Laying your bedrock

August 3, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

At the heart of every high-end audio system lies its foundation, its bedrock upon which everything else in the system stems from.

Like a home, the stronger its foundational bedrock the better the home.

Your bedrock likely has multiple facets. For example, we could consider speakers as the system bedrock from which every other decision is built around their support.

Or, perhaps you start with a solid AC foundation of Power Plants and build upwards from there.

Or, start with the best turntable, arm, and cartridge possible and build out the rest of the system on that basis.

Whatever your bedrock may be, it’s important to know what your focus is and then to build out from there.

It’s always best to start with a firm foundation upon which you layer on everything else.

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47 comments on “Laying your bedrock”

  1. In the days of early 2-channel ping-pong Stereo I had the same opinion. But following the goal to reach the original promise of stereo of creating a holographic sound image I primarily focused on optimization of room acoustics and speaker set-up including inter-speaker crosstalk cancellation.

  2. Three layers (strata):
    Available funds would be the outer core.
    Best bang for my buck, per component, would be the mantle.
    And how it sounds all hooked-up together (synergy) would be the crust…cheese filled of course 🙂

  3. Bedrock ? LOL
    Most audiophiles don’t have a bedrock upon which everything else is built.
    Their foundation is an alligator swamp.The alligators are the manufacturers and audio magazines who seduce the audiophiles to trade in (…) their “obsolete” device and buy the new “latest greatest”, which, of course, is “the best” they ever made. The FOMO phenomenon kicks in.
    And a lot of audiophiles give in, over and over again. It has become their second nature.
    A bedrock made of quicksand.

    1. Why would you ever want to buy gear from a company that does not strive to make their products better? If you are happy with the gear you bought 10, 20 or 30 years ago then sit back and enjoy it and quit complaining about people who choose to upgrade their gear more often than you do. Here in the US people can buy whatever they can afford whenever they want.

      1. plachy,
        For me you’re no more than a nostalgic grumpy old man who’s musical horizon does not go any further than “Blowin in the wind” and “Paint it black”.
        Have fun with that and keep believing that the musical world stopped around 1975, but don’t tell me what to write or not to write.
        Just don’t read my comments.

            1. FR, I only have one Constellation and that is a Hercules II stereo power amp. I bought it used from a trusted dealer who was using it as his in house reference amp. I delivers all the power that my S7’s need to be at their best.

        1. You say that like it’s a bad thing.

          Seriously though, Tony gets to listen to what he chooses, just as you and I do. Otherwise, it’s coercion. You may absolutely love some recent music and so do I. Do our heavy rotation stacks (yeah, unrepentant physical media guy here) match precisely, probably not. I don’t know with certainty, but probably not. Venn diagrams almost never precisely do.

            1. You’re quite welcome. Again, I do not know with any degree of certainty, but I suspect that my musical Venn diagram has more overlap with yours than with that of jb4.


  4. An army is only as fast as its slowest soldier, so when changing a system many people seem to address the weaknesses first. Building a system from scratch, or starting again, the consensus seems to be the speakers as the ultimate strength of a system, plus the room in which they sit.

    1. You are totally correct.
      Given how cheap and utterly transparent current electronics are, the only variables that matters are the speakers and their interaction with your room.
      The rest is quite simple nowadays. Spending more money in electronics is just an issue of ego.
      I am amazed at how good, small and economical electronics have become in a relatively short period of time. Speakers, on the other hand…but you can easily still spend more than what you will “get”.

  5. Not one person including Paul mentioned “music”. Sometimes I wonder if we prefer sound to music. After all, the word “audiophile” means lover of audio, not music.

    1. To envision this topic as a whole I think that to really enjoy music at home, being knowledgeable about the audio equipment that you purchase to build a music system is a partner in this endeavor.

    2. hrboucher,

      I’m with you on this one.

      I consider the music the foundation of my system. The one thing all the equipment, room, and dsp is built around. Music (varieties of) being the one thing thing that has always been the focus. The equipment is just a means to the end… (or never ending? 😀 )

    3. No, the definition of an audiophile us someone who loves music and wants it to sound the best that it can. I do, however, get what you are saying. There are audiophiles who seem to be more interested in how their system sounds than how good the music sounds when played on there system. The difference is subtle, but important.

        1. CtA, You are absolutely right. There are so many variables here it is impossible to say what is absolutely the “best”. First, people hear things differently. What I think is best may not be what you think is best and may not be what FR thinks is best. There is no right or wrong.

          Second, You have people who want and make their system sound a certain way. If you read reviews that Michael Fremer ( analog guru at Stereophile ) writes it becomes clear that Mikey likes his system to sound detailed. Then there are people who want the sound to be lush and warm.

          Finally, I was lucky enough to attend a shoot-out between MC cartridges that we mounted on identical arms and then played the same record track on the same system. The only thing that changed was the cartridge. There were four cartridges and everyone agreed that there were two that were the “best” ( my horse in this race finished third ). Even though these two cartridges each sounded great, they sounded different. Not different in a bad way, just not the same. So even great gear sounds different.

          1. Tony,
            ‘CtA’ has this narcissistic view that everyone is striving
            for exactly the same home audio sound as he does.

            Btw, thanks for clarifying about your amp.
            For some reason I assumed that you had monoblocs.

          2. Oh, I see that Mr Dunning Kruger is back, or Jabba The Rat as he is more known.
            There are objective parameters of quality of reproduction. However, it seems that most of these audiophiles are anti-science and only interested in “their” opinions. They like “their” stuff.
            For those that have a bit more interest in understanding, they could read a review recently on “Stereophile” of some Dynaudio $$$ speakers. The concept of adaptation is well described.

            1. ‘CtA’
              What do you mean by, “…is back…”?
              I never left; I’m here every day.
              News flash Oedipus Rex, one has to
              leave a place before they can ‘come back’.

              Most of the audiophiles here are not anti-science;
              they are, however, mostly ‘pro-ears’.
              And you are only interested in your opinion.

              You remind me of ‘Scarecrow’ from the Wizard Of Oz…
              if you only had a brain (eye rolling emoji)

              1. Back commenting on what I write.
                It was Woody Allen that said his brain was his second favorite organ. In your case, it has to be the fingers that type on the keyboard. Make sure they are connected to that mess inside your skull.
                Have you tried education or you followed the instructions in The Wall?
                No education, no self control, lots of sarcasm in the blogs…

                1. ‘CtA’ (Certified tedious A**hole)
                  …and lots of irrational BS from you, because I wasn’t commenting on what you write.
                  I was, in fact, telling ‘tonyplachy’ that your narcissistic attitude causes you to make/type irrational comments.
                  Again, you are hilarious! 🙂

                  And, yes, that’s what fingers are for…
                  the keyboard.
                  What do you use?
                  Your nose??

                  1. You are a sick person, Jabba the Rat.
                    The poster boy for what Dunning Kruger explain or describe.
                    You think you know a lot because you heard many brands in the past. But now you are stuck in your apartment with your mid-fi stereo, as you say.
                    Having heard many brands does not make you an expert in sound. It may make you believe that you know a lot. But listening memory is very poor.

                    This is why I recommended the article from Stereophile. Even brutes like you may get to understand the concept of “adaptation”. Although you are a poorly adapted person in all manners.
                    Educate yourself. It will be good for you. Even at your stage.
                    I have to tell you that you appear to be the narcissist and are stuck in what you think is knowledge. On the other hand, I am constantly seeking to learn more. Try it yourself. You will “discover” new things, things that have been discovered by others years ago.

      1. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines audiophile as someone enthusiastic about hifi sound reproduction. Notice the absence of the word “music” in the definition. I think M-W is spot-on. Just sayin’.

  6. Not sure i totally get the premise as most of us have systems that are always in flux and change over time. However the two components that remain the same are:
    1. some type of power plant and i now have the P20 (truly an essential piece)
    2. My Mapleshade Sampson rack which truly is the foundation on which the system rests.

  7. Strongly agree with “speakers first and build out from there” mentality. They (and the room acoustics of course) are essential and often require particular amplifier(s) and LMS (loudspeaker management system) devices. This applies particularly when your speakers are either very demanding (‘stats) or very efficient single driver. The amplifiers for these systems are so very different and only optimized when the speakers are already defined.

    I have also been quite surprised by how much source components matter especially when you get your system to a very “high resolution” state. Finally don’t feel the burning desire to change anything (hah, right you say!) NO really. Let’s get back to playing lots of music and stop worrying about crazy minutiae. Sorry if I’m offending anyone here, but watering your house ground rod is a “bridge too far” for me.

    1. Hello kcleveland,

      I guess I’m just in an agreeable mood today 😉 Everything you said is how I approached my system and what I have experienced to date. I’m going through a period of ‘audio equipment turmoil’ (burning desire? ) now, not because I’m chasing some magic goal, but rather the fact I’ve been out of the ‘game’ for the last decade and a half. The interesting thing is how easy it is to get sidetracked once you’re in the equipment matrix.

      So people’s desires change, but maintaining a focus becomes paramount. Until then, the musical presentation I currently have keeps me going and somewhat satisfied.

      Gotta go now and water the garden… look! My grounding rod is right there…. 🙂

  8. Paul, by bedrock I assume you mean the starting point or foundation. For me, no question, it is the room. Consider the dimensions, construction, and furnishings, then determine the budget. After that component selection and set up follows.

  9. After 50 years of stereo systems in about five different incarnations I have come to the conclusion that in the debate of which is more important, source or speakers, that in my system its is the speakers that are most important. But, I have also realized that without enough power the speakers cannot be what they are with enough power. Thus, I think of my power amp and speakers as my bedrock.

    I think of both my analog and digital source gear as the two shining stars in my system because they produce the sound I hear that shines through the rest of the system. All the other gear ( other amps, cables and power gear ) is essential gear, but it plays a support role.

    1. I agree, the room often defines the general parameters of the speakers, and the power amp/speaker synergy is critical. For me, everything else flows (is built upon?) from that.

  10. I think that bedrocks change over time especially if one is a seasoned audiophile. Yes, there are friends of mine with Marantz 7 amplifiers that are 40 years old and are fine with them. I’m happy for them as they have other things to occupy their neurosis with.

    Me? The bedrock has been almost each part of my system over the years

    Alas, the only true bedrock for me is

  11. It is like asking what organ of the human body is foundational.

    When I bought my first stereo system in the 70s, I did not think in terms of “What is my foundation?” I thought in terms of “I have to have a synergistic triad: turntable, integrated amp and loudspeakers. Any one of those ingredients would be useless without the others. And they all had to be of comparable quality and work compatibly with each other. That trinity was the “foundation” that got tweaked over the years with a succession of upgraded components– better loudspeakers, better amps, better source, better cables and lastly the PowerPlant. No component alone will dictate the success of the rest of the system. As has been said ad nauseum: “Everything matters.”

  12. At first I found today’s post quite meaningless…we shall focus and build up everything on anything we choose, as long as we have a focus at all? Focus on something that changes, too, and when the component previously in focus changes, then start from scratch?

    But then I found something I’d focus on. Whatever you use, always dial in your subwoofer in combination with you main speakers as perfectly as you can and care for an as flat as possible and in phase bass. Everything will build up on this and you avoid many falls conclusions which would be based on a wrong/bad bass config.

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