Re: High end processors VS low end processors/receivers, hardware differences?
"In my experience, having worked with Bob Carver since the mid 1960s, speakers make the greatest difference by far. The preamp is second, but way below speakers. The amps are considerably less important than the preamp, but that doesn't mean they are not important, just that, assuming they have decent specs and have sufficient power to easily drive the speakers, amps are less different sounding than speakers (huge difference) or preamplifiers (large difference)."
I agree pretty much as far as components are concerned. But I would say that right after speakers are your room acoustics--maybe even ahead of speakers (as long as you have good speakers). It is a rare room that has great acoustics the way it is lived in. When I added room treatments in one of my media rooms, it made a huge improvement.
I won a contest a few months back and received a NeptuneQ (MSRP $4K). I put it in my upstairs surround system and it also made a huge improvement. It basically does with electrical equalization what room treatment does, except it has some advantages in certain areas and some weaknesses. If the room is really terrible acoustically, you will still need some room treatments. Fortunately, my upstairs room only weak point is a couple of nulls in the bass and the Neptune with a couple off bass traps fixed that up.