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.  







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.

For me at least, there’s an advantage to "willful ignorance" when it comes to audio.

I don’t have the financial means to follow the advice of @ghdprentice and double my current investment. I’ve taken my system about as far as I can, at this point. Accordingly, I don’t see much of an "advantage" to exposing my ears to dramatically better sounding gear, as given my personality, it would most likely breed dissatisfaction. 

It would seem I’m an outlier but given a choice between peace of mind and "appreciating better gear", I’ll opt for the former.


"For me at least, there’s an advantage to "willful ignorance" when it comes to audio."

I agree with this statement.  There's nothing wrong with staying in one's comfort zone.  We still service vintage gear.  Many pieces are 45+ years old.  To their owners, these solid examples of "consumer gear" from the era are musically satisfying and represent the best of the best in their audio world.  I am certain that they wouldn't trade a stack of current "audiophile gear" at 10x the value or their equipment even up, for a variety of reasons.  So, I listen intently when they tell me how great their system sounds, and try to uphold the promise of not having their equipment leave here in worse shape then it was when it came in.  

Personally, I hit the "eject button" about 10 years ago on my "reference system."  The reasons are complex.

As mentioned earlier, inviting people to audition "better gear" was the right thing to do in my opinion as a dealer.  Our Mission Statement read something like:  "Helping people reward themselves for being successful."  Denying them the opportunity to take their musical experience to another level was unethical in my opinion.  As I told many customers:  "You live there.  I don't."  

Sounds like you're still enjoying your system, and have made good choices.  Well played (literally).

There is a minimal acoustic satisfaction threshold...

This threshold is defined by many acoustic factors you must learn to recognize in your system room by studying and experimenting ...No money needed..

 When this minimal satisfaction threshold is there you know how to upgrade with a real change not a marginal one and often most upgrading are no more appealing...

It is my experience.. i am more happy than most with two  low cost synergetical  systems i learned how to embed than most with costlier system not well embedded... ...





Thanks for your gracious response. I'd agree that, from a dealer's standpoint, encouraging customers to audition better gear makes sense, for a number of reasons.    

In retrospect, it's occured to me that what I was responding to was not actually the content of your post but the mind-set of "constant craving" that seems so pervasive in this hobby. I don't personally enjoy this state of mind but it would appear that for a good many, it's pleasurable. Different strokes, as the saying goes. 

And, if everyone was satisfied with their systems, there wouldn't be nearly as much to talk about, here. . . ;o)

When I was an active audio consultant, I felt it was my job to help the listener understand the various differences between components, such as tubes vs ss, box, panel, horn speakers, etc. and determine what the listener’s preferences are, based on the music that brought them the most enjoyment. Many of these people were more interested in the sound of equipment, and the prestige in owning said equipment, than to engage, musically, with the performance, of their favorite recordings. And when I say favorite, I am talking about Sheffield Labs, Telarc, and other labels that presented a higher degree of pinache. They would only listen to these better recordings, which showed me, they were audiophiles, first, and music listeners, second. I find this to be the case today, based on my experiences, reading, and talking with people. But, those that put the music first, were the easiest to assist in their journey, and were happier, long term, to listen to the system I helped put together, than those that went on the " next purchase " bandwagon. A system should ENGAGE the person, in that moment of listening, and this engagement, is where things get interesting. We need to determine what attributes of sound, are the most important to us. I learned mine, at a very early age, and I give credit, to my dad, who loved music and bought some nice gear at the time, and to my music teacher, who helped me determine what to listen for. Being a member of a chorus, was also an enlightening experience, and added to my golden ears. Golden, as I know, what characteristics in a sound system, are important to me. Some of you have gotten to this stage ( no pun intended ), and some, unfortunately, have not. My advice has been the same for years, on this forum. the musicianship...the artistry...and the arrangements...WHAT are the musicians doing on " your stage " ( your system ). Most folks are more interested in WHERE are they, on the stage, and the sound, size, distance, of the stage / environmental acoustics. While I do believe these characteristics are important ( they ARE on our recordings ), those qualities of sound are secondary to my main interests....The artist’s PLAYING, singularly, and together. The PERFOMANCE itself. I ranted enough, and I apologize. My best, always, MrD.