Darryl and Darryl ask ... where would you start?

We've all seen the 'what component is more important?' threads. Well, let's say someone bought into the 'speakers are way more important' argument. They now have a very good, and very revealing, pair of mains. Unfortunately, they have much, much less accomplished equipment upstream. If there is a pecking order, I would say their sources are better at being sources than their receiver is at being a pre and amp. They will have to upgrade gradually, spending perhaps $1000 or so at a time - strictly used, normally at less than 50% of retail. Would you advise them to dump it all into one component at a time (and if so, which one), or spread it among 2 to start, then upgrade again later?

Darryl advised to get a piece that you love, even if its sonic merits aren't immediately realized because of up- or downstream limitations. Then buy the next piece. If you don't have time (or money) to do it right, when will you have time (or money) to do it over?

Then my other brother Darryl advised them to stretch a bit to $1200 or $1500 and replace the receiver with both a pre and amp of modest capability (but still an improvement) so that they would hear an immediate improvement (which they may not with just an amp or source replacement.

Which Darryl, if either, was correct in your opinion?

IF the person had definite plans to end up with a very high caliber system, and they had a feel for what stuff they wanted to end up with, I would seriously recommend the one really good item at a time method. (except for cables.. which I would recommend getting modest but decent low < $200 pr and keeping them, along with modest speaker cables, untill the system was basically up to the final level desired. Then go for cables)
IF, on the otherhand, the person was not sure what direction, (home theater, stereo only surround/no video, etc) nor just how far up the quality ladder they wanted to go,,, I would recommend the gradual approach, getting step ups in several bits at a time, smaller multi-unit steps, rather than single major investment items. Then they would HAVE the opportunity to experiment and find what was right for them, and at what expense level they choose to level off at.
Another factor in this equation is TIME. If the period between money 'bites' was long (12 months or more), I would tend to favor the multi/ gradual approach.
If the money chunks came in shorter periods (every 6 months) I definitely would go for single item best can do system.
My $0.02
And I would personally agree with the first brother.
Darryl 1 is your wisest brother IME. I would advise you to really get a handle on what you hope to accomplish when all is said and done and then go from there. And I mean really figure out what kind of sound you want to end up with. Consider a system that does not require an active preamp (e.g. a digital system with built in volume control or passive preamp - careful system matching attention is needed when taking this approach). One more piece of advice, in your search for a loudspeaker, look for one that is a very efficient and easy load to drive, that way when you get to your amplifier upgrade you can look for quality over quantity. I also agree with Elizabeth on the cable question, purchasing good cabling after the other pieces are in place is generally good advice. In any case, do not purchase a cable upgrade until the two components the cable will connect have been purchased. Oh, and another thing, play around with inexpensive tweaks to keep yourself occupied when you have the upgrade bug, and then stick with your plan.

I agree with Daryl!

The correct answer is: buy the amp you want next, even if it costs +/- the whole $1000. Then work on the front-end pieces. With the right combo you won't even need the preamp. Then clean up your power. Next the interconnects and speaker cables, order is not that critical here. Then racks, shelving, and isolation. Then room treatments and furnishings.

And before you know you'll be ready for marriage and then you will REALLY be informed what pieces of your room and system will immediately be discarded! And how long it will be before you will be allowed to replace them.

Sometimes, even the best advice ccan't help us.

Best Wishes, Paul
I agree that Daryl is correct!

Honestly, my advice is usually to buy the component you love. The likelihood is that your tastes will not change radically, so choosing a component that really fits you can make for a lasting purchase(remember those?).

It was just my way of assembling a system, but along the way, I always tried to buy the best component I could. Even if it was out of place with the rest of the system; several levels better. Why? I knew where I ultimately wanted to go, and my feeling was that I would be making the next upgrade in kind, all the way up until my system was complete.

In the end, I think my path to building the sytem I am happy with resulted in me not having to make multiple buys and sells and I can honestly say that I was able to hear improvement at each point.

One more thing(especially if you want to make sure you always hear improvement - but it's good advice in any circumstance), DO NOT GO CRAZY WITH CABLES UNTIL THE REST OF YOUR SYSTEM IS FINISHED. That isn't to say that cables aren't important or that they don't make a difference. They are and they do. But, concentrate on getting the meat and potatoes of the system where they should be first. I think that the differences in cables are often maximized at that point, due to the high level of system resolution(hopefully).

Having the right source, amplification, and loudspeakers will go the lion's share towards makeing you happy. Cable should be the thing that maximizes the performance of your final equipment purchases, which can only be right and at its most effective if its done last.

Disclaimer: In this age of digital transition, it's OK to invest in a lower priced front end before you invest in a reference quality high resolution machine(and maybe even do your cable - blasphemy, I know). I am currently in this mode - waiting things to progress.

I look long term, but then that's just me.
I went like this:

1) good speakers, midfi pre, amp, CD, DAC
2) good preamp
3) good amp

and I just discovered that for the last year my good preamp has been negated by my midfi amp. Now that I have a good amp, I'm in audio nirvana-- so my advice would be speakers, amp, preamp like someone else said.

CD players nowadays are fairly small incremental differences compared to amps and preamps, IMHO. My CD player is the next piece to get upgraded, but right now I'm listening with a DVD / outboard DAC combo that could be bought used for $300 and have auditioned $1000 + Cd players in the system that don't make a huge difference (although now with the new amp, I'll have to do that again, darn)-- There are so many good mid-fi CD players that will give you 90% of what high-end CDs give you, but the same is not true for amps / preamps, again IMHO.

Good luck, and tell Daryl he was right.
Thanks for the response, guys and gals. I admit to subscribing to the 'buy what you love' philosophy - especially in the areas like speakers and amps which don't change much with technology and format 'advances'.

I've been a poster and lurker here for a long time, and I must say that I typically will agree with you Trelja on many things. As all of you have suggested, I have and plan to stay pretty modest in the cable department until the basic level of the 'boxes' is up to snuff, then find a connection that works best for those 2 components. I am not a 'wire-is-wire' guy, but neither am I a serious cable guy. It's the seasoning in the dish, but not the main ingredients. (Like many here, I am also a culinary hobbyist).

I've been preoccupied with HT for a while now. Sold off a bunch of audio stuff and put in a CRT projector, tiered seating, building an HTPC, the whole enchilada. But 2-ch is still my passion, and I return to music like salmon to spawn ... or maybe pigeons to roost or lemmings to the cliff are more appropos ;-)

Paul, fortunately I was ready for marriage some 23 years ago. While she does not share my interest in gear, she has been a very active participant in the theater construction. I think it's all about the candy counter! ;-)