One key to building great systems over time.

One of the great things about participating in an audio forum like this is that it exposes you to users with all sorts of experience levels. Analyzing questions, I find myself assessing the person’s experience and then going back to that time in my history. I have been at this for fifty years… and I am constantly called back to my first few years when I was working to make sense of the whole environment.


It dawned on me that one aspect that really helped me was learning to focus on “main stream” highly reviewed (professionally) audiophile equipment. 


When you are young and have few pennies you have to take chances on “giant killer” components… and off beat / new astonishing technology. You have lots of time and little money. But looking back, after the first few chaotic years of swapping this “astonishing” component (that had a couple good attributes, but a lot of weak ones)… I slowly realized that the components that stayed in my system (like for 10 years or more) were highly reviewed components from respected high end companies. Back in the late 70s’ early 80’s that was, as an example:  Audio Research, Threshold Pass), and Nakamichi.


They cost lots more… but, if I would actually buy one… well, my jaw would drop… and I would realize… holy cow…so worth it!  My search for that component would end.


Over the ensuing decades, putting together a fantastic upgraded system has become much easier. The last couple major upgrades I have made… ~$45K to $75K and finally to $150K have had completely predictable results been the most fulfilling of my life. The decisions were simple.


So, for those just starting out… trying “highly touted” giant killers is a necessary way of assembling a system that is outside of your budget. But this also leads to lots of disappointments and equipment churning. 


I think my advise is to read lots of professional reviews (they are not all perfect), listen to that equipment when you can, and invest in these well regarded audiophile company components as soon as you can… or sooner. As a beginner, you don’t know what you don’t know… so companies with long histories of being at the very top of they fields are very likely to outperform in ways you are not aware of. 


I am talking about companies like Conrad Johnson, Audio Research, Boulder, Pass, Wilson, Sonus Faber, Rowland, Aurrender, Magico, Transparent. That is not an exhaustive list.


I hope this is helpful to those trying to make sense of this very complex and contradictory pursuit.  






@ghdprentice, in general I agree with you. I'd offer a couple of supplementary observations. By and large, the companies that have staying power have it for a reason - in terms of the multidimensional quality of their products. They also tend to be fussy about their dealers and distributors. However, occasionally companies can lose their way - after the departure of a designer and or change of ownership - Classé is an example. Secondly, there are companies like Magico and YG that are now well established, but that are still relatively young. So I think we should be open to the potential of the new. My maxim is to never be an early adopter - in anything technological. But I appreciate the efforts of those people who are willing to take a punt on the latest and greatest.


There are certainly benefits and drawbacks to any approach, but I feel strongly that there is great benefit by gaining exposure to excellent audio gear. Breaking from the mass-fi mold offers a significant advantage in sound quality IMHO, regardless of how or why you accomplish it.

My journey was very different from yours, as purchasing expensive gear has never been a feasible approach for me. However I did have some unique opportunities to hear, be around, and get a lot of exposure to audio equipment that was well above my pay grade. That exposure gave me valuable insights to what audio gear could sound like, so for me is was a matter of confirming what I liked to hear from my system, then trying to replicate it by whatever means I could afford....whether buying used, building it from scratch, or modifying existing components.

I'd encourage anyone to find a way to hear as much high end audio gear as possible, get as familiar with it as possible, and let that experience guide your future selections.



@pdreher +1

My root to musical enjoyment (not nirvana) followed the same path as you describe. The last building block is my digital front end. I bought used Ayre for my preamp/amp needs and am trying to nail down my digital gear. After some info gleaned from this forum and a hard discussion with a friend last night I am rethinking spending $10-$15K on the digital. I think now I will keep it down to 1/3 of that number by buying used and giving up a little to save a lot. I now believe I will forego the Aurender A20 and go with a Aurilic Altair G2.1. I may buy new but I saw a used mint unit with 2TB drive recently sell for less than $4K. I had the G1.1 a while back and enjoyed it so I can settle for this without issue.

Some will scoff but yesterday I brought home a pristine pair of Klipsch Chorus ll speakers and inserted them into the system. I was taken aback by how much these improved the sound in my room. Even my wife made a comment. She was in the next room sewing and she poked her head in and said that the sound seemed "fuller" to her. I always loved the Klipsch house sound with tubes but never knew how good they could sound paired with the Ayre gear. I guess retirement has made me less critical.

Working with a good dealer can make a big difference.  I built my present system up over a 30 year span with a dealer who would take gear bought from him as trade-ins. Having a good relationship resulted in discounted prices and the occasional floor model at a great price. Eventually my system had reached a point where the diminishing marginal return on every dollar spent had reached my financial willingness to commit further. As much as I enjoy that system today, the journey getting there was a large part of the fun.