Harry interesting observations.
Over the years after many experiments and many thousands of hours of listening, I went from speaker first (I knew very little then about Naim back in 2010) to now source first.
To me now it is the source that actaully plays music, i.e that is the musician, not the amplifier or the speakers.
The better the source, the better the musician, is my experience. Nowadays there are many digital sources, yes they can almost all render the file from 20 HZ to 20,000 HZ, but how they play music is the key. There are many factors that need to be considered such as noise floor modulation, digital filters, power supply. distortion, but in the end, much of the burden falls on the source to play music in a way that is engaging, and faithful to the spirit of the original performance.
I now believe there is little point spending lots of money on amps and speakers, if the source is not good enough, which means the musicians on the recording could sound tired and not interested.
Interesting view, and good to get away from the "you don't get out what you don't put in" source-first fallacy.
However I struggle with the idea of the source being the musician, as the musician has already done his/her job, as packaged by the recording, and the job of the source is simply (sic!) to get it out of the package and pass into the rest of the system. (Here I'm considering the reconstruction of an analogue signal to be part of that unpacking, as well as converting a file or series of pits to a bitstream, or modulated groove to an electrical signal)
I in no way challenge the importance of that unpacking task, but to my mind it should not be imposing anything on the music, as a musician does, but should be thorough, accurate and entirely neutral, passing on exactly what is in the recording, no more, no less. Perfect source or source components will do that, others will compromise somewhere, and how good or bad a source sounds depends on what is compromised and by how much, with degrees of 'betterness' of sound depending on the subjective response of the listener to the differences in the combined compromises that occur in different sources.
And 'better' does not always or necessarily dictate more expensive, especially given progress in digital processing, complicated further by the subjectivity meaning people don't always agree on which sounds best, there being no measure for what constitutes closeness to perfection.
But, importantly, although the difference might be heard through the system, throwing money at getting the best possible source for which you can stretch to financially does not necessarily relate in absolute terms to greatest enjoyment and satisfaction, which I contend is also dependent on the rest of the system, and indeed on what each individual wants from the music, possibly even on musical taste. Speaking for myself, I have serious doubts that I would find Dave through cheapo speakers anywhere near as satisfying as Hugo through much better speakers - yes, I might hear that Dave brings extra clarity etc, but, for example, that wouldn't make either flabby or absent bass sound good, whereas although Hugo doesn't sound as good as Dave, it is still presents music in an excellent manner and I know from experience with both that I would still be happy and satisfied if I hadn't been able to buy Dave and stayed with Hugo, whereas I have yet to hear low budget speakers that would leave me feeling the same.
But maybe the key point is actually a phrase at the end of Analogmusic's post above: if the source Is not 'good enough', then the system will be limited and so might enjoyment and satisfaction - the challenge for the individual is, what is good enough?