System building; a meditation

System building; a meditation

This is an offshoot of a posting I made in a different thread; that is, what is one’s approach to building a system out of various components that maximizes the sonic attributes of the combination of particular components?There’s been some push-back on “tweaks” but leave that to the side for now. How does one select what components to include in a system, putting to one side budgetary constraints? (the budget thing can be solved in several ways, including through used and through a deliberate strategy to acquire certain components over time that achieve a certain result- my point being, if it weren’t simply a constraint of capital, how does one choose?)

There seem to be a few rules that we abide by- the relationship of amp to speaker being fundamental. The choice of front end –from DIY digital to high end analog is also a choice, but I’ll be agnostic in this regard even though I came up through the LP and still regard it as the mainstream medium of choice, simply because of the wealth of material in older records.

How do people choose the combinations of equipment they employ? Is it happenstance, the gradual upgrading of each component to a high standard or some other benchmark for what the system is supposed to do that necessitates certain choices?

For what it is worth, I don’t endorse one single approach; I went from electrostat listening (including ribbon tweets and subs) to horns, sort of (Avantgardes plus subs) and SET as one choice, but have heard marvelous systems using larger, relatively inefficient dynamic set ups (Magico; Rockport, TG, etc.) combined with big solid state power that left a very positive impression.

How do you sort through the thicket? It isn’t just specs, and listening within your system to evaluate is an ideal, but I’m opening this up to system building in general—what approach do you take? I’m not sure there is a single formala, but thought it worth exploring since it seems to be an undercurrent in a lot of equipment changes without addressing the “why?” of it or how one makes these choices.

I know that we are mired in a subjective hobby, and almost every system is different, even if the components are the same in a different room, but thought this might be an interesting topic for discussion. If not, the lack of responses will prove me wrong. I don’t have a single answer to this FWIW.

I dunno… when I started the preamp and amp were often shown with the speaker I choose. And the speaker was one that was tolerant of many amplifiers. So that makes it a bit easier IMO.

In an objective sense, one could use a known waveform and gated measurements without reflections, and then determine impulse response, amplitude response and frequency response… or some metric on THD, IMD, Phase distortion, and be able to make a fact based decision. But that may still leave something subjective on the table.

If we ignore the room, then the speakers can often be the most distorted component in the chain. Once the speakers get good, then rest have a chance of being heard. Of if the component distortions and colour are significant then they should be hearable at some ratio relative to the where speakers are not ideal.

Starting off with speaker that are easy to drive, and have a flattish impedance, still seems like an easier starting place.

But when my first amp died i replaced it with a VTL, and then recently with PrimaLuna.
The preamp was replaced with a tube unit because the sales person said it would be best place to spend up, along with a phono stage…
At the end of the day, all that really matters is pleasing yourself. Buy equipment you love.  The objective is to obtain equipment that lets you forget its there.  Science, art, and voodoo don’t mean a thing when you sit down to listen to a favorite album, and have a system that’s capable of enticing you into enjoying the performance, and feeling a bit like the performers are there in the room. 

I do think it’s really useful to hear a lot of different high end systems to help get a feel for what you like. Listen to stuff you can’t afford, then seek to duplicate the sound on your budget, your time line, and in your room. I also think it helps to hear a lot of live acoustic music as a reference.
"What is one’s approach to building a system out of various components that maximizes the sonic attributes of the combination of particular components?"

Rather than recite my own recent approach, I’ll just say that I wish there was a way for every audiophile to begin with their room. Some way they could listen to the room, get a sense of its acoustic character, its aesthetic limits and possibilities.

Consider: when one renovates a house or moves into a new one, the first thing one does is look at each room’s potential; should a rug go in here? A sectional or a love seat? Drapes or blinds? Queen or King bed? What color paint? Etc. The room both inspires and sets parameters for what will work in it.

Having dealt with my room last, I would love to see a process for audiophiles that builds up from the room rather than tries to troubleshoot and fix the system already set up. It could use both "rules of thumb" and some kind of easy measurement method (like REW but much more simplified).

since i jumped away from Mark Levinson and Wilson Audio in 2001, into Kharma speakers and Tenor OTL amplifiers, my guiding principle of system building has been to get the system out of the way of the music. and when i make a change in gear, or room set-up, how can what i do, not limit the music. i strongly feel that adding coloration in any one piece of gear, then robs resolution (musical truth) since you then need to balance that coloration with something in the other direction, again robbing resolution. once you have to play that game and lose resolution or energy balancing, that musical truth is lost and not recovered. and i want it all. and all the time i demand a natural presentation from the signal path like the Kharma and Tenor OTL delivered.

so that is the underlying vision i have for system building.

with my Levinson/Wilson phase i had already worked hard to optimize the room. but early on i had realized the limitations of my small room on large scale music. the room size was an obstacle to the music being all it could be. it was a limit. so......i sold my home, and found another home with a separate building, a barn, where i could build a room without restrictions that would not limit the music. i was all in. and so i built that room.

i placed my Kharma’s and Tenor amps (by this time the Tenor’s were not OTL’s but 300 watt tube hybrids) in my new room, and found that the Kharma’s did not have the ability to fill the space of that new room. so i changed speakers.

when optimizing a system the first rule is matching the speaker to the room. it does not matter how large or small your room is, but if you either can’t energize the room, or you are always overdriving the room, system potential is restricted. the speaker needs to be able to breathe (get going) so the music is not pinched. if the speaker cannot move enough air to energize the room, then the music will never be able to be intimate, and never be physical. these things are essential for connecting with the music.

part of this is making sure that the speakers and room support the music you like, but also to realize that as you go along your musical tastes are likely to expand. and maybe that includes likely larger scale music. but if your system is not comfortable to accomplish those things, you might never know or experience that. so you need to plan for your own musical growth.

as far as choosing gear, speakers and electronics, that is such a large subject it’s hard to define simply. but to me it starts with whether you have your own reference sound. mine came from the Kharma/Tenor. that......"in -between" tubes and solid state sort of natural, lively, neutral sort of sound. low noise like solid state, but natural and breath of life like tubes. coherent, relatively easy to drive speakers, but full range.

from there i always hold that template up to any gear. i’ve found that darTZeel amps and preamps hold to those views, as well as the Evolution Acoustics speakers. the Evolutions were developed from the Kharma viewpoint initially in many ways so that is no accident. and the darts also naturally followed the Tenor’s too.

as far as choosing the right driver technology, it's a very wide open subject. certain choices reduce room concerns, or also increase the room concerns. i could live with multiple different speaker types. for my own direction of having a large room and truly full frequency range, dynamic cone speakers seem to do the job perfectly. but in another life i could see owning horns or large planars. no one perfect direction.

i have a few times had phono cartridges that strayed from my ’anti-coloration’ perspective, but those were never long term choices for me. i found they were limiting to musical truth. i had a tubed dac for a year, but it also became limiting. and tried big tube amps a few years back just to make sure that direction was not for me; and it was limiting so they did not stay.

how important is the room? how serious are you? if you are all in like me, then the room becomes the key to the ultimate.

in the real world of normal domestic rooms, i think as long as the room does fit the speaker, the speaker the room, then many wonderful things can happen and most system building is supported. but lots of spendy gear thrown into the wrong room is not a good idea.
Insightful post, whart.

I've heard inexpensive and pricey speakers sound the most convincing because of THE ROOM/positioning.

No cable or tweak thingy is ever going to take place of the 2 most basic requirements for seeking "the truth".

Your question is very broad and as you allude, I also don’t think there is a correct answer.

My system morphed into what it is today over a period of decades. I would never have dreamt I’d be where I am today when I started off. I also use SET amps now, but back then I thought SET owners were kinda "weird"; why pay more for a 3.5WPC with a very high THD when you get get a 200WPC with low THD for a lot less?

Needless to say I don’t think so anymore.

I do find it interesting that it does seem as though not a single person has a system that matches somebody else’s. In a sense our hobby is a very powerful expression of individualism.
Size, features, bang for buck, efficiency, durability (low maintenance)
If it gets past them and sounds good it stays.
If not, buh bye.
@pauly- yes very broad, impossibly so perhaps. But it is the process that I'm inquiring about- I think @mikelavigne and @holmz both described the steps they went through. The question originally arose in my mind when thinking about the nature of what we share on these fora; questions about particular gear, and sometimes synergies between them, but is there any method to the process?
For me, it was gradual changes and evolving both gear and my own expectations of what could be achieved, but that spanned decades.
 I guess there are no shortcuts.
Perhaps, apart from room acoustics, placement, good clean power, much is preference. 
Mike's observation about colorations is interesting since I achieved my personal best performance levels with the Lamm ML2 and Koetsu stone bodies-- certainly not cheap, but both would probably fail Mike's neutrality test (not complaining, or criticizing Mike; to the contrary, this just underscores how much may be based on preference). I certainly don't tout my system as "colored" or euphonic, but I want both the clarity I get from tubes in the mids and that fully fleshed out sound that the Koetsu seems to deliver, neutrality be damned! 
Thanks to each of you for your input.

i think what we call ’coloration’ has a wide variance from person to person like you say. maybe it comes down to expectations for big music. when i had my Koetsu RSP for 10 years, or my Lamm ML3’s for 6 months, neither would be my answer for listening to big orchestral at warp 9 in my large room....which is essential for me. my Etsuro Gold cartridge or darTZeel mono blocks are better tools for that task for me and my system.

yet in a different room and speaker system the Koetsu and Lamm might be the perfect pieces and fulfill any big music expectations for that listener. and then there is our personal sonic compass and comfort zone.

so many contexts and different targets.

i will say again.........the key is having your own reference sound, then going after it. if you get it then enjoy it.
Bill  great thread.

All who wander are not lost, just most of them. IF you don’t know where you are going any road will get you there.

Few of us can start with a clean sheet race car mentality or budget. The fully formed, audiophile music addict rarely pops out of the womb that way. So we are somewhat weighed down by our experience and possessions, and key emotional events tied to same.

Start with the goal in mind: My mentor describes it as “ very frequent goosebumps moments of holy cow, I am there in the acoustic space with the performers “

I think a key bit of discernment comes from the question ; what are my references ? Frankly i don’t think it is studio multi track.

i went down a path to etch in my mind and stored media references where i witnessed the unamplified event in reverberant space. In doing some research, that similar quest duplicated by more than a few audiophiles wanting more - see Ken Kreisel aka Real Time Records, Sheffield, Water Lilly, etc. Great examples that people like @bdp24 appreciate. The missing bit was being there…

So set off on my path to build some references where i was there, often fiddling w dials, etc. So my destination is clear, it does not include counting the coins in DSOM Money, chasing details “ i have never heard before “… well, maybe…but i was there. Of course, this model depends on microphone choice and a host of other variables…

So, in short…collect references, even if they are only in the mind.

Deciding on first principles is important.

Some people don’t hear time and phase. My curse is, I do. While i own speakers that are not accurate in those two key dimensions, they are not my reference tools. They do often spotlight limitations and sometimes shine a light on shortcomings in the reference. It also helps to run with a smart, inventive yet perpetually unsatisfied crowd… Why would Peter Walker, noted genius seek to emulate a point source within a planer ?

Got to run, more on first principles later, 31 flavors and cat chasing own tail..


Hi. I have bookmarked and PDF'd the article which details the build you did of your listening room in your barn and have re-read it many times. Amazing room and system -- to die for. I recall it's in the PNW where I am, and if you welcome visitors, count me in!

Your advice is excellent, so all I need now is more money and younger ears. Cheers.
My hi-fi journey commenced in the late-60’s, when almost all loudspeakers were pretty-severely colored (see below). Colored in the sense used by J.Gordon Holt---"vowel" colorations, especially noticeable on voices. If you don’t know what vc means, look in up in JGH’s book of hi-fi terminology.

At that time I had been exposed only to acoustic suspension sealed box speakers, the design that revolutionized loudspeakers when introduced in the late-50’s by Acoustic Research (in their AR-1). It wasn’t until I heard my fist ESL tweeter (the RTR used in the ESS TranStatic) that I experienced lack-of-coloration and transparency (the TranStatic also had transmissionline-loaded KEF midrange and bass drivers). In 1971 I then heard the Infinity Servo-Static 1 (ESL above 100Hz), and my expectations grew exponentially!

Next was the Magneplanar Tympani T-I in ’72 (demonstrated by Bill Johnson himself), which produced the first life-size vocal and instrumental scale (image size)---along with imaging (including image height) and depth---I had heard. I was also spoiled by the "openness" of dipole loudspeakers, which made box loudspeakers sound confined and constrained, producing images miniaturized and "squeezed out of" the enclosure.

Yet I unfortunately had still not heard the QUAD ESL. Incredibly, THAT loudspeaker---introduced in 1957---was an extremely coloration-free and transparent reproducer. If I had, I could have saved myself a lot of time and effort ;-) . Thankfully, the advances made in box loudspeaker design since the 1950’s-70’s have been remarkable, and there are now many low-coloration/high-transparency loudspeakers available. As the quality of vocal reproduction is my highest priority, I consider that a very big deal. And is why I still can’t stand horns---far too much vowel coloration for my liking. Even a little is unacceptable to me.

Everything else in a system---including the room---is in service to the loudspeaker.
This is not going to be very helpful as far as synergy goes and the what the magic solution may be. But here is how I pick my equipment. I research each component very carefully through multiple reviews and pick the one that has the best reviews in the range that fits my budget. And it has worked wonders for me. You can see my components in my house of stereo system and you will see exactly what I mean. Did I get lucky or did all that research really pay off? Bottom line I have never bought anything based on auditioning components and don't feel like I miss much. 
My brands:
PS Audio
Prima Luna
Parasound Halo
PBN audio
And these are the main components, not two of the same brand. Weird, right?
@baylinor- I think I follow suit in that each component is from a different manufacturer.
@bdp24- I learned to listen on the old Quad circa 1974, and though I eventually added ribbon tweeters (Decca, later, Sequerra) and a sub (Swedish as I recall, there weren’t as many in the pre-home theatre days), could not get it cohere. The midrange of the original Quad is unbeatable, but its limitations as an overall speaker are significant; my same 1974 pair (built I think in 1973) was restored and runs in a vintage system with a pair of restored Quad IIs using GEC KT 66s.
Oddly, despite my penchant for electrostatics (I had the Crosby- modded 63 next), I made the transition to horns or at least horn style with ease via the Avantgarde (which doesn’t use a compression driver and has a hybrid dynamic speaker bass module with plate amp-- not a "true" horn system in absolutist terms). But the midrange, direct wired to the Lamm ML2 is a thing of beauty. I supplement with 15 inch subs and DSP on a parallel system, and with the current crop of cartridges, have not had it better.
The Quad was and is quite forgiving, and will tolerate a certain amount of noise from associated components without flinching-stuff that the AvG SET system would show up as annoying.
If I have a point at all, it’s that it is not an unnatural transition- from stat to horn; the problem I foresee, if I go deep, is all the separate components that make up a true horn system combined with an intelligent selection of range and crossover units that don’t do violence to the signal.
My next journey is intended to explore antiquarian horns to see if multi-driver horns with SET and appropriate horn woofing sounds like real music to me. But that is my ’schtick," not necessary a path that I am urging anyone to follow.
I did write a piece about Quad and the original speaker shortly after the 60th anniversary; I think it is a speaker worth hearing, not only for how far we haven’t come in some ways, but how far we have. It’s a classic for what it does well- a seemingly transparent window on the sound from a distant perspective that is balanced if you sit in a fairly narrow sweet spot, will not play loud as in LOUD, but can convey dynamics effectively because it has a very dialed in immediacy within its range, loudness capabilities and scale. A double pair with all the associated paraphernalia would be much fun, though I have never done that.
There is always a "quest" in these stories, no?
I’m of the view as a matter of priority, of which I have come to this conclusion as to what is in a matter of importance prioritized:

1. Speakers
2. TT/ DAC
3. Amp/ Power-pre
4. Cables
5. Power conditioning 

I would strongly suggest to anyone in the weighting process that the speakers you get will have the most impact to the sound you hear. For that reason I would suggest that be your first decision. Great speakers that you love will always generally sound pretty damn good with not so great electronics. Second to that your playback device I believe is biggest flavoring aspect to the system. I’m the case of vinyl, the turntable/phono amp will clearly add or detract a high degree of the sound. A great DAC will be a far bigger impact over an amp. And lastly power should be suited to drive what you’re pairing it with. Obviously a 12 watt amp will not work so well with 82 db speakers but could well work with 94 db units. 
Like capacitors, cables and speaker wires can add or detract to the overall sound, but I wouldn’t put those at the top or even near the top. They are like seasoning; some like spicy some less spicy. It shouldn’t be the main meal but the enhancement. No spice will turn chicken into steak. 
Start with great speakers like a Stenheim and take it from there. No great amp will ever make a mediocre speaker sound great. Better maybe, but not great. 

Let’s pretend that equipment is the lessor part of the whole enchilada…
In that case I would be spruiking Dirac, or other EQ and room compensation schemes.

At some point having an SO can be worthwhile, or at least a more costly upgrade than the audio… So the concept off “the ideal room” may vary between people sharing the house/home.

I got my gear pre-SO(s), and have always had a hard time getting it into the living space. Maybe lessor quality speakers, or a newer model, would help? But, as the tautology goes… “it is what it is.”

If one ready has an SO, then it is probably worth engaging them early in the process.

The last unit (AVR - which is on the way), had the SO saying, “at least it doesn’t look bad.” ;)
Hi. I have bookmarked and PDF'd the article which details the build you did of your listening room in your barn and have re-read it many times. Amazing room and system -- to die for. I recall it's in the PNW where I am, and if you welcome visitors, count me in!

Your advice is excellent, so all I need now is more money and younger ears. Cheers.

hi Patrick, many thanks for the kind words. nice to meet you.

that article was the starting point and since i wrote that in 2004, i have learned a great deal, been humbled time and again, and received lots of great feedback. finally in 2015, 11 years after starting, i was able to really finish the room tuning process. since then i have just been enjoying it. but i loved the whole process of building and learning. a once in a lifetime thing.

you would be most welcome to visit any time. please PM me and we can figure out a good time.

This is how I try to begin.

@holmz Starting off with speaker that are easy to drive, and have a flattish impedance, still seems like an easier starting place.

For most people budget is the biggest constraint.  The more esoteric gear and having a home with a dedicated space that can be set aside of just music is out of reach for a lot of folks.  Auditioning more traditional gear and shopping second markets is the best way to maximize the ability to get the best sound. 

@holmz, when the SO enjoys what her prefs are to having a strong opinion as to What to listen to it On....*!*

...admitted, it Is potentially a improved situation....with a kicker, of course.

"I really like those..."  (...pointing @ the small Maggies'...).

*( _)* least it's a dipole... *L*
“I really like those..." (...pointing @ the small Maggies'...).
She says that my 2Cs are, “Well at least not as ugly as (my friend) MIke’s monstrosities (Maggies).”

She has had some Ricther bookshelf ported 2 ways for ~30 years, which do not sound bad, and a NAD integrated amp. It’s pretty good for what it is. The wood looking vinyl looking cover falling off them detracts from their beauty IMO.

She knows that her speakers are better, because with mine she cannot even hear the speakers, just the music. ;)

holmz, when the SO enjoys what her prefs are to having a strong opinion as to What to listen to it On....*!*
  • “On” a low volume ;) or… with no music playing.
  • Or… “On” the same content as the picture on the screen.

  • With music, she prefers to have me queue up the Turntable.
  • She always goes for iPad, because it is not complicated. And it is always low background furniture music (in Satie’s terms).

  • And in the car, she normally “Mans” the iPad into the BT… mostly so that I do not choose albums that she doesn’t care for. (Or podcasts that she doesn’t abide.)
"I do find it interesting that it does seem as though not a single person has a system that matches somebody else’s. In a sense our hobby is a very powerful expression of individualism"
+1 @pauly,

High End audio offers those who love and genuinely appreciate music to assemble an audio system that is essentially a reflection of themselves. So it is an endeavor profoundly individualistic by default.

This is why I came to the recognition long ago that absolute best does not exist for any type of an audio product. Rather, relative best is obtainable based on
the specific taste and objectives of the individual in question. There are a myriad of paths to get you to your unique and desired destination. @whart, excellent topic choice. 
I see folks who have nice systems but a compromised room. They know it but for one reason or another that’s the way it is.

This time around, I started with money being the first consideration, then research, then room, then speakers. I have been lucky because I feel I got most of my stuff at a very nice price giving me bang for the buck.

Not having local stores does make this difficult in one way. But back in the old days, when you walked into a store you only knew what they had, no ads or discussions on the internet to know what is available. Now the choices are almost endless. I am not sure listening to components in the store helps that much.  I appreciate all the folks who have studied this and helped me learn all the different directions you can go with this hobby.
Great thread Bill!
Mike— where might I find the article you wrote that Patrick referenced?
I don’t think I can contribute much beyond what has been posted above. I do think we have come to realize that the room is probably the most important single component in the sound we hear, and reaching the audio nirvana we all seek. Our ears and tastes are also key I think.
I built a system 12 years ago rather quickly when I finally had the funds after getting a signing bonus, and I was like a kid in a candy store. Seemingly 2-3 years of truly obsessive research (reviews of equipment, how to best allocate funds for each component of the system, but not room acoustics/treatments) went out the window. I bought used Audio Research equipment (Ref3 pre, 100.2 amp, PH-7 phono) listed on Audiogon as being huge bang for the buck, and knowing it could be serviced. Got a smoking deal on some Focal Electra 1007Be standmounts through Music Direct, guided in large part by Robert Harley’s suggestion that investing in a quality 2 way offered the best bang for the buck. The speakers ended up being about 10-15% of my system’s cost, not what is generally advised. Thankfully there was great synergy, and I got a very musical system. I am fortunate in that I do not hear time and phase.
I lost a substantial amount of hearing in one ear about 3 years after spending roughly 30K on my system, due to a cholesteatoma.
I now value immediacy and dynamics, to help feel the music and stir the emotive part of the listening experience perhaps. To that end, I gravitate toward high efficiency speakers. It seems that musicians and those with better hearing value natural tone and timbre first and foremost, but that may be a sweeping generalization on my part
Mine is tight to loose.
My upstream is surgical.
Downstream: musical.

Yeah, its a Haiku
Mike— where might I find the article you wrote that Patrick referenced?

i wrote this article in 2004. honestly building the room was simple compared to how much i had to learn and grow, with lots of mistakes along the way, to finally get the room right in 2015.

this is the current room now.
Mike's room is one of the many that I researched with much interest before I built mine. Thanks for some of the invaluable info you provided me through your room construction postings.
I have been in 4 homes that have had acoustic (popcorn) ceilings. They are pretty good for acoustics in the mid to high frequencies.

One recent home (built in 1957) had an acoustic ceiling that looked exactly the same as the others but the acoustic material was concrete. Zero asbestos...not needed because it was inherently fire resistant. 

Amazing bass response and clarity in the entire spectrum. Best room by far. Night and day difference. This type of acoustic ceiling is extinct now. Too bad because it rocks (pun intended).
I had it tested and the guy in the lab said " I can already tell you this sample will have no asbestos". You cannot remove this type of ceiling without damaging the sheet's part of the structure...and that's the key: mass.

Anyway, I believe the room is like a fingerprint. Even if you build a dedicated listening room, you are simply building a better fingerprint. Symmetry helps but nothing neutral about it. But, yes it would be nice to have a dedicated listening room again.


Anyway, I believe the room is like a fingerprint. Even if you build a dedicated listening room, you are simply building a better fingerprint. Symmetry helps but nothing neutral about it. But, yes it would be nice to have a dedicated listening room again.

i disagree.

actually the idea is that when you get your room synergy and signal path maturity to a certain place the room, speakers and signal path disappear. which is attainable, not to be confused with actually sounding like real life, which is not attainable.

of course there are many degrees of speakers and rooms disappearing. it’s like peeling an onion, with dozens of layers to work through, getting all the way there. and not every recording plays to the disappearing act equally.

what’s interesting is that the closer you get to it, the more you hear where the problems are. removing the most egregious restrictions to synergy is the hardest, after that, and you ’get it’ about where you are going it just flows as the little things stick out like sore thumbs.

...well of course, that's the idea (that those things disappear). That's what we all aim for. But the physical speaker itself is also imprinting on the effect of the room. You being in the room is another factor. This is what I mean by (sonic) 'fingerprint'.   

You may get very close to what you want with one system while another person may choose another approach, in a different room...with different components. They may even sound very similar. But they cannot be. It's almost impossible. Each room is is the shape of our own ears.

You can disagree with me, that's fine. But I believe otherwise.

Exactly why i recorded my own references, i was there to hear the “ original “ disappearance… and specificity, and impact and bloom, reverberation, decay, attack….

At the highest level of illusion, we should strive for exact duplication

Perhaps it is asymptotic…perhaps not. One way to assure that outcome , would be to aim low…trading colorations like flavors in a recipie…

Nothing wrong with that, The Cat does so enjoy chasing own tail,
@tomic601 ....Google 'cat in a truck commercial' and watch the 1:00 version... ;)

I've got one that plays fetch already; Zed will do so at the drop of a ball.
It's the other tricks that'll take awhile...

Our personal 'tail chases' are a whole different issue...and the training certainly took awhile as well. ;)

Play loud and often, J
Back in the day, just out of college, we all had stereos but a rare few had well constructed systems. Hearing those, along with visits to area stereo stores (not big boxes), gave clues as to what components (and brands) to seek, within budget of course.

But in thinking about the question, 43 years now since I began reaching beyond just a "stereo", it's always started with the speakers and worked on through media source (analog and digital), then amp, then pre-amp, then any tweaks, cables, etc. And with the caveat that, for me, especially at lower income levels, I often spent far more yearly on the music itself (lps, cds, dvds) than on the system.
Listening habits. I have my modest system in a room with some comfortable furniture. I can, if I want to, sit between the speakers, and sometimes pull them a bit forward for more of a near-field experience, but usually leave them where they are and sit where I want to. Often there are several people in the room, and the sound is good wherever you sit. For me, an easy going system that is convenient and does not dominate the room is the best choice.
What is most important is the choice of music, the companionship of friends, and the quality of the Scotch.
But the physical speaker itself is also imprinting on the effect of the room. You being in the room is another factor. This is what I mean by (sonic) 'fingerprint'.  

I am picturing “a disturbance in the force”.
First, I don't think one can put budget constraints to one side. They are the very first consideration, for the overwhelming majority of us, in system building. Then, it becomes a question of allocating the budget across the various components of the system. I am agnostic on how much one should budget for speakers v. sources v. amps. I agree that the matching of system components is more important how much of the budget is invested in any particular part of the system.

When mixing and matching, the primary concern, of course, is for how components work with one another based on the sound one is looking for, e.g., how much detail versus, say, long-period listenability (although I think such trade-offs are slowly shrinking thanks to evolving technologies). Although differences between tube and SS amplification are narrowing at higher price points, substantial differences persist in lower-priced equipment. But that's largely a matter of personal sound preference and whether one wants to plug it in and forget about it or have the option of tube rolling (IMO, that way madness lies). 

The next consideration, for me, is the performance-for-price ratio, given the budget constraint. We all want to get the biggest bang for whatever bucks we spend. Suppose the overall budget is $5000, and I've already bought speakers and a source for $3000. So, I have $2000 left for amplification. I want to spend that $2000 on equipment that has a strong reputation for performance (e.g., providing 80-90% of what I'd get if my budget were two or three times greater), reliability, customer service, and to a lesser extent visual aesthetics. If much overall budget was $10K instead of $5K, the same considerations would apply. 

In choosing components, I don't restrict myself to specific manufacturers, but I have found, over time, that I tend to go with certain manufacturers over others based on the considerations I have described. In my (inevitably) limited experience, I have found that some companies like Rega, Parasound, and Tekton consistently provide high performance-for-price value. I also have gotten good value for my money from Mytek DACs, although, now that manufacturing has moved from Poland to the US, their prices are inevitably rising. Many audiophiles, no doubt, would consider my choices boring or too obvious but, as with all things audio, de gustibus non est disputandum. 
All this talk of avoiding coloration....
What does a luthier strive for when crafting a guitar or violin body? The answer is a complimentary and resonant coloration. A good analogy is that fermented cabernet grapes need a degree of oak to bring out the best of both in a finished wine. The oak is a coloration or adjunct to the "pure" uncolored grape juice. 
This is why, imho, totally inert speaker enclosures are a misdirected pursuit. 
This topic involves more than loudspeakers-the overall goal needs to be identified and addressed first. Doesn't it simply make logical sense that if the goal is to recreate what was heard in the studio we would all be listening at home with studio equipment? Ever listened to studio equipment at length? I have. It is clinical, sterile, and cold. 
I am happy to acknowledge that what floats my boat is not what floats another's. I like a system to be immersive so that the sound washes over me and conveys emotion. Piano and the human voice don't need to be 100% true to the source so long as it sounds like the real thing. There is a difference between the two. It is like the difference between a dry historically accurate description of an event versus the verisimilitude of a fictionalized account of the same event. 
After enough time in this hobby you can fairly easily discern the electronics, sources, and loudspeakers that will suit your preference. Reading reviews leads to more wrong paths taken/purchasing mistakes than any other source of "audio disease". With the demise of audio shops one has to find an experienced retailer (often out of state), describe what you are looking for and listen to the advice given. Perhaps audio shows will survive and they help despite being something akin to carnival mirrors. Listening to other's systems helps. And then, finally, one needs to realize that the trial and error process, the pursuit, is what makes this hobby fun. If I lived on Park Avenue and had some audio guru come in one day while I was out and install the perfect system for me, the nadir of all that I could ever wish for, I am pretty sure I would feel that I had been robbed. 
Signal integrity.
No unnecessary contentiousness meant-only good spirited difference of opinion. "Signal integrity" is again, misguided. Let's forget vinyl playback or digital which are both fraught with "signal integrity" shortcomings, let's forget about loudspeakers where "signal integrity" fails so badly that it utterly does not apply, and let's for the sake of good spirited debate focus on amplification. "Signal integrity" is only one aspect of amplifier design. Have you ever seen a passage of music analyzed on an oscilloscope for input and output integrity? Nope, you haven't. And square waves at fixed frequencies make for easy measurements but they don't emulate music. I will skip right over the fact that many amplifiers and preamps that measure as "state of the art" on the test bench don't sound "right". Further, if "signal integrity" was all that mattered with preamps than mere attenuators would rule the roost of preamp design. They don't. Why in the world would you think that two words are all that is necessary to answer such a complex topic and how in the world can two words not be over-simplistic? Reminds me of Walter Brooks telling Dustin Hoffman that his future laid "in plastics.Think about it"
… Have you ever seen a passage of music analyzed on an oscilloscope for input and output integrity? Nope, you haven’t. And square waves at fixed frequencies make for easy measurements but they don’t emulate music. I will skip right over the fact that many amplifiers and preamps that measure as "state of the art" on the test bench don’t sound "right".
I have seen Dirac Live.
I have seen other room correction S/W.

and… I have seen before and after impulse response from group delay corrections of speakers.

^They^/^Those^/^Them^ usually sound more right than wrong.

Or is that something different?

They are all doing a “signal integrity” by comparing a known signal, to what is coming out of the complete system, and then altering the system digitally to compensate for the system’s response as well as the room’s response. 
Fantastic thread with so many angles to consider!

For me, some of the keys include:
- Aspirational reference points
- Room/gear and gear/gear matching
- Step-by-step improvements

As more specifically articulated above, more goosebump moments is what I'm after ultimately. By listening to as many rooms and systems as possible, I've noted which design approaches and gear I find most moving. my touchpoints include fleshed out instruments and voices that approach 3D, lively dynamics and tonal accuracy...those cues that tell you "whoa! I hear real musicians in that room". Each decision strives to push further down a path that brings me closer to that goal.

IMHO, speaker design is the big kahuna with incredibly wide ranges of strengths/limitations/priorities/needs. You've first got to decide what type of speakers will take you where you want to go and choose your favorite that you can afford that will work well in your room and with your other gear. So focus on speakers first, ensuring room fit and a compatible amp, even if the initial amp isn't your be-all-end-all. 
Put more of your source investment where you have most of your beloved media if you have both analog and digital. 

Like many of you, I've had to upgrade components individually over time for budgetary reasons. I try to think through each purchase to:
- Leapfrog the prior component further towards my references & goals
- Head towards more transparency; more of what's in the recording will ultimately be what you're after, not hiding it. If the trumpet don't bite, something ain't right!  The point made about not getting trapped offsetting is a good one(e.g. a warm speaker with a cool amp). That's a recipe for disaster. 
- Make incremental steps large enough in impact to be worthwhile. Hold off on sideways moves and wait until you can swap in something you're confident has a real chance to be a major upgrade.

Listening to as much gear as possible in as many real rooms as possible will strengthen your ability to identify which design choices make a stronger personal connection. Used gear purchases "as home demos" is best of all, often at not much or any cost. Given the state of COVID & retail, it might be your only option. Maximizing synergy in your room toward your goals with your other gear is what it's all about.  


Variety is my solution to the vain attempt to build a uniquely superior audio system. 
Let me ponder the winemakers i sip a nice oaky Chard…out of wait for it……not a wine glass…but a charred oak cup….


@audiosatisficer said: "First, I don’t think one can put budget constraints to one side. They are the very first consideration, for the overwhelming majority of us, in system building."
I agree that there are budget constraints even at astronomical numbers, leaving aside priorities within a gross budget.
It was the question of how you approach a system build, without regard to those constraints (which for some, may not be an issue) that was of interest to me.
Is there a process, a sort of framework to how one can approach a system "build," knowing that for the most part, we are relying on choices among commercial products. And that all that glitters....
Put another way, how does one put together an assemblage of what will prove to be enduring products which maximizes sonic outcomes?
I confess that it is an impossible question for me to answer based on some simple statement of maxims.
@whart You've got a knack for prompting thinking and shared knowledge. That's a gift, buddy! Cheers,