Most eye-opening upgrade and what you learned

Would love to know about moments of light on the high-end audio learning curve.

My husband and I number among the academic poor ...
with preferences which substantially exceed our budget.
Nonetheless, we have managed an aha!! experience or
two of our own.

The mating of conrad johnson tube preamp with krell solid
state amp opened our eyes about the role of electronics
in creating presentation.

Listening to the revel salons set our standards for hearing music rather than sound from an audio playback system.

Know that many of you have deeper insight, am hoping you
will share.

Newcomer to audiogon
Ken - On your ear opener, a new room? Or maybe RedKiwi knows you better than the rest of us :)

I can't say there is one that REALLY stands out over the the other in the past 3 years that I have been on a tear with continual upgrades in a quest to realize my goal of, what was that goal?:) This after being sendentary for almost 10 years. There have been many notable ones and then improvements on them. It might seem that the most recent ones are the ones that stand out but I really feel the question is relative to where you "are".

When I discovered hi-end 17 years ago I decided that I liked tubes better than SS from the get go. Problem was I really couldn't afford a tube amp and settled for a tube pre-amp and ss amp. Never have owned a ss pre-amp since and haven't owned a ss amp since 1991. Not to say ss amps/preamps don't have their virtues. They certainly do.

The rest is evolutionary and it is hard to single out one over the other as a musically satisfying system is a synergistic compliation of different components that work together. Ideally they will make music that to the ears of the listener makes analysis of how it sounds irrelevant. The goal is long term enjoyment of the music listening experience. The hobby is improving on that, at least for me.

Recent discovery that is a bargain on a budget is my Oracle TT, SME arm and Benz cartridge, I bought it for a great price and it is fabulous and a giant improvement over my last analog set-up. The other is the Berning zh270 amp that is in my estimation and listening experience the ideal melding of ss and OTL tube amp technology with the sonic benefits of both, an absolutely incredible product. Recently on a more minor note but which is worth noting because I got the involuntary goosebumps when I plugged it into the system, this happened on 2 successive listening sessions btw, was the Ilumnati D-60 digital cable by Kimber. "It's getting better all the tiiime"

What I have learned is that we all have different tastes in how music sounds and to always trust your own ears over the opinions of others. If you haven't already noticed you may ask a simple question and end up with 10 different opinions. We all hear differently, that much I'm certain of. Hope this helps with your query.
1>. First exposure to tube amplification (1989). Bought home Dynaco st70 mk II, and my Infinite Slopes just opened up, and smoothed out. Rickie Lee Jones was in the room!

2>. Replacing Monster Cable Powerline 2 with AudioQuest type 4. Th AQ is nothing special, just that the MC is dreadful! No brainer difference/improvement!

3>. NOS/vintage tubes. Began tube rolling in my fisrt amp - GTA se-40 - and was amazed at the difference different tubes could make. To this day, my favorite and most productive means of tweaking my system!

4>. SET 2a3/45 amplification. Not as dramatic as the other examples, but no less signifigant. Its like another mindset, were your priorities shift. No longer are pyro-technics important but the nuances of the musical ebb-n-flow. Really another world, one much more sophisticated and real!

5>. AC/acoustical treatment. No, not a fine-tuning measure, but a fundamental process in building a proper system. And if you don't consider, you're just playing with yourself.

While I've made a number of upgrades and tweaks along the way to building a good system, the two upgrades that come to mind as truly "ear-opening" are (1) purchasing a pair of audiophile grade speakers (PSB Stratus Gold-i) to upgrade a quality mass-fi system. The huge increase in musical enjoyment bowled me over and awakened me to the possibilities of high resolution audio, getting me hooked in the hobby. (2) adding a Tact RCS 2.0 room correction processor to the system. The surprise here was not so much the delightful and substantial increase in focus, resolution, and smoothness of the sonic experience, but the realization that so much of what I thought was whomping bass capability in the system was actually muddy room reverb... bass drum hits changed from a big, meaty "boom" to a tight thump with microdynamics of skin reverberations. Bass guitar lines became distinct musical notes. The rhythmic underpinnings become so much tighter, so much more "there". Listening to clean bass takes getting used to... at first the sound seems thin, until you bypass room correction processing to hear the mud again.
After many years of being blind to it, I was looking at the cover of Peter Gabriel’s album “Up” just now and learned his face is on there. Who knew?