An alternative view on system balance - what to spend where

There have been many threads exploring different views on how much to spend on different parts of the system. Generally these tend to boil down to two camps either source loaded or speaker loaded with a sub argument on budget for cables generally in the range of 10-20% or so

One thing I keep track of in my pretty pricey six digit system (fully documented as "Small Room, Big Sound") is where I've spent money and I wonder if certainly as your system becomes sufficiently resolving the typical budget rules break down? In my case the surprise factor is that "tweaks" (cables, acoustic treatment, power conditioning etc) actually make up well over 50% of my budget. Now I'm sure I never planned things this way but my experience is that once you have some pretty good components then incremental money is best spent optimizing how they and the room work rather than jumping on and off a never ending escalator for the next best thing.  Sure I could have spent more than 10% of my entire system budget on speakers but Magico Q3s are actually pretty good, match the room well and as you tweak the hell out of them they sound better and better and better

So my modest proposal is, assuming you basically like what you have, consider devoting one or two years worth of upgrade funds to optimizing every bit you can, if and when you do upgrade a component the tweaks should still all be valid.  My current mission is managing vibration which in the past few months has included new footers (Marigo F8), Shunyata DFSS elevators for my main interconnect (a great improvement I just installed today) and on order the Townshend Seismic Platforms for my speakers (which I will report on when they come from the UK)

So my question to the room is how owe much of your system budget is spent outside the main components? And how much should be spent?
You can tweak your system to your hearts content and all it takes is a major component upgrade to obviate it all. Once you remove a constant, all bets are off. Swapping out a component opens a whole new can-o-worms but sometimes, that new component easily betters all of those tweaks, so go carefully into that good night and see how it sounds in the long run.

All the best,
I guess my point is until you've optimized how do you even know what the component sounds like? Without any change to my amps or speakers my system sounds a world different to how it did six months ago.

this is the same reason I find shows so unsatisfying, listening to so many inadequately setup and optimized systems 
One could say that the component is meant to sound the way it should right from the maker with no tweaking done. But we all know that to be a non starter. Fuses, power cords, isolation devices, not to mention how it interacts with other components are all determinants pointing to it's potential. It's really hit or miss with the final caveat as to how it sounds in your room. 

I know this is not the answer you want to hear but it's the best I can do. As for audio shows with poorly set up rooms, welcome to audio land, where nothing meets the ear. :-)

The best you can do is not to throw everything you have at a component that doesn't quite cut it. Give it and yourself time for break in to see if it's working for you and know when to cut your losses. Wallets run only so deep.

All the best,

After my last post, I changed something from the way I've positioned my speakers for the last 19 years: I aimed them directly at my ears using a laser level device as an aid. Every speaker I've had before sounded too bright positioned that way. With my present speakers, it now has more presence and immediacy, top to bottom. The only thing that diminished slightly was the sound stage, but that is a low priority for me as I relish tone, timbre, and presence. 

Not only has the treble sweetened and aired out more than I thought possible, from there on down all notes have taken a turn for the better (and it was really nice to begin with, save that treble). There is a wholeness to the gestalt of the music that was merely hinted at, keeping me in a state of tweaking. Now I can relax. I guess this is a long winded way of saying don't forget the room, especially when something new is added. Sometimes, it's just a matter of an inch or so.

All the best,

Currently, my system is constructed similar to yours, with around 50 percent of the budget in the tweak category. 

That said, there is no answer to your final question of how much should be spent. There's many paths to audio nirvana. Just as no one can tell you the right music for you, no one can tell you the right way to construct a good system either.  It's all about trial and error, and what works best for you in your room, to your ears. 

I have been in this hobby for many years, and I have achieved great sound using various budgeting strategies. So I realize that my current methodology is not a final solution that will work for all. 

Nonoise -- great point on the very precise alignment of your speakers. I had always aligned using distance from the rear wall as a reference, but when Ron from Marigo came round to install the footers he brought a laser and set up teh tow in perfectly as you describe -- just like that another degree of fine focus and dynamics, frankly a matter of 1/10 of an inch made a big difference

I have about 70% of my budget spent on tweaks and, so far at least, about 1% spent on wiring. The tweaks were such that in my case I could indeed apply them equally well toward any gear I’d ever own without sonic negatives (as long as the components themselves proved inherently up to par). These tweaks also let me consider lower priced gear and simpler wiring choices (though I may yet experiment slightly with wiring further down the road).

I did find that as my system grew in resolution that the "budget rules" did seem to break down somewhat and I found myself reassessing what new levels of sound quality were possible if I made certain changes. Likewise in the long run I didn’t plan either on turning loose of quite this much money (about $16k in total over the last 26 yrs), but have wound up more than glad that I was able to go this route. But, I’d say that’s this hobby for you. There really shouldn’t be any set spending rules, or perhaps even suggestions, on how much of the budget should be spent where...unless maybe for those folks who are just starting out or who may feel convinced that learning every little technical detail about how things work and the best possible way to go in this hobby is not really for them and might feel better leaning on the advice of others. But, the longer you in fact spend in this hobby it seems to me the more self-reliant you can become if you remain open to learning a few things here and there along the way. Your first system you cut your teeth on, your second one you learn more deeply into your likes and dislikes about the sound and maybe on your third you can start pulling together some lessons learned and begin making the changes You want to hear...or something like that, I suppose... But, in the long view, there may be no spending strategies in place in the beginning that don’t eventually become revised or even overturned in the many others here I’ve found it’s mainly a journey of discoveries.