SPeakers 90% of your sound

After "experimenting" with various cables,interconnects,conditioners,power cords, tube amps, and digital sources...I have come to this conclusion...the sound from my speakers was not drastically altered and at best marginally improved...with this in mind...I am glad I allocated the majority of my funds towards speakers and speaker stands...I have not thrown in a TT to the mix...which is my last and latest project...I am sure there are those who will disagree...but this is my findings at this time...any thoughts? That last 10% improvement will cost me what my entire system costs already....
What speakers are you using? if they are not revealing and transparent you may not notice upstream components as much. This would be due to the coloration the speakers add. Reasons for this would be cabinet coloration, crossover design/components, drivers used- you know various parts of the speaker ;)

I have noticed exactly the opposite, people often complain about the law of diminishing returns in this hobby. I have found that the more insane the components get the larger the jump in perfomance I hear. How ever with all things in this hobby YMMV.
You're in for a big shock. If you like the speakers now, wait until you get some real information-packed signal into them.
Speakers are certainly proportionatly one of the most significant changes--but I'm one that believes the room is 90 percent of the battle. How many people have moved from either a good environment to a mediocre one or vice versa. Same equipment, but different room--it can really make or break a system even more so than the speakers. (of course my opinion is an occupational hazard--for those that don't know what I mean visit: Rives Audio , in particular go to the listening room for some tips on what can make or break a room.
Room 70%
Amp 8%
Speakers 7%
Source 5%
Pre-amp 5%
Cables 5%
electrical tweaks 5%
Racks, points, 5%

Total = 110%. That sounds about right.

Of course, aside from room percentage, any one of the other category percentages could weigh in differently depending on budget, preconceived notions, experience, knowledge, listening preferences, music preferences, time invested in system, adherence to popular folklore, etc., etc..

I guess I must've been lucky, because during the 80s, I moved around alot, and had my nice system set up in about 10 different apartments over that time. Somehow my nice audio system always sounded good, no matter what shape or size the room was, but my boom-box always sounded like crap, no matter what the shape or room size. Amazing, huh? Pardon me for thinking that a good room is nice, but it doesn't supercede the quality of the audio system. It is an environment which will allow the quality of the audio system to be presented well. Nothing more, nothing less.

Does Johnny One-Note in Carnegie Hall, sound better than Pavarotti in your living room? I don't think so. Pavarotti may sound better in Carnegie Hall, than he does in your living room, but Johnny One-Note is going to suck, no matter what room you put him in. You have to give the room something good to work with. Rooms are not magic.
You can safely say that speakers display more variation in sound character from one brand/type to the next than any other component. It could thus be argued that they affect the sound of the system more than any other. This is not, however, the same thing as saying they are more important than other components or that one should spend 90% of one's budget on the speakers. To me, it says that speakers are the least perfected part of the reproduction chain. In general, as a component type reaches further toward perfection, the variations between brands tend to diminish. Speakers are still the furthest away from this convergence.
Speakers, in general, are the most imperfect link in the chain. How many of you would put up with 5% distortion in your electronics? Not me, that's for sure. Yet, we do this *every* time we listen to our speakers. The physical transformation from electrical energy to mechanical energy is the devil.

IMHO, the upstream devices (CD/DVD-A/SACD, amps, preamps, cables, etc.) are all pretty good in comparison. The sound differences between a $500 amp and a $5,000 amp is very small when compared to the differences between $500 speakers and $5,000 speakers.

My recommendation? Buy the best sounding speakers you can afford and then spend most of the rest of your audio dollars on very high quality source materials (CD/DVD-A/SACD). The rest of the chain is not nearly as important and suffers from the law of diminishing returns very quickly.
I also disagree that Speakers weights 90% in a system.
Assume the room doesn't change, it's all about system matching. In my opinon, I think the speaker and amp needs to be match before you can make your claim about what's the most important.
I'm a source sort of guy, but then, I own a Linn LP12 Lingo.

Nothing downstream can remove distortion or put back information that was never there in the first place. I've upgraded sources and electronics a few times, but speakers only once. Never had any difficulty noticing an improvement.

I just hate spending good money on sidegrades. When changes to a system don't seem to make much difference, IMHO you're not making a big enough change or you're changing the wrong thing.

Speakers and their interactions with room and system could fill a book. They offer very different takes on the music. When is one take better ? When it lets the music touch me more.

Twl: Where do you live (not an address--I'm not sending a henchman) just a zip code--or even a state. I'd like you to hear a really well designed room. I think it would change your mind. No words will--you have to hear it. It really is astounding what a room can do (soundwise that is--not performance wise--a bad one note performer will still be a poor performer, but acoustically he'll sound a lot better)
I could not disagree more. Speakers are very important in a system, but I think they are nearly the least important link in the chain.
I would side with those who elevate the importance of the source. Speakers will never sound better than the signal fed to them. Speaker all sound different which is why I think people put so much emphasis on them, but that doesn't make them more important. The item that removes the signal from the source is the most important whether it is a phono cartridge, a laser, or a tape head. Everything down the line decreases the level of importance.

I am concerned about being misunderstood. Everything in the system is important (which is why we often read drivel about synergy being the most important) but the best sounding system is going to be the one where the source is prioritized.

Nothing is going to add back into the system that was not retrieved in the first place. Speakers cannot add the detail or tonal qualities that the CDP or TT did not first detect.
IMHO the room can only hurt you not help you. In other
words we spend all of this money on equipment to achive
a natural tonal balance when a bad room will just throw
everything out of whack.. lean or thick.

Without a good neutral room one will never know what
the true capability of speakers or anything else should be.

My "guess" is:

70 room and speakers (they have to work together)
30 other (with all being equally important)
Rives, I live in east Tennessee. Don't worry, I've heard quite a few good rooms. I've been in audio as a consumer and on the other side of the counter for over 30 years now. Thanks for your interest, though. I do recognize what a good room can do for a system.

Note that I did not say that a good room is not important, but I did say that it will not make up for an inferior system.
I too am very much a source kinda guy and yet I find that I have prefered a wide range of components in every link of the chain except preamps......so few seem to bring on the musicality that I have enjoyed over the years. Once this is right, I then focus on the sources.

I agree with Tobias. I had a Linn LP12 for 18 years and it sounded great. But then I started "moving up" with electronics, cables, speakers, etc., and the difference was less and less than it had been. Then, I moved up to the Clearaudio Reference TT and it trounced the living daylights out of the Linn in frequency extremes extension, far more low level resolution, a more neutral tonal balance and a much much darker background. And surprise surprise, upgrading the other links started to make a huge difference again. Differences between my BAT VK-P10 and Aesthetix Io phono stages were very evident.

Even putting mediocre speakers in the system resulted in a phenomenol presentation. Tonality changed dramatically of course, but the sound was still quite impressive. Going back to the Linn would not have been as tolerable. So for me, it really is all about the source.

Now the only thing left is to get me out of this 18'x13' basement room and into a decked out room that Rives is talking about. There needs to be some optimization with speaker placement in the room but the amp/speaker link too needs to be matched very well .... almost to a point where these are considered one unit.

I would have to agree with Rives on the most part, I wish I had a dollar for every time I listened to an audiophile say how bad this or that sounded at a dealer or at one of the big shows, like these guys don't have a good source/amp/speakers/wires, you name it, they got it and it still sounds bad in a bad room. On the other hand, sometimes you listen at the dealer in a great room and then take the exact same gear home and the magic seems to have been left behind (Why?) because of your room. If you don't think your room is the most important part, set your system up in the back yard some time. Unless there is a total system mis-match (Amp can't drive speakers/source is 8 track tape or something else way out there) the speaker-room interface is the most important in my experience. $500 dollars spent on your room will be far better upgrade than any set of cables could give at any price. Bass/Image/depth and height along with those beautiful strings and all the realistic vocal we strive for are not there as they should be in a poor room. DOWN WITH WAF.
Jafox, your point about preamps is well taken. My own Klyne was a surprise. Not too many people seem to know about it, it was hard to find and hear, yet it was several times better than a best-buy Copland tube preamp in my system. In other words, the obvious choices weren't the best, either musically or financially. Of all components, the preamp seems to be the one which is toughest to upgrade.

I also take your point on moving a system to a new level, which you did when you got your Clearaudio Reference and which I did when I moved from my LP12 Valhalla to a Cirkus Lingo. I discovered some component changes will just do that, move the music to a new level, and start you on a new round of upgrading because the potential of the system seems so much greater. It's important to mention that this potential appears in the power of the music to touch and move, and of the system to keep you involved hour after hour, up late spinnig discs and buying more.

I am now at the point of examining room acoustics very carefully, before I do any more component upgrades, or I may not hear enough of the difference in an upgrade to decide properly. I think now that the better the system, the more difference the room makes.
I think the price range of the components in the system really dictates what's most important (for that system). If I had $50 speakers, I wouldn't be out shopping for room treatments. Assuming you had "good" electronics, upgrading those $50 speakers to some $1000 speakers would likely give a significant improvement. Then, maybe upgrading that $500 CD player to a $1500 player would offer the most improvement. As has been mentioned, I think it is most certainly the balance that matters most.
Dburdick, change "assuming you had good electronics" to "assuming you had a good source" and I'm with you all the way. Speakers should certainly be upgraded. It's a step in reaching balance. But IMO they should not be upgraded before all the upstream equipment has been upgraded first, starting with the source.

Of course, if you luck on a component you want badly but had slated for two upgrades from now, then finances and availability, not sound, may dictate the choice.

I do agree that room treatments may not help very much when your speakers cost $50. Unless those fifty bucks were very well spent indeed, which of course is what I wish you and everyone here. I do not think it is good spending, ever, to have $1000 speakers with a $500 CD player, unless a stroke of luck was involved.

I should add that to me, "good spending" means getting the most musical satisfaction for the hard-won dollar.
Sogood51, we agree on some things, even without beer. With all due respect to those who say that components that follow a source can't add any thing to improve upon what is retrieved by the source, I agree (though the future of digital might change this), but, by the the same logic those components (including the room) can contaminate what has been retrieved by the source. Furthermore, sources are just as inadequate, in that they can't improve upon the components that follow. While there is some logic to the cliche' "garbage in, garbage out", its the garbage out, regardless where its introduced, that is of concern. In the end its system synergy (including room) that makes or breaks a system. I am of the notion that rooms and speakers tend to have the most shortcomings, the most complicated interactions and the greatest challanges. In that regard, I suggest one determine their imediate, short and long term budgets. Find the best available room and purchase speakers that are compatible with that room, offend you the least, and work back from there. Generally, as one's budget increases (and hopefully without a reduction in good sense) the shortcomings of speakers and rooms become less dramatic, and the shift towards preceeding components becomes more relevent.
Excluding the room, out of all the components that make up a system, the amplifier is far and away the most underrated, has the most shortcomings, and faces the greatest challenges.

The fact that everybody thinks it's the speakers is PROOF! that it's really the amplifier ;)

TWL,well put.On the subject.I would say 40% speakers,30% analog front end,10% room,20% the rest.I don't mean prices.Sometimes it is necessary to use $10000.00 amp.to make the $3500.00 speakers really sing.Serious room treatment is the last step not the first.Of course, there are "dead" rooms;but then nothing will help much.
Stehno, I don't know for sure, but I suspect you might be right when you say that amplifiers may be the most underrated componenet. It seems to me as though many beginners underestimate the importance of appropiate amplification. I still think speakers should dictate amplifier choices, and at the risk of being repetitive, work back from there. I can understand why many feel that a preamp/control device or source is the most important, because those are the components that they tend to have the most tactile relationship with.
Unsound, I would guess that every system you put together sounds very good at any price level, well said.
Just to be clear--I'm not talking about good rooms. I'm talking about great rooms. There is a huge difference. You can get lucky with dimensions, and absorption--but we are talking way beyond this. A room completely engineered to perform optimumly as a listening room. Once you've heard a room like this--there is no comparison. Now, it does not make a bad system sound great--in fact it exposes weaknesses of the system--but also strengths. It basically delivers the truth of what a system has to offer, but in this hobby you don't have to spend a lot on equiment to have a good well balanced system (in terms of components). Even for a $5,000 system, basic room treatment should be addressed. For a $20k plus system it's almost a crime not to address the room, and for any "state of the art" systems, not engineering the room is really wasting the ability of the system. So there really is a balance--that may have not been clear in initial post.
I share this, which plays into Stehno's last comments. I have had B&W N803 speakers for just over a year now; these speakers are well spoken of. For the past year they have sounded good but I was still left wanting; I have used a Levinson No.383 and BAT VK-30/200 with them. I recently purchased a Rowland Concentra II and this has transformed the performance of the N803's. I was selling the N803's, but no longer and I can concur that they can sound very good indeed once paired with the right amp.
Sogood51, I hope your being sarcastic. I haven't put that many systems together, and have made my share of mistakes. Besides my biases may be very different than someone elses.
Thanks for sharing your experiences. I know you've been contributing to Audiogon and perhaps it shows. The components you've been swapping must have all been good quality and well-matched with your system. For sure, a bad or mis-matched component can really mess up the sound and no speaker can fix that. I also agree, as stated above, that swapping components of roughly equal quality will usually not buy much.

I was amazed by the differences in the sound of high-end speakers at the recent HES show. In particular, Joseph, Wilson, Dynaudio and Quad all had vastly different qualities. The first three in particular all had extensive room treatments and I'm sure were vying for "best of show". I've heard that many set-ups also benefitted from Rives' low-freq room treatment device. Each presenter seemed very proud of the sound in their particular room. How can such a collection of high-end speakers sound so different?

I heard the Wilson's in three different rooms and I suppose they were accurate but they cetainly weren't my cup of tea. The Joseph Pearl's were kind of the opposite, they immediatley put me in a comfort zone. The Dynaudio's were simply awesome. The Quads were something completely different.

So I agree with everyone that the components and the room are all critical but the biggest variation has to go to speakers.
Unsound, what I ment is your grasp of the fundamental building blocks along with also understanding system-synergy,room-speaker synergy as your posts state, must always result in good sound no matter the cost.
garbage in, garbage out
If you have garbage speakers:
#$%@ in garbage out for sure.
Sogood51, I'm embarrased by your kind words, especially since I've been so caustic with you in the past. With all humility, thank you.
The Listening Room Part I, Your Most Important Component by David Smith, President And Chief Engineer For Snell Acoustics said "the recording that you paid good money for already has the sonic footprint of that large carefully designed performance space. Your living room doesn't need to add its footprint on top of that. In truth, your living room needs to absorb as much sound as possible. It needs to be acoustically dead."

If your speakers do not reflect improvements made in other areas of your system then your speakers are holding your system back and should be replaced. I agree that speakers account for the largest single part of a system's sound but I wouldn't ascribe more than 50% of the sound of a good system to the speakers.

I think Karls and Rlwainwright are speaking with audio wisdom. Y'all better stop that...
Great responses to all...just a quick clarification...Im not advocating spending 90% of your budget on speakers...just that speakers account for 90%(or so) of your sound(good or bad depending on your means)...so there seems to be 2 camps...for example purposes...in a 2k system...there are those who would allocate roughly $500 for speakers and the rest on source and electronics...and there is the camp that would allocate roughly 1k on speakers and so on...I would fall into the latter group myself...with "midfi" amps and sources gaining much ground on higher end, esoteric products(where cosmetics and build quality often inflate prices)...I would have to agree that the sonic differencs between a $500 amp and a 5k solid state amp are very minute(maybe even non-existent)...these are my findings...
Phasecorrect, that's silly.

If you or anybody else in this thread really believe that there are only very minute differences at best between a $500 amp and a $5000 amp, well...,

..., let's just say you must be looking at the wrong amps or you're shopping at the wrong stores.

This statement is hard to believe. I can't think that anybody would make a broadbrushed statement like this for any product. Much less any one group of audio components, and specifically amplifiers.

Well, maybe speaker cable supporters, but even that's pushing things a bit.

Now keep in mind, I'm not talking about the costs here. Because it is entirely possible that the hypothetical $500 amp may very well blow away the $5000 amp sonically. i.e. the Odyssey Stratos at $1000 comes to mind.

Same thing if one were to compare one $500 amp to another $500 amp. One could easily wax the the other even though they cost the same.

Stehno...I was trying to emphasize a point and I probably over did it a bit...but the bottom line...and you even touched upon this...hi pricetags dont guarantee hifi...and the law of diminishing returns can be brutal...there are some truly outstanding intergrateds in that 1k range(and even below)...and going much beyond that can be overkill...however....part of the fun of being an audiophile is overkill! RIght?
Sorry, Phasecorrect. I obviously took your words only at face value.

Did I mention I'm a fundamentalist? Yup. Metho-Baptyrian.

Phasecorrect, there are many ways to set up a system. Some folks like to get the speakers first and then look for the amp to match it. Some other folks like to get the amp and source setup first before getting the speaker to match it. Either case is fine depends on what you prefer.
This is not Chicken or egg debate. Which ever way comes first is fine.
I choose the speaker first because of the size and look requirement. In this case, I would try out different amps. Chaing amps can be very dramatic.
If you already have nice amp and source and you're looking the get a speaker to match the amp then speaker change can be dramatic to your setup.
In my opinon, both amp and speakers are equally important to system matching. I do think both made up a good 60% of your system. You then have the other 40% to play with the other components (source, cable, preamp, tweaks)
Since your room is fixed value (unless you plan to switch rooms), I do not take it into consideration when you purchase your equipment (assuming you only use your room as the reference listening room.)
Ah, to hear even a mediocre system in a great room would change many minds here. The room is without question, to my mind and experience the single most important factor in good sound. It will expose both weaknesses and strenghs of a system, as noted above, to a greater degree than any component. Speakers and amp interface are equal, pre-amp sends the small signal to the amp/speaker and is second to the room.

The source is very important in that it can really improve dramatically the system performance beyond getting the room, pre-amp, speaker/amp right. A great source component in a system that is flawed downstream is not going to make a disernable difference.

I believe it so much that I am in the process of finally carrying out what I believe to be true, designing and building a dedicated room. It seems at this point to be the best investment I can make in improving what I currently have which in my estimation isn't even close to being realized.
Tubegroover I agree with you that sound room matters. However, we're assuming that we can't remodel our listening room within 5 minutes while we comparing different sound. We're only comparing the equipment here that's why we should assume the room acoustic is a fix variable. If you want to go to the extreme, might as well meausure the sound deflection from the chair your sitting with the sound meter too. While you at it, why not measure the temperature and humidity. While you at it, why not measure every spot with sound meter. While you at it, make sure that you have your ears check out before we do any audition. Oh, make sure that you're not under any stress while you do the audition too. Anxiety can change your listening mood too.

My point is that on an absolute level the acoustic properties and dimensions of the room matters the most regardless of the obstacles in the way, WAF, dimensions etc. You can only get so much good sound out of a poor room regardless of treatments. No silk purses from sows ears, please! What is of interest to me is how folks spend large sums of money changing out gear in the hopes of attaining better sound when the culprit is the room and the end result is they will never be fully satisfied. It they were satisfied, why do they continually change out gear? The room is that critical in realizing the best attainable sound. I'm not saying that the solutions for getting a good room are practical. That has nothing to do with it at all. A mediocre room can be treated to get as good as it is capable of being and this is probably the case for 70-80% of audiophiles. Maybe the remaining 20% are the lucky ones. I'm currently in the 70-80 group and know it, realize my options are limited short of moving or building another room which I am lucky enough to have the space for.

Your remarks may be tongue in cheek but while you are talking about other elements that influence sound to varying degrees, I am talking about the most important component in realizing it. Of course this is just my humble opinion :)
I agree that the room makes a huge difference, and with that, all the other factors as well, (person, equipment, quality and materials used, etc..... the list goes on)

Do what I did, make sure you have all of your bases covered, and do everything to the best of your abilities/budget and you'll have a great sounding system.

A great system in a bad sounding room sounds
worse than a good system in a great room.

The louder you listen- the more things vibrate.
The less things vibrate, the louder you can listen!

A good system, properly set up, will sound better than a great system, poorly set up.

The Three common denominators that have the greatest effect on how good, or bad, the sound is from your existing system, let alone any component you insert into it are:

MAINS conditioning
Vibration control
Room treatment

Until you address these areas, you will never know how good, or bad, your existing system is!

Using my heart, I would have to agree with Phasecorrect, I so love my speakers. Because of that, I am not a reliable witness.

I listened to the CES systems too. The big room differences must have played havoc. I still gleaned enough info to decide I don't like Pipedreams, Wilson, or any of the really high priced systems. Then, the moderately priced Cabasse room blew me away.

So much for more money brings more pleasure.

Deciding on Speakers is the hardest thing in audio I can imagine. Deciding on amps, front ends and pre amps was much easier; cables, whatever.

Rooms, I don't know, because I have a great room. I imagine dipoles need a great room more than others. I have dipoles. Of course one has to bear in mind their room when deciding on size and power of their speakers.

If you've been doing all the tweaking you can, and still feel something is missing; if you have any one of the great amps out there; and you have a well sharpened front end (if you have been doing all that tweaking, I can only assume you've attended to the basics), then look to your speakers!

There are speakers out there which are spell binding.
I agree that the speaker has a very large impact on the flavour of the sound. But when it comes to the quality of that flavour, the speaker shrinks into much less prominence and attention to all the minor issues such as vibrations, power cables, etc becomes vital.
Yeah Phasecorrect, it's all in your imagination. Gag me.
I think Redkiwi brings up a very good point.

However, he neglected to mention the significant contribution that an amplifier (not just any amp) brings to the table. Which I believe has much to do with the quality of that flavor of sound, as well as the flavor itself.

Tubegroover, I do understand room makes a big difference. That would be the minimum requirement to enjoy the music. That's why many performer care so much where they perform. If we do put room acoustic as part of system evaluation then I would weight the listening room as 30 to 40% of the sound. I was talking about if one already have an ideal listening space and not comparing components at dealer or someone else's home.
I'm not sure about you but many of us can only treat our room to certain degree with a very limited real estate and especially ojbection from family members. If I live in a mansion like your humble home then I don't mind build a dedicated listening room.
S23chang, my home is quite humble as you note, sure isn't a mansion but will be a bit closer with the added space :) I am building it precisely because of reasons you state, I can't treat any other suitable room to the degree necessary to obtain the effect desired, WAF to be precise. She is getting more real estate and I am finally doing what I have been haggling over for the past 3 years. I'm lucky in the respect that I have the space to do it.
Room obviously #1 Speakers#2 Amp close #3....In my experience, the room clearly makes the greatest difference as well as positioning -- this should go without saying

Surprisingly enough I found the differences between some amps to be quite large -- the differences between Krell and my Primare could not be more obvious.

That said, there are very large variables between speakers which can make them sound very different.