Amp more important than speakers?

The common wisdom seems to be the opposite (at least from speaker makers), but I have tried the many speakers that have come thru my house on lesser amps or my midfi A/V receiver and something was always very wrong, and things often sounded worse than cheap speakers.
On the other hand, I have tried many humble speakers on my my really good amps (& source) and heard really fine results.

Recently I tried my Harbeth SHL5s (& previously my Aerial 10Ts, Piega P10s, and others) on the receiver or even my Onkyo A9555 (which is nice with my 1985 Ohm Walsh 4s, which I consider mid-fi), and the 3 high end speakers sounded boomy, bland, opaque.

But when I tried even really cheap speakers on my main setup (Edge NL12.1 w/tube preamp) I got very nice results
(old Celestion SL6s, little Jensen midfi speakers).

So I don't think it's a waste of resources to get great amplification and sources even for more humble speakers.
My Harbeth SHL5s *really* benefit from amps & sources that are far more expensive than the Harbeths.

Once I had Aerial 10Ts that sounded like new speakers with vocals to die for when I drove them with a Pass X350 to replace an Aragon 8008.

Oh well, thanks for reading my rambling thoughts here...

So I think I would avoid pairing good speakers with lesser amps,
The two go together amp and speaker but I would always buy the speaker first and then find an amp that will go with it c
Amp and upstream first. You can't make a silk purse out of a sows ear. No matter how good the speaker.
I'm from the speaker first camp. Find what you really like the sound of and build up from there, around the speaker.
I think the point is a well designed speaker (at any price point) will always benefit from better upstream components, including the amp. A lot of people make the mistake of buying expensive speakers and then match them with mediocre electronics. Some speakers fare better with poor electronics, but many of the higher end designs need lots of quality power to get them going properly. My rule of thumb is the amp/pre needs to cost 1.5-2x the speaker cost. And I use monitor speakers.
Here we go again!
I think they both play an important part and I think the fact that the for sale listings for both amps and for speakers always have the highest number of listings shows it seems to be the ones we make the less favorable choices with.

No matter how good either is sometimes there just is no synergy. Sometimes we sell the speakers and keep the amp or sell the amp and keep the speakers depending on the attachment to one or the other and in doing so forget about the importance of source and pre and the system as a hole.
It does make sense to find a speaker you like the sound of but the same can be said with an amp as well.

Speakers first in this case, but *everything* matters in the end.

I subscribe to the real observed result of 'synergy' and the inter-relationship of a given system comprised of different components.

Synergy is a b@tch, but once you lick her...she's mighty sweet ;-)
I found that my JM Lab speakers just never sounded very good until I got the right amps to drive them. From this experience I can only conclude that it is niether one or the other but it must be both at the same time. Not only that but it really is good amps and good speakers that do have some synergy as has been mentioned.
Speakers first. Those Onkyo integrateds are just a budget low powered digital amp. There are a lot of other amps in their price range that will give better low power watts than that Onkyo, to get by with until you get a good amp for them.
I personally believe if you get the amplification right on a limited budget and work on a low noise floor you will have the best results. As you go into better speakers they will reveal more but that isnt a good thing if you dont have your upfront gear right.

Often you see people trash great speakers and when you see what they are using to run them you understand why.

I feel synergy is essential beyond all else. But contrary to popular belief I feel its better to find a sonic signature or blend that works for you and then find a speaker that fits your system. You can always tweak with cables etc. And I know were going for neutral but if you are on a budget you have do your best to paint a canvas with a few drinks in you
Speakers first; more than any other single component they set the tone and define your system. For example, horn speakers are different animals than your typical panel speaker (ie Magnepans). Stand mounted monitors are different animals than traditional ported box speakers.

The speaker must 'fit' the room; it makes no sense to buy a big Magnepan panel and set it eight inches from the wall. A big horn speaker, say a Klipschorn must fit perfectly and directly into the rooms corners or you lose about 50% of its performance. You probably would not buy a small two-way stand mounted monitor for a room that was 20x36 either.

Analyze your room, your listening perferences, and then buy the very best speaker yoy can afford and stick with it! Start with the best amp(s) you can afford and work your way up from there. Speaker choice will drive your decision on tubes or solid state for amplfication (and always go with a very good tube preamp :) )
Speakers first. I experimented with Energy Encores as my mains for a while, replacing another bookshelf B&W CM1. The Encores sounded so muddy and distant that even a stranger would refuse to believe I have a decent system after hearing them.

Quality speakers with average gear is more bearable than quality gear with average speakers IMHO.
Your system is as good as you weakest link. Fine a pair of speakers you like and then ask the manufacturer what amp they like to use to test it.
I like Totem and they use to use Plinius Amps and they told me about good cables and DAC to go with the amp.
that's how I did it and I now have a $40,000 system that will blow away one 3 or 4 times the cost
Advice... yeah.
I bought a Pair of Infinity RSIIa speakers because i loved them. Added an average amp and was satisfied, that was 25 years ago.
Then I bought a Forte' 4a amp. that was good with the Infinities.
Then I bought a pair of B&W 805s. They were OK. but I missed the dipole sound.
So I bought a pair of Magnepan 3.6s. And since i wanted THOSE speakers, I checked around and the concensus was that Bryston amp paired up good with Maggies.
So I auditioned the combo and was satisfied. And bought a Bryston $B-SST2 for my Maggies.

Really IMO most folks fall in love with some SPEAKER first, then search for the amp for it.
I do not think very many folks buy an AMP, and then look for a speaker to go with the amp?
And i would say the amp and speaker are a pair, and need to work together well. And the cost is comparable. Especially when one gets into better speakers. You need to have a equally good amp.
(My amp is probably at the bottom of what the speakers COULD use IMO..., but it is fine for me. Some bigger Amps though, i am certain, could make my Maggies sing even better.. but money is an issue.)
Elizabeth, you're probably going to laugh at this, but it's true.

A while back I bought a used pair of Maggie SMGa series II speakers for use in my smaller room (I had 1.6's in there previously but they overpowered the room in the treble).

I was not having great luck with amplification. For a while I used a Parasound P/LD-2000 line preamp into a VTL ST-85 amp and it sounded ok but not great. The ST-85 actually sounded quite good in triode mode but lacked power.

I tried the W4S ST-250 but that was not a great match. Then for a while I used a VTL TL-2.5 line preamp with a Quicksilver GLA 40-watt tube amp. I liked this combo quite a bit but again, ultimately it was somewhat laid back and lacked power.

The other day, just for laughs I took an Onkyo TX-SR705 surround receiver (over 100 wpc and WRAT analog amps that could be set for 4 Ohms). At first I didn't like the presentation, but as I fine tuned it and tried its Pure Audio and CD-Direct modes things began looking up. Next I put a ferrite bead on the power cord and put a weight on the metal cover to damp vibration.

I kid you not, it came to life and is sounding pretty outstanding. It throws a coherent "wall of sound" that to me is reminiscent of listening to Maggie Tympani 1D's with Audio Research electronics back in the day.

Mind you I'm not saying the VTL/Onkyo combo can't be beat, but I am saying it's a lot of fun and probably the best sounding (or most synergistic) amplification chain I've used with the little Maggies in this room so far. So I guess I'm going backwards in order to move forward.
a great speaker with a budget amp will give better results than a great amp with budget speaker ....


Onkyo as a brand is highly underrated , they are not bad at all, so i'm not suprised..

I have also noticed people starting out getting their first half decent system always believe the speakers are all important and where all the money should be spent. I started that way. Friends who listen to my rig often say 'we need some decent speakers too'. I am now in the camp that the amp is most crucial and the heart of the system. The amp is my "priority amongst essentials"..... err ... as long as you combine it with a great source and great speakers :)
I agree with Jaybo, but I might put budget first.
Weseixas, I agree, I think some of the Onkyo amps/receivers sound quite good, which is what prompted me to put it in the system in the first place and now I'm glad I did.

I also want to say that my slant is that the loudspeaker should be matched to the room first and then the proper amp to drive that speaker in its intended acoustic environment can be sought (based on the speaker load, sensitivity, and how loud the owner wants to play his/her music in the particular room).
The comment of spending money on the speakers... The old advice as to spend 50% of your budget on speakers. Well for a low total value system that may be true. But once folks are in the big money (say $10,000. systems (could be $6K $20K) then the percentages change to less than half for the speakers, and more on the electronics.
I personally think it is because once your speakers are pretty transparent ($4,000 up) then you ARE going to note tthe big improvement with better elecctronics.
((And those amount are not set, just the idea of more, and not more as $50,000.!)
Elizabeth, the 50% rule applied in an age when we bought speaker cable at the hardware store and used cheap RCA interconnects that came with the gear.
I look for speakers first to "voice" my room and I agree that you can get better results with a great speaker and budget amp rather than a great amp and budget speaker, there are limits to this thinking though.
In my system, Focal 1037 speakers mate well with a Krell 2250 amp. If I upgeaded the amp to higher end monoblocks the sound of the speakers would not change that much, but if I upgraded the speakers with my same amp, I'd say there would be more of an improvement.
You should budget your system to get the most out of it, I'm not big on amps but pay more attention to the front end and cabling.

You know what they say in baseball: Great pitching will always beat great hitting, and vice-versa!

The right $1K amp (e.g., Odyssey Khartago) could sound fabulous powering Wilson Sasha WPs, but then so could Cary tube monoblocks powering some Paradigm mini-monitors.

Every time I think I find a good rule of thumb, there's always something else to discredit it. Right now I'm enjoying the sounds of a 1981 Heathkit AA-1600 amp (bought today for $219) powering a $2500 pair of Mirages. HOWEVER, this Heathkit is not your ordinary $200 amp. It performs at least like a $2K power amp, maybe more. Definitely a notch or more above a new Adcom.
Yep, the combinations are endless. Crap in, crap out.

The best amp choice advice I ever read came in the owners manual with a pair of new KEF Q-90's. Here's a blurb from the current recommended amp FAQ from KEF's website: As a general rule buy the most powerful amplifier that you can afford within the specified range and use it with great care.

Once you accept that idea, all other amps are by definition misfits.
In 40 years in audio I've owned at least a hunded pairs of speakers and probaly almost as many amps.
My present Silverline Preludes sound great with my $500 Sophia Baby Electric but fabulous with mt sons 10K Lamm.
Amp first.
Actually preamp first but you didn't ask that.
I agree with Mofimadness and Elizabeth - once again, if you don't like the sound of your speakers, you won't like the sound of your system. It really is that simple, folks. This is of course not to say that the rest is unimportant, the amp must be matched to the speakers for sure, but merely to say that nothing is as important as the speakers.
Well executed active speakers the way to go. They have the potential to sound better than their passive counterparts and make the amp vs. speaker question moot.
A speaker is merely the end of the chain. In the past I had speakers, then looked for an amp. Now I bought the amp first and am auditioning speakers to mate with it. Both approaches can work if you are patient enough. Trust your ears...jallen
I would say that unless one must use low power SET amp, speakers first. However, eventually yes if you want to bring the most out of your speakers the amp together with pre-amp will cost more than the speakers, perhaps much more; double the price is quite realistic and I think reasonable.
Two can't do without a good pair of speakers, and you can't do without a good amp...HOWEVER...
In my experience, I could always have better, (not the best of course) sound with great speakers, compromising on the amplification.
I've told the story a million times--but...

Back in 1989, I'd purposely match the THIEL CS5's with the Adcom 535, a sixty (60WPC) watt amp, just to make people aware of how important speakers are in the audio equation.
Were they as good as they could be, of course not.
On the other hand, there was no way that I could have teamed a $13,000 amp with any $300 pair of speakers and come up with anything comparable...its simply not possible.
As basic as this may seem it makes sense as to the overall pecking order IMHO.
Of course, the best of both is the best...but if one has to make a compromise in the short term make it on electronics. SHORT for the best to go with your great speakers, then you'll have the magic.

Good listening,
I learned that voicing the speaker to the room and then getting an amp that played nice with the speakers was the way to go for me.

As an aside, at two recent CA audio shows I visited the Tonian Labs room. The speakers demoed were in the $5k range, the associated integrated amp and source combined were less than $500. There must be something to this speaker thing because at both shows that room was in my top 5.

As I recall, a great man once said: “Ask not what your speakers can do for you, but what you can do for your speakers!”

that was very inspiring, don't you think?

If the notion that all we needed were great speakers, was true… we’d all have $15K - $30K speakers being run by iPods and this past time would cease to exist.

The next sound you hear should not be the speakers. Not if they are great speakers, that is.

We don’t call these audio arrangements ‘SYSTEMS’ for no good reason.

Everything matters! Everything. Fit the speakers to the room, the amp to the preamp and the speakers, and youself, and you should be good to go.

I happen have an Onkyo amp… non digital, old school discrete. 140wpc or so they say. TX SR 805. An old school sony receiver too, and have a couple amps still around here, though more in recent history stopped by for a time.

Several pr of speakers still hang their hats here ranging from a few hundred to well into the thousands.

Guess what?

The best speakers IMO I own sound best with the best gear I own. Hands down, No questions. End of story. SO DO THE CHEAPEST SQUEAKERS I OWN SOUND BEST WITH MY BEST GEAR. Finis.

The diffs from my least expensive speakers, with my most modest kit, and the best speakers in house is minimal. Noticeable, but at best a marginal diff in Sound Q.

Quantifying it is tuff… from memory only I can say perhaps a third better sounding? Give or take a wee bit. At best.

That’s going from my $400 two way cantons, to my Silverline Sonata IIIs that retailed for well over 6K more money!.

Is there more bandwidth being revealed by the Sonata IIIs than the two way Cantons? Sure. But the SQ relies on the signal path. The bandwidth displayed is the territory of the speakers.

Reproducing more of the bandwidth is another tale completely.

Actually I could very easily deal with having lesser quality speakers than I can with having lesser quality signal transmission line.

Very easily I could live with my standby former Flagship Phase Tech tower and my better electronics than I would want to live with merely my Sonata IIIs and my Onkyo Receiver.

No doubt though, speakers are the big deal. Large man symbols out on display. One can’t but notice them! Get something cool! Fancy. Sharp looking. Big. Expensive speakers make great sounds!

Maybe. Maybe not.

They sure as Heck make a big splash on several levels though. I do admit that.

However, I feel very strongly about the philosophy of building a system from front to back, rather than back to front. Source first vs. speakers first.

Naturally you can go about it either way… and you will too. Regardless what is pointed out here by other peoples exp in their various system builds.

Speakers will make the biggest alteration to your system than any other piece normally.

Tha’ts the added advantage to building from front to back, by the time your ready to drop in some fancy and costly speakers, they’ll be entering into a rig that is already hot to go and balanced electrically & electronically speaking.

…and you will definitely know how honest the speakers are as you will have been auditioning various constructs all along the way. You’ll also become quite familiar with just where those invisible borders of diminishing returns dwell.

In that philosophy too, you might well find out you don’t have to hock your middle child for more speakerage.

I went to audition a pr of VSA VR4 Gen III. $6.5K $7.0K speakers. Took my amp along. A Krell KAV 250. Dedicated room… treated room… yada yada. Nice front end by Shan Lin, and Electrocompaniet preamp. All Audience wiring and Chang conditioning. Spent almost two hours listening to this and that. Felt quite unimpressed throughout the whole of that session… so I decided to leave and no longer consider those VSA Gen III speakers as candidates.

Saying good bye to the dealer and adding I’ll need to look elsewhere for other units, he bade me check out one more room first. I did.

In that room was an all Thor power train with the top tier Shan lin SACD CD player. Audience wires as before and Chang cond as in the other room. Now the outfit was 30 wpc vs 250 wpc and tubes vs. SS. The speakers again were VSA. VR4 JRs. Virtually half the cost of those just heard.

Listening to the exact same CD (s) as I had been previewing in the room next door, the first few notes I heard after receiving the remote control simply put, blew me away. Never in my life had I heard such incredible sound. Glorious. Astonishingly natural and organic. Decent bass too, though some improvement there was needed. Otherwise, 85 - 90% of the sound I was seeking lay right there in front of me!

So I bought those speakers.

Big mistake.

See, I was buying a sound.. a lie actually. Not speakers. It wasn’t the speakers that were manufacturing that sound.

They merely allowed it.

I shudder to think as I reflect on all of that How great could have that Thor outfit sounded with still better speakers?

For the next two years or so I tried to emulate, duplicate, recapture as much as possible of that Thor tube sound using those JR speakers. To no avail.

Similar products though not the exact same were brought in to reproduce the system I had heard. No dice. Nada.

Only that front end could make that sound. Not the spakers. In fact, those speakers needed that sort of front end to sound that good. With lesser gear, they sounded well, let’s say just not so good and leave it at that.

I dare say this is as pertinent as it would be with SS power trains too. Krell has a decidedly different sound than does Levinson, and McIntosh SS has a different sound than does Sony, etc.

I sifted my way thru a heap of cables, inordinate numbers of speaker placements to the point my floor was becoming Swiss Cheese… Lorraine, I think… or perhaps jarlsberg. Differing amps, preamps, even a couple different sources on the same economic levels as what was originally previewed that distant day, flew in, nested and then migrated off into the wilds. Zip. Sorry. I ultimately came close but no dice.

Later on, by acquiring a Thor line stage pre amp and added it into that mix with a BAT vk500 w/BAT pk, and felt then that was the best I could afford to do with that pr of speakers, and that was enough too. I had had it by then.

With respect to all the VSA owners, I was done trying to get great sound out of those JRs. They aren’t for me at all. Check please. I’m finished. Next!

It is indeed what is up[ front that counts. If the quality of the signal is not inherently true prior to it’s explosion from the speakers, it sure as Hell won’t regain or become infused with more Truth & love juice as it emerges from the transducers.

It matters not how good the speakers are…. Within reason. They will only exude what they receive… they won’t recan it or revitalize it. Purify it more, add to it or requalify it again… well, not if they are pretty good speakers.

Ain’t great speakers supposed to be neutral & transparent?

I’m pretty sure that’s why they call it a system. It takes EVERyTHING in it to generate an engaging audio event.

In my case the speakers I heard producing the sound that intoxicated me so magically that day were only a tad more than half the price of the ones I went there to hear!

But the front end of both rigs were quite different. Pricewise and topology too. the Thor outfit ran into $20K all by itself. The Electrocompainet and Krell added up to about $6 - $7K. total, give or take a few denaro.

The speakers too, to be fair here were different sorts… one wearing a negligee as a modest covering, the second, adorned by veneers and woods.

Irrespective of the two setups, night and day diffs were instantly noticeable. Blatantly. They continue to be too…. if the front end is up to the task.

Such remains my own experience.

I feel too some of the biggest considerations are matching of each item along the signal pathway. Though some call it synergy. Impedance matching all thru the system is mandatory for a great sounding arrangement. It is as important as with the upstream component as it is in the relationship between the amp and the speakers.

The amp has to satisfy two task masters. The source or preamp feeding the signal to it, and the speakers it must control and feed thereafter.

Miss on the upstream imp mataching, and the downstream output is going to be way less than good… or just good at it’s best.

Despite where you begin until you have the system on a par throughout itself, balanced electrically with respect to impedance, from it’s source (s) to it’s loud speakers, you’ll not be receiving it’s best effort… and I’ll say no matter how much $$$ youlaid out for those fancy squeakers ya got.

If you want good to great sound quickly, then go the front to back route. If you can deal with decent sound until your power train, and source are up to speed, then going off for a pr of high end squeakers is the likely way for you… that is of course unless your significant other is in the remodeling mood frequently…. If so, then speakers are normally the first things to be examined as something to change.

Lastly, if you have the duckets to drop as considerably on the power train as you are or can on speakers, all bets are off… and then it’s merely matching things up as to their needs and your preffs.

Like the old cigarette commercial said, “it’s what’s up front that counts!”

Hearing speakers which are capable of sounding great very much depends on what is making them sound great… and never will it be the other way around!
The Synergy between your ROOM and your speakers is the MOST important. Synergy between your amp and your speakers would be next. It's all about "Synergy"
Without the right amp your system will never reach it's potential .
As many have already stated all components in an audio system matter. But specifically regarding power amp vs speaker, I `d rather have a great amp upstream of a good speaker than a great speaker downstream from a good amp. The speaker can`t improve the signal passed to it. The better the speaker, the more it exposes what preceeds it, i.e. garbage in-garbage out.
>>06-27-11: Tmsorosk
Without the right amp your system will never reach it's potential<<

Without speakers that satisfy a listener, the right amp is a moot point.

"Without speakers that satisfy a listener, the right amp is a moot point."
You said in one sentence what I took several paragraphs to write.

Good listening,
Speakers and amps are not a chicken and egg thing. They have to work together.

If the two do not work together no amount of cash will fix it.
Garbage out = garbage out.
Good signal anywhere ==> Garbage component any where ==> Garbage out

I am another who feels that it is all about the room and thus what speakers will match with it. What walls are available, corners, odd room shapes, furnishings, etc. will dictate what speakers are possible. And then the buyer has to choose which priorities are highest for the final speaker.

Finding a matching amp is really not all that difficult as there are so many great amps out there to handle high or low efficiency speakers, or those that require high current output, etc. Sadly, the same can not be said for preamps...only a handful have cut it for me in 30 years.
If the question is what to shop for first, I would have to say the speakers, with the consideration to the room. Once the speaker has been selected, shop for an amp to properly drive it. Of course, it can be, and is, more complex than that, but that has been my experience.
Regardless what's said here, your experiments told you what you need to know. A boss amp will sound good, even with midfi speakers, while a midfi amp will sound like a midfi amp; even with the best speakers.
Read the sixth paragraph of this review(and following). The expensive components displayed, and supposedly connected, were Krell. The amp actually driving the speakers; a $650.00 parasound(and an iPod). (
This should come as no surprise for anybody that knows how to build a system.

It's simply common sense and nothing more.
Get real, how could anyone expect any thing less from a loudspeaker manufacture. Should Rgs92 believe Wilson or his own eyes?

Back when I practically lived in "high end emporiums", we were "grooving mightily" to all ARC electronics and top of the line Thiel speakers, when someone came in who wanted to audition a Rotel amp. After the Rotel amp was inserted, with ARC pre and Thiel still in the lineup; the soundstage collapsed.
Orpheus10, very astute posts!
GEE- You mean all amps DON'T perform alike? I'm shocked! Comparing Rotel and ARC? PLEASE!
The happy/MOST EFFICIENT path to the best results is room 1st, speakers second, amp third and then the rest.

Other orders can work well also as long as the end results are in synch, but will likely take more time and expense to optimize and results may not be as good.