Source Vs. Speakers
Back in the ‘70s when analog was king Linn, manufacturer of the famous Lynn Sondek turntable, held that the most important part of an audiophile audio system was the turntable as you can never improve upon your source. Ironically, this would mean that the cartridge was in fact the most important component, but as the turntable is such a significant part of the sound of a cartridge their point is conceded. On the other hand, most of us audiophiles understood that the recording was your actual true source, so we spent thousands of dollars on Direct to Disk, Half-Speed Masters, Japanese Pressings, 100% virgin vinyl, test pressings (test pressings were a double-edged sword, on the one hand, they were the first pull from the mold so technically the best, on the other hand, they often used crap vinyl because they were, well, test pressings), Shaded Dogs, fancy antistatic inner sleeves, heavy plastic outer sleeves, and all manner of audiophile pressings in search of the best possible sound (to this day, I have spent significantly more on software than hardware, and I have given away more audio equipment than most people buy in a lifetime).
And the above is absolutely true as far as it goes, and it still applies even to the digital world, you can never improve upon your source, but, there is no getting around the simple fact that the least perfected, most variable, and the piece that determines your overall sound is the speaker and pretty much anything you do to the signal going into that speaker short of well-understood modifications to the speaker itself, and in some cases when dealing with a digital source, digital EQ can fix some issues usually at the expense of massive amounts of power of which you can never really have enough of (though it is important to remember that room correction and room treatment are fixing the sound of the room, not the speaker), will make the speaker sound worse. The primary goal of every component in the chain, from the microphone to the recording procedure to the media to the media player to the preamp to the amplifier to the cables used throughout the chain is to minimize the degradation of the sound, and anybody who tells you that their particular product will improve the sound is either selling you snake oil or intentionally or unintentionally misrepresenting what they actually mean.
So what is the answer? Well, I’ll stick by my guns and say the software is the most important part of your audio system, and on top of that, it is the performance that has tantamount importance over the recording quality (unless you’re reviewing audio products, where the quality of the recording actually often does take precedence over the performance), because without the music, what is the point, but that being said, when you are building your system, you have to start at the speaker, and then match everything else to the speaker to draw the most out of the speaker that it is capable of (which is why in my first review for this magazine, even the cable was more expensive than the speaker, because that was what was demanded to bring that speaker to its full potential).