Words From the Wise

Hello fellow Audiophiles and Audio Enthousiast. I've been in the game for a little over 4 months now and I've learned tonnes of stuff along the way thanks to some very knowledgeable people on this website and in my local community (but mostly on this website).

I'll get right to the point.

Whether you are new to the game or a veteran I'm curious to hear your thoughts on the top 5 things you would tell a fellow Audiophile to better his/her enjoyment of this wonderful hobby. Please use point form or short paragraphs
• listen through your ears rather than your eyes.

• no matter how much you spend or how long you search, you’ll always find something better, usually a couple of days after maxing out all your credit cards.

• you’re most likely to experience an impossible-to-correct ground loop just before your friends arrive to hear your latest acquisition.

• nothing doesn’t make a difference, especially if you know what’s expected from the particular whizz-bang or whirly-jig.

• audiophilia is not a religion, tho it’s not yet listed as disease by the cdc.

Kelley, though not a religion, I agree, I would argue that your 5 points points are arguably no less compelling than Moses coming down off of the mount with those two tablets...:)
1. Buy the most accurate speaker you can afford.

2. It is hard to go wrong when using solid state amps.

3. Treat your room, otherwise listen in near-field.

4. Don't be afraid to compare items with blind testing, it will save you a lot of money.

5. When you are able to listen to the MUSIC instead of your GEAR, you are getting real close to IT.
1. Don't go the mid-fi false-economy route, thinking that it'll save $. You'll only spend more in the long term & if you spent all that initially on the better equipment then you'll be $ ahead & much less frustrated. With all the money I wasted going through mid-fi, I could have a rig that's THAT much better today & spent less to boot.

2. Begin with the speakers that you intend to keep for life, then build the rig around them. If you change speakers later, all else is a wash.

3. Listen to your wife's aural opinions (assuming that she's into it) she can hear better than you can.

4. Tune for musicality vs. resolution. As Dan states, when you're really hearing the *music* you're getting close. The goosebump factor & those raised-up hairs on the back of your neck are telling you something - not so much by what you hear as what you *feel*.

5. Common sense isn't always relavant. Forget the spec's, the theories, the numbers. Listen with your heart.

Very nice idea for a thread Eric. my compliments to you & the above advisers as well; they very much know what they're talking about!
I'll try again, first attempt didn't post.

- Spend as much on your front end components (turntable and CDP) as you do on your amplifer and speakers. Garbage in, garbage out.

- Spend twice as much on your source material (LP's and CD's) as you do on your hardware.

- Never, ever buy power cords and interconnect new. Buy it for half the price or less here on the 'Gon.

- Always be less than truthful about what you spend on your gear/media. White lies are part of the hobby and your significant other expects you to be "coy"

- always keep the manuals, boxes, and shipping material. You'll likely need it when "Upgrade-aphelia" kicks in.

- attend as many live musical events as possible

- listen and follow the advice of the folks who frequent the 'Gon, their advice is invaluable
1) Go to some live concerts of your favorite music. It is a great way to keep your ears tuned.

2) Get a copy of Robert Harley's book "The Complete Guide to High End Audio" 2nd Edition. Probably the one book that could be called an audio bible.

3) When it comes to any kind of music or audio system take it from Duke Ellington "If it sounds good, it is good" (to you).

4) If you want to experiment, don't be stopped from trying a component, accessory, tweek or anything else audio, just because someone else said it does not work, has no effect, or is a waste of money. Find out for yourself. Every system is different. (Beware of Trolls)

5) Leave enough money in your budget for lots of software (CD, Records, etc) That is really what it is all about.

1) spend as much on your front end components (CDP and turntable) as your amplifier and speakers

2) spend twice as much on software (LP's and CD's) as you do on your hardware

3) always buy power cords and interconnect used

4) never, ever admit the true price paid for anything to your significant other. White lies are part of the hobby

5) follow the advice of most on this site, it's invaluable
1. Start with a great front end. Information lost or corrupted at the beginning can't be corrected with speakers.

2. Tube amps are generally more musical than solid state. For the same money initially invested, tubes are better. They just cost more to maintain.

3 and 4... Excellent points

5. the most important point
1. Keep your perspective. There are far more important things to spend your time on, rather than comparing brand x component with brand z or worse thinking about it.

2. Don't follow the upgrade path to madness. Otherwise you will spend more to realize that you could have spent less.

3. Less is more.

4. Ignorance is bliss. Who cares if there are better components out as long as you like the music that is coming out of your speakers.

5. Forget the system and listen to the music. Go out and spend time listening to live music with friends and family. Leave audiophilia to those with nothing else better to do.
1. Always think of your system as a SYSTEM. You and it are only as strong as the weakest link. In other words, don't think that skimping in one spot can be made up elsewhere in the chain. It can't. Sooner or later, the "sore spot" will reveal itself. This is not to mention that your listening environment and attitude are a MAJOR part of what you hear & experience, so take that into consideration BEFORE all of the other variables.

B= KISS ( Keep It Simple, Stupid ). The more you have to think about it, the more complex it is. The more complex it is, the less likely you are to relax and enjoy it.

3: Realize early that there is always something newer or better on the market. If you can't get the "i've gotta have it" syndrome out of your system, at least try to make well planned progressive steps. The only way to do that is to know what you want to get out of your system to begin with.

4- Strive towards long term goals but do it in a fashion that makes for plenty of enjoyment along the way.

E) Try to involve as many friends and family members as you can in your hobby. Music is for sharing and enjoying. Who knows, you may end up with an audiophile sidekick to compare notes with. Two people make listening twice as good, etc...

F> Listen to as wide a variety of music as possible and don't neglect to do it "live". There is a BIG difference between listening to a recording of someone playing an instrument and experiencing someone weaving a web of musical notes.

7* Go back and look at how i indexed the various tips listed here. If you didn't notice that something was "funny" right away, you're overlooking a LOT of simple details. Learning to pay attention is half the battle when it comes to doing something "right".

1. good electronics with good (no errors of comission) speakers will almost always sound better than great speakers with average electronics.
1a. get a decent pair of musical speakers and put most of your money in the electronics. Many very high quality speakers can be brutally revealing of upstream defects.
2. always buy cables/ics/ps used.
3. musicality always beat detail, imaging, soundstage over the long haul.
4. have fun.
4a. don't take it too seriously.
5. while audiophilia is not recognized as a disease, upgraditis can be addictive.
1.have fun with the whole thing. In a sense hi-fi components are tools for enjoying music but they're also toys. when you take home that piece, you should be excited and happy (like a kid at xmas), not anxious and worried about how much $ you just spent. decide how much great sound is worth to you before buying.
2.audition stuff at home as much as you can, with your own components and room interacting with the auditioned piece
3.use your favorite music (stuff you've heard a million times) to audition things - that way you'll be aware what a system or component is doing (or not doing) - the "wow, I never heard that before" effect
4.audition things in a relaxed situation, take your time, then put the thing-to-be-replaced back into the system at the end of the audition to see the contrast again
5.find a dealer who 1) has stuff that sounds good to you and 2) you can trust (i.e. will let you take things home to try without charging your credit card). you'll pay more to buy from 'bricks and mortar', but until you're educated and confident about this stuff, the information and help the trustworthy dealer gives you will be enormously useful
No one else's opinion is superior to your own ears.

If you don't have the time, patience or ability to discern a difference in a component, tweak or upgrage - don't buy it.
1.) Your goal should be the enjoyment of music, and not the acquistion of the most expensive equipment.
2.) There is one absolute in this hobby: CHANGE!!
3.) Patience is a virtue...If you missed that once in a lifetime deal, wait, there will be another one around the corner.
4.)If I had a dollar for each time I or my audio friends said "After I get this next "_____", then I'm finished.", I would be rich.
5.) Remember we all have/had a job; an audio reviewers' job is writing about audio equipment and/or music.
NEVER EVER EVER ASSUME that more money spent on a product (I don't care what the dealer tells you) indicates a superior sounding product. A lot of times this may be the case, but I have found many items that are very very affordable that will smoke much more expensive gear. Moral of the lesson: TRUST YOUR OWN EARS.


1-3 as per Swampwalker.

4. Try tweaking (placement, supports, etc) present equipment before investing in new equipment

5. (Most important) Invest in MUSIC. Keep the system playing, listen to live music of all kinds, purchase lots of software. Equipment invariably changes and could let you down; music remains true!
Phew! All great ideas.
My latest for those who live in an area with supeb live FM broadcasts, and/or really knowledgable jazz/classical programming:
* Get a great tuner.

* Go to as many live concerts for your soul AND your ears, and to support the music-making community.

Happy Holidays all.

1. ads always look good, they sound like pages turning.

2 equipment are a lot like crying babies, they are always more charming to the parents

3. ive never met a Krell dealer who liked Mark Levinson better.

4. ive never met a Conrad Johnson dealer who thought Audio Reasearch sounded better

5. some people would love to hear Fran Dreshers voice every morning. (for you lady philes, some women would love to hear sam Kinisons voice every morning)

6. opinions are like a**holes, everyone has one.

I guess what Im trying to say is, Listen with your own ears.
if your listening room is 12x12 before you go spending a vast amount of money on equipment you would be better off spending 10 or 15 thousand dollars building a decent size listening room like [18x20]. the sound difference between a small room and a large room is like night and day. Speakers need room to image properly. I thought I had good imaging until I converted the garage into a music room.
1. There is no cure or vacination for upgrade fever -- but we know it does strike especially hard after VISA statement date. There is always something for a little more money that sounds a wee bit better -- or so we all think.

2. Your girlfriend will never understand any of this. If she does, marry her.

3. Get a PS 300/600/1200 and some dedicated lines -- the best upgrade you can do, whether you have a $2K mid-fi setup or are bidding on those $40K Audio Research 600 tubes up for auction (damm this economy -- I want to bid!).

4. Don't be afraid to experiment. Just because your dealer doesn't carry it or recommend it, doesn't mean it won't sound great in your system. Every room, every ear, and every system's synergy is different.

5. Buy from reputable sources only -- either dealer or individucals -- always check 'em out BEFORE you write your check. But don't be afraid to buy used -- there are some terrific bargins out there if you're patient and shop mainly with your head and a little with your heart. In cases where your head and heart argue or disagree, let your ears be the final judge.

5-1/2. Never, never, never .... ship anything fragile UPS!
Was the title chosen from the Gentle Giant song of the same name ???
1.Front end front end put 50% of your initial budget in it.
2.Buy used gear that you can listen to in your system.
3.Dont read any audio Magazine's.
4.Since you dont read Magazine's listen with your ears.
5.Trust what you hear.
6.If you have over 10% of your budget invested in wires you are not following rules 3,4,5
Some great stuff here! Brings both laughter and tears (and in the case of the stupid stuff, as Curly would say ... "heyyy ... i resemble that remark!")

Incrementalism is the enemy ... buy something you LOVE. You'll never be sorry buying quality over compromise, even if you have to space out your purchases more.

Beyond a certain point, the room and the recording are MUCH more significant than the playback equipment. Have some fun with what will be very inexpensive (relative to the sonic improvement) tweaking and treatment of your environment.

If your toes ain't tappin, it ain't happenin. Take a break once in a while from the hardware, and just listen to the music, both at home and live. Regain perspective. THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN!!!
I CERTAINLY AGREE with the comment "If your toes ain't tappin, it ain't happenin.".

Holiday Wishes
1. We all hear a little differently. If you're building a system for your ears, don't let someone else's ears make your decision for you. That doesn't mean you can't have an expert pointing out things you may not be trained to listen for (like air between the instruments), it just means the final decision should be yours.

2. If you're building a serious system, start at the wall and work out. The difference can be astounding and an awful lot of otherwise good components get sold on A'gon, when a power cord of conditioner could have made them sing.

3. Never make any decisions about equipment or cables until they've burned-in fully. This usually takes about twice as long as your patience. Most high quality gear improves for a couple hundred hours (or more). If you aren't willing to wait that long, you're selling stuff before you've given it a chance. Worse, you can easily repeat the cycle and make the same mistake with the new stuff you buy. Cable companies may love this, but it's very frustrating for novice audiophiles. Be patient before you run a classified ad, just leave your equipment alone and let it play (don't mess with it every day hooking and unhooking cables etc.).

4. Buy more music and less new equipment- enjoy.
Enjoy the music. Thats what its all about.
If you're on a tight budget, remember that there were some great components built pre-1985 that can be had relatively cheap - look around on ebay or better yet go to garage/estate sales in your area, that way you can try the stuff maybe before you buy - then upgrade as you can afford to do so. I bought a Marantz 2245 receiver with my second paycheck in 1974 and never regretted it, and have worked my way up almost 30 years later to a vintage McIntosh system.
My top five... thats a tough one...

1) Always have a reference point.. I mean, your favorite recording or track or whatever. This will let you find likes and dislikes with changes or tweaks in the system as you go.

2) Dont be afraid to ask questions. Audiofiles are more than happy to go on for hours about technical aspects of gear and supply more than enough info to get a good education.

3) Do some serious listening...find a system somewhere ie. local hifi or high end store that knocks your socks off.. maybe it costs 100k but then you have a point of reference and something to strive for in your own sound room.

4) Treat yourself every now and then... if music is your passion then dont hesitate to spend that extra couple of grand on a super piece.... most people die in debt anyway.

5) Have fun... it is true that most will not care about your latest tweak and tell you that it sounds the same but, it is your hobby or passion... and if having a 500.00 power cable and dedicated circuts with hospital grade plugs makes you happy... then that is all that matters...
Happy listening!!!!

Those that die in debt live their lives as you suggest, spending money they don't have on things they don't need. I have spent quite a bit of money on this hobby, but what I have is paid for. You will enjoy your system a lot more if you own it rather than worrying about how you will make the next payment.

These are supposed to be "words from the wise." Wise men do not borrow money on things that go down in value.
To Herman...
Assuming that I do not have my system paid for is not wise on your part as well... Assuming as they say makes an ass out of u but in this case not me. I simply suggested that one should be able to enjoy the finer things that this technological world has to offer and if price is a barrier... then thats unfortunate. People need something to be proud of... I never liked the philosophy that "someday I will buy that amp I have always wanted or that car or that whatever..." Well, in my short years on this earth, I have learned that things change in an instant..ie sept 11... so that some day may never come. Enjoy yourself! I wasnt suggesting that one takes a second mortgage on the house to have a Fabioesque system... just that they should live a little...
I have 36k in gear in my home and it is all paid for.. and truthfully I think it is a waste of money... 36k could have been invested in much more sensible way, but I do feel a certain sense of pride and joy when I listen or even stare at my rig. Anyway, I am babbling.. and to each is own.
If you would like financial advice Herman, I would be glad to discuss the term Leverage with you!!
Great input already but I suggest buying lots of mucic that you want to listen to and keep looking for new material. My system changed over time becasue my musical tastes changed with age and exposure to new material. It also changed as my career changed and I had more disposable income. There are plenty of systems that sound great without the high price and plenty of high priced gear that is now available to you via the net that was unavailable when I was growing up. Take advantage of others who are searching for the ultimate. And always remember it is all about the music not the equipment.

Oh Yeah, the single most important thing to remember is, NEVER, I mean NEVER, tell your wife what you are paying for this stuff! Got It!!! Tell her you traded something else for it. Works for me.

Happy Listening!
1. Store all of CD tracks that you like as WAV files on a 60GB computer hard drive. Write information about the track in a data base for sorting purposes. Make a backup hard copy of the CD using a CD burner. Sell the CD on amazon.com, half.com, etc. The above steps will allow you to make compilations of the music that you like, and provide extra money for the equipment that you need.
2. Buy the best high efficiency speakers you can afford. This will allow you to put all your money into an excellent low watt amplifier. Low watt high-end amplifiers cost half as much as their high watt brothers, but have the same quality of sound.
3. High efficiency speakers will also allow you to use a less expensive passive linestage preamplifier instead of the typical powered active preamplifier. High-end passive preamplifiers using Vishay resistors, are as good as the best active preamplifiers, but cost thousands of dollars less. Search for this preamp on the internet, stores don't sell them.
4. Be creative. You don't have to follow patterns set in stone by audio stores, magazines, and other audiophiles. Items 1-3 above are examples. Here is another example: Klipschorn speakers can only be positioned in corners, right? This won't work in a square room. A solution would be to build a baffle out of two 4 by 4 foot dense particle boards (use two or more layers glued together if you like).
The only thing that matters is that you get the SOUND that YOU want.
5. What you hear in your system should simulate a live presentation. Listen to your system for hours on end. If your ears are ringing, you are playing your system too loud. In the long run, you will enjoy music more at natural levels. If you become fatiqued listening to your system even at normal listening levels, then it's time to upgrade your weakest link. If you find that your systm has the bass slam, carity, and detail that you always wanted, it's time to start enjoying the music and (may God strike me dead) stop upgrading.
- For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

- Everything is relative, only some things are more relative
than others.

- Never trust the kindnest of strangers.

- Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar...

- Unless your latest tweak actually works and you're smoking
1. Speakers do not make more difference than any other component.

2. Speakers make more difference than ALL the other components COMBINED.

3. Item #2 can be proved in less than 15 minutes to anyone willing to sit and listen.

4. Don't be an ass about your own system or anyone elses.

5. Have fun.
1) The most important thing in your system is your source. Regardless of whether you use CDs, LPs or tapes.
2) The second most important thing is what you use to retieve the music. On a LP system it would be A) Cartridge B) Tonearm C) Turntable. In a digital system it would be your A) transport and then B) converter.
3) Everything from there through the speaker goes in descending order of priority. Which obviously isn't to say speakers are not important, but they will never ad what your TT or CD player did not retrieve!
4) The most important part of your anatomy in listening is your imagination. No system sounds as good as live music so let your mind fill in what's missing so you can enjoy rather than nitpick what's missing.
5 The seond most important part of your anatomy is your ears, take care of them.
Bishopwill was right in his conclusion HAVE FUN!!!
"You can't cheat an honest man" applies well to audio consumerism.
- You will never know or have heard everything. Always be willing to be proven "not entirely correct."

- All good music is about life; its passions, pleasures, tragedies, unrequited longings, joys, loves and pains. So be willing to grant that all musical genres have something to say worth listening to.

- Sometimes the artist DOES know what he's doing better than you do. As Mel Brooks once said, "I'm the performer, you are the audience. I outrank you."

- Before you REALLY listen to planars for the first time, be warned they can be more addictive than narcotics. ;)

- Your tastes and hearing were not acquired in a lesser school than that other guy's. Be willing to politely speak your mind no matter if you are a majority of one.

- Bose is bad, but not that much worse than a lot of lo- & mid-fi gear out there at a similar price point.

- Almost every mistake you're thinking of making has already been painfully made by someone earlier. Most folks on Audiogon are gently trying to keep you from their historical errors.

- It's reproduced music, nothing more or less. No one in audiophilia is going to die over it. So have a good time.
Before going nuts, as I have many times, go back to the basics . Simple things. Don't keep your components too close together, especially amp and preamp, keep your digital on a seperate circut, install dedicated 20 amp lines for your power amp and most important dont have your interconnects and power cords tangled, or bent. You can spend zillions on cables, but if their all bent and not coming straight out of the back of your unit {some of us use wall units with small holes, push a component back, and dont realize the stress we are putting on the cords} then your system will be inconsistent. Remind yourself to check all interconnects are firmly in place and all cords are flowing freely. Sounds simple, but sometimes we miss the obvious.
learn the differences between speakers first. this is where the largest differences lie. just for fun, hook up one speaker out of phase with the other so you know what it sounds like. this is done by reversing the + and - connections to one speaker. switch the preamp or receiver to mono (if there is that option) or turn on an AM radio station. the sound should emanate from directly between the speakers. out of phase, it seems to jump from speaker to speaker as you move form side to side.
an ultimate test is to face the speakers at each other form about an inch away form each other. in phase, youll hear sound, out of phase, the sound will nearly disappear. btw. this arrangement can be used to break in new speakers for hours or days.
putting the speakers out of phase is a sneaky technique of unscrupulous dealers to make one sound 'spacey'.
start to focus on certain areas of sound like the sound of cymbals. youve heard them live, how do they compare? is the voice clear and can you tell the difference between bass guitar and kick drum?
do the instruments seem locked to the speakers or float between them and have different distances of apparent depth? after youve chosen speakers and listened to them awhile at home, start listening for distortion when you turn things up. this is when you realize the need for more power. dont get into the wire controversy until you've gotten some experience under your belt and you have separate components.
thats enough for starters.
1. Use your ears rather than placing too much trust in measurement tool.
2. Be minimal. Over design of an acoustic space is the cardinal sin of acoustics.
3. Think "outside the box". Listen to advice from professionals, but always remeber that the numbers are only a prediction of probable room response. They may (or may not) reflect reality.
4. Think long and hard before implementing any specific treatments. As a professional acoustician (Physics Degree) and an audio engineer for over 25 years, I start a design by first thinking of every possible approach to take with a specific room. I then begin SUBTRACTING the over-kill until I arrive at a solution that is the least working solution. I am a firm adherent to Occam's Razor.
5. I then add treatments symetricaly around the space to fitted one at a time, and LISTEN to the results at each point. I have found tools such as the Techron TEF instument invaluable, but no substitute for the human ear.

BTW, even with all of the other tools at my desposal, I have found the CARACAD program to be an excellent tool for assement of a rooms probable acoustic signature. Of course, I am helped in this by having a professionals understanding of the acoustical properties of materials, and as such, have made extensive use of the materials editor function of the CARACAD program. If you do not have the proper grounding in Physics, be very careful, and judicious in your use of this powerful tool, because an error in the data you supply will make the predictions meaningless.

For the money, however, it is the best software for this purpose I have ever used or reviewed.


D. Terry Hazelrig(CEO/Chief Acoustic Engineer)
152 Dexter Circle
Madison, Al. 35757-8005
Email: timescape100@knology.net
There is someone out there enjoying just about every audio device made. If you enjoy it, it's a good choice.

Correct placement of your speakers makes a bigger difference than many dollars. Experiment, it's free and it gets you off the couch.

I would never have believed how much difference cables could make until I tried some. The Cable Company has contributed more in three transactions than any other single vendor to my system.

Think hard about your lifestyle before you go for a record player that requires 4 individual boxes and cubic yards of software. You bet it sounds best, but once you're into it, it can be a space hassle, and by then you will know what you would be missing if you gave it up.

There are great deals on the used market, but there's absolutely nobody on the buyers side - it's all about the sellers. Be prudent, protect yourself.
1. Go to the ends of the earth to listen to as many great systems you can find.

2. Do not bother with hi fi stores unless you are lucky enough to have a holy grail audio store nearby (they are rare).

3. When you find the sound to fall in love with, use it as a model.

4. don't let anyone convince you the speaker is of lesser importance. It doesn't matter how much gilded wire, bench press components, or 24 bit discs you have, it means nothing if you don't have great speakers to give the music life.

5. Speaker first, all other components to match. Super charging a Toyota won't make it a Porsche.
Home theater;1)Big screen 2)Big subs 3)Dedicated room 4)Room acoustics 5)Understanding spouse!
1. Listen to the MUSIC, not the "system."
2. Get good sources and fine wires to connect them to amps and preamps.
3. More money isn't always the answer. Maybe you just need a bigger throw rug on a hardwood floor or a tapestry on a bare wall.
4. Power line regenerator/conditioner (the best investment I have made).
5. Listen to the MUSIC, not the "system." Yes, I repeat myself because I have been guilty of concentrating more on buying, acquiring, collecting, consuming, and hording stuff, making me forget the whole point: It's the music. Derive your joy from the perfect sax solo, not the perfect power cord. I'm an "audiophile" because I love music, not because I love equipment.
1. Clean Power - Line conditioner (ExactPower etc..)
2. Best Speakers paired with an amp with enough power to fit your budget
3. Good Source - CDP, Turntable, DVD
4. A nice tubed 2ch pre with HT bypass for your SSP
5. For HT a nice HDTV Video display, for Music a wealth of media to listen to.

**I do believe that cables make a difference but you need to settle on the equipment first as the cable saga can be long and painful if you spend to much time on cables before you have the front end equipment you want.
Even though I don't live by it, I believe a stereo should be built from the beginning to the end or stylus to speaker in the order of their function. I consider their importance in this same order but with very little diminish as to importance. All the components are important to build a good sounding system. And you have to do this within your means.

So, I consider the most important part the source, whether CD, vinyl or whatever. Good recordings sound better than bad ones and you have to listen to know. Some artists are known for producing better recordings.

Next, get the best CD player or Turntable that you can afford. If buying a turntable, buy the best cartridge that you can afford for it. This makes a world of difference. You can check reviews to see what people say about what you are interested in.

Next is your preamp, tube or ss? Make your own mind up, listen to both. There are excellent preamps made both ways. If you are using a turntable, you may want to use a phono preamp and will most likely need one if you chose a MC cartridge. Specs are helpful but not everything, I like the lowest distortion rating that I can find. Some preamps have amazing sound in spite of poor distortion specs especially with tubes but listen and decide for yourself.

The Amp should be very distortion free also and I like lots of power so I like Mono blocks or two stereo amps bridged mono. Two amps just make stereo better. I prefer to have as much power as my speakers can handle and I go for the lowest distortion specs. As with the preamp, there are some great sounding power amps with poor distortion specs. Just another that you have to let your ears decide.

Lastly the speakers, although very important, if you have followed all the previous steps, you will be able to make most speakers sound the best that they can and better than most people would think. Many consider the speaker to be the most important component but I do not. I'm not saying you can buy junk and be happy but I still consider it the least important of the main components.

I have omitted the cables and speaker wire as I consider it to be less important than all of the other components. After all, it is just wire. I can sense alot of toes curling here. Don't buy junk interconnects or junk speaker wire (K Mart or Radio Shack probably won't have any good wire) but don't make it the most expensive component in your system either. The good stuff will make a difference and in some cases, a dramatic one but none will make a bigger difference than the wrong amp, preamp or any other major component.

I also never mentioned a receiver or integrated amp. There might be some good ones but you cannot beat separates, I don't care what anybody says.

Take your time, enjoy what you buy or get rid of it. A good stereo will bring many years of enjoyment, a bad one will be ignored.
Bill P
A list for the teachers (me), social workers, those with children, or others who cannot spend thousands of dollars over and over again. . .

1. Buy for the long-term unless the thrill of this hobby for you is keeping up with the technology, the novelty of new equipment, or something else less music-oriented and more sound-oriented, if that distinction makes sense.

2. Along these lines, buy stuff you love, especially if you want to enjoy it for several years to come. Compromises have a way of sticking in one's head and interfering with the ability to enjoy the music. If you love music, it's worth it to own better equipment.

3. Buy used/demo. After years of thinking I could simply not justify the expense of high end equipment, I discovered this site. For literally half the price of retail I set up my first high quality system and as far as I'm concerned it's magnificent. I've had nothing but great experiences with the people here, both dealers and individuals.

4. If you're building a system, set a goal. Take a break from the upgrade cycle when you've reached that goal and just listen to what you've got. You'll know after six months to a year whether you really must upgrade a particular component or whether you were just emotionally caught up in the last round of purchasing and are actually perfectly content with what you have.

5. If you didn't cash it out to afford your new purchases, keep your old system around and listen to it periodically. It will remind you of the marked improvements in your current set-up. This may help you remember what you love about it if you've gotten complacent, spoiled or re-bitten by the upgrade bug.

Enjoy wonderful music and remember the other things that matter in your life as well.

Learn to recogonize the wise.
*if it ain't broke, don't be stupid, you can get in wayyy over your head quick. a tube amp plate voltage CAN kill you. if you have trouble with the chassie screws....DON'T!

*if your neighbors already don't like you, you might not need a bigger amp. maybe a subwoofer could help move the china in their china cabinet. ears...remember.

*music selection is important!
Very few people are into hi-end 2 channel...and the few that are take this stuff way too seriously(Guilty as charged)...1)relax, have fun, listen, and be patient...
2)Trust your own ears and instincts...take advice with a large does of salt...
3)know your ROOM and its limitations...
4)opt for midrange accuracy over boom-box bass
5)go analog and go tubes....