Which to Upgrade first? My Amplifier or Speakers?


I have owned a nice system for years, but I am hardly an audiophile. You people impress me with your depth of knowledge of audio. I've been following this site for some time. This is my first post.
From time to time I replace or upgrade components. I've got a tricked out Linn Sondek LP 12 turntable. I recently acquired a McIntosh MP 100 phono amp and am hearing LP's now that exceed anything I've heard on CD's and equal if not exceed the output of my SACD's. I bring this up only to give a flavor of what I listen to.
The issue is as follows: I have a McIntosh MC 206 Amp that I bought in 2003 that puts out 200 watts per channel. I have no issues with it, although I've never had anything to compare it with. I've read some impressive reviews of how much of a difference an amplifier can make to the quality of sound output. For speakers I have Magnepan 3.6R's that I also bought in 2003. I love them. I can only afford to upgrade one at a time - let's say in the neighborhood of 10 - 12K. So, I'd like to hear what this august body has to say about which I should upgrade first and why? The amp or the speakers? Thank you.
normantaylor
The biggest difference will come from getting different speakers. This would enable you to see how the McIntosh drives the speakers. You already have an excellent amp, a newer McIntosh won’t sound that much better than what you have and probably not worth replacing it for the very small difference in sound.
+1 stereo5! Keep the McIntosh amp! Those 3.6R's are really nice! Since you like planar sound you can consider a pair of Quad 2905's.
You are an audiophile but refuse to admit it.
Vinyl, SACD, McIntosh.   All the symptoms.
Enjoy.
You have a system you seem to really enjoy.  My question is why change something now.  If you want a different sonic specifically, then pursue that.  Otherwise speakers make the biggest difference. 
Norman, don't let yourself be too impressed... : )

Since you can only upgrade one component at a time, given that the Maggies are harder to drive...if it were my choice, I would start with the speakers.

Reason being: the Maggies will force / restrict amplification choices should you keep them and choose to upgrade the amp first.

For speakers, I'd narrow it to a category of speaker type. Since you have had electrostatic and panels for nearly 17 years, perhaps be open to another speaker category.

Personally, I recommend higher efficiency speakers...they will offer you a much broader amplification palette to choose from. And should you choose a higher efficiency speaker you can enjoy them with your McIntosh amp until you are in a position to replace it.

FYI, Maggie 1.7s driven by a McIntosh stack are one of my favorite (top) local audiophile systems. 
JanZen has a hybrid dynamic/electrostatic in your price range that has gotten excellent reviews!
So what I’m reading, you love your amp, you love your speakers, you love your turntable, and you really love your new phono stage.

For good reason, I would say. Those are all really good, highly regarded components. Congratulations!

Now the bad news. Being so good makes it really hard finding replacements that will be true genuine upgrades and not merely different but around the same level.

The easy way out (for me) is do like everyone else and stick to your literal question only being me answer it better with get Tekton Double Impacts or Moab or Ulfberht something like that.

But that would be doing you an injustice. You got a nice system. No wonder you love it. What you want I’m guessing is more of what you just got with the phono stage.

The good news is the price range you are in will get you the newest and just about the best Synergistic Research interconnect and speaker cables, Atmosphere Level III Euphoria. Which if you think you love your new phono stage, wait till you hear these! Absolutely guaranteed to rock your world. (Literally, guaranteed: all Synergistic come with 30 day guarantee.) Plus maybe even have $$ left over for a full complement of PHT, ECT, HFT and some Orange Fuses.

Or just get the Ulfberhts. http://v2.stereotimes.com/post/tekton-design-ulfberht-loudspeaker/ Either way, you can thank me later.
Go listen to different speakers and amplifiers.  Let your wallet and ears determine what to upgrade, if anything.  I've had the same dilemma, so I started by listening to speakers. Everything I prefer over my current speakers were way out of my price range,  so I kept my speakers. I'm still in the process of listening to different amps and preamps. 
If you still really like the Maggies, get a Sanders Magtech amp to drive them. Or, get a pair or quad (swarm) of good subs to augment the 3.6’s. Getting the deep bass out of the panels will make the upper-bass, midrange and up cleaner.
Unless you need more level than the Maggies can provide, forget the upgrade and get a pair of powered subwoofers.

I replaced my single Force w 2x Martin Logan 800x. I am a fan of a gently 6db roll-off on the mains with a 18db roll-off in the sub. The ML have a most flexible control system that allows near perfect integration.

The 800x were later well reviewed on Stereophile. https://www.stereophile.com/content/martinlogan-dynamo-800x-powered-subwoofer

While there are many subs, very few have the required adjustability to properly integrate.

Requirements:
• Continuous Phase Control
• Phase Invert
• Multi Slope XO Frequency
• Down Firing
• Sealed
• Independent Music and LFE Inputs

There is a cell phone app that makes integration a doddle. Add the Perfect Bass Kit and the subs can be perfectly set up in a couple of hours using REW and/or the ML Anthem utility.

For more info about integrating subs see http://ielogical.com/Audio/SubTerrBlues.php and my install http://ielogical.com/Audio/#DoubleDouble

The ONLY negative I have found is the subs are light. Easily solved http://ielogical.com/assets/Audio/SubWeight.jpg

PM for assistance on creating a simple XO for the mains. http://ielogical.com/Audio/#SmallestThings

An articulate, extended and veracious low end adds realism out of all proportion to the numbers.
I've had Apogee Duetta Sigs for over 25 years and I still love them, however, they really don't go much below 50 Hz. So quite awhile ago I added 2 Paradigm Reference 15" subs. I'm getting chest thumping base whenever I want it. 

As suggested by others, you might try that befoe changing amps or speakers.
I would upgrade your amp.  I also have 3.6 Maggie’s and you would do well to acquire a pair of MC501 mono block amps.  The difference will blow your mind in the difference.  I say this from experience.

The good thing is that if you but a pair of 501s and for some reason decide they are not for you, you can resell them at no loss easily.  The run about 5500 to 6000 pair in the used market.

Maggies crave current and headroom.  While advertised at 500 wpc, they bench test at about 750 wpc.


I can't imagine getting speakers that are a serious upgrade on the 3.6Rs. Watt 5s? 30.7s? Chronosonics? (those will get likely you divorced, maybe that's a plus. . .) Nothing else really comes to mind.

The idea of getting some powered subs an crossing over at like maybe 80 hz, that's a pretty decent idea. 

The 3.6Rs are a rather difficult load, it's possible your Mac isn't handling the high current demands very well. But I'm not a big fan of this idea that different high quality amps sound completely different, anymore than I think $10,000 speaker cables sound better than OFC 12 gauge.

Although my fave upgrade is the $3,000 power cable - you have like 100 foot of junky 12 gauge romex between the wall socket and the power company, but that last three feet to the amp, that's where the power signal gets wrecked. Yup. Actually a really close second is the $8,000 digital cable, 'cause those 1s and 0s, it's not enough that they get through, they also have to be happy 1s and 0s. Maybe I should invent a split digital cable, so the 1s can flow through blue wire, what with the 1s are obviously male, and the 0s, the female bits, can flow through pink wire. And the pink wire would say "PINK PINK PINK" along the insulator.
First,you buy the speakers: listening (at the store or wherever) on different amps. You take speakers you can afford, listen to it, read reviews. Than you can find out with kind of amp is the best in that system: tubes or transitor. The reason why I say this , is because : you will change your amp.more than your speakers. ( normally) Do you want optimal music sound (for you) : you also have to take into account the source, wiring... Don’t let the big brands influence you!
First,you buy the speakers: listening (at the store or wherever) on different amps. You take speakers you can afford, listen to it, read reviews. Than you can find out with kind of amp is the best in that system: tubes or transitor. The reason why I say this , is because : you will change your amp.more than your speakers. ( normally) Do you want optimal music sound (for you) : you also have to take into account the source, wiring... Don’t let the big brands influence you!
ERIK IS SPOT ON, SORT THE ROOM OUT!
YOU DONT NEED ANYTHING ELSE.
Plus 1 on the room , and the subs. See if you can demo a Lyngdorf digital amp as a preamp and add 2 subs. You will get a much better sound.


Then look at tweaks, PPT and synergistic research, will take the system to audio nirvana.
It is so easy to just swap components. But room treatment is a totally different animal. You need to know what to strive for and which/where the issues are in your environment.

I believe you need measurements so you don't wasting your time.
Some even goes so far and say:
"If you don't have listed on YOUR system in a treated and well controlled room. Then you haven't heard the capability of your system."

I have measured dedicated 2ch rooms there bas frequencys have still being in the room after 1000ms. That shows clearly that we have difficult to hear other sound details that your speakers and system is playing during the time when a prior sound is still bouncing around in the room. And hide/smear over it.

So with that reasoning above your system consists of: "TT, amp, speakers AND the room"

If you fix that your room then you will be able to hear how good the rest of your system for the first time. And if you just keeping and swapping out components less than optimal room conditions than that is also a waste of time.
seems like you don't need to replace the amp or speakers.
you can replace interconnects or speaker cables if they are not good enough.you can get another small component like an ifi tube buffer or a schiit loki eq which can let you tune the tone better. if you've never done any room treatment that's the missing link and it could be even pricier than 10k. 

The room.
Only if it is seriously flawed. Rooms can be designed & furnished that don't require 'treatment'

Having worked in and built recording studios, a lot of the treatment I see on line is hideous. Many retailer room treatment is all wrong.
My recommendation is to take part of your upgrade budget and a couple days of PTO and attend AXPONA this winter. This will help you calibrate your expectations by hearing other systems. You will get a chance to hear a wide range of speakers and electronics but most important it will give you a good sense of how your system stacks up to the current state of the art. Besides, it's just plain fun to geek out on this hobby for 3 days.

My guess is that you will conclude that your system sounds pretty damn good. That was certainly the case with me. I heard many rooms where the value of the cords, cables, and interconnects exceeded the value of my entire system and the whole thing didn't sound as good as my setup. I also heard other rooms that sounded gorgeous and it helped me better determine where my system could use improvement.

You have a very difficult upgrade situation because you are starting from such a solid platform. It's a good problem to have.
A pair of REL top notch subs will upgrade your low end and also your midrange/soundstage
and especially with the Maggies, plus you will have some cash left over, object here is to allow the maggies you love sound that much better!!!!
....just wandering by...

I’ll vote with @erik_squires ....but one can be subtle about it. Dipoles like Maggie’s deserve that...;)

Adding a sub could also be an easy +...but MHO, you ought to be able to ’do’ a better ’sub-weight’ than a barbell weight. (Unless you already ’do' weight training...*shrug*)  A nicely wrought box, matching the top dimensions of the unit as well as the finish would have a nice esthetic. Fill it with as much lead shot as desired...

You might look into active eq...that in itself can accomplish amazing results without having to get ’heavy handed’ about it, either.

If you love what you’re running now, minor tweaks vs. major moves seems more the way to go....beats ’buyer’s remorse’, too.

We all read about That a lot around here...probably more than we should. ;)
...as for interconnects, power cables, all that....

Read the existing forums first before pulling That trigger....
See what's already getting attached to Maggie's and Mac's already and place your bet thereby....

(Copy someone else's homework...*L*  Nice, old tradition, that.)
Norman, honestly, what do you listen to? Speakers or associated equipment upstream?
Get your speakers straight, then all of your sources (most of which are todays technology) will fall into place.
OK question for OP. You posted this on the pro section so are you interested in a rehash of all the homeowner stuff talked about so far or are you really interested in pro gear?
  Pro gear opens your world to astounding speakers from Klipsch. The K-402 horn lens is the best in the world right now and you can mate it with various bass bins either direct radiator or horn type.
  Currently I run a home build Super MWM bass bin which is a variant of the Klipsch MWM bin except mine goes down to 27hz as a single fold horn. On top is a K-402 horn with the 1132 driver and run it off a pair of Crown xli800's and a Xilica DSP. You can build an astounding system like this for about $6,000 and that is with new K-402 horns as your chance of finding used is about zero.
  If you are not into building but would rather just buy, the Klipsch Jubilee is a whole lot cheaper than a ton of all this name dropper stuff and has prodigious sound. If you really want to enter into the world of genuine hi end sound you are going to have to migrate to a DSP and multiple amps. It is daunting to start off doing this but the reward is jaw dropping sound and FAR less $$$$ than most all this fru fru stuff touted around here. You can PM me if interested and I will fill you in on what I did and why.
  Just for grins though you can look up Klipsch KPT-456, MCM 1900's which were my two prior systems and I can tell you the existing Super MWM beats the MCM 1900 easily. You just have no idea the superb fidelity pro gear brings to the table and a darned sight less than all that name dropper stuff.
Upgrade your speakers first because you would never ever have sound as good as if you have great speaker door about the amp if you got Grace speakers you will be all right I know from experience.

 Hi Norm,

I hear yah .... I'm not knocking your system, you have some fine equipment there, on paper, but it's not paper we listen to.

I'm with Erik Squires and Optimize, the room is an extension of your system, but perhaps you've already addressed that, if not, start there. You may also consider running a designated circuit with appropriate grade wire from your panel (12 AWG) into good quality plugs.

 

I like the Maggie's - - - but not that much. They seem to be paired with Mac gear a lot (at Hi-Fi shows and retailers). One thing I'll say for Mac gear is it's reliable, the Kalashnikova of audio. Thing is they have a similar sound as well ..... dull. I spent an afternoon at Broadway Sound in Vancouver listening to a pair of big Mac monos (model slips my mind) and a pair of 3.7 Maggie's. The Mac's were running just about flat out, and I thought - - - where's the beef. Like I said, I find Mac amps dull and uninvolving - - - but that just MHO.

 

You're in a bit of a pickle there Norm, if you're going to move up the audio latter as opposed to a lateral move you're looking at some pretty esoteric gear, which is not only pricey, but rare. Roberjerman suggested Quad 2905's, nice speaker, but Quads are like Italian cars.

 

I wish I could be more suttle, but I can't (for your sake), can the Mac gear! Go used.

Speakers: Martin Logan Quests/or Requests, $1500.00 and if you have a big room the Prodigies.

Amp: Krell KSA 300S $3000-$4000, or Threshold SA12e, or Sim Moon W10's $3000 - $4000.

Pre-Amp: C.A.T, or an Atma-Sphere MP-1 or MP-3, or Audion Premier 2 box Silver Night. On a budget, a giant killer VTL Ultimate $2000.00.
One last thing - you may solve your issues with a phono cartridge, there I would suggest a Soundsmith Aida MKII.
Good luck & happy listening.

Hi Norman,

I found myself in a similar situation, where I was very happy with my components however was searching to do better. I was getting advice to change speakers, change Amps, Pre- Amps etc. But I felt that would only result in me having a different system which would ultimately be an expensive lateral move rather than a strategic move forward.

After a lot research and some sage consulting- I found that the least expensive and most efficient path forward was to maximize my investment in the components I already had.
 
Components make up about 50/60% of your system. If you are happy with what you have, then its time to make a committed invest in the other 40/50%  of your system.

As Some have already pointed out - That would include

1. Power Delivery - Most often overlooked, however most electronics only operate at 50% capacity because they are starved for more power. More Power results in greater soundstage,  clarity, detailed imagery etc... - Stock power chords will not get you to where you want to be.

2. Addition of Subwoofers - Your  Maggie's frequency response currently is about 34Hz /29Hz (broken In) - 40kHz. A good pair of  Subs will allow you to capture a larger Sound Stage beginning at 20Hz going up to 40kHz. This would reveal a wealth of details that you are currently not experiencing in the mid range(enhanced spacial separation) as well as getting you down to a consistent low end. Those measurements are not exact, but rather reference points to guide you. More accurate measurements  would be dependent on  #3

3. Room Enhancement - Also overlooked, but very important. If you have the means, Dedicated Space and Money. Definitely worth the investment.
Something I am still working on.

If 12k Is your initial budget, I would explore #1 and #2 first. As others have pointed out - take advantage of the used market.  Then save up for #3 when you have a substantial budget to make a real difference. Also realize that you are happy with your components now so you have time on your side. Any changes you make that move you towards your goal is a Plus. Enjoy!!

  Put a few hifi fuses in the amp. Then place Hifi feet under speakers and amp.
 Make it the first ones you come across    Don't drive yourself nuts.    Now you have a new Amp & speakers  at
  $1000 or less Dog   
Norman
Speakers for sure.  1.  Speakers make the most difference. 2.  2003 - 2019 is a bigger gap for speakers than for amps.  That is to say there have been vast improvements in speaker design, materials etc.
(By the way, is refurbishment a possibility?)  
Hi Norman, 
We haven't heard anything back from you since your first post.
Would be interesting to know if and how your room is treated, what type of music do you enjoy. It seems you are quite happy with the job your current system does on the music you like and wonder if you can take the same sound to an even higher level?
Now in my late 60s, for the music I listen to: Contemporary, Light Jazz, light Pop, Blues, Celtic, Folk, Acoustic and  basically anything with good vocals and real instruments - I wouldn't even consider anything other than planars or electrostats. I love my little Maggie 1.7s but If upgrading, I would strongly consider the Maggie 3.7i with a pair of Bob Carver Crimson or Raven 350 tubed mono blocks or for solid state, possibly a Bryston 4B SST2 or Cubed. I see here on Agone and on AudioMart either of these combos used for around or under $12K. Sometime add a decent sub to augment the bottom 20-40Hz and considering how much you like the system you have, for the money, I can't think of anything that would do a better job at bringing that sound to a higher level.

Best of luck and happy listening.......Jim  
A majority of responses here lean towards replacing your speakers and I would generally agree. Perceived "improvements" in speaker performance tend to be a far more subjective exercise than improvements in electronics. In other words, take the same pair of speakers, rotate amplifiers, and improvements can generally be agreed upon by most. Naturally I (we) are not in a position to comment on what type of speaker will be most satisfying to YOU. However as you investigate the products offered by today’s finest research, design, and manufacturers of quality speakers, none are offering a planar design solution. The planar speaker has a very unique sound which many find most pleasing. No arguments here. But if your goal is to recreate the original image as accurately as possible then time spent evaluating speaker alternatives will be time well spent.
If one appreciates phase coherency, it is next to impossible to achieve in cones. Only handful of cone speakers are anywhere close to phase coherent.

Well set up planars in a good room image incredibly well.
Well integrated subwoofers set them free.
Hi Norman,

I have sold McIntosh and Maggies since the early 80's and many of my customers have paired Mac and Maggies together and would never consider changing, if they do upgrade they stay with those same manufactures. You must remember personal taste and system synergy are critical in putting together a system, Mac and Maggies have great synergy together so that only leaves your personal taste. (not someone else's)
I am going to make a few suggestions:

1. You have a six channel amp that is rated at 120 watts into 8 ohms, having worked with Maggies for decades I would suggest you sell that amp and buy another Mac that is rated at 400 (or better) watts in 8 ohms. For around 2 grand over what you get for the MC-206 you can buy a used 2 channel MC-402 (400 watts at 8 ohm) for around 3 grand extra you can buy a pair of used MC-501 mono blocks( 500 watts at 8 ohm) I think you will pleasantly surprised at the difference in sound quality.

2. Get a used matching pair of subwoofers. Single subwoofers are great for multi channel but you must have a matched pair for quality stereo reproduction. To keep up with the speed of the maggies the subs need to be fast. You don't need to speed a lot of money to get a good sub these days, especially used. The top three subs our customers match with maggies are REL. JL audio and the Vandersteen 2WQ.

3. If you do upgrade your amps make sure you have a good electrical circuit to work with, we like to install a separate 20 amp circuit for the amps and a dedicated 15 amp for the rest of the equipment. I know in a lot of circumstances that is not possible but at least put in a good hospital grade or better outlet and we also suggest getting upgraded power cords. Again don't go crazy spending a lot of money on the outlets and power cords, there are many good products today at very reasonable prices.

4. Room treatment has been suggested and we agree. Standing waves and reflections need to be addressed but it is complicated, time consuming process and can be expensive. DSP and the like could be a much cheaper and less agrivating solution. We have many customers who have no room treatment at all and are very happy.



Gentlepersons
Thank you all for your responses.  The diversity of viewpoint, science  and opinion has been interesting, facinating and entertaining.  Some of you sent me to the dictionary; others to links with your recommendations.  Some introduced entirely different avenues to attack the issue of improved sound.  I wanted to respond to each as they came in and have individual dialogue, but I see now that you just hit Respond and address who you want to talk to for the whole crowd to read.  Regardless, I do want to thank you all for taking the time for your feedback to my question.  Very cool!  But, back to business.
The entire point of my original issue is, I love what I have and know it is good.  But, like many of you, I'm looking for the next next step up to improve the quality of aestetics - or like Robert Harley conveys, go for the purity of sound - you want to feel like you're there with the musicians (or a concept to that effect).  That is a pretty high standard and I may never get there - but damn I'm loving the journey as I know most of you do too or you wouldn't bother responding to a post from a novice like myself.  
One of you asked about the rest of my system in order to better respond to my original question.  My original post had a typo in it.  Instead of a McIntosh MP 100 (phono pre-amp) I actually have the 1100 model (8K) which is night and day better.  I've played nothing but vinyl since I got it a month ago. I also have the Kandid cartridge for my Linn Sondek turntable.  I have a subwoofer from REL Stadium II (rebuilt entirely 2 years ago).  The reason I have a multi-channel amp now is because I have a home theatre attached to it.  Maybe some day I'll have a dedicated room for sound, but not yet.  My Pre-amp is a McIntosh MX 121.  There are no treatments to my living room where the system is - though I have a 15 foot ceiling and about 20 x 30 room.  I don't own the place so I'm not investing in treatments, though I got it guys, that would make a world of difference. 
Happy Holidays to the list..
          
"I have a 15 foot ceiling and about 20 x 30 room", Norm .... I hate you already.
This IMHO is the perfect size for an audio room, especially the ceiling height. There's a cavet here though; high rooms have an inherent eco. A coffered ceiling with tile inserts would solve the isssue (hey, it's only money, ya make it every day). But as you say you're not the owner.
Also treatments tend to be NWF, so may I suggest a draping. You can hang drapes with dowels .... what ever. One guy I knew center hung a parachute with a good result. Grant it that's not everyone's cup of tea, all I'm suggesting is that there are creative, decorative, cost effective ways you can use to mitigate your accoustical issues. Fact is you have an oustanding system there, so to take it to the next level it would appear is to tackle the room nemesis.

You may also want to audition the Logan's ;-)
The horn
LOL.  Nice to know about the room size.  I've been here 16 years, but plan to move soon.  I'll look for that high ceiling.  My wife would leave me if I even suggested a parachute from the ceiling - but I got it on the echo quality.  I do have some buffer around that tampers it a bit. 
This group continues to amaze me.  Thanks for the feedback.  
Norm,if you are going to have higher ceilings hold out for 8 or 9 foot tall Sound Labs. More powerful, larger sound stage, less distortion.
I love Maggies in smaller rooms but the fragility of the tweeter limits output so they can get lost in larger rooms. Arrowhead is right. If you are in a smaller room say 14 X 20 X 8 a larger amp will work miracles on the 3.6's. Mono amps are always an advantage because you can park them right behind the speaker keeping the speaker wire real short. It is better to run long low level signal wires. Balanced is the best. 
I'm usually a speaker first individual, but I like your speakers so much more than your amp.

bdp24 and erik_squires posts just ring true with good advice.
Thanks for your feedback.  Much appreciated.  Well, since I posted this originally, I ended up upgrading both.  I got Magnegpan 20.7's.  Awesome output.  Really beautiful. I also got a McIntosh MC462 beast - 400 wpc.  Probably not to your taste, but  I'm loving it.  The power is impressive and works well with Maggies.  I also upgraded my audio stand.  I ordered a stunning piece of furniture from Timbernation, custom built for my needs, made of Tiger wood maple - 2 inch thick shelving, and walnut legs with pin point feet.  Finally, I'm in the midst of improving the sound in my room.  I hung up three 2' x 4' acoustic panels and it made a HUGE difference.  I want to thank millercarbon who really understood this post and another that I made.  His feedback was very inspiring.  There were a few others too.  Loving Audiogon.  You guys are terrific.