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.  






There is not only a minimal level of acoustic satisfaction for any piece of gear at any price in general, but also an optimal acoustic satisfaction level for a specific chosen piece of gear, then there is 2 threshold defined by various acoustic concepts both objectively and subjectively because we can learn how to control these thresholds to some degree and to some level...

But these two thresholds are also related to a S.Q. /price ratio... A diminushing returns "law" in an objective and also subjective double way, 2 thresholds also here, which define a non linear relation between price and quality in audio ...

Then how can we get what we pay for ? If there is no linear relation between price and OBJECTIVE acoustic experience nor any linear relation between price and SUBJECTIVE satisfaction ?

You cannot buy knowledge and we always pay for ignorance...

For sure in principle a Magnepan speakers for example are way better than a small pair of active 4 inches bass driver speakers paid 100 bucks 12 year ago...

But wait a minute , what if i put the magneplanar in a bad room with the wrong coupling gear, and what if you couple the small box ideally in a perfectly well controlled acoustic environment and if you modified them to reach clear 50 hertz ?

I know because i listened to these two cases...

Guess which experience i prefered ?😊

Read me right here magnepan are better in principle to  low cost small active speakers even if well designed ( mine are ) ...But any piece of gear need to be coupled and embedded well to give a positive optimal sound experience...

It is the reason why i take seriously only basic knowledge, especially acoustics, over reviews of gear where the reviewers claim to deliver knowledge ...

I need to increase my knowledge way more than i need upgrading my components.. This is true not only for me as a principle but for everybody ...

But people want to pay with money not with their time and studies...

The upgrading series of purchase comes from this very often... Not from enlightened and knowleadgeable studies and experiments... I myself lived through this upgrading bug too... 😊




The meaning of " audiophile " is a person who is enthusiastic about high fidelity sound. There is no further distinction between those who listen to the music, or those that listen to the equipment. I communicate with many listeners, and more and more of them put the music secondary to the sound of equipment. My best, MrD.

The definitions of audiophile I have heard and lived with for the last fifty years always include a very strong thread of obsession… always willing to… well in my case buy discount brands of paper towels, tp, buy an old cheap car (my used 1969 Datsun 1200, in which I rebuilt the engine, got me around for over 15 years, this’ll avoiding popularity with all but the most desperate woman), while I took out my first loan on a Threshold s500 amp ($5K, $19K in todays dollars). An audiophiles system always cost more than their car. This has always been true for me.

My partner always comments that the ratio between audio dollars and normal dollars is about 100 to 1. I will really try to find a way to avoid spending $20 but a $2K on a new cable gets an instant and easy yes.

Audiophilia is generally considered a disease by those with it as well as those around them… while somewhat jokingly… with a lot of truth.

There are also hi-fi enthusiasts and a couple other classifications where consideration is put into how much better does it sound… and is it worth it. Typically “is it worth it?” Is only heard from enthusiasts, or in private intimate discussions between two audiophiles… fully knowing no one else would even hear the minute difference being discussed.

@ghdprentice I am not here to argue, disagree, or judge. I am stating a fact, based on my interactions with people in the business, as well as consumers. And yes, I started this hobby in the early 60’s, so my timeline is similar. Say what you will, it is all good. The hobby caters to every kind of listener. I have heard multi thousand dollar systems, that do nothing for me. I will take my system, any day of the week. Being individuals, with our own preferences, is a wonderful thing. Enjoy ! MrD.


I agree that audiophile has no connotation on whether the person in question prizes listening to music or their system, or somewhere in between. Absolutely the high end audio cater to their clients. It is a continuum from nearly entirely one versus the other. Over our time I have met folks everywhere on the continuum. I’m not sure I have picked up on a trend over time.

I have heard lots of very expensive systems that have not appealed to me. The worst (to me ) are the details at all costs… with lots of distortion and high frequency hash… without rhythm and pace, and midrange bloom. Sometimes the systems are poorly set up, sometimes poor component matched.. I can usually tell what they were going for and if it is targeted at a specific audience (the detail / slam folks) or just poorly set up.

I have heard a lot more inexpensive systems that have sounded terrible. Often, less expensive components have more flaws and are assembled by less capable staff or enthusiasts. I have done a lot of auditions over the years. My partner and I have often started to listen to a system and quickly turned to each other and rolled our eyes and walked out. She is not interested in high end audio, but has ultra sensitive ears of a women that are easily offended by distortion and high frequency hash.

Your system looks very enjoyable.

@ghdprentice , I should have stated " $6 figure + systems ", as I have a multi thousand dollar system. Your home, and systems, look very nice. I am familiar with AR running SF, and it is truly a most enjoyable presentation. This is the beauty of our hobby. There is so much gear, to cater to " any kind " of listener’s, tastes, budgets, and rooms. Enjoy ! and my best. Always, MrD.

Think I have researched the whole audio/music subject and have waited sometimes five years in some cases for the right piece of equipment to pop up used. Had Jim Smith over multiple times. I listen to the equipment to hear the music. Profound I know, yes? Have overhauled my system one time over a two year span and yes spent some hard earned bucks. 

My advice is to set your eyes on your end game pieces and wait until they come available. Play with the room, electricity and whatever until a piece comes up and stretch your budget but keep your priorities in line. JMO



Thank you for your kind words about my system. Over time my tastes have definitely moved towards musical. This being the most musical system I have ever owned… I never listen to my system… it is always the music… and as I probably mentioned earlier, after three hours of listening I have to drag myself away to do something else.



Yes, absolutely. Piecing together a fantastic system is all about “tne right stuff”, and for most of us, the right stuff is typically out of reach… until… suddenly it is… a special discount, a used component, a raise. 



You cannot buy knowledge and we always pay for ignorance...

Good advise and worth repeating.

Have you considered a career in hi-end audio?


I only experimented enough to know how to embed rightfully three audio basic system...

Many here are more talented and knowleadgeable in audio and gifted in craftmanship work...

I am not...

I only tried hard for many years to reach a relatively audiophile sound at low cost and i identified some problems others did not identify clearly as the triple embeddings controls at low cost and basic acoustic to optimize specific ears/ specific speakers/ specific room relation... Thats all...

I discovered against all odds or most opinions by experimenting that it is possible to reach good sound with all acoustic factors well optimized at relatively low cost...Most people dont think nor believe that , they are too much gear dependant and not enough interested in acoustic to experiment and study it a bit...Then they stay vulnerable to marketing and their experience is limited to  a good or bad components synergy... They dont experience the impact of all three embeddings controls together if well done... Then only costly component upgrade make sense for them to improve the synergy between components ...

No acoustian bother themselves with price tag when they create a room for a specfic pair of ears and a specific pair of speakers, if the basic audio system is relatively good and synergetical to begin with ... Acoustician know that the sound source is the room/speakers and the ears inner filters and structure and the HRTF not the files, the vinyl, the R2R or sigma dac or tube dac etc nor the amplifier etc, all components like cables are only vehicle for some information going to  the SOURCE of the sound experience  which is acoustically all acoustic factors linked to the ears/head/speakers/room... Then playing with acoustics is more impactful in shaping the sound than changing a good amplifier for another good one in most marginal upgrade which are most upgrades...

Upgrading component work when for some level of price there is a bad synergy between components, it does not work anymore and easily when for some level of price you had good synergy...

And i prefer low cost system well embedded generally to higher costly one badly embedded ... Most people would pick the reverse choices..😊 I would be tempted too because i know how to embed any system at any price, acoustics dont change with price...




You cannot buy knowledge and we always pay for ignorance...

Good advise and worth repeating.

Have you considered a career in hi-end audio?


Not sure I agree (respectfully).  I don’t think there’s just one path, and I think there are actually a lot of boutique companies out there that have not yet - and may never - achieve widespread appeal and coverage by the mainstream audio press.  And in some cases, this may have less to do with engineering than marketing (or even serendipity).  

So for example, I have 3 different systems, and I think I may have only have a couple pieces that fit your description - Audio Note speakers and Koetsu cartridge in my big rig, and Ortofon cartridge in my vintage system.  (Not sure where you come down on restored vintage pieces like Garrard and Thorens idler drive turntables or Altec horns.).  I have boutique brands from all over the world - Leben and Triode Corp from Japan, Synthesis and Gold Note from Italy, Audio Creative from the Netherlands, Reed from Lithuania, Okto from the Czech Republic, Acoustic Zen and Fern & Roby from the U.S. - and I am extraordinarily happy with the quality of the sound from each of my systems.

Traditional, well-known and reviewed brands may be a safe (and sometimes expensive) approach to achieving what we are all seeking, but I think there are other, credible paths.  Having said that, I love your system!


Thank you for your comments.


I really do not think we disagree. I am definitely not saying there is one path. I am pointing out that there is a path, that while still requiring lots of work, has a much higher probability of long term success. There is a real long term learning curve over time for listening and often values. You constantly don’t know what you don’t know yet.

Yes, exactly as you say, I am saying it is a safer path to take… I think that captures it. The path has lots of markers… it is not thrashing around the woods so much.


I have actually spent more money (early on), thinking I had found this wonderful component, only to find I didn’t when I learned more. Are there boutique components that hold up to the big guys in all respects… yes, but they are far between. Those are the budding new companies that will eventually become main stream.



1)After 50 years in audio, I’ve learned a few hard and valuable lessons. I started working in stereo shops in high school and became addicted. I have heard almost everything currently available at high end retailers and shows.

My best advice is as follows;

2) Listen to a $1000 system and then a 5K system and on up the ranks. If you’re not impressed, don’t invest. 
3)There is a point where a little improvement costs a great deal more.

4) If you don’t have a decent room, the best equipment will sound very limiting and disappointing.
5) Really good recordings will sound better on lesser equipment than average recordings do on the very best gear.

6) I have never found a dealer I fully trust. I have been burned  by them many more times than private party sales. I am referring specifically to after sales support as much as what they sell you.

7) Off brands, mods, and custom made one of a kinds are high risk.

8) Buying used or demo gear is great, but not usually cutting edge unless spending a great deal of money. Used loudspeakers are higher risk because of how they were run and handled previously.

9) Digital audio takes more money and time to get right than vinyl.

10) At some point, spending more just becomes an expression of addiction and ego.

11) Great cables, power supplies , RF,  and vibration control really do make a big difference.

12) Enjoy the hi end while you can because we are a dying breed. Portable audio is  taking over.



As an example, under point number 6.

There are only 2 high end dealers in my area of Jacksonville Florida. After returning here 15 years ago, I started doing business again with a shop that had the same owner since I was here in 1980. He sold this business about 5 years ago. The new owner sold me his design of music server. A $7,500 unit. After sales services were spotty and the software didn’t measure up. I then invested in other equipment that he felt I should have bought from him despite the fact that he didn’t have this equipment at the time , and I never auditioned it in his showroom. That’s when he stopped all communication with me. I was then forced to sell the server at a 50% loss. I couldn’t even trust him to provide support to whoever I sold it to so I traded it to a dealer. No names here but buyers beware.

I had my eyes on Magico, DeAugustino, T and A and Levinson,  but 15K in losses from 3 dealers has forced me to scale back.



Wow, I am really sorry to hear the experiences you have had with dealers. That is horrible.

Much of my interactions with dealers has been extended and great. One for ten years and two for twenty years. Each were generous with their time, absolutely honest (if they thought a component that they did not sell would be better… they would recommend going elsewhere), and collaborative.

When I go into a new store, I first find the owner / head honcho. I introduce myself, and my current system and long term strategy. Then I let him go. If he quizzes me, to better understand my values in sound… generally resulting in broad discussions on all things audio, this is good. From this discussion, I can assess his skill / experience level, his integrity, and emphasis on selling. Is this the kind of guy who knows all the different categories of sounds different people value, or only knows his own? Good folks take the challenge of understanding you and helping you achieve what you want. Most often my first trip is simply to establish a relationship… of see if it is possible. Sometimes, I know much more than he does. In that case, I can go in if I know what I want and I can ask him to hook up the components I want… I end up teaching him… that can be fun if he wants to learn.


Sometimes the result is that sales are the only important thing. This can be great, because the guy looses interest in you and you can just go into his best listening room and he goes back to his office. I have spent hours and hours with great systems like this.

I have found seldom has a trip been wasted. Even if it is clear I may never buy there, I get real experience. Then I have gotten a couple of long termed friends from this.