LOUD, HiFi Home Theater Audio Setup on a Budget: DIY Thrift Store Audio Setup in 5 Minutes

My goal in setting up the audio at my parents house was simple: just get this Home Theater audio all set-up with what I have here at their house (while I’m dog-sitting for them).

The audio equipment I’ve seen at Goodwill lately is NICE

I ended up cutting a few corners due to a limited budget, but in the end it sounds great and they love it!

Update: After scouring a handful of thrift stores over the last 5 or 6 weeks, I’ve seen tons of old, well-made, good-condition audio gear recently. I’ve seen dozens of nice Sony preamps, many speakers with in-tact speaker cones, and even cables to hook it all up.

Here’s a photo of some pretty amazing gear someone scored for only $70 at Goodwill

And my goal in writing this tutorial is to help you set up home audio in no time with no stress! I keep it as simple as possible. For example, you need 3 main things: an Amplifier,

Who is this guide for?

I wrote this guide for people who don’t know anything about audio setup.

The truth is that it takes only about 30 seconds to hook a preamplifer up to your iPhone and your speakers. But that’s not all you need to do! First you need to gather all the right components.

Wanna save time?

Researching components and setting the components in the right spot in your house / back yard can be daunting and time consuming for the non-tech-savvy (not to mention buying and connecting the cables!). That’s why I made this tutorial: to save you time and headaches.

So here’s my guide to simplify things for people who don’t know everything there is to know about home audio setup.

Keep reading to see how I got my parents’ poolhouse audio system decked-out in no time!

Let’s get started!

To kick off this super-efficient audio setup guide, I start you off with a one by one quick overview of each main component necessary for your killer home audio setup.

You can get this stuff at Goodwill / The Arc Thrift Store / Salvation Army / Habitat for Humanity / pretty much any decent-sized thrift store! And often, older stuff was built better than newer stuff ;)

Tip: If a speaker is heavy, then it at least has a decent magnet. So pick the speaker up off the ground before you consider buying it. If it’s light, you probably can’t expect great sound quality from it.

Here’s what I have (and what you’ll need):

1. (PRE)AMPLIFIER

To start off, I’m using a Sony preamplifier. it’s pretty old, but it still works and it’s got the oomph needed to power these big, gnarly JBL es80 speakers. your preamplifier is arguably the most important component of your home audio or home theater setup. If you are home audio system was a tree, then your preamplifier would be the trunk of the tree.

This is what an amplifier looks like. You need this to convert the weak (unamplified) signal to a stronger, amplified signal
Sony Preamp rear
This is what the rear look like

2. SPEAKERS

After the Sony preamplifier, we have two JBL es80 speakers. Like my preamplifier, these JBL speakers are also pretty old and have been in storage for quite a while, so they have some gross stuff stuck to the bottom and could be in better shape.

But that makes them perfect for pool house / back yard speakers! It turns out all these old components work like new (so keep an eye out for nice, big, heavy speakers and preamplifiers at Goodwill!)

That takes care of the preamplifier and the speakers.

3. AUDIO INPUT

The only thing we have left to take care of (other than the cabling) is the audio input. In other words, where is the audio signal going to come from? Spotify? YouTube music? Pandora?

For my set up, I’m actually setting up the audio at my parents house. their smart home system is based on Alexa and Amazon devices, such as the Amazon echo Dot.

Amazon Echo Wish List for New Features!
Amazon Echo

I want to keep things simple for them and not introduce a new device for them to learn, such as the Google Home products.

Google Nest Mini
I’ve been using Google Nest Mini for at least 2 years – it’s great!

For their setup, I’m using one of their Amazon Echo Dots as the audio input. They have their Amazon account linked to the Amazon echo already, so it simplifies the audio-input -selecting process for me.

In your case, you may want to use a Bluetooth dongle, a smartphone (direct-input), etc. In fact, I plan to add a few more inputs to their preamplifier, such as a standalone Bluetooth dongle for simple Bluetooth connecting.

But most of these types of devices use the same size jack to output their audio signal anyway.

How to Connect Audio Input to Preamplifer

To connect the Amazon echo dot to my preamplifier, I simply just find the right adapter (an “RCA-to-3.5mm” adapter) that connects the Amazon echo to my Sony preamplifier.

Then the preamplifier takes care of the rest . Here’s what the preamplifier does:

  1. takes the “weak” un-amplified signal from the Amazon echo (or mobile phone or whatever),
  2. Then the preamplifier APMLIFIES the weak signal to make it strong
  3. The preamplifier sends the strong signal to the (big, gnarly, badass JBL) speakers via speaker wire.
  4. You jam out
  5. CABLING (“THE WIRES”)
    For cabling, there was some relatively thick gauge speaker wire already attached to the speaker wire terminals of the Sony preamplifier. So I just..
  • attached the loose ends of the speaker wires to the JBL speakers
  • hooked up the RCA-to-3.5mm adapter from the Amazon echo dot to the preamplifier
    ..and BOOM we had tunes. Good, loud, crystal clear tunes.

Here’s what I used for cabling:

  • medium gauge speaker wire
  • RCA-to-3.5mm adapter
  • power strip / surge protector

POWER

I recommend you use a power strip / surge protector. This not only protects your devices against irregular electricity patterns and spikes, but also can clean the power signal which gives your device has longer lifespan. If you have expensive audio gear, then I recommend you also use a power cleaner. A power cleaner is made exactly to do the job of cleaning the electrical signal supplied to your expensive devices!

HOW TO HOOK IT ALL UP

Here’s how I hooked up the poolhouse audio system at my parents’ rancho:
1) make sure you have these: decent preamplifier, decent speakers, speaker wire, RCA-to-3.5mm adapter
2) connect speaker wire from preamplifier to speakers
3) then connect an adapter from your input device (such as an Amazon echo dot) to your preamplifier.
4) rock out with your Spock out

My Journey: What I Ended Up Doing at MY House

After recently moving into a new house, I had no speakers. I sold / gave away all my stuff.

So first, I ended up buying a decent boom box as a super-temporary audio solution.

Then I bought an old flat-screen JVC TV at a pawn shop for $120. It included a 5.1 Philips surround sound system! The Philips system sounds surprisingly great. So don’t under-estimate those bad boys.

After that, I bought a pair of Google Nest Audio speakers for $170, thinking their claim of super-clear audio quality was correct. Unfortunately, the $170 Google speakers couldn’t compete with the free Philips 5.1ch surround sound system that came free with the TV from the pawn shop.

Now that I know the Philips surround sound system is better than I realized, I’m returning the Google Nest Audio speakers – and getting a pair of powered Klipsch speakers instead. Same price!

Ian (KFire TV Admin)
Ian (KFire TV Admin)

I run this website! My purpose here is to help people stream great content to their devices. With over 10 years of IT experience, I strive to educate the people who visit this site with the best, most up-to-date information available. If an article on this site helped you, then help me back by leaving a comment on my YouTube channel. Or subscribe to our mailing list for streaming add-on updates and a 60% off VPN coupon code.


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