February 23, 2023
 by Paul McGowan

Whenever I give advice about the order of importance for building from scratch a magical audio system I start like this:

  1. Speakers
  2. Amplifier
  3. AC power
  4. Source

This order is based on a few ideas, chief among them building a solid foundation of which the loudspeaker is key—if your speakers can’t disappear or lacking in musicality, not much that comes before them matters.

If the question is not how to build from scratch, but rather where to begin with an existing system, the sequencing order changes:

  1. Setup and room
  2. Examine the outcome
  3. Identify the weakness
  4. move forward

Here, the process is more layered. If we have great loudspeakers but a weak power foundation, we take one set of steps. If we have great sources and amplification but loudspeakers that refuse to disappear, the answer becomes obvious.

It is rare we get a chance to start from scratch.

Mostly, we’re sequencing our system improvements.

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56 comments on “Sequencing”

  1. I wonder what your sequence of importance would be if you imagine a magic sounding finalized setup. What could you exchange most easily without jeopardizing the quality and magic of the sound? I guess here, the speakers could be sacrificed/exchanged most easily, as imo even smaller and quite different speakers will still sound fascinating if the rest of the setup stays in synergy. Not so sure in case sources, cabling or amps are exchanged.

    As important as a room/speaker match is, this questions the age old speakers first strategy somehow.

    1. I realized, I speak of importance, todays topic was sequence.

      But when building a setup from scratch, we need everything at the same time to get it started…so probably what was meant is, the sequence of what to care for most when building from scratch? Then I’m again with my post above…the all time propagated importance of speakers could be questioned imo. Too many setups have a too strong focus on speakers and don’t reach a good enough price/performance ratio therefore.

  2. Like most home-audio topics, sequencing is also subjective.
    My experience in Hi-Fi retail was always to go for the best amps & sources first
    & then the loudspeakers, as loudspeakers can be upgraded down the track
    when more funds are available.
    I found time after time during my years in retail that even a very modest pair of loudspeakers can sound amazing if they are fed with high grade electronics
    & set up properly.
    Said ‘very modest pair’ of initially bought loudspeakers can always be used in a secondary home-audio rig in another part of the house after the upgrade.
    The electricity supply in Sydney, Australia is first rate & so I would prioritise a regenerator/conditioner after the electronics & the loudspeakers.
    The room plays as it does, therefore it is best practice to fine-tune the room last.
    As always, your preferences may vary.

    It has come to my attention that since January 17, 2023 we are not
    receiving e-mail notifications of posted replies here & on ‘Ask Paul’.
    This makes it a little difficult to know if another contributor wants to
    engage in a discussion, exchange of ideas or humorous retort.
    Hopefully Paul can get this sorted at the PS Audio end ✌

    1. Same problem here with “not receiving e-mail notifications”. Concerning “sequencing” I followed the same strategy as you some 45 years ago acquiring a full ReVox B7nn series system (maximum synergy guaranteed) including FM tuner and TT – but no loudspeakers. A pair of Sennheiser Unipolar 2000 electrostatic headphones had to do the job (I had no chance to install a pair of Magnepans in my tiny apartment and compared to the sound of the Magnepans in the dealers demo room the loudspeakers fitting my listening room sounded most boxy and unacceptable.). The Magnepans already showed two “problems”: the loudspeakers must match the room and the driving amp must match the loudspeakers. And later when having acquired my first floor standing loudspeakers the inherent problem with room modes and the result of uncountable room measurements showed that acoustic room treatment and “room correction” is absolutely mandatory. Today living in the era of digital audio and digital recording and digital mixing I always would start with active loudspeakers featuring an integrated DSP unit allowing room measurement and room correction. The cherry on top: crosstalk cancellation and head tracking.

      1. Hi Rich,
        Nope, no e-mail notification.
        OHT tried the same thing about
        an hour ago on yesterday’s PP.
        I’m guessing that you’ve also not
        received an e-mail notification for this reply.

        1. The horrors of it 😀 it goes along perfectly with todays post. – choose wisely and set -up 😐
          Don’t unsubscribe or it’ll remove you from all of PSA’s subscription and contact lists. (◔_◔)

            1. Now you know. I figured I’d unsubscribe from PP’s and then just resubscribe. Clean out the account cache so to speak. Not an easy task and required PSA intervention? On a side note the other (original) M1200 is starting to act up. Here we go again….

              When you’re smilin’, when you’re smilin’
              The whole world smiles with you….. (paraphrased from here)

              But when you’re cryin’, you bring on the pain…. It’s hard to be happy again….
              So increase that sighin’, come on and be miserable again

              1. 1. This is the second time Mike. I know how much you love these amps and how satisfied you are with the overall SQ of your system since their insertion.

                2. Sounds like Guy Lombardo And his Royal Canadians Mike. ;-). Keep them lyrics coming!

                Having the same issue with getting notifications of responses, possibly because there are no responses to my posts ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

            1. Thanks guys and sorry about the email notification system. Not sure what happened.

              Here’s the deal. I am not going to ask our programming folks to fix it because, as I told Mr. Rat, we are in the process of moving our website to a new platform in a week or two.

              The good news on the new platform will be speed. The current platform can be maddeningly slow. It gets cranky if more than 50 people are on it at one time —which is ridiculous.

              The not so good news is that when we switch platforms these comments will vanish. We cannot export them. And, it’ll require all of us to sign in to a new service some of you may be familiar with, called Disqus.

              The good news is that once we get that new system up and running, we can post pictures and links, get email notifications, and so on.

              1. Thanks for the update Paul.
                You lost everything on the last migration (or at least jumbled it all up) so that’s not too big of an issue.

                Not sure how I feel about picture posting in this context. Time will tell… ✌️

                1. The question is how far this can be called a „migration“ if everything gets lost…it’s rather a repeated green field approach 😉

                  Such a repeated experience would be the right time to clarify if the new system this time enables a migration next time.

              2. Thanks Paul.
                As Mike says, the loss of comments doesn’t really matter since it happened the last time that the site got upgraded AND topics come up again into the future & so similar comments can be rewritten anyway ✌

              3. I have heard the “cannot export the former system content” BS before. Of course the content can be exported, anything on the internet can be exported anywhere. You just have to be willing to do it and someone has to pay for the effort.

                Having said that, I could care less about whether or not these comments go to the new system. Just please tell me we are not going to repeat all the same topics again. 😉

    2. “humorous retort,” you say? Why would that be of interest to you, Martin?

      PS: Fat Rat notes the subjective priorities in a pleasing way, IMO. Cheers

    3. No notifications. There are levels of competency. IMHO. Whether these levels are like Stereophile’s class A- class C. It would have to be a BAD room or bad set up to make good speakers sound cheap, colored and bad. I understand the notion of mediocre speakers punching above their weight class or pay grade. And the weak link is critical. But lip stick on a pig ain’t gonna fool any of us. A dcs stack in a small room playing on pleasant entry level pen speakers is not a wise choice. A beautiful Shindo (Luxman) system in a lovely glass walled room using a pair of vintage Akai speakers is likewise a poor choice. There’s a reason boxing has weight classes, motorcycles engine size defines a class.

    4. Totally with FR on getting the chain before the speakers right – the ‘crummiest’ box speakers will produce magic if a good quality signal feeds them … and very expensive speakers are quite excellent at pointing out how lousy the chain before them is; I prefer my music to satisfy me, and not constantly irritate because I keep hearing problems …

  3. Paul, it was refreshing for me to hear you state long ago that the speakers should be the highest priority component, as they (along with the room) have the greatest impact on the sound quality. Like Fat Rat, I too worked in retail for a while (about 3 years part-time during college), but that experience, along with my own evolving home system, led me early on to your conclusion, which I believe was most people’s belief until Linn started turning that thinking upside down. My preferred analogy is that the system is a chain, and a chain is only as strong as its weakest link – and when it comes to sound fidelity, the speakers and room do far more to alter the sound than the cables, amps, AC power, sources, and interconnects (assuming that the latter are all at least half decent). I of course want it all! But I’ve had the same speakers and room for over 20 years, while the other components have been changed several times, because I got “the best” speakers that I could afford first.

  4. In response to todays post…
    I would (have) changed the order when starting with new…..
    Amplifier (depending on speaker requirement) otherwise Source here
    AC power

    The reason…. AC power (regen I assume)…I’ve been told by good authority that class D amps (if that’s your choice) benefit the least compared to other amplifier topologies from AC power conditioning.
    Get the best sounding speaker you can afford to start. From there you can build until you’ve gone full circle.

    If Starting with existing I couldn’t agree more. Change anything in the existing and repeat all steps again.

    1a. Maybe DSP for sub integration – room treatment long before ‘room correction’ algorithms

  5. My experience is that, first and foremost, it is the room. Put a great pair of speakers in a good room and they will sound great. Put them in a poor room and they will probably sound poor.

    I used Harbeth for years because they are superb in sub-optimal spaces for a modest price. Only once I’d built an acoustically treated room did I consider going a bit more up-market.

    Getting the speakers to work in the room is something that should have been worked out before buying them not afterwards.

    At the same time I got much improved AC power by rewiring the mains feed and house wiring, it was so effective I sold my expensive conditioner.

    I see cables as an incurable fetish, a metaphorical form of bondage to the altar of audiophilia. If you’re in, there is no escape.

    Like Bob Lehman says, best to get it right and leave it alone. Of course manufacturers and retailers will do anything to encourage you to “upgrade” a previously wonderful device that all of a sudden becomes “broken”, after all, they have mouths to feed and cruises to pay for.

  6. CtA & all the die-hard measurement guys,

    ‘Florida International Audio Expo’ had a complete ‘Audio Note’
    rig playing in one of the rooms…it sounded excellent with
    great precision & realism, even through my laptop.
    Someone mentioned that, “Everything they
    make measures like a dog too. Go figure…”

    How do you reconcile home-audio gear that
    measures ‘like a dog’ but sounds excellent?

    1. Oh, I am absolutely certain, totally convinced that if you could tell through your laptop that the sound was excellent, we don’t need anything else.

      That’s it. No more measurements necessary. We just watch and listen through the laptops (no specific model necessary either) and we can tell about the brilliance of the design.

      Thanks for that profound insight.

      (No face-plant emoji available here, I am sorry to say)

      1. CtA,
        It wasn’t just me, you dickhead.
        Many who attended were also blown away
        by the sound of the Audio Note room.
        As usual your single figure IQ cannot rationalize
        that something that doesn’t measure well can
        sound magnificent & so your over blown ego
        crumbles & all that is left for you to do is to
        deflect…just like Donald J Trump.
        Two man-childs in a pod.

        1. It doesn’t take long until your pathetic rude behavior comes to the front.

          I answered YOUR comment about “listening” through your laptop. I’m also not much interested in purely subjective criteria. You can make relatively poor measuring electronics sound good through great speakers in a decent room.

          But why bother? Audio Note is outrageously expensive.

          1. CtA,
            And your rude behaviour that started back in 2021 when I was dismissive of Toole & Olive?
            “A wasted life”, when you have no clue about that person?
            Again, with your single digit IQ…your mother must be so proud to have spawned such an arrogant & hypocritical troglodyte as yourself.
            You’re blind to your own rudeness & ignorance, just like Donald J Trump…again you & him are two peas in a pod.

            My comment was not the question.
            You don’t answer a comment, dickhead.
            You answer a question & the question was, “How do you reconcile home-audio gear that ‘measures like a dog’ but sounds excellent?”
            How can they be great loudspeakers if they measure poorly, as apparently all Audio Note gear does?
            Although now you’re actually admitting that poorly measuring home-audio gear can sound good, I quote, “You can make relatively poor measuring electronics sound good through great speakers in a decent room.”
            I guess that that’s at least an admission from you that measurements are not the be-all & end-all in home-audio, as you have always stated.
            Btw, I’ve been to enough home-audio shows to know that hotel rooms are far from being ‘decent rooms’.
            And price has nothing to do with it…more attempted deflection from you.

  7. Here’s my take: Listeners who prioritize sound quality typically choose loudspeakers as the most important component because, after all, it’s the loudspeaker that actually produces the sound we hear. But for those who prioritize the soul and emotion ( the “magic”) in music, it’s the amplifier (and preamplifier) that seems to be the most important. It’s the amplifier that alters the signal in such a way as to give the music life, or not.

    1. I thought that way for quite a while.
      IME the source component has a huge if not the biggest impact. (Ignoring a separate preamp for this discussion as that sound diff can be huge)
      At the same time the system is only as good as the weakest link.

      I started this higher end journey with a set of speakers that I new weren’t the easiest things to drive correctly. To this day they continue pass through every nuance fed to them. Good bad or indifferent. At the time I bought them I paid twice as much as I had budgeted for. That has allowed the flexibility with choosing amps, preamps, sources and the like to find more magic along the way.

      To this day I can’t find any speaker that blows away what I have without having drop 10% – 20% of my homes value. Lots of new that I really like the sound of. But if your going to step, especially for new speakers, it has to be a big one. I turned to playing around with the room acoustics. (Much easier done in dedicated room) and that has had an enormous impact… for better or worse. 😎

      1. If I tried to post a similar reply to to your situation Mike, it would be a rubber stamp of what you have been going through for all these years. We both have planar speakers and they are incredibly difficult to drive properly and extremely revealing of every recording and every component that proceeds them in the audio chain. It can be maddening at times yet at other times it can be sheer Nirvana. It’s the plight of all of us who own this type of speaker. Sort of like having a reference system but not quite.

    2. My tendency to question the usual speaker priority also comes from my experience with a friends’ very resolving setup which incorporates various repeatedly changing speakers over time, from large Wilson‘s, 2 large Wilson or other subs, to stand mount monitors…and surprisingly the sound doesn’t change so much, not even when changing speaker size by factor 10-20, as long as one doesn’t push the limits. But if the quality of the parts before is changes, things tend to collapse.

      1. Interesting thoughts jazznut.
        Here’s my take away from your musings today.
        Once you’ve found a speaker or a speaker manufacturer you like then stick with them.
        Need to bring out more or dig farther into things? Then everything before the speakers matter.
        That leads to a logical conclusion of the following if you’re building….
        Speakers 1st. (find a sound , a manufacturer , an aesthetic you like)
        Then everything else to bring out the soul and magic. Do it all at once or build it a piece at a time.
        It does no good to have the most magical sounding components played thru a tin horn…

        1. My takeaway from all the years is, we certainly choose speakers first, which sound right in our room. Just later, we recognize, that our choice was based on the limitations of all the front end before the speaker and that, as the front end got better, many other speakers sounded great, or even better and we might have chosen a different speaker if we had had better front end from start.

  8. I think when starting from scratch that the most important thing is room setup. Get the room right and a cheaper hifi can sound great. Leave bare walls and expensive hifi will sound bad. I bought Gik Acoustic panels about 8 years ago and it is the best thing I ever did for my system.

  9. I think Paul has the order of priorities mostly correct.

    Speakers and an appropriate amplifier at the same time with source upgrades, room treatment/correction (DSP in my case) then specific cables (HDMI between CD transport and DAC is surprisingly very important), then some power conditioning/regeneration (sources only in my case) then other fine tuning like dedicated AC power feed to amps if not using a regenerator.

    And, for those with analog rigs the nearly endless tweaking for vibration isolation and the search for the holy grail of phono preamps (now fully Rega TT, cart and phono pre in my case).

    It would probably be quite different if I were starting over. I’d take a very serious look at more integrated components. However, I do dearly love my Sanders ‘stats and they cannot be driven by any old amplifier. The Magtechs are special and necessary to get the most out of the very demanding load presented by the ‘stats.

  10. I think the first step is to realistically define one’s priorities. Is this a vocation, a hobby, or what? Do I want the musicians in my home or do I want to be in the recording studio listening to the live feed or do I just want to spend a relaxing evening listening to very pleasant music? And then, of course, there’s the budget which defines how far I’m willing to go to achieve my priorities. I think this approach makes a lot more sense than bouncing from review to review or brand to brand. Now that the outer limits of hifi cost as much as cars or homes, I think we need to reframe the entire proposition.

  11. I haven’t owned a system in over 25 years, so I’m fortunate that I can start over. I have the speakers and recently purchased the Stellar s300 amp and p3 power regenerator. I hope to complete the Stellar line.

  12. I see no reason for dogma about sequence of component selection. I, personally, choose a loudspeaker first, and then find appropriate matching amplification.

    But it is perfectly legitimate to fall in love with an amplifier, and then select a loudspeaker appropriate for that amplifier.

  13. This is funny, someone posted the same question on a popular audio site yesterday.

    My perspective on starting from scratch is a bit different –
    1. Define the objectives for the types of listening expected.
    2. Consider the room and how the system might be set up.
    3. Identify a realistic budget.
    4. Begin evaluating components, starting with the speakers.

    I say this based upon years in the audio hobby. I suspect most folks starting out simply go to a big box store and buy whatever the sales persons recommends that they can afford.

  14. Today’s post must’ve hit a nerve. It’s 10:30 AM on the East Coast and already there are 38 comments, platform upsets and replies. This comment makes 39.

  15. If someone is planning to do a serious audio system I give hem the following advice:

    1. Determine where the system is to be located and calculate the volume of the room. Research speaker size for the volume of the room. Once you have determined speakers that will work for that size room determine power amp requirements to easily drive the speakers.

    2. If you are doing a turntable source realize that the choice of cartridge can completely change the completion of the system. It can take it from warm to to neutral to cold and edgy. Be sure to research your choice of cartridge.

    3. Be sure the quality of the rest of your system is appropriate for your speakers and power amp(s). Do not buy great speakers along with a big power amp and then by the cheapest preamp you can find.

  16. Guess I have been “sequencing system improvements” for the past…47 years?!? Wow, seems that audio journey has just flown by (just like our 4 kids, now ages 46 to 36)!!!! 🙂

    As of Today:
    *Speakers/system/room disappear 100% of listening sessions-Check!
    *2 channel imaging is precise and airy, with natural musician placements within the huge 3D presentation-Check!
    *Soundstage starts behind speakers, never in front of-Check!
    *Soundstage width-depth-height has No boundaries; any limits reflect the natural recorded space ambiance-Check!
    *Timbre, transients, resolution, bandwidth, and musicality exactly as experienced in live acoustical music venues-Check!
    *Dynamics seem limitless with +35 to +40 db peaks over continuous/average sound levels-Check!
    *Transported into the live venue with intimate emotional connections made with musicians and performers-CHECK!

    To My Ears, Audio Music Reproduction has never been so relaxing, enjoyable, and Real! 😉 Ted

      1. [Seems that “you have arrived” Ted. Can you pinpoint the year that you were finally able to check off all of the above?]

        Time frames to reach my ultimate 2-channel dedicated music room sonic goals:

        *Jan, 2021 – Very Revealing/Musical Ribbon/Dynamic Stand Monitors
        *Aug, 2022 – Very Revealing/Musical 750wpc Class D GaNFET Power Amp
        *Aug, 2022 – Very Revealing/Musical Active Stereo RCA to XLR Converter Module
        *Sep, 2022 – Very Revealing/Musical Grand Reference 2.5m Speaker Cables
        *Oct, 2022 – Preamp “Removed”-Using Very Revealing/Musical CDP Variable Line Outputs!

        Seems to follow Paul’s “start-up” topic recommendations!! Each of the sequential purchases/changes above garnered substantial sonic improvements that were huge steps toward Audio Reproduction Nirvana Magic! Thus, these past 5 months have been Total Listening Bliss! 😉

        1. Wow Ted! I never expected a response with this much detail. You’ve certainly got your finger on the pulse of Audio Nirvana with regard to your listening history.

          1. Appreciate your interest, Neil! Seems most of PP forum participants also have found Audio Nirvana through their own journey!! Always keeping an open eye and ear through the great sharing of listening experiences on PP, AP and the PSA forum! Hopefully now I can just relax and enjoy the Art-of-Music for the next 2-3 decades!!! 🙂

    1. Arriving is a good thing to do … 🙂 . This standard fell into my lap over 3 decades ago, and it’s been an interesting journey since, trying to identify exactly what needs to be done to create and maintain that level.

      The core process is to be able to firstly hear when a rig has a problem, something identifiable that is “just wrong!”; and then have the knowledge or means to do something about it. You reach Nirvana through the Subtraction of Badness; not, as most people believe it to be, the continual, further Addition of Goodness.

  17. If starting from scratch, number one for me would be to be sure that the ‘raw’ setup could do soft, and loud decently. That is, if volume turned right down low, does the presentation merely get further away from you; or does it become boring, just background muttering? Then, at the other end, does it sustain its composure, just become more intense; or does everything fall apart, or squash down into PA sound, only good for belting rock ‘n’ roll, 😉 . If these are in place, then most everything else can be sorted.

    Sequencing of moves is good, except I take no notice of the setup or room. First step is to listen to what you’ve got, “examine the outcome”, as is; and identify any weakness – and resolve *that* issue. And repeat. Until the SQ is good enough. What the equipment consists off will automatically change as improvements are made, and the room *never* matters.

    1. Today’s communique is totally meaningless.
      How does one select any item to be first when it is impossible to audition anything these days.
      The Salons are gone.
      All we have is the hap-hazzard reviews that appear in some magazines we read out of despiration.
      The we can order on line and hope what we ordered is shipped and that once its is shipped we hope that it arrives in one piece and hopefully functional.
      Then ,how do you rationalize its “goodness” and if you decide to send it back the UPS costs are major and it will take five weeks for the credit to materialize on your charge account.
      This is fun?
      Please, someone, try and convince me that “HI FI Building” is enjoyable.
      Let us not forget about calling the manufacturer for guidance-it stinks, irrespective of the cost of the gear!

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