For me it would be power cords. I'm sure I'll get flamed, roasted, and toasted for this but what the hell.
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I am going to play to this very interesting problem in its toughest version, the single-source two-channel one.
It just doesn't seem like a hard call to me if the system in question has more than one source, or more than two channels. Anyway Jmcgrogan2 called it for a twin analog-digital front end, and Snofun3 did it for multichannel.
I can't see downgrading wire. Mine didn't cost enough to represent a serious cash value, and one cable is custom anyway. It would be the speakers, Nrchy. I went through a lot of upgrades with lesser speaks than the ones I have now, and I still had fun. I would downgrade them first.
I may even have to do it in real life. My spouse wants family TV in the living room and that's going to cut seriously into my listening. If it turns out to be too much, I may go with monitors in my private room.
I seem to use mine for background noise when I'm doing chores so it wouldn't be a large loss (if you look at my system, I think it's already my weakest link with no desire to upgrade).
(Those are words I have never spoken or written or contemplated before..."no desire to upgrade"... maybe I need help)
Tobias - that's where I have found the easiest place of compromise. I am on my third time working my way through the system, having begun at the source and working back to the speakers while upgrading.
Sure speakers make a difference, but I have spent more time with speakers than were not up to the level of the rest of my equipment. Even after replacing them with something appropriate or better suited, I still thought speakers made less of an impact or could, without serious loss musically be of lesser quality.
I have had speakers over the last four years ranging in cost from $900 - $15,000 and many in between. Better speaker sound better but none of them were irreplacable.
Just my $.02...