‘Source First’ or ‘Speakers First’

  • Source First
  • Speakers First

0 voters

So, what’s more important to you?

I think this is (or can be) different for a lot of people, but for me it is:

  • speakers
  • amp
  • source

Or to be really pedantic;



Just to get the magnitudes right, here some common THD+N figures:

Acclaimed speakers at low mids to low bass ~ 1 - 10% at realistic SPL
Acclaimed source component ~ 0.0001%

Of course all distortions are additive, but we’re talking about 4 to 5 orders of magnitude, so any incremental improvement in the source department will be swamped by speaker distortion.
If we’d additionally look at frequency response and time domain behavior, it’ll even compound the discrepancy more.

Ergo: splurge as much money as possible into room acoustics and speakers, before diving into high priced high-end source components.

This will not change the source-first believer’s conviction, but may help newbies, visiting this thread, to not put the cart before the horse.


Always speakers first. In 2022 almost all digital sources are perfectly acceptable. Even the line out on a iPhone is capable of huge amounts of resolution. For me speaker and room interaction is the first priority, then having the correct amp to drive the speaker well… source, I’m much less fussed about.

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My list of importance, starting with most important to least important:

Music Genre


A. Room
B. Speaker
C. Amp
D. Source

M. Interconnects

Z. Speaker cables
another million items later

YYYYYYYY. Power cords


If you consider (non-active) speakers to be the most vital component of your HIFI system, DAC/streamer last, then I think you are after some sort of noise making machine which produces heavy bass than a musical replay system? Active speakers on some systems are different as they are an integrated solution which is designed to produce the best musical playback system.

I have both digital and analogue front end. I find spending more on the analogue front end pays dividends. Digital to me doesn’t seem to get a whole lot better the more you throw at it. Yes I have been there with chord transports and DACs and also esoteric but I’m happy now with a streamer and Roon and don’t miss the rabbit hole.


Love it :slight_smile:

Yeah I’ve had mixed results with digital. Some bargain dacs sound superb and some don’t. Ditto at the higher price end.

Years ago I had a little TEAC UD-H01 dac, and it was excellent. I found it sonically indistinguishable from the much more expensive Eastern electric minimax dac.

Fast forward several years though, and having tried an auralic vega, I found a higher end North Star supremo very disappointing. The vega was much more clean to my ears. That said I’m not convinced the vega represented a huge step up from the dac built into the little £300 auralic aries mini. Which suggests to me that at £300 the mini was more than capable of sitting in a system with a mcintosh amp and some harbeth speakers at the time.

Digital front ends have come of age and needn’t cost much. Better to spend the cash elsewhere.

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Its good you can close the digital rabbit hole, now your just stuck with the analog rabbit hole! :grinning:

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It looks like the majority are of the “speakers first” camp. Same here. Good quality speakers will make even lesser quality equipment sound better than it is. No amount of good equipment will ever make a set of speakers sound better than they are capable. Get the best speakers or most appropriate for your use and then fill in behind. Often people say spend half your budget at least on the speaker part, but, I think there are some really over achieving speakers you can buy that could give satisfactory results for less than that percentage.

Only some common sense. Room (+ treatment) sets the requirements for the speakers which then narrow down what amps fit best. Source is a bit on its own. No that clear constraints as before.

Regarding budget and where to spend what percentage I would say things have changed. With extremely good DACs available at almost no money and guys like Bruno Putzeys really wrecking the old eternal amp truths there is clearly more budget that can be spent on speakers and room treatment.

It’s interesting times where the skilled electricians of the past get under severe pressure by genius mathematicians.


Hey, that room treatment thing seems to be a recurrent suggestion in many different topics. So should it be “speakers first vs source first? Nope, room first”?? I must admit that I never paid that much attention to room treatment. Sorry for going off topic. :grin: I’m in the speaker camp BTW.

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Speakers first. Digital sources are so good today - even an iPhone with the tiny white dongle. A top notch turntable with mediocre speakers would be such a waste.

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I fully agree with you Tim. However, after ear I will put power (conditioner = clean power to every component)

If sound quality is the goal, then source must be the # 1 choice as sound quality is the sum of the parts in system. Poor quality in any part of the system, is passed on to the final component which is your ear. Component chain as follows…source, equipment, environment and finally your ear. Your ear cannot be changed. Everything else is variable. Garbage in = garbage out. You can make a “poor” recording “seem” better however, you cannot change the actual quality of the recording. You have only changed the quality of reproduction. Room acoustics are # 2 on my list after the source. Acoustics are a huge influence on what you hear. They are the last component closest to the ear. Quality headphones sound great simply because they eliminate room acoustics. Poor acoustics kill reproductive quality. That’s my comment and don’t forget to keep smiling it’s always a good day for something.


You seem to contradict yourself here. You talk about acoustics being one of the biggest contributors but yet you don’t think speakers are number 1?

Speakers are by far the most flawed part of any hifi and by far the hardest to get right. They are where the largest loses will happen and where the biggest potential for gain is.

It doesn’t matter how good your source or amp is, under par speakers will always mask it. Ultimately you need transparency at the transducer end to get the most out of the rest.

Let’s not forget, an iPhone using a lightning to headphone adapter measures essentially completely flat and can do 24/192 with very low noise figures. Sources are easy these days, why would you throw most of your budget at that?

I’d always prefer cheap dac, good amps, better speakers :slight_smile:


It’s a false dichotomy.

What’s a source? If it’s appropriate selection of a well-mastered piece of music in a format that’s easy to extract the data from in a low-noise, high-fidelity manner – how can that not be important?

Speakers? What if you’re using headphones? Speakers couple the sound to the listener, so of course they’re also important. But only if you have something good to listen to.