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.  






A swing and a miss...its going to happen.  If something doesn't work for you, get out fast and move on.  However, if it does work, recognize that and take the winPerfection is the enemy of progress -WC.

Before I was able to spend more on my system, I put together a pretty nice sounding system with an Aragon 4004 MkII amp, B&W M803 S2 speakers, Pioneer Elite PD-65, and some preamp I can't remember.  It checked the boxes for tone, power, and dynamics and sounded pretty darn good on the music I listened to.  What I didn't realize is that I was probably two subs away from a system I could have happily lived with for years but I just couldn't let myself be satisfied.  Instead, I kept reading audio magazines and the internet and moving down the elusive upgrade path where I fell into a bunch of rabbit holes before (many years and dollars later) achieving a system that I am once again very happy with.

@ghdprentice I appreciate your comments and agree with you.

Your points help demonstrate currency is not just cash - it's also time. 

For me I enjoyed listening to my first system (MCS receiver and techniques turn table) no less than I enjoy my current system. Life's a journey and over the years I prioritized time and resources differently at different stages in my life.

Room acoustics. Get that right first, or early on in your pursuit. It can be easy, fun. But, it must be done. 
 Robert Harleys audio book is a good reference. There’s a ton of information on YouTube. 
of course, forums like this one are a wonderful source. 

@ghdprentice  - valid points but not always the best way to assess a system.  Not all manufacturers use the best parts in their components.  Reviewer systems and dealer system do not always sound good. Most peoples experience is with the standard manufacturers equipment.  The way to learn is to understand what produces sound that you prefer.  For example, different tubes produce different sound.  Most people here have never heard a 101D direct heated triode tube.  Most have never head field coil speakers.  Most reviewers have not heard these also.  So even they can have limited experience.  Once you understand the sound issues and understand what impacts those issues then you can build a system for your ears.  Most people chase sound but they do not understand why one component impacts that sound.  We recently were surprised by jumetite speakers.  Never ever heard of them before.  Built way back in the day and only a few exist.  Really nice sound compared to a lot of expensive speakers we own and have heard.  We have several systems in our listening room an we get to play around with so much equipment we get to hear the impact plus we upgrade and modify equipment so we get to understand the impact of changing parts, etc.   I love that so many people come over with their gear and tell us how much of an impact this or that does in their system.  But no so much in our systems.  Simply because we understand what impacts the sound so our equipment already does what they are looking for from sound.  We recently repaired and did minor upgrade to a Harmon Kardon CDP.  After a few better parts, that CDP will compete with many higher priced components.  Is it a giant killer, well no, but the customer will not be disappointed in the sound esp3ecially for the price.  We learn every day.  You really need to understand sound and what produces the sound you prefer first before you spend your time going to shows, reading reviews, going to dealers, and swapping out equipment.  Once you understand this, then you can build a system for your ears.

Happy Listening.        

As a dealer, I always invited customers to audition items at home "a notch above their comfort level." This would produce the following result: 1) they’d realize what they are missing and stretch the budget to make it fit, 2) solidify their price/performance decision at their preestablished budget level, thus validating their purchse, or 3) determine what their future upgrade will look/sound like.

I agree that the brands that have received accolades from (credible) sources are the safest bets. Parts quality matters, and budget considerations will have an effect on sound quality. Those manufacturers/designers generally throw resources at things that matter sonically. They have their priorities right, and consistently produce stellar results.

Many have not had the opportunity to audition equipment at 2x-4x their budget to see what they are missing. They were never invited to do so, or it was not even on the radar. Doing so would have changed their world. Or, at least their appreciation for better gear.