Tough choice, since I like all of the components in my current system. Sort of like one of the Commandments from "Animal Farm": "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others". I can fairly easily choose my favorite two components, however: my VPI Classic 3 / 12.7 tonearm combo, and my Vandersteen 3A Signature speakers.
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I think as we move forward, it is typically the latest addition that we like most. Perfectly reasonable, in my estimation.
I don't make that many changes over time and my system stays the same for 2 or 3 years before I try to get to the next level. My speakers and preamp are over 10 years old; the SACD player 3 years old; and the power amps a couple of years old.
With that preamble, my amps do impress me greatly, probably more than the other components. I did not think they would improve the sound as much as they did. I was wrong.
Lamm ML2.1 SETs
Knee-jerk reaction would be my Tannoys, but I've been a fanboy of them for a while now, so it's no surprise I love my current Canterbury SE; I expected to be impressed.
I'd say I've been most surprised & impressed by my preamp, the Rogue Audio Hera II. It's also surprised me twice: first when I got it (used) as an original I (almost 6 years ago), and then a couple years back when I had it upgraded to II status.
I bought the Hera on a leap of faith, and it was awesome; a hugely audible upgrade from the 99 Magnum (which itself is a nice pre). That started a big electronics/analog upgrade run in the rest of the system that's lasted years. At one time I was even set on swapping out to another excellent preamp, but ended up gravitating back to the Hera.
My speakers which are a one-of-a-kind 2-way using a 15" paper cone woofer designed in the 1940's, an aluminum horn also designed in the same era, and an Altec compression driver from the 1970's. Any combination of these drivers would probably sound pretty decent, but what ties it all together is the crossover which uses some equalization to tweak the response. In my admittedly biased opinion, this speaker combines some of the best qualities of vintage speakers such as Western Electrics (musical tonal balance with sometimes startling dynamics) with modern audiophile qualities (high frequency extension, detail, imaging). This speaker also has a wonderful coherency---despite the very different drivers it sounds like a single driver. The roughly 98 db sensitivity also allows use of low-powered amps.
If I had to, I could live contentedly with other turntables, other electronics, other cables, etc. but these speakers are a necessity!
I'm most impressed by my Grace F8 cart by a bit over the NSM sub. The Grace presents my vinyl in musical ways that surpasses previous carts, from Grado wood-bodies to ZYX. When I read about the setup and integration issues folks have with their subs, I feel lucky to have a sub and manufacturer support that was so easy to place and have a seamless sound with Fostex driven main speakers.
Bel Canto ref1000m monoblock amps because they are everything I could ask for in an amp in a very small and non-obtrusive package. Modern technical innovation applied to home audio at its best.
Also the latest addition, a Pangea power cord, just because of the build quality and heft plus it looks awesome (as power cords tend to go).
My tube amp, because it appears to be alive. Otherwise my modest (priced...bought stuff cheap or used here and there) system doesn't seem to lack anything it might need for musical enjoyment at this point, so I'll change things only out of boredom, curiosity (would a different TT sound better?...hmm), esthetics (I like striped ebony...I want some speakers with striped ebony veneer), failure (a component, not my personal failure, although deafness or sudden death could have an impact and shall be avoided if possible), or everything (except me) falling down a sinkhole...hate those sinkholes.
You can follow the entire build here, from conception to completion, including schematics, Spice and PSUD simulations, photos of the parts and sub-assemblies, test results, philosophical debates, etc.:
Building A Midlife Crisis
What impresses me the most in my system are in this order, Von Schweikert VR-33 speakers, Audible Illusions Modulus 3B tuber preamp and Odyssey Stratos Extreme+++ or something like that. Those are 3 pieces I will never sell. In addition, the Odyssey Kismet Reference Floorstanding Speakers which I have in my office system. For a 2 way floorstanding speaker, the sound is to die for.
My Berning zh270, 12 + years of ownership and frankly a product that has to date not shown me ANY limitations with the right speaker. It is in demand for good reason, the value/performance/efficiency quotient is unparalled compared to any amplifier I'm aware of for ALL the genres of music I listen to. Limitations that's the key word. While no product is perfect or ideal for all applications, or tastes for that matter, some just get closer to the ideal, this one does for me. It has never stopped amazing me since the day I purchased it and along the way, the tweeks to enhance it's performance.
A basic rule in audio - change only one component at a time.
Fortunately I had experience with each system component prior to buying the Janszen zA2.1 speakers. So there is no doubt in my mind they have impressed me most.
So soon I hope to experiment with other upgrades, including a new room later this year.
Those are Infinity RSIIb speakers, circa 1985. I've completely redone them with an external passive crossover featuring NorthCreek and Solen Heptalitz inductors and Mundorf and Duelund caps, new midrange diaphragms from Apogee Acoustics, rewired them with Cardas copper litz in teflon. They are excellent sounding, and not an easy load for an amp, but the above SET handles them beautifully.