The most important part of any audio system is the person setting it up. The individual who puts up the rig controls everything from the larger parameters of performance, such as cost, to the minutia, such as listening position and position of speakers.
I have for years stated, "The single greatest impediment to building a high end system is the audiophile." Why say that? Because most audiophiles inhibit system development through mistakes they make. They do not wish to spend enough money, or they do not care enough to find highly synergistic gear, or they ignore aftermarket power cords, or a better digital source, or USB cable, etc. Most, perhaps 75%, of audio systems are not that good because the person putting it together doesn't care all that much, or is chintzy, or depends on someone else's advice versus actually trying several things to improve it.
It should be obvious that ALL parts are critical, that any one which is poor can submerge the performance. It's self-defeating to discuss which one component is most important. That is like asking, "Which parts of this system can I skimp on and still expect great results?" It's a loser's game. :)
Don't expect cheapskates, who are always looking for a way to skimp on it at some point(s), to build a superior system. :(
I have been saying the source for many years. I get the other posts also but if you are using a cheap $19 Walmart CDP and you think that will get you the best sound out of your $100K amps, $100K Preamp, $100K Speakers, Your $100K dedicated lines and line conditioners, Room treatments, etc. then who am I to argue?
One thing for sure.I sold audio for years. By far the most distortion is your loudspeakers. Even 1-2% is far more than any other piece of equipmrnt.That is where probably more money should be spent to get the highest quality. Your sourse for sure is the most critical for precision
Of the event. Everything starts from the sourse and detail once lost
Cannot be made up else where that is why you should get the best turntable
Including Arm and cartridge and sound Different this includes Digital .Makes sure it's sonic signature is a good fit before pulling the trigger.
You are correct, it all starts with the source, get that right 1st (digital or analogue) and your 1/3 the way there. If not right, it’s a never ending battle to get the truth, and everything after it becomes just a band-aid fix.
Ivor Tifenbrun (Linn Sondek)
Here is one of several prior threads in which this question was discussed:
Following is my answer as stated in that thread:
Do not expect any consensus among the answers which will be provided, or among the answers that have been provided about similar questions that were asked in the past.Regards,
+1 for the T shirt.
Room and Speakers together are the most important choice and investment you can make.
Many if not most audiophile grade sources and amps are very good to fantastic in our modern world.
The room and speakers usually leave the most to be desired and have the most impact on cost and sound of the system.
$100,000 system with a poor room and poorly placed and inappropriate sized speakers with listening chair against a wall ...will sound awful.
I have never heard a really terrible sounding audiophile grade source or amp but I have heard many many awful sounding audiophile grade speakers.
My own answer, expressed in general terms, is that a chain is as strong as its weakest link, wherever that link may happen to be located in a particular system.
+1, well said Al!!
I agree with this method 100%. A system is about balance, and carefully balanced and selected system will sound best in my experiences.
Focusing on one area while ignoring the others is a sure way to find disappointment.
IT'S THE TRANSDUCER, STUPID!
If I buy a top shelf $10,000 phono cartridge, put it on a $1,000 turntable, with $1,000 speakers, and $1,000 AVR, can I still wear that T-shirt?
Al.....*clap*clap*clap *clap*clap*clap *clap*clap*clap*
Thanks for being tonight's voice of reason & rationale...;)
We all 'tweak' 'n 'fiddle' with whatever to achieve some form of goal that scratches that itch that drives us to do so. Twas always thus.
I enjoy reading the details and commentary about the various forms and 'cures' for those itches. It's the 'potions 'n lotions' and their applications that never cease to...uh, amaze...*L*
Keeps me coming back...;)
Thanks for all the replies. Of course everything is important in the system. As I mentioned, every component including cables were all high-end. You cannot just expect a $10K turntable sound the best with $100 speakers.
In my experience same speakers and some other components sounded much better with the turntable. I never heard this much of a change with any other components before.
Once I had Nordost Blue Heaven interconnects. I wanted to try the Alpha Core Goertz interconnects (cannot remember the model). The sound was warmer. I know that even a cable (opening another can of worms here?) can make a difference but the difference with my last experience was a "WOW!" difference.
This is how I would put in order:
There is an expression that someone who represents himself in a courtroom has a fool for a client. Now, I don’t want to be too alarmist here, but I believe that expression can also be applied to the listening room. 😀 And I’ll go out on a limb and speculate that the reason why many audiophiles are always in upgrade mode and can’t get no satisfaction is because, drum roll, if you don’t learn from the mistakes of the past you’ll just keep on making the same mistakes. How can you explain why some audiophiles have had, let's say, twenty systems or fifty systems?
OP, your final analysis has a complete dependency on what turntable and what CDP was used to arrive at that conclusion. Different models of each would have resulted in a different conclusion. All things being constant including the listening room, listening volume, and the music content, I personally think changing the speakers will make the most sonic difference in a system.
This is how I would put in order:
I can sort of agree with this order, as long as the recording is considered as part of the source. i.e. Personally, I find the recording quality to be at least as important as the source quality.
2) Room/Speaker interface
And I’ll go out on a limb and speculate that the reason why many audiophiles are always in upgrade mode and can’t get no satisfaction is because, drum roll, if you don’t learn from the mistakes of the past you’ll just keep on making the same mistakes. How can you explain why some audiophiles have had, let's say, twenty systems or fifty systems?
As one who has done a lot of experimenting with gear through the decades, I can own up to this.
Again, for me, the problem falls back on the recordings. Some recordings just sound better with different equipment. I think I would probably change gear less often if I had more systems. Then I could tune them to suit my tastes to different styles of recordings.
Have a system for bright recordings, a system for warm recordings, a system for 80's digitized recordings, a system for high resolution quality recordings, etc.
I was at a fellow audiophiles home about 10 years ago who had systems setup like this. A SET/horn system, dynamic/SS system, dynamic/tube system. His main system even had one turntable with 4 different arms/cartridges/phono stages. He used a different arm/cart/phono stage for different types of recordings.
Unfortunately, I am forced to try to find one system to do it all.
While a multi-arm turntable is not out of the realm of possibility, I'm not there yet.
As time moves on, and the recordings in high rotation change, so does my opinion of my systems sound. It's like trying to hit a constantly moving target.
I suppose I could just listen to the same 50 recordings over and over again, the ones that make my current system sound it's best........nah.
Doug I agree 100%, good example is Mike Lavigne and Albertporter this are audiophile who knows what they are doing, you can have all the expensive gear but if you don't know what you are doing, you can't max their performance.Especially Mike L, His room is every audiophile dream. True, it's easy to make mistake, when you don't have good experience in this hobby.Doug thank you, this a very good post,.
+1 your post
I have not had nearly as much upgraditus as others. I believe it is because I have chosen carefully and wisely. I don't try to achieve a sound or sugar coated flavour filled sound. I seek accuracy and total neutrality. My thrills come from the music and the recordings and realistic convincing presentation that conveys the true dynamics of live music and real instruments (requires more than 120 db of clean headroom). Audio systems should be like a great camera lens - as clear as possible.
If you stick to this goal rather than chasing different flavours (as you would with good wine) then swapping stuff is not necessary because the goal remains fixed and achievable in incremental fashion. Others will just say I have tin ears.
I believe most equipment swapping audiophiles are just chasing their tails because they DONT know what they are trying to achieve and end up chasing every pretty skirt they see, getting nowhere other than having a lot of fun in an aimless chase with endless equipment rotation.
jayctoy, thank you for the complement! There are only a handful of people who can do audio on a scale as those men.
A thread like this will result in lack of agreement because there are different types of audiophiles; "Music Lovers" which I classify as Mediaphiles, the typical Audiophile who is a blend of media and gear junkie, and persons such as myself, the System Builder, who enjoy making systems as much as hearing the music. It should be no surprise, then, that the methods and results of the three groups will vary widely.
Such a controversial subject. lol, yeah and you'll get 17 different opinions. That being said, it's true that it's all important and the weakest link suffers, but I think that your source/preamp are extremely important. If the sound quality of the waveforms are not there from the start, there is no way you are able to restore it by downstream devices (i.e. amp/speakers). Sure, you could compensate somewhat for a bad source by using different preamp/cables/etc., but it's just compensating/synergy. It's not really restoring the original quality. There can be combinations that work well, however.
The choice of amp is important, but does not affect the sound as much as source/preamp. Source/preamp are also more sensitive to type of power cord / fuse / outlet. Interestingly enough, my R&D and experience has shown that power cables and interconnects are extremely important. I have made an average amp/speaker system sound world class by using ultra-high end power and interconnect components (i.e. OCC Copper solid core, rhodium connectors all the way through, Furutech fuses). My opinion on order of importance is as below.
"I have not had nearly as much upgraditus as others. I believe it is because I have chosen carefully and wisely. I don’t try to achieve a sound or sugar coated flavour filled sound. I seek accuracy and total neutrality. My thrills come from the music and the recordings and realistic convincing presentation that conveys the true dynamics of live music and real instruments (requires more than 120 db of clean headroom). Audio systems should be like a great camera lens - as clear as possible."
Gee, no kidding? I don’t think I’ve ever run across anyone who’s goal was sugar coated flavor filled sound. And I doubt anyone would disagree audio systems should be as clear as possible. I also suspect you are confusing dynamic range with headroom or peak level, whatever.
Great question , and some excellent responses. But gentleman are you all out to lunch ? The most important measure of any system is " DOES IT PASS THE WIFE FACTOR "! I just felt like injecting some humor 😮 . But thanks to all for a great question and some very informative responses. Happy listening , Mike B.
Speakers. I have some Wilson Sophias. They sound great through my McIntosh preamp/amp setup. And they also sound pretty good through my 30 yr old Technics 40watt integrated that I dug out of the basement and used until I found a new preamp to replace the one I had sold. So, speakers is my answer. Hands down.
Speakers are the personality of the system. I'd rather hear my speakers with a boombox for power/source than to hear the boombox speakers with the rest of my system for power/source. Of course, none of us would put together either combination but you get the idea. I'll take fine speakers with so-so electronics over the alternative.
For me its speakers. Once you've found the pair that move you for all practical purposes your there. Improvements in everything else, source, amp, preamp, cables, will only making them sound even better. Don't care what people say, if you start with crappy sounding speakers, no source, amp, etc... will make them sound better.
In Jim Smith's book, Get Better Sound, he states the room is the most important component of any system.
Many years ago I gave no thought to "the room" whatsoever. Over the last 10 years or so I've spent more and more time voicing and acoustically treating my rooms and it's made a bigger difference than I would have ever thought... food for thought. :o)
To me it is speakers that the most most important, followed by the room. Good digital sources are easy to come by. I've heard the mantra 'rubbish in, rubbish out' but the fallacy, or rather irrelevance, of that is for amplifiers: 'rubbish amplification, rubbish out' or for speakers: 'rubbish out, rubbish out'.
For me, the loudspeakers are the most important part of your system since. No matter how good your source is, if the speakers can’t convey the full dynamics, scale, impact and resolution as a coherent whole, with realistic sound staging and imaging, then you will never get the full capability out of a better source. Then again, I was ruined for life after hearing a pair of Infinity IRS-V’s in a Dealer’s showroom back in 1991!
Next in order would be..
- a/c power
- good recordings
I used to think speakers, but my opinion has evolved a bit. My previous system (Linn speakers) seemed to sound pretty much the same irrespective of the amplifier and/or CD player; and most CDs sounded decent and similar. However, in my current system (Zu Def 4s) when my SET amp required servicing and I had to use a back-up SS amp, the sound became almost boring and uninviting and unengaging; it reverted to "normal" just as soon as my SET was re-inserted. Plus, CDs sound "different"- some good, some bad, and some indifferent.
I guess there are many different opinions on this topic!
I agree with the above well described weakest link theory. But to my logic and ears, speakers will impart the biggest personality influence on sound quality. Yes, lousy room acoustics, poor recording and distorted amplification will ruin sound quality and it goes without saying that these weak links must be removed in order to have even decent sound. With none of the weak links present, a change of speakers will have the biggest impact in sound. Spending extreme sums on cables, cords and other minor influences prior to getting speakers, room and source right is a fool's folly propagated by ultra high end manufacturers who make serious profits. Speakers and room, if done right, are unfortunately the most expensive part of the equation requiring the most time, money, effort and wife acceptance. Cables and cords, to my obviously tone deaf ears, don't make much difference relative to the cost. I have heard great speakers with average electronics and have been wowed but have been underwhelmed by great electronics paired with sub par speakers.
Estimated margin of error 5% depending on component combinations and sound preferences.
The above is my ball park assessment of importance relative to achieving sound quality. I too cringe when I see a virtual system with a large fortune spent on components with no attention paid to room, furniture and acoustics. Take a look at Fabio's $500k system with marble floors, glass walls and no acoustic treatments (he must have no upper end hearing if he thinks that echo chamber sounds right). In the end, to each his own.