What is the Audio Chain?

What is the Audio Chain?

A short guide to setting up a Hi-Fi system.

There are a few basic principles that need to be adhered to when setting up an audio system that is for listening to non-fatiguing enjoyable music. I have narrowed them into five parts. Each part of the system has a minimum requirement but no maximum – Below I describe briefly the minimum requirement for each section of the chain.

  1. The Digital Source:

You will need to set up a Hi-Res streaming service such as Apple Music or Spotify make sure you have your streaming settings on lossless as this will ensure the largest file format is being used to reproduce your chosen song.


  1. The digital to analogue converter or DAC: 20-30% of System Cost

This is one of the most overlooked and misunderstood pieces in the audio chain a DAC or Digital to Analog Converter can be found in most electronic devices and its job is to decode your high-res audio file into a very tiny signal that can then go on to be amplified. This is an important part of the process and if done poorly will go on to affect the entire system negatively – leading too harsh digital glare when listening and high amounts of sibilance which ultimately contribute to listener fatigue. My recommendation is buy and try an external DAC. The important principal being - to move away from cheap DAC’s found in TV’s, phones, tablets and computers no matter how good you think they may be. These where never designed to reproduce audio accurately and are a common pitfall in most systems.


  1. The Amplifier: 20-30%:

In most listening applications an amplifier manufactured by a reputable company should serve you well. I recommend 40-60 watts per channel into 8 Ohms for a medium sized room. Remember with an amplifier, rubbish in = rubbish out so any amplifier you choose needs to be fed with a well-made DAC. Some modern amps have built in DAC’s and these can serve as a great starting point on your audio journey.


  1. The Speakers: 40-60%:

At a minimum I recommend a pair of well-made bookshelf speakers. From there you can grow your system to any size you like by either switching to floor standers or adding subs, honestly, it’s a personal choice which speakers you choose to live with just remember a budget speaker will sound surprisingly good when fed with a high-quality signal as discussed above.


  1. Cabling and Interconnects:

At a minimum I recommend oxygen free copper for all interconnects and speaker cables. Speaker cables should be around 14 AWG and interconnects should be from a reputable brand. What we are trying to achieve is a proper connection between components. No need to overthink this use common sense and you should be fine.

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