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

OP you're doing it just fine, and I did it similarly. Starting (or re-starting) my music and HiFi hobby in 2019, and especially during Covid and with a young family, I was able to buy or try and experiment with a bunch of used gear up and down the chain in my system along with the help of a friend in the hobby who lent me things to try/compare. I agree, the differences are apparent quickly between pieces. 

I too had a budget, and whenever it was time to upgrade something, sold stuff and fully paid for the next piece. I bought quality stuff, not top-shelf, and it all sold for equal or more than I paid ...and taught me a ton. Also, a savvy shopper can find remarkable deals if they know what they're looking for when it comes to components, cables or anything. The gap between the retail price and what I've paid for my gear is huge.

Keep on keepin' on! 

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From the time I bought my first receiver in 1977 until now I have been driven to improve upon my stereo sound system but it wasn't a constant or consistent endeavor.  I might go a few years between upgrades because I was either satisfied with the sound or caught up in work, cars, or by the mid 80s home theater.   Not every change turned out for the better.  I tried melding home theater with hifi.  That lasted about two years around 1990.  I built a dedicated listening room in late 1994 including acoustic sound absorbing panels.  I applied my NVH knowledge from working in the auto industry.  The sound was killer.  That was probably my peak in sound quality until just the last few years- and a whole lot less money in gear.  I bought my first Sota turntable in late 1992.  The sound blew me away.  That drove me to build the room but not spend more on gear.  Interesting looking back how I went that route.  It was out of necessity with a 2nd baby on the way.  Unfortunately, I got to enjoy that room for only about 2 years until I relocated.

My stereo was my stress relief at the end of the day.  The music lets me relax and just focus on the sound, the words and the instruments.  But once I heard a distortion, or an edge in the highs, anything  like that would start to annoy me and the problem would grow in my head until I had to do something about it.  So instead of stress relief it would become a stress point.  I would either stop listening for a while or start hunting for a new piece of gear.

Once I had the perfect system.  I enjoyed it thoroughly and immensely.  That lasted several years.  Even a hifi buddy advised me not to change a thing.  But no matter, I got the bug in me to change things up.  New speakers lead to a new amp.  New amp lead to new cables.  New cables lead to a new preamp.  New preamp lead to a new amp.  New amp lead to new speakers.  Thousands of dollars and a couple of years later I felt like I was back to the sound I had with my system before I started making changes.  It was a bitter lesson, but like a typical man, even knowing I made a wrong turn I refuse to turn back.  (I have literally turned back while driving just two or three times in my life.  One of them was in Prague.  No street signs, confusing roads.  Never did find my hotel.  Found my way to the airport, turned in the rental car and took a taxi to the hotel.  Man oh man, once the taxi got me there I realized that I had never even gotten close.)

So a few years ago as I was about to retire I made revamping my stereo system one of my projects.  The other projects, of course were updates and upgrades to the house as hopefully this will be my final home.  I relocated a lot over my career.  So I visited some good ole stereo shops, Axpona and read and read online.   My stereo project replaced my career basically these past couple of years.  That includes building some of my own tweaks and racks in my shop.  After putting in all of the effort and spending a fortune, I can say that I have exceeded my peak sound that I achieved in 1994.  And yes, I have done much work to my listening room here including GIK panels, a new floor and other acoustic treatments.  Not to mention- two dedicated circuits with hifi outlets and lots of spring based isolation.

My conclusion is that the room is the single most critical component.  The stereo system can make up for room deficiencies but it can get costly.  A stiff floor is critical as well as absorbing the bass reflections in the corners.  Next are stiff walls and ceiling to eliminate what I might call ghosting.  I'm thinking about secondary reflections from the walls, floor and ceiling as they vibrate from the sound.  Too much absorption kills the sound.  I learned that in 1994.  So don't overdo it with the sound absorbing panels.

I am reminded of a story:  In the early 1990s I got to visit the echoic chamber inside the Chrysler Tech Center.  It was a very large room with all walls and ceiling a few degrees off square.  The center of the room had a chassis rolls and at that moment a Chrysler minivan was under test in the room.  This room had hard surfaces.  Even a whisper echoed around the room for several seconds.  One had to be very careful in this room if not wearing ear protection.  Even a handclap could become thunderously painful.  My point is:  be mindful of making a room off square.  (I'm not talking about a vaulted ceiling as that can be a benefit.)  The sound in the room needs an exit.  The exit can be as simple as an open door.