Poll: Most impactful component

Given all the technological advances over the years, audiophiles have very different perspectives on equipment.

This likely reopens an age old debate, but which component has the most potential to improve a stereo system? Or can it?

If you could upgrade one component to take your system to the next level which one would get the investment? Speakers? DAC? Pre? Source?

Or is this the holy grail that no one can achieve?



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I would upgrade my 68 year old hearing. No tinnitus and being able to hear frequencies over 15 Khz.

Speakers are the voice of the system, amplifier is the heart and the pre is the soul, so I will give it the most importance, because in my experience over the years, an otherwise good system can be ruined by a poor pre. That said, speakers are also greatly important, especially for preserving coherency and dynamics.

with everything right in the chain, it is the speaker that matters the most (along with room of course)


Reading what you wrote made me reconsider, because I realized that I have changed speakers 20 times over the years before settling in long term, and therefore I voted with my wallet, and over the years speakers were apparently the most critical link.

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it is all important of course, after all it is a chain, so the ’weak link’ logic applies

and folks who say it is the source do have a point, the signal starts there, once purity is lost, it is never recovered

but my thinking is, as knowledgeable, experienced audiophiles, we should know how to get the source purity to a very high level, then the speakers (assumed to driven properly by amplification) are the actual ’musical instrument’ that electromechanically transduces the electrical signal to physical music that we hear... so that (and how the speakers couple to the listening room) is, to me, the most important/critical aspect for each of us to get right, and in most cases, the most difficult

Agreed....the "weakest link" theory still applies, and the speakers are what interacts with the room and the amplifier, so I’d still focus on speakers with the understanding that you still need to build the system around them. The system will never be great until that weakest link is pretty good, and synergizes well with everything else.

@tee_dee  - Cables, without a doubt

I sent my nephew interconnect cables and a speaker cables

  • he could not believe the transformation of his very entry level system
  • he now has an idea what the audiophile hobby is all about

My "modest" system (MSRP Around $20k) outperforms systems costing many times more thanks to the excellent cables I have installed

I also have a mini System which with the right cables sound pretty amazing

But you have to know about the science behind good cables in order to make the right choices - just like selecting a new components

I regard my cables as the most important component in my system

Regards - Steve


Let's say you have your speaker / room interaction and placement ironed out , the Preamp is the most impactful "component" .    Don't believe me?  Insert a world class preamp into just about any system and you may be in for a shock.   

I agree with Roxy54 in the Preamp being the Soul....   my most dramatic upgrades have been preamps .  A good pre is crucial to great sound.   Yes there are some DACs that function as a preamp , some very good ones , but I really think there is no substitute for a great preamp.  

I owned a Zesto Leto preamp ,  amazing piece of gear. I had it for a year and it killed me to sell it .  Putting it in the chain felt like I upgraded my whole system.

 I am having a DHT preamp built,  I sold the Zesto to fund it and am now using a 30 year old SFL-1  temporarily and it was a major downgrade .   Still sounds good but that Zesto was revelatory.   

They all might in any given case.  It takes an entire system to make music…..source, amp, and speakers.  The rest is secondary. 

The answer depends on the system.


My system is balanced and optimized, with all components compatible and at the same level. So, there is only one answer, upgrade my speakers from Sonus Faber Amati traditional to Sonus Faber Lillium. While the Lillium are a bit big for my relatively large space and would cause bass loading at high volumes… I don’t listen at high volumes. So this would make a big difference. Other component upgrades not so much. 

Of surprise to me, power amp has consistently been the biggest difference maker in my journey.  

My room. Whilst I'm grateful ful I have a dedicated room, I know it is too small for what I want to achieve, so I have to live with compromise despite room treatments

Right now my source is the weakest component. But my room is not great either.

Duh, speaker, of course. Everything in the chain matters. But speakers vary significantly more than any other link in the chain(the cartridge is second in an analog system) so their choice gives many more variations to find sound you like and conversely it is by far the link in the chain that can produce sound you don't like and there are probably many more speakers whose voice you don't like than you do like.

Right now my source is the weakest component. But my room is not great either.

Source is usually easier to fix, so work on both... 😎

1- The source material, of course.

2- The speakers and room (the two are inseparable).

To be meanful, I think you should reframe your question to what component(s) you have changed so far make(s) most impactful improvement, instead of what would you predict it to be. In my case, the first time I felt the system had an dramatic improvement is after changing the amplifier to Parasound A23 and NC 2125 v2. The bass is weightier and more nimble. The second experience I had is after changing my source from laptop/Mac to a streamer (ifi ZS), the top is more open, more airy, all range of sound has more clarity, background is quieter, etc.  The third improvement is resulted from a $5 gadget, i.e., drum stopper gel silicon. I double stack them and place on each corner of bookshelfs.  The bass is more solid and a bit more "bouncy".

I've always thought this was not a fair question as a wonderfully fulfilling system is the sum of its parts so it usually boils down to that last piece that completed the fulfillment puzzle be it a cable, an amp, a speaker, etc. 

All the best,

It was the Preamp for me. I had a solid system and when I upgraded preamps it was staggering. I had spent about 10k on speakers and 10k on a turntable and truthfully only had midfi amplification so I had to choose. I flipped a coin and upgraded the preamp and was blown away. 

Oh I forgot room treatment.  I bought approx 100 Auralex tiles and 24 bass traps. Honestly this did more than any component.  Actually it did more than all of my components.  I know there is still some room correction to gain and I only spent about 1500 but it made a GIANT difference in my room

This is great thread!  My answer--I have no idea.  

How great is Roxy's metaphorical assessment of the system? 

Speakers = Body & Voice

Amplifier = Heart

Pre = Soul

I would add that Source = Blood 

For years I fought the notion that the preamp was super important.  Then I got a legitimate phono preamp (Manley Chinook--still own it despite lots of swapping around).  That made me realize that if a phono preamp could make that big of a difference, how about the preamp itself?   That was eye opening. 

Maybe I should be asking myself, What component is the one to skimp on, if you had to? 



My ears are only 51 years old but I can only hear to 13k. My 35yo wife can’t stand the super tweeters I added to our 2 way Altec horn system because she can hear 19k. I have a toggle switch that takes the tweeters out of the system when she listens with me. It’s sucks to have tweeters that you can’t hear. They do seem to add air though. Now I wear earplugs while mowing and riding my Harley to preserve what I have….

Really great discussion and diversity in views. Sadly this really adds to my confusion. I can't decide! I'm fairly new to the hobby. All this information is great.

This hobby is very personal. Then why do we rely on equipment reviews and base our buying decisions on other's opinions? Every system is different. It must take obsessive iterations in YOUR room and YOUR system to answer this question. That's the lesson I've learned so far. Thanks.

I think it’s fair to say most people consider speakers to be the single most important link in a system, I won’t disagree with that assessment.  Over the past year or two I have upgraded nearly every component in my system and the one that made the single biggest improvement excluding speakers was the phono cartridge.  Obviously this only applies to people who play vinyl.

By far the most impactful component and the best money I have spent on my system is my Legacy Audio Wavelet, pre-amp, electronic X-over, DAC, speaker/room correction. I wish I could afford to upgrade it to the Wavelet II.

@tony1954 ​​​@fertguy ...Me.

Upgrade myself, which I did a few years ago with a good pair of aids. ;)

Made more of an improvement than anything I could buy, or make with my hands,

72, hitting the 73 wall June's rnear end... *sigh*L* 'This of big cities, loud tools 'n mechanisms, loud cars, loud crowds @ louder concerts has, does, and will (if not already) compromised


Cost 'bout that of a goodish DAC.
Think about it...😏


@tee_dee , happy newbie to you. *S*

Reviews, and opinions....Everyone's' got 1, 'member?
.........one gleans out of them what one wants to repro in their own space/place.
One begins; how well and for how long chosen to pursue becomes whatever you allow it to become.

Your results and conditions Will vary.  Or not.  It's been known to have happen to some 'round here.  Others are rife here...*snicker*

It IS a personal hobby.
Dreams, memories, abandoning to all that music of whatever is is you seek.

The means?

What do you seek...pilgrim?  

Enjoy your hunt for whatever you seek in the results.


A well known fact is that your preamp is the most important piece of equip. in your system.Upgrade to an Audio-GD tube pre and listen to how your whole system is upgarded.Speakers next.

If you have not yet experienced it, give BACCH a try.  It will improve any system, no matter the weakest link.  Pretty amazing.  

As many others have said speakers are probably the part that can change the sound the most. Still, an unbalanced system can sound worse than a slightly cheaper but well-balanced system. And changing just one component in a balanced system to another that is much better and maybe much more expensive will make the system unbalanced. 

For example, a system with $100k speakers and a $1k amp might sound a lot worse than a system with $10k speakers and $10k amp.

If you have a well-balanced system and suddenly get a lot of extra budget to improve it it is probably best to replace many parts at once.


I would opine that the preamp is the brain of the system.

The synergy of all the gear together and the resultant sound is the soul.


So the BACCH is a fancy room correction ? What exactly does it do for a price tag of over 50k? 

I bought BACCH4Mac, which cost about $7500, including a new Mac Mini computer with 16 GB Ram.  That includes a camera for head tracking.  A system without the head tracking is much less expensive.  It eliminates crosstalk between your ears.  The effect is that on well-recorded material, the soundstage is hugely widened and deepened.  For example, on a 1958 Sonny Stitt record of a jazz quartet, in my listening room the sax is in the kitchen and the drums are outside the house!  This is without adding any distortion.

Most important component? 

The performance.

Everything else is just hardware/software.

As a manufacturer, every time we build a piece that becomes the best component since the last one. I always begin with the source because we start with piano recordings. If the piano is not right, nothing else in the chain matters to us and can alter that sound we love. Once we feel that is correct to our ears, then speakers that can reproduce that sound (most can to different degrees once we have that sound). Amplifiers next and then the preamp. We find that a decent preamp can convey the sound and then better preamps enhance the overall sound.


While cables do make a difference, people are surprised when we show them that we are using Sony interconnects from my old 1970s tape desk. You know the old gray ones with the plastic red and white ends stuck together. Since we move equipment in and out so often, I was tired of using expensive cables so we just settled on the Sony cassette deck interconnects that came in the box. Gotta love the expression on peoples faces then we show them. Go figure.


Also while the room has an impact, out listening room is brick and we use a couple of treatments thrown in there.  Not se-up properly or anything.  To us, the proper placement of the speakers is what makes an impact.  After going to shows and many dealers, we have concluded that most do not know how to properly set-up speakers.  Again our experience.

Having had so many systems in our listening room, that has been our overall experience. Happy Listening.

This hobby is very personal. Then why do we rely on equipment reviews and base our buying decisions on other’s opinions? Every system is different. It must take obsessive iterations in YOUR room and YOUR system to answer this question. That’s the lesson I’ve learned so far. Thanks.


That’s an excellent insight that many take years to realize. Others never do. For some it’s more comforting to rely on someone else’s experience or measurements than to trust their own observations, but that’s usually just a path to something that’s not very personal or particularly satisfying. We are each mostly on our own to figure out our particular puzzle. You nailed it, and will do well sticking with it because YOU are the only one you need to please in this.