What I wish I knew before starting my audiophile journey

I’ve considered myself an audiophile for over 3 years now. In those 3 years I’ve owned over 12 pairs of speakers, 10 amplifiers, 4 pre amplifiers, 7 DACs all in search for the perfect sound. What I’ve come to learn is I knew nothing when I started and now have some, not all of an understanding of how this works. Im passing this on to anyone that’s getting into this hobby to help fast track them to a better sound and learn from my experience. If I were to do this all over again, here is where I would start and invest my money.

1. Clean power- I wasted a lot of time and probably sold very good gear thinking it wasn’t good enough because I didn’t have clean power. I installed a dedicated 8 gauge power line with 20 amp breaker and hospital grade plugs for approximately $800. This was hands down the single biggest upgrade. You really have no idea what your gear is capable of delivering until you have fed it with clean power.

2. Speakers-this is where I would spend the a big chunk of my budget. I could make tweaks all day to my system but until I had speaker resolved enough to hear them, it all seems a waste of time. I discounted many things like cables because I couldn’t hear the difference until I had speakers that could actually produce the differences. Keep in mind the room size. I believed that bigger was better. I actually now run a pair of very good bookshelves that have no problem energizing the room. 

3. Amplifier power. Having enough power to drive the speakers is crucial in being able to hear what those speakers are capable of delivering. Yes different amp make different presentations but if there’s enough power then I believe it’s less of an issue and the source determines the sound quality more.

4. Now that I have the power and resolution to hear the difference between sources, cables, pre amplifier, streamer, DACs ect. This is where the real journey begins. 

On a side note, my room played a huge roll in how my system sounded but not a deal breaker. I learned that it’s possible to tweak the system to the room by experimenting with different gear. I learned that speaker size based on room size is pretty important. Have good rug!!

For reference my set up

Dedicated power

Lumin U1 mini

Denafrips Venus 2

Simaudio 340i

Sonus Faber Minima Amator 2

cables, AQ full bloom. NRG Z3, Earth XLR, Diamond USB, Meteor Speaker cables.


100% agreement with #1, installing a dedicated line with 10 gauge Romax and upgraded outlets was a huge improvement in my former home.

Dedicated clean power was, is, and always will be, a prime key upgrade …no quarrel here..

But, having re-read your post, I may suggest you rethink your mantra that you spend the lion’s share of your budget on speakers, The usual tag line in the extreme is “garbage in = garbage out”.

The philosophy is clear. An affordable speaker with high-end amplification and source makes more sense in audio performance, than an expensive speaker matched up with a cheap amp and source.

I should have been more clear, not lion share of budget but a good chuck of budget on speakers. I actually don’t believe I said lion share. That’s my opinion anyway. This is the upgrade path I would start with before experimenting with other gear. Not to discount the importance of streamers, cables, DACS ect. 

Your post said “ Speakers -this is where I would spend the a big chunk of my budget….” at exclusion of any reference to comparable quantum to the rest of your system. Hence the metaphor of “lion’s share” from an implied inference that your speakers were still your largest percentage outlay . Is that correct?

Without prejudice to the above, In my 50 years in the crazy hobby, I’ve followed both good and crap advice in my trek down the Yellow Brick Road to Audio OZ. The one basic tenet that has been a constant valuable one, is that overspending a percentage on speakers as the magic silver bullet fix to most audio performance warts is a mirage .

I have four 2-channel audio systems ranging from $1500 up to $50,000 in my “A” system, The philosophy is consistent in all regardless of pricepoint strata. By way of example, my upstream electronics in my “A” system comprise say 60%, my cables are 15%, and quality speakers for the rest.

Choose wisely, sir.

Best advice for Newbies: Find an honest, reputable dealer in your area (someone who can make house calls).

There is something to say for doing it all yourself, but will usually be more expensive in the long run.

"In those 3 years I’ve owned over 12 pairs of speakers, 10 amplifiers, 4 pre amplifiers, 7 DACs all in search for the perfect sound.".

Find right dealer for sure. Hard to know who to trust when you’re starting out. I’ve had dealers recommend crappy gear based on their profit margins. I have a friend that found a good dealer and has had 100% success. 



Nailed it .,,, point set and match in tennis jargon!

churning over that much gear in a very short period of time  as highlighted in the OP begs a better 3rd party intercedence … ergo reputable dealer guidance 



Since there's no hard and fast rules to this hobby its only your opinion which you are entitled to. I've also gone down many rabbit holes based on peoples "opinions". Going through tons of gear has its advantages and disadvantages. One being you learn a lot, the other is it's expensive unless you buy and sell used and understand the maket price and demand. Finding a trustworthy dealer is no easy task. Almost every dealer is in this to make money. Unless they're prepared to come to my house and see my room/set up i'm not taking anyone seriously. My buddy had the dealer come to his house. He also bought everything new and spent over 35 k. Not many dealers will come to your house unless you're droping some serious coin, my experience anyway. 

I actually did my breakdown of my gear cost. It's not as extreme as you might have thought. My next upgrade would be the amp. I'm probably a bit overweight on cables lol.

Amp integrated 19%
speaker 26%
cables 23%
dac 19%
streamer 13%


Nice post! I agree with your priorities when you start with power. I like starting from the wall outlet and work backward to the source in terms of doing a build or an upgrade. In my setup I bundled speakers and amps together by going with active speakers. When you have clean power feeding an amp coupled to the driver with an active crossover it is like turbocharging the music.

It would be great if you could post your system and some pics.

I would make one change, to setup your room, measure it and acoustically treat it before auditioning speakers and getting any spendy electronics.

Patience is #1. Doing more in-depth research is #2 if you place a value on your time, money, and energy. Then speakers, power, source components, preamp, amplification, cables, room/treatment sooner if possible. Or, simply moving speakers around in the room a little if you can, even as a temporary test.

@dman1974 That’s a lot of gear to rotate in 3 years, barely enough time to find a good synergy between 33 different components mentioned. Matching proper amplification to your speakers can help save valuable time. I like to buy 2nd hand gear at a savings from people when it gets rotated out too quickly. ;)

Developing a listening ear became my #1 over many decades. This can be achieved by listening to other people’s systems whenever you can. Savor the moments with your gear, listening to "components" gets old in time, most importantly remember to listen to the music along the way. Best of luck on the rest of your audiophile journey.

I think OP did an excellent job in articulating his journey. Like many have said, multiple paths up the mountain to nirvana. I’m still learning about this hobby, and to some extent, still consider myself a newbie.

At an even more basic level, I think there’s a lot of value in experience, being open-minded, and questioning absolutes when multiple variables are at play. What really helped me navigate was recognizing the type of sound I was trying to capture.  

It’s been 46 years since I bought my first stereo receiver and a pair of 2 way speakers.  Since then I have maintained a two channel system and owned just 5 different pairs of speakers, 6 amps, 5 preamps, 6 turntables, and 5 CD and or DAC/Transport combos.  I’ve been through many more cable brands than anything through the years.  It takes me months to really settle into a new component and determine how I like it.  I’m not judging.  Back in the day I would visit stereo shops on weekends and business trips to hear different systems and components.  I also had some work buddies in the hobby which allowed all of us to hear various set ups.  These days all of that is hard to do.  So perhaps buying/selling is a pragmatic way to audition a component these days.  

Another way to build a system is through planning.  Stereo gear performance can be broken down into tiers.  Those tiers roughly correlate to price.  I know, everyone has their giant killer bargain sound component or tweaks that help get the most out of a component.  I was big into that in the late 80s to the early 2000s.  It can be very rewarding and while raising a family, pretty much the only option- in my case at least.  Anyway, I found that stretching a bit for a higher tier component when possible, if you know that’s what you want paves the way to upgrades in other areas at a later time.  It requires some planning and sometimes things don’t work out.  I had one preamp, for example for less than a year.  I also had an amp once for less than 2 years.  

When I retired recently I indulged myself and revamped my entire system.  Living the dream.  The best part was since I didn’t have to go to work I could spend nearly every day listening and planning out my system.  I visited a couple of stereo stores which were several hours away.  I also went to Axpona.  Good times.  In the end I sort of did things backwards.  I bought my new speakers last.  I knew what speakers I wanted so I planned everything around them.  They were my single biggest purchase so it took me some time to work up the nerve to spend the money.  It worked out ok.  I did end up changing out my speaker cables and all of my power cords to get the sound just right.  I haven’t thought of this until now but here is a breakdown in percentage of my components to total system cost.  I will leave out room treatments and dedicated outlet costs.  Btw- I started using dedicated outlets in 1988.  It was such an improvement that I have added them to every house that I have owned since.  Don’t hesitate to do it.

Speakers 28%

Amps 11%

Preamps (both line and phono) 18%

DAC, Transport 11%

Music Server/streamer (ROON) 2%

TT/Tonearm/Phono cartridge 9%

Tweaks such as footers, linear power supplies, etc 2%

Cables 15%

Power conditioner 5%


you could have also added: throwing 10s of thousands of dollars at it is must. 

It's weird you have owned so many speakers and amps in such a shorti time. and I would have been more curious about why? Did you sell them all used?

@dweller …. Best advice !

here is an example of what a dealer can do vis a vis auditions and experiences:

(1) Have him parrot my recent gig. I went down to navelgaze new bookshelf speakers on sale for my “C” system. These were regular $800+ ish units on clearance.
First he drove them with a budget $1900-ish system. The audio performance was OK without complaint but not inspiring . My buddy’s comment was “Meh?” At first we both thought it was a pass on the speakers.

He then drove them with a $10,000 integrated amp and $5,000 cdp. In short…”… WOW…WHERE DID THAT COME FROM?…”

I bought the speakers knowing that my home “C” system was better than his budget system and I was not disappointed. I also farced around by driving them at home with my “A” system …. Yep …. Just like in the store…the degree of audio improvements with lesser speakers with a much better build and quality upstream components is not subtle.

(2) Building a relationship with a dealer fosters trust and education . Rotating through 7 DACs in a short timeframe until you progressed to the LUMIN U1 MINI is arguably an avoidable heavy cost in time and money. A dealer would graphically highlight that it’s somewhere around a rough $3000 pricepoint and going northward that the DAC contenders start to differentiate themselves from the pretenders at a lower strata. (… Think quality build and audio improvements from linear power supplies as one example …,)


- System synergy (.. or lack of it..) matters, big time…Cobbling together a system in an ad hoc random basis is a big challenge …”One size does not fit all” arises in too many biased suggestions in this forum and mag reviews.. The audio performance results being incomplete and lacking at a minimum is a frequent hurdle without a better approach.

- Ignoring the audio performance warts present in your bespoke listening arena characteristics that somehow also need to be tamed, , intuitively there is no ‘perfect system”. This hobby enjoyment and frustration is a journey and not a destination.

- Dealer experience and advice helps …full,stop. They will reaffirm that an arbitrary $$ price shelled out for hopeful better audio performance is no assurance of actual better audio nirvana, Conversely, arbitrary price cap thresholds may be a bespoke budget strains on your wallet, but this is only a user generated arbitrary very limiting factor. Why?

”Price is what you pay…. Value is what you get.”


Carry on and choose wisely.





Everything I bought was used. Some components I bought the same 2-3 times. The reason for this was I had a cap on my budget. In order to buy something else I needed to sell another piece. Through the whole process I only lost money 2 times and made money (not a ton) on almost every other piece. There would be these ah ha moments and I would realize the speakers I had weren’t the problem so I’d buy back the same speakers to validate or amp, DAC ect.. Crazy process I know but it was COVID and I had a 1 year old. Wasn’t a whole heck of anything else to do.

I think the OP did not have time to be familiar on all the gear he brought Home.Also I agree , No perfect sound can be achieved. This hobby takes times to really learn what sounds produces musicality on your own preferences.If you can find a honest audiophile who is willing to mentor you that would help.I usually bring new audiophile in my house to listen to my system, I will ask them what they heard and think? Many times I will explain what they should hear and feel on the cd I played.Its important to hear different system as well.Axpona is coming be a good idea to attend. OP I admired your passion on this hobby. I did not realize it takes time to really learn this hobby.But it’s fun to do the audio journey.

I agree with @dweller ​​​​​, a newbie should trust a good dealer, and with @decooney about patience, though this will come with more experience.

On the other hand the op learned some things the hard way which is part of the journey.




Terrific suggestion to attend audio expos. I’ve attended numerous ones over the recent decade and learned a lot from the exhibitors and dealers in attendance.

mostly, it serves as a better filter for all the marketing hyperbole in mag reviews and ads,

It is also a filter for the vast plethora of personal heavily biased suggestions pushing their personal faves in this audio forum ( and others) that have no assurance of actually working in your system..

it’s an easy hands-on audition with other reputable dealers

= Invaluable knowledge expansion …. AND FUN .


‘Thanks. Great post. While I have been in this pursuit for fifty years and am still learning… a lot. Great advice.


I churned a lot in my first few years as well… not as much as you perhaps… but quite a bit. At first unless you have experience with different components it is hard to know what kind of variation there is on performance of solid state vs tube, mid-fi vs high-fi, speaker types… it goes on and on. You can read all the audiophile magazines you want, but unless you have heard some of the reviewed components you can’t possibly understand how big a difference they are taking about on any parameter.


So, some churning I think needs to happen, but some of the rules of thumb and observations are useful for someone starting off or it is easy to go down a number of blind alleys and just decide the whole thing is just hocum.

@dman1974 cool, thanks for explaining. You did good not losing much money, the only way I can do it is if I lose my credit card :)

Path OP followed is legit path, lots of churn, but with internet marketplaces this is much easier than path I had to follow pre internet.


My pathway was first determining sound quality I was trying to replicate at home, for this I listened to a wide variety of home, dealer and audio show systems, this over many years. I'd pursue systems rather than concentrating on individual components, in other words research individual components I thought would be sympathetic to rest of system. I'd gradually build up systems to a conclusion, at which point I'd sell off virtually all components and start anew when negative conclusions were reached. Negative conclusions fell into one of two categories, excessively analytical or romantic, conclusions were drawn by a slowly dawning truth that only  certain types of recordings were being played over and over. I'd play recordings that sounded poorly and blame the recordings, over time not being able to play a wide variety of recordings was untenable, back to drawing board. Once I got past excesses on both ends, neutrality was adhered to in component purchases, this has been much more pleasant experience. Can be difficult to achieve this, but tweaking and tuning can play large role if one starts with neutral components to begin with. Tuning and tweaking is steep learning curve, but much research and experience helps one get there. Listening is key to both, learn WHO to listen to, comparative reviews from experienced reviewers, context in the sense of knowing the reviewer's  components and their implementation into a whole system will help to determine if the items under review will work in your system. And then we need to learn HOW to listen, WHAT to listen for, experience listening to wide variety of systems helpful here.


Over time if there's  one thing I learned, it was to start off  building systems with sympathetic partnering of amp and speakers, getting this wrong will ensure you'll never get to positive conclusion. This assuming one has AC and room in order, those two are prerequisites.

"No perfect sound can be achieved"

Some of us pursue the most pleasing / most beautiful sound. Imperfection is part of it. 


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@dman1974  I struggle with the amount of equipment you have gone through in a very short period of time.  By my math you have swapped speakers every 3 - months, and amps almost as often.  Thats hardly past the break-in period for a lot of equipment.  Sounds like an intervention is in order.  🤣  


Thats one of the benefits of buying used. Also, you can break in by running 24/7. It’s not likely anything requires more than 2-300 hours. I did get a pair of new Dynaudio that I ran for a week in my basement with moving blankets over them. One speaker had polarity backwards. I cannot believe anyone needs more than a month to evaluate something. You either like it or you don’t. I struggled with bright gear. I could hear it in 30 seconds. Like a drill going into my ear. That got sold almost instantly. In the end I’m almost 90% sure it had to do with the  power that was coming out of wall. I also avoided silver because I thought it was bright. Now I’m almost all silver with zero brightness. Clean yes, very clean and neutral but non fatiguing and a touch of warmth. Incredible black background which I never understood until I actually heard it.

@grislybutter I'm guessing you looked at by profile.  Note the pics denote a progression.  I had  Ver 1.0 for 20 years.  Each new version had equipment replaced. Still completing the final rig.  (Ver 4.0)   Have to admit the Bose IPod docking sation is Sweeeeeet, but lacks the detail of both the Acoustic Zen and the Focals.  

@dman1974  I'm also a big fan of buying used.  If I can enjoy a high end piece of equipment for a year and move it on to a new home for close to what I paid, I'm very happy.  The key has always buying at the right price.  If you ever get a chance to buy a Hegel H590 at a good price, I think you will really like it.  Although it's a SS amp, it's almost tube like in it's sound.  300 watts per side will drive anything and the DAC is world class.  One of the favorite amps I've ever owned.  Enjoy your journey.  

IMO, the main problem the OP had in his journey is changing that many pieces of equipment in such a short period of time. It made it nearly impossible for him to learn what piece of equipment did what. The way he did it had to lead to total confusion. Buying one piece at a time and giving it at least a few weeks to figure it out before moving on to a different part of the system is the best way to go. You will then learn the true sonic value of each piece in your system, whether good or bad, and save a lot of money in the process. I know, because I have been guilty of buying multiple pieces too quickly myself and eventually I got to the point where I had difficulties knowing what did what. Patience is the biggest asset in this endeavor, and money :)

"I’ve considered myself an audiophile for over 3 years now. In those 3 years I’ve owned over 12 pairs of speakers, 10 amplifiers, 4 pre amplifiers, 7 DACs all in search for the perfect sound.'

Seriously, dude, you must have more money than brains and ants in your pants.  You obviously don't have a wife to slow you down, either.  Having that many pieces of gear, mingled together at different times likely means you can't even remember what different sound combinations sound like.  If this takes you where you want to go, keep up the good work.  The industry needs these buyers.




i had H360 and H390. Both were OK. At the time I didn’t have the speakers I have now, along with all the other upgrades. Maybe now I’d be open to try Hegel again. I don’t like that the streamer DAC is all in one box. I sold my Simaudio 340 I X that had the built in DAC and went for the pure analog version which cut down on noise with a blacker background.

Rule#1:  Stay away from dealers - dealers want your money and they't your friends.  In addition, even if you buy from a reputable dealer, you will loose half of the value of your purchase in the blink of the eye. 

Rule#2: Buy only the best used equipment you can afford and don't overpay - think of reselling value, because this hobby of ours never ends. 

Rule#3: Learning takes time, a lot of time. Your brain needs time to properly evaluate the music you hear.  A few hours of A/B evaluation and limited listening sessions here and there will not work for proper musical evaluation but only for individual notes and limited sound passages. 

The bottom line is that, most of the new equipment today will be forgotten within a few years and only a few will become timeless and legendary.

If you follow these basic rules you'll be well rewarded in a long time and not financially ruined.  

The rest of the rules from #4 to infinity are pretty standard and easy to follow. 



if you read the entire thread you would have seen that I haven’t bought one single new piece of gear. I had a budget of 15 k and I always stayed within that budget. If I wanted another piece that was outside of the budget I had to sell multiple pieces and balance the overall cost. That’s essentially how I ended up trying so many different pieces of gear. I only lost money 2 times and those were unique pieces which I knew would be a hard sell. Mostly I made money buying and selling. I did a lot of research on what was in demand and what the market prices were. I also bought below what I thought was market value. I don’t recommend everyone takes this path, it’s a difficult one for sure. Dealers hated me because I never bought new and tried picking their brains for knowledge. Trust me, no dealers like me. I do have a wife and I also maintain my budget. Lately that budget increased to 18 K but that’s not a significant increase. I now know what I like and what works. And to your point about needing months to determine if a piece is good?? I totally disagree with that statement. It literally takes a week if not hours for me to determine good or bad. I guess when you’ve heard a lot of gear you just instantly have an impression. I either am interested and want to hear more or I know it’s not for me, almost instantly.

If we are talking about the Stereo, this thread may be spot on. If we are talking about musical fidelity, no one has mentioned the source of the music, the master specs. Lossless recordings, UHD recordings, matter to the actual fidelity.

Nada Bramha.


You mad bro?

You lost me on that "clean power" nonsense. Is your clean power solar, wind or water?

Also, you didn't state your budget in your OP, nor did you state you bought used gear.  And, I didn't talk about "months" to determine gear synergy.  

Maybe you read what you wrote, and what I wrote.

Either way, please let your wife know how sorry I am.

Great post and we have all been down this road. 

Some have been on it longer than others. 

It's an awful hobby, it's costly, lonely and addictive. Number one rule, listen to as much equipment as you can and never commit to anything until you have heard it, preferably at home. Never buy anything at RRP, it's all overpriced. The only thing in my system with 80% of RRP is the Denafrips DAC. Most everything else were 40% or so discount, including cables, power accessories, tube amp, network player and speakers. A play is nothing like a movie and record is nothing like a concert, in the words of a hifi reviewer, and I don't really like any of them, however this is a truism decide which sort of fake you like. Price has very little to do with sound quality, in the same store I listened to a $20,000 tube amp and a $6000 tube, no one could pick a difference. I've listened to $20,000 speakers that can make your ears bleed and your face grimace, $1500 ones that made my spine tingle. However if in the end this hobby becomes all about the equipment, sell it all and buy an iPod, you'll probably enjoy the music just as much. 

but...the most important thing is

the journey!  I have had so much fun thinking, reading reviews, asking questions and listening.  I have been through quite a bit of equipment in the past 3 years as OP but it was just a blast to think and add things, remove things, learn.  

This solution isn't as much fun as the journey. Once we have the "perfect" system for oneself then what?  Watches?  Sports?

Love this stuff


I Feel sorry for the effort some have to put into any hobby only to end up questioning their sanity. Is it that they’ve had to buy a whole pile of junk only to realize it takes more than that, life is too short to spend a chunk of it on the likes of  eBay. Nobody should have to buy hundreds of anything in order to arrive at exceptional sound. I spent years in and out of studios and sound rooms before spending cent one. Research, patients, then I built a room around the system, I’m happy. 


An interesting observation I've made is that the older audiophiles tend to focus on things lower in the chain, like speakers and amps.

The digital generation values and focuses on cleaning up the source and thinks that makes more of a difference in their setup.

At this point in my journey, I tend to side with the latter approach.

@1971gto455ho If you really spent years in and out of studios, you should at least have learned that the most desirable studio equipment such as: microphones, speakers, reel to reels and others are vintage. No one cares for the new studio crap made for convenience and not for sound quality. As far as the effort is concerned - if you love what you do is not work but pleasure and good old fashion  learning experience for which there is no substitute. 

@liamowen Don't knock it unless you tried it. Clean power is real thing and does provide audible improvements across all levels of components.

What might be considered crazy though is the cost of obtaining clean power. The conditioners, the cables, the linear power supplies, grounding boxes, etc. Its just a rabbit hole once you go down that path.


3 yrs. That's funny. But after 40 yrs I still build my systems around speakers, so I believe you have an ear. Tough crowd this...


l do realize the value if quality, vintage or otherwise. As I’ve said many times clean power, a well appointed room and selectively purchased high end will put a smile on most. Enjoy what you’ve got.


So can someone explain how you can take "dirty power" coming from your utility, that travels over non-audiophile cables all the way from the generation location, then down non-audiophile lines into your service panel ( I've yet to hear of an audiophile service panel with solid gold or silver or cryogenically treated copper buss bars, perhaps a new endeavor for someone) and then run that power through a standard breaker (again haven't heard of audiophile breakers yet) run it through some oversized Romex from the famous audiophile store Home Depot and supply said power to a hospital grade receptacle from the same audiophile store, and have that clean up the "dirty power".

First off are Audiophiles ever happy with their components?  We are all chasing a dream, but we don't know what that is.  My journey has taken me from a $5k system to one that would be considered to be high-end.....it does not matter the price.  I have learned so much over the last 5 years and have made many mistakes.  It is all part of the process.  

Clean power and room acoustics are super important.  If you get that right everything else is easy.  If your system budget is under $50k, buy the best-used equipment you can find.   Take your time.  Go to audio shows.  

I am not a fan of a lot of dealers because they just try to jam what they have down your throat.  I buy equipment from all over the world and have not purchased one item from my local dealer.  That is sad but a fact of life.  I go where I can get the best deal for what I am looking for.  

Not counting clean power and room acoustics here is my % breakdown.  I am 100% digital so this is a major factor in my setup.  

Amplifier 20%, DAC/Music Server 45%, Speakers - 20%, Cabling / Power Cords 15%

These percentages have nothing to do with the cost I paid, but it has everything to do with the actual relevance of SQ.  They are all synergistic.  

My advice if I were starting over is to buy brands that you can turn around and sell.  I have had many great components that were not well known.  It can be tough to sell them even though they are great.  It is now why I own Aries Cerat and Lampizator.  

Lastly, as you progress up the high end chart, the wife factor does come into play...LOL.   I mentioned a preamp that cost $72k and my wife went apes**t.  It is a journey.  It is not how fast you get there.  Enjoy the ride and the music.