Speaker priority: high or low???

I have been reading the threads here for some time and following many of the discussions. During an interchange with another well known AudiogoNer we were commenting on peoples tastes and priorities. The discussion turned to speakers and he made the comment "many people on AudiogoN still think that speakers are the most important piece of the system." I was floored by his statement.
I'm not trying to start a fight with anyone and people can see what I have previously posted about this and other subjects, BUT are there still a lot of people that share this opinion?
Do you think the most important componant is your speakers? If not, what do you consider to be the most important? Why do you place so much emphasis on this componant?
Most important is synergy between all the components, followed by the interaction of the room. I've found everything matters.

The amplifier is the most important and by a wide margin. Why? Based on my experience, most amplifiers do much more than just amplify the signal. And that's almost never a good thing. In addition, it appears that most amplifiers will only excel in one or two parts (if at all) of the frequency spectrum (bass, mid, or treble) and not do so well in the other part(s).

In addition, I'm a firm believer that a great amp can made bad speakers sound very good. But never will a great pair of speakers sound good when paired with a bad amp.

I believe that there are more character differences and greater deficiencies amongst amplifiers than any other component.

I sit here playing lp's through my herron phono stage equiped with some new cryro tubes from Brendan at Tubeworld, in dis-belief. Paul is correct, it all matters. The problem is that you just need to sell your cars and kids to play this game. I am down to 2 kids now, I will miss the Honda.
I agree with Stehno for the most part. You need look no further than the Stereophile review of the $250 pair of B&W DM302 speakers. They hooked them up to a real high end system and could not believe how good they sounded. Any speaker regardless of how low the price, that does not have any big design flaws, will sound great hooked up to a great amplifier.

You will not get the same results connecting an $8,000 pair of B&W Nautilus 802 (or any similar speaker) to an inexpensive amplifier. Not even close.
Common Audio Sense -- (Apparently) A Minority Perspective

To say that the transducer is the most important part of a system is understatement.

I would wager that most of us would have little problem in identifying speaker "A" over speaker "B" from two rooms away. I would also wager that those of us who believe that the amplifer is what molds the sound of a system would not be able to consistently determine the differences between or identify one quality transistor amp from another in a controlled double blind --- or to conssistently diifferentiate between one high quality tube amplifer and another under the above described conditions. This position, of course, assumes that the amplifiers measure well and are of the same approximate wattage and current ratings as well as input sensitivities.

System synergy? I don't deny it exists. However, all too often it is a euphemism for the equivalent of an equalizer. That is "compensating," for example, for an overly bright forward sounding speaker with a polite and rolled off tube amplifier.

On a more positive note, I do agree, in part, with Beemer. The room is very important and sometimes the only way to upgrade is to move. ;>

To me, the question was not, "Which component can you get away with spending the least on, speakers or amplifier, and still get acceptable sound?" To be fair, I'll state for the record that I personally feel the best price ratio concerning amps-to-speakers is in reality close to the 50/50 neighborhood in most cases, give or take 25%. I believe audiophiles in general are a little more susceptible to taking a rather perverse glee in describing systems to the unititiated, wherein $250 speakers are made magical by being hooked up to $10,000 amplifiers, than is truthfully speaking healthy or flattering to our credibility with the masses. And the first problem with such claims is that an audiophile should not even be looking to spend as little as $250 on speakers. My proposed ratio only begins to make sense for audiophiles when it regards speakers in the lowest price range they should probably be considering, roughly the $750-$1,000 neighborhood new (if you need less, well, that's why they invented Audiogon).

It is true that after reaching a certain level of speaker performance, amp differences may continue to be appreciated as one moves on up their price scale, while it's also true that after reaching a certain level of amp performance, speaker differences as one moves on up their price scale may begin to place demands on that amplifier which it isn't capable of adequately responding to. But it should be kept in mind that at the ultimate end of the price scale, it is still more difficult and costly to build a speaker which is capable of most fully and accurately responding to the input signal it's fed under any conditions, than it is to build an amplifier capable of most fully and accurately responding to the input signal it's fed under any conditions. (In other words, the amp will always be able to fill this brief more easily and closely than the speaker.) And that is why most speaker designs don't attempt to fully do so in the first place.

But getting back to the original question - Which is the most important component in a system? - Beemer is in truth absolutely right. However, if you look at the question as instead asking which single component of the system has the most *influence* over what the perceived sound of the system will be like, then I think the honest answer is, was, and probably always will be still the speakers. (That is, after the source material!)
Perhaps we arent audiophiles because we dont believe that everything matters and snicker a little every time we see the word "synergy," but many many people think that speakers are the most important component in an audio system. This is because those of us who hold to this belief have not found very many speakers to like, understanding as I say this that there are thousands of hi-fi speakers out there - they all sound different from one another - and they all have their fans.

I would be content with an inexpensive amplifier like a NAD and a pair of Harbeth speakers, but I could not live with a $10,000 amp and a pair of B&W 302s (or even comparably priced AE Aegis Ones, which I actually like). I am not alone. But most people who agree with me do not frequent this site.

Assuming a certain minimum level of competence, good amplifiers are not hard to find. Most competently reproduce and transmit the signal they are fed - even though they may have some character as opposed to complete neutrality, it is not nearly the kind of character speakers have. Speakers are another story. Most are afflicted with a variety of colorations. They do not have flat frequency responses and their designers rarely know how to account for the inevitable interactions with real life listening rooms. Then there is the material coloration some people hear from almost all dynamic drivers (e.g., those made of paper, polypropylene or metal).

To put it simply, if you believe that flat frequency response and low distortion matters, you should be inclined to believe that speakers are more important because they have the greatest deviations from flat response and the most distortion. If you believe that those measurements do not matter (for example you like tube amps that do not have flat responses), then you might be inclined to think that amps are more important.

I also agree with Beemer. It is not just 1 piece that makes a system, it is how all pieces work together. Spend $5000 on an amp, $5000 on speakers, and $200 on a cd player or $200 on a turntable cartridge, you get crap. An amplifier nor speakers will not make a bad source component sound good. I have heard other people discuss that the most important piece of equipment is the source object itself, be it a cartridge, cd player, dvd player, etc.... A nice amplifier will amplify crap to louder crap. Hook up a pair of NHT superzeros to a Levinson or Classe monoblock amp and you will not get any more low end than hooking these speakers to a smaller integrated amp.
Just a note, Paul: It is not tube amplifiers that do not have flat response within the audioband - most do, as do amps in general. It is some speakers possessing uneven or reactive electrical impedance characteristics that will display slight deviations from flat response when driven by tube amplifiers, or by some SS amplifiers that eschew high levels of loop negative feedback in their designs.
I believe the room, speakers, amps, etc. direction of priorities is the way to go. I feel that the room and speakers need to work as one. In as much as you may like the sound of a speaker at a dealers, they may sound awful in another room. It's almost an electro-mechanical interaction. Speakers need the right amplification to perform properly. Personally I think speakers should be sold with outboard crossovers preceding appropriate amplification.I also find that speakers tend have the greatest variation in sound. This indicates to me that speakers are perhaps the most colored component in the chain. It's important that you find speakers with colorizations that offend you the least. I always find it interesting when I see post's asking for help choosing speakers around a particular amp. To me that would be like choosing an automobile to use with a particular gasoline. Now if you only had leaded low test available, that might make sense. I doubt that many have such an issue. Another cliche' we often see is "garbage in, garbage out". As far as I'm concerned, if you contaminate the system chain at any point you'll have garbage out. Just my humble opinion, to each his or her their own. We all find our own path to happiness.
No system can ever sound better than the limitations of the "upstream" components. Since speakers are at the very end of the chain, though they may serve as tone controls, they can NEVER improve the signal passed to them.
I too am going to weigh in on the speaker end, with the provisos that (1) you do have to reach a certain level of amplifier and source performance, which varies from one individual to the next depending on what you can tolerate, and (2) really disparate levels of spending on source/amplification/speakers are bound to lead to a worse result than an intelligent distribution.

Having said that, there is absolutely no question that speakers have by far the biggest deviations and distortions from perfection, that is, they color the original signal far more than any other component, usually by several orders of magnitude! And the worst types of offenses are just "passed over" by the reviewers, e.g., a total lack of time or phase coherence, massive impedance and phase anomalies which put tremendous demands on the amplifier, highly inconsistent diffraction and dispersion patterns, etc. It's as if the reviewers take the attitude that "everyone does it, so it must be okay"! It's not even close to okay, it's just that very few speaker designers have tried to seriously address these issues.

I will make an even bolder statement: If you assembled a system of decent components including a typical 3-way rectangular-box speaker with a typical high-order multiway crossover, and then took a short sample of a complex musical signal and studied it all the way through the chain, it would remain largely intact until it reached the speakers, at which point it would instantly transform into a waveform that is literally nearly unrecognizable compared to the original. Of course, I could be proved wrong, but I doubt it. If anyone has done this, I would love to see a reference to it.

Please do not accuse me of suggesting that measurements are all that matter. I am merely suggesting that screwing up the waveform to such a degree that it hardly bears any resemblance to the original, cannot possibly be a good thing. There is a reason that full-range electrostatics sound so good, and it is that they avoid most of the problems I just mentioned. Of course, they have a whole new set of problems, most of which revolve around unsolvable room interactions, which is why most people don't put up with them.

So while I'm not saying that one should spend more money on speakers than anything else, I am saying that they have the most variability and thus deserve the most effort in searching for one that satisfies.
Yes, David, you are right. The speaker cannot "improve" the signal presented to it. As I understand it, what Karls, Unsound and others have said (more ably than I) is that the speaker is the component that is least linear and most apt to impart its "sonic signature." There are clearly demonstrable, relatively gross (objectively and subjectively) differences between speakers. There are not such gross, subjectively and objectively demonstrable differences, for example, between a $500 CD player and a $2,000 CD player. A pair of AR3s is going to sound like a pair of AR3s with $20,000 worth of electronics and will sound like a pair of AR3s with $1,000 worth of electronics. --- The identifiable "quadness" of a pair of ELS 57s will remain regardless of the electronics. A bad amp may muddy the midbass, and present unacceptable colorations to the revealing midrange of the quad. And to be a bit hyperbolic: a deaf man would not mistake the AR3s for the Quads regardless of the electronics used with either or both.
Speakers are much more than "tone controls". They are the imperfect acoustic interface for all the "upstream" components. They are electrical-mechanical transducers with high mass and relatively large nonlinearities and other distortions compared to the electronic components in the system. Even with relatively "low-fi" electronic components, speakers are usually the most limiting factor in an audio system. Consequently, only with better speakers can you take fuller advantage of upgrades made elsewhere in the system.
Now, I am just a fat little boy who works for a cheese company, but in my experience, I can live (and sometimes quite well) with lesser speakers, if they are driven with better electronics. The reverse is not true. My main system is posted. I have swapped out my main speakers (5 driver tri-wired) for Warfdale Diamond 6's (2 way, single run, $149 a pair)(I admit, they have been modified). Once they were setup properly, the Warfdale speaker gave me most of what the main speakers do, with the exception of the lower registers.
If the truth be known, I fall into the Beemer camp of balanced systems, but I am willing to play. I would be much more inclined to live with speakers that were designed with some trade-offs and no glaring errors, as opposed to something better that revealed more of the trade-offs up-stream.
Again, this is just me.
Speakers come first. Then tweak / upgrade the sound with better amplifier.

Of course you can't take this too far because ultra-revealing speakers will show upstream component's faults.

Amplification is hard to explain. The differences are subtle but bad amplification can be very wearing over time.
I never considered the "Speakers are the most important because they are the most flawed" philosophy. There is merit to this.

Squidboyw (Is he really fat?) throws the interesting spanner into the works. Comments like this have been made in the past. Is it possible they are without merit? I did not hear his experiment so I cannot comment with any credibility about the results. If he really heard that level of quality from his admittedly modified Wharfdale Diamonds what does this say about our pursuit of the perfect speaker?

I have long had the opinion that in a balanced system the speakers are the least important componant. This is obviously not to say that speakers are not important. There is no sound without them, although there is no sound without any other componant. I may have to rethink my conclusion but I doubt I will change my mind.

I'm am not an engineer so I actually know little about speaker design. Is it really that hard to design a speaker without major flaws and compromises? Just like amplifiers, there are so many designs and philosophies behind the speakers. Stereophile commented several years ago when when two very popular amplifiers of extremely different design came out that "If one these amplifiers is right than the other must be wrong." The problem was they both sounded great to their reviewer. I think they were a Krell and a Jolida, not that it matters.

So anyway should speakers be moved up on the list of priorities or are they where they should be?
Nrchy, besides having to have compatability with associated cables and electronics, speakers have the distinction of having to have compatability with the room.
I have always been in the "source is most important" camp. I have had excellent results with my systems using that format, and expect to continue in that vein. I definitely consider speakers to be important, but the source is where its at. When you can bring more music into the system, it is amazing what comes out the other end. I would never buy expensive speakers if I didn't already have my source maximized. I, like Squiddy, have had very enjoyable systems where the speakers were quite modest, but the source, and amps, made them play to their maximum capability, and they sounded alot more like high end speakers than many would have believed. I used to back up a pair of Linn Kans with $7500 worth of source/electronics when I lived in an apartment, and believe me, they didn't sound like what you would expect from a $795 pair of mini-monitors.
2 different questions here. Which is most important (and the question above was re amps and speakers not source and speakers). If you dont think speakers are more important than amps, then you havent been paying attention. But that's ok, enjoy yourself and dont worry about what anyone else thinks.

Second question, which component should you spend the most money on? Different question. It could be, in theory, that cost-based and market economics make speakers a better buy among hi-fi components than amps or cd players, so you dont have to spend as much to get good speakers as something else.

My fellow Harbeth user, Professor Greene, who writes reviews of speakers for TAS, has recommended in TAS and elsewhere to spend most of your money on speakers and dont spend much on cd players or amps. He wrote a review of the late $2200 or so Carver Lightstar II amp, designed by our mutual friend Jim Carver, calling it a perfect amp. To Dr. Greene, that means don't bore me with any other discussions of amps. He would recommend the Harbeth Monitor 40 speakers, about $7500 list I think. For my needs, the Harbeth Compact 7, $2500 list, is a better fit, regardless of price. That's my favorite speaker, so that's all I need to spend on speakers. Now, because I think speakers are more important than amps, should I necessarily spend less for an amp?

Depends on how much good amps go for. (I think the answer is yes, I can get a real good amp for a lot less.)

The other issue, which wasnt the subject of this thread, should I spend less for a source component, like a cd player, than for my speakers because I think speakers are more important? Dr. Greene would say yes because he doesnt perceive a great deal of difference in the latest cd players. I actually spent more for my number 1 cd player than for my speakers because that's what I had to pay for the cd player I liked. If I were in the market today for a cd player, I'd probably spend less because inexpensive cd players have gotten a lot better.

So, if you are in the market and asking this question for a usefull purpose, I still think the answer is spend as much as you can to get the speakers you like, then figure out what to do with whatever money you have left to spend. If you have a lot of money left over and you end up spending more for your amp or source, then the hi-fi industry thanks you.
Some speaker problems cannot be fixed no matter how great the amp / CDP are. For example:
Box-induced colorations of the Spendor 1/2.
Lack of bass in B&W 303's.
Ringing in Virgo III's.
Lack of correct harmonics in Revel M-20's.

Also I've never heard people say they can't hear differences between speakers but people have made that statement with CDP and power amps.

That said, I can appreciate why people place high priority on CDP and amps but generally find the differences less noticeable to speaker differences.
Paul isn't your mutual friend actually named BOB Carver. How good a friend is he that you don't know his name.
In regard to your question; it was never amps vs. speakers. I would be more inclined to ask: Speakers vs. front-end? With this stated I still think amps are more important than speakers.
One of the reasons I did not subscribe to TAS is the utter delusion under which they (Harry Pearson and his priests to the worship of Harry) live. If this dr. green actually said what you quote I would respond with a little surprise and a lot of disappointment. His conclusions are unreasonable but since logic is nolonger thaught in school any twit can spout his foolishness and have it considered just as valuable as a reasoned conclusion.
What are the speakers going to add to the music that was not retrieved from the source or translated to the speakers? I just don't get it.
What speakers can and do "add to the music that was not retrieved from the source or translated to the speakers", is the problem. Furthermore they can also subtract from "the music that was not retireved from the source or translated to the speakers. Worst of all they usually do both in a rather chaotic fashion.
Nrchy, no, Im sorry, I mistyped. It's Jim Croft, who worked for Carver. He is also a Harbeth user. Somewhere above I got the impression that amps v. speakers was the main point of the thread, but I see in your original post you did ask about other components. I think many reasonable people think that the source is equally or maybe even more important than speakers.

What are speakers going to add? That's just the point. Speakers add frequency response variations and distortion, including material colorations in dynamic drivers, while amps can be made to transmit a perfectly flat low distortion signal.

Some people reason from sound empirical evidence, e.g., repeatable and verifiable tests and measurements, and listening by ears trained over decades of playing musical instruments, listening to live performances, and in-depth auditioning of hi-fi components.

Others form their conclusions from reading ad copy in the guise of mass market reviews or listening to salespeople or other consumer goods fans as ignorant of relevant facts as they are.
You wrote earlier today: "What are the speakers going to add to the music that was not retrieved from the source or translated to the speakers? I just don't get it."

Are you playing Devil's Advocate and trying to stir the pot, or do you REALLY "just don't get it."? As Unsound explained, speakers commit both sins of omission and sins of commission. A sin of omission is a "forgivable" transgression. For example a speaker may do a credible, or even an outstanding job reproducing the midrange and the top end as well as the mid-bass but may have no information under, say 50 Hz. On the other hand a speaker may "add" colorations and distortions which make it difficult to tell the difference between a guitar and a dobro, a guitar and a lute, a violin and a viola, etc. A speaker may be "tilted up" in the upper midrange and present an aggravating, ultimately unlistenable signal which causes listener fatigue.

I trust that you mispoke yourself when using the phrase/concept of what does a speaker add. It implies that the upstream components ADD something to the signal. (And that ADDING someting to the signal is a good thing!) The designer's goal and the music lovers bliss is a component that does NOT add ANYTHING to the signal. A component that reproduces the original source with sufficient accuracy to look good on a graph and, more importantly, to "suspend disbelief" of the music lover and transport music lover......to the music is what we look for.
Hey, I've got a topic for debate - How many audiophiles does it take to screw a 'question' into the ground?
I also know no one who would buy a $10K amp for their $250 speakers. That was not the point; was just using extremes to make mine and Stehno's. I am amazed it got such a huge response.

Interesting though that I do know folks who try to buy high dollar speakers to go with their hifi receiver. It is fun to listen to them try to convince themselves that it sounds good.

As usual, your post is very well written and well thought-out. I enjoy your posts quite a bit.

Something you wrote made my one eyebrow go up:

"There is a reason that full-range electrostatics sound so good, and it is that they avoid most of the problems I just mentioned. Of course, they have a whole new set of problems, most of which revolve around unsolvable room interactions, which is why most people don't put up with them."

Could you elaborate on the "unsolvable room problems" of full-range electrostats? I confess to being biased in favor of full-range dipoles, so I'm curious to know what your observations are.


Cloudgif, if I may jump in here and address your point of "adding" things to the music, my point(and I think Nate's as well) is that the speakers cannot add any more to the musical signal that will create more music. They can add colorations and distortion, and other things, and subtract things also. But they cannot make the musical signal have more integrity and truthfulness, than the signal that they are fed. The best that they can do, is to faithfully reproduce it perfectly, which is almost never the case. But some do an admirable job within their design limitations. Some speakers do a better job than others, and this is where the argument for better speakers is appropriate. But they cannot overcome an earlier loss in the signal chain, no matter how good they are. Therefore, in the order of importance, the earlier components rate higher. You must first get the signal to the speaker in an accurate form, preserving as much of the source info as possible, and amplifiying it properly for your speakers to use. If the proper signal gets to the speakers, and they don't do what they are supposed to do, then it is time for new speakers.
I do not disagree with any part of your comment. We may disagree as to whether or not multi-thousand dollar digital source components produce a signal that is appreciably different (either objectively or subjectively---in a controlled test environment----) than the signal from a modestly priced digital source. Your main point that a speaker, no matter how good, is not going to "overcome an earlier loss in the signal chain" is right on. On the other hand an excpetonally transparent and quick speaker with outstanding macro & micro dynamics will reveal low level information and nuance that are present in the signal but which are not audible through a lesser speaker. Thanks for your thoughts, explinations and diplomacy.
Am I understanding this right? Speakers are less important because they can't add to the musicality of the the sound. Are you suggesting that the upstream components are adding musicality to the sound? Or is it that subtractions at the end of the stream are less important than the ones at the begining? Is this the new math? I would think the net result would be the same. Unless one has a perfect room is using digital room correction I can't help but think the the most egregious subtraction from sonic integrity is at the last link in our systems; speaker to room.
Tom and Cloudgif, I agree with both of your conclusions. Tom must have gotten home from work earlier than I. It sucks to work for a living.
Although I have to take exception to Cloudgif's comments about digital sources. Every digital source I have ever owned sounded different from the one before. Regardless of how one might argue that the pieces have nearly the same parts inside the differences are huge when it comes to sound. The point might be moot since Tom and I are firmly entrenched in the vinyl camp.
I am not as has been discussed by Squidboy suggesting we own $40,000 worth of electronics but we use $250 speakers. Which is also not what he was suggesting.
My point form the outset was that speakers are no bigger a priority than any other part of the whole and I wondered if people still went by the misguided suggestion that 50% of the cost of ones system be spent on speakers.
As I glance over my shoulder I see that I probably spent 50% of my total cost on my turntable/arm/cartridge/phono section. This, I would suggest is how 50% should be spent, but that's a whole new controversy.
Unsound, my main point was that the source item is responsible for bringing into the system whatever amount of music is going to be played. A better source item can cause more musical information to enter the system. Then, it is up to the amplification chain to preserve as much of that information as possible, while doing the job of amplifying. The speakers are to emit this information as well as possible, given their capabilities and the conditions in the room. My point was not to minimize the importance of speakers, but to point out the importance of the earlier items in the chain, in doing the job needed to make the speakers work at their best. The earlier items, after all, are the things that make the speakers do what they do. Without the earlier items, the speakers could not work at all. Of course, the amp will not work without the speakers either. But, I was not talking about simply losses in the amp chain, I was also referring to the increases of valid musical information that can only be gotten from a better source piece, by retrieving more music from whatever type of disc one might be using. This is what I was meaning by my statements. The speakers can appear to be increasing the information, but the are not really doing that. The better speaker is simply able to reproduce more, and better, of what is already there. But if the source item left the detail info on the disc, there is no hope of reproducing it.
Twl, no argument here. Well said.
Hello again all:

This is really kind of pitiful. What kind of poor excuses for opinionated machismo are we, when the best we can do is to pretty much agree with each other?

I think I'll go slip my Veritas into a groove. And groove.

Thanks to all of you for the party.

Cliff, any significance to the fact that you end this dialog with a remark about your Veritas???
It really depends on where you are in your system evolution. If a person is just starting out, then money loaded into speakers encourages him/her the most, because where that person is at, that expenditure is usually seen as 1) economically justified and 2)musically justified.

That said, it also depends on the person in the above beginning scenario; if they've had extensive exposure to your more advanced system and wouldn't be satisfied and are more attuned to the deficencies we all know, then spread the money out more, distributing quality up and down the line looking for a balance in quality, a slice of what could come, a slice of what you have.

On more advanced systems, of course, everything becomes important, but the skill of balancing becomes most important. And, particularly, towards spatial and harmonic factors. This usually leads towards tweeking at the front end. With that said, however, simply because advanced systems end up spending a lot of time on TT's doesn't necessarily mean that that is the most "important", just where, at that point, the most increases in quality become most apparent.

When designing a system, and some of you will think I'm crazy, I've found starting with the preamp (never a passive) and working outward is the easiest (less having to turn around and fix a sound problem)and results in the most musical sound, while also leaving the most places to expand musically (space and harmonic considerations). IMHO, the preamp is the fulcrum of a system. Then again, just because it may yield better long-term results, to work out from a pre doesn't necessarily mean it is the most "important".

It is a balance and depends where you are and what you want. Bad speaker choice, however, is terminal.
Asa I don't know how I missed your comments here. I like your starting point and actually used a very similar approach.
Once I thought I had the pre-amp at the appropriate quality level I pursued other things. I tended toward the front end and have now worked my way back to my speakers.
The speakers I own now are by far the weakest link in the chain, but I still am amazed by how good they sound. They will be replaced later this year.
At the most though their cost will only be 20-25% of the cost of my whole system. Call me crazy!
I'm with Asa. If you get a speaker that has only errors of omission, and a good pre (I like the fulcrum analogy), you can then upgrade source and amplifier and get a significant improvement in sound. I have posted before, "modest speakers with great electronics will (almost) always sound better than great speaker with modest electronics. On my most recent system, I worked from the pre-amp out in both directions (new DAC, then speakers, then amp). Now I am going back to seeing if a new pre-amp will have a significant impact, now that my front end and speakers are up where I want them. Of course, this is not true if the speakers have fundemental flaws. And while it may not be realistic, I would much rather listen to a Levinson with the Superzeros, than Soundlabs driven by a Technics (maybe that's not quite fair, how about Soundlabs driven by a Creek).
I've been around the hi-end biz for 20 years now, and easily say that THE SPEAKERS ARE INDEED THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THE ELECTONICS CHAIN IN REPECT TO SOUND QUALITY!
You buy the speakers first, then add the gear to match them! Anything else is backwards!
I've heard many many ultra hi end tweeky systems with poor speaker chioces, which sound poor. But you can get a fantastic speaker to sound at least very good with very low end gear conversely!
If you don't have the speaker, the sound will never excel.
Sooooooo many people, for some reason, fixate on the gear, and think of the speakers as an after-thought!..this is backwards. You find the speaker that's right for your situation, then compliment the gear.
I laugh when people tell me they bought this cool receiver, dvd player, and power conditioner, and then they say "now I need some speakers to go with em!!!
....to all who doubt that the speakers aren't number one on the gear chain, just spend the next 20 years of your life in the audio video business, and then you'll know...
Foreverhifi, that doesn't make any sense! You mean to tell me I can use a cheap CDP or TT, get only a portion of the signal off of the CD or LP. Then use inferior quality electronics to transfer the signal the source did not retrieve from the CD or LP but have it sound better when it gets to the speakers than a good CDP or TT that retrieves more of the signal and tranports it to average speakers.
It seems fairly easy to understand that a good CD or LP played on a good TT or CDP will recover more of the signal and transfer it through better electronics (which will degrade the signal less) to an average pair of speakers providing better sound quality.
Speakers will never sound better than the signal provided to them. The idea of good speakers reproducing an inferior quality signal sounding great is impossible unless the listener has lowered thier standards to a great degree.
I would much rather own great electronics and average speakers than great speakers and average electronics. The former system will always sound better than the latter.
Spent plenty of time in the audio business, and I totally disagree with speakers being the most important part in the chain. Maybe they are the most important part of the mid-fi business chain, but not the audio system chain.
I think the proof is in the pudding when David Wilson demo'd his new Sophias on a $600 parasound amp to awe of the crowd---the crowd thought it was the spectral 360s, when it was the parasound under the table cloth really driving the speakers.
I say speakers. I ran a trainload of electronics through my Boston Acoustics without noticing any real change. The last front end I got for the Bostons was a Sony ES that sounded a lot like the other players that preceded. I got it because over a hundred audio reviewers five starred it, and my previous one had broken.

Then I got a speaker that was a whole lot more revealing than the Bostons. In short order, I found out what crap all my five star equipment was. Out went the Sony right away. Next was the B&K, then the Bryston. I tried tubes, and found much better synergy.

Since then, I have upped the ante on the speaker twice, and both times I had to scramble to find electronics to match the speakers' demands, both physical, and aesthetic.

I still have some of the old stuff. Recently, I plugged in an Onkyo five disc changer. It sounded lovely on my Boston A 150 speakers. On my new speakers, it was like I had smothered the things.

Had I bought the great speakers first, I would have saved myself a lot of time and expense.
I have heard or read about a stereophile article from the 70's that described a blind test, where no one could (to any statistically valid degree) pick out the finest electronics from "a consumer grade pioneer receiver". I haven't read the article myself, but its intriguing. I'd also like to think that I could pick out the difference in a blind test....

That said, there's clearly no doubt in the vast differences in speaker quality. My vote's for speakers being the most significant contribution to your overall sound "output".
I believe synergy is the key. No matter how good the electronics ,if you put a crap speaker in front you get crap sound.The same goes for electronics it will work either way!A quality system from front to back is the only way to go regardless of price.I want make a compromise for any part of the system.It's all or nothing for me!
Gmood1 I don't think anyone ever suggested using products in their system that are disproportional to the rest of the system in regard to quality. I think the amount of money usually spent on speakers in relation to the rest of the system is foolish. The whole point is getting the music off of the CD or LP, and speakers have nothing to do with this.

I'm not suggesting using $250 speakers on a $30,000 system but speakers have nothing to do with obtaining the original signal. I would much rather hear a superior signal through average speakers than an average signal through superior speakers.

Keithr your example though valid was one of an unreasonable extreme. Who would use $500 worth of electronics to drive $30,000+ worth of speakers? Wilson speakers are so good they probably would sound good with radio shack junk driving them, but don't be fooled into thinking they would be reproducing what actually is present on the CD or LP being played.

No speaker will reproduce what does not get to it from the source.
Nrchy, I have heard $16,000 cd players fronting some unassuming speakers, and a $900 cd player pumping spectacular speakers. Need I tell you which was infinitely better?

Most speakers are too dull to transmit the "bit more" of a first rate front end. The hundred and fifty five star happy reviewers of the inexpensive Sony ES didn't think they were being short changed.

I didn't either, until I got a resolving speaker.
Of course, you'll disagree, Nrchy etc., but I am of the opinion that resolution is the result of accuracy, low distortion and low noise. Except for some amps that are rolled off on the bottom and top, and some that are just strangely designed, the problem is not with detecting and transmitting the signal. Rather, the problem comes from transmitting noise and distortion that are not on the cd or the lp along with the signal, to muddy it up. Of course, speakers do more of that than any other component.

Exactly what part of the audio signal do you think is being left behind by the average cheap cd player or amp? (Btw, I use a meridian 508.24 and, since I am delusional, believe it is better than the meridian 506 I also own, ie, the 508 has better resolution but it isn't picking up any more of the signal than the 506).
Nrchy, you sure can stir up a good arguement.I like a good brawl.This is really funny to me.Ding Ding next round!