I trade interconnects the most. Always willing to try something new and the cost is relatively low. Preamps come in second in terms of affecting the sound of the system as a whole.
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(1) Isolation components (gobs, both purchased and DIY). (2) speakers (four pairs in eight months) (3) IC's (four different ones as well). (4) amps (three, and still use two in different systems. Still using my first "upgraded" PC's but those are next on the "swap" list as well as speaker cable and I added a DAC instead of changing my CD source which was less hassle (sell and buy) and less expensive, I am also satisfied (really) with the results. I am also just getting back into the hobby after a long vacation. I should have just purchased what I really wanted at the start instead of trying to get by with less and don't plan on any more "gradual" step by step upgrades in the future.
Powercords, interconnects, speaker wire, isolation devices, shelf mat'l and power conditioners. The basic componants I have are very well matched right now, and the cost of upgrade is beyond my ability. The acssesories and tweeks can be as important as a new amp. They have certainly brought out the best of this equipment, and I've stay within 10% of my total investment for all my tweeks and accesories.
definitely preamps for me - i got a preamp bug last may - 1st got a linn kairn w/the latest *slimline* brilliant p/s to replace my older linn w/brilliant p/s. this lasted a couple months, til i got a hot-rod rogue 99. this lasted a couple weeks, til i got a cary slp98. this lasted a couple months, til i got my current melos music-director. this ain't goin' anywhere soon... :>)
Swampwalker: I was looking at the CAL 10 or 15 model (can't remember which was the changer) in hopes of getting a good one and also considered the cheap Aiwa that is the talk of the town when combined with a good DAC, but I am still using the CAL Icon MKII. I combined it with a Bel Canto DAC and am currently using a Mapleshade Double Helix digital IC (that I am keeping) and use both Homegrown Super Silver and HT Truthlink analog IC's. I am very satisfied with the results (the DAC and IC were $975.00) and I no longer desire the Theta Miles or Resolution Audio CD50 though they both have their special area's of greatness, IMO and are a bit more attractive as well (the CAL looks like my 20 year old Panasonic VCR from a distance - big black box). I could have sold the CAL and picked up either of these for just a little more money, but decided to stick with what I already knew and was also intrigued by reviews of the Bel Canto. I started out using the combo with my Musical Fidelity X-A1 amp but am now using it with an Audion Silver Night 300b stereo amp. The CAL/Canto has been a good match with both setups. I still have my Castle speakers but am now running a pair of Renaud Twin's. The CAL makes a good transport as I use it. I don't know if you are familiar with the Icon but when it was used as a stand alone it had an unusual midrange "reverb" quality that was noticable on piano and some voice (this trait has also been mentioned by other users and I am borrowing their use of the word "reverb". I like the trait actually. When I added the Bel Canto I discovered that "some" of this trait seems to have survived and assume that it must be a quality of the transport system instead of the internal DAC or perhaps a combination of both as it has subsided but not gone completely away. I use the term "reverb" to describe it, but maybe "space" would also apply (it's hard for me to describe sound in words). I think that the Audion's volume setup is passive so I cannot comment on Doug's/Sedond's theory of a tube preamp negating the improvement of the added DAC. The CAL/Bel Canto is superior in many ways, IMO, to the CAL alone combined with the Audion tube amp, though the CAL still sounds pretty damm good on it's own. I guess that I just favor CAL's fuller sound and bold bass which is why I selected it from the rest in the first place. The Bel Canto does not completely change the CAL sound, it just adds more realism to the istruments and the presentation. I would love to own a tube preamp/ss amp combo such as yours for the living room system eventually and then retire the little tube amp to the small spare bedroom. I realize that this info is kind of off the thread, but perhaps everyone can consider it as the logic behind the changes that take place.