System resolution limitations or ‘bottlenecks’ are critically important as they define the maximum performance attainable with a given set of equipment.
Think of it this way: You could have the best pair of speakers and source equipment in the world, but if your amplifier can only support a certain level of performance, maybe it has a cloudy or opaque sound, limited power, limited bass performance or midrange resolution, you will never be able to hear beyond that limit. Everything you play will be defined and limited by that weakest link. That’s why system optimisation as a whole is so vitally important.
Another way to think of this is using the classic ‘dirty window’ scenario. Imagine the sharpest, most detailed image in the world being held just behind a slightly dirty pane of glass. It doesn’t matter how good that image is technically, because you will only even be able to see the amount of detail limited by that dirty window and what can be observed through it. The only solutions are to clean the glass, replace it or remove it altogether.
What this means in the real world of hi-fi systems is that sometimes people upgrade elements of their system but then perhaps don’t hear much of an improvement or cannot get the most out of the improved equipment because of these existing system bottlenecks. The only way to substantially improve the system is to remove the bottleneck, or resolution limitation. This is why getting excellent advice about systems as a whole is so important.
Know Your Limits
Examples of system resolution limits and being surprised the results aren’t better include fitting really good cartridges to average turntables, using high-end MC cartridges with cheap phono preamps, connecting high-quality sources to opaque-sounding amplifiers or connecting high-quality balanced equipment through single-ended connections where the system is not balanced end-to-end. The key to removing system resolution limits is to first identify that they exist, and then precisely where they are. We can help with this through our advisory service.
You might be thinking: “Mike, this is obvious!” Good, but as obvious as it might seem to you, most people are not very good at identifying and eliminating system resolution limitations. Speak to those who really understand this concept and avoid those just looking to sell you equipment, that part really should be obvious!!