What I’ve learned, so far

I’ve always loved recorded music and electronics. I work with technology and I’ve long been interested in quality A/V gear but I’d say I really started down the audio nerd route about 3 years ago. Thought I would share a few of my personal experiences and observations along the way. I’ve gotten a ton of value from this forum and similar ones so I wanted to contribute. Some of this will be super obvious and well established but I was skeptical about a lot of what follows.

Used gear is great. There’s a lot of amazing stuff out there and it’s a great way to try things and learn about what you like. As long as you buy at or below market price, and you are willing to lose a little when you sell for the chance to live with a piece for awhile it’s loads of fun.

If you are low on cash focus on quality components and keep it simple. You don’t need a lot of features, just good well built pieces. Build it over time and don’t rush.

Vinyl for focused listening, streaming for convenience. I do think that vinyl sounds a little better than digital (could be my source, could be my ears). I’ve back-to-backed them on a few different setups now and to my ear, the vinyl just edges out the digital. I also love the convenience of streaming services and they sound pretty darn good.

High-efficiency speakers are awesome. I’ve owned a pair of single full-range drivers and also a pair of Heresy IIIs and in both, I’ve found a revealing sound quality that I never got from my 96 and below speakers.

SET amps sound awesome and don’t need to be crazy expensive. My audio experience significantly changed when I first paired high-efficiency speakers with a 2a3 Bottlehead amp. I learned a lot by reading Kevin Davis’ site (http://glowinthedarkaudio.com) and also from Steve Deckert (of decware) and the Audio Asylum community. It seemed crazy to me that such old tech could beat new tech but for limited bucks, I got a sound signature that makes me smile. I recently added a Schiit Aegir to my system which is awesome but still lacks a little something compared to my tube amp.

Tube rolling can serve up great results. Don’t need to blow the budget to realize some significant improvements and better align the sound to your personal taste.

My mid-70s pioneer sounds way better than the brand new audio technica LP120 I first purchased when I got into vinyl.

A nice cartridge is a worthy upgrade.

Unless you have a ton to spend your vinyl setup will likely have some background noise. If that’s going to make you crazy, then just walk away. I compound my problems with a tube phono stage but it just sounds so sweet.

Balanced gear makes a difference. I really wanted to call BS on this one, but I’ve had a few balanced dacs and amps in and out of my speaker and headphone setups and, for me, there seems to be a smidge more space and clarity.

That’s it for now. What about you? What are the things you’ve learned that you wish you had known when you got into this hobby?

PS, if this is not the right topic for this post let me know. 
Thanks for the write up. One of the things I’m learning right now is that cables matter immensely. Power cables gave me a big bang for the buck. Speaker cables and interconnects let you tailor the sound to your liking. I’m on a solid core kick right now. Hope to try out ribbon cables one day. 
One thing I believe (I guess that's the same as something I've learned) is that, while everything in your system (including the room in which it is located) matters, your bigger investments should be focused on the components that translate physical and electronic elements.  A cartridge translates the energy from the physical vinyl record into an electronic signal, and your speakers translate the electronic signal into the physical waves that create music.  For whatever reason, I've always felt it was a good strategy to invest just a bit more in those ends of the signal path -- not crazy out of proportion to the rest of the system, but some premium percentage of your budget.  Happy listening.

People say to build your system around the speakers and that makes some sense to me. Others say work outward from your source which also adds up. I've even heard some folks advocate for letting your power amp define the system and working up and down from there. I guess any way you slice it the lesson is about synergy of components which is something I think I've only recently internalized. 
@dawgfish, good advice.  

Audible distortions in electronic equipment have been more or less eradicated, and it’s been that way for decades.

Apart from transducers that is.

Any future hardware improvements in audio recording and playback will necessarily focus around incremental improvements in microphone, headphone, loudspeaker (and turntable arm/cartridge) design.

So as things stand it makes great sense to focus your energies in these areas if you’re looking for improvements in equipment. 

Audible distortion has been cured.  Synergy among components is paramount.  

We all have to work under some sort of budgetary constraint. What I learned long ago is to look for the out-performers. The Herron phono stage that in spite of its modest cost performs right up there with the best the world has to offer. The Synergistic Master Coupler that beats a lot of kilo-buck power cords yet can be found used for $250. The BDR Cones or Blue Quantum Fuse that improve everything they're used with far more than you would expect given their modest cost. Things like that.

Doing all the reading and auditioning it takes to find things like this is not at all easy, but sure is worth it. That's what I've learned.
Solid advice and couldn't agree more. You can throw money at it or research the heck out of it and find those pieces that work for you.