Ia a good amp more important than a good DAC?

Hi guys, I would like your opinions as to wether it makes sense to use a great integrated (Simaudio i7, many think it is the best out there) amp and not have a CD player that is not in the same league, eg Cambridge Azur 840c. What is more important - the quality of the DAC in the CD player or the parts that make up a great amp - would I be peeing in the wind to use a great amp and a good but not great CD player?
I would rather have a great amp. You can get such good sound out of the lesser expensive DACs than you can out of a less expensive amp. Personally that is what I think after having experimented both ways. Ideally you would have good stuff for both, but it seems like now you can get super sounding digital for less money than super sounding amplification. Others might disagree, but that is what I've found having gone both ways. I could no matter what I tried get my bedroom system to sound great until I ponied up for a top notch integrated. I don't think either you have to spend big bucks on either to get fantastic sound. Ultimately I think pairing the right amp to the right speakers is the most critical decision one can make in a system.
Sink your real money in the components which have the greatest prospect for longevity. Speakers and amp (integrated) if carefully chosen will last a long time. Sources seem to change more often as do formats and good ones are fairly easy to find and can be fairly inexpensive. Over the long haul, if you are careful in the amp/speaker selection, you can continue to improve your overall system by increasing the quality of your sources. That is what I would do anyway.
I agree with that posters above.
I remember running an entry-level AMC transport and DAC with my new Audio Space tube integrated and Triangle Titus ES monitors. It was just because I upgraded in that order--amp, speakers then source. I had thought the system was OK until I got the new downstream gear, but after that awww... I pretty much stopped listening, even for lullabies. The source turned out to be just too limited once I could hear it properly.

Listen to your present source with the amp you plan to buy, then try the other way round (new DAC and current amp). See which setup you think you'll be able to live with most easily while you save for the second piece.

I think you are right to try to make the choice, BTW, instead of spreading the money over two pieces of gear. It makes sense to upgrade big, not often.
I am in the source first camp.
You amp cannot fix what is not right upstream.
would I be peeing in the wind to use a great amp and a good but not great CD player?

Can you hold it for a bit longer until we get to a rest stop?

I'm in the source camp, and we have a little song we like to sing around the campfire and you're lucky you can't hear me sing it. Garbage in = garbage out. I don't want a great amp to amplify all the nuance and detail of a crappy source. Newbee, however, does, as usual, make a good point: digital front-ends and formats come and go like movie sequels. Amps and speakers stand the test of time like Robert Redford and Clint Eastwood. Then again, who knows how long you're going to live - why not get the best right now dammit!? That, or hang on to what you have and put your money into hookers, booze, vending machine prophelactics and cheap hotel rooms.
1) Speakers

2) Amps

3) Preamp

4) Subwoofer

5) Turntable

6) Phono Stage

7) Cartridge

8) Isolation

9) DAC

10) Power Conditioning

11) Disc/Music server

12) Nice (not crazy) speaker cables and interconnect

13) power cord (just something better than what came with it)

That's how I think you should build a system, and my advice is worth what you paid for it.
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1A Speakers 1b PreAmp 1c Amp = Primary sound Characteristic of your system.

2a Primary Source (Digital or Analog)

3 Spk Cables, IC's Power Cord. (Address weakneses above if any)

4a Power Dist
4b Power Cond if needed, some set ups sound great w/out.

5 Room Acoustics and treatments

6 Sit back and Enjoy the fruits of your labour. Tweak as necessary but enjoy the process and let things settle in a good while after any major upgrade.
Your ears will need to reaclimate to the changes,... some take a bit of time to bear fruit. Best to you!
I have to go with the Amp here.My feeling is that the disparity between so so amps & good amps is much greater than that between so so sources & good sources.A really good amp will allow everything the source is capable of to shine through were as the so so amp will NOT let the benifits of a great source come through.The HIGHLY respected speaker designer Bill Dundleston(I hope thats right)of Legacy Speakers once stated in an interview that the importance of the individual components in a music reproduction system was:Recordings-Speakers-Amplification-Source-Cables.I agree completely.
I am not familiar with these components, but I believe that all components in the system should match. I already went thru this when I tried to pair great preamp Cary SLP-05 with OPPO as a source (even highly modified), and the result - all the time instead of music I heard limitation of my source.
BTW, the source is not just a DAC, transport is very important part. Again, my experience - I added MSB DAC hoping it solve the problem - nop, it just does not work that way.
Now I got Esoteric and enjoy the music.
Bottom line - if components do not match, high level parts just emphasize limitations of low level components.
Good luck.
Very interesting to hear your responses so far guys - thankyou. To Bob Reynolds . yes, simply because of price, though apparently it is a very good player though it is the only one I have had so can't really compare.

To Jax 2 - agree with you but I can't get the best NOW, I blew all my money on hookers. Should be the subject of a new thread - "Should I blow a lot of money on hookers now, or should I get the system first?"
Damn, i'm never going to be able to afford that cheap amp.
You might want to run that question by Tiger.
Garbage out > garbage out.
Yea Martwatkiss. $1 billion dollars and 12+ women. I don't think Thomastrouble is in the same league as Tiger.
Should be the subject of a new thread - "Should I blow a lot of money on hookers now, or should I get the system first?"

good luck getting that one past the moderators! Using the words "blow" and "hookers" a thread title would definitely get some attention. Perhaps you could compile a list of hookers with killer high-end systems at their place of business...but I think that list would be a short one.
Freediver hits the nail on the head here. Yes you do need a good source and a good amp. But it seems to me that you can get a better source that is closer to the sound of a very expensive source for 1/10th the price than you can get an amp. If anyone here knows of a 500 amp that sounds close to as good as a 5000 one I'd love to know about it. I know of DACs that do fall into this category. I've personally just never heard the huge disparity between DACs that I have between amps, price wise that is.
Its a chicken and egg question, one is not much good without the other. Good does not necessarily equate one to one with expense. It depends to a large degree on your system, if you have inefficient speakers with a difficult impedance curve the the amp will cost a lot, K Horns, not so much. But all things considered it is easier to get a good cheap DAC than an amp, their job is easier to do. I have just got a V-DAC and it is close to my $2K+ ones.
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Unsound said it best, in response to the source first camp. I have found the system sounds no better than the weakest link. It doesn't matter how much beautiful music your source is putting out if your amp mangles it on the way to the speakers. And cast my vote for there being a bigger difference between great and mediocre amps than great and mediocre digital. I also suspect that the real differences in sound of digital gear has more to do with their analog sections than their digital sections.
I'd first establish what kind of sound you like, SS, tube, SET, Mosfet, mega-watt SS and find the best match for the amp/speaker combination. This cold be a really simple process: walk in and walk out of the dealer with a plug and play package. Or, really complex like tri-amped horns driven by different esoteric low-watt large tube amps.

Once you know what you want then you can make significant moves to upgrading the source - which is ultimately the most important element.

Honest1: I have found the system sounds no better than the weakest link.
I agree. The often stated rationale for "source first," that the imperfections of what comes first in the chain cannot be undone by what comes later, makes no sense because it ignores the MAGNITUDE of the imperfections in each link of the chain. Although that is not to say that for SOME listeners and some systems, the choice of source component will necessarily be less important than the choice of what comes later.

The most influential early promulgator of that philosophy, btw, was Ivor Tiefenbrun of Linn, ca. 1980. Of course, it just so happened that his major product was the LP12 turntable.
Freediver: The HIGHLY respected speaker designer Bill Dundleston(I hope thats right)of Legacy Speakers once stated in an interview that the importance of the individual components in a music reproduction system was:Recordings-Speakers-Amplification-Source-Cables.I agree completely.
FWIW, I agree also.

-- Al
On contrary Al,the rationale for "source first" has and always will continue to make a whole lot of sense irregardless of what is downstream.
Yes, that's correct. "Rational" is also a word, but it has a different meaning.


Mark -- I don't question that for many people "source first" may be the best approach. My contention is that the explanation/justification/rationale that is commonly offered for that approach is flawed.

Best regards,
-- Al
I know it's a word, but I haven't seen the "rationale" presented.
I agree with the amp argument, since I think the amp/speaker is the most important match when choosing components and like others, I think the differences between $500 and $5,000 CD players is much, much smaller than the differences between $500 and $5,000 amps. The source is of critical importance, there is no disagreement there, it must be good or you will get garbage in, but it is not so difficult to get a good digital source for not too much money (not saying they are as good as EMM, Esoteric, dCS, Wadia, etc). Get the speakers and amp right, and most decent digital players (the Cambruidge is much more than decent) will be pretty good given the medium. There was alot more difference between the Linn Sondek and a $79 turntable - so getting the source right in those day was critical and Ivor Tiefenbrun was right about the importance of the source, there is a lot of logic in thinking you don't want to amplify garbage - and there were big differences in performance between turntables, not nearly so with digital IMHO.
The question "is a good amp more important than a good DAC" is only meaningful when discussing the system's speaker.

A great amp can sound lousy with great speaker. It's all about matching properly.

That being said, I would choose the amp for this discussion.

Good digital sources and DACS are a dime a dozen in today's market.
I just very much disagree with the statement that a "system is only as good as its weakest link." As I have upgraded components that are not the weakest link, the sound of the system has improved and hasn't stayed the same, as implied by the statement. I wonder if people writing this are trying to say something different.

My advice would relate to marginal cost/marginal benefit. Where can you get the biggest bang for the buck?
Markwatkiss, "On contrary Al,the rationale for "source first" has and always will continue to make a whole lot of sense irregardless of what is downstream."

I'm surprised that more discussion hasn't taken place on the use of "irregardless", as opposed to "rationale". We ALL make typos, but "irregardless" is a horse of an entirely different color.

As for me, I'm in the amp first camp, but understand a lousy source is also a dealbreaker. Just that I've tried both ways on many occasions, and I usually wind up getting more enjoyment with an amp that meshes well with my tastes and system.

Bill makes a most cogent point - to have meaning, an amp must reference the loudspeaker it's being paired with.
Trelja, thanks for wording it better than I have.
Even an inexpensive DAC has very low self-noise, low distortion, and no headroom issues.

Can't say the same thing for a cheap amp.

Amps are big analog circuits with lots of components and connections operating in a hot, high-current environment.

A DAC is just a digital processor (a chip) with a line level output stage.
Thanks a lot for getting involved in my question guys. I am learning a lot but typical of this hobby I seem to have moved one step forwards but two steps back regarding decision making, but I am loving the debate.

Sorry, I am a beginner and never thought to mention my speakers in the question, - they are Magnepan 1.6s and a REL Britannia B3 subwoofer and I use this for music only. I have another pair of speakers that are much more sensitive , or easy to drive - Dali Ikon 7s. These are quite nice and detailed, a "clean" sounding speaker but to me don't have the "big" sound of the Maggies or the "realistic" sound of the Magnepans. They are also pretty "shrill" and sore on the ears as far as the highs go. My musical tastes range from Jazz/Bossanova to rock to electronic, a bit of everything.
Hope that is enough info.
I believe that the source, amp and room are the biggest contributors of sound, which I have recently found out over the past year. If you want to hear this for yourself, go out and listen to some new Rotel electronics and then something tubed or even NAD. There's one for you. Listen to the difference between Rotel and NAD through any speaker. The difference is huge.
Tak the step forward, get the SIM. If you are hooked on Maggies (no reason not to be) you are likely to use SS, and the SIM is a good choice. As has been suggested by most, the amp/speaker combo is critical where is most decent digital sources will do fine for you. The SIM/Maggie sounds like a good long-term combo.
Regarding source first, would you rather have sushi from the best independant Japanese chef in the big city if it had to be delivered to your house in a biker's back pack on a hot August day, or would you rather go to a Legal Seafood, where your fish could be delivered by a short walk from the kitchen to your table?
Jult - I think we agree. Upgrading parts of the system which are not the weakest link will still yield improvements, but just not as much as they should. I'm thinking of my system's cables. I had changed major components over the years, with some good results, but not until I changed the cables did I notice a huge improvement. Now, I can go back and change out some of the components I have not sold yet, and hear bigger differences between them than i oculd before I changed cables. I think the cabe;s were the weak link, and were preventing my other improvements from having the impact they should have.
The sushi analogy is lame; it's either good or bad.

Not the case with digital sources. Most are good enough for this fellow's application. As I said earlier, there is a plethora of inexpensive digital sources and converters.

I hope that helps.
Thanks, Unsound!

Though I'm in the "amp first" camp in this thread, I still feel the source is definitely important. In fact, critically important.

One trend this type of argument (more commonly: speakers or source) often follows is to dismiss the importance of the other side of the argument altogether. Most of the audiophiles whose opinions I respect would never go down that road.

A personal anecdote, five or so years ago, one of my local dealers hosted a gentleman from Linn at his store on a beautiful autumn Sunday afternoon. Obviously, you know where Linn's opinion lies.

The system this fellow demonstrated for us featured their $20K CD player on one end and a lower end (something in the $1100 - $1500 range, though I've respected their micromonitors that have long slotted below whatever this model was, pricewise) Linn speaker on the other. The Linn amplification used fell somewhere in between those two extremes. He made the usual statement about the source being everything, and to prove it, you could basically use "any old speaker" as a speaker can only reproduce what is passed to it.

The overall goal was to show how divine the result would be in having one follow the Linn philosophy, and spend a disproportionate share of the system budget on the source

Needless to say, the sonic experience of the system was far less ideal than we were being told. Apart from hopefully providing valuable insight into how wrongheaded the Linn approach actually is, I found the entire exercise ridiculous. For the sake of argument, I'll put a $30K price tag on the system, and believe that if I were allowed to divvy that up into 4 $7500 portions, then go around the store and grab a CD player, preamp, power amp, and pair of speakers that individually came in at or less than that $7500, the end result would have walked away from the system that was demonstrated.

My overall point, to quote Kondo-san of Audio Note, "Nothing is unimportant."
The sushi analogy isn't lame if you're not too illiterate to understand it. The point is it doesn't matter how good the fish starts out if the trip to your mouth destroys it, just like the signal's trip through your stereo system to your ears. Odd thing is, I think Mr. Feil and I agree more than disagree on the question posed.
Isn't Audiofeil point that most of the fish is good, it's the journey to your plate that can be the problem? Well, anyway, I think we have argued the point to death; yes, the source is important, but unlikely to be a problem with most current digital sources, and that where you are most likely to go wrong is to mess up the amp/speaker combo, so focus there and you are likely to be on the right path.
Well guys, I have experimented a bit since posting the question that has created a good little debate and this is my take so far. Today I swapped out the Cambridge 840 c (CD player) that costs around $1,400 for one twice the price, a Bryston BCD1. Both of these players have glowing reviews. The Bryston came out better BUT I had to listen hard and keep swapping the interconnects to make that decision. What this tells me is the Cambridge seems to be a really great player for the price. They really were very close. As far as the amps go I have been swapping the Pass Labs 250.5 back and forth with the NaimNait5i which costs a fraction of the price. The Pass came out tops but I think it may be because of the high current and extra power that Maggies need but the Naim (50w) was/is very impressive too. Regarding the speakers, I really think these are the most important thing, amp next then source, but what was making a bigger difference than all of these was room treatment - massive variation in sound depending on what I damped and where. With all the different configurations of the gear I was happy with the sound after I got the room treatment under control but until I fixed the room it all sounded miserable, really miserable. So, in a nutshell, I don't think you have to spend an arm and a leg to get great sound. There is gear out there that can take you almost there for a fraction of the price, but regarding the difference between the amps and the players I would have to say that the amp made the biggest difference.....with my set-up, that is.
Pubul - That was my point exactly.

Thomas - one thing I've found to make a huge difference is placement of the speakers in the room, even more so than putting acoustically absorbent materials around the room (although my room is fairly dead already).
While the garbage in-garbage out argument makes sense, I have a competent USB DAC that has outlasted 3 amp/pre combinations. In my experience the improvement offered by my current $12k amp/pre would not have been matched by replacing my $1k DAC paired with the old amp/pre combinations.
Thomastrouble, it was my experience too that room treatment is a significant upgrade; to the point that if you don't have that handled you never really hear how good your system can be; and as you likely heard, you don't have to strain to hear the improvements brought by good room treatment.
ThomasT, I agree with you 100%

1. Room
2. Speakers
3. Amp
4. DAC (even a cheap DAC has amazing specs)
Thanks for the continued input guys, this site is great and I am loving being able to gather all the good info, juggle it around and finally make decisions.

Yes, this room treatment thing has me wondering how many people out there that have good systems but are unfortunate enough not to be able to set up where they like at home. I have moved mine from a room with very low ceilings to a standard height room to one with very high vaulted ceilings and all left their own big mark on the sound. Unfortunately for me the one with the best acoustics (standard 8' ceilings) isn't going to work because of human traffic, but it created a feeling of "big" sound compared to the larger room with 16' ceilings where the system finally ended up. It just shows though that a while back I read a post from a guy using a similar set-up as me and when he moved his into a room with high vaulted ceilings he said only then his speakers really came to life.
After comparing the two sources my mind is at rest that I don't need to go any further with that given the minute difference between the two, however, with speakers I will probably get curious, but for now I will just dial in what I have and start enjoying it.....and all the forum threads.
Thanks guys
Or another example - I have a friend who is a dance instructor. Every so often she has a recital in the high school auditorium. THe auditorium has a sophisticated PA system that has been calibrated (for frequency and tme delay) to the auditorium. She plays her music on a $40.00 boom box whic feeds through its headphone jack into a mini headphone-to-RCA adapter into the mixing console. Sitting in the audience, it sounds reasonably good. Not audiophile approved, not like you're sitting at Symphony hall, but clear, powerful, usually non-fatiguing. Does anyone think it would sound better if she used $40.00 speakers and a DCS / Wadia / MBL etc. stack, or a Rockport turntable?
sources change; reel to reel, cassette tapes, 8 tracks, vhs, radio, sat radio, cd, sacd, hd music, lazor disc, dvd, hd dvd, blu ray, hd tv, vinyl, on and on. but the amp and speakers are always there blasting out what ever they are given!
Happy new year to you all.

I wish to chime in that souces do evolve and personally I think it IS evolving now with the new digital trend. Some manufacturers have launched music servers. I believe it will change the industry like what CD did to Vinyl (hey, I'm not talking about quality here :)). Thus, it would be wiser to invest in a good amp to make sure it is powerful and refine enough to match your speakers.

Btw, don't under estimate CA 840c. I use it and agree with reviews that it is a very good value for money!

What's the difference between Tiger and Santa?:

Santa only had three Ho's.