Good thread, and it describes my intermittent struggle. The yin and the yang. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Does the audio system exist to serve the music and is it the means to the end, which is listening to music? Or is the gear the goal? There is no wrong answer, and each varies with the individual. I remember stealing my older brothers' 45 rpm records and listening to them on my crap turntable in the basement (The Everly Brothers), and it was about the music. Then, 12 or 13 years old, lying on the floor between the speakers of my parents' big console hi-fi ("audio furniture") listening to Dionne Warwick (mom's records, which I still love) and The Association. It was always about the music in the beginning, and still is, I think. Music creates powerful emotions in me.
I go through phases where I renew my subscription to Absolute Sound and get sucked into the black hole of looking at expensive gear I can’t afford but still fantasize over and against which I measure my own modest system. Or, gear that I can afford, thinking of change for its own sake, incremental improvements, And I find that sometimes diminishes my enjoyment of my system. And then I let my subscription lapse and occasionally read audio reviews online but mostly focus on listening to what I have and reprioritizing the music. The music has always been it for me though—the music is what got me into buying hi-fi gear in my teens and early twenties, to try and improve the experience of enjoying music in my home. I love live music too, though I hate big venue stadium concerts and the like. Personally, I love listening to artists in smaller clubs and more intimate venues, but not everyone plays those venues. I love being able to almost synthesize that experience at home.
I went to the audio show in Seattle last summer (after not going to shows for 20 years) and listened to up to million dollar systems, and I have to say it did not create too much envy. I’m able, in my golden years, to intellectualize it, knowing that if I had more money, I might spend more money (no, I would, to a point) but my frugality would hold the law of diminishing returns in check. The 80% that you spend to get that last 20%! I don’t fantasize about a million dollar system, but a $100-200k one, with the perfect listening room, would be awesome. If audio is one’s main pastime—considering what some people spend on cars and boats—that doesn’t seem to be an outrageous sum. $50k for a lifetime of pleasure? A bargain!
"Honey, it keeps me at home and we can do it together!"
Her: "Turn it down!"
I’ve known people who absolutely love music but are always chasing that last 10 or 20%. At some point, it’s important to be able to look at yourself honestly and wonder if you’re the dog at the dog track chasing that rabbit, which you will never catch. The finish line always gets moved. If the kids are going hungry or your spouse is threatening divorce because of the money and time you spend on your obsession (whatever it is)—re-think and re-balance your life. Obsessions can be unhealthy.
One thing that has fundamentally changed my listening habits and perspective is my subscription to ROON (with Tidal). I have discovered more new music and artists in the last 2 years than I have in the previous 20, and it’s been glorious. I highly recommend it. It has made me refocus on the music, and again the system is just the tool for enjoyment. I can also enjoy rocking out in the car or on the bluetooth speaker almost as much as listening to the "big rig" system, though it isn’t the same. Almost. My brain and memory kick in, I sing along, and add to the experience to fill in the gaps that the listening device doesn’t supply. The brain works like that. I’ve been told that many really good musicians don’t have exotic audio systems, because their brain supplies them with much of the music experience, augmented by their ears. Fascinating—people hear differently.
Happy listening and system building, and thanks for the thread!