Originally Posted by Pitot Static
in reproducing the signal like so:
1. Speakers/Room Acoustics (Almost inseparable)
They are very separable, but I agree with the order - #1
2. Power Amp (Has to potentially put out a lot of power)
The good ones are just a big op amp.
However we have several other kinds of them that are made in such a way that they are pretty much guaranteed to cause random audible. These particular kinds are designed built to have audible distortion.
3. DACs (have to turn digital into analog, there are a lot of ways to do it and not every way is necessarily "the right way")
Then you must put anything that has a DAC in it, like a surround receiver, a CD player, or a DVD/Blu ray player in this category.
Then you must put them down the list because DACs are among the most perfect and perfectable of all audio components, right after op amps.
4. Pre amp (Deals with low level signals that are going to be amplified even more further down the line, so you need low noise and good stereo separation)
Noise only need be an issue if a phono preamp is involved.
A good line-level preamp is just an op amp and a volume control. Also, many systems can be assembled with no preamp at all - just a passive volume control.
5. CD Transport (only has to read data off a disc and pass it along to the next stage.)
The only parts that have a chance of making an audible difference is the DAC and the output buffer op amp. The rest is basically digital and either works or does not work. Lump CD players with DAC.
6. Signal (RCA) cables (Bad cables may be improperly shielded or may loosen up over time, though its not hard to build a "good" cable)
Actually, its hard to build a bad one. Generally, they are slam dunk audibly, unless physically broken. Since I do a lot of pro audio, I see a lot of broken cables.
7. Speaker cables. (These are about the simplest required part of any audio system. If the resistance is low enough, you're all set. L and C are generally not factors, even in undersized wire).
Grossly undersized speaker wires have more potential to be
audible than undersized interconnects.
My hypothesis is that as you go down the list, it gets progressively more difficult to identify components by their sound AND ONLY their sound. (Which does mean the test has to be blind. If you identify the component by a trait other than sound, then you're not answering the question.)
In a good system, the only interesting part of the list is the speakers and the room. They can be as tough as you want to stand up to. *Nobody* has them under prefect control, but the means for making them very good is well-known.
I think most CD players, even the relatively inexpensive ones, are potentially indistinguishable unless the manufacturer has done a horrible job designing them, or else has intentionally inserted an undefeatable EQ that would change the sound.
Agreed. Also true for amps, preamps, DACs, and wires.
I realize that I put DACs higher up on the list, but only because there are some bad DACs out there.
There's bad *everything* DACs used to be a far dicier item than they have become. There has been tremendous progress.
An underpowered amp can definitely distort your sound, and not everyone can afford a properly powered amp.
One of the amps I listen to frequently is the 100 wpc stereo power amp in a $79 receiver. I did ABX its predecessor which was of a similar kind. I didn't bother with this one. The predecessor matched straight wire.
Very few home systems need more than 100 wpc. If you want more than 100 wpc, you might actually spend several $100 per channel. There's sort of a big jump at 100 wpc, more or less.
Speakers and room treatments have a huge overall effect on the sound.
Totally agreed. Once you get rid of the more obvious screw-ups, this is where the big bang-fo-buck sound quality benefits are. There are a jilliion audio systems that would receive a major benefit if even $10% of their cost were invested in the room design and treatments.