Setup vs. Amp/Preamp choice?

Which do you value more?

I've read endless questions re: which amp, preamp,or integrated is best with which speakers. I believe most of that discussion is nonsense for most equipment. True, there are certain electrical synergies between amps and speakers that are important, and preamps certainly sound different. But the absolutely critical factors in determining what a system will sound like are: 1. your own likes and dislikes and 2. setup. I have heard great gear sound terrible and average gear sound fantastic - it really depends on how things were set up in a particular listening room. I've heard people describe a particular integrated amp as having as small soundstage - In my room and with my speakers, the soundstage was vast. I've heard people describe the sound of certain gear as shrill or unlistenable - Well perhaps it is in their setup, but what does that tell me about how it will sound in my room?

Many of you who ask for advice about gear place inordinate value on subjective opinions of individuals with varying tastes, hearing ability, prejudices, rooms and setups. That is completely absurd: The only way to judge how a piece of equipment will sound is to test it in your room after proper setup. And small changes in speaker placement can make a huge difference. So stop running around like a bunch of maniacs who have to switch equipment every few months in search of nirvana, and concentrate on setting up your system properly. That's where the greatest reward is (for everyone except dealers).

Do you agree?
It's like in business buy low, sell high.


Low output impedance drives high input impedance. The higher the difference the less sonic losses in the signal path.
If for some reason you can't neglect an output impedance than it's in the circuit with the input impedance of the next component where you sustain voltage drop. For example you're about to get an amplifier with input impedance of 10k and you've heard the super great reviews on preamp that apperently without your knowlege have 1.5kOhm output impedance. When you connect these two units that had superior reviews on the magazines and other media, they don't sound right not only to your ear, but to the ear of anyone visiting you to listen to your rig and you'd ask yourself why???
Simply because your loss is near 15% on the path from amp to preamp. This causes diminished details espesially on the slopes of the frequency bandwidth of both components or they appear in the dissonant way when you turn the volume up.
The rule of 1:10 of output/input impedance is acceptible and within common sence, but leaves with very limited volume range when the sound is natural and pleasant. To me isn't enough. Maybe it's enough for monotonic and compressed signals, but for wide dynamic range certainly should be higher.

Power Amplifier (and/or integrated)

I personally prefer to overpower speakers and consider only models with larger than 100Wpc. Low sound frequencies can be considered as DC when designing a linear circuits. Voice coils are inductive by nature and inductor has Zero impedance at DC! Low audiable frequencies >50Hz require 2...3x higher power to induce EMF and mechanical vibration than the rest of frequency bandwidth. There's no way that 20Wpc amp will be able to bring any voice coil to audiably move at bellow 60Hz of even high-efficiency speakers... maybe marketwise, but not engineeringwise. Another words no power -- no bass.
Integrated amplifier is the one having near perfectly matched both stages in one unit. It saves you space, wires and nowdays easy to find the one with the power you need. Another words highly marketable and recommended vs. separates. So forget about the first para if you're realy planning to go integraded -- the best to begin with and after playing with separates(swapping reconnecting like an 8yo) grow up and get one again!


As I've mentioned above, speakers either high or low efficiency, have its own impedance curves that you should pay more attention. For direct-coupled SS amplifiers(no capacitor or transformer on the output stage) the speaker selection is substantially wider due to their low output impedance. For transformer-coupled SS or tube amps the degree of impedance curve stability is a factor to consider. For directly-coupled tube amplifiers OTL you should only consider the lowest impedance value to be within the amplifier specified range of loads. They react positively on the impedance increase.
No. Certain amp/pre-amp combo's are completely inadequate for the speaker systems that they are paired with, yet, when accompaning the right equipment will excel. Try a single ended 300b amp, or a tube amp with modest power and mate either with a pair of Martin Logans and you will immediately see what I mean. No amount of room placement will correct that. Passive pre-amps may simply not provide the gain that is required in a particular system. High "spec" powered systems my provide lots of head room, but sound shrill, brittle, and downright nasty, exacerbated by a pair of highly efficient speakers, and again, I don't care how much time you take to set that up. On the other hand, you are correct when you state that system set up is important, and it does dissappoint me to see some people spend 20-40,000 dollars on equipment, only to set it up so badly that they simply should have bought a Bose system and been happy. (Not to knock Bose, but I hope you catch my drift). If your not going to invest the time to set a system up properly, you really might as well purchase something more in accord with what one really needs in that situation: something nice that will provide "background music".
Mcfarland, if you read my post carefully, you'll see that I said that my comments were true for most systems. Most amps will work fine with most speakers. There are combinations that truly excel, but for most people who have systems in the $5k - $15k range, I believe that set up is all important and it's been my experience that the vast majority of those systems are not properly set up.
Setup: IF you include the room. Not only 'setup' of where/ how the equipment, but any room 'tuning' needed.

I'd rather have an OK system in a great space than a great system in some echo chamber....
Congrats Msratty...loving music and loving equipment have absolutely nothing to do with one another.
True, so then why the heck are the vast majority of questions dealing with 'what goes with what'?
Isn't incompatible gear in the minority? Stuff like very bad speaker loads, or speakers requiring a current source amp.
Or gross impedance mismatches between amp/pre, for example?
I think Msratty agrees with you, too, but is also concerned that so many questions simply have little or nothing to do with music.
I agree. Setup is more important than the actual components involved, assuming no gross mismatches. Audiophiles are just like everybody else -- it feels good to have your opinions affirmed by others.
Msratty, as most here can not grasp most others rooms/ setup (though the efforts most certainly exist) never mind others taste, what do you suggest we discuss here? Your point is a given here. You've got a lot of nerve taking that tone with us.

Do you agree?
I can't quite follow the OP. Do you have a question? Or are you trying to tell everyone they are a bunch of maniacs that hold endless discussions?

Do you agree?

Agree to what?

And exactly how does your post different from other endless discussions? Or are you one of us maniacs?
The point I'm trying to make is quite simple.

Spend as much time trying out any equipment you want to buy - in your own room (not in a showroom or in a friend's room). Move the speakers a few inches this way and that way, move your listening position, balance reflective and absorptive room materials, check AC polarity, try out different cables, etc. There is no simple way to do this - it takes time and effort. Many of you will be surprised at how your old system, that you may have grown tired of, has now come to life.

A friend of mine has Mac electronics and speakers that set him back about $25k. He couldn't wait to invite me to hear it. He was using a $150 cdp to show me how good it sounds! The speakers were directly in front of a large bay window, with one speaker near a side wall and the other firing into a large open space. There were reflective surfaces everywhere and no damping material (no carpets, sofas, etc) whatsoever. The electronics were right next to the speakers. Needless to say, the sound was dreadful. I tried to tell him that I thought his system was capable of more, and he assured me he was going to replace the $150 cdp with a $5k tubed player. I'll bet the sound of his system won't improve a great after his purchase.

He'd be better off saving his money and fixing the "setup."

Relax, people. I'm not trying to take your toys away. I'm just asking you to chill out, enjoy what you've got and spend your time listening to the music (rather than obsessing over gear). You'll be a lot happier and richer.
i believe that 'much' of what drives audiophiles to constantly upgrade, downgrade, gather and purge, is more about whats going on in their heads, then what they are actually hearing.
Jaybo, lol

...and lets try to remember that what goes on in an audiophile's head...should stay in an audiophile's head...get in Vegas? Sorry, bad joke. I'll leave.
Msratty, I think your stating the obvious. Based upon the years I've been visiting Audiogon, I'm confident that despite the experience you might have had with your friend, the vast majority of Audiogoners are well aware of the importance of room considerations and system setup and the topic and been broached here many times for and by newbies and experienced audiophiles.
That you think that we don't is presumptious. Your posted atttitude about component matching is akin to going on a oenophile site and advising the members that, pouring most wines in most glasses will give them a buzz.
FWIW, most of my gear is over twenty years old, my system hasn't and typicaly doesn't change for years at a time. I frequent Audiogon to avail myself to other possibilities and I try to offer advise based upon my experience with some gear and systems, without presuming that everyone else here doesn't have a clue. I believe that for most, this forum is an aid towards the quest for the best sound one can achieve. For many this journey has many obstacles, including room, immediately available funds, etc., and yes, component matching. Like other hobbyist, some also like to compare items peculuar to the hobby, just for the "fun" of it. While I don't engage in that all that often, I can appreciate that none the less.
I suppose you could have opened this thread as a friendly reminder, but instead it reads (at least by me) as a contemptious diatribe.
Risking some redundancy as Unsound & Jaybo pretty much pointed to the crux of the thing, I'll add another perspective hopefully.... and maybe clear up what Shatern pointed out which posed me some undecidedness too.

Msratty, maybe you should outline for us here the ‘proper’ ways to ‘setup’ equipment. You lean quite hard on that word yet provide us no definition of it in your context.

Msratty SAYS
“The only way to judge how a piece of equipment will sound is to test it in your room after proper setup”

I think the issue expressed here lends itself to being more one of semantics and some ambiguity with terms, than anything else. Namely the part about “…after ”, predominately, and ‘setup’, subsequently .

The ‘after’ can become a lengthy and varied process… not just the simple plug and play integration of the piece in question. A more than fair amount of time, energy, and resources could be used to optimize a given items integration into any audio assemblage…. Or it’s “setup”, that by it’s nature could be quite the subjective term itself.

I'll assume for the moment, set up = optimizing... and not just placing into position the gear. AS well, ‘after’ equates to the above note on enduring much more than mere plug and play, with varied accessories, cables, the room itself, etc.

There is something to be said both for optimization or a given set of components, 'setup' and for selecting those items which can and will work best together at a high level…. As has been already pointed to by the Msratty initially, when it was said some fundamental electrical considerations need be adhered to going in.

Plug and play only shows a thing works, doesn’t work, or doesn’t sound as you had expected it to or would prefer it to sound. Nothing more or less.

Hence the perhaps fiery note on owner preffs, stated as ‘likes and dislikes’ could have some ability to change the sonics of some newly added item. Likes and dislikes have nothing to do with it. It is what it is. Period.

Msratty SAYS
“But the absolutely critical factors in determining what a system will sound like are: 1. your own likes and dislikes and 2. setup. “

The former has absolutely nothing to do with what a thing will actually do, or ‘sound like’, the latter does however. The trailer will of course be affected by the previous… perhaps, as this new owner’s tastes might come into play, if the outcome is swayed from a goal of pure neutrality. I think many systems are off from being purely neutral indeed. Preffs will affect the ensuing ‘setup’ only. Not the true character of the piece.

“Many of you who ask for advice about gear place inordinate value on subjective opinions of individuals with varying tastes, hearing ability, prejudices, rooms and setups. That is completely absurd:”

“….. So stop running around like a bunch of maniacs who have to switch equipment every few months in search of nirvana, and concentrate on setting up your system properly. That's where the greatest reward is (for everyone except dealers).”
Do you agree?

Not entirely.

You’ve hit on something here, but it’s too critical a line of thought for me to subscribe to it 100%.

Especially that blatant desire to condone or condemn the acts of others. As well as the short sighted perspective in which only dealers can claim true benefit.

Knowledge comes as the result of experience and education. The missing golden ‘marble’ here is that the aspect or prime mover, ‘Knowledge’ is assumed. Also that there is some defined criterium dictating some predetermined method, or set of indicative steps, for optimizing one’s system, or it’s now mystically ordained, ‘setup’, in fact, regardless those items comprising it..

Well…… if some sort of explicative, globally tried and true, methodology does exist do show that to me…. Or not. No matter either way really. I’d prefer to find out for myself a fair amount of this hobby, unless very high stakes are at play all at once. There, I’ll employ some CYA measures and proceed with more caution. As well as leaning more so on my so far acquired quiver of knowledge, and the input of those I respect in this community.

“Flavor of the month-ers”, chronic “Plug & players”, regardless ones opinion of these gear hound sorts, one can not be too dismissive of one sure thing, they are amassing knowledge. How much knowledge is another story, and their affair completely. Those sorts do not get into my hula hoop, so it does not affect me whatsoever. God bless ‘em all. Were I to have a boatload of duckets and the temperance for it, I might be just so persuaded.

My own nature and circumstances push me onto another road however.

Neither do I agree that subjective accounts are worthless. I feel we are more alike here than dissimilar. Sure there are divisions to the fold, eccentricities, devotions, and such, though I’ve found many who tend to have predominately my own tastes for sonic pleasure…. Musical genres aside of course. I value their inputs and have been served well by them for some time now. True too, my eyes have been opened to facets of system building, or in another word, it’s setup which were at one time areas I would have had nothing to do with at all. In short, this feedback has broken down my preconceived barriers pertinent to, and that had prevented me from, achieving greater levels of performance. That list is pretty long too.

I do agree taking time to fully realize what is possible from some component takes time and energy. It takes knowledge too, and that comes as part & parcel, the exercise of this adventure.

But then, in the end poll, isn’t even one person’s Heavenly sound not that of some other? Or is it even found to be it’s very best?

That’s the sanctity of the beholder to decide.

I understand frustration, redundancy, and unanswerable questions that crop up now and then or even repeatedly, yet I believe at that precise moment in time, the querry seemed like the exact right thing to do. It’s just another part of the whole of what a community decidedly predisposed to an outwardly simple pastime evolves into, thru it’s members’ interactions.

So be it.

To scoff or exclaim some goings on are ridiculous or merely less than or simply arbitrary, says more about the proclaimed than the proclamation itself.

If some people don’t believe in a thing, nor wish to investigate it… such as wire, isolation, power line conditioning, etc, well, super. Good for them IMO. What some other does or does not, isn’t my problem.

It matters only what I do. With and for myself, and with or for another.

As much as has been given me so freely, I feel it incumbent upon myself to reciprocate in kind when I see something I have had direct experiences with or some knowledge of.

Whatever the hilltop or mountain someone wants to ascend, how they go about it is their own concern. Very likely, in the process, they will go about it the way that provides the most enjoyment to them and them alone.

There is wisdom within this community to those ends. It is sought out daily. Repeatedly. How suitable it is, or how much of it is followed is questionable. Some hands down slam dunk answers can just be cost prohibitive, or too stringent a measure to undertake for some and dependant upon circumstances particular to that individual seeking them. There is more than a fair amount of compromise a going on around here… and that’s just life barking at us.

I think sometimes we attempt to be perfectionists. Our personal track records prove otherwise very often. Perfection is more myth than reality.

“True, so then why the heck are the vast majority of questions dealing with 'what goes with what'?”

IMO? Money. Money, time and effort. A knee jerk shortcut is being sought and once found theoretically, it is pondered still more, and may or may not even be followed! So I think it’s a money thing more than anything else.
Uhrn. . . seems the garden variety messianic personality is live and well on Audiogon.

Once again, we are being regaled with "absolutely free" advice, of the most generic variety of course. A promise to cure us, long suffering audiophiles, instantly and painlessly, from compulsive audio purchasing, the most devastating symptoms of our horrid DAC (Degenerative Audiophilic Chorea), is invariably implied, if we only had the sense of following the true truth (updated version 4.1), blessedly promulgated by the latest born again audio-guru, in the guise of Msratty in this particular case.

Even better, we should flop and squirm in awe!

And no, as my 56 birthday is only 2 days away, I shant seek aprobation by asking the rhetorical "You agree?" I am unfortunatly slowly losing the need for emotional sucker. . . a clear sign of an aging brain.

Saluti a casa!


PS. If the reader were somewhat unfamiliar with DAC. . .

"Sometimes erroneously referred to as Audiophilia Nervosa by some uninformed audiophiles and unrepenting tweaks, DAC is an extremely debilitating hereditary condition. It was first identified and discussed in 1989 by a team of European neurologysts, audiophiles and tweaks lead by Gavronsky and Pugnetti of the Pio Istituto Don Gnocchi in Milano.
See: Aloysius Q. Schmaltzenstein Gavronsky, Dr. Luigi Pugnetti (M.D.) et Al. Environmental triggers and sex-linked predisposition in late onset adventitious Degenerative Audiophilic Chorea (Acta Medica Refutata (preprint), vol 35, No. 4, pp. 435 - 459. Appenzell, 2023).
The authors describe DAC as a acute disturbance of the central nervous system, usually having an onset in very early middle age and characterized by involuntary muscular movements, uncontrollable usage of credit cards, increasingly severe and expensive delusions, disastrous lapses of financial common sense, and general progressive cognitive deterioration, accompanied by often mewlings, drewlings and ritualistic genuflection and prostration in front of any gleaming audio component.
DAC attacks the cells of the basal ganglia, clusters of nerve tissue deep within the brain that govern coordination, as well as the cortex, which is expected to govern common sense.
The onset is insidious and inexorably progressive; no treatment is known.
Psychiatric disturbances range from personality changes involving compulsive purchase or modification of audio equipment, in the abscence of which the sufferer experiences apathy and irritability, to manic depressive or schizophreniform episodes when away from one's High-End Audio System for any significant amount of time.
Motor manifestations include flicking movements of the upper extremities, hands reaching uncontrollably to one's back pockets towards any credit cards and compulsive signing of any audio-related sales slips, a lilting gait whenever in front of high-end audio stores, and motor impersistence (inability to sustain a motor act such as tongue protrusion), unless ever-more-frequent and progressively expensive and outlandish upgrades to the patient's audio system are applied.
In 1989 the gene responsible for the disease was located by Schmaltzenstein-Gavronsky and Pugnetti; within that gene a small segment of code is, for some reason, copied over and over.
Expert genetic and audio consultant counseling is extremely important, since 50% of the male offspring of an affected parent inherit the gene, which inevitably leads to the disease if the subject is exposed to any high-end system worth of such an appellation.
An autosomic recessive form of the disorder likely also exists, but is very rare, according to the scant epidemiological studies of DAC, as far less females than males are affected. The prognosis is rather bleak. Sufferers invariably end their days divorced, in dept, indigent, increasingly semicatatonic, with a silly grin on their faces, while immersed in a permanent REM state, dreaming of evermore extravagant system upgrades."
Randomized House Dictionary of Improbable Sciences, Electronic edition. (Copyright 2030, Randomized House)

PPS. Bottomline: Dear Msratty, please leave us kindly suffer in blessed peace! Thanks, G.

Sweet jumpon' jelly fish Guido! I'm guessing tums & Tylenol can't touch that!
You guys are a blast and I mean that in a good way.
Based upon the nature of the responses Msratty has obviously struck a nerve. Although frankly, I not really sure why. It's not as if the OP said anything radical and I don't think he was impolite or overly aggressive in his tone. Could be that what he said is obvious to the point of being trite. But sometimes the obvious needs to be said. I peruse the virtual systems section and I see some incredible systems that, at least visually, appears to really well setup for stereo playback. At the same time I also see any number of systems that are comprised of quality components, but look to be poorly setup. Looks can be misleading, but I'm thinking of examples of wide dispersion speakers placed in front of wall of full length windows in an uncarpeted room. Or what about the big Wilson where one speaker is jammed in a corner and the other is at the interior corner of an L-shaped room? And of course there's my fav, the Dynaudios recessed into a closet. It's possible that all these systems sound quite good, but they are clearly not optimized. It's a legitimate comment to question the owners of these systems priorities.
You's right Jim, no cure nor palliative treatment. . . perhaps in the future there will be gene therapy for degenerative audiophilia nervosa, according to the latest work by Schmaltzenstein-Gavronsky and Gigi Pugnetti, , but the treatment is likely to be even more expensive than the indulgence, so. . . why bother fixing something that makes us happy?

Onhwy61, putting the tone aside for the moment, how about "absurd" and "running around like maniacs"?
"absurd" and "running around like maniacs"

Not quite sure. . . I thought audiophile were a reasonably sedentary bunch. . . as for us being 'absurd'. . . the characterization remains in the eyes of the messianically prone beholder who started this deliciously whimsical thread. . . . If he sees us as 'absurd', so be it. . . The gent is entitled to his own pleasurable delusions, like everyone else.
Relax, people. I'm not denying anyone's right to enjoy their "hobby." I'm not even denying you your right to obsess over electronic circuits. To each his own.

My point is that many of you have turned this "hobby" into a quasi-religious quest. "If only I can get the right kind of gear together, I will have attained perfect sound and I will be truly happy." Some of the posts on this thread only serve to reinforce my point - many of you just need to calm down and listen to the music. The gear you've got is already more than good enough by any reasonable measure.

Anyone who's ever been to a concert has experienced something quite different than the experience one has listening to reproduced music. Of course, you all recognize that as a truism. Then exactly what is it that you're striving for? If it is happiness - a wise man once said that happiness is the state of being satisfied with what you have.

As for my offending some of you, if you're that thin-skinned what can I say? In my naivete, I truly did not realize that my words were worthy of so much attention and analysis.
Msratty, first you insult us, then your tell us to relax. You've got a lot of nerve.
I give up.

Have a nice life.
Same to you.
"[. . .] The gear you've got is already more than good enough by any reasonable measure."

Not bad. . . from merely messianic, now graduating to fully omniscient. . . Rather impressive feat really.

Whilst totally relaxed,

Wow-I am not sure what to say now;except when I post on this forum I am getting advice from people who have much more knowledge and experience with different gear than I do;also there are some of the best engineers/designers of equipment that visit these forums on a regular basis and being able to post a question to Ralph from Atmasphere or Steve McCormack directly to me is some of the the best audio advice a person can ever get.I agree system setup is key and matching of equipment is just as important.