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Ultimate List of What Matters and What doesn't Matters or Audible Differences

Bewateraudio

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I just want to summarize for myself based on the homework I have done:

What matters and therefore is okay allocate money to

1. The speakers/headphones (should spend 90%+ of your audiophile budget on this)
2. Placement and room treatment (physical)
3. Room correction (REW and/or Dirac Live)
4. Pad rolling for headphones (physical manipulation of distance to ear/seal etc.)
5. EQ/DSP capabilities in machines
6. Recording/audio file quality up to CD (16bit 44.Khz) and anything more is not audible (some even say 320kbps is good enough -- I disagree); Vinyl is a preference thing,

What kind of matters:

1. Power Amp/Power amp section of integrated amp (so long as it is powerful enough to get our speakers/headphones loud enough, no audible advantage; other says for difficult to drive speakers/headphones, ample headroom in voltage to handle the the swings between the variation in impedance throughout the song to give you dynamic range)
2. Preamp/pre amp section (this is really just for tone control and could be skipped if you have modern AVRs/DACs or streamers with volume control
3. component matching between gears (but is that a performance thing or sound preference thing)?
4. Tube Amp adds distortion and warmer sound -- but it's mostly a preference thing for tone, not performance thing; some would say aesthetic thing as well
5. DACs -- Dac chips in standalone DACs north of $100 made after 2020 should all be good enough to have no further audible difference, it's the analog output section that makes a difference -- but modern budget solution like Schiit Modi should be all you need with no point to upgrade after that
6 Streamers (digital out) -- ease of use and features, no real SQ difference
7. Stands and isoacoustics (only for placement and matching optimal ear height, no need to go crazy so long as stable enough.

What mostly don't matter (snake oil).

1. Nice looking and thick speaker cables (as long as not too crappy) -- you may be able to color the sound but that's a preference thing and not a performance thing.
2. RCA inter connects (as long as not too crappy).
3. Balance vs. imbalance does not make difference unless it's long distance
4. "Hi-Fi" ethernet cable.
5. Linear Power supply for (Streamers/Dacs/Amps)
6. Power filters.
7. Changing Fuse of an amp
8. changing out Opamp (tonality shift rather than peformance?)
9. headphone cables (only for aesthetics and convenience

Did I leave anything out?
 

KenA

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I like it. Nice effort, no doubt draw some comments.
I’m mostly with you on the first two lists - although never tried pad rolling on headphones so that not even on my list.
As for snake oil crap - that list of products is shamefully very long and unfortunately will continue to grow. But I think you have a couple on that third list that some will certainly disagree with, ie balanced vs unbalanced will be one.
 

Sir Sanders Zingmore

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Did I leave anything out?
I've often thought that quality of an album or track's production/mastering/mix should be very high on the list.
A well produced track will sound great pretty much anywhere on pretty much any system. A poorly produced, compressed track is unlikely to ever sound great no matter how many of 1 - 6 above are sorted
 

dweeeeb2

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I've often thought that quality of an album or track's production/mastering/mix should be very high on the list.
A well produced track will sound great pretty much anywhere on pretty much any system. A poorly produced, compressed track is unlikely to ever sound great no matter how many of 1 - 6 above are sorted
Yep, unfortunately there’s only so much you can do to polish a turd
 

JiiPee

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I just want to summarize for myself based on the homework I have done:

What matters and therefore is okay allocate money to
...

Did I leave anything out?

Some additional remarks:

- Quality of components and construction can have a significant effect on long term reliability of audio equipment. To me, that is a significant factor, even if I could not tell a difference in sound quality on a properly controlled test,
- Design and usability are important to me. I want my audio equipment to look nice, and I want them to feel like high quality stuff on everyday operation.
- I still like to listen my vinyl records every now and then, and when it comes to LP players, the cartridge quality, matching to the tonearm, and correct adjustments, are important to me.
- I listen at fairly modest volume levels, so I don't need much power from the amplifier. What extra power gives to You is mainly a wider selection of suitable speakers.
 

ahofer

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It’s a good start. “What matters and is ok to allocate money to” is ultimately up to you, of course. But stipulating that you prioritize things that change the sound, your first list is a good one (I believe there is a Peter Aczel article that does what you are doing here).

As other have said, the varieties of snake oil are too numerous to name.

One nit on streamers: some are better at not getting interrupted and switching seamlessly between remote inputs. Others crash and need to be reset. Certainly the latter are destructive to a nice listening session.
 

Galliardist

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A couple of things:
Higher bitrate audio has been argued for even by some of the experts here, and should not be off the agenda completely: but I'd not argue against CD quality as the "essential" point for the list here

Ergonomics should absolutely be in your first list, and is a reason for spending more than 10% of your budget on things other than the speakers and headphones.

Component matching is also an essential. It doesn't cost much to make sure that your amp will drive your speakers, that items are impedance and gain matched, I'm not talking about "synergy" type stuff here, but make sure you do the basics. If you do choose difficult to drive speakers, then point one in your second list does jump into the first category.

If you have a low budget, design the system for nearfield listening and forgo the EQ facilities. They can be a first upgrade. Nothing in a list of this type should put people off getting onto the first rung of the listening ladder (which in itself may be sufficient for many people) because someone specifies that you must have a dedicated room, EQ, a full range setup, or whatever.

-------

But more than anything else, a list like this belies the process of selecting a first system, and then upgrading if needed later.

I continually advise the initial process as auditioning and choosing from accurate electronics that you can live with the design and operation of (that doesn't mean just the high SINAD stuff, but understanding that most of the equipment tested here is fine, including some items that aren't recommended!): and suitable speakers for your room with the kind of performance that is recommended in the speaker tests.
If and only if none of those products work for you, should you start to enter the world of differently measuring equipment (all that "warm sound" stuff: starting with speakers and maybe later considering differently measuring amplifiers also.
This process is in line with preference based science, You should make sure you have a sufficiently furnished or treated room for best results, but good speakers in a "lesser" room will suffice.

We continue to consider audio only in terms of getting some kind of "personal, best" sound. Actually getting started, and having a system that doesn't get in the way of listening to music, is more important than trying to reach that hardcore audiophile "endgame" first go. Upgrading should be as much about extending the system (closer to full range, additional sources if desired, adding/improving EQ, improving the room or getting that dedicated room) as chasing system synergy or similar).
 

Sokel

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I would add an el. measuring system on top of REW (doesn't have to be an AP 5XX,a cheap one will do)

I have not enough words how messy can be combining components,even top SINAD ones,proper overall grounding,etc.

One must have the ability to check all that,even with the most basic way.
 

RDoc

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I just want to summarize for myself based on the homework I have done:

What matters and therefore is okay allocate money to

1. The speakers/headphones (should spend 90%+ of your audiophile budget on this)
2. Placement and room treatment (physical)
3. Room correction (REW and/or Dirac Live)
4. Pad rolling for headphones (physical manipulation of distance to ear/seal etc.)
5. EQ/DSP capabilities in machines
6. Recording/audio file quality up to CD (16bit 44.Khz) and anything more is not audible (some even say 320kbps is good enough -- I disagree); Vinyl is a preference thing,

What kind of matters:

1. Power Amp/Power amp section of integrated amp (so long as it is powerful enough to get our speakers/headphones loud enough, no audible advantage; other says for difficult to drive speakers/headphones, ample headroom in voltage to handle the the swings between the variation in impedance throughout the song to give you dynamic range)
2. Preamp/pre amp section (this is really just for tone control and could be skipped if you have modern AVRs/DACs or streamers with volume control
3. component matching between gears (but is that a performance thing or sound preference thing)?
4. Tube Amp adds distortion and warmer sound -- but it's mostly a preference thing for tone, not performance thing; some would say aesthetic thing as well
5. DACs -- Dac chips in standalone DACs north of $100 made after 2020 should all be good enough to have no further audible difference, it's the analog output section that makes a difference -- but modern budget solution like Schiit Modi should be all you need with no point to upgrade after that
6 Streamers (digital out) -- ease of use and features, no real SQ difference
7. Stands and isoacoustics (only for placement and matching optimal ear height, no need to go crazy so long as stable enough.

What mostly don't matter (snake oil).

1. Nice looking and thick speaker cables (as long as not too crappy) -- you may be able to color the sound but that's a preference thing and not a performance thing.
2. RCA inter connects (as long as not too crappy).
3. Balance vs. imbalance does not make difference unless it's long distance
4. "Hi-Fi" ethernet cable.
5. Linear Power supply for (Streamers/Dacs/Amps)
6. Power filters.
7. Changing Fuse of an amp
8. changing out Opamp (tonality shift rather than peformance?)
9. headphone cables (only for aesthetics and convenience

Did I leave anything out?
I'm a bit doubtful about how far to go with (2) especially room treatment. Floyd Toole isn't very impressed by differences in the room since we very quickly acclimate to different rooms.
I do agree strongly with the comments about careful source selection. There is a world of difference between various recordings of the same pieces and unfortunately different artists depending on who did the mastering.
 

Cbdb2

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I would change number 2 in what kind of matters from ample voltage to ample current. The voltage is determined by the Amp power (all 100 watt power amps will have similar voltage output), it only drops if there is not enough current. The current reserve is circuit specific. This is one of the differences between power amps with the same power rating.
 

ahofer

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I would change number 2 in what kind of matters from ample voltage to ample current. The voltage is determined by the Amp power (all 100 watt power amps will have similar voltage output), it only drops if there is not enough current. The current reserve is circuit specific. This is one of the differences between power amps with the same power rating.
..or it can't deliver constant voltage under low resistance (high current).
 

Curvature

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room treatment (physical)
Only for 300Hz and below IMO using pressure-based absorbers. Other people will say use broadband, velocity based porous absorbers for various legitimate reasons, but I think they are generally unnecessary.
Pad rolling for headphones (physical manipulation of distance to ear/seal etc.)
Sure, but more important is in-ear measurement and correction rather than generic EQ. Again, IMO.
Recording/audio file quality up to CD (16bit 44.Khz) and anything more is not audible (some even say 320kbps is good enough -- I disagree)
While I would like 44.1/24 to be the standard, compression is generally fine, and in most cases uncontrollable.
Tube Amp adds distortion and warmer sound
Tubes distort early and compress, and sound bright and and unpleasant when overdriven without EQ, IME.
component matching between gears
Doesn't exist. As long you hit the appropriate technical parameters (especially gain) the gear is fine. In most cases there is a wide margin before errors are audible.
Balance vs. imbalance does not make difference unless it's long distance
Always try for balanced to avoid ground loops. There is no reason anymore to use RCA unless you have older gear that requires it.

"Balanced" headphone cables is a misnomer and doesn't apply here.
changing out Opamp (tonality shift rather than peformance?)
Unpredictable changes to the circuit, up to and including potential failure.
headphone cables (only for aesthetics and convenience
Some cables are microphonic or inflexible. That's not something you can generally know before buying without checking reviews and both are a good reason to swap.

Another piece of advice: Don't overfit gear to a specific scenario. You will find yourself rebuying soon enough because some function is missing, there is compatibility issue, or some technical parameter doesn't fit. Always worth having a little headroom in capability or something simple, like the number of inputs vs. outputs.
 

ohnonotagain

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If I went for the highly favoured Elac DBR-62 speakers and followed your guidance that that should be 90% of my budget, I'd be left with under $40 to spend on everything else, and I wouldn't get much of an amplifier for that money. Or, to put it the other way around, I'm not going to spend over $4500 on speakers to go with my Sabaj A30a.

I think the more interesting aspect here is what brings you to the threshold of "good enough" and when you hit the law of diminishing returns. Those things vary depending on the setting - for a desktop setup, room treatment isn't so important and the correct speaker placement is obvious; for a larger room there's much more fun to be had.

Rather than looking at what to spend money on, it could be better to think of the problem more as the order of what to spend effort on. As @Galliardist says, it's a process. Applying that to your list, you can broadly say that most people would likely benefit from investing more effort in the setup of their system (primarily speaker placement and room/headphone correction) before buying more stuff.

I'll also add: if you want to improve the sound coming from your speakers and you don't have a subwoofer, adding one is a far cheaper way to improve perceived sound quality than upgrading your speakers (based on this reference).
 

Justdafactsmaam

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I just want to summarize for myself based on the homework I have done:

What matters and therefore is okay allocate money to

1. The speakers/headphones (should spend 90%+ of your audiophile budget on this)
2. Placement and room treatment (physical)
3. Room correction (REW and/or Dirac Live)
4. Pad rolling for headphones (physical manipulation of distance to ear/seal etc.)
5. EQ/DSP capabilities in machines
6. Recording/audio file quality up to CD (16bit 44.Khz) and anything more is not audible (some even say 320kbps is good enough -- I disagree); Vinyl is a preference thing,

What kind of matters:

1. Power Amp/Power amp section of integrated amp (so long as it is powerful enough to get our speakers/headphones loud enough, no audible advantage; other says for difficult to drive speakers/headphones, ample headroom in voltage to handle the the swings between the variation in impedance throughout the song to give you dynamic range)
2. Preamp/pre amp section (this is really just for tone control and could be skipped if you have modern AVRs/DACs or streamers with volume control
3. component matching between gears (but is that a performance thing or sound preference thing)?
4. Tube Amp adds distortion and warmer sound -- but it's mostly a preference thing for tone, not performance thing; some would say aesthetic thing as well
5. DACs -- Dac chips in standalone DACs north of $100 made after 2020 should all be good enough to have no further audible difference, it's the analog output section that makes a difference -- but modern budget solution like Schiit Modi should be all you need with no point to upgrade after that
6 Streamers (digital out) -- ease of use and features, no real SQ difference
7. Stands and isoacoustics (only for placement and matching optimal ear height, no need to go crazy so long as stable enough.

What mostly don't matter (snake oil).

1. Nice looking and thick speaker cables (as long as not too crappy) -- you may be able to color the sound but that's a preference thing and not a performance thing.
2. RCA inter connects (as long as not too crappy).
3. Balance vs. imbalance does not make difference unless it's long distance
4. "Hi-Fi" ethernet cable.
5. Linear Power supply for (Streamers/Dacs/Amps)
6. Power filters.
7. Changing Fuse of an amp
8. changing out Opamp (tonality shift rather than peformance?)
9. headphone cables (only for aesthetics and convenience

Did I leave anything out?
I think allocation of funds will in many cases not represent the order of importance. IMO DSP is most important from plowed by room acoustics then speakers. But state of the art for DSP costs a lot less than speakers or room acoustics
 

Sirius Black

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Yep, unfortunately there’s only so much you can do to polish a turd
What? You mean you’ve never seen a very shiny turd before?
/s
 

Middle Earth

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What matters is that you do exactly what you want to do. My priorities are different. I would would be interested to see your list in 10 years.
 

VintageFlanker

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Nice effort !
3. Balance vs. imbalance does not make difference unless it's long distance
Well, it does actually. You get twice at much voltage that could be needed for properly drive some power amps, headphones, not to mention if you encounter ground loop issues.
 
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