The Psychology of Constant (Equipment) Change

Anybody have an answer?

I have a decent selection of preamps, amps, integrateds and speakers to choose from and I find myself swapping out gear constantly.  And it's not because anything sounds bad.  Quite contrary, really.

After most swapping sessions, I'm generally really satisfied and quite enjoy the sound quality.  But within a few weeks I'm swapping stuff out again.

What would be the diagnosis for my condition?



Just illustrates different personality types.  Some folks want to hone one system to its max -- perfectionists -- while others want to see what different combinations create -- explorers.  Neither is "right."

My system is set up with swap bays so that I can use a bunch of different sources with 3 different preamps, 5 different amps, and 3 different sets of speakers (plus other speakers I can pull out). Of course there's some calibration required depending on what I've just swapped in. 

It's all good fun.  It may also match a certain mood or genre of music.  Some combos better with electronica, others with classic rock.  And some also better with some sources than others. Phono preamp isn't a good mix with my Levinson pre but works well with my BAT pre.  

To each his own on this front. Don't forget about the music! 

I research this topic. I'm a consumer psychologist and marketing professor at the University of Michigan. In the consumer psychology literature, there are two main explanations for this behavior -- one more positive and the other more negative. But they overlap and both have elements of truth to them. 

The positive spin: variety-seeking behavior and intrinsic needs. Variety seeking behavior is a fancy way of saying people like to try new stuff. In one study, wine lovers were interviewed as they were buying wine. They were often buying new wines they hadn't tried before. They usually believed that they would enjoy the taste of the new wine less than their favorite wine at the same price. So why buy it instead of their favorite? The best explanation is that they got two different forms of enjoyment from the wine: one from the taste, and a second from the adventure of learning about new wines. So their favorite wine might be (taste = 9 pleasure units; new experience = 0 pleasure units for a total of 9) but the new wine might be (taste = 7 pleasure units, new experience = 3 pleasure units; for a total of 10). So even though they expected to get less taste pleasure from the new wine, their total enjoyment would be higher than if they bought their favorite wine. The analogy is pretty clear. 

This also ties into the psychology literature on Self-determination Theory, AKA intrinsic vs extrinsic needs. The relevant point here is that people have an intrinsic need to learn and grow. Trying new things helps us do this. So in this light, swaping out your equipment is part of the virtuous endeavor of learning and growing as a person ;-). 

in this type of explanation, listening to music is only part of the pleasure we get from our hobby. Contrary to the slogan that "it is all about the music," this theory suggests that it's partly about the music and partly about the pleasure we take in learning about and using the equipment itself. In this way we are a little bit like watch collectors for whom it's really not "all about just keeping accurate time." It's mostly about how cool and interesting the watches are. Some audiophiles don't like to hear this because it sounds crass and materialistic compared to the elevated pursuit of music as art. But we don't need to see it in a negative light. And we'll be happier if we are honest with ourselves about how and why we enjoy our hobby (and why we are reading this listserve right now instead of a listserve on music). 

Negative spin: it's addictive behavior. To make a long story really short, this point of view says that evolution set up our brain to reward us with dopamine when we acquire a new useful resource. As we get into our hobby, our brain gets accustomed to these dopamine hits. Eventually, they become a motivation on their own in ways that aren't beneficial to us. We see this in all sorts of areas of life including shopping for all sorts of different products. 


Finally, please forgive my ending this post with a shameless plug. But if you're interested in these issues you might enjoy my book The Things We Love: How Our Passions Connect Us and Make Us Who We Are. It's widely available. It covers the psychology of why people love all sorts of things. But being a bit of an audiophile, I focus on music-related topics fairly often. 

To quote Bill Murray in STRIPES..."There is something wrong with you.  Something very, very wrong with you!"  I just picked up a D'Agostino amp from a gentleman who had a gorgeous system -VAC tube set up, Von Schweikert reference speakers.  It sounded even better than it looked.  He had bought the Momentum for a back-up amp.  We chatted about all of the excess equipment we had and how we'd like to get rid of some of it.  I still have my gear from college in my basement - adcom, NAD, Magnepan.  And it all works great.  The only item that died after 30 yrs was my Velodyne subwoofer.  I had four hours to drive home and started thinking "What is the deal ?  Why do we do it ? Is it OCD - striving for perfection ? It is clear I'm not the only one.  There is a fine line between being an audiophile (or any type of collector) and being completely nuts and I'm teetering that line.