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In my recent experience with digital transports, I was one who never felt that they made that big of a difference. A buddy of mine lent me his modified Sony DVD players used as a transport and it really opened my eyes to component modifications. That tranport opened my eyes to how important the source really is in a system.
That being said, having the best AC was also a very important part of my systems sound.
I don't think anyone seriously concerned about sound quality could possibly fail to agree with your four broad categories. Critical, Important, fine-tuning and negligable - the exact order within those categories is perhaps a personal preference.
For me there is no doubt that speakers, recording quality and room acoustics are the top three by far, however, my focus is on the sound quality rather than lots of imposing chrome.
I expect many will disagree with you. Many like a system to look like something - a statement - a work of art - something immediately obvious to even an untrained eye - the Pompidou Centre (internal parts displayed externally in an ostentatious manner). For example; imposing source transports, large arrays of tubes, heavy wires suspended on electrical power isolators will be the most important components of those who want s system to be a statement. A perusal of many virtusal systems here will confirm that these systems often resemble a holy shrine or a kind of place of worship. There is nothing wrong in this and these displays will often influence the perception and mood (critical for music enjoyment - just as the venue of a good restaurant adds to the enjoyment of the food)
As Tom Petty put it "It's good to be king, if just for a while
To be there in velvet, yeah, to give em a smile. Its good to be king and have your own world. Excuse me if I have some place in my mind
Where I go time to time"
For many, I suspect the "audio room and shrine" are indeed a place where an audiophile can go time to time" - the music, system and shrine provide the launchpad to places in the mind.
IMHO your omission of the "critical" impact of a preamp and/or volume control, is typical of this hugely overlooked component.
Like it or not, the signal path must run through some kind of volume control. And the Huge misconception that volume control doesn't enormously effect the OVERALL sound of the system is just that.
This may be the most overlooked and misunderstood area that exist in high end audio today.
Count me in for a disagreement. I place quality of recording in the "neglible" category. I place performance in the critical. A Walter Mahler or a Klemperer Beethoven in scratchy mono will be more satisfying to me than a not-so-inspired latest and greatest with sonic gymnastics. It'a all personal, like ye said.
I have found the preamp to be almost as critical as the speakers in voicing a system. That's about the only change in priority I'd advocate. I think Gs5556 has the right attitude about recording quality. Those that only listen to recordings based on their audiophile attributes miss the purpose of music and music reproduction.
Thank you for your responses to my thread thus far. Amazingly enough, I would agree with all the responses posted to date. I think that I understand the reservations and differences in opinions which might be due to the fact that I did not clearly and precisely explained the subject of my thread. I will do so in the next day or two, also will add some missing items. The objective is not to obtain even a qualitative consensus on the issue (virtually impossible) but to alert newcomers and less experienced hi-fi enthusiasts on what matters the most, what less or very little in creating or upgrading a well balanced, synergistic and musically rewarding stereo system. We need to grow in numbers, voicing opinions, supporting quality in reproduced music, etc. otherwise we might all sink in the "good enough" misery of the convenient but mediocre gear designed for the masses. No question... the MUSIC above all, enjoy. Jerzy
P.S. I recall for this topic to be perennial on many forums, including Audiogon - can anybody help me in finding some of them? One day, I promise, I will post statistically-evaluated list on Audiogon - with some ridiculus or questionable claims (call them outliers) either removed or attached for a record only. However, for statistics to work well we need a large sample, so please contribute your opinions and share your experience generously. JJS
I quite disagree with the notion of saying that this and that component is more important than the other. In my opinion, and experience, the entire system is critical.
What is really important is matching, successfully voicing components together. In this aspect, stuff that you consider less important like cables, power conditioning, vibration isolation and such can be most critical. A cable can make or break any system much in the same way a pre-amp can, or why not room acoustics. The impact of these so-called minor things can really make a system shine, or it can strangle it completely.. :)
Thank you again to everyone who contributed to my thread. I must say that I agree to various extent with the majority of statements in it, or at least, I can relate to some of them or understand the point being made. Despite having both revelant engineering amd musical backgrounds and spending over 35 years in building a progressively better audio system myself, I do not consider myself a guru or even an expert. I just managed to built a system (audio components, room and relevant utilities) which delivers the music rather than just sounds.
My objectives in this thread were to receive a feedback to my concept of proportions and common sense in building the audio system. That is, to obtain, consider and explore other opinions, and fine-tune/improve on my approach as a result. More importantly, in our age of "good enough" and "quantity over quality", I hoped, together with other experienced and concerned participants, to provide (or restore) the proportions in what's important in a sensibly assembled modern audio systems. Many newcomers and young prospective audiophiles who had the curiosity (and courage) to lurk outside of the world of ipods and compressed formats, are getting discouraged, confused or just taken by the marketing hype, claims or statements which are out-of proportion, misleading or plainly false, consequently, leading where implemented to disappontment and feeling of being cheated.
If we, music lovers and audiophiles, could collectively help ourselves and do our best to grow in numbers, by bringing in a new generation of audiophiles, we may avoid situation that in a few years all high-resolution formats will disappear, and in a next few years, the only software available will be the one downlodable via PC in ever "improved" formats which compete with each other to devise a better algorithm to cheat the brain better by removing more than 90% of the musical information and still led someone to believe that he/she is still listening to the MUSIC.
My List differs:
Power.....and placement...room acoustics
In my experiance....the critical objects...make or brake the system.....If the speakers or electronics don't match well....you could set it up in Carnegie hall and it would still sound bad.