Select Your Less Than Ideal System

Informal survey: Select from one of the four less than ideal systems below. Assume you have limited funds and can only afford three components of excellence and one moderate component. Which will be "sacrificed" to expediency?

I am not interested in alternative answers such as reallocating the funds to achieve balance. This is a thought experiment requiring absolute answers - A., B., C., D.

I have an idea which I am considering writing up as an article and want to see where the community stands on this question. This is not intended to be part of a review and the article is of my own volition, not assigned. Feel free to include your rationale, but I want clear choices regarding the survey. Only one choice please.

Survey: Select your Less Than Ideal Rig:

Moderate source
Excellent amplification
Excellent cabling
Excellent speakers

Excellent source
Moderate amplification
Excellent cabling
Excellent speakers

Excellent source
Excellent amplification
Moderate cabling
Excellent speakers

Excellent source
Excellent amplification
Excellent cabling
Moderate speakers

Thank you for your participation. :)
I vote C. There are some terrific sounding and performing cables that don't cost a great deal of money.A-gon auctions for MAC & Black Mountain being two examples.The Pangea Power cables are too good to be true and cheap!!!
You can always add more esoteric cables in time(if necessary and when finances permit).

Iwould not skimp on the speakers or amp,although there are excellent sounding affordable examples of both.Linn always felt that the source was the most important element in the audio chain.

Yep,I'd cut costs with the cabling.
Limited funds = C. Inexpensive cabling can still allow most of the signal pass thru unscathed. Your only loss in not spending more money is more often than not you can't get cabling which enables you to alter a signal you find undesirable.
My answer = C. Cables make a difference but there are many flavors of cheap to moderately priced cables available to assemble a great sounding system.
C. stands out as the best choice right away. Why? If the source, amplication, and speakers are all excellent and the compromise because of limited funds are the cables, then it's still possible to find very high performing cables without spending a small fortune.

Now there is room to ask, how "excellent" is defined in terms of high end audio equipment? But for me, the excellent gear will usually be in the five to six figures retail, less used.

I would think that in the majority of setups, excellent cables will still cost less than an excellent source, excellent amplifier, or excellent speakers. If everything in the setup is excellent except the cables and the compromise is to instead purchase very good cables, this system has a better chance at excellence than the other way around. (excellent cables with a compromise on either the source, amp, or speakers) contest. Every time. Some people think of cabling as "tone controls" to help fix or supplement some deficiency further up the chain. But if you get the very best source, amplification and speakers that you can get properly matched, moderately priced and neutral cabling can serve the system very well, detracting very little from the overall sound you have put together. Ofcourse, the key challenge is properly matching the components and speaker. Also don't forget the other major part of your system, which is speaker-room interaction and $s you have to spend on room treatments to optimize that interface.
It is hard to say but one time I used choice B and was really impressed by how good it sounded.

so either B or C for me

it all depends on what components of course...
I vote "C," for the reasons that have been stated by many of the others.

But I would add that the question seems to me to be based on a false premise, that there is perfect or near perfect correlation between performance and price. And I would say that that degree of correlation is loosest when it comes to cables, which is yet another reason to vote "C."

-- Al
C for sure here too. I am a firm believer in cables, but, IMO, you hit the point of diminishing returns on cables way before any of the others.
C I think that this would affect sound quality less. With that said, some moderate cables may sound better than others.
I'm very pleased with the response from the community! Thank you all for your participation. I believe I have enough data for the article. :)
C in a landslide. Next question: if you set out to follow plan C, and had to compromise on another link, where would it be?

That was my follow up question. I think the distribution would be much more widely spread from that point. But I would be interesting to see if those who responded, or those who wish to jump in and answer both questions reply. :)
After compromising on the cabling, or finding lower cost cabling that outperformed higher cost cabling in the particular system, I would save money on amplification by choosing speakers that provide higher efficiency and/or impedance characteristics that are easier to drive. Even if that means a slight compromise in speaker performance relative to other speaker candidates that are harder to drive.

Not sure whether to consider that as alternative B or alternative D. The $ are saved on the amplifier, but the possible sonic compromise (or at least a narrowing of the range of suitable choices) is in the speakers. Apologies if that violates your stipulation of an "absolute answer."

Best regards,
-- Al

That's certainly a reasonable strategy, but I wonder how much that option still ends up costing to get something that reasonably approaches ideal?

Of course, no system is ideal in all ways, so its really always just a matter of what you are willing to give up and how much you have to invest.
Re: Next question
Probably the Amplifier would be my next choice for compromise.I've been able to gleen wonderful sound from a Hafler Pro 1600 transnova amp that was given to me by a friend.I keep it as a spare and when I've had the occasion to use it I always ask myself if I really nead anything more.There was a fellow selling 4 of these 60 WPC FET beauties for $100 each in 9/10 condition!I also recently picked up a former Stereophie (class A or B???) recommended Hafler 9300 transnova amp for $230 on A-gon.It puts out 150 WPC of Fet power into 8 Ohms.I remember a little Sugden Class A integrated that was superb.It sounded so good in my office system,that I had to try it in the "Big rig." It shocked the S#$t out of me!!! I could give 10 more examples from personal use.I have a friend that picked up an Aragon 2004 at an auction for $90.Now, if you add in the slew of Good sound/value chinese tubed amps and integrateds...
My strategy is to get the amp/speaker/room combo optimized first, because that constitutes most of the battle and largely determines the general end cost.

I think I've done a good job to date on that.

After that, hell everything (other than ICs) is usually a significant compromise of some sort so chose your poison! If I must chose, I'll go with A, because I know from experience excellent results can be had for very modest cost there, at least for digital sources.
choice is "B". source and speaker is most important.

i have heard power cords make a big difference.
Definitely a "c"...that's what I have right now...with the exception of power cords, I just can't get myself to spend a couple K on speaker cables/interconnects
Looks like you don't have much of a paper here, with the overwhelming choice being C, to which I add my vote as well. If you included some more "moderates" in your choices you would get much more variety of response.
Learsfool, I might reach the same conclusion if I were looking at it from the outside. I fully expected that choice C would dominate. The survey didn't hold many surprises for me; it essentially confirmed what I was thinking. So that people avoid "jumping to contusions", it would be incorrect to think that the article is going to be about cabling being the most important part of a system. :)
i would like to explain my position because i am obviously in the minority, or , as one would say in statistics, an outlier.

first of all, audio is a very subjective hobby. one cannot second guess another person's perceptions.

terms like "moderate" are vague and ambiguous, unless defined specifically.

as a reviewer , i varied each component in a stereo system and listened to the resultant difference.

the only thing i would assert unequivocally is the importance of the source. it is possible to create excellent sound if one has an excellent source, such as a master tape. it is difficult to quantify the difference in the affect upon improvements in sound when changing twoo components.

for example, there would be a relative change in sound affecting a stereo system between cables "a" and "b", as well as changing two amplifiers. it is possible that a cable change may be more profound than a change in amplifiers. there arte no absolutes.

thus doug, you have posed a rhetorical question which is philosophical in nature and probably has no definitive answer.

only you can assess the usefulness of this thread.
Excellent source
Moderate amplification
Moderate cabling
Excellent speakers

I think you missed an important choice.

From the Audio Critic:

As I used to state over and over again in the print version of The Audio Critic, all amplifiers
having high input impedance, low output impedance, flat frequency response, low distortion,
and low noise floor sound exactly the same when operated at matched levels and not clipped.
This has been proven so many times in double-blind listening tests that opinions to the contrary
by the tweako/weirdo element of the audiophile community and by the subjectivist audio press
can be totally disregarded. They just don’t get it.
"all amplifiers
having high input impedance, low output impedance, flat frequency response, low distortion,
and low noise floor sound exactly the same when operated at matched levels and not clipped."

Sure- to those with tin ears.
Or if the amp designer "tweaks" the sound away from just pure amplification. Has made big bucks for Naim.