The SOURCE is the most important part of any audio system! The turntable/arm/cartridge for LP playback. For Digital it is the player (CDs) and DAC/transport. Music lost at the beginning can never be recovered later!
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It's all important, but speakers are going to have the most impact on how the system sounds overall.
I have someone coming to buy a pair of speakers today and after putting them in my main system so that I could dem them, the difference between my current reference speakers and those was quite noticeable.
Putting a much more expensive turntable or CD player into my system wouldn't bring it back to the level it was with the other speakers. Putting my Harbeths back in the system will restore it to its glory.
Honestly, it is YOU. Everything else is secondary.
All of appreciating hi fidelity is entirely subjective regardless of equipment. For example, I have auditioned Focal loudspeakers on many different occasions and...I just don't like 'em.The last time I was able to listen to them was at the former location of Stereo Exchange in NYC. Another gent and myself were standing there listening to the same music and we had very different opinions. He loved them, I didn't. The reviews were stellar, the manufacturer is very highly regarded in the biz. The other gent parted with $17,000. I bought an Astell & Kern portable player.
An earlier post here mentioned the room - and that is spot-on. Yes, experimenting with different amps and preamps and whatnot is fun - and expensive - but moving things around a little or a lot has substantial effect on everything.
I employ what Jim Thiel of Thiel Audio once suggested as a method of sussing things out - the "other room" application. Do what you will to your setup, then move into an adjacent room and see how things sound. It works!
Which is the most important part of a stereo system?
Please see https://systems.audiogon.com/systems/8367 and read the description wherein it says: "The System is built around the philosophy that everything matters. Everything either contributes or detracts, and no one single component is any more or less important than any other."
But hey, don't take my word for it. Check it out and see for yourself. Just try and play your system without a power cord. See how it sounds without power. Or speaker cables. Measure the sound output without speakers, without source. Pretty sure you will find they all measure the same: zero.
Which is what you will have if you follow the advice to put all your money into a source- or speakers, or any other component for that matter. They are all equally important. They all need to be good.
Which is not to say expensive. We all have our budgets. Within which everything should perform very nearly equally well. No weak links. If, and its a very important if, sound quality really is what you want.
We now return you to our regularly scheduled misinformation.
Here is a prior thread in which this question was discussed at length:
I stated as follows in that thread:
Do not expect any consensus among the answers which will be provided, or among the answers that have been provided about similar questions that were asked in the past.
Re the last sentence, the listener’s preference for deep bass extension and the ability to handle recordings having very wide dynamic range (especially in terms of being able to cleanly reproduce brief high volume dynamic peaks, such as frequently occur in many classical symphonic recordings that have been engineered with minimal or no dynamic compression), can dramatically influence the cost of speakers, for a given level of quality.
The bottom line, IMO: Don’t make decisions based on generalities. Consider and ask about the specifics of your particular equipment, as you are now doing.
Good luck. Regards,
The most important part of any audio system is your ears. If you can’t hear the difference between two components, buy the less expensive item. If a later system modification exposes the flaws of said component, then upgrade.
This is the story of my life. I enjoy listening to music and upgrading my system(s). I hope that this never ends. AMEN
So I’m definitely not in the audiophile major leagues like most of you guys, meaning I don’t now or probably will not ever have 10k+ to spend on my system. However I’m definitely an audiophile and used to build Martin Logan speakers in the 80s when I was at KU in Lawrence Kansas. I definitely got the bug listening to krell, audio research, and Macintosh driving reference Martin Logan systems. That said, i’ve been very lucky to piece together two amazing systems on the cheap. I’m driving 1970s klipsch cornwall ones, the verticals, with a Chinese Doge tube amp at 60 W controlled by an old rotel RC 995 preamp and a crappy JVC CD player from the 90s.
I was lucky to get an 1988 Sota Sapphire turntable for vinyl for a song from a generous guy moving out of state recently.
For streaming i use the discontinued chrome audio, and or a dragonfly
I’m sold on klipsch horn loaded speakers for their durability, efficiency and the ability to get an amazing premium sound for reasonable dollars on the whole.
I have quite a few pairs of klipsch (la scals,cornerhorns,hereseys,) and fix them up and resell them to finance the hobby
So to conclude I maybe have 2000 bucks into the system I described and my opinion is definitely every component means something to the whole stream. I will say that you can put a lot of subpar amps into Cornwalls or La Scala‘s and get a pretty good amazing sound, at the very least A lot of sound pressure with low watts as a source.
I do know that putting a pass labs, or McIntosh amplifier into most klipsch speakers is going to give you top of the line sound , but 2500 to $6000 for an amp at least for me isn’t in the cards. I haven’t even started adding subwoofers to my systems but know that would be my next move to complete the systems.
Again I think I’m like the majority of folks that really want the audioNirvana sound but really just don’t have the income to achieve it. But if you’re patient like me and find some good deals you can put together an amazing sound system for a budget that is possible/ realistic for a large group of people. I’ve played a lot with room treatments and placement and I think in the end that helps quite a bit.
I would agree with a couple of the posts that really decent and in my opinion high efficiency speakers would be first, then the clean amp, with the sources backing up the list.
Lots of good advice here. Millercarbon probably offers the best. For the last several decades I've been through many different audio setups and equipment have learned that one single component or cable doesn't make or break the sound that you want (unless that component is defective).
One example.....I once had a pair of speakers that I really liked but the amp driving them was old and sub par by many respects. So, I bought a really good and more costly amp. The sound wasn't nearly as good (to me) as that from the old amp. SYNERGY is the key.
One single upgrade may improve your sound but everything must work together as a "team". If you have the chance to audition a component in your system and in YOUR room that is the perfect scenario. But that can be a daunting task. There are dealers out there that offer that.
Good luck to you. Remember......good sound is what YOU think it is.
As a manufacturer of audio components, I was a firm believer of the source because I felt that all tone and sound stage came from there first. You know garbage in and garbage out. My partner and I recently built a hybrid 6SN7 power amp - think Counterpoint but way more advanced and two our items to a buyer. He loved the DAC the preamp and power amp. He had them there for a few weeks and he concluded that the amp was where he would start first. So away we go!
@klimt for integrated amps with dacs
Modwright KWI 200 hybrid with dac is $6200 new, but used is under $5000
Hegel h390 class a/b with dac and streamer functionality is $6000 new
NAD m33 class d with dac and streaming and bluetooth functionality is $5500 new
All admittedly over your budget but only marginally and imho worth a stretch
I'd go speakers first followed closely by the room itself. Find your taste in the sound of the speakers you like--everyone is not the same where that is concerned. All the other stuff is important, just not as important as those 2 things. Know what particular cables do especially well helps to get it right near the end of assembling a system.
I do not have decades of experience, but I am into the thought that one should strike a balance in quality among all gear in the system, within a budget. If you have 5K and spend 3K on a turntable or a pair of speakers, then you're left with not enough money for your other sources, preamp, amp, interconnects, power, etc. So what good is an expensive turntable if you have crappy gear downstream; conversely, what good is a pair of expensive speakers if you have weak components upstream? If the budget is very limited, the more the need to be careful, even audition the gear, as one is most probably buying entry-level stuff. Another way of doing it is one could conceive of a really nice system even if it is out of budget at the moment. And then at one's own pace acquire the components one at a time. With this direction taken, if one wishes, a system could be built around a favorite pair of speakers. (I myself believe that upstream components should positively work to help the speakers sound their best.) It takes patience but it pays in the end. I built a system in 2 years and I'm happy to have planned my steps and waited. It's another story for the rich of course.
Here is my prospective on what's the most important part of a great sounding hifi system.
You can easily find excellent source, or amplifier, or speakers or cables. However, there are not so many good sounding preamplifiers and they make enormous difference for the quality of sound, even if you only use digital source.
@shangyien said "The weakest part of your system is the most important."
My thoughts exactly.
With the arrival of digital sources many have now come to accept that transducers (loudspeakers, cartridges, arms, turntables and microphones) are where you will find the bottlenecks in modern audio playback systems. (Room acoustics and source mastering are also important but perhaps separate issues here.)
In much the same way that traditional rotating hard drives are now accepted as generally the major bottleneck (ahead of both RAM and processor speed) in PCs.
Differences in all digital playback sound (or even in amplifiers) are barely measurable let alone readily identifiable in listening tests.
On the other hand the sonic differences between loudspeakers and turntables (arms/cartridges) are difficult to deny.
So having said that, your idea of upgrading your Pro-Ject to something like a Technics 1210 makes great sense.
Upgrading your B&W speakers on the other hand is going to be more of a challenge as far as I can see. Especially if you want across the board improvements including both dynamics and bandwidth.
It can be done and if successful, it will be worthwhile in simply that everything played back through them will sound better.
Maybe that could be a project for a future day? Certainly plenty, almost infinite number of candidates out there including various Harbeths, PMCs, Tannoys, JBLs, ATCs, Wilson’s, Zu’s, larger B&W’s etc
All with very little consensus as to what’s best.
they don't claim neutrality, they claim frequency range, efficiency, beauty, innovative vibration reduction ....
never a need to concentrate much to hear the differences between speakers when driven from the same system.
real concentration/experimentation/component swapping is needed for source components, nearly all claiming true fidelity/neutrality.
"We now return you to our regularly scheduled misinformation." Miller, that was good for a chuckle....keep em’ coming. Not enough lighthearted posting here. Everyone will have their own opinion on this topic. Personally, I subscribe to the speakers as numero uno and have always built my systems from them on out.
It’s called a credit card....get one with zero percent for 21 months....then you can get a 2500 to 6000 dollar amp...credit cards are good tools if used wisely and lots of them give generous points back on purchases well a as a nice sign up bonus. For instance spend 1000 get 250 back or spend 500 get 150 back.....Like getting a nice discount on what you want. At 21 months @ zero % I’d say that’s a pretty nice deal. If not paid in 21 months, just transfer remaining balance to another good card offer and so on and so on....I always read posts whereas the person says I’ll never be able to get this or that etc...well you can if you use credit responsibly. Another good example is Music Direct. Every holiday they run a 0 % financing for up to 3 years!... probably the best deal in town. But, I guess I can see how some are afraid of debt...you only go this way once, life is short etc etc 😁
Audioguy is correct. Get 4 to 5 high limit credit cards with cash back or some kind of rewards. Max them all out on some high end audio gear. The amp is 10 grand but you make 60 grand a year? No problem use the card. Speakers 10 grand? Not an issue. Max another card out. Its the most important part of my system.
There is no most important component. They call it a stereo “system” for a reason. My own approach is to figure out what the weak link is and address that next. It’s a never-ending project and the improvements get smaller and smaller but my ability to hear them gets better and better.
That said,I can remember getting three big jumps in SQ over the past 20 years, that you might cogitate over before chasing boxes.
1. A hospital grade wall outlet. A genuine WTF moment. No PC ever made as much difference as the outlet itself did.
2. Antivibration under the pre-amp. Iin my system it has mattered there more than anywhere else.
3. Perfect Path contact enhancer applied as the maker recommends it. An astonishing product, but you’ll never find it again. The maker died this winter and apparently the formula passed on with him. The entire community should be sad about that one. It turned out I purchased one of his very last tubes.
but that is with my system. For someone else it might be something else. Tthere is no magic amp or pre or speaker out there that will transform a system.
I could add a fourth — a well produced recording. The better your system is,the more you are at the mercy of the production quality of whatever you’re listening to.
@audioman58 , yes I think everyone would agree that mastering matters.
It's virtually impossible to make poorly mastered records sound good - no matter what the size of your endless audio money pit may be.
We also happen to be fortunate to be living in a time when the gap between budget and high-end amplification and digital sources/converters/cables is almost indistinguishable too.
What are we left with then?
Loudspeakers and vinyl playback.
No one would argue that budget and high-end speakers and decks can be confused in any listening tests.
Even today's constantly improved entry level Rega/Pro-Ject decks (or any sub $500 loudspeaker you can think of for that matter) still leave considerable room for future upgrading.
This hobby is far from dead, and we haven't even begun talking about Tube amps.