Where do I start-amp or speakers ?


While in the midst of downsizing I sold all my gear: Krell monos, Thiel CS6’s, Thiel 2.4’s, EAD Powermaster 2000, Thiel MCS1, etc.
I am now left with a headphone system based on the entry level Schitt headphone amp, Freya preamp,& a very nice Vinyl NIrvana Thorens 125 turntable,
So how’s that working out for you, you ask? Not so well. I need speakers & amp!
 I went from 2900 sq ft. To 1600 sq ft; a 25x24 room to an 18 x 16 room (high 20-24 ft cathedral ceiling, though, at least.)
I’m now on the way to build a new system , one component at a time; Ceiling is 4K per unit. Every time I see a nice amp, then I see a fine pair of speakers. Back and forth. Do I start with an amp or with speakers? Input, input........
Ag insider logo xs@2xmichaeljbrown
Did you like the Thiel/Krell sound from before?  If so, why not go back to that?  Your room size would dictate the speakers you'd get (I think 2.4s would work better in there than CS6s, for example), and used they'd meet your budget  If you want a change, normally I'd say listen to combinations to find some that you like before you buy, as I've always felt the speakers and amplifier need to be thought of as a combination, not just individual components.  Just make sure the speakers you choose will work in your size room (no Infinity IRS-Vs, for example).
The best sound I have achieved was the Krell fpb300 paired withthe Thiel 2.4’s. Being a sick audiophile, I of course had to go up to the 5i’s, & then to the CS6’, which require even more power, etc......
I have a couple of preamps, I should just find another Krell fpb & stop the madness..

@michaeljbrown

I would start with the speakers and then amp and Preamp. Based on speakers you may decide to go with a good integrated amplifier. PrimaLuna Dialogue Premium HP for $4300 would be a great addition.

Cheers
I'd put about 2/3 of the budget toward speakers.


Every time I see a nice amp, then I see a fine pair of speakers. Back and forth.

Go with what you love or have a strong interest in. If it is an amp that comes up first and you can move on it, so be it. Same with the speakers.

Or,

If you are keeping the Thorens, and it will be central to your system, then start working downstream from there.

As a counterpoint and in contrast, my speakers comprise 20% (in spend) of my total system. I'm in the process of upgrading components and cabling...and they will settle at around 15%. : )
I think it's a good idea to get the speakers sorted out first. Say, for example, you find a nice efficient speaker which needs only a few wpc to make them sing (i.e. Zu, Tekton, Omega) - this gives you amp options which would never work with power/current-hungry inefficient speakers (i.e., Magnepan, etc.). 
@michaeljbrown 
It really depends on your experience.  If you are comfortable with enough equipment and know the sound of many components,  start shopping,  when you find a value out there that you know you will love, snatch it up.  If you are not comfortable with that,  your safest path is to start the yellow brick road to speakers. Once you find those, search for an amp that complements your Freya and speakers.  Even that can be a problem...If you know that you'd like to try tubes in an amp for instance.... a fair amount of speakers are not tube friendly.  So,  a high current solid state amp is a safe bet for almost any speaker... You've got some homework to do. Good Luck.  Tim 
The first thing you have to sort out is what kind of amp you like- generally, tube or solid state.

From there you make you speaker choice- not the other way around! Many speakers don't play nice with tubes and some speakers don't do so well with solid state. If you start with the speaker, you may be forced to work with an amp you don't like.

If you've not heard a good tube amp, and so were only considering solid state, you might give a tube amp an audition, just to see what you think. This potentially can save you a lot of $$$ down the road.
+1 atmasphere.  Obviously you're a Thiel fan (so am I), but have you heard other speakers out there?  Others I like right up there with Thiel are Vandersteen, Joseph Audio, ProAc, Silverline, and Usher.  Maybe this would be a good opportunity to explore other options if you haven't already?  That said, a no brainer would be to stick with Thiel, although at some point finding replacement parts might be a concern.  You still have a pretty good sized room, and I couldn't help but notice there's a pair of CS6 and CS7 available here now in your price range.  Just sayin'.  Also some Joseph Audio Profiles available here in your price range that may be worth a look if you want smaller floorstanders.  Best of luck. 
michaeljbrown
you sold your CS 2.4 loudspeakers? Which brand (s) are you considering now?
Happy Listening!
+1 Soix, and atmasphere
Thiel and Vandersteen were/are proponents of time and phase correctness. I think they would be worth a look should you wish to look for a substitute-especially now that Thiel is no more.
After years of hearing the 'tube vs SS' debate, I bought Ralph's (atmasphere) amp and preamp and have to say they really make music come alive. One of the better moves I have made...
Bob
Way to go, guys. Very helpful thus far. I have located a Cary 200.2 which is a possible start. It would good amp to build on; I had an AES tube preamp by Cary for a few years, and I really liked it.  I've had a pair of Quicksilver mini monos paired with a pair of gigantic Altec horns, which believe it or not sounded really nice. I did tubes for about a year until I came upon some Krell 250 monos then a pair of CS6's and I was off and running again.
 I heard Joseph Audios at the RMAC in Denver last year, as well as some Ryans(nice!) and a butt load of other speakers as well. I'm considering a trip to Chicagoland for Axpona this year;however, I did find the big audio fest to be confusing after awhile; stumbling off the elevators into hotel rooms crammed with gear, trying to find the "sweet spot" chair..
Thanks to all!
Speakers, always speakers.  The true heart of the system in my IMO, and absolutely the least "accurate" component in any system (well, some SET's...).  Speakers are all colored to some extent, find what you like there first, then move on.
MichaelJBrown

+1 to beginning with speakers, then choose the right amp to drive them. As Tim (above) points out, you have some homework to do -- what fun! I envy you...

Or I could save you the trouble. Send me the money and I'll choose for you :-)

Gasbose

Agree with the suggestions to pick speakers first, or at least vet their requirements, since that is the most subjective and variable part of the chain. My preference is to spend more on electronics than speakers though. There are a lot of enjoyable speakers for reasonable money (e.g. $2k) but electronics tend to scale in quality with price more linearly in m my experience. 
Tons of exceptions to above though. Matching ends up being the most critical factor and I’ve heard inexpensive setups that clicked and were really enjoyable for relatively little money.
((((I have located a Cary 200.2 which is a possible start. It would good amp to build on; I had an AES tube preamp by Cary for a few years, and I really liked it.)))))
OP
The AES is a nice affordable tube preamp designed by Dennis now retired from Cary.

When looking at the Cary 200.2 not designed by Dennis it has a lower than normal input impedance and you may experience roll off at the frequency extremes with that preamp.

I would also make sure you can return it and agree with the seller he can guarantee that there is no hum in either channel in that particular amp when you get it.
 Best JohnnyR
 
If you start with the amp, you may have to work with speakers you don't like.
If it were me(it’s not) I would take a hard listen to Revel F206’s and Krell’s current integrated amps. Both products are extremely high value with great sound and super build quality. Finally they can be purchased at good prices new or used. FWIW
I have a pair of FPB200m if you have any interest. One is not working (was working when I bought them). I've moved on to ARC tubes.
If you start with the amp, you may have to work with speakers you don't like.
A quick look at the industry shows that there are at any time at least ten times as many manufacturers of speakers as there are amps, so its likely that the above statement isn't completely true.

IOW if you know what sort of amp you like, the chances are much higher that you can find a speaker you like to go with it than the other way  'round.

michaeljbrown

my 2 cents

Whenever I have started a new room, I first find the speakers that would work in that space. With these candidates, contact those speaker manufacturers and find out what amps they are using in their facility. Once the type of amps being used are known look for similar amps, if you do not already own amps of this type.

Post removed 

I’m with ct0517 on this one (and other ones. We both love and own old Quads). The speaker/room relationship is for me the most important consideration in a system, and the place to start. This is a matter of some disagreement, but there is far more difference in sound between speakers than amps in ways most important to me: truth of timbre, lack of vowel coloration, etc.

If a, say, planar speaker is chosen, different ones work better with certain kinds of amplifiers than with others. You’re not going to put a Sanders Magtech amp on the old Quad, but an Atma-Sphere S-30 or Music Reference RM-10 would be perfect. And neither of those is right for a pair of Maggies, but a Magtech is.

Ralph makes an excellent point, as usual.

FWIW, though, my own preference over the years has been to start with speakers but to choose speakers which provide versatility with respect to amplifier selection. Meaning that they have medium to high efficiency, benign impedance characteristics, and the ability to handle (but not require) relatively large amounts of power.

Also, JohnnyR makes a good point about the relatively low 22K input impedance of the Cary SA200.2. While I don’t know if that would be a problem for the Freya preamp, it could certainly be a constraint on preamp upgrades that may be considered in the future, especially in the case of many tube-based preamps.

In addition, I was surprised to see the following statement in the manual for that amp, which appears in the manual in bold-faced type:
CAUTION!
Do not under any circumstances connect the amplifier to a subwoofer through its high level (speaker) inputs. There is a potential of damaging the amplifier using this type of connection due to differences in grounding schemes used by some subwoofer manufacturers.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see such a statement in the manual for an amp that is either fully balanced or bridged, but I believe the SA200.2 is neither of those. Which makes me suspicious that its internal grounding scheme might be unusual in some way. Perhaps creating a susceptibility to hum in some or many applications, and I note that Johnny cautioned about the possibility of hum in his post.

Good luck. Regards,
-- Al


P.S. to my comments regarding the SA-200.2:

While the manual makes no mention of it being either fully balanced or bridged, even though the manual includes a fairly lengthy description of its design characteristics and features, I see the following statement in the description provided at its webpage:
Sharing our design goals of fully differential-balanced construction to eliminate many causes of noise, allowing more details of your music and movies to emerge, we have also “voiced” the amplifier to sound tube-like, with a sweet high end and a lush and involving midrange.  
So the reference to "fully differential-balanced construction" may account for the "Caution" statement I quoted in my previous post.  Although I also see that the amp can be readily modified into an SA-500.1, which is a much more powerful monoblock in which the channels are either bridged or paralleled (it's not quite clear which).  Together with the manual providing no indication of the amp being differentially balanced that leaves me uncertain as to the accuracy of the reference to "fully differential-balanced construction."

In any event, given also the low input impedance of the SA-200.2 it may be prudent to look elsewhere for an amp.

Regards,
-- Al
 
IMHO - Begin with room size, listening levels, music preference and then decide on speakers. This will inform you on amplification options. I don’t agree with ever starting off with amp unless you know the above. You can back yourself into a corner really quick going the amp route first without doing the preliminary homework. As well as limit your speaker options. 
There are far more differences between speakers than amplifiers in terms of the impact they have on the total system’s sound. You must start with the speakers and then match the speakers up with a properly chosen amplifier. Listen to as many speakers as possible to find out the ones you really love. Do you like the sound of single driver speakers? Horn speakers?Electrostatic speakers? Two way speakers? Four way speakers with multiple drivers? You get the point.   Your findings will definitely point you to a certain group of amplifiers very quickly.  And actually most speakers are quite happy with the whole slew of different amps.   You can work on the amp next.  

Objectively and (I'd gamble the consensus would agree) subjectively speakers, vary in more ways and by greater degrees than any other component. Perhaps more so than all other components combined.  Speakers vary more with different listening positions than any other component, Perhaps more so than all other components combined. Speakers vary with rooms more so than any other component. Perhaps more so than all other than all other components combined, save perhaps for vinyl rigs. Speakers are more colored than any other component, one best make sure that those colorizations line up in such a manner that precludes highlighting specific listeners particular irritants, coincides within the specific listener's room, at the  specific listener's listening positions.

 In order: budget, room, listening positions, speakers, amps, etc..



Absolutely speakers first.  You'll tie your hands behind your back if you buy the amp first. 
You'll tie your hands behind your back if you buy the amp first.
Well, if you get a big Sound Lab, there really aren't a lot of amps that drive that speaker all that well. But it is at the same time one of the most transparent and full range speakers made. If you happen to hear a set that is correctly set up and buy them as a result, to best serve that purchase you have to deal with the limited number of amps that play it right.

Its 30 ohms in the bass; for a solid state amp to keep up with a 200 watt tube amp you need about 800 watts. And it will be too bright...

So in this case, is the speaker the first thing to get or not? It might be if transparency and realism is at the top of your list, and you don't care what it takes to get there!

So its probable that the correct answer isn't something boiled down to black and white!
It does not matter what you start with as long as the two are well matched in the end.

However, practically I would start first with speakers that will integrate into the room properly since one often has little control over room acoustics compared to all the rest.

Some will levitate to tube or SS amp first and go from there. Its all good. Just do it right for the right reasons! Or just have at it, don’t sweat the tech details and have fun along the way.

"...don't sweat the tech details..."

I disagree. Without being cognizant of the tech details, one might end up chasing their own tail. With the vast numbers of possible system combinations available, sweating the tech details can streamline the options to a manageable number. Choice: nearly endless cycle of hit or miss combinations or getting it done with least amount of time, money and effort and spending more time listening to music. I'll choose the later.

@michaeljbrown 

I am of the speaker-first persuasion. But really for me, the most important thing is speaker/amp interaction. I'm going through it right now with the TAD E-1s. They sound utterly amazing with some amplification but just OK with others. My problem is that the utterly amazing combo is waaay outside my budget, and that's just for the amp. So be aware that the pairing of speaker and amp/pre or integrated will make or break how the system sounds.
That is a lot of good information, guys.Thanks much. I haven’t settled on an amp yet, just considering the good deal on the Cary 202.2 presented me by a trusted dealer friend. I’ve never owned any speaker but a Thiel; so, it’ll be fun to try something new. I have run into a couple of real audio characters in this hobby, one of whom has owned over 150 pair of speakers. I have decided I would like to bring a few pair in and out of my system and to do so it looks like I’ll need a pretty versatile amp. I’ve had a couple of krells, a 300fpb & some 250 monos, as well as a Quicksilver tube. It was only 15 wpc, I think, but it did fine paired with some big Altecs. I think this will be fun! I’ll start with the Cary or maybe the Schitt monos, I forget what weird name they are: Vardin or Vostok or something like that. Or maybe a tube amp...
My problem is, I can’t hear a speaker without an amp. And I don’t have either one right now. So I’ll see what’s out there and report back!
@michaeljbrown You mentioned early on that you had Altec horns with tubes, so the Thiels are not the only speakers you owned ( lived with ). You say the horn system sounded pretty good, but, what I gather from your information, the best sound you achieved ( enjoyed ) was the Krell and Thiel combo ( specifically the smaller Thiels of the 3 ). You know the music you enjoy listening to, and have some idea of the listening levels you enjoy. If this is correct, then you have a good idea of the sound you like. Your room size is quite smaller ( different ), with much higher ceilings. Your speaker / room / listening position will likely be quite different than the prior room, so I would concentrate on speakers first, and compliment them with the amp ( imo / ime ). To get started, obtain a 2nd hand ss amp with some power and current ( another Krell, but I am sure you can get some recommendations here ), which will open you up to any / most speakers, and once you find the speakers, determine if the amp is a keeper. And of course, pay attention to room acoustics and the incoming power from your breaker. Enjoy the journey, again !
No question... Speakers First !   

Have fun on your system rebuild adventure ... 
This is all just opinion, so everyone will have a different answer. I agree with speakers first. I would pick the speakers that best fit your room size, listening taste (the type of music you listen to and the volume you listen at), and the aesthetics you are looking for. Then look for the proper amplification. You could buy a great 35 Watt/Channel tube amp but it won't do you much good if you later decide you want a big pair of planars or electrostats. Likewise you could buy a great 200 Watt/Channel Solid State amp but it won't be a good match if you later decide you want high efficiency speakers. Again just opinion.
The Krell/Thiel combo is very nice. I had the Krell FPB-300 paired with the Thiel CS3.7 speakers and it sounded ideal to me. This is also an affordable combo, as you can get this pairing on the resale market for $8K - $9K. 
My two cents is that the amp / speaker combo should really be seen as one unit.  In fact to take it to its conclusion then go for Active Speakers.  You lose some flexibility, (not good) but you gain perfect integration (good) and you lose speaker cables (good).  Still, to answer the OP: I think the consensus is that speakers have more influence on the sound than other components so I would give them priority.
A wise saying is "begin with the end in mind".  So purchase items that will add up to the system you want, even though with moist of us that  can be a moving target.
I believe i ment to say  most, but being moist isn't always a bad thing.
This is all just opinion, so everyone will have a different answer.

There are opinions here...BUT for many who have posted, there is experience and the learning acquired, then applied and subsequently shared -- which hopefully goes beyond being purely opinion.

I adopted the 'speakers first' convention and orthodoxy when I first started out in this hobby of ours. I recently again followed this convention (so l am guilty of not following my own thinking and position on this). It has forced me to make decisions in the reverse...so this is forefront for me and apropos.  

I do not believe that speaker first is necessarily the best way in. And before I cause too much excitement, I also happen to believe that there are no firm rules in this area. Let me repeat that: There are no firm rules in this area of discussion.

In other words, if one chooses to select a speaker and then build a system around it, that is absolutely fine.

However, if one were to ask me how to start building a system, I would in most cases advise to start upstream. I have had much more of a source first approach which has been overtaken with a Power First position (whether at the front end of the system or for each individual component or system wide). This is within a system wide framework and context-- in other words, consider the whole.

I'd like to encourage thoughtful reflection of the minority position (contra speakers first) and it is not meant as a challenge. The majority of posts here are speaker first and that's normally the path discussed whenever this type of topic comes up. The points below are to raise questions and to reflect - not challenge.

You could buy a great 35 Watt/Channel tube amp but it won't do you much good if you later decide you want a big pair of planars or electrostats.

This is but one side of the equation. If you take this position, then the other side of the equation is equally relevant. For example, buy Maggies or Thiels and then "but it won't do you much good if you later decide you want a" 2A3 SET amp....

No question... Speakers First !

No Question At All?

For example:

- Speakers are more colored than any other component

- There are far more differences between speakers

Speakers, always speakers. ....absolutely the least "accurate" component in any system (well, some SET's...). Speakers are all colored to some extent, find what you like there first, then move on.

Ask the question: Do I want to build backwards from the weakest link or move forward from the strongest?

 You'll tie your hands behind your back if you buy the amp first.

Bondage by amplification? Handcuffed to the Speaker Outputs? : )

As Ralph @atmasphere  has pointed out there are far more speaker options available than amplification options. Copying his full post, in response to "If you start with the amp,...." to revisit the point:

If you start with the amp, you may have to work with speakers you don't like.
A quick look at the industry shows that there are at any time at least ten times as many manufacturers of speakers as there are amps, so its likely that the above statement isn't completely true.

IOW if you know what sort of amp you like, the chances are much higher that you can find a speaker you like to go with it than the other way 'round.

I'll add that it is far easier to rotate speakers through one's optimized or optimal system (and Room) to find a great pairing and that this is much easier and much clearer to determine, than doing so in the reverse. 

I also believe you are better off with high quality, exceptional components and good speakers (rather than exceptional speakers). Exceptional speakers are more dependant on exceptional gear. These are of course generalizations.... made here to point out impact and weighting within the system.

I'll close with repeating that there are no firm rules and those who choose speakers first (which is most of you) are in no way making a mistake or are wrong. 

In an earlier post I said that if there is a speaker one is in love with, go for it...same holds true for amplification or any other component or part of your system. 
Solve all you issues with a smaller room with the Kii3 speakers.  No need for amp , preamp.  I'm loving mine.

michaeljbrown


see and listen to all of the options out there. Report back as you start this next Audio journey.

Happy Listening!

Speakers because then you will know what amp you will need
If you are an audiophile like many of us, you should recognize that this is never ending.  Unless you like to lose a lot of money buying and selling audio gear over the years, you should buy as much as you can, starting with the speakers and working your way back (amp next).  And all along the way, you should assume you will have a bigger room in the future.  For example, I bought the (then new) Martin Logan Renaissance's two years ago and have them in a 15'x15' extra bedroom; along with McIntosh amp/pre-amp.  I have no regrets and am ready for a bigger room, if and when we move.  So I recommend spending as much as you can (more than $4K) on your speakers and when you can...add the next piece. 
You pick the speakers than match the amp to them.Enjoy!!
I would recommend to start with the source.  Though Speakers very in sound reproduction, dept, sound field, presents, bass, clarity and maximum power you will not have great sound without the clean Pre-amp / Power Amp.  It sounds like you had very high end audio to start and I question why you sold it?  The powerful Amp you had would work most anywhere.  The speakers I can see because of ergonomics alone.  
If it were me and you have the money invest I think you already know the market you will be in for cost and quality for the electronics. 
 Not Sure if you are thinking about space taken up by big amps so may I suggest an Anthem Integrated.  There are many good ones out there to try out and they do not require a ton of room. A Blue Vault would be a good streamer and hard drive for playing.    The speakers are a matter of what you like to hear in the music and I would ask the dealer (With promise not to cash the check for a few days) let you audition the speakers in you final room location with the furniture, decorations, (Drapes and such if there)  and all you will have in the room.  The room acoustics will be a factor and you want Speakers forgiving enough you are going to be happy with.  I like to audition in the room at my place because it will be with your equipment.  Hear it first at the dealer but do not give final payment until you know they perform in your setting.  My 2 cents worth.