Component with most effect on soundstage/imaging?

Just curious... I hear lots about how this cable throws such a wide soundstage, or how that front end images so well, etc etc etc. In my experience, I have found that the amp or speakers have had the biggest impact on soundstage and imaging (speakers probably edging out in terms of greatest impact). I have found VERY little difference in cabling. Cables have had an impact on tonal characteristics (e.g. tighter bass, cleaner treble, etc.), but I really haven't heard much of a noticeable difference in soundstage or imagine. Then again, maybe my ears aren't up to it. Anyone had different experiences? Any thoughts?

The reason I am asking... I listen primarily to classical (chamber) and jazz (small ensembles and vocals), to genres where I think soundstaging and imaging are especially important. I am downgrading my system, however, and I would like to maintain these two aspects at as high a level as possible, and I am wondering which component I should focus on.

Thanks in advance, and happy listening!
I would have to assume room/speakers would have more to do with imaging/soundstage then anything else. I have had a super cheap digital front end(long ago) in my system at a period of time and it still imaged, not as well but it did. I would agree that the amp or preamp would be the next most important, I would lean toward the amp, from what I have experienced. Good day,
I believe that assuming your speakers are properly positioned, away from front and back wall, pre-amp is highly responsible to define sound stage. Different cable effect sound stage by varying tonal balance (too forward or laid back) resulting in chnaged sound stage.
Hi Eric, how have you been?

Actually, I've had two instances when cables did make a difference. First, was when I swapped out a pair of biwired DH Labs Silversonic T14s for a biwired pair of Analysis Plus Oval 9s. The APs were much fuller and more natural sounding. The Oval 9s have since remained in my system.

The second instance just happened last week. I replaced three Absolute Power Cords with three Virtual Dynamics Power 2 cords. Vaavoooooooom!!!! I am still in awe of the difference. Soundstaging has opened up immensely, both in width and depth. Music is more dynamic AND smoother. I have never experienced this combination before. And overall volume has seemed to increase. I can't explain that one.

As for components making a difference in soundstaging? When I changed my Sonus Faber Concertinos for ProAc Tablette 50 Signatures, the first thing I noticed was the contrast in overall imaging and soundstage presentation of the two speakers. The Concertinos had a nice, warm sound, but the Tab 50s exhibited a much larger and more precise soundstage, while retaining much of that warmth. So for me it definitely has to be speakers.

Eric, thanks for recommending Rick's cables to me. I'm thinking of possibly doing the entire Audition cable package swap.

Good luck.
Well, this is not a direct answer to the question..but the room and it's noise level is my choice.

Room size shape and acoustic properties, followed by the noise level both inside and outside of the home..have major impact on what you hear, esp. low level detail and decay that give much of the sence of space/image.
i think your findings coincide with mine...the amp and speakers are the most important components followed closely by the preamp. the source is a distant fourth and cables have never made a huge difference for me with respect to imaging. tweaks/isolation have made improvements in some cases.
You might want to find a technical book that describes how the soundstage illusion is actually created. Its something I should do. I don't know if the Audio Cyclopedia actually covers it some. I rememeber way back when, and I believe it was ambisonics, that built a retractable wall down the middle of your listening room running right up to the listeners face. This insured that sounds from the right speaker weren't getting to your left ear and sounds from the left speaker weren't getting to your right ear, I believe this nasty event is called crosstalk. Its an inaccuracy that nearly everyone lives with. Bob Carvers "sonic holography" circuit created out-of-phase signals from each speaker in an attempt to minimize the crosstalk, which would restore the soundstage. I don't know much about its workings, but it probably did a respectable job and it was a circuit that seemed to truly be restoring some accuracy to the source, as opposed to these generic "harmonic restoration" devices and Sound Retrieval Systems (SRS) which are different altogether. I believe they add an artifical sense of presence. And way back when Polk had a speaker that I think tried to correct this by having extra drivers on the front baffle angled in peculiar ways. But the crosstalk in most audio listening environments is one thing that gets little attention. This is one advantage to headphones: everything from the right channel goes only to the right ear and everything from the left goes only to the left ear. Strangely enough, headwize, or one of these headphone amplifiers incorporates a chip that tries to emulate the crosstalk found in most 2ch setups?!?! I guess they're trying to create an image one is accustomed to from loudspeakers, or in the headphone world maybe its designed to at least get the singers out of the middle of your head, even though the singers being there is accurate. However, I don't know if anything is ever done upstream in the recording phase to accomadate for this phenomona. But if you want to build that fifth wall to your room running between the speakers up to you that would help the soundstage. Good acoustic treatment can help clean up the soundstage some too. In the end I think electronics all the way upstream including speaker placement in the room are all important. I don't know if I could prioritize.
Eric since you're downsizing this probably isn't of particular interest; however for the others...
One cable "system" that significantly enhances staging is the Synergistic Research active shielding Master Control Center. This is the DC power supply that applies a static DC voltage onto the isolated shields of their interconnect cables. The staging ehnacement is its strongest feature, followed by improvements in bass, microdynamics, & blacker background. They even offer active shielded AC cords now, but I haven't yet had the pleasure. I'll be having mine upgraded when that service is available later on this year.
I agree with those who feel that the room itself bears a great responsibility for soundstaging and imaging. I feel that the most important aspect in this regard is where in the room you place your speakers. I have experienced amazing changes in depth perception by a small, few inches, speaker moves into the room. I also have had great luck with close to corner placements as far as the speaker disappearing act is concerned. Also I have experienced greater imaging and soundstage by placing my speakers on the long wall of a room. This did not make any sense to me when it was recommended, but it was an obvious improvement.
Good Luck.
Thanks for the input, everyone. As far as components go, I will be keeping my speakers (Ryan Acoustics MCL-1B monitors on Atlantis sand-filled stands). My listening room is actually pretty good. Perfectly rectangular, with dimensions approximately 18' x 9'. The speakers are along the long side of the room. I have hardwood floors, but there are two pretty thick floor rugs, and a rather plush couch. There is a window on the right wall, through which street noise can filter in, but this is really not much of a problem since I usually listen later in the evening. I'm moving down to an NAD C340 amp... any experience with this component in particular?

Thanks again,
1.Speakers, 2.Amp, 3.Pre, 4.DAC, 5. Power conditioning, 6. Power cables, 7.Rack, 8.???, 9.???, 10. Interconnects.

Speakers include placement in the room as well as the room and it's treatments. If you don't get the first part right, it will never improve from there. IMHO, unless your interconnects just PLAIN SUCK, they shouldn't be the bottleneck in soundstaging/imaging. And I would imagine that would be because (perhaps?) the ICs are sucking the quality of bass out of our equipment, and thus strinking the soundstage?? ..speculation..

This has been my recipe:

Determine what room you are going to use for the "rig." Find speakers suited to this room and your tastes/budget. Buy said speakers that will work in YOUR ROOM and whose PLACEMENT is ACCEPTABLE to you and the other occupants. If you can't place them correctly from the start, find another pair like Vandy 1C's that can be nearly up against the wall. Perform some MINOR room treatment, dampen the back wall, consider placing speakers along the LONGEST wall which avoid side deflections. Also put the chair/sofa/beanbag in the sweet spot.

Next buy the amp that matches well for you speakers in your room. Most decent amps "shouldn't suck" in the soundstaging/imaging dept. But I may be wrong. Mate amp to a synergistic preamp match. For me, I've never noticed a problem with my Audio Alchemy DLC and OM150 combo.

Though for me, swapping speakers and swapping DACs has dramatically changed the soundstage in most cases. I included the pre and the amp head of the dac, since I assume that no matter how good the DAC is, if the pre and amp are collapsing the soundstage, you'll never realize the DACs potential. And perhaps the same could be said of interconnects, if the ones you're using particually suck. Though that has not been my (limited) experience. I have noticed quite a difference in depth of soundstage AND imaging while A/B'ing a Adcom GDA600 (my current) DAC against a stock MSB Link III with stock PSU. That difference was very pronounced.

Finally, another thing that improved my soundstaging was my power conditioner. I swapped in a VansEvers model 85, and noticed a *slight* increase in soundstage *height*, but not width. the real reason for the PLC was to get the "blacker black" in the presentation, since I live in a condo. I am aslo running DIY belden powercords.
I believe that there should be the reference component from which you will build the soundstage. Imagine that one of your components is a constant.
I have an example when the analogue fan built up the system starting from Koetsu Onyx Signature + -> Arm + -> Table... having his personal opinion on how big soundstage Koetsu can through if the right rig is bieng used upto the speakers.
Unlike in Gulliver story in audio too many ends to start building and many of us have different personal opinions from where to start or what's more important.
To me I believe you can start building system from any component(not cables) taken as reference.
tough to have a great image and soundstage if you have choked out the info before it gets to your ears!

1 Source
2 Connections/cables etc...
3 Pre
4 Power
and of course your voice, SPEAKERS in that order and no other!
A lot of good advice especially from Tireguy and Drewfidelity. Also, to get the most from you components performance can depend on what they are sitting on. There are many options but my search ended with Neaunce platforms.
The room and speaker positioning. If that is not correct all the equipment in the world will not help.

Not having a head cold helps quite a bit too !
Choice of preamp for me seems to have the biggest impact on soundstage for me. Also, I note that a few folks have discounted the effects of interconnects on soundstage - I'd have to disagree. I had KCAG, HT Truthlink, Cardas Golden Cross and HGA Silver Lace. I found that these cables offered negligible difference in sound quality. However, I then switched to Nordost SPM (far more expensive than the other cables I tried) and the soundstage opened up dramatically. I couldn't believe it. For some reason the law of deminishing returns got turned on its head in my experinece - I had to spend a lot and then I got a great return. Anyway, just my experience. System is Audio Physic Virgo II, Blue Circle BC2 monos, Sonic Frontiers Line 3, YBA CD1a, Nordost SPM ICs, FIM GOLD Speaker Cable.