If you are doing vinyl, then the preamp is the flagship product from which you build your system around. If you are doing digital, then the Streamer and DAC are the flagship products from which you build your system. The speakers have to be something you can live with and suit your tastes, while they will dictate what power amps can drive them.
for vocals and small ensembles there is nothing better than the full range ... English lowther + subwoofer cabasse ... or audio nirvana 15" alnico (but the body will have to be ordered and tuned from a very good master of musical instruments ... you yourself will not do anything good and the usual the carpenter will not do it - this is an illusion)
source cd - buy the most expensive ayon (5 ...10)
I agree with others that the preamp is the most important component. I should say “amplification “ is the most important thing to build around. Take two identical pairs of good speakers. Power one pair with top notch electronics, power the other pair with a receiver and the difference should be pronounced
My formula has been buy the best speakers that I could afford, then when I upgrade my electronics I do it on a larger scale, better than most would spend , but then once the electronics are sorted out get even better speakers , repeat.
Currently running the entry level Decware 2 watt integrated amp with tubes from the 50's and 60's into Speaker Lab corner horn (khorn clones) using a MHDT Orchid DAC with the 6922 adapter. It gets loud enough when using a single sub but as you know there's always more. I'm not using a preamp but have an old Luxman CL35 (for vinyl) and a Schitt Sega + for remote volume if I need it.
The room just works. it's a big L shape almost 30ft long with a staircase that bisects the bottom of the L with a half wall. This gives me two good corners 18ft apart. The inner elbow of the L is two 45% angles creating a non parallel space just behind the listening area about 12 ft from the front wall. The space is open behind me and to the right with 9ft ceilings.
I'm currently throwing a blanket over the big screen when I listen which tightens everything up.
When I bought the speakers I was intending to upgrade them with either the Volti or ALK horn, crossover upgrade but they sounded so good that I'm not sure that's the place to start which is why I asked the question.
What is a piece that I can build around that will improve what I have today but won't be the weak link as the system evolves?
It is very hard to argue with speakers. But I would start with a preamp. The heart and sole of a great system. For me it would be an Audio Research Reference preamp. Outstanding preamps come from Conrad Johnson, and VAC and a few others. (My system show under my ID)
If there is a conclusion I have come to over the last fifty years is musicality is more important than details and slam… and it doesn’t sound like you are headed down that route, so that is good. It brought me to all tube equipment. I agree getting to exalted levels is easier with analog.
Excellent speakers plus a flagship, preamp, phonostage, and amp. If you choose say a flagship Preamp… you know that is committing youself to a system of flagships or you are not going to be getting the most out of that component… although I did and would again get a flagship preamp long before I could afford the rest of the system. Next step is going to be a phono stage…. So important!
By the way my digital streamer and analog end sound very similar… neither is really better.. and they roughly cost the same. You can do that today. I recommend tubes which ever way you go.
‘Also my room is much like yours a big L with lots of asymmetry. The best room I have ever heard… and my dealer who has implemented many $200K systems over the last twenty years agrees… and likes my system best as well. Incredibly musical and detailed. Just fun and relaxing to listen to hour after hour.
I guess my point is many a speaker has been sold because it was under served by mediocre electronics. Yes speakers are important but the speakers I really want won’t fit my current space, so I have their little brother. They respond well to changes upstream so I am wringing every bit of performance I can get out of them
You're probably on the right track to build around an amp but a Class A/B amp and 350 Watts seems more like a boat anchor than a flagship.
For that money I'd probably go with the Coda #16. Similar power but the first 100 watts are Class A (up to 300 watts into 4 OHMS).
I would be hard to build around speakers as I'd hate them until I got something to sufficiently drive them but the amp should be purchased with a speaker in mind.
I'm torn about vinyl. It does sound better but the hassle involved with cleaning, storing and acquiring the music just makes me question my commitment. to the hobby. I shudder to think of having to get up and turn the album over every 15 minutes. I'm sure I have several hundred albums saved from pre CD era That would be cool to listen to again but my musical tastes have changed since the 80s and finding excellent copies would be pricey.
@danager It is a little bit of a chicken and egg question, in absolute terms. In practical terms my experience has been that getting good room treatment early solves a lot of problems you try to ascribe to speakers, cables and electronics. They help you listen better and you are more satisfied with your choices in the long run.
The OP was asking about a flagship product to build around and I know of absolutely nothing on earth that helps you build a great system more than having a good sounding room.
You don't necessarily have to pick out 100% of your room treatment before you go looking for speakers, but placing bass traps of the appropriate parameters, diffusors between and behind the listener and some side and ceiling panels is going to get you a lot farther in your audio journey than anything I know.
Another question. You have suggested using blankets and pillows to get an loose idea of where acoustics should be positioned.
I'm currently using blankets and pillows on bar stools to get them near my listening height.
Any suggestions of temporary ceiling acoustics that ill allow me to return the room back to a WFA area when the testing is done? I suspect the ceiling is an issue as it's the largest flat reflecting area in the room. The floor is carpeted and has the furniture sitting on it and the walls in my listening area aren't parallels I have a ladder and couch cushions but is that going to even remotely approximate what the acoustic ceiling panels would be able to produce?
I think it is appropriate you are reticent at committing to vinyl. I have have had it for fifty years… if I was committing to a great system now I wouldn’t bother. If I loved the idea fiddling with physical stuff and the tradition, then I would. I do not like getting up every 15 minutes… and the older I get the less I like it.
From what you have said… I think go digital only. So, you would need a WC streamer , DAC, preamp, amp, and speakers. This is the path to the future. I can’t imagine vinyl has much of a future now that finally digital can match analog. Except for folks that love to play with vinyl.
In general, some room treatments are unlikely to be a waste. Buying an amp before you commit to speakers and a preamp I think would be be a mistake.
DAC/Streamer also makes a big diffrence, however if you cant get the above 3 right the rest will not work out properly.
Suggestion would be to get a high efficent Speaker, High Impedance. This will work with almost any amplifier easily.
8 ohms at min but ideally 16 ohms would work a treat.
Soemthing above 96db,
The speakers/ room relation is to be build around not only with room treatment but some mechanical room control...(Helmholtz resonators and diffusers)
After that say bye! to most futures gear upgrades....
When music is there for the first time in your life, you forgot sound/gear upgrade...
Flagships products are too numerous at all price tag to be the center of focus... Pick one, chose well, and concentrate on the relation between acoustic/psycho-acoustic...
Or like most, ignore acoustic/psycho-acoustic and go for decades changing one piece of costly gear for another one and call that your taste...
By the way there is no flagship "taste" in acoustic....Only a specific ear/brain tuning subjectivity at the command center of the acoustic journey and process....
OP asked for flagship product to build around:
Luxman 509X. 65 lbs. of rakish Japanese amplification iron. One can feed it anything of great quality for source and it will caress the signal passing it on completely intact.
This integrated can well drive most any transducer on the planet. And....it's gorgeous! Audio crystal rarely matched, with its decidedly retro look, large room illuminating meters and solid Iowa-class battleship ruggedness.
My wife's system cobbled together until further refinement. Presently fed by a Rega Apollo, Mojo Audio Mystique' 3 DAC and driving old Mordant-Short MS 20i Pearl Edition speaks. Fun system, great lights, shiny.
Start with your source. Drive your SETs directly; save money by eliminating the line stage. Since you'll probably never be able to site your speakers/listening position correctly like most audiophiles, room correction and equalization will be a big help.