Source First? What’s your Second?

For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.

Still though … what does source first mean for you? It could simply mean that source just comes first (as in sequentially) in the signal path, correct? All good then.

However … if for some reason I’ve been confusing sequence with, say, importance, I have a tiny yet fundamental issue - if my source comes first, this absolutely means that something else comes second … and god forbid this might mean that e.g. my speakers come second!?? Hm, surely not for me? And then, something is third? compromised or neglected? or forgotten? At least I don’t approach my system like this.

I see “Source First” as a common mantra nearly on every other thread here… I can see the question raised before from different perspectives, so apologies, may be all said, sorted and agreed and everyone just totally believes in it?? Could be?

Then if Source First, for you - what is Second? and Third?

In simple terms it means that the source is most important, then the amplifier, then the speakers. Within a turntable, the deck itself comes first, then the arm, then the cartridge.

I am a firm believer in the potential benefits of source first in building an enjoyable system, and looking at your setup, you are following the source first principle.

Others take a different view that the speakers come first. Neither approach works well if taken to extremes. A fantastic source and amplifier won’t sound good if the speakers aren’t good enough, neither will fantastic speakers sound good with a very poor source.

In the middle lies a balanced approach where everything works well together with no obvious weak points. In many ways, source first really shows its benefits when upgrading. If you have a nicely balanced system, it’s much safer to upgrade from the front end, then the amplifier, then the speakers. Sometimes people add very large and demanding speakers to their previously balanced system and the speakers then reveal the limitations of the source and amplifier, which leads to dissatisfaction and the expense of rebalancing.

So in your setup as an example, it would be perfectly safe to swap your Rega 8 for a 10. But if you tried using some big demanding speakers the Nait 2 wouldn’t cope and you’d be forced into getting a bigger amplifier, which could then reveal the limitations of the P8, which you’d need to change.

This is a subject that people can argue over for hours and get very hot under the collar. It’s been discussed on here many, many times of course.


I honestly never understand this conversation. Hi-fi is about synergy. Do people really build systems by identifying a source and figuring out the rest later?


What I understand in the « source first « statement is that the maximum of the budget should be allocated for the source.
I don’t really disagree, because source is the most important.
But thinking source first without thinking in the meantime that the preamp is the heart of the system, without thinking of the balance of a system, and the overall synergy and cohesion between components, is a wrong way to think in my opinion.
It gives systems like Nd555/ SN3, Linn Klimax Lp12 into Nait 5 , or Nd55/2X 555dr into 112/200 and 30k speakers.
All these systems will work of course, but with the total price of each, a different and much better system can be built.
A weak combo of electronics will give a bottleneck for a source too good for them, a weak source can’t be increased by the electronics, and too big speakers with lesser electronics will not work optimally.


“Source first”, and rejections of that dogma has been covered in many threads as a search will show. Though maybe not assigning second and third…

I have frequently stated that to me getting speakers right is more important than source, as of all components speakers have the greatest effect on the character of sound. And the mantra of ‘GIGO’ trotted out by some source-first exponents is meaningless as in reality the weakest link in the chain will be the limiting factor. But once you get into decent hifi the source does need to be good enough, so not a low end source. And the amp has to be able to control the speakers sufficiently for them to to give wallowy bass.

In terms of challenge getting right, speakers hardest, then source, then amp.

In terms of cost, if full range is important to the listener then speakers likely will be the most expensive component by far. However for someone who doesn’t appreciate the bottom octave or two, being happy enough just hearing overtones, or who listens to music with no lower bass component, good speakers can be a lot less expensive, and maybe similar to other components in cost. (Cost here meaning new or equivalent new price at the same point in time.) Next in terms of cost I’d say comes source (for digital the most critical component being the DAC), and finally amp. That assumes passive speakers - amps will be more if active.

So I think for me it is speakers first, source second, amplification third - but having at least adequate performance of all is important!


First run LP pressing first

Turntable second, incl support/cabling :grinning:

…phono stage third


All very good points made, especially the balancing act aspect.
Although I would add also that the source first and balance aspects are in any case diminished with inadequate supports and a lack of full attention to setup, quality mains supply, warm up and stabilsation, interconnects and speaker cables are also very important in achieving the desired result.
All of this in my opinion is an important ingredient of the balancing act.
In 2004 I bought a Naim suggested system and yes it can for sure be bettered, but this has been improved by paying attention to all the details I mentioned.
Just for fun after I got my old chrome bumper amps serviced, I substituted the 252 and 300 and was pleasantly surprised how good the little guys were even though this would be defined as unbalanced.



Yes , apparently. But I agree with you. I think it’s because a lot here have an Lp12 and followed , since the 70’s, the Linn advise of Tievor. What a clever guy! Buy the best Lp12 from me first :joy:

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Naim always advocate source first and spending the most on it budget wise, but unless you buy another 555ps for the nd555, the 552/500 is double the price of the source.

And then there’s the statement amplifier combo.

So on expenditure it seems amp first?


BINGO!!! Nailed it!

You stuck the landing!

Yes there is!

Like I said balance is extremely important especially the bank balance :smiley:


A slightly barbed statement aimed at LP12 owners.

A meal prepared with poor or average ingredients, no matter how good the Kitchen or the Chef, is always going to be poor or average.


The quality level of a HiFi system corresponds to that of the lowest element: so my opinion is that the most important thing is the balance between the elements.

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Naim and Linn were quite working together in the 70’s, so Naim repeated the Linn argument.

Thus my earlier response.

We all have our own perceptions of what constitutes “good: for us. I often think we hear dems of sources and aspire to the “sound” of that source when what we’re hearing is the system as a whole.


Synergy including speaker room match.


Yep had a Sondek with a Naim amp in 1991.

Just don’t quite get if the source is the most important part, how come their top amplifiers come in at considerably more cost.

I guess they are just more expensive to make and components are more costlier ?