Is there a magic formula for spending on components in a system

Hello to all...

I'm looking for opinions on the magic formula for purchasing components base on catergories:

Source or sources



Sound Transmission

Interconnection and Cabling

Setup and storage

Thoughts? Opinions? Your system "equation" ?

PS: which of the above is the most important block in the wall? 
If money not an object, I'd spend an equal amount on each component. Each speaker is considered a discreet component. And wire, as a group, is considered a component.
Compromise (since few have unlimited money) on wire, amplification, room treatment and power conditioning. Splurge on speakers and source.
This is my master plan.
More than 50% and probably under 60 % of the increased S.Q. will come from a rightfull mechanical, electrical, and acoustical embeddings...

Then choosing well electronic components without figuring how to embed them will be costly in dollars and in S.Q. in term of audio experience...
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 I believe the allotment of funds across components differs with budget. For instance, if budget is $1000 than it might prove best to invest more on both the integrated amplifier and the source component than the speakers. However, as the budget increases a greater allotment might be justified towards the speaker. In my case, with a system that had a retail price of ~$14,000, the speakers retailed at $3000, the amplification at $6500, the source (digital) at $2600, and cables at ~$2000. With the exception of my DAC all components were purchased at less than retain price such that the allotment for active components is more evenly distributed, cables were purchase at greatest discounts from retail. I believe that I would have to spend 2x the retail cost of my speakers to get a significant upgrade. I believe my amplification and source components justify that.

IMO any such rule-of-thumb guidelines that may be defined are not likely to be useful, and might even contribute to poor decisions being made. There are simply too many variables and dependencies involved. A few examples:

-- The listener’s preference for how much deep bass extension should be provided by the main speakers, and also the maximum volume capability of the speakers (especially the ability to cleanly reproduce brief high volume dynamic peaks, such as frequently occur in many classical symphonic recordings that have been engineered with minimal or no dynamic compression), can dramatically influence the cost (and the size) of the speakers, for a given level of quality.

-- Low efficiency speakers will of course require more power than high efficiency speakers, and for a given level of quality and within a given class of operation (i.e., A, AB, D) more power usually means greater amplification cost.

-- Conversely use of high efficiency speakers will usually result in amplification comprising a lower percentage of system cost, for a given level of quality and within a given class of operation, while often resulting in increased speaker cost (and size) for a given level of quality.

-- Sensitivity to analog interconnect cable differences depends on the output impedance of the component providing the signal and on whether the interconnection is balanced or unbalanced, among other variables. Sensitivity to digital cable differences depends on too many variables to list here :-)

-- Sensitivity to speaker cable differences depends in part on the impedance characteristics of the speaker.

-- And of course the listener’s preference for the type of source (vinyl, CD, streamer, computer, etc.) can make a major difference in the percentage of system cost that should be allotted to it.


-- Al

OK, a possible formula given a digital system:

Source - 20 to 25%
Amplification - 25 to 35%
Speakers - 25 to 45%
Cables - 10 - 15%

Summation of the mid value of each components class = 100%
For my system.
1. Speakers $10,000
2. amplification including DAC $4000
3 .Source digital <$1000
4. cables<$200
5. Room $300

Some things bought used. 
Ha, +1 Al, a great response which fell within the 3 minutes of my two responses. 

50% at most must be attributed to the parts of the audio systems, more than 50 % to the complex embeddings...

Which is the use of marvellous pricey speakers in a bad acoustical room?
I prefer magic stuff to idiotic ramblings tough....Especially when it is against others and in their back.....
There is no magic formula. Theres advice from fellow music loving enthusiasts. But I don't  believe in spending alot of your resources on cables.But that's my feelings. 
Many tell the tale of the magic formula. It is said it is buried high in the Andes, or maybe in the deepest Amazon, then again quite possibly on Mt Doom, in any case you will know you are close when you trip over a unicorn and fall into the Fountain of Youth.
There is no magic formula but if you want someone else with expertise to determine it for you consider an integrated device that you can just add most any speakers to.

A good example is the Bel Canto c5i which has high end sound and everything most any one might need already built in for a very reasonable cost, especially used.

Many other good ones also.  Just find one with the power and features you need. 
I wouldn’t lose any sleep over this one. Here’s why. I’ve actually built whole systems using the preferred approach of budgeting equally to each part- speakers, amp, source, wire, tweaks. Even at a very modest budget level it pays big time to budget significantly for tweaks and wire.

But here’s the thing. With one of those same budget systems I then upgraded one interconnect to something that literally doubled the budget of the whole system. That is, put a $1200 interconnect into a $1200 system. Most would predict this is a waste and would hardly matter. How could a $1200 system possibly show what a $1200 interconnect can do? Well I am here to tell you it can! That one wire transformed that system!

Its not something I recommend or would do. Just saying. Good to know. Because maybe you come across a killer deal on a "Grail" type component. But the rest of your system is way beneath it. Who cares? Sad truth is, all these guys saying Source or Speakers or Amp, they are all just repeating what they heard someone else say, or what worked for them. Its not like they performed some exhaustive comprehensive comparison. Which even if they did well guess what? That was them. Not you. So who knows? 

Frankly I was a lot happier tripping over the unicorn. A beautiful Mermaid brought me to the surface and gave me mouth to mouth, and I could swear there was a little tongue before the angels whisked me off to heaven. I never did find the magic formula. But the music here is to die for.
By far the most expensive part of my system is the room.  Whatever you do, if you truly care about the outcome and not just being able to say "I have a cool system", then put a good amount of money aside on acoustics and some money and time into learning how they work, and learning how to do measurements and interpret them.  

Your spend on speakers as Al pointed out is going to be heavily impacted by your desire for deep clear bass. I personally, and studies have shown bass has a huge impact on perception, so I would not ignore this.

The speakers and room provide the vast majority of your impression of your system assuming competent amplification and source.

If you are going to include vinyl, you can't go cheap. Good vinyl is expensive and that leads to a different question, do you consider yourself a "vinyl" person or you mainly in the digital realm and quite happy with it. If you are in the digital realm and quite happy with it, then there are many competent DACs at reasonably prices you will like, and you could even look at integrated with DAC built in, though that makes upgrade tough.  If you are vinyl guy, then you may want a DAC that recreates more of that vinyl sound and that is going to cost more.

So .... back to what Al started. Tell us what your approx spend is, what music you like, and what you think about your "sonic" tastes.
The percentages in the magic formula change according to the size of your overall budget.  One size doesn't fit all.
It is true that, all else aside, it will cost more to get extended quality bass and quite a bit more for that in a large room compared to small.

That is because the amp and speakers both must work much harder to deliver extended bass and even more so for bigger rooms. 
I forgot to add in laptop and mic for measurements. Most already have a laptop and you can get a good mic for $75. You might need more for Room than I spent. My room was already pretty dampened and restricted on what all I can do since it isn't dedicated. IMO speakers and room are your most important considerations. Invest the most in speakers you like it's easier to upgrade the other items unless you have enough money to get everything you want at once. 

For my system.
1. Speakers $10,000
2. amplification including DAC $4000
3 .Source digital <$1000
4. cables<$200
5. Room $300

Is there a magic formula for spending on components in a system?  Even better: there are many such formulas, each with its adherents. And each formula is right for someone.

In other words, I agree with @almarg on this.

I agree with those above who stated there are too many variables. 
The greatest ones are your total budget and the efficiency of your speakers.  I have two sets of Magnepan and ended up spending a lot more on power amps than I would have spent on efficient speakers.  
However,  for the past 25 years, I appear to be addicted to Maggies.  

Percentages have gone up and down I’ve the years as I’ve upgraded this piece or that. And, I use new prices to calculate tough many pieces have been purchased used. That said: 20/30/30/20 percent, for source/amplification/speakers/cables. There’s no turntable in my system—it would certainly be more for the source if I was into vinyl.  And cables are usually bought used or on sale...again, I’m comparing list prices for new equipment to come up my magic formula (hey, at least it’s easy to remember).
The speakers and room provide the vast majority of your impression of your system assuming competent amplification and source.
This is right on and my experience...

But controls of the acoustic of a room has 2 part: a passive well known one, easy to read about ; amd an active one very important and no so easy to read about and figure out...

But all that can cost peanuts with your ears and listening experiments...I transform mine without any measure, and the result is amazing on all count at nearfield or regular listening...

But decreasing the electrical noise floor of the house is very important on all aspect of S.Q. just below the acoustic controls....

I buy low cost vintage very good elements for the system.....

The more money i invest were in my homemade controls of the mechanical, electrical, and acoustical embeddings.... This is the KEY....

When you forget upgrades and listen music like never before you know you are there.....
It reminds me of house buying; the couple has an idea how much to spend on a house, how it will impact their life, etc. By the time the realtor is done, many have overbought, wrecked their budget, and will suffer relational stress as a result. So much for the plan.  

Go ahead an make your plan. Even select the picks for the system. Then, go hear them. Watch the entire plan shift and something utterly different end up in your place. Or, worse, run your plan remotely, and end up only marginally satisfied. It happens. Generic templates offer generic success, excellence at being average.  

As usual, almarg has great advice. The one aspect impinging on his analysis is that of the dramatic variability of quality of sound among components/wires/speakers. Make one wrong move on a system and you have severely compromised it. It's the reality of the performance game. 

Far more realistic to expect a nice result initially with a plan to tune/upgrade it as time goes on. 
I found the percentages outlined by Robert Harley in this book to be a useful starting point.

And I learned a lot of other useful information as well. 
In my experience:
Speakers 40%
Amplification 30%
Sources 30%

No money left for cables so use lamp cord.

Your experience is not mine 50% comes from the embeddings (mechanical,electrical,acoustical) only 50 % comes from the speakers, amplification and sources....

I am not surprized by your conclusion at all....Ignorance is bliss....

If you want to verify my saying takes any audio system, put it in a bad acoustical room, in a noisy electrical grid, with no controls of vibrations and resonance.... Good luck with the lamp cord....

Audio system at any price NEED TO BE EMBEDDED in these 3 environment.....
System synergy is hard to achieve but attainable at almost any $ figure - if I were a deep pockets retailer I would have say 5 differently priced systems with synergy I had verified in an untreated room. Many customers, maybe not quite most, would love to buy synergy without the cost of experimentation. My own journey to system synergy has been EXPENSIVE, I wish I'd found a shortcut sooner!

Anyways just my 3 cents.
My journey cost me peanuts....

Simple listening experiments+homemade materials or low cost electronic one.....

Read my thread for shorcuts .... :)
My main system; mostly used items except Dac and power cables:

Amp 30%
Speakers 25%
DAC + Power Supply 25%
Source 5%
Interconnects 10%
Power cables 5%
Not big into formulas, but I am big into what sounds good and works well together. 
Magic formula is simple.

Spend right up to your limit...or to all you can afford...and you'll be there.

yes, it is about 3% of your yearly gross income or $15,000 whichever is less. 
To me, speakers have the biggest impact and variation on sound.

So, about 1/2 on speakers, then work out the rest from there.
I had such a clever response nearly completed when I left the page and lost it all. Now I must to condense the wisdom. Prepare yourself.

If you had $10k to spend,
( I'd suggest seeking financing for an $10k. haha-joke).

I will preface my remarks with full disclosure that you are reading a recommendation by someone who is enjoying his 2nd double of  Jethro T. Boots Kentucky Whiskey. CVS $8.99. Really tastes about the same as the $80 Japanese whiskey I had last week.

As the acknowledged weakest link in audio is the speakers,
you start there. Spend 6-12 months investigating what you want.
Find what you like. Not what somebody else likes. $4k is the max
you spend here. Leaves $6k. I am pretty good at math.

Then you will know what type and how much power you need. 
Your two brands to choose from are: Pass Labs and Line Magnetic.
If your speakers require massive power then I will offer a 3rd choice
for amplification. Magtech by Sanders. 

You buy everything used. From the original owner. Under 1 year old.

For a source-Stream with your own computer. Hardwire ethernet to your DAC to your router. Buy a Preamp/Dac combo for $1k. $5k left.

Pay $700 for a lifetime subscription to Roon. $4,300 left.

Hire an electrician to install 2 dedicated runs to your HiFi.
The cost of this will vary. Include the ethernet line. I did 
it for $350 at my house. Likely you will spend $1k.
$3,300 left.  Buy used interconnects. Buy Kimber cables. 
Budget $1k. $2,300 left.

Buy 6 each  2' x 4' absorbing panels. Cost $60 each if you buy
new or $30 each if you make them. If you have a hard surface floor
get an area rug. Deal with windows with drapes. Cost $500.
$1,800 remaining. 

If you have LPs, buy a used Rega TT and a Schiit audio Phono stage.
End of original $10k.

That's all folks!!

Spend $nil on CD player.

Don't be a cable chump.  Don't allocate much to cables until system spend gets to $10k.  Cables can never add as much as active components at this level.  Don't buy used cables, they deteriorate over time.

Yes.  If you don't have $30k for power amplifiers, choose high-efficiency speakers.

1970s Linn formula:   Budget $n.  Spend $0.8n on Linn front end.  Leaves $0.2n for the rest of the system.
Ideally....the GDP....

On a practical level....what you can rationally spend...;)

Don’t know if it’s magic but here is where mine ended up. Virtual system posted here. 

System Budget (% based on retail)

Source(cart, tt, phono pre) - 24%

Pre-amp, amp - 33%

Speakers - 28%

Cables, ICs, power condition - 15%

Did not include CD player and DAC as I am at least 95% vinyl and those were relatively small expenditures. Everything acquired over several years, new and used. Decisions were made on affordability of individual components, not a specific, overall system budget to start with. Percentages do not include a backup pre-amp, power amp, or cartridge, or NOS tubes. The general plan was to build a nice system over time, upgrading and enjoying music, selling existing components to afford new ones. This is how it ended up. For now. It is a journey. Have fun! 

No...not in relation to components. There are some who would say if you spent say 20K on components, you should get at least $5000 worth of speakers. As if to say no speaker is worthy under that. Nothing could be further from actual as opposed to perceived truth.
The only formula (and there is no magic about it) is your satisfaction.
The trouble with all this audiophile stuff... people seem to be afraid to be satisfied thinking there is always something better.

Now that can be thought of as "magic" if one believes that beneath your component table lies the sirens of dastardly temptation beckoning and beckoning with the song in the winds of "you need to spend more money"
the answer has to do with your total budget.

if your budget is under $20k, then spend 60-70% on speakers, spend 20% on the best amp you can buy, and 10% on a good bang for the buck CD player (or dac with a volume control if you already stream or own files) with a volume control. cheap digital is remarkably good. relative to how bad cheap speakers are.

speaker performance will be the dominant attribute or determent to any budget system. investing in sources is a waste if the speaker is marginal. a great speaker will make everything else much better.

if your budget is over $20k then it’s a total free-for-all on how you do it......assuming you do the speaker part right. you cannot overcome compromises in a speaker.

get the speaker choice right and all the rest is trivial.

in my mega buck system, you could plug my phone into my amps and it would still sound awesome. but throw a cheap/average speaker into my system and it would
Here is how i break it down, 1st top priority is locatinga  speaker that you know you will love. = does not mean spending a  % of entire budget,,,
I don't believe spending over $3K ona  speaker system, as my thors cost $1600 17 yrs ago and now a  new upgraded xover will run ,,ohhh about $1K a  pair = $3K. 
a good integrated amp used,,ohh about $2K, a  excellent ohh about $5K. Tube that is. 
Source, my cayin Cd17 cost new 17 yrs ago, $1300. so you see it has nothing to do with percentages,, Find your speakers, then your amp, them source.  
Hey millercarbon,

You always seem to be a huge proponent of power cables and speaker wires having a huge impact on the sound quality. I'm not saying you're wrong, but James Randi has offered a prize of $1 million to anyone who can demonstrate that $7,250 audio cables "are any better than ordinary audio cables". This was in 2007, so I'm not sure if the offer is still active or not. If I were you, I'd try to claim that prize if I could. Not only would it net you a substantial sum, you'd also be able to crow about being right this entire time. Good luck.
winnardtHey millercarbon, You always seem to be a huge proponent of power cables and speaker wires having a huge impact on the sound quality. I’m not saying you’re wrong, but James Randi has offered a prize of $1 million to anyone who can demonstrate that $7,250 audio cables "are any better than ordinary audio cables". This was in 2007, so I’m not sure if the offer is still active or not. If I were you, I’d try to claim that prize if I could. Not only would it net you a substantial sum, you’d also be able to crow about being right this entire time ...
Randi’s offer was just a promotional stunt.
Do you want to know how Randi really works? Details here.

'get the speaker choice right and all the rest is trivial.

in my mega buck system, you could plug my phone into my amps and it would still sound awesome. but throw a cheap/average speaker into my system and it would'

Years of experience have demonstrated this salient point to me too time and time again. Cost is not the issue, you could get great results for <$1000 used but getting good speakers will be critical.

The bottleneck in performance, I think, still remains with the loudspeaker.

As Mike said even his phone will give awesome results. I tried something similar with my Sony MP3 player a few years back and was shocked to find the sound indistinguishable from my Marantz KI CD player. A truly shocking moment in my audio experience.

Everything I knew told me that the CD player simply must sound better - yet miraculously they sounded indistinguishable!

I've never had room/electrical supply  issues but then maybe others are not so fortunate. I don't know.

Here in the UK there were some who were concerned when the standard 3 pin 240v mains plug began to feature half sleeved safety plastic on the live and neutral pins, but I didn't notice any sonic difference. Nor with switchable wall sockets.

My system over the years improved not via CD player upgrades, nor by amplifier up/downgrades, nor by timewasting cable experiments - it was the speakers that did it. Each and every time. It goes without saying that recordings / masterings mattered too.

In general terms the sound got bigger, the bass went deeper and a sense of greater ease emerged as well as the ability to play louder without the sound becoming intolerably distorted.

Almost every speaker upgrade resulted in the existing pair being replaced by a larger and heavier one. If that tend was to continue I don't think my back could handle another such upgrade.

I definitely will need help next time or have to consider using subs, but I suspect they're probably going to need some muscle in shifting too. 
Maybe take a step back and ask why transducers... gadgets that change one form of energy into another ... are so difficult to make accurate....

the Mermaid that washed up on my beach brought a case of Prohibition age Canadian  with her...

for the real story see The Good Bootlegger
Most cost effective home system:

Naim uniti nova: $6000
Speakers: goldenear triton reference: $4000
a good internet provider about 10 mbps sustained

for 10k, the above system cannot be beat. U can stream and play everything and do not need anything else whatsover. Fewest components and fewest wiring mess. 
Half on speakers, split the rest equally among the other components. Speakers have greatest impact on how your system sounds