Let me consult my crystal ball. Close your eyes and concentrate...
Instead of individual components, I see component pairings.
The loudspeaker-room pairing looks like the most important, as this is where there is the greatest variation.
Next, depending on what speakers you decide work well in your room, the loudspeaker-amplifier combo may well be the next most important pairing. In some cases, it's appropriate to consider the speaker wire as part of this combination, but not always.
If the loudspeaker isn't all that particular about what amplification is driving it, then the preamp-amp pairing is probably the second most important.
After that, my crystal ball gets too cloudy for me to see clearly what comes next.
Slip me another twenty dollar bill and it will probably come back into focus...
The room, without a good room or plenty of proper treatments and placement nothing else really matters because it will never be allowed to shine, I lived in bad rooms up till a few months ago.....it is a huge deal.
I think that speaker is by far the most important. After that it becomes a lot more difficult to say...but I think speaker cable is next, followed by amplifier, then CD player, preamp, then interconnects. And as Duke points out, any or all combinations need to work together (to achieve the sound YOU are after, which is what i assume Schipo is getting at).
I have ignored room treatments here and assumed that the room is basically ok to begin with and would be acoustically treated as a matter of course, just as it would have floor caverings, lighting, etc...as this needs to be done no matter what components you have.
Chad is 100% correct. I inherited my daughter's room when she went to college last fall. The room had bare walls when I put my system in place; sound was terrible. After experimenting with room treatment in different locations the sound has improved immensly. The speakers remained in the original location but the changes in the room affected the sound for the better. As for components you mentioned, speakers make the biggest difference and I know because I rotate three different pairs in and out.
The operative word in your question was "system". In a system, everything has to work together. So it seems that the most important component would be the ability match or put together components that are compatible. In a true "system" all the components will be important. When trying to find out which is the most important, you will have to decide what part of the system you are willing enhance and what part of it you are willing to sacrifice performance if you are willing to spend less or buy lower quality in a particular component. ThAt being said, the decision will be based on what is more important to you.
It seems to me that, with most "better" components, almost everything concerning how the system sounds can be rather subjective and personal. Before any objectivity can even be approached regarding a quality evaluation of any individual component in one's system one needs, IMHO, to address the acoustical integrity of the listening room. If our listening rooms do not, at least, approach a semblance of accoustical "ground zero" aren't we throwing pearls before swine where components are concerned, and just sort of flayling in the dark when trying to determine "which components are, or are not, the most important"? I have friends who have systems valued close to 100,000 and their systems do not sound very good because they have no room to properly set it up.
Reality is, every component can significantly improve or limit one's system.
I agree with my Cache Valley neighbor, Duke about room/speaker interface and amp/speaker synergy being crucial. Preamp/amp, particularly proper impedance and sensitivity matching, is very important.
Been there and done all that at a costly learning curve.
I'm now upgrading my digital source and hear significant differences between various design approaches and price points in my own system (not at dealer showrooms). These differences are no less profound than imposed by any of the components downstream.
I love it--THE ROOM. Now what is really interesting is that about 4 years ago we asked the same question on a different site. The result was speakers, source, speakers, source, amp.... You get the point. 1 in 100 said the room. Now, most people say the room. 50% of the sound we hear in a typical room is indirect--reflections off the room (or modal energy). The room is huge--and as has already been said, the room / speaker interaction is essentially a circuit. Having the right speaker in an appropriate room is key to a great end result. It's great that people are realizing how important a role the room is--it really is a component. The first one we start with and it used to be the last one people would think about--not anymore.
Avguygeorge, sorry but a dishonest clerk who works in a Nigerian bank already beat you to it.
Well Rives it looks like you are no longer a lone voice crying in the (correctly damped and highly diffuse) wilderness. Just for the record, folks, a couple of years ago I spent a few minutes in the Rives room at CES and the sound in there was magnificent - especially for such a small room (1/2 of a St. Tropez "mini-suite" - maybe, I dunno, 12 by 18 or so). It had a big-room richness that totally belied its modest dimensions. The Avalon monitors in there were obviously a very good match to the room.
Beyond faulty components the speakers are by far the most important. They introduce the most distortion and in any system and for a given room may or may not work. Name me any other component that can reduce total distortion by 10% or more.
I don't believe that speaker wire make any difference, as long as it meets basic requirements regarding resistance versus lenght. If the resistance of a wire is .09 ohms over it's length it will make a very small contribution to the electrical path comparing the 6 or 8 ohms of a traditional speaker. Even if it measures .5 ohms it will simply take a little more power to drive the speakers to a given level. There are many articles out there to substantiate this view.
Single driver speaker running full range with no x-over. Not as good as an optimized wave-guide speaker but considering the trade-offs, a good substitute. Greatly reduces the necessity of room treatments. My system is in the living room so I can't make it into an anechoic chamber. So beamy single driver reduces room reflections in the H-F. Reflections in the L-F give the bass some body. 2nd would be Jaybo's suggestion of CD / LP quality. Sadly that is out of our control.
markwatkiss, i agree the source is all important, but if (if) most players are technically excellent and differ little, the choice of which to choose is of less priority in seeking good sound, whereas speakers and the rooms they are used are highly variable - so sure, the Cd player has to be good (the recording even more so), but I think you wont find a lot of difference between them in their effect on performance.
My opinion about the components is simple. System is like a window to a beautiful outdoor scenary. My window is constructed with 4 layers of glass. All layers better be transparent or image will get blurry.
Countdown: 5)Accessories, tweaks, cables, voodoo BS. 4)$$$Limits 3)Speakers that match your taste, budget, room and rest of your equipment 2)Your listening space, acoustics, component sinergy, proper system setup and calibration 1)You.
Surprised???? I hope not. Without your knowlage, experience and most important passion for music all of the above would mean very,very little.
Duke: Thanks for the comments (compliments), but the monitors you heard in that room were Talon Hawks--not Avalons. At the time you heard them I had no idea we would buy the company--I just thought they were the best suited speaker for the small space I had to work in.
there is no one improtant component. Everything is equally improtant in a system. All the components have to create synergy. With top of the line speakers and crappy source, pre and amp, you will get what percentage of speaker performance? If you have a great source running into a Aiwa receiver, what point does that make?
I think the best performance and when you can actually call it a system is when everything is on the same performance level and synergy exists. That includes cables as well. Ina system like this, every little change is audible. For better or worse.