Building a system from scratch

We are occasionally asked for advice on the best way to build a hifi system. Truth be told there is probably no right answer. Back in the 1980s, when I bought my first stereo, the prevailing theory was known as "source first". This essentially meant allocating most of the budget to a turntable, CD player or tape deck, then spending the remainder on an amplifier and speakers. The theory here is that even the very finest amplifier and speakers cannot improve a poor quality source.

While the source first theory has some merit, and certainly the Linn turntable, Rotel amp and Royd speakers that I bought back then were with me for many years, we favour a more balanced approach. We also firmly believe that the single biggest factor influencing the sound of any system is the room, or to be more precise, the interaction between the speakers and the room.

Therefore when building a system from scratch, we usually start out by looking at the room, its dimensions, its construction, the location of doorways and windows, the position and variety of furniture, and the type of flooring. We also take into account the space available behind, beside and between speakers and of course the customer's listening preferences. Taking all of these factors into account allows us to shortlist speakers which will work well in the room, with little or no acoustic treatment.

Our next priority is usually to select an amplifier which is capable of driving the speakers effectively. With the speakers already selected this becomes much easier, since we need only audition amplifiers which match the specifications of the speakers.

With the speakers matched to the room and the amplifier matched to the speakers, it becomes much easier to distinguish between one source component and another. Component selection and system building is an iterative process, and in no small part a matter of personal taste, but we find that this approach consistently delivers great results.

Lee Bevan