Do not expect any consensus among the answers which will be provided, or among the answers that have been provided about similar questions that were asked in the past.
Some will say the source is most important, because its shortcomings cannot be compensated for by any of the downstream components. I dispute that rationale, for two reasons:
1)That logic ignores the DEGREE to which different types of components may have shortcomings.
2)The source can't compensate for the shortcomings of the downstream components either.
Some will say the speakers, because in general they (and their interaction with the room) arguably make the biggest difference in the character of the sound that is heard.
Others will say the preamp, contending that it is "the heart of the system."
My own answer, expressed in general terms, is that a chain is as strong as its weakest link, wherever that link may happen to be located in a particular system.
And more specifically my own perspective leans in the direction of "speakers first," but to a greater or lesser degree depending on how "important" is defined (especially the degree to which price is reflected in that definition), and depending on whether the source is analog or digital, and depending on the degree to which the particular listener values deep bass extension and the ability of the system to handle recordings having particularly wide dynamic range.
I was going to say, more or less, the same thing that Al so eloquently stated, but he beat me to it, (and said it much better than I ever could).
IMHO my order would be:
Amp to match speakers
IMHO the speakers. For they will dictate more of what you hear than anything
else in the system. Next, I would say the amplifier and finally source
components. Of course, I am assuming you are using a reasonable quality CDP.
In the case of vinyl, a whole different ballgame altogether.
The above opinion is based on my experience upgrading speakers, results are
always more dramatic than upgrading other components in the system. I
remember when I upgraded from Wharfedale Dovedales, to AR MST, to AR 3a
Improved, to Wharfedale E90 (don't ask, horrible speakers from the late 70s), to
Yamaha NS1000Ms, then Quad 63 ESL and today B&W Nautilus 801. Each step,
other than the E90s, was a very pleasant and significant upgrade for me.
I should add that the room should be considered probably the most important component, but really isn't a component per se, but is REALLY critical.
Having been afflicted with audio obsession for forty years, I think the previous three gentlemen answered your question perfectly. Al's answer in particular is hard to improve upon.
Getting the proper speaker integration into the room is the most important first step. If this is not done well, you are working with a huge handicap that may never be overcome.
After that, most of the rest can be regarded as tweaks to various degrees.
I like what Almarg said... it is an issue of weakest link. I only wish to add that there is that subtle component within that system that is often the weakest link but often not even seen as a link at all... the room.
By this I mean speaker placement relative to each other, to you in your listening chair, to the outer walls, the wall behind the speakers and the wall behind the listening chair all matter greatly in overall sound. I can make my system very different sounding through simply moving the speakers (and with toe in). Room composition matters too. As do room treatments. An ideal room configuration/set up can massively improve sound over less than ideal configuration --- without changing a single electronic component or speakers. In fact, a "lesser" system in a well configured room can blow away a "better" system in a lesser room.
Neither component is important, because none of them can play the music on its own:-)
The exeption is to console stereo in one box.
There is no firm right or wrong answer, but I would argue that as the quality of your components gets better that synergy, setup and personal preference are more important than any individual component. As such, you the listener are the most important component.
How the loudspeaker interacts with the listening room is critical. You need a large, well proportioned room if you have a high SPL capable full range loudspeaker. Dipole loudspeakers placed in front of floor to ceiling windows? Near field listening to large multi-way loudspeakers? Wide dispersion loudspeakers in narrow rooms, etc
What is the weakest link in your system? Perhaps you have
great speakers and poor source? Also, speakers might affect
sound the most, but what would be the biggest improvement for
the money (including room)? - difficult to answer without
experience with particular system (new amp might have much
better synergy with the speakers etc.)
Yes, its always the weak link, but you have to consider the interface between two components as links. With good quality gear, the interface between any two is where things are most likely to head south, more so than any inherent component shortcomings. Because of room acoustics, practically, the interface between the speakers and the room is the one with greatest potential for optimization in the most cases. So that is always where to look first. Then one can optimize further upstream more practically and efficiently as well as needed from there. Otherwise, there is huge potential to spin ones wheels and empty ones wallet with little gain as well in the process.
Understanding this (an efficient and effective process to go about optimizing the sound) is the single biggest thing for an audiophile to be able to get a handle on. THe rest is not so hard from there.
All the organs of the body were having a meeting, trying to decide who was the most important.
"I am the most important" said the brain, "Because I run all the body's systems, so without me nothing would happen."
"I am the most important" said the blood , "because I circulate oxygen all over so without me you'd all waste away."
"I am the most important" said the stomach , "because I process food and give all of you energy."
"I am the most important" said the legs , "because I carry the body wherever it needs to go."
"I am the most important" said the eyes, "Because I allow the body to see where it goes."
"I am the most important" said the rectum , "Because I'm responsible for waste removal."
All the other body parts laughed at the rectum and insulted him, so in a huff, he shut down tight.
Within a few days, the brain had a terrible headache, the stomach was bloated, the legs got wobbly, the eyes got watery, and the blood was toxic. They all decided that the the rectum was the most important body part.
Moral of the sory: There is no most imporatant component. A system is only as good as it's weakest link. Yes Mofi, I do consider the room a component, and usually an underestimated one at that. Speaker placement and room tuning come into play as much as any piece of kit you can buy. That's my $0.02.
yeah but still.........
There is no firm right or wrong answer, but I would argue that as the quality of your components gets better that synergy, setup and personal preference are more important than any individual component.
This is why so many here seem to be talking past each other. Above a certain baseline level of quality, the interaction between components has more impact on the sound then the individual components themselves.
As the quality goes goes up, the components tend to become more transparent. They manifest themself most noticeably at the interface to the next component
Most important components should be made by the same manufactory and same generation.
The most important component in a 2 channel system is the source (turntable,music server,universal player) then the preamp or integrated/amplifier then speakers. Many years ago it was thought speakers were most important. After some time this was proven to be more untrue by the Brits I think. Having said that Al is correct and the weakest link will hurt the systems overall performance so its best to try and put systems together based on listening and not on specs or just because they match.
Transducers. While Al is correct, he presents a nuanced, comprehensive approach.
At the most fundamental level, nothing happens unless a medium of some kind is converted into something the rest of the system can work with and then back into something you can hear. The result is either pleasing to a given listener or not. All the stuff in between merely introduces or eliminates color since it can only work with a uniform signal format.
For that reason, different sources (cartridges, DACs, disc players etc.) and speakers produce the most noticeable effects in sound reproduction. Note that technology such as fiber optics introduces even more transducers since an electrical signal is converted to an optical one, transmitted and then reversed back into electricity.
The fun part IMO is finding the transducers that make the magic happen for you and then getting all the other stuff to support them properly.
I built my system around my speakers. In my opinion, speakers are the component with the highest variability in personal taste so the first step should be to find a pair of speakers that you love. When I first purchased my speakers I was using an Onkyo 606 receiver. It was quickly replaced, but I still enjoyed the sound of my speakers. I also had the opportunity to demo my speakers in the store on Krell monoblocks. Totally different world, but still the same general tone/sound that I love.
There are certainly other components that involve personal preference, but I think it is to a far lesser extent.
The one key component is the wall outlet. Any outlet will do, but not having one is a truly objective reduction in sound!
1. Quality of recording
2. Speaker placement
3. Listening position
4. All the rest and all of it matters.
Aside from waxing on theoretically about the most important component in the audio chain, of which, you all have very good positions on...I'd like to report a real world demonstration that was pretty remarkable.
I went to an audio show several years back where I listened to a beautiful Italian made SET amp played thru a pr of very expensive single driver Beauhorn speakers. The sound was to die for; and what was unbelieveable was that the sources we listened to appeared like a complete mis match, components that no one in their right mind would use with these quality components.
The sources was an el cheapo Sony close n play linear turntable and this large 1st generation Technics cd player. This went completely against what Ivor T. from Linn espoused - which was that the sources were the most important component in the chain. Everything eminates from the source so have the highest quality sources possible....makes a lot of sense, yet that demonstration at the audio show came as quite a shocker.
Imagine how much better it would have been sonically if we were listening to a Linn Sondek TT instead of a cheap Sony linear tracking TT. How much better would it be if we were listening to an expensive Naim cd player than the 1st generation Technics player...I only wish there were better sources on hand so we could actually hear the differences, but the point was how good the setup sounded with crappy sources.
I went to an audio show several years back where I listened to a beautiful Italian made SET amp played thru a pr of very expensive single driver Beauhorn speakers. The sound was to die for;
I remember going to the private high-end seller that demoed his Beuhorn speakers and it seemed to me that I couldn't even give even $50 for'em. They could only reproduce vocals. The rest is total mess. They were demoed with top-notch Platine Verdier TT, Heron tube phono and Viva amp. JBL 4312 at fraction of price would do substantially better full range job.
the preamp. It is the heart of any system. Next, I would say loudspeakers. Do not forget the appropiate cables/cords as well.
If the question is "What's the most important component in a 2 channel system?", and we're allowing cables to be included (though not strictly a component) I would go with -
1. Speakers. Speakers imho can have the biggest influence over the sound of your system as great speakers have the ability to offer amazing sound staging and imaging, transparency, naturalness, dynamics, slam & musicality. Without good speakers, you'll never be able to fully appreciate what your upstream gear can do, no matter how good it is.
And since thread title is "Most important components", i'll run through the rest of my list -
3. Main source
5. (followed closely by) AC Power (wpo, power conditioner/regenerator, pc's)
6. Isolation (racks, iso bases/feet)
7. *Room treatments
As a general comment to relevance, "quality of recording" is not a component, but important none the less. Rubbish in, rubbish out as they say.
* - My ranking of room treatments is conditional as I haven't yet experimented with room treatment products since my room is fairly benign. However it is on my list (albeit at the bottom).
Al, You give a, no more need to be said, answer. Always appreciated:)
You could have just given an easier answer which pertains to you personally.
(since you are located in the Tri-state metro NYC area, as I am)
If I may presume: REL PRECEDENT w/ Channel Master.
With the added advantage of not needing to get up so often.
Thanks Brett (Isochronism) :-)
But, no, I wouldn't say that my REL Precedent tuner is my most important component. Hey, it's just a tuner, and of course is therefore limited by the selection and quality of what's out there to be listened to. And I listen to it much less than LP, CD, or even internet radio via my Squeezebox, in part because I want to preserve this now 60 year old tuner in its original form for as long as possible.
So I would put it that although it is not my most important component, it is perhaps the most treasurable.
P.S: For those who may not be aware, REL = Radio Engineering Laboratories, a company which existed from 1921 to approximately 1970, primarily in the New York area, and which has no relation to the modern British subwoofer manufacturer.