I think interconnects have more impact on performance than sp.cables..I would start with Digital first..At least thats what worked best for me.......
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The straight answer is do it any order you can.
Honestly I think it will depend more on the quality of the cable more than the order employed. For instance I found using Cardas Golden Ref ICs between my pre to my amps produced the biggest change for the better. Simply all around great rich tone and big sound stage with details preserved.
I would tailor your choices around the sound you want most. I used Silver Lace (pure silver) by Homegrown from my TT to phono then Millersound's clone Ultraconductor Aluminatas to pre to get the most detail from my TT. I wanted a richer fuller but detailed sound from the CD player so I used Audience Au24 from my CD player to the pre and finally Speaker cables by Jena Labs all Cu braids to my detailed speakers (Jm Labs Electra 936s).
Love these chicken/egg threads.
I agree that in an absolute sense the differences in IC's will probably be more audible in a source application, but my version of which to chose first is just the opposite of many, especially if you have several sources which makes it more expensive to approach the source/IC first.
Sources sound different and you probably have several. You will want to pick your IC to match each source. They may not be the same brand/type of IC's. You will have a hard time really identifying source/IC/system synergy without already having already put together an amp/IC/Speaker (and speaker cable) which allows you to hear the differences that are made when you pick sources and IC's.
Now if you have only one source and it is the component you are building your system around perhaps starting there makes sense, but I still don't know how you will know when you have optimized its performance.
While there is obviously no universally applicable answer, and while obviously technical factors cannot provide a complete answer, I suggest that you take the following into consideration:
1)For line-level analog interconnects, the higher the output impedance of the component driving the cable, the more significant cable differences are likely to be.
2)The lower the nominal impedance of the speaker, the more significant speaker cable differences are likely to be.
3)The greater the variation of speaker impedance with frequency, the more significant speaker cable differences are likely to be.
4)The more critical damping factor and woofer control is to the particular speaker, the more significant speaker cable differences are likely to be.
5)Obviously, phono cables will tend to be fairly critical due to the low signal levels which they conduct.
6)Digital cable differences will increase considerably if length is less than 1.5 meters, and in general digital cables should be 1.5 meters or longer. That is discussed in a number of previous threads, and in this reference.
Of course, differences being "more significant," or the cable being "more critical," does not necessarily mean that a more expensive cable will outperform a less expensive cable in any given system.
Thanks everyone. The chicken/egg first analogy is so true. Anything High Tec can drive me crazy-but its so rewarding in the end. Interconnects seem to be the consensus for first. I should mention that I built a PC with the I7 chip to run music thru an Ayre QB-9 into the system. That and the CD are the primary sources, but I'd love to connect the XM from the Direct TV DVR. Thanks again guys-keep the input coming please!
Longer lengths are specified for spdif (coax) cables. Does the same hold forth for optical (toslink) cables?No. The principles which make a 1.5+ meter length optimal for spdif coax cables are not applicable to optical cables.
Which is not to say that length won't make a difference with optical cables, but I have no particular knowledge of the factors that would be involved.
Oh man! Homework! Looks like I get out the Electrical Engineers Dictionary, Electronics for Dummy's, to figure out what "Almarg" is talking about, and then apply those principles. What a foolish thought, to think this would be easy. Al's the kind of guy I would make a point of setting next to in the College Cafeteria, but not say a word in cross talk. I'm coming from "I just love driving the car, I don't know how to work on it" frame of mind. But now I know what to say to the marketing guy without being B.S.'d big time. Thanks Al, wished you lived close though. Please keep the input coming Audiogoner's, and thanks everyone for the advise and support.