headphone. i think amps only let you hear more of the headphone. because we all have some kind of source, so we find a headphone that caters to our needs and equipment, and eventually an amp to cater to the headphone's needs.
cables... uhh, well you need them, and you tailor them to what you might want in your setup.
1000 dollar cryo treated cables to radio shack gold plated cables DO play an important role, but not as important as the initial investment we all have to make in headphones.
Answer 1: The part that's sub-standard. Answer 2: Assuming everything is reasonably adequate for its purpose, my big #1 is not the gear, but the music you're playing on it.
Explanation 1: Say you have awesome cans, amp, and source, but for the cable you're using a 200' run of 32AWG wire and half of it is tightly coiled around a power cable. That cable is substandard, and it's going to drag the rest of the system down with it. Similarily, if you're trying to drive a pair of Stax's with an iPod, your amp (or lack thereof) is the substandard component. Explanation 2: Garbage in, etc..
Originally Posted by Torula Yeast /img/forum/go_quote.gif So far it's three to one in favor of the cans.
And if this question were posted in, say, the amp forum...?
There would be significantly less headphone votes. Most of the people who lurk the amp/source forum come here frequently. The headphone forum is the most popular, and eveyone visits it. This way everyone gets a voice.
I think we can all agree that the headphone imparts the most significant difference in the sound quality of a setup, though. You won't get anywhere near perfection UNLESS you have a headphone that fits your taste first. And of course the biggest difference anyone here has experienced that's turned them onto head-fi is that of upgrading from a pair of el cheapo to a proper pair of headphones.
In other words, it's headphone-first for me.
Another critical component that's been neglected in this thread is the quality of the source material. Compare a recording by Simon and Garfunkel to, say, Norah Jones, and the difference is night and day. So looking for well-recorded material is an important aspect of this hobby (especially if you're a classical fan like me) that's been consistantly under-explored in my opinion especially in light of the fanatical attention paid to tweeks like cables and power conditioning of late.