If we were to financially budget according to sound quality contribution of each audio component in the overall playback chain, I would challenge you to the following:

  • Source: 12.5%

  • Amplifier: 12.5%

  • Speakers: 17.5%

  • Cables: 12.5%

  • Supports: 7.5%

  • Room: 17.5%

  • Electricity: 12.5%

  • Others: 7.5%

The numerical values of the % are completely arbitary – I do not have any proper methodologies, let alone scientific basis in arriving on the % values. There is no scoring method for the matter either. Forget about the values. What I want to illustrate is the “relative contribution/ranking” of each major audio component/accessory category to the final sound quality that we can discern from an audio playback chain.

My points are these:

  1. The room and loudspeaker each contribute and influence the audio signature of any audio system the most. Together, e.g. 35%, the room-speaker interaction/pairing will dominate the sonic character of the audio playback system and will immediately make-or-break the perceived sonic fidelity of an audio playback system.

  2. Cables and electricity quality (voltage, noise, dynamic current availability) are each by themselves as influential as either the source or amplifier in determining the resulting sonic quality. They are all ranked equal, e.g. 12.5%. In suitably transparent systems, the magnitude of sonic differences that can be heard from cable changes or mains conditioning/enhancements is as great as if one is changing sources or amplifiers.

  3. Paying attention to the supports for your audio equipment yield surprisingly significant dividends. The likes of Mana Acoustic racks, Black Diamond Racing cones, Shun Mook platforms and the endless home experimentation with granite, ceramic, wooden, blue-tack and air-suspension contraptions all come to mind.

  4. Other factors, mainly tweaks in phenomena which have not resulted in widespread audiophile acceptance, collectively also yield surprisingly significant dividends. These include cable elevators, any sort of RF noise-busting/shielding devices (especially with digital components) and ‘static charge buster’ devices/pratices. There are many more examples in this category and no doubt there will still be more to be discovered.

If one has not experienced the magnitude of changes as I alluded to above for variables like cables, electricity, room, supports etc., it may be a combination of the following:

  • one’s system overall set-up and interaction masks the magnitude of the changes due to these variables (a topic I will blog about the next time which I hope will not be too dry for some)

  • one is not sensitive to the type and/or magnitude of the changes brought about by these variables

  • one is psychologically biased against these variables because of what one can/cannot see with the eye/mind (e.g. a source perform a complex function but a cable’s function is so simple – so cable changes cannot yield profound sonic differences) or previous preconceptions/notions of these variables. Only blind A-B tests can eliminate/expose one’s biases in these areas.

Now, irregardless of the validation offered by your experience on the above issue of “relative contribution/ranking”, we need not necessarily allocated $$$ and spend in accordance to this principle. I am not aware of anyone who would spend their audio budget according to the “relative contribution/ranking” concept. Neither will I.

But it is possible to get good sound for little $$$. For example, if you believe the room indeed contributes significantly to the final sound, it is possible to get staggering improvement in the overall sound quality with comparatively little dough since room treatment and speaker placement can be had at low outlay. Of course, you can have the whole she-bang and spend a lot on a customized room for audio (a previous project of mine which I hope to blog about in the future).

In the end, I say you should ‘blow-it’ as you financially can afford to in order to explore areas that interests you (just like traveling the world - some like scenery, others on the culture & way of life, others yet on adventure – ultimately whatever grabs your fancy but certainly constrained by your budget). Just don’t regret. Do you?

13 comments:

chris said...

I completely disagree with you there .

To me,you must start with the Power supply first,get the best dedicated curcuit money can buy.You want to do this once ,and you want to do it well.


Next,get the best stand money can buy.I use Finite elemente master reference and i can't believe the amount of money saved on unnecassary upgrades/tweaks...Get the best money can buy,nothing can kill the sound of your equipment more than bad stands..


use the rest of the money on your electronics.To me,most money is wasted on amp.If your budget is less than 10k[USD]get yourself the best intergrated.bad preamp is a receipe for disaster!!!!

jason said...

very controversial take on the subject IMO.

While I do agree with some of the points raised,I feel when it come tp tweaks I am rather sckeptics.

As mentioned by someone else.Ypou should start tweaking once everything is already in place.

And I agree good stand,receptacles and resonance type feet are not consider tweaks,there are truly an integral part of your equipments..

cheahj said...

tweaks to me is when you have to use a sthetoscope to hear the difference....

Anonymous said...

I think an IC should not cost more than any component but then the power cord on my Hydra costs more than both my ICs, so how logical is that?
When it comes to spending money on hi-fi there should be no rules. The end justifies the means and at what cost should never be asked. I should not need to justify where or how I spend my money to anyone.

james said...

Fully agree with anonymous above.

The most importance guidance in Hi-fi should be from someone who has achieved, to your ears ,the sound you desire..

Ask that person for the recipe ,you sure would be on your way to hi-fi bliss.They are many ways to reach a destination....

Mritchie said...

I seconded Chris motions.

after more than 20 years of DIY support ,i finally realized that you should leave it to the pro..

From the first moment I put my equipment on The finite Elemente Pagode stand,my jaws literally dropped......And I realized that everything that has been put on that damn thing sound so marvelous.....Nothing else come close to it IMHO.

The Harmonix,Symposium.Grand prix are the alternatives but I do feel each of them do add a bit of their sonic signitures...

And yeah,I agree,you should start with having a dedicated 20 amp cuircuit ,follow by stands and resonance controll....add the electronics last....

BrianMcC said...

Once you control the resonance of your equipments,the room become less important.

That is the biggest lesson I have learned ,and it was hard for me to accept..

So I say,spend more on stands,less on unnecassary room tweaks.Try to make your listening room more of a cosy place instead of a professional studio,that has a dead sound,with ugly cupboards sticked around...Psychoacoustics are just as important

kam said...

No matter how little money you wish to spend,you MUST have a dedicated curcuit, i prefer single to double cuircuit...

Receptacle,just get a decent grade,noneed to splash into the thousands..

The rest will be easy,I aso think that the concept of dedicated listening room is blasse....room tuning as propogated by the Hong kese and japanese seems more practical and acceptable if yopu know to do it well...JMHO

GCLim said...

well anonymous,I think your cost is fully justifiable.

The most important PC should be the one to your PLC.

kappa said...

of all the hardware,i would spend most on a good source and the least on speakers.

Dimitry said...

it is always source first.

But I spend most money on preamp.that's the one than make or break a system.

speaker?Probably less that my source

S. Wufer said...

looking at all the comments, i think it's great it stirs up the various views - my purpose is to get people to start thinking and see how many people have experimented with the different areas of the audio playback chain.

the intention is to make people be aware that the electronics are not necessarily the most dominant aspect of the playback chain although without it there is no playback system at all.

as i said in the end, do explore and i'm sure most of us would want limitless financial means to explore areas that appeal to us to our hearts content.

would like to clarify my thoughts on some aspects of the comments:

a) we should treat speaker stands as part of the loudspeaker category and not as a tweak. speaker stands are integral to the speakers performance and one advanatage of buying a floor stander is that you save the hassle (and purchase cost) of trying to optimise the speakers stands with a eg: bookshelf.

b) equipment stands + resonance type feet all falls under the "Supports" category and should be given at least as much attention as a regular electronic component as they do affect the final sound quality in a suprisingly huge way. Glad to see comments to support the importance of stands.

c) i lump power cords + conditioners all under "Electricity" category and again, I am glad there are some who advocate the importance of 'good' electricity. Should be given at least as much attention as any regular electronics.

d) I too find tweaking to be the last thing to do after the fundamentals are correctly in place - hence its significance is less than that of electronics, electricity, room, support, cables etc..

e) as for the room, we are creatures of comfort and hence it must first be comfortbale as part of a home. I don't necessarily recommend room tweaking/tuning but if you have no choice and have to live with a room that is less-than-complimentary, then some 'medication' may be considered. However, if the room is basically free from nasties, then you are indeed blessed.

jake said...

s.wufer,

very well put!

I think mature audiophiles,will not hesitate to spend on good stands{finite Elemente comes to my mind immediately]and cablings...

These sort of things are not 'status symbol' per se ,but in every good sounding systems,these are things that make the difference vbetween a good system and an excellent one