A mistake spending too much on amplification?

I was wondering if I screwed up by spending too much money on amplification? I have been upgrading my amp/preamp for awhile now (I started with a CODA Unison, then upgraded to a McCormack DNA-125 and EE Minimax, then to a Herron pre, and now mating that with Sixpacs). And, although there are subtle improvements, I am not hearing any night/day improvements, even when I go back to the CODA. And the CODA is much cheaper!

Does this mean I outpaced my speakers? Kind of like putting a supercharged turbo engine in a car with bald tires? Speakers are VS VR2's and Soliloquy 6.3's. Anyone have a good estimation on amplification costs relative to speaker costs? Sell the better amplification; use the money to buy better speakers?
Regardless of what reviewers say you are not going to hear
night/day differences between quality components. The real differences will, in most cases, be subtle. Be wary of anyone you tells you that product a "blows away" product b. It's audiophile speak which as very little to do with the real world.
narrod speaks the truth
None of the amplifiers you listed are beyond the capabilities of the two speakers you have. If you upgraded the speakers, you will begin to greater variations between the amplifiers. The fact is there are significant variations from one component to the next, which are heard only if your speaker is capable of conveying them. Sometimes, the greatest rewards come from using speakers that can't.
You've got some good speakers. Why don't you really upgrade your amps and get a pair of Herron M150 monoblocks to match your pre-amp?
The Sixpacs are crazy good on their own, and unbelievable with the right preamp. I have Sixpacs driven by the companion AES DJH, and am continually impressed by the sound of the two together. Perhaps your Herron preamp is not the best match with the Sixpacs.

Narrod above states there are no night/day differences between various components, and any differences will be subtle. This may be true, but when components have true synergy, you'll know it! I personally believe amplification (including the pre) should be one of your absolute strongest suites (along with AC power and the room itself). Speakers and sources are secondary in my world.
BOA2 says,

"The fact is there are significant variations from one component to the next"

It is certainly a strongly held opinion by many but is not and, in my opinion, cannot be proven as "fact". I've been in this hobby a very long time and experience tells me that quality components are much more alike than different.

This does not mean that the differences aren't important. In many cases they certainly can impact how a given listener responds to a given component. Night/Day? I don't think so.
source first no matter what your amp are.
Mlauner writes "sources first no matter what your amp are." Not bad advice, and a very reasonable way to build a system. Start at the begginning and go forward.
I on the otherhand prefer to start with the best amp I can get or preamp and then work in either direction depending of what is weakest at any point. Myh view is the music is amplified right, first, and foremost the other parts can be brought into line sooner or later.
Neither approach is right or wrong just different approaches
The behavior of either a piece of electronics or of a loudspeaker can be described in terms of its "transfer function". The transfer function is the sum total of everything the device does to the signal as it passes the signal on.

A purely electrical signal consists of variations in but two domains: time and magnitude.

But a loudspeaker's output has variations in five domains: Time, magnitude, and three dimensional space.

So a loudspeaker's transfer fuction is far more complex than that of a purely electronic component, and the loudspeaker therefore has much greater inherent opportunity to screw things up (which it takes full advantage of!).

Cutting to the chase here, in my opinion speakers make the most difference.

Do you still have both the Sixpacs, & the DNA-125? If so, you might want to keep them both given their reputations. It's puzzling that they wouldn't sound quite different from one another tho.

But I don't know your speakers, or how efficient they are, or how good they are. Or your cables, source components, etc. What.....are you trying to accomplish, sound wise?

I agree with Narrod. It has been my experience as well with both tube and solid state gear. The speaker/room interface ultimately determines the sound of an audio system. I think many of us have been caught in the electronics upgrade treadmill hoping for that "blown-away" event.

The garbage-in/garbage-out thinking about source components makes sense on the surface. However, for digital sources, they have been near perfect (except for relatively poor analog sections) for many years. There is no garbage-in coming from any reasonable digital source.

To tout my subwoofer mantra... Most systems will get the biggest improvement by adding a subwoofer. A true full range low distortion speaker system with the bass decoupled from the mid/treble just makes a ton of sense.
"Source first" reminds me how much I hated my Linn Sondek LP 12.

I think a much better theory is that your system will only be as good as its worst component.
Chiho, Whether you hear differences or not, or whether the differences are large or small (to you) depends mainly on what you are trying to accomplish by changing amps and how experienced a listener you are. If you have no specific goals and only want to make your system sounds 'better' then I think Narrod's comments may be appropriate. But don't think that the differences are not there or that they are not important to many others. They can be small to Narrod perhaps but they will be to many others what floats of sinks their boat.

Not to be rude, but I would suggest that you take time out to re-evalute exactly what you are trying to accomplish apart from assembling competent components.
Spend money on room treatments if you want to hear a huge improvement!
It is certainly a strongly held opinion by many but is not and, in my opinion, cannot be proven as "fact". I've been in this hobby a very long time and experience tells me that quality components are much more alike than different.
I must be missing something here. Are you honestly suggesting that there is little difference between Levinson, McIntosh, Zanden, Wolcott, or Audio Note? You can't be serious. Not even 300B amplifiers sound like one another, let alone comparing one SS (or digital) amp to another. We can argue the point 'til the cows come home, but the fact is that neither of Chiho's speakers will sufficiently illuminate the considerable differences that exist between amplifiers.
I agree with Duke, to me, there is more variation between speakers than any other component and that must be because there are more variables to account for and a wider range of choices. I have found a greater change in sound character changing speakers than any other component. Note that is character, not quality, not better just different. To me, that difference is as important as pure quality considerations. The old Linn mantra of source first accepted, speakers still make the biggest change to a system, in my experience.
frankly I would make sure you have the best wire before proceeding, you can gain quite a bit with quality cables that match your components....

if you have not done this already of course.......

As Newbee suggested, you might want to say more about what exactly it is that you're after. Between your other thread and this one, there appear to be two conversations running toward the theoretical realm without any specified goal to guide them. Just a thought.
Everyone has their own opinion. I've found mine to be that speakers matter most. Nothing will change the sound of your system like speakers.

Are you tired of your speakers and ready for new ones?
Guess pretty much has been covered and you've got some good responses. You have to ask yourself what 'improvements' are you after before deciding on your next step. In my opinion, you have realized that you have outpaced your speakers in the selection of amps, and that may be well true. You have to realize that even after getting a substantially better pair of speakers, it is very likely you may still find your current amp lacking, and you then need to go searching for a matching amp again. As you have known, this is a never-ending process in the quest of audio nirvana. Now you can consider getting some new speakers.
Speakers will change the sound of your system, but speakers that have "outpaced" your electronics are, IMO, a poor investment. OTOH, good electronics can make average speakers sound better. Just my $0.02.
Electromechanical components (cartridges and speakers) will always have the greatest effect on sound. And of those two, speakers, having to also transduce between mechanical motion and air motion (plus the unknown room interactions) have the biggest variability in sound reproduction.

Simple thought experiment.

Which will sound better:

1) $1000 integrated amp + $10,000 speakers


2) $10,000 integrated amp + $1000 speakers

If you think #2, then you have been brainwashed by the audio mags.

Always spend your money on speakers first. Buy the best you can afford. When time and money permits, you can try ‘better’ electronics. You may be able to the tell the difference or not, and you can then make an informed decision whether or not you should make the upgrade. If your speakers aren’t ‘good enough’, then you will have no idea if swapping out the electronics or front end components is worthwhile.

For car racing, you can talk about suspension and motor and brakes, blah, blah, blah. In the end, it’s ALL about the tires.

For audio, it’s ALL about the speakers.
Cutting to the chase here, in my opinion speakers make the most difference.

Could not agree more with this statement. $2K on speakers and more than $10K on amps, source, interconnects & speaker cables is a typical but much misguided approach in audiophiledom. At the very least, half the system cost is best spent on the speakers, IMHO.
All of this talk about speakers vs electronic's and the ratio of costs between the two leaves me feeling like I just had a Chinese lunch! Hell, its not even an hour later and I'm hungry again! :-)

Speakers are the BIG deal. Best speakers you can afford - absolutely. BUT, and this is no small BUT, when selecting the speaker you must consider not only the quality of its signal but its frequency response.

You can buy a high quality speaker with roll off starting at 45hz and power it with a high quality amp at one price ratio but the ratio changes dramatically if you buy speakers which are 'flat' to 20hz (very expensive) but can be driven by the same electronics as the speakers that roll off at 45hz. And the obverse is true as well.

Ratios, spatios........Its all about a synergistic system, including the source(s). You can actually pay more for a source than an amp or speakers, boy is that out of whack or what! :-)
There's an old idiom that says "There's more than one way to skin a cat". In other words, there is more than one way to accomplish a particular feat. In your case the "feat" is to get noticibly better (different) sound. To date you've tried to accomplish this by replacing electronics in the amplification chain and it has apparently not worked for you.

There's an old definition of the word "insanity" that stated: "Doing the same thing over and over again and expection different results".

OK, now that I've called you insane (aren't we all), lets get to the point. You've given us very little information. We know the speakers you own and they are of high quality. We know the amps and pre-amps that you own and they are of various price, but you've determined that it doesn't make a significant difference. What we don't know is anything about your room or what source component you are using. This is important because both can be significantly "bad" enough to prevent you from hearing the differences in amplification and speakers. It is entirely possible that no amount of money or component changes is going to allow you to attain your sonic goals.

I would highly recommend that you tell us a little about your listening space, your musical preferences and the source components that you've used.

Speaking of another way to skin a cat, my current system is inversely porportional in expenditure vs the common philosophy generally recommend here. My most expensive component is my digital source, second is my amplification and my least expensive component is my speakers. Additionally my system has become less complex and less expensive over time, however it has improved sonically IMHO.

Here is the price breakdown (all purchased used) of my current system:

CD player $1000
Amp $600
Speakers $400

I've owned systems with a list price of $10,000+ and my current $2000 system is superior in every respect. Maybe it's a better match for my small-medium room or it has better component synergy. Regardless of the reason, it sound better to me and it has freed up more than $10,000 in cash......


This has been interesting. I happen to believe that transducers (cartridges and especially speakers) have the most impact on perceived sound. Followed by source, preamp, amp and cables. There again, this is opinion. I'm skeptical of anyone who presents their preferences as revealed truth.People can get so emotional about this stuff as if disagreement with their position in some way invalidates them personally.
Here is the price breakdown (all purchased used) of my current system:

CD player $1000
Amp $600
Speakers $400

Your System list prices indicate that your speaker is roughly half the new cost of the equipment...a balanced investment, IMHO. Great that this beats many of the +$10K systems you tried. Synergy and careful selection for the room and musical tastes can do a lot!

System has not been updated. Currently I'm using A Meridian 508.24, Red Wine Audio Reali-T Amp/DAC/Volume control, and a pair of DIY single driver speakers built using the Hemp Acoustics FR8.0DIY driver. I can currently choose betten the DAC in the Meridian or the DAC (Scott Nixon DacKit) inside of the Reali-T. Both sound great with the SN DAC being a bit smoother and the Meridian have better extension and dynamics.



Thx for the update. Wow, that is a lot of change in just over a year. How much longer will you stick with the current setup - or have you found Audio Nirvanna?
Thanks for all of the responses. I guess I should clarify what I was saying above: it isn't that there aren't differences in each system or component I swap out, it is I can't really make a quantifiable "upgrade" based on amplification at this point. Sure, I heard more neutrality and a bit more detail with the Herron upgrade. But did it sound really better? I could be happy with either. Same as the Sixpacs vs. DNA-125: each sounded great in their own right, but spending twice the money (used) on the Sixpacs didn't significantly "upgrade" the sound, it just changed the flavor a bit. I guess this is part of the trouble with building a system for a newbie: I don't know what sounds good until I have heard it. What I am trying to accomplish: a cleaner, more resolved sound, with a nice soundstage and "I am there" feel.

With that said, I went listening at area store to some setups, just to get a feel for how other systems sounded to mine. First setup I listened to: a Classe CP-700 pre, Paradigm Studio 100 v.3 speakers, powered by a Rotel! amp (I have no idea why). It sounded horrible-a grainy, SS sound. They hooked it up to a Bryston 7B-SST, and it was better (more control over the woofer) but my system sounds much more liquid, more detailed, and lifelike (their system was bright and not as musical-I didn't like it). I then listened to a nice set of $10K ML's (with the powered sub) powered by a Jolida integrated and mid-fi Denon digital source: this system was more detailed, but still tinny and less than pleasing. Not much of a soundstage (the Jolida seemed like a suspect choice for powering $10K speakers). When I got home and listened to my system, I thought "wow, this sounds pretty darn good!".

Not having other systems to listen to, it is hard to determine what a really nice sounding system feels like. With that said, the original intent of my question was to determine whether it makes more sense to pair $5K speakers with $2.5K amplification than the other way around. Thanks for all of the help.
With that said, the original intent of my question was to determine whether it makes more sense to pair $5K speakers with $2.5K amplification than the other way around.
Opinions will vary, mine is, yes, go for the speakers, as Bigbucks5 says.
Not sure this is relevant, but I'm driving $1,400.00 monitor speakers with $11,000.00 worth of amp/pre-amp. Oh yeah, and $3,450.00 in wires. The system sounds superb and even though the speakers were supposed to be interim after selling my Harbeths, they're staying for a while.
Chiho, you're over analyzing the situation. Be happy that your system sounds good.

Ask an average non-audiophile music lover how much better a $100k+ audiophile reference mega-system sounds than the best system you can buy at Best Buy/Circuit City/Radio Shack and they will say one system sounds a little better than the other. Only audiophiles think there are dramatic differences between components.
Chiho, your room dimensions and contents would still be helpful in determining your next step to take. I also feel that upgrading your cabling will also benefit your system in tweaking that last bit of nuance for that "lifelike" sound that you're seeking.
I'm driving $1,400.00 monitor speakers with $11,000.00 worth of amp/pre-amp. Oh yeah, and $3,450.00 in wires.


FWIW, IMHO, Assuming that you already have a great amp/pre-amp and source (at that price it most certainly better be good).....then, on your next move towards upgrading, consider to sell you cables and upgrade your speakers. Physical limitations of transducer & box design mean that your speakers and their interaction with the room will always be the weakest link. Speakers improve dramatically above $1500 and again dramatically above about $4000, like anything there are diminishing returns above mega high prices ($10k+), but investing more than twice the amount in wires compared to speakers is quite likely limiting your overall system performance. Wires are wires and it sure is nice to have good wires but, IMHO, lamp cord is 99.9% ok most of the time, and it is what people used for decades until this cable thing became a big market.
Unless you have difficult speakers power amps are relatively unimportant.Preamps are much more important because they bring focus and coherence.
Unfortunately most preamps are crap,and of course you don't come to realise this until you hear a really good one.For me this revelation came in the form of Supratek preamps.
I am currently running a $5000 US Supratek preamp with $400 kit chip power amp-and the sound is far superior to any other combo I have owned or used which contained expensive power amps used with ordinary preamps.[including ARC and Metaxas]
Not sure this is relevant, but I'm driving $1,400.00 monitor speakers with $11,000.00 worth of amp/pre-amp. Oh yeah, and $3,450.00 in wires. The system sounds superb and even though the speakers were supposed to be interim after selling my Harbeths, they're staying for a while.

Tomryan, now I know you've made up the statistics, and you're the only one as for now. That answered my earlier thread on whether anyone had their speaker wires more expensive than the speakers itself. http://forum.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/fr.pl?fcabl&1145029415&read&3&4&
Thanks for the tip and now I won't have to feel any remorse over spending 30% the cost of my speakers on wires. And I thought nobody would even touch 50%!!Cheers.
I agree with theabove about preamps, very important as it comes before the amp, also the source comes before the preamp, so it too is important. One of my systems is a vtl2.5 pre/Mac Mc 2751v into a pair of bookshelf B&W cm2(900/pr) fronted by a Linn Ikemi, they sit atop my Khorns, when I play it for people they say "man those Khorns sound great" I say i agree...except they are not on....their jaws drop.
Tweaking of power/inter/spk cables*,AC delivery-filtering-regeneration (very important),isolation products(dampers,cones,feet etc and CD treatments have yielded far more than a component switch in my experience. When the tweaks are done it makes it easier to hear the better piece shine or not if you will. As to a pre if you have sources/amp capable you need to try passive. Just try it. Sometimes less is more. A better power cord on my CDP took away silibance present in vocals. This was after trying several that did not take it away.


The Dynaudio Focus 110s replaced $3,000.00 Harbeths which replaced $4,500.00 ProAcs. My room is quite small (11 x 13.5) and I now use a REL sub with very close attention to tuning. The Focuses (Foci?) were just to have something until I made deal on Cremonas or something other montitor in that price range. The 110s are performing so well that my search has slowed considerably. And I've never been a fan of Dynaudio speakers before - always a little clinical for my tastes. By the way, I use a Joule Electra LA150 pre and an EAR 890 tube amp.

Interconnects are all Cardas Golden Refs with TG Audio speakers cables. I am cursed with the ability to hear differences btw wires and cables - these are all more musical (to my ears) than Audience AU24s and Kimber Selects.

I actually really, really like the little 110s. They are more musical and engaging in my system and room than the ProAcs, Harbeths, Merlin TSM-MXs, Spendor 1/3s, Spendor 3/5s. I have not had SF Cremona Auditors for audition as I intended a few months ago but will probably do so. But last night Art Blakey, Gil Evans, and Pancho Sanchez sounded so damn good I'm serioulsy thinking about spending that money on more music.
"spending that money on more music"

Probably the most intelligent conclusion anywhere in this thread! :-)

Do it!
in my opinion, it is never a mistake to purchase quality equipment if you truly enjoy them, regardless of cost ratios against other components in your system or what others think.

in my case, i love my B&W Signature 805 so much i wanted to mate them with as nice electronics and cables i can get. more importantly, i wanted equipment that i love just as much, if not more, than my speakers. maybe my system could sound better if funds were spent differently. but i don't view this hobby as a competitive one in which one must get the best sounding results for funds used, or get the best value, in order to succeed.

ok i have lost my mind. sorry i am not very helpful...

FWIW, have you considered the possibility that the high output impedance of your tube amp might be factor in how different cables sound when coupled to a speaker of varying impedance?

When impedances are quite close the combination will tend to behave like a mild crossover/filter, creating some mild equalization. This generally becomes quite audible at low input to output impedance ratios and would make different cables sound different, especially with a 4 ohm load.
All the speakers I had when getting the Cardas & TG cables were pretty much 8 ohm loads. I've only used Cardas & TG with the 4 ohm Dynaudios. I understand the physics involved as regards cables and that is why I've tried different ones with different speakers (and when I had Air Tight and Plinius amps). Fortunately, my current combo works just fine as is. I also know people who love Audience and Kimber Select cables - they probably have beneficial relations with the rest of the gear!
Interesting responses-thanks! I guess I have a bout of "upgrade-itis" and want to try something better, just to see what happens. I purchased some Signal Silver Resolution cables/IC's and it really brought the differences out between my Sixpacs and the DNA-125 (old cables were the Signal Analog 2's, which are nice and smooth, but not as detailed). Still, it is not night and day between these amps, and my wife said they both sound the same. I also had a chance to plug in an HCA-2 from PS Audio, and it was a bit more forward and didn't seem to go as low or sound as liquid, but was still good in it's own right.

I heard a KW500 at the dealer recently, and even though it is a big, powerful unit that retails at $7K (and was running off of a $1500 PC), I wasn't blown away by its sound on an Arial Acoustics 6 (which is a $3600 speaker). It had some of the same attributes as my system, but I wouldn't trade it for what I have. After hearing nice speakers run though cheaper amplification and mid-priced speakers run through high-end amplification the last few weeks, I am inclined to agree with those who think the speaker is where to start, assuming the source is accurate, and assuming one doesn't have an inefficient speaker in a very large room playing at high volumes.

Thanks for the responses. I have learned alot.