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how much do components matter?

Hi all,
I consider myself a "reasonable" stereophile, by which I mean I credit better components with better sound, but don't believe in voodoo stuff. So here's my question: Suppose the total sound quality you perceive equals 100%, what percentage rates would you say are the result of:

-source (player)
-preamp/processor
-amp
-speakers
-room acoustics

Please fill in the blanks. I purposely left out recording medium and quality, cables (no voodoo and probably 1 or 2 other things someone else might suggest, for I only want to work on these. Thanks for your input!

Anthony Tam
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Re: how much do components matter?

-source (player) 15%
-preamp/processor 15%
-amp 10%
-speakers 30%
-room acoustics 30%

The above needs to be qualified by my belief there are no absolutes. One can be objective but audio reproduction and enjoyment is, by its very nature, quite subjective.

No matter the quality of the reproduction component, the holy grail of hi-fi, the reproduction of the live event performance, is unattainable. Also, it does not take into account the specifics of a particular room, listener or assemblage of components.

Musical satisfaction is something the listener has to find for him/herself and such discussions should serve only to help define where possible "improvements" might be made in order to further that goal.

There is defintely more than one way to skin the proverbial hi-fi cat.

Buddha
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Re: how much do components matter?

-source (player)...10%

-preamp/processor...3%

-amp...7%

-speakers...60%

-room acoustics...20%

k512
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Re: how much do components matter?

I'm sorry, I forgot to log in , and the above post is mine.

Kurt

Jim Tavegia
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Re: how much do components matter?

I agree with Buddha and unfortunately the 20% room tuning is mostly ignored. I am guilty as well in our living room where I do much listening. I do have a wife who has tolerated most of the stuff I have done, so I will not complain.

Yesterday she knocked me over. She ask how she could play a record on my Rega P3. She has some favorite Christmas albums. I quickly showed her out of pure joy. She did it again today. I know there is a Santa Claus. Now would be a good time to show her the front cover of Jan "Phile" I think....if I was Warren Buffet.

dcrowe
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Re: how much do components matter?


Quote:
-source (player)...10%

-preamp/processor...3%

-amp...7%

-speakers...60%

-room acoustics...20%

These percentages vary (especially the room contribution), of course, but Buddha has it pretty accurately estimated.

Lighthouse
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Re: how much do components matter?

This is a not a simple question to answer.

Speakers (and the room) are obviously important. A really bad speaker can make it vey difficult to listen to and enjoy anything. However, I believe that as long as the speaker is competently designed, using high quality components, it will become secondary to the system that is playing through it.

I would rather listen to a top end source through a good amplifier, with high quality cables, driving a pair of good quality 2 way (preferably doped paper bass and fabric domed tweeter) bookshelf speakers, than a pair of Wilson Maxx2's on the end of a low budget system.

A pair of really big and expensive speakers are usually not any better than a pair of small speakers in most aspects. Where they are better, is in scale, loudness, and frequency extension. Usually, they are not as good at coherance and timing.

Dave
Dave

Monty
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Re: how much do components matter?

I'm with Dave on this. If it doesn't sound right at the beginning of the chain, it's not going to get any better at the end of the chain. This is especially true with turntables, but a cd player that isn't resolving and harmonically accurate isn't going to suddenly become so with good speakers.

It's all important and any single component, including cables, can screw it all up.

dcrowe
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Re: how much do components matter?

If we analyzed everything at length in a face-to-face meeting, Dave, we might agree on every point. Just reading the short statement in the post, however, I have to say that it is far more rare in my experience that the speakers are better than they need to be in a given system than the rest of the components, and I have yet to see the room treatment that is better than it should be compared to the rest of the system!


Quote:

Speakers (and the room) are obviously important. A really bad speaker can make it vey difficult to listen to and enjoy anything. YES, THIS IS THE POINT OF SCORING THE SPEAKERS AND THE ROOM SO HIGHLY.

However, I believe that as long as the speaker is competently designed, using high quality components, it will become secondary to the system that is playing through it. UNFORTUNATELY, EVEN VERY EXPENSIVE SPEAKERS OFTEN DO NOT PASS THE TEST. THE CONGESTION IN SOME HIGH COST SPEAKERS IS SIMPLY PAINFUL.

A pair of really big and expensive speakers are usually not any better than a pair of small speakers in most aspects. Where they are better, is in scale, loudness, and frequency extension. Usually, they are not as good at coherance and timing. I AGREE, DAVE. IT IS NOT SIZE, BUT QUALITY THAT MAKES UP THAT 60% OF THE OVERALL RATING.

Lighthouse
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Re: how much do components matter?

Devon,

The problem is, that most speakers regardless of price are flawed in quite a few areas. When picking a speaker, you have to chose what you are prepared to sacrifice.

My point is that although speakers are a limiting factor, I can find a few pairs that I can live with, and they are often small and not very expensive. What I cannot live with is a very expensive pair of speakers (no matter how good) driven by a crap front end. Also finding a source, amplifier, and cables that are good enough is a lot harder, and they rarely come cheap.

Dave

dcrowe
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Re: how much do components matter?


Quote:
Devon,

The problem is, that most speakers regardless of price are flawed in quite a few areas. When picking a speaker, you have to chose what you are prepared to sacrifice.

My point is that although speakers are a limiting factor, I can find a few pairs that I can live with, and they are often small and not very expensive. What I cannot live with is a very expensive pair of speakers (no matter how good) driven by a crap front end. Also finding a source, amplifier, and cables that are good enough is a lot harder, and they rarely come cheap.

Dave

You are quite right, Dave, there are some good speakers that are not very expensive. I think a difference between our replies may be that perhaps you are taking the emphasis on speakers to indicate how much money must be spent? I thought the 60% number for speakers was only how important they are, not their price relative to the rest of the system. The variation in speaker quality (in any semi-reasonable price range) seems much larger to me than the other components. This makes speaker selection the most important thing for me, but your mileage may of course vary.

Cheers,
Devon

ohfourohnine
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Re: how much do components matter?

Here's how you get hooked, like the rest of us. You follow the bulk of advice already given and buy some really fine speakers. They sound a lot better than what you've been listening to. Later, you wonder how good they can sound, and you start upgrading other components (perhaps by percentage of importance). Nearly every upgrade you make results in improvement. How long can this go on, you wonder? Years later, you're still upgrading and still wondering. The secret of this hobby, as someone once advised me is in knowing when to quit. Good Luck, and have fun.

Anthony Tam
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Re: how much do components matter?

:::
Likewise, how can one justify to spend 30% of his/her total budget on a pre/pro, if, as everybody would agree, it makes at best for 15% of the sound quality
:::

Who's everybody?

There are some 3K speakers that perform equal to or better than some 6K models, in my experience.

And from my experience, the quality of the pre/power components has a significant impact on the sound. As does room acoustics. Take, for example, Quad ESL-989s. A speaker whose performance is impact significantly byroom acoustics. And they are $8K speakers. If your listening room is not as amenable to them, a speaker that perhaps consumes less of your available system budget might sound better in that given room.

Jim Tavegia
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Re: how much do components matter?

Much stated above is on target. I would first agonize over the speakers you really want, regardless of price. Once you are convinced they are the be all-end all, if they are in your price range buy them and then work to upgrade the front end. If they are out of your price range, keeping in mind all the qualities you liked them for and find less expensive ones that do most of the same things. Keep in mind that Home Theater has done one good thing, given us many really good subwoofers to choose from. There are many great and affordable bookshelf/monitor speakers from $1K and up that go down to 50 hz and air, space and detail to die for. Simple crossovers keep the phase accurate as possible. They can give you a lifetime of enjoyment. Buy right...buy once. (John Marks) You can add the sub later. The speakers you choose will also affect the amp you buy later on due to a number of factors. Impedence and damping factor can play major roles in performance. speakers are always the weakest link. Spend more time here. To be able to discern differences in amps and Cd players your speakers must have the resolving power to bring it to life. I know you didn't think this was going to be easy. Now that I am older I really do not like upgrading as it can be frustrating to get to that next meaningful level of resolution. I urge you to do it now. When your hearing starts to fade like mine is...well you understand.

swagger
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Re: how much do components matter?

-source 5%, you can buy a good source (dvd) cheap so its not important at all, i can buy any player withhout listening first and know i get good sound from it.
-preamp/processor 5%, i use a passive preamp, can be build cheap too.
-amp 30%, getting a good amp to control my speakers was more difficult, some lacked dynamic or just sounded harsh.
-speakers 40%, I think speakers are the most important part, if your speaker can't reveal the details in music you can just as well buy a portable radio/cassette.
-room acoustics 20% unless my speakers are placed in the bathroom i can live with it, so its important but for the most people it's not really a problem.

Monty
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Re: how much do components matter?

I'm a little shocked at the low priority given to source selection that many have advocated in the above postings. I'm not at all shocked by the high priority given to speaker selection. This is how it has always been I suppose.

I agree that speaker selection is largely the controlling factor in assembling a high-end system, but could not disagree more with the low priority given the source component.

This seems to translate into the notion that most cd players are relatively equal and that only small increments of improvement are noteworthy within the vast choices being offered currently. Even more surprising to me is the numerous postings in previous threads that suggest that fine sound can be achieved with just off-the-shelf combo players partnered with good speakers and an AV receiver picked-up at Circuit City or Best Buy.

I'll spare everyone another rant on cabling, but I really have to make an effort to resist the temptation

With so many fine speakers on the market and so relatively few quality electronics being offered, the odds of screwing up the opportunity to enjoy high-end reproduction are about 90% in the source and amplification arena rather than in the speaker arena. Hey, just about everyone has come around to making the mids sound right...even in relatively inexpensive stand-mounters. But, there are still millions upon millions of disc players and amplifiers that aren't any closer to being musical than they were 25 years ago and they are being marketed and sold in every corner of the music world.

As I said earlier, every component is critical and can make or break a system.

Monty
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Re: how much do components matter?

Fair enough, Anonymous.
Speaker placement in relation to the listening position, regardless of the price point or quality of the speaker would be 50% on my scale. Since this is related to room accoustics, I'll give room accoustics half the chunk right off the bat.

The remaining 50% to be equally divided within the remaining components and cabling interface relative to importance and not of price.

Jim Tavegia
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Re: how much do components matter?

RE Swagger:

Speakers will always be the weakest link by a mile. The source components only matter if you have speakers that have the resolving power to discern the difference. WP could discern the differences between the Ayre C5-XE and the Linn Universal player due to his speakers and then his amp could help "clear the air". To try and make these kind of judgements on some $500/pr speakers is probably not going to happen.

I don't think anyone said source components do not matter. But, if you get the speakers wrong little else matters. I match 5 high end CD players against 5 high end speaker systems and there will be greater audible change from each subsequent speaker change than that of the CD players. You may hear them, especially if one is a vacuum tube cd player, but speakers are more different that 5 like priced CD players. Speaker room placement will also have a great impact on performance as would a live vs soft, highly upholstered furniture room, or speakers that go from front ports models to models with rear ports and their respective positions to the back and side walls.

If you are going into high end land you need "good" everything, but if you do not agonize over your speaker choices you make a huge mistake and will then be on the speaker trade-up merry go round for a while. If you buy great monitors for their sound staging knowing that their bass might not be all you want, but can spring for a good sub later that is what I would do. To just buy some lesser floor standers just because they have more bass now, might be a long term mistake.

When you audition the speakers you think you like try and use electonics that will be in the price/performance range you plan to eventually buy. Do not try and pick out speakers using a $200-400 HT receiver and a $100 DVD player as your source unless that is how you are going to use them.

k512
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Re: how much do components matter?

"...Speakers will always be the weakest link by a mile..." Jim, it seems we're sharing very similar opinions here. That said, I'm wondering if your above quote might've been more powerful if you'd replaced "the weakest link" with "the most critical link"?

As Robert Harley alluded to in his excellent book The Complete Guide To High-End Audio, loudspeakers are where the rubber really meets the road: They alone are the final sonic transducers which must convert a complex electronic signal back into to a complex pattern of sound waves which we then perceive as music .

Of course electronic components other than speakers are very important links in a chain of devices intended to achieve and create a satisfying audio system, but in my opinion, the fact remains that the speakers are the most important and critical link. They are the foundation which the consumer can then build upon, if he or she so chooses. That said, one must still choose speakers which are optimally and realistically suited to any limitations in their listening room.

dcrowe
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Re: how much do components matter?


Quote:

I match 5 high end CD players against 5 high end speaker systems and there will be greater audible change from each subsequent speaker change than that of the CD players. You may hear them, especially if one is a vacuum tube cd player, but speakers are more different than 5 like priced CD players.

The observation that the variation between speakers is larger than the variation between CD players is analogous to what is called Analysis of Variance in statistics. When a large data base is analyzed, the amount of the variation that is due to each variable is quantified. It is in this sense that I think about the previous statements that the speakers make up 60% of your choice process. The idea is that the speakers change the sound of your system more, and so need to be the most carefully selected component.

Anthony Tam
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Re: how much do components matter?

I'm afraid I have to answer this with another question:

Are there any dealers in your area that allow an in-home demo?

There is simply no substitute for being able to see what a component does in the context of your system and your room.

I've been fortunate in that I have no fewer than 4 dealers in my area that have a in-home demo policy. I haven't bought any component that I could not home demo (or at least return with no penalties) since I got into this so-called hobby.

Anthony Tam
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Re: how much do components matter?

Only you can decide for yourself within the context of your system. I believe AA has a fair return policy.

When I A/B'ed a Quad CD-P (192K upsampling player) vs. my NAD C542, there was a marked improvement in resolution and soundstaging plus better bass control and treble extension and a smoother, more refined overall sound.

Monty
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Re: how much do components matter?

Whether you opt for speakers or electronics depends on your short and long term goals for a satisfying audio system.

You have audiophile quality speakers now, though entry level, that would benefit substantially from better electronics. The Cambridge gear you are talking about would provided a solid entry level, audiophile quality system. I have spent years enjoying a system not unlike this combination (Marantz 67SE CD, Rotel RA970BX Integrated, psb 400i monitors and Kimber PBJ interconnects with Audioquest Type 4 spaker wire).

Now, to put this in perspective as it relates to what is the most important aspect of the audio chain let me say that I have tried several other components within this system that either made a relatively small improvement or a relative large degradation of the over-all sound quality.

First off, I have put some rather inexpensive players in this system and had it quickly become uninvolving. I have put some pricier players in this system and noticed very little improvement over the Marantz.

I have also tried a couple of changes in amplification that was immediately noticeable and noteworthy. The first was running my older NAD 7020 receiver in the system. The receiver just didn't do it for me, even when partnered with my older NAD 2100 amp the sound was less involving and not very musical. Too much circuitry degraded the sound quality as is often the case with receivers and mass produced AV receivers.

Recently, I borrowed a Jolida hybrid integrated, which is also considered entry level amplification and noticed rather small improvements across the board. At twice the power, I was expecting improvements, but no big wow factor came in to play.

I have also tried a couple of new speakers in this system recently. The first was a pair of Dynaudio 52SE monitors. This was a rather large jump in sound quality, but at 4 times the price of my psb 400s (two generations removed from the current B-25 model) I was expecting a lot and wasn't disappointed. A truly fine speaker that worked with whatever type of music I played.

The second pair of speakers I tried were Totem Arros. This speaker is not as good a choice for an all-arounder, but is quite engaging, stunning even, with classical and accoustic music. I think this speaker was voiced to work with a rather specific type of reproduction at the expense of being very nearly flawed with other types of music such as rock, pop and just about any vocals. Really big in the wow department and I just might keep 'em...flaws and all.

Which brings me to my last point; as Jim mentioned in an earlier post, you have to start with at least "good" to be in a position to evaluate what aspect of sound reproduction is most important to you and what components offer what you perceive as value in achieving better sound. Right now you have only good speakers, that could be a lot better speakers, but until you partner them up with at least "good" electronics, you aren't going to get good sound.

You could opt for the Cambridge gear and immediately have a genuine high-end system that still has lots of room to grow or you could start building a system one component at a time, knowing that you aren't going to have a high-end system until every component is at least 'good.'

BTW, if you aren't able to properly place your speakers in the room and sit somewhere in the vicinity of a triangle in relation to the speakers, not much else matters and you aren't going to be able to discern critical aspects of reproduction anyway. So, keep that starting point in mind whichever direction you decide to go.

dcrowe
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Re: how much do components matter?


Quote:

BTW, if you aren't able to properly place your speakers in the room and sit somewhere in the vicinity of a triangle in relation to the speakers, not much else matters and you aren't going to be able to discern critical aspects of reproduction anyway.

Three points always define a triangle, he has no choice but be in a triangular situation! I think you may have meant at least an isosceles triangle, and you may even have meant an equilateral triangle.

Monty
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Re: how much do components matter?

Jim Tavegia
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Re: how much do components matter?

In relation to the Jolida gear: I stongly urge you to try other tubes after guaging the sound of the stock Chinese tubes. Try Svetlanas, EH, anything you can get your hand on. I have particularly like both NOS Mullards and some Siemens I have here in 12AU7s. The lower gain also makes the vol pot work more toward the center position which us usually more linear. 5751's can also be subed. The Tube Store and Tube Depot are a couple of good sources for tubes. I am amazed how many there are and how affordable. I also think the the Jolida 1701 sounds ever so slightly better than the more powerful 1501, and the non remotes are slightly more resolving, but you have to get up, something that gets more difficult after a hard day at work. I still think the Jolida gear for the money is fun, sounds good, and is tweeky, even more fun.

musikman316
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Re: how much do components matter?

90% Room Acoustics
10% Everything Else

I have never heard better sound outside of a professional studio. Even on Yamaha NS-10s the music seems to sound better than on most hi-end systems. And these are redbook cds played through their monitors, not hi-rez recordings. I could never put any component above my room, it's where everything lives, and the only way to achieve the sound one hears in a concert hall or a studio is to aproach your room like the designers of those venues. Even out the playing feild!

Josh

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Which component matters the most???

I have been an audiophile for over 40 years, and have about $20K invested in a system that has been tweaked, massaged, and gradually built up and upgraded a hundred times by careful testing, trying and listening really carefully over the past 25 years or so.

I do not think that this approach of percentages is relevant at all. Please consider-

Ths sound will be determined by two things; the amount of distortion each component adds to the system, and how accurately the next link in the chain reproduces what it is given.

All components add distortions. The subject of "euphonic" or "good" distortion comes about in this way: component #1 (a CD player for example), is producing somewhat harsh sound. Now, is it better to reproduce this harsh sound accurately, or to "smear" the sound in a way that obscures some good sound information but also takes some of the harshness away?

The euphonic school says yes; I say there is no substitute for accuracy; distortion is always distortion, and it is the enemy.

Tough call, in the short run, maybe, but the truth will set you free in the long run.

I do know this for sure; I started out a long time ago with the notion that buying good speakers first was the right strategy. No; it's not! I found out the hard way!!!

I suffered for years, because I was under the impression that electronics added very little distortion (very very wrong), but my system did not really sound good, despite the fact that I did have very good speakers. I had 50% of my money in those speakers (15-20 years ago).

I have since come to the conclusion that a low-distortion preamp and amp is the place to put 70% or more of your money, at least to start with. My really good speakers did a really good job of reproducing the garbage I fed them for many years. Very frustrating. If you have a good "center" to your system, you know you have a Chance of feeding good sound to your speakers IF your sources are decent. This gives you a fighting chance of evaluating those sources, and improving them eventually.

I know people who have good electronics (maybe $2000 to 4000 invested) and some well-chosen but modest speakers ($300-800), and they have excellent sound. Good speakers can reproduce accurately; mediocre electronics will give them garbage to reproduce accurately! even relatively modest speakers will not do really terrible things to the sound (except when they are fed much more bass than they can handle).

A poor preamp and/or amplifier will do absolutely horrible things (and that is 95% of the junk on the market), and give you a situation where you can't evaluate ANYTHING because it poisins everything! That makes it very difficult do anything to improve your system.

My advice:

Buy at the very least a good integrated amp for $1000-2000 based on the recommended components list, and a set of decent speakers ($300-600), and then you can have a decent basis for evaluating your sources.

When your system starts to shape up, and you can afford it,

spend $10k on a very good preamp and amp. Then, and only then, spend $3000 on some better speakers.

That's my free advice; it's guaranteed to be worth every penny!

P.S.-My system, for reference (if anyone cares), is based on an Audio Research LS-16 Mark II preamp ($3500 in 2005), Audire Forte amplifier with Dynamicaps in the input stage ($1500 in 1985, recent upgrade), Sony SCD-777 SACD/CD player ($3000 in 2000), and Vandersteen Model 3A speakers ($2500 in 1996), and Vandersteen Model 2W subwoofers ($2400), and some other stuff. It will put you right in the hall with a live orchestra, pipe organ, choir, guitar, bluegrass band, or whatever and never strain or depart much from the live performance; the distortion is infinitessimal. It didn't come easy or cheap, but lord is it beautiful!

P.P.S.--Never never never believe any distortion specifications on anything; they are all the worst kind of selective misrepresentation possible (from at least 95% of the manufacturers, anyway). And never buy anything until you listen to it in your system at home, if you possibly can.

commsysman
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PREAMP ONLY 15%???...HORSE PATOOTIES!!

Everything goes through the preamp! If it distorts the sound, all is lost. No possibility of anything sounding good, whatsoever. The most expensive amplifier and speakers will faithfully reproduce the 3rd-rate output of the 3rd-rate preamp, resulting in awful sound.

I would spend $3000 on a preamp before I would spend over $1000 on speakers. The preamp is the heart and soul of the system, and had better be GOOD if your are to have any hope of good sound anywhere in the system.

Buddha
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Re: PREAMP ONLY 15%???...HORSE PATOOTIES!!


Quote:
...Everything goes through the preamp! If it distorts the sound, all is lost...

I guess this thread proves that we all have our own fetishes!

"Everything goes through the preamp..."

Thanks for narrowing it down!

With the exception of multiple font end sources, this platitude is true of, what, 100% of the componenets within a system?

Same can be said of our speakers, cables, interconnects, and amplifiers.

We are debating/discussing a circular thing, like asking which is the best part of a woman or the most important component of a car - you need all good parts to arrive at the best outcome.

I do agree that when we buy, we should try to buy the best of something so we can have fun now and have fewer pieces to upgrade in the future.

3K now for a preamp plus 1K for speakers is as good a start to me as 1K for a preamp now and 3K for speakers, either way we have a component that will save us upgrade money down the road.

Although...I'm tempted to say that a 1K preamp, well chosen, will get you a great deal closer to the sound of a 3K preamp than a 1K speaker will get you to a 3K speaker.

Which is its own question, I guess:

Which component gets you the highest percentage of the way to the highest of the high in terms of sound, per dollar?

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Re: PREAMP ONLY 15%???...HORSE PATOOTIES!!


Quote:

Buddha Said:
Which component gets you the highest percentage of the way to the highest of the high in terms of sound, per dollar?

Guess we are back to the 'circular question'....

However, to add my 2 cents ....

To some extent, the question of where the money should be spent, should be dictated by what that particular audiophile prefers....
Slam ? ( Probably Power Amp )
Imaging ? ( Probably Speakers and or the Pre ? )
Resolution ? ( Probably the source, pre & speakers ? )
Volume ie sound level ? ( Speaker Efficiency and Amplifier power )

Ofcourse, the entire chain, more often than not comes into play.

But the point I am making is that there is no universal answer, it will depend on what attribute that particular audiophile treasures the most.

------------

P.S.: The value equation gets a Huge bump upwards, if some of the components are purchased pre-owned... But clearly that is another matter.

commsysman
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Re: PREAMP ONLY 15%???...HORSE PATOOTIES!!

My experience was that I had very good speakers for years, and the sound was very unsatisfying because the electronics were not that good (an AR SP-9 preamp...about $1200...was the main culprit).

I found that very frustrating, because I knew I was not hearing the kind of sound the speakers could deliver in the showroom.

I know now that if I had spent $2500 on a preamp up front (LS2-B is what I eventually got....much much better) and only spent $600 on speakers (rather than $1700), I would have been much more pleased with what I was hearing.

The good speakers were putting out grunge because that's what they were being fed; great reproduction of grunge is just grungy.

Good electronics, feeding a slightly less capable speaker, means the speakers will subtract some information, but for the most part the clean, undistorted signal will come through 90%.

That's the experience I had.

As for imaging, I have found that any system under $20,000 will not image enough to bother using the word, so for someone starting out to build a system, that is hardly an issue.

Also, I really find it hard these days to recommend any preamp under $2500 as being even decent-sounding. If you read the reviews in Stereophile on speakers, you will find many speakers under $800 being given high praise. So the only conclusion I can come to, based on years of actual experience, and based on those prices, is that to have any chance of decent sound it probably takes 3 to 4 times as much money in the preamp as in the speakers.

But if all you want is "slam" and Loud Noise and your ears can ignore distortion and grunge...that is another story.

And all of this assumes that a person actually listens to real music, of course...jazz, classical, singers, acoustic instruments, etc. rather than pop and rock; a $200 receiver and some speakers with lots of bloated bass works fine for that garbage that has been overprocessed in the studio anyway.

commsysman
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Re: PREAMP ONLY 15%???...HORSE PATOOTIES!!

Buddha;

I am sorry you did not understand my point.

I guess I need to put it another way so it may be more clear to you.

My actual experience was that for several years I had a $1200 preamp feeding $1700 dollar speakers, and IN MY OPINION, the result was very mediocre sound because 100% of what was going to the speakers was poor, and therefore all of the sound, all of the time, was poor. Garbage in, garbage out.

Experiments with equipment over the years, at Havens and Hardesty Audio in Huntington Beach among other places, proved conclusively to me, that with a $2500-3000 preamp, and any number of good-sounding speakers from $500-800, much much cleaner more-satisfying sound was available (all other system elements being equal, of course).

That is what I heard; that is not theorizing. It is my experience, and my opinion based on extensive listening. I am just offering it, for what it is worth.

The experience that I have had convinces ME that any preamp currently available for under approximately $2500 so badly compromises what is being fed to the speakers, that spending more than $500 on the speakers is a waste of money.

There are a lot of good speakers for under $800 in my opinion, and that is backed up over and over in the reviews in Stereophile and Absolute Sound. There are No good preamps

at anything like that amount of money, as far as I am concerned. So I think you need to spend 3 to 4 times as much on the preamp as the speaker when starting a system of audiophile quality if you are to be satisfied.

As far as I am concerned, the essential point I am expressing based on my experience is this:

Clean sound with low distortion (better preamp), fed to a carefully selected lower-priced speaker, will be relatively undistorted and very listenable and satisfying.

Grungy, less-clear sound (cheaper preamp), will sound grungy and very unsatisfying no matter how good the speaker.

That is my experience. I am throwing it out for anyone to consider or reject. I am not interested in having a debate with you (debating and wordplay seems to be your interest), because debates too often become word contests and degenerate into sophistry rather than actually resolving any issue of substance. I can debate with the best, but too often debates end up being just "sound and fury, signifying nothing" (especially with a cheap preamp).

Something else you might want to consider;

In the April 2006 issue of Stereophile, in Recommended Components, there are at least 10 speakers under $800 RECOMMENDED by Stereophile in Class C. RECOMMENDED!

There are NO Class C preamps whatsoever that they can RECOMMENDED at any price; none... zip...zero...nada... an empty folder. According to Stereophile they do not currently exist (in their experience)!!! Isn't that interesting?

And in Class A or B only one or two out of about 30 preamps are under $2400 (and those few are very limited types of hardware in their applications). It would seem that the editors agree with me rather convincingly; A low cost preamp apparently simply does not exist that they can currently recommend for an audiophile system.

Sounds like exactly what I have been saying, doesn't it?

Buddha
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Re: PREAMP ONLY 15%???...HORSE PATOOTIES!!

Hola,

I did not mean to diminish the importance of your favorite component.

If we were to play the "Stereophile ratings" game, I would point to the "A" rating given the relatively inexpensive Adcom preamp that was as highly rated as preamps at any price point, but cost only 1,200 dollars, or so.

The key is shopping well in every category and once that is done, that's where my notion of relative impact comes from.

I've heard the same argument you use made for power amps - that any defect they hold is 'amplified' ... ... so greatly that they should be considered the alpha component. ha it's their interaction with the speaker and it's ability to exert proper control that's key, making the small amounts of preamplifier distortion less significant.

Same for speakers as the alpha component - but speakers also speak more to the importance of room considerations and audiophile taste and listening style.

All said...Inserting crap at any point in the chain is unfortunate - I do not mean to be an apologist for crap at any price point.

I hope you'd agree.

That done, I still maintain that at any given price point, a lateral price move amongst speakers would most likely yield the greatest change in sound.

Perhaps not, though, you may feel that a switch from one well made 5,000 dollar preamp to another would yield a greater change in sound than that between two speakers at the same price point. That's fair, a taste is a taste!

This is all meant in fun. We are not the Council of Nicea, after all.

You may choose Zeus as the main audio god, and I lean toward Jupiter.

People have been killed over less, though, nez pas?

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Re: how much do components matter?

Anonymous, this is such an interesting thread that I'm gonna butt in 6 months too late. First, you need to distinguish between "sound quality" and "tonal character" --the latter meaning "dark," "bright," "bass-heavy," "strident," and so on. In my experience, NOTHING changes the basic CHARACTER of the sound as much as the speakers (actually, the software has just as much an effect, but you wanted to leave that out). Nothing will change a strident speaker to mellow -- you will just get a different kind of stridency. In this respect, speakers make up 95% of the tone CHARACTER. If a speaker is too bright or too dull for you, you can change amps, preamps, CD players, or analog sources 'til your back aches and you are dead-ass broke, but you'll still have speakers that are too bright, dull, or whatever. Even the room treatment, as Jim noted, won't make badly balanced (to your ears, that is) speakers sound good. QUALITY is a different matter. If your speakers have the tonal character or balance (timbre, I suppose, would be the musical term that applies) you like, then the other parts of the system begin to make HUGE differences. I would go along with those who put the preamp high on the list, because no other electronic component can turn a bad signal into a good one -- it's the nerve center. I also agree that the Adcom GFP-750 is 99.99% of all you'll ever need. I have owned one for 6 years and I will never sell it. I have used a couple of expensive ones (4-7 thousand) that I liked less than the Adcom. Of course, the power amp must be able to drive the speakers, or all is lost. But the basic tonal CHARACTER of your sound begins with the speakers. Get THAT right, and gradually hone in on quality with the other system components. Happy tunes, Clifton.

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Re: how much do components matter?

I love you, Clifton.

commsysman
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Re: PREAMP ONLY 15%???...HORSE PATOOTIES!!

Buddha;

I see from the quotes above that John Atkinson is expressing essentially the same philosophy as mine in the preamp review in January (but what does he know, ha-ha?)

You really do get things, twisted around, Buddha. Noone said anything about choosing between $5000 preamps; what part of left field did that come from? The whole point (again) is that you can get audiophile qualities in speaker for a lot less money than in a preamp.

And as for the ADCOM...that sneaked in there for a relatively short time because one reviewer liked it; it didn't stay very long because noone else on the Stereophile staff thought much of it, nor did the public. It was not really all that good, and that quickly became apparent to just about everyone who listened to it carefully (me included).

But I did kind of overlook the Audio Research SP-16L at $2000; that is rated Class B and could be a good starting point for a good system. It is definitely sounds a step or two below the LS-16 MarkII (at $3500), but is pretty good stuff nevertheless; not chopped liver (and a phono stage is included too).

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Re: how much do components matter?

Hey, Buddha -- I love you too, but I love my Adcom more (even though it's presently out of the system)! I now am using the Musical Fidelity A308cr, which is not quite as neutral as the Adcom, but a bit punchier dynamically...and is about the same in transparency. Also, it is a synergistic match for the Musical Fidelity A3.2cr power amp I am currently using. The Adcom sounds better with the tube monoblocks. I had a $4600 McIntosh C-42, which used to be their top of the line (I bought it because I wanted the 6-band equalizer, but that was a red herring), and I have tried a couple of AR's that were double and triple the price of the Adcom, and NONE of these were as transparent and neutral as the Adcom...nor as flexible. It's hard to beat the Adcom's passive option: a flick of a switch on the front panel, and you have a straight line into your source. If you need gain (for punch on some recordings or with some speaker/amp combos), the active Adcom is STILL as neutral as any of 'em and moreso than most. Cheers, Clifton.

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Re: PREAMP ONLY 15%???...HORSE PATOOTIES!!

Yo, commsysman -- you exaggerate. The Adcom was in Class A for just as long as some of the AR's of the past. And the "one reviewer" who "liked it" (went nuts over it, actually) was Wes Phillips...no babe in the woods when it comes to preamps. JA openly admired its design and build quality. It stomped the near-double-the-price AR reviewed in the same issue. More importantly, if you put it in your system, it neither adds to nor subtracts from any colorations generated by the rest of your system. Which is 99.9% of what you want out of ANY preamp -- just do no harm. You may not prefer it for any number of reasons, and that's your call, but it's a stunning bargain (passive/active capabilty, balanced or single-ended...sheesh! what do you WANT for 1200 bucks??) in a solid state preamp, and competitive with anything out there for under 5 or 6 grand. I don't understand your suggestion that other reviewers didn't like it (Bob Harley, my old roomie and the erstwhile Technical Editor of Stereophile, LOVED it). As I said, to each his own...but you shouldn't exaggerate to drive home your own personal preferences. The Adcom GFP-750 is a bargain classic in a world of overblown claims and overpriced hype. Period. Cheers, Clifton

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Re: how much do components matter?

I have found it easier for me to find speakers that I can live with than to find electronics and cables that I can live with.

Speakers tend to offer up their character in a more immediate way. The variance in sound between speakers would probably be far easier to blind test than any other component. However, you simply cannot discount the system and interaction between the components and say that any part of it is the most important if you are after long term listenability.

If you consider the various aspects of reproduction and differ in opinion on what is the most important to your enjoyment of music, well, that's not wrong or even arguable. In the end, we all want every aspect to be top-notch, though few of us have the money or the time to find that perfect combination...if that combination even exists.

I do think that as people become more experienced listeners, they might tend to appreciate some of the less pronounced aspects of reproduction over the more obvious and immediate. My contention is that this will eventually lead you upstream from your speakers and then back down again for...uh....new speakers, after you have replaced everything else.

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Re: how much do components matter?

Monty!

Good points.

After reading your post, I wanted to add something to my "impact" list:

System Synergy.

That would take its own large chunk of the "component contribution" percentages.

I gotta go re-think my percentages, but I'm putting system synergy way up there.

Cheers, Monty!

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ADCOM 750???

The article on the GFP-750 was certainly complimentary. The comparisons in the article were with the AR LS-8; $1495 at the time, 20% more expensive than the 750 (near double the price?? ...20%???...who's exaggerating??). It was not one of AR's better efforts, in my opinion; never liked its sound at all.

At the time it came out, a friend bought a 750 and was a bit disappointed with the sound of his system. Since we both had the Vandersteen 2 speakers and the same power amp, he suggested bringing the 750 to my house for a direct comparison with my early-model AR LS2-B (1993).

In a head-to-head direct comparison in my system it was clear to both of us that the 750 sounded much less dynamic. A piano, for example, sounded less clear and lifelike, and the sound of the 750, in general, was just not anywhere near as open, dynamic, and realistic-sounding as the LS2-B with any of the program material we tried (voices, acoustic insteuments, orchestra, etc.).

There were actually 3 of us there that day, and there was unanimous agreement that the difference was major, and the the 750 was strictly second-rate in this comparison.

But I can understand how a system that does not really have audiophile-quality componenents might not let you hear those differences that were so obvious to us.

As for the Sterephile review...go figure...don't know what to say. My friend who owned a high-end stereo store at that time was certain that ADCOM had sent the reviewer a special unit that had premium components not used in actual production. He said that the mediocre units he was getting from ADCOM in his store could just not be the same as the review sample; no way in hell. He said that they must have put one over on the reviewer. Dunno about that, but it would explain it.

Based on what we heard, my friend who had purchased the 750 felt that the article in Stereophile was very misleading and very much exaggerated the quality of the 750. He was somewhat pissed at Stereophile, actually.

He took it back to the store and was able to trade for something else he liked better (I forget what, now).

Now the LS2-B was certainly double the price of the 750, but he still felt that the virtually unqualified praise for the 750 in the article was crap, based on what we heard from his unit (so did we all).

My friend who was operating the high-end audio store and selling the 750 at the time (largely because the article was creating a demand) said that if anyone asked for it he would always gently steer people to a comparison with some other products. He said that very few people who took the trouble to actually LISTEN to the 750 in a comparison test ever bought one.

So you can see why, based on those experiences, my opinion of the 750 is not very high.

I have since upgraded from the LS2-B to the LS-16 MarkII, which produces the most likelike sound I have EVER heard anywhere; a HUGE upgrade from a pretty good unit! I think that the audiophile press is really out to lunch to neglect this one; The Absolute Sound says its big brother, the REF 3, is a reference component indeed, but the LS16 Mark II is less than half as much money and gets very close. It will be a classic, I am sure (and if you figure in inflation, the LS16 Mark II, at $3500, is less than the LS2-B cost 20 years ago..).

Let your ears do the walkin'....

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