
Loudspeakers: This is the most personal product in your system and nothing will effect your sound more than your speakers. Some audiophiles stick with small speakers called "bookshelf speakers" and others go for more reference level "floorstanding speakers". Budgets often dictate what level of speakers you get at any given time. Don't worry, there is always time to upgrade. One upgrade that is worth your audiophile investment is in a subwoofer which can bring the most emotional, powerful music content to your listening room in ways that many audiophile speakers physically can't do at large volumes.
Other Components and Audiophile Products: Room acoustics are key to the long term success of any audiophile system. Using good audiophile cables also helps. Headphones can be a nice addition to any audiophile system especially for those who listen late at night and or live in an apartment.