Which part of the audio chain do you spend the most time auditioning before purchase?

An audiophile is practically defined by his/her thoughtful and considered approach to selecting components. Which part of the audio chain do you spend the most time auditioning before purchase?

Which part of the audio chain do you spend the most time auditioning before purchase?
Source components: digital
10% (14 votes)
Source components: analog
5% (7 votes)
5% (7 votes)
Power amps
2% (3 votes)
64% (86 votes)
1% (1 vote)
0% (0 votes)
13% (17 votes)
Total votes: 135

audio-sleuth@comcast.net's picture

It's a system. One bad step and it's all for naught.

tonyE's picture

Are you nuts? Where in the world can you audition stuff anymore? I live in Orange County, CA, and I wanted to listend to Harbeth M30s. It turns out the only dealer is down by Escondido? WTH? Needless to say I didn't bother. OTOH, I did buy a set of Acoustic Reality amps direct from the manufacturer because of a money-back trial-at-home guarantee. And I'm thinking of doing the same thing with the Zu Druids. Auditioning, yeah, what planet do you live on?

df's picture

The amp. Speakers run a close second, but with speakers you often tell pretty quickly if you like them or not. The amp can have some subtle, or not so subtle, effects on your music and really shouldn't be under-evaluated.

Paul J.  Stiles, Mtn.  View, CA's picture

The front and the end.

Stephen Curling's picture

The component that makes the most noise gets the attention.

Mannie Smith's picture

It's hard to say, because I've never replaced more than one component at a time.

mrwright's picture

Regardless of philosophy on this matter, it is just more fun to play with a bunch of turntables!

Lytle's picture

It is unquestionably the toughest choice in the audio chain purchase.

Bob Lennox's picture

As the front line voice of the system, speakers clearly make or break the illusion of musical reality. Today's electronics are so uniformly excellent, the only real variable is the quality and design of the speakers. As with most things in life, good audio design is in the ear of the listener. Every design has it's ups and downs, and finding retailers who carry a nice selection of speakers as featured in your magazine is becoming harder and harder to find. On the plus side, speaker quality keeps improving, so perhaps with a more limited opportunity to hear these products, buyers will still end up with a decent sounding system.

Jared Gerlach's picture

Until recenty, I made purchases of source components based solely on specs and the odd review. That has recently changed, however, as I have been made aware of component mismatches that tend to produce overly lean or bass heavy playback. Now, I try to listen to source comps (analog) with a variety of preamp/amp combinations, if not my own, before hand. Digital components don't seem to be a problem as I typically use outboard DAC anyway.

DAB, Pacific Palisades, CA's picture

I think that the key word here is "chain." Isolation of any component, from interconnects to loudspeakers, could do a potential audio consumer more harm than good if the sum of the parts does not add up. In short, audition the system as a whole. If you truly like what you hear, then have fun tinkering with its parts (components) later on. Trust me on this one; I've seen too many people perseverate on one part of an audio chain only to find out later that the one part they were concentrating on in no shape or form fit well into the system "chain."

David L.  Wyatt jr.'s picture

Any good amplifier should be able to drive any speaker properly without any major glitches. Same with electronics. There are differences but they are a lot more subtle than the differences between speakers. To get the most for bucks, speakers come first.

Adrian Lebena's picture

Speakers are simply by far the most important component in the chain.

Brankin's picture

Loudspeakers because they are the biggest pain to haul around and protect once I get them home. I spend at least one hour with a speaker I consider a potential purchase in a shop before I say it is worth a listen at home. Often, I will spend another 30 minutes 2-3 weeks later before I commit to bringing it home for a listen. Any shop that has a problem with that...well...you know.

suits_me's picture

I'd say an audiophile is often defined by his or her [sic] thoughtless and ill considered selection of expensive components—albeit it's obsessive in nature.

Paul J.  Stiles, Mtn.  View, CA's picture

Loudspeakers, followed by source components.

Al Marcy's picture

I don't audition. I buy and listen and enjoy what I can and fix what I can. I am not interested in being wise with money. I like listening to music. Not the same game, fortunately. Money never sings, it swears ...

Brahama Mojava's picture

Snake oil.

Toman's picture

Since loudspeakers are the component that add the most (by far) to distortion, it is only right that you spend a long time getting the kind of distortion that suits you. Next up, an amplifier that is able to stay "current" with the speakers. People should audition the two togeter.

sammy's picture

It's all electrons until the speakers, after that, it's sound!

Dan Wilson's picture

Speakers are the final and weakest link in the chain.

Nodaker's picture

About the same for all...if it works in my system I keep it, if it doesn't, then I sell it. Most auditioning must be done in your own system as synergy plays a large role in the scheme of things.

S.  Chapman's picture

I suppose that the answer to this question should be speakers, but when I was putting together my current system, I spent the most time auditioning preamps. This may have been because I ended up not liking the first preamp I chose, and, after that, it took some effort to find one that worked well with the other components that I’d already selected. However, that was almost five years ago, and I’m still happy with my final choice.

Kevin's picture

Speakers are the most impressive piece of hardware. the whole concept of their design is awesome. Actually the entire concept of recording sound amazes me each and every time I listen.

SpeakerAddict's picture

If the speakers don't cut it, nothing else matters. A good speaker can compensate for a mediocre supply chain.

Brad - Atlanta's picture

The music.

Barry Miller's picture

Whilst source components define the absolute quality of your replay system and amplifiers are responsible for the preservation of the signal and, of course, the available power, it is loudspeakers that interact directly with your listening room and with your ears. It may be because they are still the most "imperfect" part of the replay chain but it is loudspeakers that seem to impart the character of a system. Most people can be in broad agreement about the relative merits of source components and amplifiers (despite the ongoing digital/analogue valve/transistor debates) but people are much more divided on the relative merits of different speakers. I know people who couldn't live with say a Quad ELS57 and others who couldn't live with anything else. Loudspeakers are the ultimate representation of your tastes in music and audio and require the greatest care in attention in their selection for long term satisfaction.

Billy Duncan's picture

Largest variance imho

Bob S.'s picture

I've been auditioning my next possible pair of speakers for about six years now.

Jay's picture

To my ear, the musical differences between speakers is much greater than that amongst everything else.