"Mullet" in practice.. and source first

Since 2005, I have many experiences with Naim sources, preamps and psu`s that confirm “source first” philosophy to be so important.
I have heard many times what a quality source can do to the signal/ music, but what if the speakers cannot handle to present it properly? Based on that, I claim the importance of a balanced system.

When it comes to “mullet” systems, I have no such practical experience. Mullet is for me something that I read about. Secondly, there are camps that claim the opposite, that one should spend most of their budget on the speakers.

If I look at the value of my system (electronics) and purchased speakers at the same cost (or far above as some claim it should be), they would be very expensive ones.
Anyone out there with experiences that confirm, in practice what is the truth?

Well, to be honest, I have heard my Harbeths with both the Atom and 282/250 etc and the difference is huge to be fair. Both do music, but in very different ways, but to me this is another discussion.


I’m a speaker first man yes the source is very important but better speakers will get more from that source. Finding speakers that work for you is the hardest job so buy the best ones you can afford and work backwards.

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You can adopt a very objective approach when it comes to the black boxes. Spend more and you will undoubtedly hear improvements in sound quality through the same pair of speakers. To me that’s very simple and easy to demonstrate in any listening room and supports the source first phrase.

With speakers, a world of ifs and maybes opens its doors to you! These boxes are the output of the stereo and have a physical interaction with the dynamics of the room into which they are placed. What can sound great in a dealer’s room can sound far from optimal in other rooms.

Different speakers also have significant differences in efficiency/ power consumption. I have/had a pair of naim’s nbl speakers and, whilst folks were adamant that they sounded wonderful fed by a 250 amp, my experience suggested that a 300 didn’t quite cut the mustard and it was only when a 500 came along that a sense of proper control was evident to me.

IMO, ideally there should be a balance of monies invested in each of the components, including speakers and, more recently realised by me, cables. The peculiarities of speakers and their interaction with the rooms into which they are placed can have a significant influence on us all. If you have struggled getting speakers to suit your room, perhaps having gone through several pairs before reaching your nirvana, it is entirely understandable to me that you may be very reluctant to upset the apple cart by replacing the speakers. With speakers and rooms, price is no guarantee to nirvana! I admire folks who have the wherewithall to persevere experimenting with speakers and wish I had the patience to do so!


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We should not forget that it is not only about sound quality, but also how it looks in the room. Harbeths look wonderful in my eyes and if their sound quality was only a tad less good than - name a completely different sounding brand - Dynaudio, I’d go for the Harbeths.

For me, looks always take second place to sound quality - though some things are so hideous I would hesitate, if only out of respect for others who share the house!


Nothing does bass like these:

… a double open wood '32 stop of a decent organ. Its not only room filling, but also Cathedral filling!

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A typical mullet system that I experienced in recent memory was one that had been assembled by a dealer I visited. The issue was a fairly common one; the customer had set their sights on a particular set of speakers, in this case B&W 800s, but having financially stretched so far to afford their dream speaker, they wanted to spend the minimum possible on the electronics to “get them to work”. So the dealer had assembled a CDX2, NAC202, NAPSC, Hicap, and a NAP200 - a fabulous front end by most standards, but how would it stack up to the 800s…?

In a word, it was messy. Yes, you could hear that the speakers themselves were potentially very capable but the electronics up front just couldn’t get the speakers to behave. The sound was big and superficially impressive with plenty of bass, but the bass itself was ponderous and the whole system lacked a sense of coherence and temporal alacrity. In short, while you might revel in the “hifi” for a bit, if you’d ever heard a more engaging and musical setup then you’d soon be wondering what your money had bought. And so, more spending would be inevitable.

Anyway, we did a few upgrade steps and things did improve, but not to the point where anyone thought it was even s balanced system let alone one that would engage you Day after day. We then substituted a small pair of linn standmount speakers. Not my favourites by any means - they are s but dry and have a rather coloured mid - but what a revelation in engagement. Music suddenly made sense, players were playing together and in time. Even odd music became really interesting and engaging. Those speakers cost a fraction of the previous ones. Here was a system that superficially did less but in doing so gave so much more pleasure. QED.


A good tactic is to choose speakers that are getting a bit long at the back but not enough to go past the collar. The same rule we had at school for adventurous boys when they experimented with looks.

Yes, whilst pipe organ bass does not exactly merit the description “fast”, it does show how it is possible to convey emotion through feel! I seem to recall that some organs even have 64ft pipes, but that must be nearly earthquake territory!

Thank you all for your inputs, very interesting indeed. I`m at work, so will follow up as soon as possible.


[Reposted and original deleted to correct errors from phone typing]

The ‘mullet’ system is certainly something that seems to be generally frowned upon in Naim land! But I do not subscribe to that myself. Personally I do not like systems that do not do proper bass: in other words the ones that only go down to mid bass, or even worse the ones that accentuate upper bass to give an illusion of giving more bass than they do, distorting the sound as well as not conveying the feeling in some music. However, getting a speaker to be able to produce decent full bass is inherently challenging to manufacture, and therefore inherently relatively high cost.

A common anti-mullet argument is that you will only get out of your system what you put in therefore you need as good as source as possible regardless of the rest of the system. However the counter argument is also true that you will only get out of the system what the speakers allow out – or more particularly what any single component lets through. Yes you will hear the difference with better sources when listening through less than perfect speakers: but you will also hear the improved sound of better speakers even if you only have a less than perfect source.

Another major factor is that in general speakers are the least perfect part of any system, regardless of cost, and impart the greatest single effect on the character of the sound you hear. Therefore it makes sense to get speakers that have the character you like as early in the system building as you can. Of course there are many other factors, not least that the amp has to be capable of controlling the speakers sufficiently – though as long as they control the speakers adequately, there is then room for improvement over time. Also of course, when starting out with a relatively low budget you cannot blow all the money on a single component, and the rest of the system has to be at least at a minimum relative quality level, so it would be rare to be able to get your endgame speakers right from the start and of course I am not suggesting that (though it may be great if you could!). Of course, those who do not like deep bass, or who listen only to music only reaching down to mid bass, are lucky in that the demands on speaker design are much less, and adequate products cost far less!

Another factor of relevance is that these days digital sources have improved vastly so you can get pretty decent sources for relatively low cost.

In my own case I made a major speaker purchase about six years after I built my first system: I auditioned 12 or 13 speakers that were in the equivalent of £2.5–3k bracket in today’s money, all being highly regarded in reviews, and mostly the top of the various manufacturers’ ranges. (For reference, at that point the rest of the system would have had a value of maybe approaching 2/3rds of that, though with a kit form amp effectively equivalent to a bit more.) I was amazed to find how very different the speakers all sounded: and all but three were so bad to my ears that I rejected them within a minute or two. The speakers I chose then lasted me for 15 years, with improvements as other components were upgraded, and I only changed them when I did because the top of that manufacturer’s range, having the same character but even better sound (simply unaffordable 15 years earlier at nearly double the price) appeared secondhand at a very good price. And those changed speakers did me the next 26 years, through various changes in other components


You can get affordable digital sources today that can easily beat a few very expensive sources from yesteryear.

As for loudspeakers, it depends on what you want to hear and I believe that anyone who is ready to spend a lot of money on a sound system should at least start by listening to a BBC type of loudspeaker only to learn what a realistic reproduction of voices and musical instruments sound like.

Don’t know why people are so obsessed with the speed and depth of the bass when 85% of the music lies in the medium range.


Speed because floppy, woolly, bass can render music with drums or other sharp attack, or cutoff, of bass notes unrealistic, and if excessive it can make the music tiresome.

Depth if the music to which you listen has information there that conveys something you like in the music - an example in some prog rock for example is low pedal notes that simply aren’t audible through systems not digging that deep, yet are part of conveying the emotion in the music. The fact that a lot of information, whatever the percentage, lies in the midrange does not mean that the remainder is unimportant - yes you can listen to the music and hear the words if it has vocals only listening to midrange, just as with the 2inch speaker of a cheap transistor radio, but it does not necessarily carry all the emotion of the music as written/played, nor the atmosphere/realism that the bottom end can help convey and so enhance enjoyment.

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I’m still trying to wrap my mind around “timing”, and along comes “temporal alacrity”. Must get out more…


I bought what I thought were good sources LP12 and ND5XS with 122/150 and then spent 5 pretty unsatisfying years trying to match speaker and system going up to 282/300 and many speakers until I got my speakers and since then every amp and source I’ve put with them has sounded great mullet or not.


Well, I was looking for experiences that confirm if spending a lot of money on the speakers is the way to go. I fully understand this is a complex matter, personal taste, room acoustics, easy to drive or not and so on.
So then, the answer may be exactly that, find a speaker that costs as much as your budget allow, but most important, they should match the room, personal taste and your amp must have the ability to drive them… and your source is up to it as well.
On the other hand and as an example; my current speakers (Harbeth Super HL5+) do work very well in my room and with the electronics and if in theory Harbeth 40.2 integrate as well as 5+, this should be better?! That again would imo depend on the poweramp. driving them and that again could generate a more suited preamp. … and source. To be honest, the roller-caster took me back to “balance” again.


I have been there as well and I agree with you, however, I find music very enjoyable with Harbeth driven both from Atom and the classic series, but it`s a huge difference in presentation. If I was about to live with the Atom, I find 5+ to be over the top and waste of money.
You see my point here?


Me too :slight_smile:

Of course I wouldn’t buy an Atom and £4,000 plus speakers unless of course I had a definite upgrade path to follow and my intention was to upgrade my electronics when and if I could.
My point here is if you are buying a system to keep and never change then of course it should be financially balanced but if you are buying a system with the intention of upgrading it then I would go speakers first because with the very best speakers you will get the very best from each upgrade.


But if the £4K speakers driven by the Atom sounds better to the individual than any lesser speakers driven by the Atom, or driven by the some other source and amp having a total system cost with the cheaper speakers the same as Atom+£4K, then that may indeed be the right way to do it.