For me it is best deals I happen to find, combined with my preference for sound...I also check each piece of gear to see if it meshes with the idea I have for my system...if it doesn't work, sell it away!
Here are my general guidelines in putting together a system:
-Get a source (cdp) that is the most detailed and revealing as possible. Once you lose bits you can never get it back downstream.
-Get speakers that are neutral, dynamic, and detailed. You will never know what your system is doing if your speakers are not accurately reproducing what it is fed.
-Tweak the sound with the preamp and amp (i.e. add more warmth or body) for your listening preferences. Even though I have made mistakes here, my preference now would be to get an amp that is neutral, dynamic, and detailed. The preamp and cables become my main way of tweaking the sound.
In terms of cost, I have in my mind for each component where I think the cost vs performance curve drops off for me. I will usually try and stay below that point.
The way things look also is important to me. My system is prominently displayed in our home and I am proud of it.
Best Value overall (from my perspective, of course).
Since I use digital, I have tended to go ho-hum ordinary gear with cables and digital sources, as this has the least impact on the sound per kilo-dollar spent. Besides my goal is to listen to great music and not feed a single CD tray all evening like an assembly line worker. In a listening session, I will listen to 20 to 30 different albums and at least 3 to 4 genres...so I jump around as one track makes me hungry for another...I guess I like buffet style!!!!
Just my philosophy based on listening and the science behind digital but I know vinyl users will spend a lot on their source and in this case it certainly pays off in spades. Some will spend a lot to get the sound coloration they desire and it certainly pays off too...just not my thing...if the mastering engineer got it wrong and messed up then I don't try to fix it with sugar....just my philosophy that's all...
You will note I spent, by far, the most on speakers (including active amplification) and then the room design/treatments. I find this holds the most value in what my tin ears register.
Digital sources do sound different to me but not enough to get me excited enough to part with more money. I often found sources just sound ever so slightly different...but which is better is often too hard to say... at least to my "tin ears".
Let the room dictate the speakers, let the speakers dictate the amp, get a very detailed source, and choose the preamp according to the type of sound and features you want.
Setting up the speakers to work with the room is critical. Screw up here and all you will do is waste lots of money. Once they are dialed in just right, and you like the components, you can fine tune the sound with cables.
A stereo is a series chain. The sound will be limited by the weakest link! Make sure all your components are on par with each other for maximum efficiency. None are more important than others - but some have harder jobs than others. Budget allocation should be biased to those that have the hardest jobs, which I feel are the speakers and the source.
Synergy and execution are way more important than cost. Patience and effort in speaker placement and component selection are the key ingredients to good sound and maximizing your money spent. Experience with lots of gear is the only way to learn to do this effectively.
For lots more info, see my system page link by my name.
Doing anything well takes work. If you don't put effort into it, you won't get the most out of what you've got. You won't get something for nothing.
listening preference is primary.
i prefera very vintage tube sound and panel speakers.
i select the speaker and then the amp, pre, cd player and acbles to create the spectral balance i am trying to achieve.
a lot of auditioning is necessary to get where i want to go.
i am still considering cable and possibly a new speaker.
for the panel fans out there , there is an interesting speaker from england, the podium, which i am investigating.
I used the Aball Method above more or less. After considering the room, I chose the amp. I fell in love with the sound of single-ended triodes, so I chose an amp from a manufacturer who makes a complete line of products Audio Note. In choosing a single maker system many of the system synergy problems has been addressed in the product design phase, and the focus can then center on the selection of the appropriate level from their product offerings within a given budget (with a clear upgrade path available).
One of the limitations of using a single manufacturer, is you limit the opportunity for great deals. But, after three decades, Ive stopped buying and selling various components. Now, I plan for periodical upgrades and focus more on music.
As a practioner of Gautama the Buddha my philosophy is Emptiness
In stereo listening it means trying to achieve an emptiness of any imputed hums, hisses, colorations, blooms, and other alterations in the essential nature of the music
It has meant that most of my investment has gone into amplication, as anything that is missed leaves the resulting sound empty of something and it cannot be picked up further down the line.
Next has come cables, my sources are both in need of upgrade as at some point as are my speakers.
As a practioner of the middle way, it seems I start with amplification and cables and then move out toward sources and speakers with the aim of emptying the final sound of anything other than a background of pure blackness or complete emptyness.
I spent several yrs trying out different pieces to get an idea of what worked best for me. Once I had established a solid reference, I further tailored the sound w/tweaks & cables.
On top of all this, I threw in the occasional deal and since I had a solid base to work with, it all gelled like I had planned it that way.
I don't bother w/cost ratios but I am concerned w/cost to performance ratios. I had a (very nice) system where the amp was >1/3 the total cost of the system & w/my current system, the preamp is the most expensive piece.
So, to answer your ?, my top priority is a great listening experience, 'cause if you don't like what you hear, you're not going to enjoy turning on your system, regardless of how much time, effort & $$$$ you have invested.
No philosophy, my systems morph over time...just like me. I think of audio systems in much the same way, as I think of music...it's all good at some time or another.
I guess if I were setting up an audio system for someone else (from scratch)...I would want to know about that persons listening habits, I would want to look at, and discuss the room, and any setup issues I think we may run into.
Components...I would start with speaker choices (hundreds of choices here...depending?). So, I guess I'll 3rd the Aball Method for setting up a system from scratch.
Never thought much about $ ratios, since its been a step-wise process. I read/researched a lot. Looked for components that were "over-acheivers" in price:performance and that were not terribly finicky in terms of either set-up or accompanying equipment. Emphasis on accurate tonal rendition and emotional impact. And jumping on a great deal when I see one, even if it means re-thinking another piece.
All of the above!
I guess I lean toward bang per buck, highly modular, "good deal" systems.
Although tastes change over the years, I like to get components that have natural growth potential and flexibility so that when there might be either a "quantum leap" (or some advance in a component), the other components will have enough flexibility to not be *totally* outclassed by the new gear (until the next component is upgraded).