Marrying components

March 31, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

When we’re building a system it can often feel like a marriage.

We want our components to get along with each other but we also want to make sure their strengths and weaknesses are complementary.

If we lean too hard in any one direction the result often ends in divorce: we sell off the offending component and search for something a bit more agreeable.

Unlike a good marriage where partners are bound together for life, our stereo components can come and go like lovers. We hope for a great match but it’s awfully hard to tell just from the romance of reviews.

Living together before getting married was once frowned upon, fortunately, when it comes to our components, the home audition is still a great idea.

Our quest for audio bliss is all about synergy—marrying together the components that make magic.

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28 comments on “Marrying components”

  1. I’ve gradually come to the view that synergy is mostly about specifications – cartridge effective mass, speaker sensitivity and impedance, voltage input and output levels, and largely predictable. The only time I’ve ever changed a component through lack of synergy is after changing to a certain brand of speakers, I found my valve amplifier could not drive them properly.

    I’ve only every really skimmed reviews to find out the basics of what a product does, stopping before the usual 5 stars or buy recommendation, but more recently noticed after looking closer, for example April 2021 Stereophile, that some of them are very helpful in reporting how, for example, an amplifier performed with a range of different speakers that the readers might own. There is one exception, the vinyl guy from New Jersey, whose writings on vinyl are incredibly helpful and informative and regularly inform my buying decisions, but if I see his name on the top of a component review I’m most likely to skip it.

  2. I’ve been lucky with audio system synergy (the perfect audio component marriage) once in my life, for six years & that started back in 1993.
    I’m just thankful that I had that experience even just once in my life & that I was able to share that amazing 3D holographic imaging sound presentation with many visitor to my listening room for that 6 year period, because whether they were audiophiles or not, they were able to walk away knowing that they had all heard something extraordinary from 6 black boxes all wired up to each other.
    And if they ever heard anyone say to them that 3D holographic imaging in home audio set-ups is a load of crap, well, they knew better.
    I’m pretty sure that if I listened to more classical, blues, jazz, female & male vocals, unplugged, acoustic guitar, etc. instead of mainly ‘wall of sound’ Rock ‘n Roll, that I would still have those 6 black boxes.
    But I’m not going to go chasing the dragon that I let go in 1998.
    Happy listening folks 😉

    (I’m thinking not so much of a marriage but rather four children that have to learn to get along with each other otherwise daddy is going to send them away for adoption)

    1. My take on the marriage concept is a little different. A bad marriage is one that starts passionately with a lot of energy expended in a close embrace and exchange of fluids and things said that are often totally and ridiculously effusive if not plain stupid and certain to be regretted. After all that excitement you have to live with each other, take out the bins, pick up each other’s laundry, do the dishes etc., I suspect many audio product relationships are similar.

      1. How many young men think that the lust that is coursing through every fiber of their being when they meet a lovely young woman is actually ‘love’?
        Too many!
        I’ll tell ya, that ‘lust stuff’ had me fooled for years.
        The Eagles wrote a song…’After The Thrill Is Gone’…& that’s usually when most audiophiles or audio enthusiasts start getting the ‘upgrade itch’ again 😉

        1. I think you’ll find people associate “The Thrill is Gone” with Chet Baker’s take on a song that probably predates him.

          As you suggest, new audio, new woman, not sure which is more expensive.

  3. One of my mono block amplifiers has chosen to shut down and not take input from the rest of my system ( the I’m not talking to you scenario ). Hope, with the appropriate counselling, ie solder, components, some well chosen words and maybe a hammer, harmony will be restored. In the end marriage is a wonderful thing.

  4. “We want our components to get along.” It sounds like you are describing a group marriage, or an orgy, if they just come and go. A single mismatch can upset the whole setup, so better first check the specs before home audition. It’s nice to know there is an easy return policy. 🙂

  5. All my audio components live happily together without being married.
    Only connected by some cables.
    Saves a lawyer if one wants to leave.
    Almost every day, mostly in the evening, they play together.
    They have so much fun that you might call it an orgy.
    I only listen and I’m fine with it. After all, what’s wrong with an orgy ?

  6. My components were ‘good’ together … as jb4 eloquently stated above.
    Then the move to a new room. Nothing got along. A mass intervention was convened, the room was transformed as a result. Bliss returned.

      1. 😉 ✌️

        I was almost to forced to start watching that with my wife instead of listening to “tunes”

        Something had to give, and it wasn’t going to be me 😀

  7. When I had separates, they were all from the same company other than the turntable and speakers. Tuner, amp, cassette deck, pre-amp. They obviously worked together well.

    I kept that philosophy when I chucked them all and bought an all-in-one. Now it’s all in one box, and the same turntable from 1975 keeps humming along (modern cartridge of course). CD player has not been used in probably five years, the TT and R2R get all the auxiliary use now. I don’t regret that decision at all.

    I am pining for new speakers, my 80’s towers sound great but are butt-ugly compared to modern offerings. Maybe soon on that front.

  8. For those who have a lot of (ripped) music on Harddisk/SSD/thumb drive :
    Don’t forget to make backups. If you haven’t done it yet, DO it NOW !
    After all, it is WORLD BACKUP DAY – March 31

    And Mike, they just didn’t like the new honeymoon suite 🙂
    Fortunately for them you saw (heard) the problem, acted as a real master of ceremonies and changed things for the better.
    Today’s takeaway : audio components have feelings.
    In order to please yourself you gotta please them first.

  9. I have never look at my audio system changes as a divorce or break-up. I make changes to upgrade my system. My goal in making changes is better and better sound quality. I do a lot of research and as much auditioning as possible before I change anything.

    1. I agree re the sound quality aspect, always so. However for me as I age I also now find that I want to be responsible for fewer ‘boxes’, I want a simpler, more, convenient and pleasing set-up visually – have had my decades with pre -amps and monoblocks, attached laptops, outside DACS etc.
      So I recently reduced all my ‘boxes’ down from 7 to only 3 (not counting speakers). Now have happy synergy, more room, better sound, domestic bliss from dearest beloved..

  10. And JUST like a marriage, you can eagerly say: “Hey Fred, you should take my amp home for a weekend and try it out! It’s amazing! You’ll love it!” :-0
    I’m kidding…… I know, Marriage is an institution.
    I guess I just never wanted to be institutionalized….

    Imagine, way back when you bought your FIRST hifi, if you plugged it in & it immediately blurted out this dynamic stereo sound: “OK BUB, I’m IT! The LAST stereo you’ll ever own! Don’t even THINK about letting that wandering ear near any other piece of gear! SURE it might be newer, have better specs, more headroom, bi-wiring, a higher dampening factor, a smaller chassis, a narrower stage, bigger top end, tighter bottom end, more sensitive bass & treble knobs, an off switch – but listen here buster – if you come home and I even SMELL new frequencies on you…it’ll be the SILENT treatment for a MONTH!!!”

  11. In my audio world England, America, China, Australia and Canada all get along very nicely.
    Synergy is one of the greatest accomplishments in the audiophile world. 🙂

  12. Start by ripping out your room and re-doing the architecture to sound good with a Piano trio (Hints: high ceiling, over 100m2, lots of shelving covering the side walls, glass doors at the back). Then get a piano shaped speaker, a cello shaped speaker and a violin shaped speaker.

    Twelve amp channels to match the drivers (tri-amped, piano is stereo), and voila! Perfect polygamy.

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