Which area of components to spend the most $ on? Boy I was wrong all my life!


I have been an audio junkie for about 25 years. All those years, I have read plenty of discussion posts and recommendations where to spend the most money on. The majority, even the experts recommend to spend the most money on speakers. Up to as high as 60% of the total budget.Example: CEO of PS Audio-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gYwL7vPkPhg
I believed this all my life. Today, my eyes are opened. My total budget is about $15K.Before today, my system was:Speakers-Revel F36 Concerta 2 (For the money, this is the best speakers I’ve heard. I like it more than my previous Dynaudio Contour 30)Integrated Amp-Marantz PM-10 (Class D, balanced, 400wpc at 4ohms)CD Player-Oppo UDP 205 & Marantz CD 6005 (Some of the best in class)Line conditioner-Furman Elite PFi 15Cables-Kimber 8TC Speaker Cables (Sorry, not a cable nut. I’d rather spend money elsewhere)
I upgraded my front end CD player to... Marantz SA-11S3. I was BLOWN away! This is the greatest upgrade I have ever heard in my life. For 25 years, I was taught to spend the most in speakers. Sorry! It’s the FRONT END! The best source you can afford. The purity transcends down the river. I am blown away by the sheer improvement in detail, clarity, depth, the air around the instruments.
My philosophy has changed.
skimrn
The best most perfect system possible would neither add to nor subtract from the original signal. Whatever you start with in other words can only be made worse, not better. No speaker, in other words, is capable of correcting the bad signal its fed. Therefore, as a matter of simple logic, if there is anything that one would want to be best it is the one furthest upstream.

The idea of spending more on speakers, the best speakers are the most faithfully accurate reproducers of whatever they get. Why would anyone want to send them the dreck from a cheap front end? It makes no sense.

The other most common major mistake with this kind of advice is to short change so-called accessories like interconnects, power cords, speaker cables, cones, shelves, and power conditioners. By far the better approach is to include all of these with something like dividing equally among speaker, amp, source, cables, and conditioners/ cones/shelves. That's five categories. 20% each.

This approach forces you to think things like, are these separate pre-amp and amp really better for the money than an integrated amp? Really? When they also require extra power cord, interconnect, cones, shelf??? Is an expensive power conditioner really worth taking away money from better power cords and interconnects? Forces you to think about the system as a whole.

Unlike the people who will say otherwise and claim to know what they're talking about I have actually done this, and for paying customers, and know for a fact from experience this is the most likely method to achieve the most results for the least money.

And oh by the way, its also pretty much what Robert Harley recommends in his Complete Guide to High End Audio. Why? Because it works.
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Forces you to think about the system as a whole.

@millercarbon  Excellent Post!
@skimrn  Thanks for your original post. Valuable insight.
You should spend most of your money on $600 magic mats and $150 vials of magic graphene goo to gunk up everything electrical in your house. That’s the ticket, yeah.
Waiting to be banned from these forums now
millercarbon
“Forces you think about the system as a whole.”

>>>>>Also forces you to think about the system as a black hole. It also forces you to think of the system as a big rabbit hole. 
While there are exceptions of course, for a given level of quality there will tend to be at least a loose correlation between the cost of a speaker on the one hand, and the deep bass extension and the maximum volume it can provide with reasonably low distortion, on the other hand. Obviously different listeners will have different preferences and requirements in those regards.

Also, while it is true that the downstream components cannot correct for the shortcomings of the source, it is also true that the source cannot correct for the shortcomings of the downstream components. And a philosophy that the source is the most important part of a system as a result of being first in the chain, and therefore warrants the greatest investment, ignores both the degree to which different parts of the chain may adversely affect the sound (as the saying goes, "a chain is as strong as its weakest link"), and the degree to which the cost and sonic performance provided by the various parts of a system may (or may not be) correlated.

Also, the efficiency of whatever speaker is chosen will of course affect how much power the amplifier must be capable of providing. And for a given level of amplifier quality, and a given amplifier topology, more watts will often mean more $.

Those are among the reasons why IMO simplistic formulas for how system cost should be allocated among its various parts are pretty much worthless. It depends on the specific components that are being considered, and on the preferences and requirements of the specific listener.

Regards,
-- Al

+++1 @almarg   Should be a sticky. 
The OP just discovered that a system is dependent on the quality of all of its components. 

If you next upgrade to better cables and power conditoning you will be schocked at how much the system will improve further.


Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ
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Thank you for your inputs. Past few months these are the scenarios until yesterday which changed my perspective forever:

  • Dynaudio Contour 30 ($7500) + Marantz 6005 CD Player ($500)=$8000

  • Dynaudio Contour 30 ($7500) + Oppo UDP205 4K Player ($1300)=$8800

  • Revel F36 Concerta2 ($2000) + Marantz 6005 CD Player ($500)=$2500

  • Revel F36 Concerta2 ($2000) + Marantz SA-11S3 CD Player ($4000)=$6000


Guess which combination had the best sound? Yup, it’s the last combo which was set-up for the first time yesterday. No it wasn’t subtle. It was jaw droppingly amazing improvement.


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Moving to a CD player that cost eight times its replacement caused a sharp improvement in performance?

Good to know.

;>)`
I'd go a step farther and say high quality recordings are the critical factor.
I have no doubt the new Marantz is the best CD player you’ve had but maybe the speakers are better suited to your ears and room also. 
The three legs of listening pleasure are Equipment, Acoustics and High quality recordings. You will be not achieve the max SQ if you fail
to attend to any of these three. Yes I know you know but no-one mentioned it.
Wonderful

you are hearing more and more what your speakers can reproduce
What I did:
Speakers:  Apogee Scintillas Restored   20%
Amp:  Krell KSA-80B   6%
Source:  Naim ND555/PSU555   46%
Cables:  Inakustiks  Ref 4004 Air:   14%
Inakustiks 3500P, Townshend Podiums, & Naim Fraim    14%

The sound:  Priceless, my wife even listens with me!  I guess this makes me a Source first guy!

Bailyhill
Getting rid of all the things that audiophiles hold dear and fret over endlessly worked for me. No more power cords, no more house AC, no more speakers, no more speaker cables, no more interconnects, no more fuses. No more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks. 🤨
As the owner of Linn once said garbage in garbage out enough said.
I’m not taking sides here - because "it depends". Yes a system is only as strong as its weakest link. I’ll go one further, no component sounds good, but some distort the sound less than others..
That said, i do think that within reason, speakers have the most variation, both in style and in quality. Bear in mind this comes from someone who designs - and occasionally makes money from - everything **except** speakers. I have every reason to say the opposite.
But as pointed out above, you heard the differences in part because you have revealing speakers. And somewhere along the line, the electronics didn’t totally lose what you created with your new source.
At the given state of the art i would postulate this: The easiest thing to make good sounding, at a reasonable price, is an amp/preamp combo. I can get good sound, reliably, at low cost - not perfect, but remarkably good.  The recipe is known.  Turntables and speakers on the other hand deal with mechanical issues and materials science. Size and mass matter (e.g.; as much mass as possible for the platter and as little as possible for the cantilever assembly).  Big cabinets cost.  Vibrations must be tamed.  Blah, blah.
Digital is still the wild west and begin tamed. There are big differences in everything from source jitter to DACs (let’s put aside the biggest issue in digital, which is recording/mastering, and varies from superb to abysmal). In fact i just blogged on jitter and its effect on PAM. Sadly we cant control that process for any sum of money. Well, i guess you could buy every studio and run them for art rather than profit :-)
Bottom line - what you really found out is that the weak link theory is well. And that what you hear is the contribution of each and every component, added up -- PLUS the interactions between them.
Hey, if it was easy....
G

Speakers distort more than any other part of the chain.

There are good speaker values to be had, but many more that are way overpriced. I'm guessing your former speakers were the latter, and your new speakers are the former. 

If you ever want to supplant your newfound philosophy, swap that class D amp for a good tube amp. 
Just depends if you like a bunch of zeroes in front of your distortions or not.....

transducers always have more.....

just do the math
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At the end of the day, the mix of components is constrained by the individual’s budget.

In my case, I fell in love with the sound of Maggies, ending up with 3.6s.  Now this choice led me along a path of finding the amp that matched to my ears.

My original choice Audio Research 150.2 ultimately was under powered at 300 wpc inro 4 ohms.  Decent sound, but lacking the current Maggies crave.  After a journey, I ended up with Mac 501s that bench trst about 750 wpc.  They make the mahhies sing.

Thus, my speaker choice drove the budget on the system by requiring more expensive power.

Believing in synergy, I opted for Mac C220 tube pre amp and am quite satisfied with the combination.

Using percentages, I am in for about 33% for speakers, 40 % for amps, 16% for pre amp, 13 % for CD player.

This just rough numbers and I bought the 501s and C220 used ten years ago.  Funny thing, they are worth more now than back then.

If I had high efficiency speakers, I could have saved a bundle on amps.  That distorts everything.

Yes, I have a DAC, and music server (2) and other toys, but I have described what I believe is the heart of my system to demonstrate one example of how the percentages can be driven by a aingular choice.  

Your choices will drive yours in a different manner, yet neither is a wrong choice.
tlong195880 posts01-15-2019 11:09amYou should spend most of your money on $600 magic mats and $150 vials of magic graphene goo to gunk up everything electrical in your house. That’s the ticket, yeah.
LOL Sounds like you speak from experience.I myself have never.
Who me? I never made mistakes like that. TWEEK TWEEK! 
To this day I still can't get my cable plugs to shine like the ol days.
I realize there should be some tarnish but black?

@whipsaw: Yes, the new CD player costs 8 times more than the older, but again check out the budget breakdown.
  • Contour 30 @$7500 + CD 5005 @$500=$8000
  • Concerta2 F36 @$2000 + SA11S3 @$4000=$6000.
Speakers are $5500 cheaper, $2000 cheaper combo, SO much better sound!
First find the sound you like. No point trying to get great analogue  sound if you crave digititis. Then allocate by bang per buck. And then, what @almarg said.

You may find that some things give precious little bang for buck in the system you are envisioning. Scrub them until you've optimized everything which gives more value. Start by scrubbing cables or power cords or fuses that cost more than a few bucks. When you have upgraded all those caps to styrene or teflon, all those resistors to nude Vishays, that cartridge to a stone body Koetsu, then, and only then, maybe.

IMO. YMMV.
Let me challenge the majority wisdom here.

Yes, the overall quality is that of the weakest link, yes if the signal starts bad in the beginning can't improve down the link

But those are all qualitative statement. Let me try and put some quantitative in that, albeit subjective I realize.

Thing is that the difference between a mid priced CD or AMP (not to speak of the cables) and a top of the line one is minimal. Say is a 90 vs a 100. While the difference in sound quality between equivalent mid priced or top speakers is like 10 to 100 !

Say that any component degrades to an extent an ideal perfect sound quality of 100.

You start with 100 because you have a perfect CD. But then you have just medium quality speakers that get that down to 50.

Vice versa with a mid priced CD you may start with a 90 but keep it to 90 or 80 because of your top of the line speakers

In other words, yes, the weakest link, ok, but you should look into what component of your chain has the widest influence on sound quality and that would definitely be the speakers.

Industry pushes electronics upgrade because they are easier to swap IMHO.

So my eventual 2 c: spend 90% on speakers, 9% on the fron end and 1% on cables !!!

The opinionated speakers extremist
Wait until he rips the CDs onto a NAS and spends that money on streamer and DAC ..... pull vs push demand and correction.

I still follow 35% speakers, 30% source, (unless vinyl and digital then x2) 25% amp - 10% sundry breakdown as guide
Speakers play the music...gotta be good!  NSOTA in source can be had relatively cheap these days.  Also, many great integrated amps available as well.  As for cables, they are ubiquitous and can also be had reasonably.  
For me money best spent was the room.
Good thread, to be sure. My experience has changed for a few reasons. I bet reason number one is a change in my hearing. The highs were so important to me at one time. If I could hear them, they still would be. So, that aspect changed my consideration for sound preference. My age changed what I wanted in bass. My listening room made me expect a different outcome from my system. So now, while I consider speakers to be the most important, the associated equipment must allow a different presentation than in the past.
 For how ever you choose to spend your money on all audio, do it when you can still appreciate those differences.
A sound guy in the '80s explained hi-fi setups and it all must add up to 100%.   Sounds simple,  Unless you have great speakers all the other stuff before it is wasted, so spend all the money you can to get the right speakers for what you need.  The value here is 80%+.  Unless you a have a great recording all the other stuff has to make up the difference.  The values here of good source and good reproduction is 15%+.  
Yep, all the other audio equipment. The value here is 3%+. Everyone overspends in this segment.    
I argued the math, but the math proved to be right +/-.  
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If I could hear them, they still would be. So, that aspect changed my consideration for sound preference.

@4krow  What you raise is interesting and may be valuable as a stand-alone thread.

Something along the lines of "how our gear selection changes over time due to hearing and other age related changes" ... since your post (above) touches on this, maybe you can start a thread? Thanks.
In some sense, looking at this issue from a pure monetary standpoint or percentages, can be misleading.  There are plenty of overpriced components and ancillaries that can throw off the margins quite a bit.  Quality can be found at various price points, while finding the right synergy between components and the environment will always be the most elusive part of this pastime!  
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Case in point...I was looking for a bit more clarity and presence from my system , but I was not going down the rabbit hole again for the 100th time!  Been burned big time on some of my costlier cable solutions in the past, so this time I set my sites on value, quality and good design.  I looked around quite a bit and came across the new Audioquest Water XLR Interconnects. Based on some reviews they sounded like what I needed.  Coincidentally, there was a new pair for sale on Agon for just over $300....list is like $549 or more depending on length of course.  I’m running them in now and have found them to be amazingly full, warm and clear with great dynamic swing.  Highs sound cleaner without loosing the bottom end weight of my MIT’s.  Midrange is a bit livelier and expressive as well.  A really world class Interconnect for a steal, even at list price.  I’ve had $12k interconnects that were honestly not any better, and lots of $4k - $6k offerings that were worse!
Unless you have an endless supply of money, building a system is a process based on ones listening preference and ears. I purchased a couple amps before I ended up with the one that fits me. Same with the CD player, turntable and speakers. I worked on my cables & conditioning from there. It’s been a fun ride and I continue to make tweaks here and there, albeit it minor.
Great discussion overall.  It's kind of like junk in junk out.  Surprised you would ever waste your money on a Marantz.  That's certainly not audiophile quality.  
30% source analog / Digital
30% electronics30% speakers10% cablesI auditioned speakers. What I liked, I decided on and asked how much?Took that number and multiplied by 3 and auditioned the rest. I was learning as I listened in the sound room and discovered my preferences in sound trying to balance out what I heard at concerts taking into account my preferred seating placement. Not up close to the stage nor too bright in the equipment. I like to hear the auditorium as well the room being a part of the auditory event.Taking all the variables into account I still enjoy what I'm hearing. I get lost in the emotional aspects of the music. My favorite songs still make me feel good as I did when I was younger. I don't get bored or feel that my system is getting stale. I still go to concerts and try to refresh my hearing memory and when I get home the first thing I is put on the event's music.

 
When people first approach this hobby they tend to learn and accept it as a considerable number of rules...with maybe a few exceptions. After they've been at it a few decades they tend to accept it as a considerable number of exceptions...with maybe a few rules.
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If everyone got it right the first time, there would be very little need for Audiogon. 
The first important component is your ears and brain. Most people don’t get regular hearing tests and as such don’t correct hearing deficiencies. Also there is taste, some like overblown bass others clinical sound. You hear what you want to hear and posts on Audiogon prove that....
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