What's the best approach?

Here's the situation: I'm replacing a 16-year-old 2-channel system consisting of cd/dvd player for source, speakers, tube preamp, and a SS amp. What is the best process to follow in doing so? The question isn’t about specific types or brands of equipment, but the approach one takes. Should one start with speakers, then match an amp, preamp, and source? Or start with the best source one can afford and work out from there? Is there a logical process for building a balanced, synergistic system? What do you think?
Wow! What DVD player did you buy 16 years ago:)
The general consensus here seems to be to start with the source and go towards speakers since you cannot "correct" anything along the way so better start off right. Some say the opposite. I think it depends how bad your speakers are. If you think they are pretty good quality, start updating the source (especially at 16 yo). As far as good synergy, I would try to stick with the same brand (at least for amp and pre) throughout - this is a tough one to pinpoint otherwise. Good luck! Arthur
Seriously, what are your goals for the system? Is it to be 2 channel or surround? What's the budget? All of these are important questions that your have to answer before meaningful advice can be given. I am also a believer in the "source first" school of thought, but all of the links in the chain are important.
The source is a good as any place to start if you just remember you don't have to break the bank to get a great sound.

This is my succesful cheap guy formula: If your room is of good size,

1)buy a used Apogee,
2)buy a cheap Jolida 100 CDP,
3)buy a used PassX
4)uncork a rare bottle of wine
4).... and die happy.

At least that formula worked for me through several transformations and improvements. :-)
It helps to go out with some reference CDs and educate your ear as to what speakers of different designs will and won't do. Falling in love with a speaker helps to clarify a number of other issues, especially if you are fortunate to fall in love with one you can afford and will work in your listening environment. Be patient. Research like crazy. Stereophile, Absolute Sound, audioreview, audiogon and audioasylum all have their place. Joining an audio club will expose you to resources in your area you might not be aware of. Good cables, premium tubes, power conditioners, designated outlets all make a difference. Analogue does sound better, but it's a lifestyle choice.
At the risk of stating the obvious, don't overspend on the hardware. Your emphasis should be on the software. There are all kinds of great new/old artists out there waiting to be discovered. As was said in The Red Shoes: "The only thing that matters is the music."
Thanks for the responses so far! One clarification, I did update the CD player about 4 years ago to a Sony CD/DVD player of medium quality. And, I plan to replace all the components.

As for a goal, 2-channel first and foremost, but may expand into HT later. But HT should not be a consideration right now.

As for budget (my wife's not reading this...)
Speakers - $2800 (new or used)
CD Source - $1500 (new or used)
Pre - $1500 (used)
Amp - $1800(used)
Or some combination that totals about the same.

I've been doing a tremendous amount of research and listening as much as possible. Best I've heard so far is Proac Response D15 with Naim electronics and CD5, very realistic (gave me that "being there" feeling). So far, the D15 would be my speaker of choice.

But I digress. The question is really about the process one follows to build a quality 2-channel system from scratch, since the choices for components are beyond counting…

Thanks so much!
With limited exposure to various electronics, It would be wise to consider a system based an a single manufacturer. This would in theory resolve the issue of component matching. For instance, If you plan to go with the Proacs, you should consider the ARC products at your price points. Likewise, since you pleased with the Naim products, why not go all Naim. A CD5/82/250/D15 system would be quite awesome. Used gear would only extend your budget a little.

Good luck and welcome back to the High-end fray.

Good points on going with a single manufacturer. BTW, what are ARC products? As for Naim, it just happened to be what the dealer had driving the Proacs. Not a big Naim fan, in fact, the gear seems rather proprietary and esoteric, although the CD5 did sound noticably better than a less expensive Arcam. Think the Naim gear just allowed the Proacs to sing their *real* song. Other components could do the same, perhaps?

Glad to be back in the fray.
I'd go out and find a really nice pair of speakers first - even if you hadn't posted a price, I would have suggested $2-3K used. Then I'd build up behind it until you were convinced they are the weakest link. This should take a while, and every step you'll hear a significant improvement.
By ARC I was referring to Audio Research products. There is wonderful synergy between these two product lines.

Source first v. Speaker - amp first. This will always be debated. Most Naimers tend to be first source folk. You should visit their forum at Naim-audio.com for some interesting discussions on this topic. My view is that within a budget the law of diminishing returns occurs at a lower price point with digital products than with other gear. For instance, the sonic differences between my Audio Note CD3.1x cdp($2400) and the CD2.1x($1400)are minimal. In retrospect I could have used that extra $1000 elsewhere in my system.

Likewise, It would not be unreasonable to allocate 40-50% of your total budget on the amp/speaker combination.

I would like to add that I have auditioned the D15 with a Manley Stingray. This was an extremely musical combination.

Find a pair of speakers that the very thought of puts a smile on your face. Pick the right amp to drive it. Since you are building from scratch it may be a good idea to build a passsive preamp system. Some people talk down a passive preamp setup and say that it compromises sound. I think all a matter putting together a balanced system, I've had it both ways and a well designed passive pre system will blow away an active pre system any day. To build a passive pre system you will want a power amp with high gain, high voltage sensitivity, high input impedence, and low output impedence. Sim Audio Moon W-3 or W-5 is an example for the power amp. Going passive preamp allows you to spend the money somewhere else. If you find that you don't care for the passive preamp setup, you can always add a pre later. Then pick a source with enough output voltage to drive the power amp, maybe with a volume control too. Select IC's and speaker cables last. Sorry to get on the passive preamp rant but I couldn't resist. I wish someone had given me that advice when I first got into this hobby.

Your budget looks very reasonable. I am sure you will find success.
Thanks for clarifying ARC...feel kind of dumb. One question, is the ARC-Proac synergy found with the SS amps or tube? I've never had tube amps and really don't want to go there. Thanks for your additional thoughts on source vs. speaker as well, very helpful. My feeling at this point is to focus on the best pair of speakers and digital source near my price points. Then I'll fill-in the middle as required by the other two. Will definitely look at ARC.


Thanks for your thoughts on the "speakers first" methodology. With all the input, lots of listening and mulling it all over, I'm inclined to agree, with one tweak - pursue the speakers and source together. Some might consider this a hybrid approach, others a confused approach ;-)

No need to apologize for the rant, interesting info on the passive preamp route. Hadn't really considered it before, but on the surface it clearly has merit. Thanks again for your thoughts.