It's attention, not money, we should budget

I read with some amusement a lot of posts arguing we should spend X amount of money on speakers, or preamps or amps.  I want to make a counter argument:  We should budget our time and attention, not the money.

In large part because there are always bargains to be made, and MSRP has been (IMHO) a terrible guide to what an "upgrade" is, especially when considered in the context of an existing system.

30% Room

30% Speakers

5% Cables and power

35% Remaining electronics


I will read your replies thoughtfully. :)


The golden ratio for equipment $$$ allocation is as fallible as the golden ratio in room measurements.  IMHO.  I would agree with you that the biggest return on investment will be Speakers, Preamp, Amp and acoustic treatment.  

Interesting point. My budget has always been nearly non-existent, so bargains and DIY options (time) have been a requirement in assembling my system. In that regard I’d have to agree whole heartedly because time invested can pay off big.

If my income were much higher than it is now, I’d likely have taken a different path, but I’ll never know! ..... there are downsides there as well.


@erik_squires 100% agree spending time/attention and experimenting with an open mind can pay huge dividends.  It has for me. It seems to me many give up on a component/speaker prior to finding their true maximum performance and assuming a more expensive  purchase will be the solution. Often times leading to a  string of purchases feeding the used market.  In my case, I bought a used $9000 highly resarched/regarded amp to replace  a $3000 amp that had several easy tweaks.  The hugely disappointing new amp had inferior SQ and resold. However, other less expensive component changes have payed off after research.   Another example is when I restarted this hobby 3 years ago I bought a pair of speakers for $1400 shipped thinking I  could grow into them and then replace as they reach their max. They have shocked me with what they can do..I still own these speakers and I still hear SQ  improvement's out of them. (Tubes, fuses, cables, components, power…) In fact, I am hesitant to spend a lot more money to upgrade them and get inferior SQ and deal with the difficulty reselling large heavy speakers.  Granted this is just me, my ears and pretty modest system.

Using lots of time, attention, and money make for the best systems. We are all budget bound on one or more of these. So if financially bound, then invest more heavily in the others. What your time is worth is both a function of how much money you make per hour by working and the enthusiasm and available time you have to pursue high end audio. But time and attention are also limited commodities and dependent on your values.

As far as percentages… some folks have little ability to influence the room, many cannot. Often folks have a much larger ability to impact the financial investment they make.


As far as the price of components… yes, price in itself does not take into account your tastes, synergy with your system and venue, and may not perfectly represent sound quality. On the other hand it is the one common characteristic shared across all components and the meaning which is understood by all. Certainly, by itself it can only be a very rough guide. But for most, it is a good starting place. Also, most of us start with a budget. If you research, find best of class that matches your tastes beyond simple price you will be making pretty good decisions.

Then finally there is a question of how efficient is the market? What is the relationship between price and performance? This is particularly true once we get above budget gear. If you understand sound quality and are able to separate different house sounds, in general the sound quality rises with price. Much higher design times, higher quality parts all result in better sounding equipment… lower noise floors, more dynamics, higher reliability. This relationship is often obfuscated by the different house sounds… McIntosh produced extremely good sounding equipment… but I do not like their sound… so I could easily label them over priced. For me, same with Wilson. I don’t, because I know better and I can hear what they are trying to achieve. Also, ones individual venue and your other existing components highly influence the sound you get… not necessarily a reflection of the quality… or cost for that matter of the component you put in it.


Overall, however, I have followed dozens of high end audio companies over decades and compared between them. And with the caveats above… price of components is an important shared parameter across all audio that is very useful and largely reflects the sound quality of the component. Of course there are some exceptions… but they tend not to last long, because they are weeded out of the market by folks like us.

The problem with cost is X dollars buys you different things in different product lines. It may be true that more $$$s typically buys you more within a particular product line, though often with diminishing returns, but all bets are off comparing different product lines based primarily on cost. Especially if components in the system are mismatched as can easily happen between amp and speakers and room quite commonly. Source components require careful matching as well, for example phono components in particular. A well executed integrated design end to end always wins regardless of cost.

I agree with the original ratio given the amp gives the speakers what they need. If not, the amp becomes a bigger value than being buried in the 35% total.

In my office system my $1000 speakers have $12K combined speaker cable and amp (all MSRP). The magic ratio is a bit off here.

Over the long haul (and it has been), the old 3-thirds (speakers, amplification (pre & power or integrated), sources) has more or less held true in my experience of 55ish years....

This is taking into account new, used, diy with very little 'room', since there's been a lot of them that I/we haven't owned.  And most were 'problematic' ( i.e., "One copes as best as....")... ;)

The later ones' (early 80's and beyond) have responded decently to analog eq and later digital correction.

Best 'splaination:

I am not afraid.


Allocating per-device price percentages is not really different than allocating per-device costs.

The tendency of folks on this site to discuss revolving through the kit in their chains suggests that the common fixation on hardware won’t always bend well to predictable slices on a pie chart, eh? 😉

Bring me any good DAC (or turntable - neither need be expensive), any decent amp of ~200 wpc (4 ohms), wire of your choice minimum 18ga, and I assume my speakers and my music files (or lp’s) will do the rest just fine. There’s no physical room treatment other than typical furniture. However, if I moved the system from a specious, solid concrete (including ceiling) dwelling to drywall etc., I’ve no clue how “transferable” my results would be. Obviously YMMV depending on such environmental factors and on individual psychological sensitivities.

When I started, it did not seem intuitive that my expenses graph would become an upside-down bell curve (= sharp valley between the actual music and the transducers). Price and percentage rules may not to work well (sometimes) for this very reason - they can set you up for highly skewed expectations when you try stuff out. Just my anecdotal opinion.

Wise thread!

+1 OP


Perfectly rational point made by the OP.


But in reality, we cannot rationalize with a rule something that pertain to gear design, our own ears/brain measures and habits , the room acoustics, the mechanical control of vibration and resonance , the electrical noise floor controls of the gear-room-house , all these factors vary too much with our own various needs between one another to be ruled by a rule for all so to speak...

My only rule is we must go for the ratio S.Q.high % versus the lowest possible  price % ... But many people here can indulge themselves without these limits...Someone able to buy many spots cars and take holidays in Paris will se mee as a poor looser here ...

Then which rule ?


The only rule is illustrated by someone owning one of the world system able to compete at the highest level : mike lavigne...

If i understood him correctly , his dedicated room cost him more than his gear system....

The only rule is then what i spoke about after my acoustics experiments ( at no cost for me for one year full time ) Acoustics sciencve rule the gear not the reverse... Psycho-acoustics rules with material physical acoustics everything in audio , even gear design ultimately depends on it as illustrated by the last revolution in acoustic on par with the transition from mono to stereo : the BACCH filtrers of Dr. Choueiri...

It’s been said that people will spend their money on what their attention is on. This is an easy hypothesis to prove when your partner, or klds/grandkids have their attention on something. So, "attention" and "money" are intertwined.

It’s also been said; "There are no absolute truths. Only relative truths, and workable truths." The "1/3rds Rule" is a good example of a "workable truth" that has been a tool for many decades.

And, to quote another person, accountant Walter Williams, stated something to the effect of: "Prejudice is bias based on incomplete information. The problem is that the cost of obtaining the information is too high."

I’m going to attempt to throw all of this in a blender, and pour out something that can be reasonably consumed. Some people are more committed to obtaining "The Absolute Sound" than others. The information is out there. The "cost" of information is too high for many. So, they’ll check the forums and reviews, sort through a few options, "add to cart" --> checkout. Applying "workable truths" in this scenaro will provide something(s) that will make "good noises" and could represent a "one and done" solution for the owner. A little more diligence (and time) would have, most certainly, elevated the musical experience, at a lower cost. But, at what cost? Only the owner knows the answer(s) to that question.

A some suggested, absolutes cannot be applied based on the product category and price points. A 2x price upgrade in speakers should produce something significant -- and usually does. Going from a $300 pair of speakers, for example to $600 should make something magical happen. As should going from $30k to $60k. The difference is that the upgrade from $300 to $600 will, most likely, involve purely sonic improvements. However, from $30k to $60k will involve other factors: improved esthetics, over-built components/chassis, intangibles, etc. The "bang for the buck" factor may be superior in budget constrained products?

We all have our own ideas of how to set priorties. I, for one, like to take things apart, pull the guts out of them and replace inferior components with better stuff, improved connection methods, etc. I went thru a high level of anxiety watching a promo video for a new "flagship" speaker. I was wanting to grab my wire strippers and silver solder and tear into their "state of the art" design, knowing that they were exposing the sonic compromises of their new offering. You can imagine the look on my partner’s face when she saw interior pieces of her new luxury vehicle scattered all over the shop. Those crappy cables, shared harnesses, lugs, spades, etc., just had to go! (And, yes, it did sound much better). It’s who I am. We’re all different.



Kind of.  The thing is though, if we open ourselves to DIY then that calculation does change a little.  I don't mean just speaker building, but say, DIY your room and acoustics, or cables, etc. 

We may spend more money on our children, but we may also make them toys and spend time with them in homework and after school activities, so I do think we can separate attention and money somewhat. 

I’ve found wise application of Room Correction or application of DSP in general also throws any prior assumptions out the door. The end result literally transforms a system of cost X into a totally different sounding one with the ultimate flexibility for tweaking at your fingertips. Big time game changer!  My mindset these days is if someone is not applying  modern digital signal processing to their poor system that is always subject to the room it must play in, then they have missed the boat and the journey to that desired perfect sound will take way longer and cost way more, that is if ever even achieved. 


I get it. I made reference to DIY, but also validated the decisions made by those who take the most efficient path from A->B.

Yes, we frequently spend time (and, money) on whatever our kids have their attention on. I spent 4 hours over the weekend building custom speaker stands for my grandson. Dropping by later today to help him set up his music streamer while delivering the speaker stands. Time well spent.

Kind of. The thing is though, if we open ourselves to DIY then that calculation does change a little. I don’t mean just speaker building, but say, DIY your room and acoustics, or cables, etc.

We may spend more money on our children, but we may also make them toys and spend time with them in homework and after school activities, so I do think we can separate attention and money somewhat.



Exactly right...

And in my case i dont solder...😁 I am not near an electrical engineer or amplifier designer...

I used then only acoustics principle for my modifications of speakers and headphones and of room ...

I discovered that acoustics basic is underestimated completely because you can touch a cable or a piece of gear , you cannot touch acoustics... This is why so much people are focussed on gear upgrade race instead of their speakers/ears/room relation ...They believe or act as if the sound was "made" by the gear not by the brain in some acoustic context...

"Absolute sound" does not exist for most of us and for acoustician ... It is not an acoustic concept it is a marketing superstition ... In acoustics exist only optimization ...In acoustics between optimization thresholds there is minimal and maximal acoustical satisfaction for some given acoustics conditions and parameters and for some inear ears structure and some HRTF and for some trained or untrained listener biases etc ...

Some like too much their gear to appreciate what acoustics can taught us...The gear is secondary when you have a budget and secondary when you are a ascientist... The gear matter for the designer who do a marvellous work for sure ... But listening in optimal conditions had nothing to do with price tags , even with to some extent nothing to do with gear design ...

Acoustics work as well with a low cost piece of gear... What is analysed by acoustic experience is not something that does not exist , absolute sound, but something more real : acoustics parameters... This does not means in my mouth that the gear dont matter , it means the gear is a budget problem not an acoustic problem ...




I’m agreeing with your premise. Establishing monetary metrics can get us "workable" results. Investing attention (time?) will get us better sonic results, for less money. The DYI reference was merely an example of time spent vs money spent to achieve a better outcome. Yes, there are other examples. But I’ve found, for example, a lot of music can come out of inexpensive and/or vintage drivers if you get things out of the way that make them sound worse.


I’m in the same camp with you on the "acoustics first" approach. Sometimes you have to work with what you have in front of you. We are involved in service and performance mods and bring up the subject of acoustics in every encounter. I think an element of the pushback is an unwillingness to change the decor in the room. Some of it is that acoustical panels are boring. They just hang on the wall and look at you. Not nearly as engaging as new gear, or "hot rodded" old gear.

I mentioned upgrading the cabling in my wife’s vehicle. I tried covering all that reflective glass with sound absorbent material. The back up camera worked well when traveling in reverse, but when moving forward the panels were a bit of an issue. So, if was on to "Plan B" -- upgrade the cabling.

My situation was the reverse situation of most people here...

I had no budget...

My only way to had an audiophile experience , once i settle on basic synergetical  gear pieces, was to study and experiment with acoustic , not only with passive material treatment but modification of the room physically and  with Helmholtz  tuned resonators grid and distribution and location  ...This opened my eyes about what is sound ... Nope, it does not come from the gear but THROUGH  the gear from some acoustic parameters chosen by the recording engineer of some album and the "sound" then comes TRANSLATED acoustically in my speakers/room/ears by my brain ...

Most people superstitiously believe as markeying indulge them to believe that amplifier or dac or speakers alone created the sound ... The costlier it is, the better it is as a motto ... This is romance marketing not science nor my experience ... Now for sure the gear choices matter a lot... But  Acoustics and psychoacoustics rule ...

I repeated that and people are annoyed because most people are as i am right now  limited in my room design...Happily when i was not so limited i learned not only how to hear better but the basic ... this truth is useless for half people because they feel captive in a living room with if not children a wife and they cannot really experiment nor understand the impactful scope of acoustic  ...



I’m in the same camp with you on the "acoustics first" approach. Sometimes you have to work with what you have in front of you. We are involved in service and performance mods and bring up the subject of acoustics in every encounter. I think an element of the pushback is an unwillingness to change the decor in the room. Some of it is that acoustical panels are boring. They just hang on the wall and look at you. Not nearly as engaging as new gear, or "hot rodded" old gear.



30% room might be good if you have a dedicated listening room, but I think it's a bit much for a room that serves a multitude of purposes.... 


You should be very proud of what you've produced with what you had to work with.  I can't think of a more relevant response to the OPs topic. 

(My reference to acoustical panels covering the glass in my wife's vehicle was an "attempt" at light humor.  I hope you took it that way?)

My own car is driven by my wife because i really put some day  acoustic stuff on the window of my car and refuse to start the engine listening music... My wife forbid me to drive since  ...I dont like it anyway...😉

it is a joke with a grain of truth here ...

In principle I agree with your premise. Execution is another element and for some the scale solidness when patients are tested and the perceived net result is not gained. The easier thing to do is throw money at the problem. 
I actually found that in my environment spending less on speakers was better. Around 20%. Moved that 10% to electronics and room 40/35 5% power and cables. 

30% room might be good if you have a dedicated listening room, but I think it's a bit much for a room that serves a multitude of purposes.... 


Maybe.  What if you keep the stereo in mind when selecting your home furnishings, and rugs, and maybe throw some panels on the ceiling?

My take…No doubt your room is very important.  Percentages are just a rough guide that may or may apply very differently to audio junkies.  They are most applicable to dedicated  room treatments or construction and may very minimally apply to living areas. Sooo many factors are involved that sku the percentages. In my living area working off a corner, valted ceiling, open access, built-ins, furnishings…very little can and needs to be done and it works out pretty well. Tried temp panels and drapery fabric with no improvement and ended up just using a bass trap in the corner behind my system.

Yikes… I know when shopping for home furnishings with my wife the stereo system does and will never take priority or even be considered or discussed.  i am enjoying my happy relationship and her tolerance as it is now 🤣.

1) Speakers and room

2) Speakers and room

3) amplification 

4) cleaning out the ear wax.





….everything else.




I agree....there is very little correlation between price and performance and clearly speakers make by far the largest difference, followed by the quality of the recording and then the other electronics.

As others have said, the choice of speakers matters the most, regardless of relative cost to the whole.  Buying used high end gear at a reasonable fraction of MSRP can change the relative cost/investment proportions quite a bit.  It can take a bit of time to vet the upstream electronics, but once you settle that, it's all about the music.