Source or speaker

I am reconfirming over and over again something that I discovered awhile back. Get the source right and everything else will follow. I have a system that often outshines what I hear in showrooms, but occasionally I hear something good in one of the shops too and it's because analog is the source.
My speakers can do it all but only when the signal is there.
What has been your experience?
What would you recommend to newbies?
Well, a great source can't fix a limited speaker, but in my budget I've spent way more on sources than on speakers.

My TT cost about the same as my speakers and my digital front end cost three times as much. (You apparently haven't heard good digital yet, as it can compete). Also, I spent as much on cables and ICs as I spent on the speakers.

If someone had $5000 to spend, I'd probably say 20% on speakers, 20% on an integrated amp that works with those speakers, 20% on CDP or digital interface, 20% on TT rig and 20% on cables/ICs. Getting below $5000 I'd eliminate one of the sources and scrimp on IC/cords and add or improve those over time.

I spent about 45% on sources, 33% on the integrated amp, 12% on the speakers and 10% on ICs/cords. However, if I get a bigger room, I could raise the speaker investment to around 40-50% and not need to upgrade any of my other pieces.

My experience has been that digital sources have only minor differences. Solid state electronics (assuming adequate power) practically no differences. Speakers and their interaction with the room can have HUGE differences.

From just a distortion perspective, speakers do several orders of magnitude more damage to the signal that decent electronics. Factor in room interaction and it's a no- brainer where the emphasis needs to be.
Perhaps "when the signal is there," it's the recording, not the playback medium. I find recording quality is far more important than LP or CD.

And speaking of a distortion perspective, consider the contributions of the stylus, cartridge, platter and drive mechanism of a TT. Takes a lot more effort to get it right.
From my experience, admittedly limited to the less than uber expensive realm, you can't polish a dull recording into gleaming beauty by any means. Your ultimate potential is also limited by the weakest link in your audio hardware chain. A speaker system that interfaces well with your listening area is the place to start. Perhaps the lack of that is what makes most equipment demos sound crummy in audio shops and shows. Unlike Bob, I have found significant (to me) differences in solid state gear and digital playback. Certainly not differences of the magnitude you get with speakers though. I do think that room acoustics are the most overlooked aspect. A mid level system in a room with great acoustics is much more satisfying to me than a finely resolving hi end system in a room with poor acoustics.
Let me pile on with Photon46 and disagree with Bob's contention that there's little difference among solid state pieces and among digital pieces. The difference are actually very large.

However, at the lower end of the price range, Bob assertion has more validity.

From just a distortion perspective, speakers do several orders of magnitude more damage to the signal that decent electronics. Factor in room interaction and it's a no- brainer where the emphasis needs to be.

I quite agree - it is a no brainer really. I would certainly NOT recommend to spend as much money on Interconnects/Cables as on the speakers/room acoustic treatments.

Most speakers have $100 wholesale mass produced drivers - you are paying almost entirely for veneer and cabinet work in most cases. Drivers are what actually makes the sound in many $50K+ systems...yes really... several $100 transducers powered by $1000's of wires and 10's of thousands of dollars of source and amplification.

Imagine if just a little more money went into the quality of the speaker drivers and into room design/acoustics instead...a scary thought.
Shadorne, my rooms have all worked without treatment, every place I've lived since 1969. My rooms tend to be carpeted and relatively stuffed with furniture and of relatively large size, so that mitigates my need to treat somewhat. However, the assumption that every room will need treatment does not jive with my personal experience.

My example earlier in this thread had a speaker investment around $1,000. At that price point you can find some very nice designs that use good, off-the-shelf drivers combined with good cabinet and crossover design. A top echelon $1000 speaker with good electronics will easily reveal weaknesses in the cables, ICs and the source.

I think it was on the Stereophile blog where I recently saw a survey of audiophiles. A very high percentage of those responding say that they have between $5000 and $10000 invested in their systems. That's enough money, like my proposed $5000 system, to put together a really revealing and musically satisfying rig. I think that spending $2500 on speakers for such a system and $100 on wire would be a mistake, yet many people would chose to do that.

Thanks for your responses, I guess i must be lucky. My speakers are excellent and room interact as well is excellent.
But what's incredible is how my source upgrades (or crossgrades since i went from blackbird to denon 103r) and also adding all that mass to the turntable made such an improvement in performance!!!
I recently heard a bunch of systems avantgardes included and my system trounces on them. The one system I liked was using analog as source and the speakers were verity fidelios. It may have been the combo, shindo was the pre and power amps. Or the gerrard turntable.
I guess the point here is that the whole system needs to be up to the task and synergy too is important!
Go with speakers and then back to sources as necessary. What's the point of thinking differently?
Build your system around speakers that knock you out.

Then find an amp that matches the speakers.

Everything else will fall into place.
I thought the same.
Speakers first then amp to match,
then preamp that matches amp.
The source should be as good as possible regardless what is downstream.
I am thinking that an excellent source will work with all systems, speakers amps and pre's is this true????
Good point. I agree with picking the speaker first and then adding synergistic components. However, in allocating the budget, I like 20% for each major piece in a base-line system.

I agree with Dave.
I think that spending $2500 on speakers for such a system and $100 on wire would be a mistake, yet many people would chose to do that.

Spending $100 on speaker cable is a mistake when a 10 foot pair of 10 gauge cable runs approximately $20. Sorry, I couldn't resist. :-)

All the best guys.
In my setup my tt, table arm and cartridge is 2 1/2 times as much as the speakers, but with the phono stage its close to three times. My pre and power amps are close to the same price as speakers. Of course it was all found here on gon, but I'm using retail prices.
We are lucky to have this site otherwise I would have half the system.
My intention is to take it to the highest level, but at this point I wouldn't know where to start any changes? I am afraid I'll mess things up.
I probably will get another arm to make it a two arm table, and then play with cartridges. Also preamps and power amps I can swap and see what happens. But I will not sell anything off unless I find the sound better!
Any suggestions????????
Pedrillo, are you listening in mono and stereo? If yes, then the two arm TT makes lots of common sense; otherwise, you're a "reviewer" comparing various cartridges, etc. That's actually fine and can be fun. I just wanted to be sure where you're at in this hobby. ;-)

Clearly, we hear differently.

I hear major differences between one room and another, one concert hall and another....others don't.

I hear major differences between one speaker and another....others don't.

I hear only subtle differences between digital sources and amplifiers....others hear major differences.

I rarely hear any difference at all between one interconnect and another or one cable and another...others hear major differences.

The end result is that we invest differently in our systems.

For example, I doubt I could hear the difference of suspending my amplifier from the ceiling with bungee cords...perhaps I have tin ears (probably true).
Think about what the various parts of a system have to do. Your speakers are the link that moves, or tansduces, the information from an electrical information to sound mechanical information (driver movement) to sound information. This transduction between ways of 'displaying' the information brings in all sorts of subjectivity and problems with comparative measurements. The speakers (an of course the room acoustics) perform a function that can only be tested as to accuracy by going back to the original performance from which the information was obtained. All other parts of the system are in one environment where each stage (whether an internal amplification stage, input and output of a switch, or from one box (such as a preamp) to another (such as an amp) can be tested for accuracy with methods and measurement resolution that swamps any noticable differences. As to working with a digital source - the only movement you have there, still in an electrical enviroment, is from the digital word to the analog equivalent. Again, what makes digital so advantageous is noise immunity and that the resolution as far as audio swamps noticable differences in the conversion from digital to analog. As to cables and interconnects - this is of so little consequence (assuming you aren't connecting everything with corroded #28 wire) as to not warrant attention - as someone as stated - just buy large wire. So, in short - the speaker and the room are pretty much the place to put efforts and money. One thing I have always wondered - we often start with the idea that a flat response across the audio freq range in a given room and true representation of the signal give us the the desired outcome. However, we do not take into account our own transducers - the physiology. Not really an issue if one has "normal" hearing. But for persons over 50 years old or who have been exposed to acoustic trauma (including live music at 120 db for hours). Seems like the ideal to get the information into our heads would be to start with audiometric testing, thus obtaining where the individual had db loss (i.e. perhaps 10 db down at 4000 hz, 20 db down at 8000 Hz. normal below 4000 Hz. etc) and then using appropriate attenuators to create what would be for that individual a flat or accurate response. Just a thought. But until then - money is best spent on speakers not digial sources. If you want to try it yourself do blind A/B tests at a showroom between the cheap model digital source and the one that costs 5 times as much- this likely will be discouraged by most salesman - I have heard " Oh our switching gear is not very good and you won't be able to hear the difference here in the showroom" Interesting.
I just thought I should post that I never determined whether hanging the amp with bungee chords made any difference. But the turntable I say no contest.
And the speakers too I prefer suspended, but I never quantified that.
I don't pretend to have discovered anything new or the tweak of the century, but I am hoping some day after comparative testing to say "hey I was on the right track".
As for now I am very happy with what I have and am wondering if I can take it further.
I just thought I should post that I never determined whether hanging the amp with bungee chords made any difference.

Glad to hear you didn't find an audible improvement - perhaps my ears aren't so bad after all. I get the impression from many posts extolling rather odd/extreme tweaks that I must simply have tin ears.
This whole notion of hearing differences is an interesting topic to me. For the more engineering types among us, we look for quantifiable/reproducible measurements as an explanation. I read a paper by Ethan Winer (Real Traps) suggesting that since frequency response changes with even minor changes in measuring location, that unless your head is in a vice, it's likely you'll hear some differences between gear. Seems plausible to me.

I'm not a critical listener at all -- it takes way to much effort -- so I have much broader categories of goodness. When gears sounds pretty much the same to me I rely on theory as the deciding factor. So I choose balanced lines over unbalanced, not because I've heard an earth shaking difference between the two, but because in theory balanced lines provide CM noise rejection that unblanced doesn't. Obviously, this approach isn't for everyone.

Good point. In a way it all often amounts to "insurance".

If your engineering minded then XLR balanced "insures" you a better sound because you know it has theoretically better noise rejection and immunity from RF/EM. In reality RCA is often so good that you cannot hear a practical difference except in extreme conditions - long runs or a rats nest of components in a huge rack. The same can be said for "thermal compression" or "jitter" - the more technical specters that conjure fear in the hearts of technically minded. In the case of thermal compression - you have to play LOUD before it even becomes an issue.

For those less engineering minded then almost any tweak can seem like "insurance"- a magic pebble or a cable elevator. Provided there are a few people who swear by the tweak then seeds of doubt grow into monsters of our "Hi-Fi Id". These insurance tweaks are the preferred route to anxiety over our precious systems. In essence, nothing ever kills the Id monsters (of our subconscious fears) - so we just keep on tweaking and buying and upgrading...

Engineers or non-engineering minded, ultimately I think we are all mostly driven by dark fear or insecurities that we are not quite getting the utmost from our systems...and clever marketing folks pray on these fears.

Ultimately, our deepest subconscious desires and fears conjure invisible Monsters of the ID as depicted in Forbidden Planet and many art forms (Shakespeare's Tempest). Essentially our deepest desires lead to fears which subconsciously drive us in directions to fight them (whether we know it or not).

"The Krell forgot one thing: monsters from the id." -- Warren Stevens (as Doc Ostrow), Forbidden Planet
All intersting points!
I finally got my system to sound right so it's easy for me to say to others still improving their systems to forget all those tweaks and just sit back and enjoy. But I can easily say that NOW because I am already there.
As for those who have not finished tuning their system to the room and matching components to other components and incorporating tweaks I say those things deserve attention and those tweaks may very well be necessary. I know for certain the tweaks I incorporated into my system matter. Especially those on my turntable and tonearm. Also the speakers being suspended from the ceiling!
How I got my sytem to sound right (to me of course) was mostly out of luck. Sure I did alot of research, but I still could have gone a different direction and that would have changed everything. It's mostly about synergy and room interaction and getting the source right. Also the isolation though I cannot say conclusively the suspension is making a difference in every application that I applied it to like the amplifier, though it wouldn't surprise me if even there it is making a difference. The turntable is a no brainer, the phono stage and preamp too I would be willing to bet are making a difference.
So I still say even though the speakers matter so much, the source has to be right because nothing in the world can correct a bad source! My system improved tremendously when I was tweaking my source. I still can do more but am in no rush.
"Build your system around speakers that knock you out.

Then find an amp that matches the speakers.

Everything else will fall into place."

Audiofeil says it well....and correctly.
I'll third Audiofeil.
How I got my sytem to sound right (to me of course) was mostly out of luck.

Great point. You can take the totally random luck approach or you can take Bill's advice. I fourth Audiofeil!
Speaker first. Audition speakers at your house and commit lots of time evaluating them. Make sure you listen to various types of speakers (box sealed, box ported, OB, planar, high efficient, low efficient, one/two/three/etc. drivers, sat/sub, etc.) As you form your opinion make sure you like it at the volumes you'll typically play and can listen to it with most (if not all) of your recordings for long periods of time without fatigue. Then as time goes on you can improve your source if necessary or you just get itchy.
Shardorne did I step on your toes?
Shardorne did I step on your toes?

Not at all - just poking fun ;-)

I simply tried to follow your own logic at the start of the thread. Either you built your system around your source ("get the source right and everything follows") or as you stated further down it was "mostly luck"??

Bill's advice to newbies is to start with speakers that you really like and go from there. I agree with this philosophy that is all. Frankly, I'd hazard a guess that it was actually not "mostly luck" for you, as you have an excellent pair of speakers!
Your good!
You picked up on those merlins.
Actually I have been hearing good things about your atc's as well.
There are so many brands to choose from and most have a fan base. I could easily have chosen a different brand after reading the fan's praises of those other brands.
But it so happened to be that I stumbled across the merlins by chance before even reading praises from the big loyal fan base merlin has. So it's not all luck, but luck that they came my way.
While the other choices were made based on researching the forum here, which I am grateful that we have except for the few ball busters now and then;~)
Another confirmation to what Audiofeil said. The speakers and our ears is where the magic happens.
To add to what Audiofeil said:

Yes, the speakers first along with matching amplification, but remember that transducers (speakers, cartridge, DAC) have the greatest impact on the sound b/c they are transforming information from one form to another (digital to analog, electrical to sound, analog movement to analog electrical) and this transduction has to be the hardest thing to accomplish properly.
Who's this Audiofeil guy?;~)
Well I thought I should elaborate a little on what I had posted as a Thread.
I agree to what oh holy AUDIOFEIL said, but I see that when taking a system to a higher level, after favorite speakers have been discovered as in my case(love my Merlins) that no matter how good the speakers are if the source stinks it will show in playback. I don't think I am alone when I suggest that more money should be devoted to the source.
I am willing to bet and this has been debated earlier and no I am not looking to argue, but I am willing to bet that given two systems of equal value but one in which more is spent on speakers and the other on source that the more expensive source one will be more pleasing.
I am at that state where I am convinced the merlins are magical, and it's more apparent as I improve the source. They did not sound as good before many of the upgrades. In the end I still say speakers should be chosen before amp and preamp. But I believe the source is the reason spectacular systems sound the way that they do.
If there was a shoot out between one excellent source versus one excellent set of speakers, and other brands of lessor value were brought in to replace one at a time the speaker and then the source, which will prove to be a greater contributor to an excellent system the speaker or source?
I am not sure if the outcome would be consistent.
I am just saying that to build a great system one must get the source right, because if it's not nothing will correct it!(obvious) But as we all know everything has to be right the pre and power amps the cables the room bla bla bla. I am sure we are all on the same page. IMHO
But I believe the source is the reason spectacular systems sound the way that they do.

If by source you include the quality of the actual recording then there is no doubt that a good recording is a also a huge factor. Variability in recording quality is close to being on par with speakers/room acoustics...
"If by source you include the quality of the actual recording "
Yes of course quality of the recording is included, but if the component cannot extract all the nuances what good is an excellent recording. The turntable arm cartridge or dac and digital transport must be up to snuff.
I have seen over and over here on gon and in the magazines mention of experienced audiophiles hearing a recording they're familiar with for the first time correctly when sourced from a top grade system. That's why turntables are constantly being upgraded.