I don't think there are any "rules". During the '80s the UK HiFi mags were mad keen on the "front end first" paradigm, going so far as to recommend a Sondek-Ittok, moving coil, Naim amp with tiny Linn Kans. The US mags at the time concentrated more on the amps and speakers, combining great speakers with somewhat less sophisticated front ends. Different strokes.
If you can tolerate a lack of deep bass, you can get some very nice sounding speakers for modest amounts of money, and they will shine on a great front-end + amp combination. Getting those lower octaves costs a lot, and the more you probe the bottom end, the better power amps you need to control the low frequencies.
If you are starting off, I believe you will get more enjoyment from cheaper speakers mated to a good source and amp, than having great speakers hooked up to a budget source. Plus your upgrade path is better.
I can listen around the flaws of modest speakers, but the sound of cheap electronics really bugs me.
Agreed, the old garbage in garbage out debate.
A pair of $10,000 speakers can't restore the sound coming from bad electronics.
I have heard $500 speakers sound great with $10,000 electronics, rarely as good the other way around.
Best to try and strike a balance, but source first always works best, IMO.
Steven... buy something like a ClearAudio Virtuoso Wood cartridge for that turntable of yours and then we'll talk.
That makes three of us. If you don't have a good source and amplification chain, you can't pick the right speakers for your room.
IMO, speakers are very personal and have the most variability in sound. Or put another way, there are more trade-offs to be made at the speaker level than the electronics level. So nail the front end, based on reviews, listening tests, friends systems, etc. You'll likely get much closer to a sound you like for a long time than with speakers.
Of course, be sure to take a systems approach and no matter what you spend for your speakers make sure the impedance and sensitivity match the electronics.
Of course you are absolutely right given the extreme examples you listed ($300 cables $300 speakers) but some have more money than sense and honestly have the right to spend their money however they like.
I can't say for sure what is the best budget percentage for speakers but for sure you really should build a system around a good room and your dream speakers rather than your favorite speaker cables and interconnects. The room/speakers are where most of the rubber hits the road.
I have no problem with $500 speakers in $20K systems in a 12 by 12 attic space with low odd shaped ceilings but I try to warn newcomers to this hobby that they should primarily consider room acoustics and speakers FIRST.
On the other hand, I can recall getting really great sound from a cheap Sony cassette deck and a cheapish turntable (AR with MMT arm and Monster Alpha MC cart) through Acoustat 2+2s with custom-built tube servo-charge amplifiers.
So in my view, the amp-speaker combo is equally important as having a decent source. In fact I find cheap speaker/amp combinations are even more irritating and limiting than having a modest source with a great amp and speakers. Cheap speakers usually have so many problems and limitations that the best front-end in the world cannot hope to redeem.
There is some good stuff above. Me, I lean towards speakers and equipment in general being very personal. I've worked in construction all my adult life. I have a very slight mid range hearing loss. I've designed my system to compensate for that fact. Everything may appear to be overly bright to other people but great to me.
As in most areas in audio, there are many different ways to achieve the desired result, and it matters little, as long as you get there. In my case, I never really started making headway until I acquired some very fine loudspeakers, (Dynaudio Contour 5.4's), which allowed me to make real positive improvements, really for the first time. I could more easily discern positive changes, and wound up with what became a very rewarding and satisfying system. Now, ironically, the only thing I am changing is the speakers, as I felt I had unfinished business with Tannoys, so to that end, I am in the process of having custom 192lb (each) enclosures built for some HPD 315's (12" Dual Concentric) speakers I acquired on Ebay UK. Should have them in the system in a couple of weeks. Not planning any other system changes other than that for now. Gonna be fun.
Best regards, enjoy,
Cheap? Wrong way to put it. The speaker comes first, all else follows. Best to audition a speaker to the room it will be used in, that requires first researching a best fit list, then visit a dealer with your starting price point and have him drive it with $5K plus electronics and your source media, hopefully vinyl. A female vocalist is the acid test. Then, if you like the sound, ask the dealer to let you try it in your own room, driven by your electronics/sources/connects etc. If it still sounds pretty good, buy them from the dealer and then start up the electronic chain until you are satisfied.
Price relationships between conponents are IMHO meaningless, with the exception of the underlying question of getting high quality speakers or high quality components first. The problem with getting speakers first, the higher the quality, the more linear and resiolving they often are, they become revealing of all of the electronic 'warts' upstream and make the sound unplesant. Not so with getting the components first, except if you don't have those high quality speakers, and don't intend to get them, you sure have wasted a lot of money. System synergy/system balance is really what counts. And you can do that by an honest assessment of your attainable goals.
But I'm sort of LOL about the $300 cables for $300 speakers. I just changed out some IC's between the pre-amp and amp - the new ones were 1/6 of the cost of the old ones and sounded (in my system) infinitely better. I'm now exploring their application in connecting sources etc and even contemplating their use in other systems as well. I bought them as a lark and now I'm laughing all the way to the bank.
I am on the "buy what you want, that works for you" camp. I am not bothered seeing cables that cost 10 times the speakers system set up. That's what the owner wants.
However my take is a little different in terms of cables that cost a considerable amount for me compared to the cost of the speakers and I hope that I am not hijacking this thread.
When I am into SS and electrostats, I can justify the cables I bought at that time in regards to performance ratio (Synergistic Research, MIT, Nordost, Purist Audio, Acoustic Zen, Kimber etc. from what I can remember)and most were in the $2000 or less price point. Same is true when I went planars with SS or tube (mostly PP) amps.
What I cannot figure out are two experiences I have recently with two systems I own.
With SS, I have the Orion Plus as speakers. No considerable change or improvement with high end cables (IC's, speakers) or power cords. Secondly, SET base set up with low power amps (100 dB sensitivity speakers) using AC heaters with minimal hum (around 3.2 mV at volume pot fully open at least). These two set ups I have made me sell my cables for good. I am using just DIY Mogami's with Switchcraft RCA's for IC's and Kimber 8TC clone speaker wires I bought from an audio show, all coppers.
The Orions have active crossovers, while the SET system uses low power to drive the transducers. Both are now "audiophile approved IC's and speaker cables" free.
Any ideas as to why guys? I had looked into a scope either with freq gen, test tone generator, or actual analog signal and try to compare waveforms just before the driver and I cannot see anything that jumps out telling me that it is a factor.
Yep, either it works together and sounds good or not. There are no cost ratio rules worth banking on.
I am not a believer in the source-first paradigm. My perceptions as my system evolved over the years have been that speakers (and the speaker/room match) are the primary determinant of both overall system accuracy and of how enjoyable my listening experiences are.
I don't think it's possible to define a general guideline as to what percentage of total system cost should be allocated to speakers, because as has been mentioned above the cost of the speakers will be heavily influenced by what compromise in bass extension is acceptable to the particular individual, and also by the peak volume levels that are required to support the room size, the listening distance, and the kinds of music that are listened to.
As for speakers first or source components first, consider that what really comes first in the chain is the recording itself. And I think that just about all of us will agree that the quality of most recordings leaves a lot to be desired (putting it mildly). My initial expectation as my system improved was that poor to mediocre recordings would become less enjoyable to listen to, with their "warts" being resolved more clearly. But in fact I found that the opposite happened, because nearly all recordings seem to get at least something right (say, some parts of the mid-range), and as my system improved my attention would be drawn by the increased realism to what was right about the recordings, not to what was wrong.
But inaccurate speakers, or at least speakers with significant additive colorations, for me ruin every recording, good or bad.
And I would view the speaker vs. source component question as being comparable to speaker vs. source material, albeit obviously to a different degree.
YMMV, but fwiw that's been my perception.
"as my system improved my attention would be drawn by the increased realism to what was right about the recordings, not to what was wrong."
Front to back... source to speakers.
Great speakers can not make up for any lack or loss of signal info which occurs due to source errors or degredation along the transmission pathways. ... they may reveal these errors though.
I became a 'true believerr' in the "It's what is up front that counts" camp quite by accident. Later, by practice. I auditioned a pair of $7K Speakers incorporating a good preamp, source, and my Krell amp. Even used front to back Audience cables and Chang pc. Nice. Nothing to jump up and down about but pretty nice. I declined to buy the speakers following the preview, intimating that the sound I heard did not correlate to the price I'd have to pay for that 'sound'.
I was taken into another room... A whole different setup for the most part, same cables and pc, and half as expensive speakers... $3.5K.... and 220 wpc less. it was comprised of the top Shanlin SACD/CD player, tube preamp and tube monos. Dollarwise, that front end was well over double the previous one, and the sound was stunning. Vastly superior. No question about it.
Following that eye & ear opening experience I bought an updated version of the same preamp, and have improved IMHO on the source, parraleled the monos and improved upon the speakers, cabling, and conditioning. Every source change out has again elevated performance of the system on the whole.
I've got 5 pair of speakers on hand, ranging from a few hundred dollars to over six grand per pair, a few amps, and various cables... regardless the spekers being used with my gear, the better the source, pre, and amp, the better the sound. Period.
That being said, the amp + speaker match becomes more and more integral as your system escalates... and/or the speakers own impedance curves stray from lineiarity.
interesting viewpoints from everyone.
to me, the whole speaker vs. gear debate always seems to be the rorschach test for music listeners to see what aspects of music interest them most.
for my money, i'm in the adequate-electronics-with-excellent-speakers camp, as opposed to the adequate-speakers-with-excellent-electronics camp, but i see how others prefer differently. i guess i go for impressiveness over accuracy.
if audio were a singles bar, i'd be hitting on the drunk subwoofer twins...
I had to laugh when I looked at your system, because I have the perfect example of something that seems to make no sense until you really sit down and think about it.
Chris Sommovigo, the famous cable maker, once told me that the key to something as simple in audio as a cable, is complicated. If you take the best wire in the whole world, but have cheap connectors or the connection itself is no good, the wire can't do its job and will be of little benefit. Its job is to take the signal from, let's say the preamp, and pass it along to the power amp.
Case that you can relate to personally, I had my system that had a $5,000.00 Herron tube preamp and $6,000.00 Herron monoblocks. A tube in the preamp went out and through my fault and ignorance, I blew both amps trying to figure out what the problem was.
The rest of my system included a pair of $5,000.00 speakers and an $11,000.00 CD Transport and DAC. The two pairs of interconnects were $5,000.00 Stealth Indra.
I sent my preamp and amps in for repair. Not wanting to be without my music, I pulled out my old preamp and amp: a B&K PT-3 tuner/preamp and B&K ST 1400 Mk 2 amp. What do you think happened when I inserted this $1,300.00 preamp and amp into the slot in place of the $11,000.00 preamp and monoblocks?
I had a sound that I could have easily lived with for years! Why?!?!?!? Because my, and your, inexpensive little B&K preamp and amp had never been heard properly because the cheap connectors that I had on them years ago didn't allow me to hear how good they actually were!
Stealth Indra's at $5,000.00 a set on $1,300.00 worth of preamp and amp, PERPOSTUROUS and INSANE!!!! Or was it? Was it the interconnect's wire, connectors, connection or shielding?
What's cheap? Maybe the question is not so much the cost determining what's cheap, but the quality of the parts making up the speaker, component or cable that determines whether it's cheap, or if it sounds good.
Thankyou so much to everyone. I am alittle more enlightened now. When I got my first speakers back in High school the "seventies" Large Advents with a Marantz 2240B receiver.Speakers were the end all.I got away from audio for twenty some thing years, "Marriage".I just started listening again and have purchased a small but nice system. So far the only component I want to change is the sub.Polk's cheapest and not at all musical,but for less than a hunderd dollars, I couldn't pass it up.If any of you can see some thing that would help my system out please feel free to let me know. I want to enjoy my system more than I do now. I love listening to songs I know and hearing some thing I never heard before. or a finger on a fret that wasn't there on my all in one system.Any way Thankyou again. Steve
Billy Joel thinks that you get more mileage from a cheap pair of speakers.
I totally disagree with him - I think speakers are the most important part of any system & that most of your budget should be allocated there.
No matter what source you use - the end result is heard through "your speakers"!
I'm from the old school (per digital) & was taught to spend about 40% - 50% of my total budget on speakers.
In today's world - it might be more difficult to make due with the same ratio even though most used speakers can be found @ 50% of retail.
I now use 2 CD players + 2 turntables with 3 arms.
Once you set the basic foundation - speakers, amp/s & pre, the rest will come together rather easy as long as you can afford the next source.
Digital is a much easier add on that analogue, so I would suggest that you start there next & then start your quest for the right turntable, arm & cartridge (if your into vinyl).
Personally, I believe this, as I found out substituing my B&K pieces in like I said in my post above, to hear what you say that you want to hear you have to drop your noise floor. That way you can tell what you really have in terms of components. The components are normally a lot better than people think, but the items that the components come with are there to meet a price point. HiFi+, the British magazine that may be the best audio magazine around right night is stressing this same point.
My belief is that you leave your components alone right now, and build yourself a base that is as neutral and as quiet as possible. This accomplishes something that will last you through the rest of your system changes, if you choose to change things down the line.
How do you build this base? You build it in giving yourself clean AC to send to your components. Then by using good, neutral and well shielded power cords, interconnects and speakers cables, your background noise will be quiet and you will be able to hear the microdynamics, the finger on a fret, etc.
This doesn't have to be an expensive trip at all, as I'm learning myself with each new day. Products are getting better and the price is dropping everyday.
AC POWER: I just sold my two power conditioners ($5,500.00 new) and bought a Topaz Ultra Isolation Transformer off of EBay for $300.00 that handles my whole system and lowers my noise floor 126 db. It sounds better than the two $5,500.00 pieces, and as the head electrical engineer at work explained, it sounds better for a good and proven reason.
AC POWER CORDS: I've sold all of my $2,500.00-$3,500.00 power cords and now I've personally chosen Silent Source Signature power cords that list for $1,000.00, but can be bought on Audiogon for around $400.00. They're well shielded, quiet as all get out and fast and neutral. I'm sure there are others out there like this brand, but I'm not familiar with any personnally.
INTERCONNECTS AND SPEAKER CABLES: I've found that for a very reasonable amount of money, the Supra Sword cables from Sweden are extremely hard to beat. There's a set of Supra Sword speaker cables on Audiogon right now ( my old set ) being offered by the Audiogoner that I sold them to about six months ago. The Supra Sword interconnect are supposed to be even better than the speaker cables, and each of these ought to be able to be had for around $400.00 a set.
So the bottom line is that I believe that you can build this base as you can for around $3,000.00 total, and this base will not require changing unless you just want to for years and years to come.
Starting with the Topaz Isolation Transformer for $300.00-$400.00 dollars will show you details right away that will amaze you, and if you use it on your TV too, it will sharpen your picture and make your colors more vivid.
I am in the Speakers first camp too, Most electronics at High End level are good enough if you have really good speakers and source (TT, transport).
Cheapy speakers with limited bass are very easy to get right, bass is where the difficult part starts and really where music starts, even a female voice with excellent bass sounds much better and rich, with beautiful dynamics...
Now a speaker with no bass can sound very detailed.
A badly designed bass section will block and kill all detail and music mudding everything up.
This is why it is so hard to add a subwoofer!
But when Bass is clean and effortless and supports all other frequencies properly, you are in heaven!
IMHO Bass equals Horsepower sound-wise!
I have listened to a lot of systems with terrible bass sections that where really boring, when a good bass section is implemented it is hard to stop listening to music.
I too have an Isolation transformer and recommend it fully!
It would be terrible to get an excellent pair of speakers after you spent a fortune on electronics just to find out you made a couple of bad choices along the way and never noticed it...
There are some good perspectives and advice listed above. I agree with those that invest the largest percentage on speakers. You get more for your money by stretching the budget on speakers than the other components, especially digital ones. Try to keep the entire system balanced, as it's counter productive to have a glaring weak link. System synergy is important when trying to get the best sound for your money.
"...Why put $300.00 cables on $300.00speakers makes no sence what so ever?"
Did you just copied and pasted 1 of my first posts here at the Agon?
Well, as time goes by, my perspective has changed, and its going something like this: if you settle down with a girl /wife and you think shes The One, money is not an option. If she deserves it, youd want to buy her nicest jewelry that you can afford. Youd want her to look beautiful.
My friends been saving up to buy a $5K turbo kit for his car, I think thats crazy.
But how about $1K for a power cord, my friend thinks thats R.E.A.L.L.Y crazy!!!
With a set of revealing speakers and a decent electronics, you will /may notice some cables sound diff from others. A few cables sound warmer than others while others may sound more detail. They are the ingredients for your taste of music.