Building/Upgrading a HiFi System in Correct Order


Paul McGowan is a big proponent of building/upgrading HiFi components in order of importance, speakers taking highest priority. What is the correct order for upgrading a HiFi system?

Speakers, amplifier(s), pre-amplifier, DAC, music server, regenerator.

Did I get that correct?

Where does a (REL) subwoofer fit in the chain of importance?
Where does a second (REL) subwoofer fit in the chain of importance?

When PS Audio fiiiiiiiiiiiiinally :weary: ships their speaker line, will there be a center channel?



If I understand correctly and you’re looking for upgrading as compared to building a system from ground up I’d say look for weaknesses and advance that or those components that would make your system move in the direction you’re looking for. If not, I’d go speakers, sources, pre, amp(s), sub(s), connections, regen/power. I am not as expert as many here so grain of salt and ymmv etc.

Agree. Speakers- put your money in. Upgrade the rest as you can. The speakers make the biggest difference in a system.

But given their relative weight and size speakers often are the most difficult to try in home. Save for 20-40lbs standmounts.

Think about what you’re NOT getting and you want from your listening ‘experience’.

I think finding the right sized speakers for the space is first and foremost but then as other components are upgraded one can find the speakers don’t show the improvement or change. At some point one is simply making changes like spicing a meal.

Do you have the right size speaker for your space?

Power is the foundation of the system. Amps are a close 3rd. A lovely preamp that ‘speaks’ to you is well lovely. DAC, server.

Subs are a finishing touch in my mind. Everything else must be in pretty darn good shape before learning how to incorporate subs into a system.

Purchase and read Get Better Sound by Jim Smith. He will save you loads of wasted effort and money.

Watch this.

currently in the process myself after being sidetracked for the past 5 years.

while there is no real sequence and sometimes as you go one item makes the rest of the plan change

My plan currently in progress is as follows

  1. Speakers this was easy had heard my speakers around 5 years ago fell in love :sparkling_heart: and it was just a case of finding them
  2. Power supply (P20) ( some may go i went to soon but found this to be the perfect base to build off ) and lifted everything in my current also means that i can comapre and know that the power is clean and sorted
  3. Dac Upgrade OMG why did i not do DSD earlier
  4. Music server (built myself HDPLEX fanless/ headless / Sotm cards)
  5. Rel Subwoofer(1) - this was originally towards the backend but DAC and power upgrade just showed a noticable hole in the system where the SF sub i had wasn’t cutting it
  6. Powers / Pre’s This was lower in my list as i have a great integrated running today but this is next have narrowed it down to two - next is to work out which one this covid stuff is over BHK300 and Pre v New Gryphon integratde
  7. Cables - mixed thru as i was upgrading XLR and USB on DAC - speaker cable in phase 1 powercords planned post/pre power although just placed an order for the DAC/Server/P20 so will be in the same family
  8. rel subwoofer (2) my going in position was only one but boy great lift in the system and no doubt a second is needed - although will be reviewed after the pre power upgrade - listening to a darko podcast this morning apparently 6 is the way to go - mmm guessing wife says no

things changed in my list and as you go it does become evident what you need next important to work out what you think your base needs to be and then build off that.

good luck oh and have fun :slight_smile:


Thanks for the video. I am familiar with the eclectic Steve Guttenberg and his work.

I am always amazed at how many audiophile “bang for the buck” lists include the venerable KEF LS50 speakers and Mytek Brooklyn DAC. Affordable classics.

Guttenberg’s route is definitely another good way to go if you like your existing speakers.



I have always taken the approach a system can only sound as good as the source. If your source is crapy it doesn’t matter how great the speakers are. They will just play crap real well.

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I just posted the following in another forum:

Usual caveats, IMO and IME…

  1. Room Treatment
  2. Speakers and proper placement
  3. Amplifier
  4. Source, Preamplifier - flip a coin
  5. Power conditioner and dedicated 20A lines ( 2 lines in phase at panel)
  6. Cables
  7. Racks, cable elevators

Room treatment seems to be ignored by most, but will absolutely have the most impact over any component. You can put any speaker you want in an untreated room, and it can, and likely will, sound bad. Another important factor is putting TOO MUCH speaker in a room. Room modes, decay times, and reflections can really do a number on the clarity and imaging.

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I have to disagree with room treatment being number one.

An empty room is awful and will echo. But add furniture, wood blinds, carpet/rug and you have already begun to treat the room. Unfortunately, the makers of room treatment have done a piss poor job of making treatment beautiful decor. Most of the time it destroys a room’s decor and will not pass the Wife Acceptance Factor (WAF). But I acknowledge, when done properly it can make a huge difference.


It begins with the room (acoustics), then the AC/DC power supply. Thereafter, IMHO, the source component (DAC), speakers, amplification, and finally, cables/tweaks.

I’ll chime in:

  1. Speakers will be your biggest investment in terms of the space they take and the sound they make. Take your time and listen to speakers set up with electronics you’ll never afford and choose. If you choose properly, you may never buy another speaker (I’ve been a Maggie guy since 1988, with a model upgrade maybe 11 years ago - the Maggies clearly reflect upgrades made in other parts of the system).

  2. Power amp. You’ll want to buy a power amp that matches the speaker you chose (Inefficient speakers require high current amps, etc., etc.)

  3. Everything else - a good start here would be a DAC with volume control —who knows, these days this may become your only source component, assuming you have a PC or laptop.

For novice “Audiophiles”. Yes, Speakers first along with an integrated from PS Audio or separates from Schiit. Keeps thing on a budget and allows you better Speakers that in time will sound “better” with more expensive electronics.

And then there’s me. Having a background in in electronics (Audio was the Dream - RF became my reality - for 25 years). I have to have the electronics 1st cause that’s what I enjoy the most. All those pieces inside and having and understanding of my own as to how hard it is to build a successful product with a team is more important me.

Look, building Speakers ain’t easy as a DIYe’r, but done correctly (or as good as you can) they can sound pretty good and save you a Ton of money. That’s what I did 25 years ago and am still doing now (well…sort of making 901’s sound good with miniDSP is sorta DIY).

One day with enough money in hand (well, once all this PSA stuff is paid off), I’ll buy Speakers worthy of my M700’s/DirectStream DAC (maybe a future upgrade to M1200’s once they are production…dreaming here).

Before Paul’s Video’s & PSA came into my life, I had a Adcom GFA-345 and GFA-545II followed by a GFA-555II (traded in he 545). They served me well for many years but the PSA stuff just was a big improvement in sound quality using the same Homebrew Speakers I had at the time.

And they make my 901’s better than they did in 1968 ! (I wasn’t around until a year later…LOL).

If you have x dollars and see a need for every part of the chain, loudspeakers #1 always. I’m strongly of the view sources (DAC, TT/cartridge if you have one) are #2 in upgrade priority. If the signal in isn’t up to snuff, won’t make a lot of difference how much you invest in amplification. After those two priorities I’ve never been able to decide between preamp and power amp and always come down on which is weakest. I put power conditioning/regeneration last as well. The better designed and built your components (and in particular the power supplies are) the less important line conditioning becomes. Which is not an argument for never investing in line conditioning, btw. Subwoofers based strictly on need and only after working on speaker positioning and system fine tuning. I have a pair of RELs in one of my systems - a last addition after building the best foundation I could afford. Interesting you didn’t mention … cables!

Yes. I did this all wrong. I started with my amp and pre. But speakers are where to start. Why? Because they are the most colored piece of the chain. You have to determine what color you like. Better sources , amps,preamps will make your speakers sound better - but they will still sound like your speakers. They are also the most obtrusive pieces in the room. Can you fit massive sound labs stats or the big Maggie’s ? Or do you need some killer mini monitor. In fact, you may like the imaging and the ‘how did all of that come out of that small speaker’ trick. The list goes on and on and the materials used between speakers is pretty diverse.

Get the speaker right - and that will drive your amp choice …determine your room acoustic choices …and the source will drive everything to better heights.

  1. Speakers
  2. Amplifier(s)*
  3. Sources / Preamp
  4. Room treatment
  5. Power conditioning
  6. Cables and other “fine tuning” bits

*NOTE: Having the appropriate amplifier(s) for your chosen speakers is critical especially if your speakers are demanding in terms of low impedance, low efficiency, etc.