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.

128x128dman1974

@jusfre

 

Good question.

My first direct line was put in when the average value of my components was ~$5K. It had a pretty big impact. More than a great interconnect.  What makes it hard to access is that the more expensive the components invest more money is in power management of each component. So, each component becomes more sensitive because of its high quality and less sensitive because of more sophisticated power management at the same time.

 

My current average component cost is now $20K. I recently added a separate direct line for my power amp. My feeling was that the incremental increase in sound quality was $5K… the cost was $1.2K. Helping me to calibrate, I recently had swapped power cords and interconnects… so I understand the $/sound quality improvement.

I think with less costly components… the gain could be even more. Since the components have invested less in power management.

I feel luck in that nothing huge comes to mind. Maybe it's because I'm cautious.

@curtdr  you just made the observation I was thinking of sharing for days.

After 45 years, I know what I can audibly discern and know what I am paying for in this 'general' order:  critically first is speakers, power amplifiers/pre, then source components although if analog, cartridges are important.

When I started, late 70's college, one norm was 50% speakers and cartridge, 50% turntable/arm and receiver/integrated. Well thought out in my mind.

Understanding the sound of all types of speaker technologies is smart. Once you know what you enjoy, find a few of the best sounding brands (to you). and work on acquiring a great model. if you're looking high-end, think used as they're taken care of, and the drop from retail is amazing on high end (e.g.: my used Raidhos).

With speaker sound, brand, and model done, I'd tailor the system components to complement it. Do not be afraid of some quality DSP room correction fixing your bass and room if it is in a true 'living area' and not sequestered in a cave (no cave for me). Decent cabling makes sense, outrageous cabling is for folk with no sense. (They think they hear 'something else' and that's nice at what they spend, $$$   :-)

(If you're wealthy and cannot make up your mind and exchange gear for fun, this advice wouldn't be for you.     Some of us are budgets, small or large, and still want to maximize the end result, not take losses on constant switching around 'in search of something greener'.)

… so I understand the $/sound quality improvement.       

@ghcprentice, that was what I wanted to say exactly, and that's what I pay for.

I hear far more with a $ speaker change than for an amp change. That's me. That's my ears. I think diminishing returns hits electronics faster than speakers.

When I was serious, over months I had a dozen pre-amps in my home for audition in the late 90s when you could to that. And, although subtle, I did hear differences, and more so in power amps, less so in better digital gear.

And so, I always spent my money cautiously (keeping gear for years until upgrades) and just where the most audible improvement occurred. That wasn't $5k speaker cables for me. I just want the best overall sound for the $ donated. :-)

 

Interesting thoughts on % investment here. Current mid-fi rig with very enjoyable performance. Vintage solid state pro audio power and wide baffle box speakers are my “hobby within a hobby” can ya tell :)

Wharfedale Linton 85 Heritage speakers $1200 Open Box

REL T5i Sub - $500

Recapped/serviced 1984 Crown PS-200 Amp - $500

Auris WiFi Streamer/DAC - $200

Mogami 3103 Speaker Cables ~ $90

Schiit SYS Unpowered Preamp Switch w/ Pot - $50

Monoprice RCA/1/4” Jack Interconnects - $50

I confess to being a bargain hunter with a high snake oil aversion, but the info here is extremely informed and many of my choices for systems I maintain for our home and our kid’s homes benefit,