A stupid question for which there's no sensible answer.

I know, I know. At least I've labeled it properly.

Here goes: of the following elements of a system, how would you rank their influence on the sound? In other words, generally, which would someone want to upgrade or prioritize, and in what order,  if all of the following pieces were inferior to an amp/preamp and speakers they were happy with? Power cables, connector cables. speaker cables. streaming source, music source, dac (I vote for this one as #1), room treatment, speaker placement, type of chair, earwax quotient, what you ate for lunch, etc.

I hereby give my permission for everyone to tell me this is an idiotic question since the real answer is: it depends. (But I did put a "generally" in there somewhere). Anyway, I prefer that we debate this based on what we've experienced when we've tinkered. So I guess I'm really interested in anecdotes.

Giving license to this forum to call your question "idiotic" is like giving license to gravity to pull things down!

I would say "it depends" but it really does depend -- on *how* inferior those other things are to your speakers and amp. And how they are positioned in your room. Because as many have said, even a $100,000 system can sound terrible in the wrong room.

But let’s assume that all the other elements you mentioned are at least decent. I’d say the DAC or the source would make the biggest difference. I added an R2R tube DAC to my existing system before anything else. A DAC that cost $1.1k replaced a $170 DAC and all of a sudden...magic.
It depends not at all....

My answer was obtained after many experiments....

First choose basic good one elements for sure...We must first have an audio system....

After that try to embed these elements rightfully, controlling vibrations, and decreasing the electrical noise floor of the house grid, and try to install controls for all acoustical dimensions of sound in the room...

There is no other road....

Upgrading is the last thing to do before making sure that you already had a good listen to your actual gear working in optimal conditions...

If someone advise someone else for improving his S.Q. to change cable, he is ignorant simply.... Cables make a difference but a small one, especially in a bad embedded system....

Most people have never listen to their system in optimal condition, this is the reason why many throw money unsatisfied...

In general a relatively low cost system may give you a very good audiophile experience contrary to what most audio reviewers will say,because they are paid or unpaid sellers; the only condition is treat and control the acoustic of the room , the vibrations of the gear, and the electrical grid of the room of the house and of the gear....

It is the only thing i know and learn and the rest has no importance for me....Who give a damn to know what is the best costly amplifier in the world if the one you own is relatively good?

My 500 bucks system will give an heart attack to many with very costly one..... They laugh seeing it in my virtual page because people superficially judge things on appearance and price... Not me.....

You dont need money at all.... You need creativity and trust in your ears.....
I used to think your question made sense but then tons of personal experience proved there really is no sensible way of saying anything is any more important than anything else. You want anecdotes? We got anecdotes!  

Complete systems. Besides my own, also put some together for others. When you're doing it for others you have to do what they want not what you want. Turns out after doing it a few times this works out just fine. I was still thinking it must be important to budget roughly equal amounts to have things be around the same level for a balanced result. Which does indeed work really, really good. But then for kicks one time I tried a budget ($1200 total) system with about $2k of interconnect and power cord. The improvement was just as big as when those same things were in my ten times as expensive system.

This holds for everything else as well. Is the power cord going to one component any more or less important than another? Not that I can tell. Is the last 3 feet any more or less important than the first three feet coming out of the panel? Nope. What about the three feet inside the speaker? Not even.  

The problem, I eventually realized, is we are asking the wrong question. Who cares which one has the most influence? Which is just another way of asking Which one is most important? Who cares? What if we know for absolute certain it's the speaker. So what? Does that mean we can forget everything else and put all our money in the speaker? Nope.  

What we really want to know is, Of all the things that matter (which is all of them!) what is the one I can do right now, for the least amount of money, and for the most amount of sound quality improvement? This question no one can answer- except YOU! 

Because the answer depends so much on exactly what you have, and that includes your listening ability and preferences. If you have a wonderful system in every way but bottom end it might be subs. Then again the same guy with the same system might not want that at all. In that case it might be something completely different.  

Know thy system. Know thyself. Figure it out. Best answer I can give you.
Streamed digital as a source is not currently audiophile quality, but not much can be done, so yes, I would say DAC comes next along with digital cable to that DAC. Then power cord for the DAC.
In other words, get the best source you can and then move downstream.
1) Speakers.
2) See #1
2a) Measurement microphone and learn to use REW.
3) Speaker positioning
4a) Room including treatment (once you established how you want 3)
4b) Bass -- using room treatment, bass array?
4c) Chair -- its part of room treatment and speakers (height)
5) Source - what’s your flavor? -- need to find your flavor. Groups turntable setup and digital setup together.
6) Amplifier
7) Preamp (assuming 6 is good -- they are a set)
8) A dedicated AC line, possibly with a sub-box.9) Adequate cables.

If you get 1-7 right, you won’t be spending all your time tweaking cables and convincing yourself you made a difference while still living with all the other problems. If you have really dirty power, a conditioner may be in order.

Since I am not contentious enough, I would go on a limb and say I would take a great pair of speakers in a properly implemented room with a high end Anthem or Denon receiver and Spotify over much of what I see on here. I listen to music, I don't listen to my system.
Post removed 

Most people have never listen to their system 
How true, but how many times i said "that's it" and how many more i found the next sonic upgrade step within the same system. New, old, oldest, humble, expensive, it does not matter.
Know your system, your budget, and make the changes that suit your preference, from fine tuning adjustments to even adding a new component.
Any change though should not be focused on one thing and others ignored.


@hilde45, I have heard $200,000 systems sound bad in great rooms.
It is a game of leapfrog. We Identify the weakest link in the system and improve on it. Sometimes there is a specific problem we want to solve. I always wanted a little better high frequency dispersion than what I was getting from Acoustat 2+2s. Everywhere in the room except dead ahead of the speaker had high end roll off. In the listening position they sound awesome. Could not ask for better. The solution was getting a pair of Sound Labs (still awaiting shipment) By design they will disperse better for sure and they should sound as good. The operative word there is should. I have an Alpha USB to get music off a computer. It only has one output (at a time). I need to send signal in two directions so I purchased the M2Tech trio. They are supposed to arrive today. By one account it is a step down. We shall see. I think it has a better clock. But hey, how many of you own Italian Hi Fi gear? Should be an experience. 
The weakest link varies from system to system. It would usually be best to go after it first since most of us can only do one thing at a time. At some point moving up becomes prohibitive or silly. Nobody has to spend more than $150,000 on a system. IMHO spending more is either a matter of ego or lack of knowledge. I had very wealthy clients that gave me carte blanche. Boy was that fun. It was not just getting them equipment by the way. I installed it all in custom cabinets working with the cabinet makers. Back then you only wanted to see the face plates, nothing else. This was down in Miami. Many of the houses built by the water were up on pylons. There was usually a 3 foot crawl space under the house. I would drill holes in the floor under the cabinets and by the speakers running wire under the house then calk the holes. I would frequently come out from under the house looking like a tar baby. Some people wanted speakers all over the place including around the pool.  
My favorite installation was in an antique armoire. I had to do it without so much as a scratch.
Sorry for getting off topic! Run on thinking. Maybe I'm getting manic again.
Mijostyn: I never heard of Alpha USB, or any other devices serving that purpose. I can't afford one, but I wonder if a cheaper iteration would make a difference as I'm streaming directly from a Mac to a DAC. I gather that the sound degrades coming out of standard USB connections?
1. Speakers, flatter the response and wide dispersion the better
3.integrate 1 and 2 with proper treatment and PEQ. 
4. Amp, preamp, source or better yet get active speakers 
5. Dac for digital. Cables are irrelevant as long as they work. USB is fine as long as your DAC is of competent build. 

You say you're going from computer to DAC if you can hear noise  caused by grounding issues or if the computer interferes with playback it might be worth getting an inexpensive streamer.
1. The room (50%)
2. The setup (20%)
3. The speakers (20%)
4. All the rest (10%)
Thanks, all. I appreciate the opportunity to learn more about this. It's easy to find reviews of all the individual components of a system, and also which preamps, amps, and speakers match well, but I'm left making assumptions about the holism of it all.
I can see that one consensus is that the room and room treatment are vital. I haven't worked on this since I feel a bit hopeless that my very complex, difficult common area (where the speakers have to be) isn't salvageable. And I'm not actually unhappy with the current sound-- just curious as to how to make it even better someday.

There's nowhere for baffles or panels, there are uneven angles all over the place, doorways, arches, a wall of picture windows, a stairway, various furniture, uneven slanted high ceilings, carpeting, etc. Can science really tame this beast?

buncha stuff goin’ on. none of it labelled with eyeball oriented signage for clear delineation.

Meander through ..it banging around... sensing the possible shape of walls and barriers and whatnot.

wandering down a unknown hallway, almost completely blinded, with an unknown destination that is nebulous, where you don’t know the length of the hallway, or even if it is a floor you are standing on, or where the hallway is located, exactly.

Retreat to a Descartesian mean. I exist, therefore I am. And take it from there.

Is the recording neutral?

Do i I have a large quantity of source material that is considered to be neutral and well delineated in detail?

And, in that media, do I have a playback mechanism for the info proper, that allows it to come out unencumbered of coloration (cartridge arm/wire, set up, etc) , either in fuzzing or smearing or leaving the fine bits out (dark smeared), or is that device clean and natural as can be, is it perfect as is possible?

To understand that the best which is possible.... is something slightly darker and slower coming out, than going in.

That is how electronics work, when done as best as is possible. Insanely key and important point. None more important.manufacturers know that people seek more detail, more info, and then the crappy equipment that screeches a bit, get the revealing ratings, and sells well. but only to the people building skewed systems, to some degree. The 90’s high end audio boom was full of this awful sounding nightmarish scenario. Lots of big advertisers. 300 page stereophiles issued with a gazillion full page adverts.

And if it, the next stage of devices... if it reveals more hf detail than is indicated in the balanced levels in the recording, then it is false detail that is obscuring fine sound stage information. falsified and edgy, and on the next stage, it can move to screeching it out.

Note that a system set up with all revealing bits (each part stated as ’revealing’) , is the most horrifying sound to be heard outside of nails on a blackboard being done by tortured children. Pain. Just pain.

Thus.. the next core mistake, is to cover up the coming screech from the over cooked detail presentation of one component, via ’dark’ cables or ’dark preamps, or dark integrateds, or dark speakers.

Big mistake, backwards motion right there. A compression of dynamics with mud on one end and muted screech on the other.

This takes you to the cerwin vega part of the ’thump-screech..thump screech!!’ end of the pool.

One is always searching for clarity, yet to not be wooed by ’hearing something new’, when it is actually dangerously close to being noise, complex micro distortions... which are on the verge of being a problem. Pay close attention here. this is the point of self manipulation on the subject of detail presentation.

A well sorted system along those line is dynamic at ANY and ALL volume levels, and has ’plosives’ to spare, coming out the wazoo.

it has ZERO screech and at the same time is extremely harmonically rich and complex, with huge dynamics and insane transients, and micro detail. Where you can focus on any part of it, just like you can with live instruments in the real world.

It can rip your face off in total comfort, just like live acoustic instruments. No stress, no pressuring, no ear overload... just pure musical bliss, at either 75db, or 110db. No tonal changes in the volume levels shifts/changes, nothing. The damn thing sounds live and never has any presentation problems that bother you.

This is how Teo builds it’s systems, analyzing things individually and in the whole, down to the circuit boards, the solder, the mechanics of it all, the parts, the arrangement on the boards, the entire package, the speaker design, the room design, build and the acoustics, and the last thing we did but published FIRST...the cables.

It is why every time Teo is involved in a room at a show, the room gets the best reviews and is, overall, on the record, about 90% of the time, considered as or one of best of show by the audio press.

When companies start not having us share room with them, they invariably lose that best of show rating on their next outings.
so, in the end, now that some might have an idea of where I'm coming from, and the idea and embodiment of perfection in all of it (Making components, parts, materials, systems, rooms, etc), and huge dynamic swings at the same time and that it has to start with the source as perfected as possible, ..well..how about that under-priced hand built MM cartridge out there? What might be the thinking and execution behind-  and in it?
@m669326 The Alpha USB is made by Berkley. It clocks the USB output of a computer so you can plug it into any digital input. Your DAC has it's own USB input. Mine does not. Eventually, all DACs will have USB inputs because so many of us use our computer as a source component. Computers are much more powerful than streamers especially if your system does theater duty. Some people are under the illusion that dedicated streamer's sound better. This may be true in some cases but I have not heard a streamer better the combination of an Apple computer with channel D's pure music program.
I'm more of a "I don't exist. Therefore I'm not."( Buddhist-style).

It's great to hear a professional room-fixer's point of view.

I’m more Buddhist than anything else. very much in the same camp on the subject of ’reality’.

Probably why my attempts at being egotistically oriented enough for audio sales, just don’t seem to work. The idea of being slick enough to slip past people’s innate defenses and unrealized tracks of internal incursion and grab their cash, is not something I can do ethically and morally.

I sell through truth as I can best understand it, the only door available, in my thinking. Which people tend to write off as overamped ego, as that is what some amount/percentage of the audio world tends to give them.

Part of why Teo is not a big company in the world of audio. We won’t screw people over at any step and thus can’t use most of the advantages that some others have.

The best salesmen are very careful about how they integrate with the given ego package in front of them at the given sale moment. I sell with the truth as I know it (so I never have to remember and recall patterns in lies) which can take the buyer out of the positive safe correct feeling ’purchase mode’.... and back to questioning the world, where the Buddhist in me desires to naturally help them exist as. And I lose the sale.

If you look at my posts, any one in over 20 years, every single one of them smells like that, to one degree or another, almost entirely without exception. Which grates people and creates the crackpot analogies. Too bad, but I did mange to punch them in the thinker, their retorts state it explicitly. Terrible for sales, though. But I get to keep my compass.

Listening to: I knew happiness once (that complex heady mixture of simultaneous enlightenment/joy.. and loss) 

Teo, I'm reading Taking the Leap by Pema Chodrin. Great stuff.
I'm a terrible salesman. I can't even get myself to promote myself in my careers. Being helpful on a deeper level precludes self-interest.
«Selling the absolute dont help the relatives but it can create a relation» -Groucho Marx
Getting setup of whatever you have right overall based on room acoustics is always the first order.  Only then can you properly  decide what upgrades to attempt or if even needed.
Getting setup of whatever you have right overall based on room acoustics is always the first order. Only then can you properly decide what upgrades to attempt or if even needed.
This is my point also but most people forget the 2 others embeddings controls of an audio system:

Vibrations and resonance controls,
Electrical grid of the  house and room controls,

These 2 together act differently on the sound quality perception  but together their negative impact is almost equal to the negative impact of the bad or lack of acoustical settings in a room...

This is why i called all that embeddings controls not only acoustical controls...

But yes acoustic is the most evident and powerful .....But the other 2 almost rival it in destructive power...

I know that by personal experience and experiments...
Room Treatment is number #1. No if’s and’s or Buts.....
Everybody think that, myself included, but almost no one speak about number 2 and number 3 and together, i said they are ALMOST as important...

Then there is no "if" but there is a "but".....

The word "almost" is well defined in any dictionary...

I'd like to suggest a more systematic approach to answer your question, because the direct response is, indeed, "it depends."  As someone wrote early in this thread, the answer to your question is not independent of your current audio system (components, sources and room).  First try to answer the question, "what is the weakest link in my audio system?"  The answer to that will probably prioritize your approach.  Improve the weakest link, then repeat the process.  Here is the rough sequence for me: new speakers, bi-wired the speakers, network streamer (with DAC), new integrated (with better DAC), better speakers, room acoustic treatments.  Each step improved the SQ.  Along the way I swapped out all cables and added a power conditioner but I didn't notice a significant improvement in SQ.  So, OP, what do you think is the weakest link in your sound system, and why?
The room is definitely the weakest part of the system, if you want to call it a part, but as I said earlier, I’m not sure much can be done about it. On the other hand, I haven’t even tried.I’m not sure what the next weakest thing is, which is one of the reasons I started this thread. I feel good about my integrated amp and my speakers, I’m OK with my DAC, and other than that?
Before i learn how to embed my system in a rightful manner acoustically in my room, i was thinking that my dac was not detailed and lack refinement.... Some reviewers had even affirm so in their review despite glowing positive acclaim... I was on the verge of saying that they were right about my dac....

After improving mechanical, electrical, and acoustical settings of my room i completely change my view about my dac and even about my speakers...

Without embeddings controls any upgrade is throwing his money....Except for an evident weakness in the gear for sure...

But how someone can know how to upgrade if he had never listen to his actual system working at his optimal potential S.Q. in the first place?

Try my last creation the Helmholtz-Fibonacci room tuner: 3 sets of brick with holes where you will insert 3 plumber pipes in each three bricks with proportion equal to 1.6 for each 3 pipes, the fibonnacci ratio...Read wikipedia for a definition of the golden ratio... You are probably more crafty with your hands than me, then it will look like a modern sculptures in the room...It can be beautiful.... 

Cost: 3 bricks and 9 discarded copper plumber pipes....the nine pipes are between 5 or 6 inches the shortest and the longest 6 feet or a little more....

I sell creativity, the cost is low.... And the risk more lower.... 😊

You are going to get so many answers your head will spin.  My advise is to first know what type of sound you prefer.  Second is to know why a product/component makes that sound that you prefer.  SS to tube for starters.  Then understand what company makes one of the products that makes the sound you like.  Last understand what makes that product sound the way it does.

One post says R2R tube DAC.  While I agree with that statement since my company makes one, we also have made non-R2R DACs that sound excellent but different.  Which one you prefer, that is the question.  I made a preamp that had 5 different output resistors.  Each resistor has its own sound.  Which one works in your system hell if I know - but with a turn of a dial you can choose what you like or even better for different recordings you can dial in the sound you prefer.  It is like swapping in and out a cable.

I am a source sound person.  I have to have the tone of an instrument first and foremost.  I need to hear the wood of the piano, the decay of the strings, and the emotion.  If the piano does not sound correct to me, then nothing else will.  To me, no other component can do that in my system.

Happy Listening.  
Not necessarily room treatments.  Just getting the right speakers set up right in the room which depends on where you are listening from.  You might not need room treatments to get good sound of you do that right. Can they make things even better once you do?   Of course.  But room treatments is not task 1.  
I can see that I'm coming from a deficit position in terms of comparing and contrasting both systems and individual components.
 I became an audiophile when, 2 years ago, I listened to my brother-in-laws old KEFs with whatever he had driving them. I fell in love and got some 20 year old References, along with a similar level 10 year old ss Musical Fidelity integrated amp. After a while, the speakers started hissing and distorting on certain piano, flute, and voice frequencies, so I went back to the drawing board and found a great deal on ATC 40ASCM V2s. Instant improvement and apparently a good match with my speakers--the UK sound.
But that's it. I've had no other opportunities to listen unless I wanted to stop in to dealers and tempt myself into either spending money I don't have or wasting their time. (I know. Most people don't mind doing this. I do). So I've only heard my system with one DAC -- Audioengine-- one type of cable (inexpensive) and two speakers. I don't know what's the room or what's anything, really. I did figure out a speaker placement problem (with help from another thread) when my new speakers were soundstaging unevenly.
So what is it all supposed to sound like? Which part is making it sound like X, Y, or Z.?
Is my amp warm or neutral? I know some of these conceptually--from reading online--but there's no substitute for literal experience.
This is why I appreciate all the responses I'm getting.
The most important component of a listening system is the listener.
Very wise!

My best to you....
Pretty rude answers.  This guy was just asking an innocent question and the first guy to respond immediately tried to make him feel stupid.  I thought this was a great question.  Not everyone is a knowledgeable as the first person to respond.  Perhaps this person should find another group to harass.

  1. speaker cables
  2. interconnects
  3. power cables
  4. power distribution box
  5. speakers
  6. amp 
  7. phono
  8. turntable 
  9. cartridge
  10. digital source
  11. room treatments

@larry The first guy to respond was most definitely not doing that. What is your opinion on the question? 
1) the room
2) system synergy. 3) good quality components. Buy the best sounding components you can afford.

I may have missed it, but I don’t think anyone has mentioned what I would consider the easiest, cheapest thing OP should do: try Roon or Audirvana.  Running a signal direct from a Mac to a DAC means the Mac’s internal audio "enhancers" are mucking with the output before it leaves the computer chassis.  It’s a well-known issue.  Audirvana, Roon, and other applications bypass this and give you a proper signal for your DAC, not some "lowest common denominator" signal designed for all possible headphones, devices, etc.  Using the Mac’s USB output does not avoid this.  Sign up for a free trial run; it will sound like you got a new DAC.  (Paul McGowan of PS Audio has a few videos on this; the library of those is on the PS Audio website.  But the gist is: see above).  
Lots of other good ideas here as well.  But me thinks your DAC is getting a garbage feed.  I’d start there.  And, of the software options, I really like Roon.  If you doubt the premise, try a CD from a decent CD player/transport, run through the DAC, and compare the same track to a 16/44 file from your Mac to the same DAC.  If I’m right, the CD will crush the file.  If I’m wrong, they will sound more or less the same.  I’ve been wrong before ... Just don’t use your Mac as the CD player in this experiment! 
Disclosure statement: No affiliations with any audio companies, dealers, distributors, PC manufacturers, magazines, influencers, YouTubers, TikTok-ers, software companies, or labels.  Just a hopeless gearhead who can’t sleep. 
My experience in conceiving and installing ~50 hifi systems leads me to approach your question as follows:
#1 get the magic triangle right: Room-Speakers-Amp. There is no such a thing as a great amp or amazing speakers. But there is definitely great amp-speakers combinations that fit best in certain size/shape of rooms (Bakoon Amp13R with Sound|Kaos Vox3A, Lumin M1 with Kef LS50, First Watt SIT3 with widebanders such as Cube Nenuphars, Crayon CIA-1T with Boenicke W5, Ypsilon Phaethon with Lawrence Audio Double Bass)
#2 speakers positioning v listening position, vibration control, minor room treatment
#3 DAC/source
#4 Power treatment (this is household dependent, it goes from fundamental to barely no impact)
#5 Pre-amp (I use VRossi L2se but as good as it is it only adds the last 10% of pleasure + tube rolling options)
#6 Cables upgrade etc (provided that in the first place you used good ones)
#7 Exotic audio stuff that keep the fun going 😁(reclockers, hermoltz generators, LessLoss speaker firewalls, ...). Two more thoughts:
1. Having a proper active sub and a high-pass filter to drive the main speakers is the upgrade of a lifetime. This alone merits a detailed post.
2. Best to plan #1/2/3 ahead of time to ensure you achieve adequate system balance (avoid over-investing on a top-notch DAC like the Mola Mola Tambaqui R2R with a pair of Kef LS50 down the line) and system ‘character’ (this is personal but you’ll see with experience what kind of sound gets you to sing & dance vs merely checking if the drum kick goes down to 28hz or not 😱). Above all enjoy listening to the music you love and share your passion with friends & family!
Goodness WillieWonky, you must surely have your tongue in both cheeks.

Possibly in order to sell his turntable which at that time was his only product, Ivor Tiefenbrun used to say the source was crucial - garbage in, garbage out.  Indeed, since he made more money out of the TTs that Linn made themselves (unlike their arms and cartridges made in Japan), he said the TT is the most crucial.

Not sure I go with Ivor there, but there must surely be truth in this source doctrine since a poor music signal can never be corrected by the down-line components.  Indeed the errors will be amplified and rendered truthfully in all their ugliness by the best amplifiers and speakers.

But all the posts above ignore one very big element - component matching.  It is essential to see the system as holistic.  It's no good buying a string of top-price, well-reviewed pieces and just assuming they will work well together.
I find that the sound changes when I eat red or black licorice. It’s much cheaper than swapping cables.
The poster said he was good with the amp/preamp and speakers. Still about half the responses referred to these in some form or fashion, jeeeeezzzz. Read the post and respond accordingly. Answer is source. Clearthinker noted the garbage in garbage out analogy. A more succinct statement does not exist. Not necessarily the TT in all cases but the answer is the source you're using. BTW, all of the do-hickeys and thing-a-ma-bobs down the line all together have a <10% effect on  results (this does not include room acoustics as well as set up and placement). As for all the salespersons touting their amps and speakers, always remember "One mans floor is another mans ceiling". AB
The reason room and speakers and EQ.  are mentioned is because that's about 90% if he does nothing with those it's a waste of time and money. 
@clearthinker - the OP asked...
how would you rank their influence on the sound?
So my question to you is - how would I know just how good a TT is IF the cables were less than excellent???

He did not ask which component or cable was the most important. If that were the case my response would have been very different

Personally I would put speakers before source, because without great speakers you are not getting the benefit of a good source

My cables have influenced the sound of my system much more than any component purchase.

Regards - Steve

Mapman: thanks for the link. There was some stuff in there I hadn't run into before.
For some reason, reading it raised an issue for me. At what point is a system/QS good enough? If tinkering is fun, I guess it doesn't matter.

But are we all hamster-wheeling Buddha's wheel of desire--continual striving based on a sense of deficit with the way things are? Can I fully enjoy listening to music if I feel I have an imperfect system? And when have I literally superceded my ears/brain ability to process? 
Reading my post, I can see that I'm a master of posing unanswerable/possibly pointless questions. Nonetheless, if anyone has pondered any of this, I'd be curious to hear his thoughts (are there women on the forum? There must be.).
At what point is a system/QS good enough? If tinkering is fun, I guess it doesn’t matter.

I suppose the answer is its all a personal thing. Whatever turns one on.

Tinkering is fun. That said, not all decisions are created equal. The key is to make well informed decisions not based merely on hearsay.

The good new is with the internet all the info needed is out there here and elsewhere. One just need to be able to synthesis it properly. Not always an easy task. Having a solid base of technical knowledge to build on is the key to actual results. Everyone should do their homework!