The complete system is a hard concept to get across to high-enders. The notion that all high-end products work with all other high-end products is very strongly dug into the audiophile psyche, at almost all levels. Nevertheless, the fact remains that audiophile systems are best constructed with a mind to the system in its entirety, rather than a motley collection of devices that will magically sound wonderful simply by putting them together.
The key aspect to take from the systems assembled here is the thought that went into them. Even those that are a relatively simple amp+speaker system are more bespoke and thought out than anyone might guess from the reading. This essentially puts much of the onus on system building back to the distributors and dealers, because it's simply not possible to run through every combination of components in order to find the one that works best. That's someone else's job!
This is perhaps a light at the end of the tunnel for the traditional dealer. A good system can be assembled in a haphazard manner, but a great one takes care, attention, and time to assemble and install. The dealers and distributors who will continue to survive in the downsized audio world of 2016 know this and put together systems they know sound better than the norm.
There is still room for the fun of building your system up from scratch, though. And I've heard many exceptional systems constructed without any consideration toward synergy between the components. And I've heard some that completely fail in this task and the whole is worse than the sum of the parts.
The key to good sound it seems is application, which sounds remarkably like an excuse for audio obsessiveness. Lining your screws up so the grooves all point in the same direction is going too far, but the basics like leveling products, keeping speaker cables organised and not a rat's nest, and so on, all contribute to better performance. After that comes the aftermarket, and this month, we spent a fascinating couple of days discovering just how deep the rabbit hole goes with Synergistic Research, and this shows that maybe it's possible to make a system better by sorting incompatibilities inside and out.
Whatever the reasons for system compatibilty, building a great audio system seems set to be a popular hobby for a long time to come!
Our congratulations go out to Mr. D Priestley of Bradford in the UK, who wins a pair of the excellent Russell K Red 100 loudspeakers! Well done!