What is the most difficult component to upgrade


I haven't had much difficulty determining an upgrade path
for the components of my system EXCEPT for my preamp.
I have heard many. I have heard differences. But not
anything that says "I am the one". For other components,
I do not have the same problem.

Wondering where others have encountered an impasse in their
upgrade strategy.
judit
I find Speakers are ultimately the hardest component to upgrade.

Why is this the case?
Because speakers vary more in presentation than perhaps any other component. They are the only piece that converts energy into a different form in a pure digital setup (a cartridge does do it as well in an analogue setup).

I try to keep speakers as long as possible, and build a system around them. Some speakers are easier to get to sound good than others. Some are hard loads to drive, others are easy loads. Some need power becasue they are not sensitive, some are way sensitive and need less than 1 watt of power for good volume output.

In any case, the greatest system with one set of speakers may not be near the greatest system with another.

Peace.

KF
I tend to agree with you. I had the same problem with my pre-amp. It's odd, what should a pre-amp do: select sources, control the volume (pretty simple). What should it not do: compress, roll-off, degrade, or otherwise color the sound. With such simple goals (the best pre-amp is no pre-amp kind of philosophy) you would think selecting a pre-amp would be easy. But like you I found one to have special qualities in one area and lacking in another. I'm quite happy with my current pre-amp, but I'm also very certain it is not "the one".
For me, it is the speakers. I've tried twice and kept my old ones that cost about 1/2 to 1/3 of the price of the ones I tried to demo at home as an upgrade.
I think it is a case of, I've done such a good job integrating and tuning/tweeking my system, that a speaker change throws it all out of wack.
Based solely on price point my speakers should be the weak link, but they have no weaknesses that could have been revealed by the better electronics.
Strictly speaking I think the room is the most difficult. The present state of affairs makes finding a digital source to be most challanging.
At least with a preamp, there are ways of acertaining just what it is doing in your system, if you can directly plug one of your sources into your power amp (don't try this before you have an idea how loud any particular recording will play in your system without attenuation, or unless your CD playback is equipped with its own volume control).

The most difficult thing to know what to do about when it comes to upgrading is cartridges, in my experience. There is almost never a good way to comparitively audition these - or often even any way to audition them at all. You're usually at the mercy of recommendations and reviews.
The preamp is a puzzler all right... why the heck should it make so much difference? After all, it basically just does switching and a little bit of amplification, as well as volume control. And then there's balance and... OK there's a lot to get right after all. My own preamp's manufacturer ONLY does preamps ( Klyne ). So the puzzler is which one to get, there are a whole lot to choose from and only a few are really great.

But IMHO the hardest thing to upgrade is a source component because ( as UHF pointed out to me when I asked them for help ) money spent here will not improve music through the whole rest of the system--just music played through that source. In fact a big upgrade to one source can even have negative effects : it can spoil listening to the others, as I found out when I upgraded my turntable.

And I think Zaikesman is dead right : who can audition cartridges before buying, these days?
The preamp is a puzzler all right... why the heck should it make so much difference? After all, it basically just does switching and a little bit of amplification, as well as volume control. And then there's balance and... OK there's a lot to get right after all. My own preamp's manufacturer ONLY does preamps ( Klyne ). So the puzzler is which one to get, there are a whole lot to choose from and only a few are really great.

But IMHO the hardest thing to upgrade is a source component because ( as UHF pointed out to me when I asked them for help ) money spent here will not improve music through the whole rest of the system--just music played through that source. In fact a big upgrade to one source can even have negative effects : it can spoil listening to the others, as I found out when I upgraded my turntable.

And I think Zaikesman is dead right : who can audition cartridges before buying, these days?
Preamps can make a HUGE difference in a system. Many audio people have told me that a systems sonic signature is many times most determined by the preamplification. I have had digital preamplification, passive preamplification, active SS preamplification, active tube premplification, and preamplification built into a DAC/CDP. All have their plusses and minuses. ALL sound very different, having their own general sonic attributes. And this is not even considereing the great differences in the sounds of the different brands of preamps in each category.

Long ago it used to seem silly to me to spend money on preamps. How much difference could they make? My first preamps were passive. Very inexpensive and in theory were supposed to sound good... Well I moved onto an active preamp (Morrison ELAD), a very nice piece for its price that offered a lot more detail than the passive pieces. Then I moved onto digital and finally to tube active. Anyway, the differences can be STAGGERING if your other components are as high of quality (in transparency) or higher than the preamp you are using.

My 2C

KF
KF I agree, the preamp has always made the biggest difference in my system the amp was second with source (digital) third. The toughest thing for me to spend additional upgrade money is cables. One I got to a certain level of cable any upgrade had little if any impact on my system.
I'm with Unsound, hands down it's the room.
Check out the tread on Preamp of the Century. Buy a Supratek preamp and you will be VERY HAPPY. The only downside is that you have to be very patient. This preamp is handemade one at a time in Western Australia. The wait is 4 to 6 months. It is the most musical and the most beautiful preamp I have ever encountered. You will learn a lot from the thread.
...and it has as much if not more impact on the sound as anything else in the system!
Speakers. It is very hard for me to audition them in my room with my front end. I can hear them in other systems and in other rooms but how will they sound in my room? OTOH, I can swap out a pre/amp/cdp with relative ease. It is amazing how much difference a good pre can make. I second Slowhand on the Supratek. It was worth the 6 month wait. Thanks for starting that thread Slowhand, it has forever changed my music system.
Regards,
Patrick
The front end.

For analog upgrades it is difficult to find dealers with the capability or desire to properly demonstrate different combinations.

Digital technology changes with such speed that this source has almost truly become "the flavor of the month". Then, throw in the different formats (CD, DVD-A and SACD) combined with upsampling, oversampling and combinations of formats in individual players. It makes my head spin.

I'm in the process of upgrading my digital source. For various reasons I have decided to go with a single box cd only player. I've listened to a number of players at home and in the store. I've got about $3500 available and I just can't seem to find the right one. The search goes on.......
Doug,
I recommend you listen to a Audiomeca Mephisto II. $3500 is close to what a used unit goes for. To me, it sounds closer to the truth than any other cdp I've heard but I haven't heard the AA Capitole which would be over $3500 anyway.
Regards,
Patrick
Speakers!!
The heaviest!