I couldn't limit the advice to just one item of importance. However, I will limit it to just several of the most important.
1. Start with being reasonable about what the size of your room will accommodate and choose speakers accordingly. Those big floor speakers may sound great, but not in that tiny, converted bedroom system. Only if you quickly intend to use them in a larger room should you consider floor models in a small room. Stand mount speakers will almost always get you closer to the music in small rooms.
2. Speakers and amplifiers should be chosen to be compatible with each other. A technical mistake in compatibility is a mistake that can only be undone by selling one or the other, usually at a substantial loss.
3. Proper speaker positioning is the single most important starting point and will effect the frequency response more than any other factor. Read and learn and know where they are going to go before you even audition.
Music is more important than equiptment.
When you listen (you are going to listen before you buy anything, aren't you?), beware of "impressive sound".
In case that needs clarification: sound that somehow directs your attention to how extended the highs are, or how much bass there is, or whatever element you care to pick out, is in my very humble experience, never a good sign.
The kind of sound I can live with takes its place in the room like a normal person and speaks at a normal level, and if you don't pay attention to it at first it doesn't try and grab you... but when you open up to it, it dances with you. I find myself moving, toes tapping maybe. It's physical.
Put your money in your speakers first. Build your system around them. They are, ultimately, where the music comes out. I know this will generate some controversy, but that is where I would start.
Don't let your wife or significant other dictate what you buy. They get to pick the drapes, furniture, etc. They have no business making audio-centric decisions. Be a man
for once in your life...
Listen for yourself and make up your own mind. You will eventually find what matters to you and you can look for the components to fill your dream system. All stereos are a compromise and you have to find what suits you.
Buy stuff you can resell easily if it doesn't work out.
Build the system around the best power cord you can afford for your powerline conditioner.
A third for starting with loudspeakers. Closely tied with this is selecting the right amplifier to drive them. It's not easy, and it takes patience. Ask for advice from those who own what you are considering.
Research and audition speakers with your music, so your purchase is one you can live with for a long time, and make that your starting point.
Three pieces of advice (for the price of one!) :-)
First, (and this is not just for you, but for a lot of people on this site, so I am not picking on you personally), learn the difference between the words "advice" and "advise". :-)
Second, remember that it is YOUR system, and don't let anybody tell YOU what sounds good to YOU. (However, don't be so closed minded that you avoid constructive criticism.)
And third, and my last piece of advice, is to not be afraid to experiment, as you'll never really know what it is that you do like, until you actually try it for yourself. Who knows, maybe you'll enjoy having a turntable, even if it means cleaning records. Or, maybe trying tubes, even though it might mean learning to bias a tube amplifier. There are lots of avenues to enjoyment in this hobby, so try not to limit yourself to just one.
try to arrange (minimum overnight) home auditions - that way you can hear what the component sounds like in real-world conditions (i.e. your room, your other components). audio stores are always set up to make things sound their absolute best (they never have windows, they're always carpeted, etc.)
1. Pay cash & don't go into debt for any audio gear.
2. No matter the deal or craving, refer to item #1.
How about this: Observe the amount of time and energy you spend listening to the system and demand of yourself that an equal or greater degree of concentration be dedicated to listening and thinking about music. No conpromises!
Kurt_tank: Oops. As soon as I read your "First, . ." I knew. Thanks, I'll take your advice, and be more careful next time. Let others be advised to do the same.
What kind of listening do you do?
If you can only squeeze in an hour or two after work, you might want a system that is a little flashy and hyped.
By the time listening fatigue sets in, you're session will be done.
If you spend hours-on-end during the weekend, go for the neutral sound.
Also, if you do mostly low-level listening, make sure your speakers sound good at low levels (Thiel 1.6 does this very well).
Every component of every system is directly or indirectly susceptible to and greatly affected by dirty AC coming in from the street and uncontrolled resonance energy. Hence, I would suggest building your system around the best performing line conditioners and racking system you can find.
Both elements are by far the most misunderstood and least appreciated and are absolutely foundational to any system simply because you will never hear your system's true potential without these two items properly addressed. Regardless of what one currently owns.
Build your system around speakers that rock your socks; match the speakers carefully with an amplifier. This is critical.
After that, buy components which please your ears not some reviewer, magazine, retailer, or thread poster.
Room treatment, room treatment, room treatment.
find someone you trust then just listen
I must agree with Stehno. 2 things brought my system to a level that I only read about before. I added the right power device (a regenerator) for my sources, and, I added the right (or at least closer to right) power cords. I have found that the quality or lack of quality of AC delivery to your sources and electronics is the key to feeding a higher quality signal to your speakers. Once a higher quality audio signal is sent to the speakers, and the speakers are good, then you have a more pure and beautiful sound. This is when you get the focus and individual placement of instruments in the soundstage, disappearance of the speakers, a widening and deepening of the soundstage that wraps around the speakers, greater imaging and separation, and the band playing in your room. These are concepts that I heard of for years but never experienced in my room until I experimented with plenty of power cords, and a regenerator. (already had quality ic's and sc's) If you can't do dedicated lines to help clean the ac, which was impractical for me, then a regenerator was the next best thing. And, do your due diligence with power cord auditioning until your system produces that magical illusion. There are other important issues to address. Amp-speaker matching and synergy are just as crucial.
Ears rule. Don't believe what the others, dealer, wife, etc. tell you. It is your ears that must be happy. As others are saying, start with the speakers and flow everything else from there. Room treatment's are a must.
When listening to music- your favorites- try to spend an hour at least, at levels you enjoy, maybe a bit louder. If after an hour or 2
1. you want more and you are reluctant to end- good sign.
2. relieved to turn things off and leave the room- bad sign.
#1. For me usually involves tubes, either in the amps or preamp. Tubes seem to allow for longer, more enjoyable listening sessions.
#2 SS amps tend to be fatuiging after long sessions, especially at higher volumes. SS also seems flat and uninvlolving.
My advice (see Kurt:).
Unlike other advice offered, I think amps and pre are first. In my experience, I find that most speakers I put in my system sound very good, from monitors to floorstanders and I could live with many which have passed through my room. But, I would be extremely reluctant to let go of my amps and pre now that I have a wonderful match and I have heard beautiful MUSIC from many different speakers. Then it's just a matter of tuned bass and room acoustics (yes, I know, the right speakers! But, many speakers are acceptable).
As a matter of fact, I regret having sold a pair or 2.
But that's how this hobby is, you live and learn.
My advice- listen for an extended period of time- if your head hurts and your ears need a break- BAD!
If just want to keep groovin' on the music for hours and hours, turning it up- GOOD!
Avoid the slippery slope of snake oil.
Once you are "caught", there is no end of "must have" improvements because the needs that these devices fulfill or the problems that they cure are only limited by the technobabble that can be made up and the hyperbole of reviewers, manufacturers and forum testimonials.
Sooner or later you will find yourself doubting your own judgement, fretting about the type of copper in a piece wire, absolute phase, hanging on every comment from friends, audio forums and reviewers, and generally end up in a never ending merry go round of component rotation.
Snake Oil has the power to destroy the whole enjoyment of an audio system, which simply gets LOST for ever in an "Ocean of Doubt" : all you ever hear is what you have been led to beiieve could/might be wrong!
#2 SS amps tend to be fatuiging after long sessions, especially at higher volumes. SS also seems flat and uninvlolving.
This indicates to me you haven't heard, 1)the right SS amplifier, or 2) the right speaker/SS amp combo.
The hybrid Moscode 401HR opened my eyes to the possibility of good, musical SS, and Pass XA-60.5 (or XA-30.5) taught me what is possible with pure Class A SS.
I've owned two world class tube amplifiers. I loved one and didn't care for the other quite as much (due I believe to a poor amp/speaker match). My present SS amp/speaker combination is better in most ways than anything I have owned.
Never pay retail on high end electronics. Never buy obscure brands that will never resale or trade. In Audiogon when a vendor offers a product at retail click next,he has not grasp the concept yet and subsequently he will be out of business soon. JT
Rule #1: location-location-location
Room first, room treatment second (dont buy yet that is but put some $$$ aside for it, you likely will), speakers third..the rest can be done with well-designed inexpensive second-hand gear (south of $1,000 each): Carver, VanAlstine, Monarchy, etc. Cables? please....
The room first, though you can only work with what you've got to work with. Next, speakers that will work in your room. Finally an amp the will bring out the best in your speakers.
Stop Reading Audio Forums...................
................................especially if you are looking for answers regarding "The Most Important Word Of Advice" in audio.
Okay, I failed miserably there!
But seriously, sometimes have you ever wondered why only a handful of people constantlty answering all the forum topics on boards like this? Does that make us a victim of "micro management" like responses?
My experience: there are a handful of people from that group that really know what they are talking about. Several of them already posted here (Tvad, Jay, Stehno,PhilJ, Onhwy61, Ncarv, Kurt, to name a few). I have been an Off/On visitor of this board for almost 8 years now and those guys never failed to give great and worthy advice IMHO. Those that you need to avoid are the ones that have a "non-debatable" type of advice who's basis was from constantly swapping gears. Why? Because, in the end, you will get confuse and stray so far off that you cannot even remember where you started from and what is your purpose of doing it.
Me: Everything in audio is a compromise. Know your expectations and you will save time and lots of money in the long run to better enjoy what you have. Build if you can. Buy if you cannot. Find "audio buddies" if you can, but don't compete with them or of what they have. Contrast the variety! Instead, enjoy the friendship as you go along the journey. Good people makes the audio world go round or whatever kind of world you are in for that matter.
Damn! Have to go before I became too emotional....
Number 1 would be Audiogon. Read, study and learn and buy used from members that have good feedback and have been around awhile.
Audiogon has opened to me the world of high end audio that is affordable.
Number 2 is don't spend all your money on digital. Digital is good for making love, cleaning the house or any other activities that don't require you to flip a LP over every 20 min.
Understand analog. Here is where the music can breath and have life. Most who have gone over the top are into analog and will never look back.
The best and most sophisticated piece of test equipment is your two ears. Develop them.
Narrow it down to 3 or 4 CD's to use in selecting componets. One with a piano, one with violins, maybe a James Taylor CD (try to get his voice right!), and one you just love. Use these same ones everytime you audition. Don't get analytial, just ask youself if this component draws you in more.
Amp and speaker matching is very important but start with the speaker. It has to fit the room.
Never trust anything that bleeds for three days and does not die.
Listen to everything in your home environment.
GET OUT WHILE YOU STILL CAN!!!!!!
It is usually too late when someone yells " Get out while you still can ".
Find nearest audioholics anonymous club and enjoy the company of other
passionate audiophiles. Hopefully it will help you avoid some very costly mistakes and gain valuable knowledge that we are all hungry for.
I am not sure how it is going to help anyone
because from this point on, your system price tag
will only go up$.
More you will understand the principles and secrets of
assembling a truely great system , your family and friends
will become more and more amaze and tired of your crap.
So, do youself a favor and keep all the details to yourself or within
the circle of nut cases & crazyness like us & here.
You are crossing the point of NO return
You are crossing the point of NO return<<
That's the signpost up ahead..............
The Twilight Zone
(with credit and respect to Rod Serling)
Hiiiii Billl & what' your story???
We're here for you buddy.
You've just crossed the line
Welcome to the club
You know what they say.......
" do not get high on your own supply "
If the wimpy looking plain-jane model sounds better, allow your ears to rule your eyes.
Take forum recommendation and opinion with a huge grain of salt. I see more wrong info in forums then right. I would hate to be new to this hobby so much disinformation makes it hard to get real useful info since far more chaff than wheat. A audio forum consists of people with many different levels of experience but it seems many put as much stock in posts by newbies as experts. So allot of advice is coming from folks with little experience.
JohnK's advice is sound (pun intended). Buy Vandersteens or Quads, and similar everyman audio stuff, and get a grip on what folks are talking about. I sold audio stuff for years and only had one customer who I thought shopped intelligently. He came in with three or four of his favorite recordings and asked to hear them on equipment that he could afford. I gave him the demo room for the afternoon. He left without buying anything that day, and I always wondered what he eventually decided.
Samujohn, you sold no audio equipment to the one customer who you thought shopped intelligently in the years you were a salesman?
Not sure if that story legitimizes your advice in this thread, but it made me grin.
Tvad: Mostly customers were pre-sold by advertising. That was fine, but when I tried to give advice based on my knowledge, such as it was, I was met by arguments and questions derived from advertisements. Neither I, or my customers had any useful technical knowledge. For example, we were once treated to a discussion of FM tuner specifications by a factory engineer from Marantz. The ads all compared tuner sensitivity. He pointed out that the tuner sensitivity standards were set in the Thirties for table radios and were of no relevance to stereo reproduction, however, the engineers had to "dumb down" the circuits to meet the sales competition.
CD players were introduced as vastly improved sources. Unless you were deaf, you could hear how horrible they were, but sales soared.
Now all this was in the seventies, so perhaps things are a bit different now.
(perhaps #5 should be first)......
CLEAN POWER . BETTER AC OUTLETS .
Hifisoundguy, I agree that power quality is a big priority. I have a Purepower regenerator since a dedicated line in my family room presented a complicated install. Using shielded power cords have also helped to improve the power delivery to my system. I will likely change my outlets from the FIMs I currently have to either Wattgates or Oyaide. For me, the variables that affect the power affect what I hear from my speakers as much or more than many of the other variables and tweaks.
Most audiophiles have not been to a concert in 40 years
Most audiophiles do not know what music sounds like
Then why on earth would you listen to me!!
Foster_9, I think clean power and better ac outlets are two of the most important things you can do for a system. You need to do this first before you do anything else to your system!
The most important thing to determine is what sonic attributes are most important to you in reproduced music. For me, the fundamentals are pace, rhythm, and dynamics. For others, it might be soundstaging, frequency extension, instrumental timbre, transparency, and so on. No system does everything well, so decisions and compromises need to be made. In a 1992 Stereophile article, Martin Colloms wrote, "It's ironic that you can have an extended bandwidth, or high sound levels, or great stereo imaging, or very low coloration, or powerful, low-distortion bass, or several worthy combinations of these, yet rarely can you obtain these with a coherent, focused combination of natural dynamics, pace, and rhythm." http://www.stereophile.com/reference/23/index.html
If you can determine at the outset what's most important to you, and build a system strong in those attributes, you stand a good chance of being happy with it. It's certainly possible to assemble individual components, all well designed and well regarded, that speak with different voices and create a system that does nothing well.
If you're fortunate to live in an area with some good hi-fi dealers, put yourself in their hands, try to explain your needs/desires in audio, and let them help you assemble pieces that will work together as a system to deliver what you want.
1) 25% : Recording
2) 25% : Acoustics
3) 25% : Speakers
4) 25% : Electronics (including tweaks, cables, rocks, A/C, prayers, mood, etc.)
Or it could be:
1) 75% : Recording
2) 25% : The aggregate of the other 25%'s above
If the hobby becomes a chore, back off and re-evaluate; Are you in it for the sport of equipment thing, or are you truly improving your passion/appreciation of music?
If you are feeling the upgrade itch see Corollary A1.
Enjoy the hunt!