The most important link in the chain...

Hello everyone!
Over the years, I've read numerous different opinions on what is the most important link in a system chain. Somehow, in most audio reviews, you will come up with a statement about the importance of the category of the component being reviewed. "If the source is poor in performance, nothing can be done to improve the sound", "Preamp is were everything goes in and leaves from. If preamp is incapable of letting the information flow, result shall be poor", "Power amp sends the signal to the speakers. If power amp is incompetent, so shall be the signal and, hence, the music", "No matter how good your system is, if speakers are bad, everything else is in vain" etc etc. You can see similar statements concerning interconnects, speaker cacles, power cables, filters, power etc. I've read an interview of a 70 year old audiophile with a system costing $200,000 saying that power is 50% and equipment rack is 30% of the overall performance of the system! I think you see were it is getting to...
In your opinion, which is the most important link in the chain and why would that be? If thread proves popular, we might be able to create some charts; see how the audiogoners feel and think about that issue.
Thank you all!
How can one link in a chain be more important than the others? It only takes one bad link to break the chain - so the remaining stronger links don't account for much.

I think the better way to phrase the question is - what component should you invest the biggest part of your budget in? This is because not all jobs are the same level of difficulty to make. Some are harder to design and others are harder to manufacture, and some are both.

I personally feel that making a great speaker is extremely difficult. So is making a great source. An amplifier is not very hard when you stop to think about it. Sure "black magic" design still applies but overall, it doesn't take much design effort compared to speaker or source. Many amps are very similar internally to each other. Parts for amps are expensive (especially these days) but not moreso than speaker drivers and crossover parts are. The preamp is tougher than the amp because of volume control and the lower level of the signals. However, still no rival for something like a CD player or TT.

But as far as relative importance, they are all equal in my book. Not all links carry the same weight but they all have to have equal strength in the end.

IMO, I would say that the room that you place the system in is the most important link in the chain. No matter how much money you invest on equipment, if you do not have a decent room, then you will not realize the potential of your hifi. On many occasions, I have noticed pictures from the "Virtual Systems" section that have horrible rooms with absolutely awesome equipment in it. Not that it takes rocket science to figure out, but so many audiophiles seem to live in cramped apartment spaces that were never meant to be sound rooms. If I were to spend more than $100,000 on a sound system, I would definitely make sure that the room would work well before investing in the equipment. Every once in a while, you might find a room that is perfect, but more often than not, you will have to spend money on tweaking the room to get rid of any acoustic aberrations. Conversely, if you are lucky enough to have a great room, you will have no problems finding excellent performance with even modestly priced equipment.
I agree with Arthur on the overall picture; one bad link ruins the entire chain. In this case one bad link can wreak havoc with your music. As far as the priority of investment, if you search the archives that thread is already here...more than once as I recall. My take: Source first. Speakers are certainly important and really need to be considered hand-in-hand with amplification for synergy. Room would be right up there as well. Which brings me back to Arthur's original's all important. Balance and synergy should be a guiding principal in any choices you make.

It is a system, with interactivity throughout. Such systems need to be implemented with the goal of optimizing the entire sonic picture. I agree with the above and in particular Jax2's statement that balance and synergy should be the guiding principles when it comes to selection of components that comprise the system.
The most important link is the room! Component differences are small compared to what a bad room can do to spoil the sound.
Every link in the chain is important as is system synergy. Because as the saying goes anything is only as good as its weakest link.
I agree with those who say the room.

The two biggest factors (by very very far) are Room and Speakers.

Digital Sound and transistor electronics have made the differences between other components to be several orders of magnitude less important. (There is so much out there that is simply excellent - even modest cheap stuff)

This is why I am not ashamed to hook up a $300 CD player to literally "hundreds of times" more investment in speakers and room design/treatment. What would seem crazy to many people makes perfect sense to me in terms of "sound" value.
As far as those stressing the room, well, I'd agree, per my post, it is certainly an important link. There are ways of dealing with a bad room though. Listening nearfield (with the right gear) can potentially be a runaround for a less than desirable listening room. That said, I'd agree that you could certainly spend a whole lot of money on a system and have it ruined by a room. Likewise you could spend a whole lot of money on a system and have it ruined by a poor speaker choice, or a poor front end. So why is one more important than the other?

Well, without denegrating the 'weak link' comments, somehow we have to get by this old chicken v egg conversation.

Everybody has to start somewhere and no one that I know has ever bought a well researched high end system all at one time. Most every body buys a piece and tweeks, buys a piece and tweeks, ad infinitum (or so it seems).

The speaker/room/amp (in that order) interface is essential and 2d only to your sonic/tonal preferences (frequency response). In fact this will contribute more to getting you to your goal than the obverse IMHO.

If your speakers don't have the natural ability to resolve detail with out emphasis, for example, why would you need the 'most resolving' pre-amp, analog or digital front end. You'd never hear what they really have to offer and you would never have the ability to compliment your speakers/set up by you choice of sources, pre-amp, and to a much lesser degree your amp.

Not everybody is going to 'shoot the moon' (including myself) and just requires balance in their system. Its much easier to find electronics to match speakers than it is to find speakers to match the room and your 'ears'. At least that has been my experience.

FWIW I've gone from a fairly high end set of electronics, sources, pre-amp, amps (for 1985) and good speakers which didn't really quite 'work' for me, to some fine (IMHO) speakers and fairly pedestrian electronics which have, finally, taken me to the threshold of meeting my expectations. I might experiment with more refined electronics but I sure as hell don't need to!

My 2 cents worth.........
I agree that all links are pretty much equally important, one more link, as Myronk eluded to, the power feeding your system is as critical as the others. And then we can add those damnable cables, IC, speaker and power. It goes on and on and on.
2)Bank account
My system could be better, but it definitely flirts with very high quality playback. Maggie 3.5Rs biamped, active xover, dedicated line, PS Audio Premier Power Plant, and a heavily modded Pioneer PD 65 stable platter.

I had the pleasure of hearing the Nova Physics Memory player in my system. It was transformative. So the answer is unless the system is close, most upgrades won't do that much, but once your system is capable of reproducing the music gesthalt, get the best source. Alas, every other cd player pales in comparison. The good news I think copy cats will soon appear that will get us much closer
"Transducers" are always the weak link in any system. For audio this means the speaker and the phono pickup, which convert between electric signal and mechanical motion. These are so inaccurate, evem for the best equipment, that all other elements of the system are small contributors.

Of course there is another transducer in the game... the microphone used to make the recording. The differences between different microphones are dramatic, as various test recordings will show.

And, for vinyl, the cutting head. So vinyl has twice as many transducers as digital. Draw your own conclusion.
FWIW, my 2 cents as follows-
1. Must have no gross mis-matches- no horn speakers with v. bright, high power ss amp; no low impedence dynamic speaker with low power OTL amp, etc, bad cart/arm compliance match.
2. Very high quality electronics with competent, limited LF speakers that get mid range right are better than full range, high resolution speaker with average electronics.
3. Changes in the transducers (those that convert mechanical or optical information into electrical signals and electrical signals into air pressure waves) will yield significant changes in overall system sound (for better or worse).
4. Very high resolution speakers will starkly illuminate defects upstream. So I would not go this way until I had all of my electronics and source issues in order.
How much money you have...
The most important link in the chain is the......weakest link.

The weakest link could also be the listener.
Since you cannot retrieve what is lost the first items in the chain are the most important. If you start with a noisy victrola any thing you do will only amplify the lousy sound you started with. Any hope of good reproduction will be most affected by your source and front end components like your pre-amp,CD or Turntable. If you feed modest components quality they will perform up to there potential. If better equipment recieves a lesser source the will not perform to there potential.
The most important link is the weakest link.
"Only as stong as the weakest link" is absolute rubbish. It's true of a chain, but your stereo is NOT a chain, it is a system. No matter how weak that weakest link, the overall "strength" of the system can always be improved with upgrades elsewhere. Get it? The issue is which change will yield the biggest overall improvement. The answer to that is very system dependent. My opinion: it's the room or set-up for most of us.
Here's my .02 cents worth: 1.) room 2.) dedicated power 3.) source-(I'm discovering the importance of this more and more lately.) 4.) speakers 5.) preamp 6.) amp 7.) cables 8.) isolation devices 9.) power conditioner... I agree, if there is one link that is weaker than the other links, the whole system suffers. It also helps to have a system that has gear that is matched well. Matching is critical for a good balanced tonal sound. As Marco said, balance and synergy. Stan
It doesn't get any better as you get progressively higher end. Keeping with the chain analogy, if you start lowly, with the equivalent of a steel chain, if one link is weak, i.e. plastic, the chain can break.
However, as you get more and more refined, similar to a fine gold chain for jewelry, each link is so particular that one hears ever more distinction between components and the most minute changes can mean significant differences in sound, good or bad (at this point "It's all good," but one gets ever more picky as preferences escalate). That's when one realizes that you never get there, you never have the ultimate system.
Moral: Don't obsess too much about which is the weakest link. Go for symmetry and consistency in quality. Start at the wall (outlet), and work your way outward toward speakers.
*All components are important.

*Start with an idea of your perfect system, your goals/reservations and budget.

*Do some homework, talk to people that have the "know how"
and "been there, done that". Read a book about this hobby and at least few articles about importance of room acoustics and speakers in room behaviour.

*Design your system within your designated room in mind.
Smart, efficient, well thought out design will be very rewarding in the long run.

*Get the best components within your budget.

Basic System
40% - speakers
20% - amplification
15% - preamp
20% - source
5% - accessories, cables

Basic System
40% - speakers
20% - amplification
15% - preamp
20% - source
5% - accessories, cables


Wow! I'm way out of wack!

I just did a quick, rough calculation of my system and I got:

17% - Speakers
9% - Amplification
17% - Preamplification (including phono preamp)
27% - Sources (20% analog /7% digital)
30% - Accessories and cables

Of course there is much to fall into the accessory category, from PLC's to isolation devices to tweaks. It just goes to show that there's more than one way to skin a cat.

It's not external, YOU are the most important link. Your intelligence, sophistication and ambition mated with your sense of hearing will be a greater determinant of how successful a musical experience you can create than any component. It's what you bring to the game that really matters.

And don't forget the size of your investment portfolio. It's a low down shame, but it can cost serious money. Not just the equipment, but to attain housing that has a good room with the freedom to do what is sonically best can be quite costly.
" It just goes to show that there's more than one way to skin a cat."
I like that expression.........John.

My cat is death.

But you are right John, there are more ways of killing a dog than choking him with pudding.(i like this one too)
It isn't the rule - it is just my pudding............

I would have said "the room" is most important, but now that I read some of the other responses, I would tend to agree with the people who said that the most important "component" is the listener (and his/her priorities). I noticed when I thought about it how difficult it is actually to quantify how important the room is and making the listening area 'right'.

Seperately, I thought Mrjstark's breakdown of percentages was interesting, resembling lists I have seen before. It is substantially different than mine though it is easy to make a case for his breakdown, especially for a $10k system. At $5k, the 5% for cables/accessories is a bit low, even for doing that part DIY.
Hi T bone.
Well it is somewhat low, but it reflects my own view on cables and tweaks in general. To give you more accurate numbers I did looked at my system a little closer. Percentage is just a guide line......I am not sure if I fit in my own rule table........??????
Lets see....(basic system like I said) :
*speakers $7000 (my cost $4,200)
*amplifiers $4000 (-----$2800)
*preamp $2600 (-----$1700)
*source $4000 (-----$2400)
*cables/tweaks/accessories $1,600 90% new
So......yes you were is just under 10%.
However, voltage stabilizer is also used by my video components.
the software
Jaybo makes a good point. The software makes a huge difference too. With digital, cd disc recordings are much better than say 10 years ago. But even today, there are large differences in recently done recordings. I've been buying alot of Japanese import cd remasters lately. For the most part, they are significantly better recordings than the average cd that you can buy at Best Buy. Of my Japanese imports, I have cd, cd/sacd hybrid and sacd only and almost all of them are done in DSD. As the technology gets better, so does the resolution to the master. Stan
Yes, it makes the difference but it isn't THE MOST IMPORTANT. Some (many,many) albums can not be found on XRCD etc......does it mean that we should give up on our fav. artists ?? What about LPs.......Stan?
Hello Mrjstark, I never said that it was the most important. I said that it made a huge difference. I've already listed my personal opinion of the order of most important links in my above post. I specifically aimed the response at digital, especially since it has gotten better in the last few years. I haven't owned a turntable since the early 1990's, so I'm talking strictly digital. I realize that there are wonderfully produced and almost impossible to find record albums from the 1950's. 1960's and 1970's. I have over 250 record albums dating back to the mid 1960's and my father had a couple hundred record albums from the 1950's. I hope to have a good turntable again someday, wife-willing. I also personally think that a record album is the holy grail of home system playback in it's purest form. Stan
Yes Stan, you are absolutly right.(about CD quality)
My apologies for missing your original post.