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What's Important To A Great System (from most to least)?


InfernoSTi

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I'm trying to gauge the overall scale of things important in my audio world compared to what others think is important. I thought a "first, big things, first" thread would help illustrate this. For me it is something along these lines:

 

1. Speakers (including location)

2. Room Treatment (absorption and diffusion)

3. (tie) Amp/Pre Amp

3. (tie) DAC

5. Server

6. Clean Power/Electrical

7. File Resolution/File Format

8. Player Software/Audio Optimizing

9. Amp Electronic Tweaks (better capacitors, tubes, etc)

10. Speaker Cords/USB and RCA Cables/Power Cords

11. Isolation/Dampening Tweaks

 

I'm sure I'm forgetting something important but this is pretty much my order.

 

The top two items are where the sound is produced and heard. The tie for third is where the sound goes analog and is amplified. The next two are about reducing source (and other) noise. The next two are about the playing of the files themselves. The final three are about tweaks and slight adjustments.

 

Please post your thoughts and any rational you might have developed? I'd love to understand both the what and the why.

 

Best,

John

Positive emotions enhance our musical experiences.

 

Synology DS213+ NAS -> Auralic Vega w/Linear Power Supply -> Auralic Vega DAC (Symposium Jr rollerball isolation) -> XLR -> Auralic Taurus Pre -> XLR -> Pass Labs XA-30.5 power amplifier (on 4" maple and 4 Stillpoints) -> Hawthorne Audio Reference K2 Speakers in MTM configuration (Symposium Jr HD rollerball isolation) and Hawthorne Audio Bass Augmentation Baffles (Symposium Jr rollerball isolation) -> Bi-amped w/ two Rythmic OB plate amps) -> Extensive Room Treatments (x2 SRL Acoustics Prime 37 diffusion plus key absorption and extensive bass trapping) and Pi Audio Uberbuss' for the front end and amplification

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#1 is speakers.

 

#2 is room treatment.

 

#3 is amp.

 

The rest are probably not a very big part of it relatively speaking. Not saying there may not be any differences in the rest of your list. But they are far smaller than the top three. Any differences may be down to personal preference on how you would arrange the rest of the list. The first three will make differences in the results far larger. IMO of course.

And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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1. Speakers

2. Placement of speakers customized to room shape and speaker design, and precision in placement (using laser levels, laser pointers, laser measuring, PRECISELY aimed and level tweeters, all within 1/8th" tolerances!).

3. Room

4. Room treatments

 

(large gap)

 

5. Amp

6. Source

7. Cables and Vibration control, tube rolling if applicable (all these are still important even though I ranked them last).

 

Oh, yeah, calm listening environment, not staring out the window into bright sunlight while listening. Ears that have not been stressed out from prior activities during the day.

Speakers: Melco N1A/2 | Denafrips Gaia | Denafrips Terminator Plus/Lampizator Golden Gate | Jeff Rowland Coherence II Series 2 pre | Blue Circle Audio BC-202 amp | Raidho XT-1 | Revel B112 subs  

Headphones: Lampizator Golden Atlantic/Holo Spring 3 KTE | Aesthetix Calypso pre|  Eddie Current Zana Deux Super | Hifiman HE-1000SE/Arya Stealth/Audeze LCD-4z

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I could go back to reel to reel or turntable if i didn't care about convenience, so anything below speakers, accoustics, and amp there is a BIG GAP.

 

And if you HAD to listen to MP3 and you couldn't upsample it, hell, just give me an iphone....so i would have to say source format would rank pretty high up.

 

An MP3 without software or other method to upsample would bring the top 3 to it's knees as compared to vinyl.

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Given that one has good source material (recordings), decent ears and at least decent equipment as needed in all areas addressed. For instance if inefficient speakers were your choice the given would be that you have adequate power for them from your amp.

 

1. Speakers

2. Room/Setup

 

Order of other stuff relatively unimportant given that one's situation doesn't involve unusual circumstances such as particularly dirty power, regular heavy truck traffic or whatever.

 

Chris

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What I've concluded is that "everything matters" and that a system can be no more resolving or musical than its least resolving or least musical component or cable. I believe that it's important to have a balanced approach that spreads the money around to ensure that each link in the chain is equally up to the task.

 

I have found that all of the following have been equally important:

 

1) speakers/placement/room treatment (these should all be lumped together)

2) preamp/amp

3) source component

4) power distribution and power cords

5) signal cables

6) resonance control

 

Swap out any one of these for something of lower quality and the magic goes with it.

 

The goal for my system is to transport me to the listening event (or to transport the listening event to my room). The advice to focus mainly on the speakers and the room won't succeed in achieving this - it won't even come close. Low level detail and realistic timbre that's present in the source material needs to be properly extracted by the source component and then be given a proper chance of making it down to the speakers with minimal harm done along the way in order to really make magic happen.

Digital:  Sonore opticalModule > Uptone EtherRegen > Shunyata Sigma Ethernet > Antipodes K30 > Shunyata Omega USB > Gustard X26pro DAC 

Amp & Speakers:  Spectral DMA-150mk2 > Aerial 10T

Foundation: Stillpoints Ultra, Shunyata Denali power conditioner, Shunyata Alpha and Delta power cords, Shunyata Alpha interconnect, Shunyata Sigma Ethernet, MIT Matrix HD60 speaker cables, ASC isothermal tube traps, Stillpoints Aperture panels

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2. Placement of speakers customized to room shape and speaker design, and precision in placement (using laser levels, laser pointers, laser measuring, PRECISELY aimed and level tweeters, all within 1/8th" tolerances!).

 

Hi Blake

 

I pretty much agreed with most of your list including the calm environment part in particular but point 2 had me at a loss. While using tools and accurate placement of the speakers is very important, how does one 'know' where to place them? Is there an established formula that derives the required dimensions for you?

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Hi Blake

 

I pretty much agreed with most of your list including the calm environment part in particular but point 2 had me at a loss. While using tools and accurate placement of the speakers is very important, how does one 'know' where to place them? Is there an established formula that derives the required dimensions for you?

 

Hi mayhem. Good question. Unfortunately, I don't think there is one solution that will work for all rooms, speakers and listener preferences, so the "how does one know" question may not have an easy answer. As a speaker designer you know there are many approaches and viewpoints on this (Cardas, Harman/Revel, Barry's and Jim Smith's were the ones I focused on).

 

I simply experimented with each of these approaches, determined which worked best through extended listening sessions, but then further tweaked it over time, making small adjustments over many months. I had small stickers and tape on my floors and walls to assist and made notes with measurements so I could compare different positioning setups. It may seem cliche, but for me there was a time during my experimentation when the sound just seemed to snap into place. Jim Smith's "Get Better Sound" DVD series was especially helpful. The best investment in audio I have ever made was the purchase of his DVD's.

 

Anyway, that is what worked for me. I basically copied the approaches of the experts (in my case, ending up with Jim Smith's approach for the most part) and then made further small tweaks on my own.

Speakers: Melco N1A/2 | Denafrips Gaia | Denafrips Terminator Plus/Lampizator Golden Gate | Jeff Rowland Coherence II Series 2 pre | Blue Circle Audio BC-202 amp | Raidho XT-1 | Revel B112 subs  

Headphones: Lampizator Golden Atlantic/Holo Spring 3 KTE | Aesthetix Calypso pre|  Eddie Current Zana Deux Super | Hifiman HE-1000SE/Arya Stealth/Audeze LCD-4z

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I'm trying to gauge the overall scale of things important in my audio world compared to what others think is important. I thought a "first, big things, first" thread would help illustrate this. For me it is something along these lines:

 

1. Speakers (including location)

2. Room Treatment (absorption and diffusion)

3. (tie) Amp/Pre Amp

3. (tie) DAC

5. Server

6. Clean Power/Electrical

7. File Resolution/File Format

8. Player Software/Audio Optimizing

9. Amp Electronic Tweaks (better capacitors, tubes, etc)

10. Speaker Cords/USB and RCA Cables/Power Cords

11. Isolation/Dampening Tweaks

 

That's what most people *think* how it should be which is all completely 100% wrong.

 

Most important to least important:

 

1. Your ears

2. Power cables for source and amp

3. Audio Interconnects or speaker cables

4. Speakers

5. SATA cables, USB cables, vibration control tweaks for sound

6. Amp

7. DAC

8. Humidifier / Heater

 

 

That is the best and most recommended way to improve sound.

 

Room treatment is the least important, or not important at all. It should not be in the list. If you want sound, you can move.

 

House wiring is a least important, so is the nuclear power plant outside your home.

 

 

 

bunny

 

  • Windows PC + Creative EMU0404 USB DAC w/ stock USB cable
  • Focal CMS 65 speakers
  • Very hyper-end Power cables for all components

 

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Bunny: You are certainly entitled to express your opinion as you see fit, but this kind of wording tends to irritate people and cause problems that end up derailing a thread.

Oops sorry I forgot to include "I think is 100% wrong".... Sorry for the typo.

 

 

bunny

 

  • Windows PC + Creative EMU0404 USB DAC w/ stock USB cable
  • Focal CMS 65 speakers
  • Very hyper-end Power cables for all components

 

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This is rough, because there are different ways to look at the question.

 

- There's usually more inherent variation in electromechanical audio components (turntables and cartridges, disc transports, speakers - hard drives?!) than in purely electrical ones. So perhaps the greatest attention to getting something good should be paid where there's the greatest chance of getting something much worse. In my computer audio system, with no electromechanical components other than speakers, that would mean concentrating on the speakers.

 

- On the other hand, there is just a tremendous amount of variation in the digital filters used in DACs, which play a larger role in the sound than many people realize. (Have a look at the differences between digital filters at SRC Comparisons , even the differences between the same company's filter at different settings. I'm not sure you'd see this magnitude of relative difference in impulse responses even among reasonably good speaker drivers.) So should the digital filters - either internal to the DAC in a chip or FPGA, or external in PC software - be where we want to maximize?

 

- Speakers can't give better sound than the signal they're given, so should we go "source first," and spend most on what comes early in the chain, least on what comes later? And should this include connections, like USB cables?

 

In all of these cases, when I say "maximize," I don't mean spend the most money possible, but try to get the greatest value in terms of sound, even if it involves spending a little more.

One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

Computer, Audirvana -> optical to EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> ISO Regen -> Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 DAC -> Spectral DMC-12 & DMA-150 -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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- Speakers can't give better sound than the signal they're given, so should we go "source first," and spend most on what comes early in the chain, least on what comes later?

 

IMO, the source is the most important component for the reason stated above. Conventional wisdom was that speakers were most important until Ivor Tiefenbrun of Linn promoted the idea that the source was key when he launched his Linn Sondek LP-12 turntable decades ago. I don't know if there is any consensus one way or the other today. If I had to rank them, I would probably rank speakers second and amplifiers third. But, IMO, more important than the priority of components is the configuration of a balanced system. While I definitely am of the view that cables make a difference - please, I'm not inviting a debate on this issue - I have known people who got carried away and spent almost as much on speaker cables as they did on their speakers.

 

I don't believe that there is any doubt that the sound quality of components today offers far more cost/performance than, perhaps, twenty years ago, and a very good sounding system is now achievable at a much lower cost.

"Relax, it's only hi-fi. There's never been a hi-fi emergency." - Roy Hall

"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." - William Bruce Cameron

 

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Yes you are, John - and I suspect Blake will agree. Lubrication is essential for a most pleasant aural experience.

 

My friend Ernie says that a certain plant, increasingly touted for its medicinal qualities, provides an even more pleasant aural experience.

"Relax, it's only hi-fi. There's never been a hi-fi emergency." - Roy Hall

"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." - William Bruce Cameron

 

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1. Speakers (including location)

2. Room Treatment (absorption and diffusion)

3. (tie) Amp/Pre Amp

3. (tie) DAC

5. Server

6. Clean Power/Electrical

7. File Resolution/File Format

8. Player Software/Audio Optimizing

9. Amp Electronic Tweaks (better capacitors, tubes, etc)

10. Speaker Cords/USB and RCA Cables/Power Cords

11. Isolation/Dampening Tweaks

 

I would change that up somewhat:

 

1. Speakers (including Location)

2. DAC

3. Player Software / OS

4. File Format

5. Server

6. Amp/Preamp

7. Speaker Cable

8. Vibration Isolation

9. Clean Power

10. Everything else.

 

Let me explain that a little, assuming you have a fully functioning system of whatever quality and this is a process of incremental upgrades. It is a different animal if you are starting from scratch and buying everything at the same time.

 

But given this case, the speakers are more important than anything else. Really good speakers powered by a crappy amp sound like - really good speakers. ;)

 

Second, once you address the speakers, getting a really good DAC, one designed to play the file formats and such that you have chosen makes the most differences to me.

 

Actions 3, 4, and 5 really have to be addressed together of course, but they make the next biggest difference.

 

At this point, choosing a good clean amp that really shows off those speakers is important.

 

Pretty much the other items from 7 on down will all make about the same amount of difference / improvement. Dramatic improvements, but none of the same scale as the ones above them. This is, I think, why people don't really worry that much about cables. A lot of people simply stop improving at this point and enjoy the music. :)

 

And of course, YMMV!

 

-Paul

Anyone who considers protocol unimportant has never dealt with a cat DAC.

Robert A. Heinlein

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Yes you are, John - and I suspect Blake will agree. Lubrication is essential for a most pleasant aural experience.

Lagavulin-Scotch-Whisky-16-year-old.png

 

Ahhh, yes, I had the feeling I was forgetting something. Lubrication should be moved to #1 on my list. Even if I have not been to the state-run liquor store and have to resort to lawn mower beer.... lubrication is essential.

Speakers: Melco N1A/2 | Denafrips Gaia | Denafrips Terminator Plus/Lampizator Golden Gate | Jeff Rowland Coherence II Series 2 pre | Blue Circle Audio BC-202 amp | Raidho XT-1 | Revel B112 subs  

Headphones: Lampizator Golden Atlantic/Holo Spring 3 KTE | Aesthetix Calypso pre|  Eddie Current Zana Deux Super | Hifiman HE-1000SE/Arya Stealth/Audeze LCD-4z

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Ahhh, yes, I had the feeling I was forgetting something. Lubrication should be moved to #1 on my list. Even if I have not been to the state-run liquor store and have to resort to lawn mower beer.... lubrication is essential.

 

+1

 

Bourbon and the blues always works for me...

Sometimes it's like someone took a knife, baby
Edgy and dull and cut a six inch valley
Through the middle of my skull

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My experience

 

Dramatic differences:

1. Speakers (including Location - I'm tempted to list "proper" set-up as item #3)

2. Amp/Preamp

 

Important differences

3. Source/DAC

 

Worthwhile differences

4. Clean power

5. ICs, speaker cables

6. Room treatments (simple stuff is adequate, eg, throw rugs on walls)

7. File Format (ie 24 bit files over 16 bit)

 

Barely perceptible differences

8. Power cables

9. Software/server stuff

Roon ROCK (Roon 1.7; NUC7i3) > Ayre QB-9 Twenty > Ayre AX-5 Twenty > Thiel CS2.4SE (crossovers rebuilt with Clarity CSA and Multicap RTX caps, Mills MRA-12 resistors; ERSE and Jantzen coils; Cardas binding posts and hookup wire); Cardas and OEM power cables, interconnects, and speaker cables

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Barely perceptible differences

8. Power cables

9. Software/server stuff

 

Interesting how varied the impressions are here.

 

One of the biggest step changes I have heard in my system came from upgrading the power cord between my wall outlet and power distribution strip. I had been using Nordost Vishnu throughout, but substituted a Nordost Brahma for the cord feeding everything. My system wen from being very good to among the best I'd ever heard. I was left with the impressions that my system had crossed into the high end for the very first time.

 

If I ever had to downsize, the Brahmas would be the last to go. Same for my Stillpoints Ultra SS. What these do to bring realism to the music just can't be achieved with better speakers or better electronics.

Digital:  Sonore opticalModule > Uptone EtherRegen > Shunyata Sigma Ethernet > Antipodes K30 > Shunyata Omega USB > Gustard X26pro DAC 

Amp & Speakers:  Spectral DMA-150mk2 > Aerial 10T

Foundation: Stillpoints Ultra, Shunyata Denali power conditioner, Shunyata Alpha and Delta power cords, Shunyata Alpha interconnect, Shunyata Sigma Ethernet, MIT Matrix HD60 speaker cables, ASC isothermal tube traps, Stillpoints Aperture panels

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Interesting how varied the impressions are here.

 

Yes, that's why it's so important to listen to stuff for yourself. Books, magazines, and (especially) fora such as this are helpful but nothing can substitute for your own experience. I read this forum before I got into computer audio and was fretting over choices of server/PC, even OS. The height of audio nervosa . . . Now that I've tried it, I've found such things to hardly matter (in my system/room, to my ears).

Roon ROCK (Roon 1.7; NUC7i3) > Ayre QB-9 Twenty > Ayre AX-5 Twenty > Thiel CS2.4SE (crossovers rebuilt with Clarity CSA and Multicap RTX caps, Mills MRA-12 resistors; ERSE and Jantzen coils; Cardas binding posts and hookup wire); Cardas and OEM power cables, interconnects, and speaker cables

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Yes, that's why it's so important to listen to stuff for yourself. Books, magazines, and (especially) fora such as this are helpful but nothing can substitute for your own experience.

 

I could not agree more. I think the varied impressions here are a reflection of what folks have actually tried.

 

Prior to trying Nordost power cords, I would have also rated power cords low in terms of benefits as the brands I tried barely moved the needle. Same with the isolation products I tried prior to trying Stillpoints. Most weren't worth their asking price.

 

Synergy matters too - and this goes back to what I said above with respect to "everything matters". The weakest link in one's system will hinder their ability to hear attempts made to improve things elsewhere. When catching the upgrade bug, the biggest gains can often come from attacking the next weakest link. It can be like opening the floodgates as more information will be allowed to pass through.

Digital:  Sonore opticalModule > Uptone EtherRegen > Shunyata Sigma Ethernet > Antipodes K30 > Shunyata Omega USB > Gustard X26pro DAC 

Amp & Speakers:  Spectral DMA-150mk2 > Aerial 10T

Foundation: Stillpoints Ultra, Shunyata Denali power conditioner, Shunyata Alpha and Delta power cords, Shunyata Alpha interconnect, Shunyata Sigma Ethernet, MIT Matrix HD60 speaker cables, ASC isothermal tube traps, Stillpoints Aperture panels

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