How you know your system is improving?

Fellow Audio Junkies - 

Over the last few years, I've invested in my first high end system. It's been a far costlier affair than I'd initially conceived. I started off simply wanting to listen to music in my home. At this stage of my life, I was fortunate to have some resources to invest which led me down the path of reading forums and reviews, while also having the opportunity to visit a few audio stores to demo equipment.

And down the rabbit hole I went... Once I realized all the nuances of equipment and their impact on the listening experience, I became fascinated with creating the most satisfying musical experience in my house. I ended up purchasing several amps, three sets of speakers, NOS power tubes, and a myriad combination of power cords.

With each investment, I would often remark to myself "yes - I hear an improvement..." But sometimes a doubt would cross my mind. Is this some sort of confirmation bias I've got going? Am I just throwing money away? Do I need to see a shrink? 

Admittedly, I was largely convinced things were improving, but a small part of my brain recognized I might be have been chasing windmills... 

Which brings me to this question: "How do you know your system is improving after you've made a system change or hopeful upgrade?" 

For me, a moment came last night when I put on a piece of music - Beth Orton - and played a track that a year ago sounded muddy or poorly recorded. There have been several system changes since I last played that Beth Orton track. As I began streaming over Quboz, I could hear details in the music which had been previously fuzzy and hidden. The tone of her voice was more real. Guitar strings came out of the fog... 

I guess the concept I often read about here, "using a test track" had become my new litmus test on whether my system was improving. It was inadvertent, but I think I'll default to this approach more consistently moving forward, going back to a few tracks that have proven to be challenging with the current system and giving them a go when a new component gets added. 

Yes, I know... nothing radical here. But would welcome how many of you benchmark improvements in your own systems! 


For me, I know(?) my system is improving when I find myself wanting to listen longer.  

"Just one more selection .... Okay that was fun ... Just ONE more ..."

+1 @hilde45   I'm "investing" in my personal happiness,  but otherwise you are spot on.  We are spending with no hope of financial return.   😣

Generally I change one item at a time. I have several tracks that I am very familiar with that I listen to after the change. If the piece is new one has to consider the break in aspect. That said, if the upgrade has true merit the improvement presents right away.  This is most true when one is looking for a certain improvement and makes a purchase that is suited towards that.

If you have a foundation (room, gear, power delivery, etc) that puts you above a minimum threshold of satisfaction, there is a lower chance of rabbit hole surfing and getting caught in the weeds.

The human ear likes to be in certain types of spaces/rooms (w/ pertinent treatments) as a baseline to enjoy music. When it isn’t there, you are inside a rabbit hole, to begin with and will continue the rabbit hole diving..

W.r.t gear, if you heard some guy’s rig that blew your mind (acquire some points of reference), ask him how he got there, look at his room, look at his stuff, etc and make life easier by reducing the number of gear permutations. Discard brand loyalties (whatever is the forum hype train for the month), preconceived notions of which brand gave you more audiophile street cred, etc and try to keep an open mind.

In general, there is a correlation between a higher level of listening satisfaction and the physical size of things. Typically, it will come from large rooms, large speakers, subs, etc. Life is large dude... If you can’t get to that, i.e., stuck living in a tiny apartment with a speaker the size of a coffee mug, other waf restrictions, etc, just lower your expectations and find additional fun hobbies.

A mindblowing rig+room doesn’t care much about "test tracks". Just listen to the type of music/artist you like.


I would counter by saying that it certainly is an investment in your life and is paying dividends.

Think of all the non-monetary investments you've made in your life...just a simple walk in the park is an investment.