Relative component value to overall SQ.


There is a lot of discussion about various things in the hi-fi audio component chain and how they affect SQ and as a beginner it would be interesting to see how folks rate the relative value of these items.

This is not necessarily meant to be a hierarchy. What I would like to see is a percentage value for each item in the chain. Total must be 100%.

I realize this is an artificial construct but I think for newbies building a system it would help them know where to start and where to put initial emphasis.

For simplicity I am leaving out the signal source. Let’s assume that the CDP, DAC, streamer, server or TT are delivering an optimal signal of an optimal recording to the system.

I included room optimization since that is also likely critical.

The components are as follows; assign a percentage to each. Total must be 100 :

Speakers
Speaker cables
Amp
Amp power cord
Interconnect cables
Pre-Amp
Pre-amp power cord
Interconnect cables (to source)
Room optimization


n80
Get back to you asap!!
Only Santa knows the answer.
Room optimization: 40%Speakers: 30Source, electronics: 30
As you no doubt realize opinions on this question will vary widely, in part because systems, components, rooms, listeners, preferred listening volumes, and listener preferences among different types of recordings (including the dynamic ranges of the kinds of recordings that are listened to, which can vary widely among different genres and labels and can dramatically affect power requirements and potentially the cost of both amplifiers and speakers), all vary widely.

But FWIW, my opinion is as follows:

Speakers 35%;
Room optimization 25%;
Amplifier 20%;
Preamp 15%;
Cables and Power Cords 5%, with that 5% being distributed differently among speaker cables, interconnect cables, and power cords depending on the specific components they are connecting.

Regards,
-- Al


Speakers: 50%
Amp/Pre or integrated: 25%
Room treatment: 5%
Speaker cable: 10%
ICs: 5%
Power cords 5%
Merry Christmas!
Conspicuously absent is what I consider number 1, the recording (source material).
All 100%, otherwise you are moving away from great sound. :)

I was going to say "slicing and dicing is a loser’s game," but that is too harsh. I simply have concluded from building hundreds of systems that all components of a system are critical. Diminish the importance of any 1 element and you are negatively effecting the system.

Obviously, one cannot allocate 100% of funds to 1 component. I have built systems with any given component or cables representing let’s say from 10% to 70% of the total rig cost and obtained wonderful results. Putting together a putative breakdown is only relatively helpful. Attempting to relegate particular components or cables to a secondary role is harmful to establishing superior sound.

Simply shifting around the percentages for each component gets you nowhere fast. When you are sitting at, let's say, a total of $3K for the rig, you can change it around all you want - you will still only have a $3K range of performance. You simply must elevate the cost structure of the system to holistically elevate the range of performance. You cannot know that unit you actually do it. And, when you have done it with hundreds of systems you know it is an absolute fact, not a myth. What's a myth is the idea that one can with a $3K rig typically reach performance of $10, 20, 40K rigs, etc. 

Blessed Christmas to all.
@almarg "As you no doubt realize opinions on this question will vary widely"

Of course. That's why I'm looking for opinions. In the end we each have to decide but if there is a trend here among experts it can certainly give the new audiophile a place to start.

@bdp24 "Conspicuously absent is what I consider number 1, the recording (source material)."

No, I included that as a given in the original post. To me that is a whole other topic separate from building a system. But I totally agree with you.

@douglas_schroeder "I simply have concluded from building hundreds of systems that all components of a system are critical. Diminish the importance of any 1 element and you are negatively effecting the system."

I understand what you're getting at but that approach is not going to help a new audiophile prioritize his initial or even subsequent purchases. And even though you are correct in saying that diminishing 1 element diminishes the system.... there is no way that each element is equal in how much is diminished or improved. That is just as axiomatic. In other words choosing between two interconnects is not likely to have the same, immediate and obvious effect as choosing between two types of speakers.....and here is the important caveat.....to a beginner.
So..the topic is more like, "how to land, for the first time, like a cat, on all four paws..as a newbie in audio...so one can then begin to understand the lay of the land well enough to get one’s bearings and then go on to figure things out."

As cutting it up into digestible dogmatic formulas does not reflect the reality.

But it does reflect a better considered reality when entering the big game or big chase toward better sound. It’s a good thing to do as an opening move.

But holds no sway after that, IF one continues further upward quests, with quality in mind.

One can force that formula to fit one’s upward quest after those opening moves and it will work, but it becomes more and more ridiculous to follow it as the quest reaches greater heights.

It’s like anything. To start driving, you need a car.

To win formula one races... what/when you ate, the angle of the sun, your mood, blood sugar levels, chemical balance, how you slept, how your last day went, the barometric pressure, the temperature across the tire’s body and width, the exact composition of the oil in the engine, and many thousand other points in extreme detail, the position of the seat and wheel down to millimeters, all of them have to be in a certain window of perfection. And each of them can cause the ’reach for a peak’ to fail, if they are off even just a hair. Each becomes very important and each can cause the attempt at a win to fail -or even kill you.

Audio is the same. As the quest to reach peaks becomes more advanced, and the seeker becomes more knowledgeable and refined in that knowledge...each aspect rises in importance in affecting the outcome. Each, like the racing attempt, becomes like a link in a chain, and just one link being off a bit, makes for a chain (the whole system and it’s intent) that utterly fails to be what it is supposed to be.

The complication comes when we fail to understand that the quest is as individual as choices in life partners, as this is about internal wiring and emotions, not technical numbers and measurements. That hearing is an individual thing as IQ is (it’s half physical and half brain power) and that we each build our given hearing IQ up as we grow from a small child and it is wholly individual.

Even worse, hearing remains an unconscious variable as adults, it’s controls are hidden from the conscious mind even as it has a multitude of adjustments and controls as a living breathing changing variable thing. It is not set in stone and has no conscious wording control system. There is zero chance that two people hear exactly the same. And that’s a set of facts you can take to your grave. 

Those technicalities in engineering measurement may define the boundaries but they don’t define the minutia that make up the edge of perfection that we seek.

With all that in mind, what is a good starting point of decent balance in planned out expenses, for a beginner? Even though that is a formula but that formulas don’t really apply. The road ahead is an unknown. One’s personal outcome of directions in that field are an unknown.To keep all that in mind.

Do most people want a formula to start? Yes. Does a beginner formula apply at all? Sort of. But not quite. It’s quite akin to a life formula.

We don’t get one.

We build it as we go along, apply our or physical assets, intellectualism, and emotions - as we may. Outcome is nebulous. Me likely.

The fool sets down the road. Always a good start.

Someone may try to give us a manual of a sort, and we may decide we want to use one, as that is how the given person is wired. But there is no way a manual can be ’the’ way to do things. It’s an open book, just like life.

I’m not into the manual or directions set idea. I’m with Heinlein on this one. Be a master of as much as you can. Specialization is for insects (built in hard wired manuals). I’m not interested in being a commodity for myself or anyone. At the same time, getting your bearings by reading a manual, is always - a very good idea.

So we can come up with a beginners formula but to say it can and cannot apply -is the deal. It depends. It depends on life and the individual.
@n80 ,

One consideration not yet mentioned is if you are buying new, used or doing any DIY. Where I'm going here is that if you are buying used, some types of components depreciate more, allowing you to get a good balance for your budget by spending less on those items. I know you excluded sources from your premise, but I think you can't wholly set that topic aside because digital gear depreciates more than anything else.

While speakers, amps, preamps etc. typically sell used for ~half MSRP(yeah it can vary by brand, age, etc.), digital used gear more than a year or two old can often sell for 25%-33% of MSRP. So I would suggest used digital a smarter investment if you are a beginner on a budget; it may not have all the latest features (often formats that don't ultimately catch on - e.g. HDCD, MQA, etc.). Cables have really high margins and older ones a few iterations older, often way better value. Used pro cables like Mogami or Canare sound really good and can be had for very little cost. 

IMHO, room treatment and speakers will have the biggest variation in sound and choosing speakers that suit your personal preferences/priorities and room is the most important decision. Speakers cost money, so invest some thought & elbow grease to improve your room at low cost. Since even without soldering & electronics skills, most of us can handle a staple gun, scissors and a saw, DIY room treatments can significantly improve your overall sound at a modest cost. Don't make the mistake that many make and ignore the room because they prioritize all the budget to other items. You may also be able to utilize furnishings you already own towards this goal. Natural fibre rugs, thick curtains and bookcases full of books can be wisely deployed towards in this effort. Covering windows, moving glass-frame out of harms way and added upholstery all can help too.  

In terms of choosing components, pick an easy to drive speaker if you find one that you like. That will allow you to spend far less on amplification. Choose the best quality (not most powerful) integrated amp that mates well with that speaker. By going integrated you will need fewer interconnects and power cables. Assuming you are spending less than $5k on the system, solid state will probably be your best bet strictly because tube amps usually cost fare more $/watt. Until you get up there in total budget, good tube stuff isn't really an option unless you over-allocate on the amplification. 
So bottom line, used speakers 50%, used integrated amp 25%, used cables(speaker, 2pr interconnect, 2 power) $400, DIY panels $200-400, the remainder on sources. Cheers,
Spencer 

Ah yes, I somehow missed the qualifying sentence "For simplicity I am leaving out the signal source".

The only other comment I would make is one that doesn’t help (sorry ;-) : The proposition assumes that all comparably-priced "same" components contribute equally to the sound quality of a system. In other words, if one allocates, say, 50% to a pair of loudspeakers, that two very different sounding speakers will both be responsible to the same degree for the assembled systems’ sound quality. It’s just not that simple. And then there is the fact that every speaker "type" (ESL, magnetic-planar, ribbon, dynamic) benefits more from one type amplifier than another, and different type amps come in at different prices to achieve comparable sound quality. If that makes any sense! If that assertion is accepted, the percent formula falls apart.

As has long been said, a chain is only as strong as its’ weakest link. The trick then is to assemble a chain with links as close in sound quality level to the others as possible. Price points are NOT necessarily indicative of sound quality. Two different $3,000 phono stages may not both be responsible for the same percentage of a systems’ quality. Assembling a balanced system is how and why good retailers make their 40 points! Now that many people (not having a good local hi-fi-dealer) are on their own, that's a challenge.

@bdp24 Great post! 
That's why I suggested used. Think of it as home audition for as long as you want at marginal cost. If you goof on a match or your priorities change, flip it with little risk. If one assumes that they may not hit perfection on the first try and are willing to enjoy the journey, it can be a fun, long and winding road(that leads me to your door - just like a Fedex delivery!). Cheers,
Spencer
I assumed buying new. I gave the lion's share to speakers because future upgrades, to other components, will add value to the sound from the speakers. So quality speakers keep sounding better and better.
Speakers 70%
Speaker cables 10%
Amp 15%
Amp power cord 0%
Interconnect cables 1%
Pre-Amp 1%
Pre-amp power cord 0%
Interconnect cables (to source) 2%
Room optimization 1%

bdp24, you make it sound almost like a rocket science. But you are right.
This thread was clearly started by non-audiophile. The question makes little sense in real world and one never leaves the source and the recordings out.
Personally, I'd rather buy lps than to sit back trying to think of a descent thread...…..
Amen, slaw. CD's too ;-) . Even the radio, if you happen to have a good station nearby.
@inna "This thread was clearly started by non-audiophile."

I think you are correct. The more time I spend on Audiogon the less I think that I am an audiophile. But I'm okay with that.

@inna "The question makes little sense in real world and one never leaves the source and the recordings out."

Agreed. That's why I very clearly stated in the original post:

"Let’s assume that the CDP, DAC, streamer, server or TT are delivering an optimal signal of an optimal recording to the system."

@slaw 
"Personally, I'd rather buy lps than to sit back trying to think of a descent thread...….."

And yet, you see seem to find enough time between buying LPs to make negative comments that bring no useful content to a thread. Good for you. At least you've got your priorities in order.
Not only is this what I would tell a newbie. This is what I would do myself if I have to start over and did not have $30,000 to $50,000 to play with... (I am assuming not a lot of money to spend here. If you DO have $50,000.. then forget what I am writing!)
As far as money goes, a newbie should be spending zero on ’room treatments’. First off you have no idea what to listen for on placing them. And thus IMO you are 90% likely to place them wrong. Or you are placing them where some online guru who also has no idea since they are not there in your room, but they have the chutzpah, and you don’t.
As for cables.. zero on power cords. the stuff came with power cords. use those. Buy bulk power cord for the speaker cable. Folks used it for fifty year before high end. Still works just fine save a bundle. Buy cheap IC, Blue Jeans, Kimber PBJ, etc.. I would tell a newbie to spend a lot on the speakers. used would be best. Not more than 40% to 50%. there IS a danger you buy speaker which are too good, and show the badness of your other cheap stuff! Then on the source. 20% to 30%
Plenty of cheap decent used amplifiers and preamps at a low price.Brand is not so important. just a well known one. All the malarkey about particular brands is malarkey for a newbie. older is fine. particularly find really old used ones where the previous owner replaced the caps in the past few years, usually a good deal. 20% max..
Post removed 
I don't believe in allocating a certain percentage to a component. I agree with chayro, cohesiveness is a really tricky thing to do. Even if you're working with a dealer, because many dealers only push what they carry and what they carry may not work well with your current system. Although it isn't always practical, the best way to decide on components is to listen with your own ears and if possible in your own system.
Some have replied in a fairly straightforward fashion. Thank you. Others have not. That's okay too. But I think it is kind of odd how some folks seem to be trying really hard to make this harder than it really is. I don’t really understand why.

It is really pretty simple. Someone comes over and listens to your system. They love it and want to pursue high end audio. They have a budget of ’x’ amount of dollars and ask you how to start with those dollars.

When they have followed your advice and spent those dollars then they will have spent a certain percentage on each component. Everyone who starts has to allocate a certain percentage of their budget on components. All I asked was how, as a general guideline, you would advise a new audiophile to spend those dollars.


From my experience most people don't go out in purchase an entire system. We assemble a system over time and gradually try to upgrade components. Based on your question I would tell someone 35-50% should be allocated to speakers. How much money one has to spend would be a factor in how the rest of the budget is allocated. 
I have to say some costs are total chance. Particularly if the person who 'came over and wanted ME to help them buy a system.. from scratch'. Used components usually one goes with what is good AND for sale. One could wait for eternity for all the specific used items one suggested as the 'only' one. Today I could pick out a hundred nice preamp and or amplifiers, ditto speakers in endless combinations.I would say the op is trying to box in the impossible. I would talk to the person FIRST. Do they think a high sensitivity speaker to go with a small tube amp? Or a solid bass gut massaging type speaker? How big is the room? does the system have to big time WAF, or can it dominate the room? Do they have any fantasy notions about some designs? Speakers in particular car be hated or loved for the way they look beside how they sound.                
There is no way a percentage can have any meaning as some sort of rule, except in the most generalized way. So generalized it becomes meaningless.

If it’s a simple answer you want, here it is: A- ignore the percentage paradigm (a word not part of my vocabulary until Michael Green showed up ;-). B- Find a pair of speakers you like the most at no more than half your budget (less if possible). C- Next an amp that is well-suited to driving them. D- Then a source component with the $ left, minus the cost of a cheap passive pre-amp IF it will work within the context of the speaker/amp/gain/etc. situation. If you’re lucky, your listening room already sounds good. If it doesn’t, consider acoustic treatment of it part of your speaker budget---the speaker/room is a system unto itself.

With a system budget of $5,000, one can get a pair of Eminent Technology LFT-8b ($2499/pr) or Tekton loudspeakers, ridiculous bargains with very high price-to-performance ratios. A good tube amp (which the LFT-8b, being a mostly-resistive 8 ohm and higher load, loves) is probably out of reach, so a good used 100w solid state (NAD? Adcom? PS Audio?) will have to do. A fine CD player can be had for a grand or so, as can a passable (for now) LP player. Some cheap speaker wire, and you’re done!

Just as with a first wife, you will most likely look back and see the mistake(s) you made in picking your first system.

bdp24: Excellent  point finding an amp which is considered good with the chosen speakers! Important to have an amp working (synergy) with the speakers.
Now, if the system budget were increased to $20,000, one could then consider a pair of Magnepan MG3.7i driven by a Sanders Magtech amp. In that case, the percentage spent on speakers would be about the same as on the ET's in the $10,000 system. Just a coincidence!
Comparing women with stereo systems is telling. What do you want women to compare you with ? Summon your imagination, this might make you think.
@inna, I didn’t consider it necessary to include the "wink" emoji ;-) in that apparently-too-subtle joke. I guess I was mistaken!
@N80, I believe that the helpfulness of the responses you receive may benefit from some clarification of the question.

I and I believe some of the others who responded earlier in the thread interpreted your asking about "relative component value to overall SQ," and "where to start and where to put initial emphasis," to have essentially no relation to how funds should be allocated. I interpreted the question as involving the relative importance of the various contributors to the overall resulting SQ. In other words, my interpretation was that you were looking for a general rule of thumb guideline as to the degree to which each contributor should be focused on, in building a system.

Yet some others seem to have interpreted the question as relating to how a given amount of funds should be allocated among the various contributors. Which is a very different question, assuming (as I most certainly do) that in audio the correlation between price and results is far less than perfect. And that interpretation appears to have been reinforced by your post today at 2:01 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

For example, my attribution of 25% to "room optimization" certainly does not mean that 25% of whatever funds may be available should be allocated for that purpose, even as a rough rule of thumb guideline.

So further clarification of the question would seem to be in order.

Regards,
-- Al 
Al, I see what you are saying. When I said "relative value" (in the original post) I meant dollars. Sorry if that wasn't clear. But even if someone just thought I meant the relative importance of each of these components the question is still very easy to answer in a rough estimate of percentages. So dollars or relative importance....either way. At least of few of us figured it out.

In other words, if someone thought I was talking about dollars and laid out their recommended percentages then the new user has an idea of how to allocate his money.

If someone thought I meant only the value of that component to overall SQ, then again, that percentage would likewise direct a newbie toward where he should spend his money.






n80, several people here are trying to tell you that what you think is so obvious is oblivious; percentages in cost allocation guarantee nothing in selection of the gear. That is so because the variance in performance from components of different manufacture is not marginal, but rather large. You seem to be resisting that wisdom, and if so, have at it your way. But, be assured you will not be making any sure progress toward your goal. 

I submit that the technology employ�ed (i.e. speakers of panel, dipole, dynamic, etc.) is for the beginner much more important than the percentage allocated for each element of the system. Also, house sound of a manufacturer is quite important. Experienced audiophiles would likely offer products to consider, not percentages to fulfill. 



Let’s assume that the CDP, DAC, streamer, server or TT are delivering an optimal signal of an optimal recording to the system.

"Optimal"  ...A non-starter, since a "Beginner / Newbie" is way, way more likely to get this wrong than say that component on the tail end of the chain.
  • Speaker/ Room: 80% of what you hear, 55% of the cost. Room and speaker cannot be separated below the Schroeder frequency. Room treatment is not that expensive (relative to the rest of the system) and has a significant affect on the sound quality. The overwhelming % of distortion in your system will come from the speaker/ room.
  • Electronics: 19% of what you hear but 40% of the cost. Electronics are expensive but above a certain build quality, very little difference in SQ.
  • Everything Else: 1% of what you hear, 5% of the cost. 
The power side has been left out.
Many great posts above. I especially like the pair of posts by @douglas_schroeder  and the one by @teo_audio 


I'm in the camp eschewing percent allocations.

My advice is to start with the component that has brought you to the point of entry. The one that fascinates you, the one you fell in love with, the one you find yourself drawn to, or the one that is part of your memory.




A simple question by a beginner might go like this....no, it does go like this because it is a question that is frequently asked here and on other audiophile websites: "I'm new to this and I've got $4000 to spend on two speakers an amp and a pre-amp and cables, what do you recommend?"

Quite commonly people will say, start with these speakers, this pre-amp and this amp. Hook them up with these cables. In doing so there is, de facto, a percentage of the newbies budget spent on each one of those.

So we can hem-and-haw and eschew percentages but in the end the percentages exist. And probably in a fairly consistent level for the types of components that any given advisor might recommend for a beginner.

I like the idea of starting with one component that catches one's eye. But if I have a $4000 budget and fall in love with a $4000 amp, well, that doesn't get me very far. Or even if I fall in love with a $2000 amp I've still got to figure out how to allot the rest of my budget.

In any case, appreciate all the replies. It was a thought, apparently not a good one. But I think if you look back at some of the responses they are a bit obtuse. And if we can't give new potential audiophiles some concrete guidelines then we might aught not be too surprised that the hobby seems to be languishing.
I recommend you go to a dealer and buy what they tell you to buy. If you want to save money, buy their used/demo stuff. 

I'm finished with this discussion. :) 





@douglas_schroeder +1, a step above dead on arrival. : )

@n80 There are true gems of posts in this thread. There is nothing "obtuse" or a "hem or haw" about them. I appreciate your appreciation of the replies.
To different styles clashing in this thread. One the one hand list makers, percentage takers, On the other folks who are taking it as life hands it to them on he fly. No problem with either strategy, as long as it works for you. tJust realize the other person's mind is using a different strategy than yours.
Simply giving the OP what they asked for. Not questioning why they asked for it.
Not as many B & M stores to hang around listening to different types and prices of speakers , amps etc.. as when I started out, actually there is only 1 left within about an hour and half drive from where I live now so it’s a little harder to build relationships and get good advice not to mention good deals on returns, trade ins and demos from a dealer. At amy rate I always thought the speaker is where most effort and money should be focused but at the moment I am doing a home trial of a set of speakers that cost less than my integrated amp so what do I know? Staying in the parameters I would still put speaker at about 55%( he or she can figure room treatments out later maybe do some home made things) , amplification either separate or integrated close 44% and the remaining 1% on cables. But the more I read the better I understand I’m not an audiophile just someone who likes to listen to music on the best I can afford which is pretty modest from what I can gather.
The speaker-room interaction is the most important, but that does not necessarily mean it will cost the most. A small listening room with nasty bass nodes may benefit from a small stand mounted speaker/monitor considerably cheaper than a speaker required to fill a larger more neutral room. So I agree that it is so difficult to generalise.

Also to a newbie I would seriously recommend looking at active speakers with built-in amplification. Then simply add a source/pre-amp combo.
The ATC room at Munich had their £3k cd/DAC/pre playing into their active speakers and it sounded a dream - a one box solution with 80% of the cost being on the speaker. Definitely worth considering for a first-timer.

What I don’t understand is why the OP would ignore the source? Are you assuming all sources are equal?You can’t assume a perfect signal from any source. In the 1990s in the UK the general advice was to spend 50% on the source. These days I rarely hear that but nevertheless I would recommend certainly spending as much on the source as on amplification.

In summary, and with caveats explained in the first paragraph, I would say to a new Hi-Fi enthusiast seeking advice:

Trad system
Single source (including DAC): 20%
integrated amp: 20%
speakers: 50%
cables/rack/isolators: 10%

active system
source/dac/pre amp combo: 25%
active speakers: 65%
cables/rack/isolators: 10%

If affordable and within the budget active speakers with dsp or a preamp with dsp would help solve room issues without treatment. And treatment is demanding on your space in terms of size (bass traps) and decor, so dsp would be easier for a new hifi enthusiast to deal with.
@elizabeth On the role of room acoustics as related to this topic, I would encourage @N80 and others that for a beginner it doesn't have to be complex and in some ways, you don't even "need to know what to listen for".
Most beginners choose dynamic (cone driver) speakers and they almost all emit sound at wide angles that result in sound reflecting off the side walls that hurt sound quality. Doesn't matter if we are talking floorstanders or monitors on stands, they all do it, mainly from tweeters & midrange drivers. Absorptive panels at the first & second reflection points, will almost certainly reduce echo and improve clarity of vocals and higher pitch instruments. Inexpensive options like these
https://mioculture.com/shop/wall-ceiling-tiles/acoustic-weave-paperforms-white
or DIY homemade alternatives made of Owen's Corning fiberglass from the local hardware store are worthy of consideration.
Absorption of floor reflections with a natural Fibre rug between seat & speakers almost always help, especially when dealing with hard flooring of tile or wood, but also with synthetic carpet.
Glass windows are super reflective and natural fibre heavy upholstered curtains will tame them every time.
By playing a test tone CD of varying frequencies one can easily identify bass interactions with the room. Many rooms inherently have certain frequencies that play too loud(peaks) and others not loud enough (dips). The extent of those anomalies will be an indication of if bass traps in the corners behind the speakers would be a help or not. Fixing bass issues is sometimes pretty tricky, but I am confident that you will get the point. 
I find it frustrating when folks spend big bucks on gear, ignore the room issues and later lose enthusiasm for the hobby, because they aren't drawn to the music playing on their system. Rooms need to be conquered and it's not that hard nor expensive to do so.
While a DSP approach might be an alternative, I  have always been leary of adding more cables and boxes, as the chance of noise and grounding problems increases. Perhaps newer DSP solutions exist that surpass what I have heard. Cheers,
Spencer 
It's a fact that you can take the average cost of people's systems and discover their percentage shares of total cost. What are those shares of systems that people claim to be happy with? Maybe there's high standard errors, but those means do exist and could be found with a survey. What do experienced audiophiles think that those shares are?

That's how I understand the OPs question. 
Of course the next issue is that you may have 4k to spend on a system now but have 2k more in a few years. In that case, the shares will be difference seeing as you can't upgrade each piece with 2k.