"A chain is as strong as its weakest link," whatever that may be in the particular case.
IMO. Other opinions and responses, at least many of them, will certainly differ.
But what Al said is of course true.
In my opinion, the phono stage needs to be matched to the cartridge, the amp needs to be matched to the speakers. Two different ends of a continuous process. But would be ok spending more on a phono preamp than an amp.
I look at it this way... The amp is on all the time regardless of the source. And if the amp can't deliver the goods you'll never realize the potential of the phono stage.
But what do I know?
Al summed it up succinctly.
agreed..no sense having a great phono stage with a mediocre amp...so both are important as is the table, cart, arm, pre-amp, interconnects, speakers cable, ect. As Al says "A chain is as strong as its weakest link" no truer words spoken.
Always address the weakest link in order to maximize value.
Dan_ed: Kind of a dumb response.
It is probably easier to find a good amp than a good phono stage but what Al said is correct.
Ok, I'll try to be serious. If you don't have a phono stage you can't get much sound from a cartridge. If you don't have an amp it doesn't really matter if you have a phono stage or not. So the question you are really wanting to ask is, which component can I compromise on? I think the answer is intuitive, but the choice is yours.
I don't think the intent was dumb, it just wasn't phrased very well. My take.... he is asking if you have to compromise something since most of us can't afford the best of everything, where should you focus your resources? My only problem is his scope is too limited, why just the amp and phono stage?
Of course Al is correct on the weakest link, but If you are building a system from the ground up you have to start somewhere and if you don't want to keep replacing everything you must start with the speakers. They are the most colored so you have to find a pair that you like. That dictates what type of amp you need and that dictates what type of preamp you need. If you started with a neutral sounding source then you can start to fine tune things.
I pity those who are just starting out in this hobby. When I started I had several dealers I could visit and fortunately they took the time to educate me enough to get started. Those stores are all gone now. My system is pretty well done and I've been around long enough not to need their help, but I don't see how the newbies can navigate the maze unless they latch unto an old timer.
I suppose I chose phono preamp from two available choices because I believe that it is harder to deal with small signals and amplify them greatly than to deal with higher level signals which get boosted less. But it is all interrelated, so yes, its only as good as its weakest link
Always these decisions, decisions...they'll ruin the day. Try to go the simple way, buy a cheap MM cartridge, these can be used even with the worst Phono Stages with a satisfying result (lots of Audiophiles here like MM) and go for an amp which will drive your speakers with ease.
It's ALL important, system, system, system. Say it over and over again until these sort of questions simply go away.
But for someone who is trying to decide how best to allocate audio funds, just saying "system, system, system" isn't going to help that decision. Yes, synergy is huge, as I and others have posted many times.
I think Herman rephrased the OP's question nicely.
And so perhaps we should proceed from a perspective of "all other things being equal and understanding that it is ultimately synergy that matters most..."
In that spirit, I'd advise to focus on the phono, due to the difficulty of cleanly amplifying such a small signal from your turntable's cartridge. But pay particular attention to the cartridge-phono stage match, and the speaker-amp match. These are best thought of as pairs, since performance on each will depend greatly on what it is paired to.
Very good advice from Roscoeiii. You need to have a phono stage that is electrically compatible with the cart you have chosen and the same for the speaker-amp interface. Read the white paper on the two different paradigms of speaker design to see why this is so impt. BTW, its no accident that these two critical interfaces occur at the two transducer interfaces; i.e., where mechanical energy is converted to electrical energy and vic-versa.
I'm new to the audiophile world so I'm always looking for advice here in Audiogon. It still blows my mind when someone will post a response to a thread with "dumb question" because the question wasn't worded to their liking. Then later in the thread others make well thought out and informative responses to the OP. Seems like this is too often par for the course. To those who have the patience with noobs like me, thanks. By the way...nice thread.
I agree that it is not so much a matter of "what is more important" but more of a matter of matchinc components. The amp must be matched to the speaker and the phonostage to the cartridge. There are plenty of fantastic amps, but only when the amp is matched to an appropriate speaker. I own a very good amp, but, it can only put out 6 watts per channel (plenty, given my speaker). Sure, I could match the speaker with more powerful amps, but, I haven't heard many high powered amps that sound as good. If I happened to like a pair of speakers that needs more power, then, my choice, by necessity would be different.
On a gross level, the phonostage should match the particular choice of cartrige as far as the amount of gain needed. Beyond that, it it like any other component--one must just try different things to determine what matches ones taste and priorities.
If I were building a system, I would concentrate with finding the speaker that I really love (speakers make the biggest difference in sound quality), then I would find an amp that works with that particular speaker. That would then give me the foundation of a good system to which I could add/improve with better upstream components.
Dear Tbromgard : Maybe all answers in the subject are posted but I would like to add mine:
no doubt that each audio system link ( even room temperature. ) is important and what Almarg posted is true but Almarga: how do you determine that system weak link when it is not obvious?.
How I see the question's thread subject?: for me there are two main links one at the begin name it source ( cartridge. ) and the other at the other extreme name it speakers/room. IMHO as better these links as better the quality level ( everything the same. ).
A phono stage is nearest to the source than an amp and at this extreme is obviously more important. The source is not a stand alone link but a set of components that permit signal flow through the audio system, at the other extreme speakers is a set of items too: I think we can't take these two system links as stand alone links but as a set each one.
The phono stage is critical because the cartridge signal has to pass IMHO for the hardest proccess/manipulation that that signal can " see " all over the audio system signal " proccess ". Some one posted that at this stage the system has to work with very low output signals and this is an additional challenge that other system links not even imagine.
Being part of the source any single " error " ( name it: noise, distortions, colorations, etc, etc. ) there can't be fix it but only amplified.
If I have to be obligated to make a choose then I go for the phono stage even that I don't feel " good " talking on stand alone PS as a link because por me the audio system is a set of links more than stand alone links.
Anyway, this is my take.
Regards and enjoy the music,
I think if the OP describes the rest of his system, the forum may understand which part of his system chain can be more easily improved.
However, I may be misinterpreting the question. It reads as very generic, but perhaps the OP is asking for help in improving his specific system.
You guys can curse me all you want. I wasn't the only one thinking the question was not well thought out.
If the OP is really trying to decide where to compromise between the amp and phono stage, I suggest flipping a coin. The pros and cons of changing a source component over an amp are easy enough to list. So make your choice and start saving for the next upgrade. You really won't hear the improvements until all of the "links" are fixed. Incremental changes, sure, but not all there is. That is really all there to it is unless you just want to participate in some mental masturbation. But audiophiles like to do this a lot. Hell, I am surprised we haven't gone down the "treat your room first" road. :-)
Source, source, source... because you want the signal to be the best it can be and work from there. A quality source can survive mediocre amplification but super amplification will always suffer from a bad source.
And for the record, it's a good question and I had no problem understanding the INTENT of the op. I think there's hardly a post on this forum that someone can't find fault with if they are looking to be feisty.
Dhcod: As you I don't have any doubt that the source is the most important audio link in an audio system but seems to me that that was not what the gentleman on this thread ask it.
Would you post about? I think that you have a good answer on it.
Regards and enjoy the music,
Thanks for all the responses. It was a poorly worded question. I was trying to decide on keeping my NAD 326 Bee integrated amp and Phonomena phono stage, or "upgarde" to a musical Fidelity integrated A3.2 with built in phono. The speakers are Usher X718. Source is Sota Comet.
I agree that the amp needs to match the speakers. I also agree that the source is the most important component in the system.
The Musical Fidleity A3.2 integrated with 110 watts per channel drives the Ushers to more satisfying levels than the 50 watt NAD. The MF phono stage is very good and suits my tastes for now.
The NAD is already sold, but the Phonomena is available for 300 OBO. Thanks again.
Rauliruegas, I guess I just consider the phono stage part of the "source" equation. Arm + Table + Cartridge + Phono Stage. Not 4 different things.