What's most important?

I had some friends over last night, and we started to discuss the different things that go into assembling a high quality stereo playback system. The level of disagreement, and the heated discourse, was both fun and surprising. Here is what I think, in order from most important, to least: 1).THE ROOM/SPEAKER INTERFACE- choosing the right speaker, and placing it properly in an acoustically "sound" room with a dedicated power line. If this is wrong (like a Wilson Grand Slamm in 12 x 12 x 8 room) well, then why bother with the rest. 2). THE SPEAKER/AMP INTERFACE- this is a close second, and depending on the circumstances, might even be first. If there is a REAL problem here(like low impedance/sensitivity speakers w/SET amps) nothing else will matter much. 3). THE AMP/PREAMP INTERFACE- again, this seems to be the next place where things can go really wrong in an audio system. 4) SOURCE COMPONENTS- I know, this is lower on my list than most people would like, and I don't mean to infer that source components don't affect the quality of a playback system. Of course they do. I just feel that if the above issues have not been addressed, then simply throwing a reference quality source into the system might not be the best way to maximize the potential of said system. 5). INTERCONNECTS AND SPEAKER WIRE 6). ISOLATON DEVICES, A/C CORDS, POWER CONDITIONERS, AND OTHER VARIOUS TWEAKS.....Well there it is. Again, in an ideal system, ALL of the above issues would (should) be addressed sooner or later. But how would you prioritize things, and why? Release the hounds........Robert K.
Robt I have been brain washed by Linn since early 80s when I owned LP12 turntable, source is most important by far whether CDP/Turntable, and makes biggest single difference in sound quality. Of course some balance must be reached, but its the simple "garbage in garbage out" logic. Spending large amounts of money on speakers/amps is useless unless they have good signal to reproduce. Of course once you have a great source then you can spend larger porportion of system budget on speakers etc. It is amazing how good a system with modest integrated amp and budget speakers will sound with good CDP/Turntable as source, Sam
Amen, Sam. Some of the most listenable systems I have been around featured nothing more than a nice CD player, an EL34 based integrated tube amp, modestly priced cables, and pair of easy to drive, fabric domed tweeter speakers.
Sam, most of the guys who were over last night would agree with you. But we never really spoke about system budget, or exactly how much you should spend on each component in a system. Just what is most important, FIRST. Just to play devils advocate, how do you think this would work out, using your example of modest amp and budget speakers with a GOOD CDP/Turntable? Vandersteen 2Ce, Bryston 3B-ST, and a Resoluton Audio CD50 in a room 11 x 9 x 7 with no acoustic treatments and hard plaster walls? My buddy has this exact set up, and no matter what he tries,the sound is terrible. Last week I took my pair of Dunlavy SC-I (monitor sized speakers in the same price range as the Vandersteens) over to his place along with a package of mini roomtunes, and guess what? Greatly improved sound, with little fuss, because the speakers are a better match for the room. NOW he can really hear the benefits of upgrading his front end, amplification, wires, etc. So in this case, what was more important? Getting a great front end FIRST, or correctly matching the speakers to the room FIRST? Of course Sam, you are 100% correct when you say *garbage in, garbage out* but ONLY if the speakers AND the room allow you to hear the difference. In other words, when I say that the SPEAKER/ROOM INTERFACE is MOST important, I'm not saying that you should spend MORE on speakers than on a great front end. Just that without a proper room and speaker match, nothing else seems to matter much. The debate continues.....Robert K.
I do agree with Trelja. I have also heard simple systems that sound fantastic. But what IS or IS NOT a musical system is not the subject, nor is the subject how to allocate a system budget. Notice that in my thread topic, I never comment on HOW much you should spend on a given component. You might spend $400 on speakers, and $4000 on source components, but I still think that the SPEAKER/ROOM INTERFACE as I've described it, is most important. So what do you think is most important? And please be as specific as possible. If the source is first, what is second? Third? Last? Why? I feel the dogs of war creeping up on me......Robert K.
11x9x7? I would stick to monitor sized speakers, better to roll off the bottom then have too much for the room.
Robert K, you are correct about the room/speaker interface. The more I think about it, the more I have to give you your due. The system is NOTHING if the speakers don't: A)mate well with the room & B)aren't positioned correctly. In fact, some of the most amusical setups you will hear reside in some dealer's listening rooms. Whether they be lined with brick or plaster, they are often stark and sterile(usually WAY larger than they should be - becoming an echo chamber). Not much in the way of furniture or thick carpets, but usually overstocked with room treatments(which they will tell you a system is incomplete without). Also, I have visited some dealers who have so much equipment lying around that it is impossible to position the pair of speakers that I came to hear that day in anything but a horrible configuration(if they allow you to move them at all). Then they will try to sell me on a home installation(not cheap), saying that I could not possibly know how to set up a system(in MY home) as well as they do. I even got someone quite a bit offended when I pointed out(very politely) to him that he should take his own advice. I merely said that I needed to move his speakers into a better position(after he spent 20 minutes telling me that it is a MUST for him to come out and position the speakers at my house because, "Speaker positioning is everything!").
I would have to go with: 1. Pre-amp (or integrated amp, heart's and guts in one unit) 2. Source-Loudspeakers and 3. Amp (separates). On room acoustics, i would have to agree, it is the most important "tweak". And "tweak" no matter how important, wont "make or brake" the great set-up. It will just "help-out". On the cables, the most important cables are Interconnects between Pre-amp and Amp (separate) 2. in between source and Pre and 3. Speaker cables! I posted similar Q. before and interesting outcome was: 70% speakers were most important, than the source....and Pre-amp was distant 3rd...i am surprised that most audio entusiast chose the wrong answer?
Hi Robert; I've got to go with you on this one (at least for 1st place). If the speaker room interface doesn't work, what's in the rest of the system won't matter. I learned this the hard way-- had Vand. 2Ces (good sized speaker) in a 12 X 14 room, and never could play them at more than low to low-moderate level or they would easily "overload" the room. We remodeled some time later and then I had a 14 X 22 room-- huge improvement, and I now have Vand. 3Asigs in this room. Now the speaker room interface is very good. In my smaller room, I would have been MUCH better off with a good quality small speaker. Beyond this (and sorry for the cliche) "a chain is only as strong as its weakest link", and any one poor component can "screw up" an otherwise good system. That said, I have: 1. put most of my money into excellent source components, 2. next most into amp-preamp combination, and 3. speakers, 4. wires including ded. AC system with ded. ground (actually if I include power cords with other wires, I have more money in wire than speakers). Cheers. Craig.
I appreciate your views, Eldragon, but I still don't see how the preamp (or integrated amp) can be MORE important than the proper SPEAKER/ROOM INTERFACE. And please notice that I did not say that the SPEAKERS are MORE important than the preamp, but that the INTERACTION between the room and speakers is MORE important. In my friends system described above (Vandersteen, Bryston, Resolution)I used a RTA to help figure out what was going on. He had 10dB rise from about 100Hz to 250Hz, and a 8dB suckout from about 65Hz down to 50Hz (from the flexing of his wood floors, we presume) and allot of other problems through the mid and high frequencies. When we moved the speakers along the long wall, that helped, but nothing changed from the upper bass down. He could never understand what was going on, and tried different amps, source components, and wires. And while each change produced a shift in the spectral balance of the system, nothing really helped to make the system more enjoyable, at least according to him. And after looking at the in-room frequency response plot, I can understand why. He was fighting a problem that could not be solved unless he got new speakers, or a new room. With the Dunlavys we were able to get nearly flat response from about 50Hz to above 10Khz with only a minimum ammount of acoustic treatments. Are the Vandersteens *bad* speakers? Of course not. They were simply the WRONG speaker for this room. And no preamp I know of (besides one that uses digital correction) can compensate for really bad frequency response problems. This is why I still contend that the SPEAKER/ROOM INTERFACE is most important, and by that I mean selecting the right speaker for the proposed listening room, setting it up properly, and applying acoustic treatments if needed. Until my buddies came over last night, I thought this was common knowledge, but boy was I wrong. And please try to remember, I'm not saying that SPEAKERS are MORE important than any other component. I'm simply saying that the SPEAKER/ROOM INTERFACE (as I've defined it in the above posts) is more important than just about anything else, at least in my experience....Robert K.
......I should have also noted that I use 5 ASC tube traps to facilitate speaker/room interaction-- AND I have 3 ASC panel traps on order to deal with side wall reflections. Cheers. Craig
What most important?Everything in a system is important, and that includes your own ears, of course!A system is working in an environment, in which the system in itself, is an integrated part.Where does additional efforts pay divident the most? Of course, one can make statistical investigations, to find out e.g., that room treatment had the best influence by , say 60% of the systems, evaluated by their owners, but that dosen´t nessecerly help you, to make good desicions.I will say that one important thing, among others is one´s ability to analyse problems and strengts in the system. With that, you probably don´t simply trow gear out, and replace it with other gear, in hope of an improvment.Instead, you work towards an end, and if you don´t know how to get further improvments,you consult others, who hopefully knows.Having had this interest,for about 40 years now, and having built many loudspeakers, amplifiers, and done a lot of tweaking,I can say that there is no shortcuts, everything in a system has importance, but many audiophiles have insufficient knowledge about acoustics, electronics, physics,so they are often searching in wain, for improvments.I don´t blame them. And I don´t state that I know enough,I don´t. But with better knowledge one is more resistent to marketing hype, and with experiences one can make more intelligent guesses,e.g. it may be better to improve the power supply of the preamplifier, than to buy new cables.Thus, if it is a single thing that IS most important, I will say knowledge!
Robert...i understand your point! However, we have to first follow some logic here! Before we buy furniture, a rug, HI-FI! We have to have a "space", and that is dedicated, or not, room! Are all rooms built with four walls, ceiling and floor? Yes or no? The size of the room should determine what kind of amplification and ultimately what kind of speakers will be best suited for! For example, rectangular room 20'x 15' moderately furnished (not cluttered)will be perfectly suited for medium-low amplification with large monitors or two-way floorstander! Anything larger, and you will probably run into some problems! Vandersteen are good speakers, but as i understand they do "pump-out" large amount of low freq. And you need relatively large room to enjoy the full potential. Regards!
My idea was that, AFTER the fact, we know (assume) which sistem will be suited for our "environment" that THAN, we build our sistem around the PRE-amp, and not the speakers! Regards! P>S> refer to R. Harley's book, and new "THE INNER Ear" where is interesting article on importance of pre-amp! Dragan
Anyone that has not invested a great amount of time into optimizing the speaker / room interface has never heard the rest of the system do ANYWHERE near what it is capable of. Choosing the right speakers for ones' room, listening tastes, listening position and their placement will affect more things than any other component !!! We are talking about boomy bass, thin bass, "hot" treble, dull treble, pinched mids, forward mids, lack of imaging, too narrow of a sweet spot, shallow soundstage, too deep of a soundstage, too narrow of a soundstage, etc... ALL of these things are addressable via speaker selection and room interface. Selecting the right speakers and then properly placing them is half the battle. Applying the proper and NECESSARY room & acoustic treatments is another 10%. What other SINGLE aspect of the system can make or break things so drastically as the speaker to room interface ? NONE. Sean >
I would concur with speaker/room interface being the single most important factor, and would only add that this further implies that, among the individual components, speakers are the most crucial. However, I'd have to add a few conditions to that. . .First of all, this assumes that one is at using at least decent "upper-mid-fi" components. There's no point "proving" that the source component is not the most critical by playing, say, a Wadia (pick your ultra-high-end brand of choice) CD player through to a $99 boom box (my old Sony has the inputs). Nor do I think the latest, expertly setup Linn-SME-vdHul (again, pick your favorites) analogue system will give much joy played through, say, my first system, which was a Dynaco 40 wpc solid state integrated amp and a pair of Dynaco A-25s. But if you played the analogue setup I had in that old system -- Thorens TD-160 with Shure V15-III -- through that Dynaco into a pair of really fine speakers -- for me, horn-loaded Tannoys or modded Altec 604-8Gs -- that were properly set up in a compatible room, that would be best of all. Of course, adding a better component will make an improvement. Once, when out of work for a time, I had to sell my Tannoys. I used the other components (including a big Crown/SAE combo) and a small pair of bookshelf speakers that I had long since retired, but weren't really worth selling. I was amazed at how good they sounded with the separates compared to the Dynaco I'd used them with before. A very real, obvious and delightful difference, to be sure. Having said that, in my experience, among the components themselves, speakers are the main contender. To put it another way: I imagine someone gives me one signed blank cheque and another for $3000, and says, "Buy a five-piece stereo system (analogue rig, tuner, CD player, preamp, power amp) plus speakers. For one component you may spend as much as you want. But $600 each (or, for the speakers, a pair) is the limit for the other components. I know I'd fill in the blank cheque to buy the best (for me) possible speakers and then spend $600 each on the source components and the amplification.
while i agree that speaker/room interface is critical, as far as how much one *spends* on their set-up's individual components being important, i tink it has a lot to do w/what one's main source is. if cd is the main source, then i think one should devote their money on getting the best pre-amp possible - decent lower-cost speakers can interface w/any given room, and the law of diminishing returns really applies strongly when talking about digital playback: ie: a $20k cd system is really going to be only marginally better than a $2k cd system. ie: i'd rather have a $20k preamp w/a $2k cd player than vice-versa. better to spend the extra $$$ on a preamp, imo. however, w/vinyl, there *is* a greater return for investment when getting more expensive playback components. more important than the preamp? i dunno, but certainly much closer in importance than w/cd. i think it's important to realise that linn, when stressing the importance of the source, made their initial comments prior to the advent of cd... doug
This is all great stuff, and everyone so far has made strong points. I wish my buddies were as "in the know" as most of the folks here on Audiogon. Most of them think that just throwing big $$$ at the problem(s) which plague a system will fix it. But we know that is not true. Maybe Dinos hit it right on the head; perhaps KNOWLEDGE (and I'll add experience) is the most important! Enjoy the weekend.....Robert K.