Hmmmmm, a tough one. If you have speakers, but no electronics, you can't hear anything. On the other hand, if you have electronics, but no speakers, you can't hear anything. From that, I guess it doesn't matter.
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I recommend that you work the ends of the system first. Get a good source and good speakers then work on the amp/pre-amp. Work on the cables, interconnects and power cords last. If you have the cash or do not mind using OPM do the whole thing in one shot. If you are doing it piece by piece keep in mind that all of the links in the chain affect each other. Most important, let YOUR ears be the judge. Good Luck, Doug
I lean towards the speakers first, myself. They're probably going to be the lions share of the budget, and they're what I think really define the sound of a system. By that I mean that unless you have speakers capable of presenting the sonic nuances of the sources and amplification, you can buy pretty much any gear and it can pretty much all sound the same. Or worse, really good gear can sound awful. This is bad. But besides the sonic issue, speakers play a dominant role in the appearance of and sound in the listening room. The limitations of your listening space can sometimes dictate the type of speakers you're going to want, which then impacts the appropriate pre/amp combinations, and that may impact your source options. My opinion is that good amplification can't really improve the sound of the speakers, but bad speakers can mangle the signal from good gear.
Loathe though I may be to do so, I can illustrate from experience. Newly infected by Audiophilia Neurotica (distinct from a. nervosa, which is the chronic and recurrent strain) I studied and sought, listened and bought, and loved my NAD and Paradigm system. Then I moved. DISASTER! The Paradigms became bright and forward, treble raspy, bass boomy, oi vey! No, nothing was damaged in the move, the characteristics of listening room just changed so much that what once was good now was....not at all good. So again I do the shop, study, audition thing, and finally settle on bringing home some Silverlines to demo. Love them. Fit the new room perfectly, no more boom, no more sizzle. Am almost happy again, except...now I can really hear the NAD - and my a. nervosa begins.... I've since demo'd several amps, and found that the Silverlines allow me to hear the subtle characteristics of the equipment that I'm not certain I would have heard with my old speakers. More importantly, I know what the gear sounds like in my room on the speakers I'll be listening with for quite some time.
And that is why I suggest starting with the speakers.
I recommend starting with the speakers. In addition to the obvious things, like whether you like them or not, consider the speakers amplification requirements. Are they an easy load for the amplifier to drive? Will they work well with lower powered amplifiers? These qualities witll probably affect how much you will spend on the amp and the number of amps available for your consideration. God bless.
i agree with wellfed and costrosk. speakers. i started on a new system last year...2 preamps; 3 cds; 1 dac; 3 tuners; 3 amps; and lastly a 2nd set of speakers (all in a year...i had it badly). if i would have bought the better speakers first...i probably would not have changed some of the other gear. great speakers will sound acceptable with almost all gear....ok speakers will only sound a little better with great gear. good luck...i am done for a while (out of money).
I think this is where dealers can truly earn their money. As many above I too believe speakers are, overall, the most defining component of a system, but a chain is only as strong as its weakest link so you need to make sure they're driven by upstream components that mate well with them.
This is where a good dealer comes in. They should(emphasize should, if they are truly a good and knowledgeable dealership) know what amps/preamps/source/cables work well with certain speakers and should be able to demo these synergistic combinations. If a dealer is using the same components to drive various speakers, beware you may not be hearing the best out of a given speaker(some dealers will do this on purpose to push the brands they want to sell). For best results you should call the dealer ahead and let them know what you want to hear and what your system goals are, and they should warm up the appropriate equipment(very important) and have it set up for your audition when you get there(obviously you'll bring your best demo music with you, along with the music you listen to most frequently).
Assuming you are able to do this, the next crucial step is auditioning your final contenders at home, preferably with the compatible upstream electronics if you're going to be upgrading those as well, either now or in the near future(again, a good dealer will be critical here). Admittedly this is an arduous task, but it is the only way you'll be sure you're choosing the best equipment for your tastes that you know will work in your home. For the amount of money you'll probably spend and the amount of long-term enjoyment a well-chosen system can provide, it's well worth the effort. Best of luck.