The Ten Rules of high-end audio

1. Room acoustics can make up to 50% of the final sound.
2. With cables you can only "tune" the sound: they don't make a flawed system sounding good.
3. Tweaks can change a system's sound, but a different sound doesn't have to mean that there is better sound.
4. System synergy is not brand dependent. It has a weak relation with the costs of the individual components. It has also a weak relation with the technical design of the components (for example tube or solid state amplification, cone based or ribbon speakers).
5. It is better to have a good front end (where music reproduction begins) than to have very good speakers but only so so front end.
6. The importance of a clean AC power shouldn't be underestimated.
7. It is more worthwhile to invest in electronics and/or acoustics than in so called "tweaks".
8. It is better to strive for a "balanced" sound with some comprimizes than to strive for a "perfect" sound by frequently mixing and matching things. This way you will likely end up with a less satisfying sound.
9. Older high end components are not inferior to more contemporary units by definition. Some older units sound even better (= more musical) than the newer ones. This is also true with newer iterations of the same basic concept (Mk II, III, IV, etc).
10. When you are building up a high end system (or replacing units in your system) you should ask yourself two questions: What are the goals I'm striving for? What can I expect sonically from the component(s) I'm purchasing?

Comments please!

Pretty good basic guidelines overall, but I find numbers 2 and 8 to be suspect.

In other words (#2) putting bright, thin, or otherwise bad sounding cables in a good system can make it sound bad (or worse than it should). And putting coherent, neutral sounding cables in the same system can allow it to perform to its best potential. Also, cables do not have to be expensive to sound good and perform well.

And #8 just doesn't make sense to me and I'm not sure I'd agree with it if it did. I know I have mixed and matched components for years with great success. Party on!
Pretty good. I don't agree with Number 5. In my opinion, speakers have the most impact on system enjoyment followed, by the source, the preamp, the amp and lastly cables.
I would include, -The quality of the recordings you enjoy and listen to the most will have a dramatic impact on your perception of whether a given component is regarded well or poorly by you-

Fortunately, you only have to spend tens of thousands of dollars to learn that. ;)
Those ten rules are good ones, but by the time this thread runs its course, someone will disagree with all of them. ;)
Nice job!

Perhaps augment 10 with: I will always bear in mind that I am listening to a system; it is impossible to listen to individual components and all evaluations I make will be made in that context.
Very good stuff,,, I agree with most it and this CAN be used as a quide for newbies or thise who've lost their way.

Thanks for putting this out there.
11) Loudspeaker-amplifier relationship is the most important one to solve,
12) do not trust reviews,
13) there is no component without a loyal group of fans, who would praise it and make you believe that this is the right component for you
14) price is not always indicator of quality,
15) buy used at no more that 40-50 cents on the dollar, to allow for affordable experimentation.
#5 is just the opposite of what your wrote. Your #1 states that room acoustics make up 50% of the sound. Where do you think the sound interaction comes from? The speakers. Since the speakers provide the other half of the interaction with the room, they are much more important than the front end.

So what will sound better:

1) A pair of (pick 'em - Dali Megalines/Dynaudio Temptations/Kharma Midi Grands/etc./etc.) with the $99 special Best Buy DVD unit playing CDs


2) A pair of $500 Best Buy special whatevers with a P03/D03 Esoteric Player/DAC combo?

If you think #2, then I've got a bridge for you. Speakers ARE the determining factor in your reproduction chain. They have the highest utility factor (from economics). For every dollar spent on speakers, you get the highest return on music 'utils' than for a dollar spent anywhere else. The lowest return on your dollar are things like cables.
Rule #3 and rule #7 should be combined. Rule #10 should be that "someone will always disagree with the aforementioned rules."

I think if you were to boil all of your ten rules down to different aspects of the same rule, you might find that when you break it all down, what you basically said is that
1) your system is only as good as its weakest link, and some links are easier to see weaknesses on than others and
2) that throwing money at the problem is not always the best solution.
Bigbucks5: the examples you mentioned are two extremes of the spectrum. None will combine SOTA speakers with lousy speakers and none will spend only $99 for front end while owning mega $$$ speakers. Front end is relatively speaking more important than speakers. This is not the same thing as: speakers are not so important (if you have SOTA front end).

Bigbucks5: the examples you mentioned are two extremes of the spectrum. None will combine SOTA speakers with lousy speakers and none will spend only $99 for front end while owning mega $$$ speakers. Front end is relatively speaking more important than speakers. This is not the same thing as: speakers are not so important (if you have SOTA front end).

You just keep on believing that.
When you are building up a high end system (....) you should ask yourself(....): What are the goals I'm striving for?
Absolutely indispensable and the only reasonably approach to have, IME/IMO, etc. In fact, this should rule No1 !
What can I expect sonically from the component(s)
OK, but the 1st question is the determining factor.
System synergy is not brand dependent. It has a weak relation with the costs of the individual components.
It has also a weak relation with the technical design of the components (for example tube or solid state amplification, cone based or ribbon speakers).
No, no. It has a lot to do with the tech side of things. The tech is one way of approaching the audio goal you set for yourself!

5: I would say the opposite holds true, esp. for digital front ends & many contemporary analogue ones. Not to belabour the point, this was successfully, and not altogether unjustly, touted by Linn in the '70s when their only product in the this industry was a front end (a record player) and many popular TTs weren't very good.
"Front end is relatively speaking more important than speakers."

No. Speakers all sound different and will have the biggest impact on overall sound. If you don't have a speaker that is correct for the room and with a sound you enjoy you will NEVER correct it with a source.
Don't let the "speakers first" crowd stampede you. When I worked in audio sales I did the demos and then made the installations. I soon noticed that we demo'd speakers with high end separate electronics and sent the customers home with inexpensive receivers. The results were mixed to say the least, but after a while I could easily hear inexpensive electronics regardless of other factors. I soon developed a distaste for electronic distortion. I began to notice that some speakers made a lot of "noise" (added sound to the signal) and others while limited in range or power, added little extra "noise". On balance I prefer "subtractive mechanical distortion" to "additive electronic distortion". I therefore prefer low distortion electronics and simple speakers to the reverse.
1) If it doesn't look cool and glow - forget it.
2) If it doesn't have gold or silver or Beryllium or some precious metal or diamonds then it won't sound good - fabric and paper are cheap and therefore will always sound cheap.
3) Tone controls destroy audio signals - only buy "pure" gear with no options/flexibility (direct paths) and then use cables, tweaks and buy/sell components until you happen to stumble upon the sound you desire.
4) It sounds better if you can see - place monoblocks prominently out in the room (on the floor is best).
5) Box speakers sound boxy - get something tall, thin and angular with small "fast" light weight woofers (because big woofers are all slow)
6) The only way to get good sound is to go Vinyl. Digital is "missing" stuff between the data that you can hear only with Analog.
7) Vibration damping is essential on all electronics
8) Break-in is necessary for at least 300 hours every time you change / switch or unplug a component.
9) No amount of acoustic treatment will yield the same benefit as a component upgrade.
10) Get the best cables and interconnects you can buy then focus on electronics/source. Any speaker can be made to sound good if you drive it correctly.
I am squarely in the "speakers first" camp. A good source will sound good in any room and many systems. The same cannot be said for a good speaker. You can't just plop panels, electrostatics, or horns, etc. into any room and expect success.

The speaker has to fit not only the room but the taste of the listener. And the taste of the listener defines the entire system. The speaker and amplifier combination is particularly critical so in some instances (e.g. user prefers SETs) the amplifier type will strongly influence speaker choice (or at least it darn well better).

Think of it this way. How long did it take you to determine the position of your equipment rack (including the source)? How long did it take you to determine the exact speaker position (assuming you aren't still trying to determine that)? The speaker and the room come first. And I strongly endorse room treatment be part of the equation.
rules are nice, but until you audition several systems that sound like live music, regardless of price, you won't have a "ruler" in your head to make comparisons. so i don't regret having heard the "state of the art" early on, even if i couldn't afford it. yes, i met some snobs, and put up with their insulting comments at times, but i also became familiar with a guy named "david chesky" and prof.johnson (ref.recordings). and before audiogon, you had to spend some bucks if you wanted class-A or class-B. all i could do was negotiate on some demo's or trade-ins if i wanted to save more money. as for shadorne's humorous comments, you can yuck it up a bit AFTER you have spent some obscene amounts from hard-earned paychecks. until then you will have demons knawing at your soul until you get a name-brand preamplifier- and don't deny it! at least then you come home to audio gear that really does command some respect! as for wire, i eventually did get some very costly stuff, but it took me a LONG time to do so, well after i acquired the other componenets i wanted. also, you can get by with a $500 power conditioner on your front end, mainly for surge protection and some modest filtering, for a VERY long time, unless you live in an area that you KNOW creates problems that you can easily hear.
i think there are alot of mid-fi speakers out there that, with a receiver and a $500 cdp, and a used thorens or a rega, can keep you happy IF you know how to BE a happy listener. if not, then put a sneer on your face, put your "rolex copy" on your wrist, and saunter down to the local audio emporium to listen to some "audiophile" recordings.
notice the detail, the stage, and take note of how much the amplifiers weigh (apologies to jrdg!). whatever you do, don't ask what it all costs- a friend recently went to get an estimate of a multi-room home theatre system (bedroom, living room, and patio) from the high-end store we all know and "love". after some intricate calculations, the salesman came up with a total of $28,000, less installation...
Bigbucks5 is dead on. Speakers first.
That $99 DVD player will never sound good into anything.

An excellent signal can sound good into a wide variety of speakers and rooms.
IMHO most people never hear the best their speakers have to offer. Nobody in our crowd owns bad speakers today. Most of the time bad sound is caused by something back down the line from the speaker. And from my experience you can start with the room and next with the quality of the AC coming in. If those two aren't addressed, no system will sound its best. Some feel the AC question is the most important in the more modest systems.
there is only one rule:find out by listening to as mutch systems that you can where your hart goes out for and then you wil have "your" system. Regardless what brand, cost or pricipe it is made off.
May I suggest a "0"?

In audio, absolute fidelity, is impossible. An understanding of the trade-offs in "types of sound" and the limits of physics is essential to bring your experience of music in line with the realities of reproduction.

Or something like that .....

Shadorne, was your post 'tounge-in-cheek', serious, or Mixed????
every rule has an exception and most rules are made to be broken. also consider this:

most generalizations are useless.

what does this mean ? forget the rules and trust your ears.

if you like the sound, it doesn't matter what the rules are.

listen, listen and listen again. in time we all will figure it out.

how many did anything significant in life, by following the rules ??

of course if all this rule business is just banter, forget the above.
These rules pop up about every year when someone decides to again post opinions or their take on it all, and everytime folks chime in and re-arrange it all....yawn.
Chadnliz, do you have some additional comments on the "rules" that have being posted?

Shadorne/Chadnliz, My general observations as well!
Shadorne, was your post 'tounge-in-cheek', serious, or Mixed????

My post was just intended to highlight how some can get trapped into expensive pitfalls that lead to endless frustration and never reaching satisfaction...

50K systems in a room with bare walls and speakers crowded in the wrong place with listening chair up against the rear wall...

Systems with $1000 speakers (with $39.98 drivers) and $2500 speaker cables and $1500 interconnects and $5K each for source and amplification.

Those who buy/sell extremely good gear to tune the sound rather than acoustically treat the room deficiencies or adjust the tone control (often these systems have NO tone control!)

Believing that diamonds, gold or precious metals or other costly materials must necessarily make meaningful audible improvements because they add cost. (Gold everywhere on connectors is nonsense)

Blind belief that "purity" is essential - when good sound often requires a fair degree of "complexity".

Blind belief that Digital is fatally flawed instead of blaming the mix/mastering engineer for an unforgiving sound that you don't like. (There are both good and bad CD's - same as Vinyl)

Those who accept to listen to something for 1000 hours (break-in) before making a decision about liking it or not. (if it doesn't sound good after an hour out of the box or you initially can't hear any improvement at all - then something ain't right and it ain't that you need to endure 1000 hours)
hi shadorne:

remember, there are no rules. if it sounds good it is good. it's mind over matter. if one doesn't mind, it doesn't matter.

let's stop getting serious over rules, and just be happy subjectivists.
Amen Mrtennis
I disagree that Room acoustics can make up to 50% of the final sound.
If your electronics are top notch, then it will nearly always sound good, no matter the room acoustics,
Yes room acoustics can effect the sound but absolutely not the 50% mentioned
1) Prices have increased 10x or more, but regardless of price, "high end" audio has seen only marginal improvements since the 80's

2) Profit margins over 100% are inversely correlated to the integrity, credibility and trustworthiness of the manufacturer and/or distributor

3) Most tweaks have profit margins of 1000% or more

4) Usually, the quality of the music and performance is inversely correlated to the quality of the recording

5) Re the source vs speakers debate: no chain is stronger than its weakest link!

6) There is no such thing as too much good, clean power

7) Re dynamic vs planar speakers: whatever the debate, planars and electrostatics are far more COOL. (And they probably have better midrange.)

8) Audiophiles rarely say "it sounds wonderful and the music brings me joy, but I really wish the system had more 'extension' and/or 'resolution'"

9) Audiophiles often say "I dont enjoy the system - it sounds bright and fatiguing"

10) Analogue and vacuum tubes still rule


Him-Why I really need to have a new pair of loudspeakers
Him-Why I really need to have a new pair of..............
Him-Why I really need to have a new pair.................
Him-Why I really need to have a..........................
Him-Why I really need to have............................
Him-Why I really need to.................................
Him-Why I really need....................................
Him-Why I really.........................................
Him-Why I................................................
and remember the 11th rule:

there are no rules, only opinions.
Rule 12)

"Audiophiles" who start threads where they:

a) Spontaneously gush about some no name, distribution challenged, garage built voodoo brand, particularly where they begin in a tone like: "Hey everyone, in my ongoing quest for public service and to spread joy, I just wanted all of you to know about a really great new product which has changed my life!"

b) "Bump" or reply to their own thread and ultimately make up more than 30% of the replies to their own thread in posts like: "No replies? What's the matter, are you telling me that no one wants to hear about the latest greatest stupidgood component in the history of the world?"

c) Invent new superlatives to describe the alleged performance of said voodoo brand

d) Say things like, I've owned Audio Research, Levinson, Jadis, etc but the XYZ Voodoo brand BLOWS THEM AWAY.

e) Constantly trash well known, well distributed and generally well respected audiophile brands

are, actually, NOT audiophiles.

No, they are manufacturers and/or distributors and or accomplices of manufacturers and/or distributors who are masquerading as audiophiles.


Wilson ran his speakers with a Denon M-30 mini-system to prove a point.........
Cdc - that's interesting. What were the results???
Linn Sondek argues that their LP12 hooked up to a pair of Campbells soup cans will sound better than the Wilson/Denon combo.
Linn LP12 awwwwwwww back in the day, Asaks and Ittoks. Brings a tear to a glass eye.
There was one UK hi-fi bod who could apparently at a hi-fi show tell you if an LP12 was playing without looking at the turntable.
London and Curries! no need to go to India. Islington, N1!
joeylawn, I think this was at a trade show. I think people were impressed with the sound and then surprised when seen what was driving the Wilson's. Note that Wilson's I've heard are not all that revealing, esp. in the HF, have some innate colorations, and are easy to drive.

I have Ken Kessler's review of the newer Denon UD-M31:

"after 20 seconds of listening he just shook his head. He thought I was driving the Gaurneris with L10,000 of tubed McIntosh or the Musical Fidelity Tri-Vista"

London curry is definitely reference quality.

But British "hi fi" never convinced me.