Why do we demand so much from our systems?

When I was in college a while back I was very happy with my system. I played records and I also had a cassette player from Kenwood. I wasn't interested in it sounding better because it was very satisfying.

Fast-forward to current times, Systems are more revealing and detail is a lot better than it used to be which I'm not sure is such a good thing. And I say this because it seems that as our systems improve as well as recordings improve we seem to be getting more demanding and becoming more and more unsatisfied with whatever we listen to.

Is it possible to be satisfied  with anything these days??


I have been upgrading my systems since college… fifty years. I have been very happy at every stage. I do not upgrade because I am unhappy but because my subconscious notices that I can afford to upgrade and I get curious on how much better it can be. Upgrade after upgrade has conditioned me to realize there is alway better when I can afford it. 

" And I say this because it seems that as our systems improve as well as recordings improve we seem to be getting more demanding and becoming more and more unsatisfied with whatever we listen to."

Speak for yourself!

@koh_i_noor …”Spending more and more chasing that initial high…”


Not me. I get many years of appreciation every time I sit down and listen. 


Sometimes a major part of this hobby is exploring. Since our hobby is niche high-end it can be costly.

Contentment vs Curiosity - we are all different

loved my first system, been happy with every serious upgrade past 50 years...it is possible to love what you have, totally enjoy it, and still have fun with upgrades...


If you’re an audiophile it’s a labor of love and the search for something better is part of the fun. You could drive a Toyota Corolla your whole life and get from here to there. A Porsche or Ferrari is much more expensive, more labor intensive, more expensive, but exponentially more rewarding. If you’re even asking this question you need to relinquish your audiophile card.

I suspect there as many different answers to this question as there are different people with different tastes, experiences and expectations. When I started in this sandbox, call it 1970, the "high end" was still emerging--and I jumped on the tube bandwagon relatively early. I still have some of those same components to this day--used in my vintage system. And I can tell you they do sound good- a pair of old Quad 57's that were restored, along with a pair of Quad IIs with top notch glass, a restored Technics SP-10 that I've owned since new. In fact, I'd say partly due to the restoration of the Quad Loudspeaker and its synergy with the Quad II amps (I was using ARC tube amps back in the day), this system has never sounded better. (I'm using a modern arm and good cartridge). It is not analytical or "revealing" in the sense of clinical sounding- if anything, it makes things sort of homogenous and "comfy," like a well broken in leather baseball glove. It's great strength is its apparent transparency-- I say apparent because that system seems impervious to noise and gremlins that can crop up in my high efficiency horn system.

All that early high end stuff- the ARC, Levinson, big Infinity loudspeakers, Krells, etc. were pricey in their day, but today's uber high end has taken pricing to another level. Worth it? Maybe, if the combination of components is "right" and set up properly in a good sounding room. 

We know a lot more than we did in the early '70s (at least I do) and things like turntable set up are far more advanced, to extract that last iota from the groove. 

There's always been a degree of audio nervosa in this hobby, but at a certain point- whether its budge, time and energy spent searching for the next "great" thing or simply burn out from the endless churn of "gotta have the latest," I relaxed about the gear. My main system is very satisfying. I know what its short comings are, and accept them. I appreciate that there is always another mountain to climb, but one of the things that got me out of the endless "quest" was my interest in more obscure records- early heavy rock, post bop jazz-- stuff that wasn't necessarily reissued, let alone by the usual "audiophile" houses. Yeah, I appreciate that Tone Poet did Katanga! and that Craft reissued Woody Shaw's Blackstone Legacy-- those are not easy to find as OGs. But a lot of the records I listen to are not audiophile showpieces-- they were made at a time when vinyl was still a mainstream medium but the quality of plastic and pressings were all over the place. 

To me, it is a mindset. I think part of it is also your point of entry. I have shelves of audiophile "spectaculars" that reside, largely unplayed, on my shelves. I'll pull something out occasionally -- like an old Decca classical record-- and really enjoy it. But, for the most part, I've managed to shift my focus to the source material, rather than the playback gear. I have little interest in impressing anybody with sonics-- I'd rather play them the "Same Old Rock and Roll" from Roy Harper's Stormcock (Jimmy Page on 12 string). 

As to the @soix car analogy, I've owned many Italian exotics and a well set up Miata can give you amazing thrills if you are willing to cast aside preconceptions. I don't think you need to give up your audiophile "card" by appreciating what you have, assuming your system does what you want--for me, it is utter transparency in the midrange, fully fleshed out bass (that was hard, and required work on a number of fronts), as well as getting inter-component noise down to a minimum (running 104db speakers). 

I've heard a lot of big, fancy systems over the years and a lot of them left me wanting--I think so much is that elusive "synergy" which is very hard for me to comprehend in the abstract. I do know it when I hear it, and it has less to do with price than with the "right" combination of components, set up effectively in a given room. 

Sorry I did not have time to make this shorter. 

Bill Hart

@ghdprentice Bingo. My thoughts exactly. ("Kind of Blue is playing now for the 100000000 time). This seemed import to add.

@whart The saying, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter,” is attributed to numerous historical figures from Cicero to Blaise Pascal to T.S. Eliot and Winston Churchill. But Mark Twain said it best. “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Just started thinking about an isolation transformer today. Your system is way cool. Way.


I had the same experience in college, also in the 70's. My system (Sansui, Phillips TT, and large Jensen 3-ways) gave me enjoyment every time I listened.  Unfortunately there were years between then and now where I probably read too many audiophile articles and sort of lost the direction of what excited me about that college system, which was tone, dynamics, and ease of operation.

Thankfully, my current system provides those three attributes so I have been able to once again enjoy the sound and get more excited about the music than about improving my system.

Our threshold of what’s suitable evolves with time and experience. As our systems become more refined, what used to be good is no longer satisfactory.  I want my system to trick my mind into thinking I’m listening to actual music.



You'll be dissatisfied until you achieve wisdom or until you run out of money.

I get many years of appreciation every time I sit down and listen.

Same here, every single time.

My thoughts about upgrading happen when I'm not listening to the system.

It's because we've become empty inside and only consumer purchases can fill the aching void.

@dweller - Love it! 🤣🤣🤣

@hilde45 - Try good friends and alcohol, less expensive than stereo upgrades.

progressively you get older, more time/income/knowledge/kids out of the house/...

Like so many other pursuits in life, attitude is important. You have to discipline yourself not to get too finicky about it. I have powerful, revealing, accurate music reproduction, but I know I could go far beyond what I have, particularly when it comes to dollars spent.


One simple thing is to back off on the volume at the beginning of a listening session. Always leave something in the tank for the most exciting moments of a track. Treat it like sex, or the rev counter in your 911 GT3. If you take it right up to 8000rpm, you're not leaving much room for an encore!!


Getting into vinyl helps with this concept. I'm much more apt to listen to a whole side of music, put down the remote, read the liner notes, and enjoy the music.

I get that you spend whatever you can and please to spend but many times I don't get the justification.

First, you don't need to prove anything. You bought it, like it, end of story,

Second, those justifications can be so bizarre.... to avoid any controversial words....

Try good friends and alcohol, less expensive than stereo upgrades.



Why do "we"....

Interesting, but, thankfully I'm not part of "we" and happily being "am" in my own cave-self!

You'll be dissatisfied until you achieve wisdom or until you run out of money.

@dweller Ha!  Very Zen. 

It's not hard putting together a high-end system that throws much more "detail" in your face. But getting it to also sound musically coherent and broadly enjoyable can sometimes be a challenge. If you're unsatisfied, especially if you find too many recordings unenjoyable, maybe it's time to be honest with what you REALLY think of it. A poorly balanced system might sound "great" on simplistic beautifully-recorded audiophile fare, but breaks down on anything this side of Krall.

You did mention tape though, and tape is one of those rare things that just seems to always get better as you go more high end. 

Then again one could just have gear fever, and that will preclude any lasting satisfaction until you settle down. Though the journey itself could be fruitful towards learning what one likes. 

I guess my reaction is, you are right I'm not in college.  If I decide to try new food or a new beer - if I don't like it then I don't consume it.

When it comes to expectations of my system - I bought it to bring enjoyment to me.   Not remind me of being a starving college student - been there, did that.  I want a system I enjoy now.  And I do.


I am completely satisfied even if upgrading is always possible ...

Why ?

Because there is a treshold of mininmal acoustic satisfaction...

This minimal threshold is not when you reach more details perception , it is when all details are not there for their own sake but they are there musically, organically and dont impede the global musical impression and do not grab any attention for themselves ...The Room/system is then balanced....

This minimal threshold is defined not by gear price but by acoustics concepts , timbre, dynamic, transients, distortion, immersiveness, bass etc all acoustics concepts you must learn to control IN A ROOM....

There exist also a marginal upgrading improvement most confuse with minimal and maximal acoustic satisfaction threshold...And some go from marginal improvement to another upgrading marginal improvement in some race toward more costlier which they called : high end ...most of the times it is not...All high end system need a high end acoustic room for example not a costlier speakers upgrade... 😁

One thing is sure, when a system is really "musical" and acoustically satisfying in a minimal or maximal way (with a dedicated room acoustic) all albums are so interesting even the badly recorded , that listening music takes all your time and money...

half the time if not most of the times upgrading a piece of gear or even your system only reveal that you dont have learned what is electrical,mechanical and acoustical controls and then ,instead of learning how, you succumb to the tentation of the market publicity... It is very easy if you had the money...It is way harder to learn acoustic and use a dedicated acoustic room and sometimes it is costlier as mike lavigne said so about his dedicated room ...

You can say for sure that i am wrong and a poor dude unable to afford a 100,000 bucks system in his living room and you can claim that i am envious... Some did .😁

You can think otherwise also and realize that acoustic is the main key not the system price tags called High-end... ( anyway my headphone system is high end by the way )😊

Remember that i do not pretend that my ACTUAL minimally satisfied acoustic threshold rival the maximal threshold... I only claim that many people with costlier system are way under the maximal satisfaction threshold because they bought costlier design without paying attention to the acoustics, and electrical and mechanical controls with their past less costlier systems ...

Ask yourself why someone in acoustic ectasy will throw so much money to "upgrade" ? this only means that his system is not able to give acoustic ectasy for sure... When the sound grab our attention instead of the music , our system lack something that most of the times cannot be reach only by improvised costlier upgrades suggested by marketing ...

We must learn how to put what we already own at his OPTIMAL level BEFORE upgrading ...

All this is contested by some proud owner of 100,000 bucks system calling any 1000 bucks system low-fi...😁 Sorry but audio is knowledge and acoustics not price tags bragging... And in the many cases when someone system is better than mine by design , be sure that i am not so much far behind and it is me who smile with a 1000 bucks system compared to their money investment... We are not all budget open here ...

Learning something is more fun than owning something always ...

When the sound different aspects are acoustically balanced, they vanish behind the immersiveness of the music... The last thing you think about in ectasy is : with what very costlier piece must i upgrade tomorrow ? 😁

People  OFTEN upgrade when they are no more satisfied and bored by music because their system is not well embedded ...they are not in ectasy for sure... They think the only way is buying more and more...

Acoustics is the audio main key... Electrical and mechanical control the other key... upgrading is not a key, it is the explicit confession that a system is not balanced and you dont know how to correct it save buying more at higher price...

For sure we dont have all the time and the room to learn the acoustic basic, then we can define High end audio by price tags investment... Most do that...

I dont....





Seems to me, @emergingsoul that you may be after a moving target. How revealing do you want, and what’s your indicator(s) for revealing? If it’s purely listening-derived through time as you encounter new products, you’re in a head game against yourself. That could be a hard one to win.

You gave half an equation - you liked stuff easily during uni and didn’t judge it so strictly. What about now? No system description from you and no criteria for what you value in a playback listening experience, means most folks don’t have much to directly compare their own experiences with (hence part of the reason for more time needed to prevent some of their long answers, eh?). 😉

@willyht interesting approach re: easing into volume, Stairway to Heaven-style. I’m the opposite; since I don’t make time for listening every day, I like to open up with a bang. More of a live music type-of-enjoyment that gives me. Then I modulate through lower, softer tracks, back-and-forth. To each their own and all, eh?

@mitch2 gotta be restrained with how to cut costs on our emptiness-nurse options. Where I live, I can listen to countless hifi brands within a handful of blocks for free when the urge strikes, but drinking alcohol means buying it, and liquor has a 100% import tax where I live. Sometimes there are multiple great options available, but zero cheap options for purchase! 😉

Personally, the Hifi pursuit, after picking up the Hifi hobby again after some 25 yes out of the loop, has turned to one of exploration to find out what sound qualities and characteristics I now like.

Back in the early 90s, after hearing an friend of a friend's elaborate Naim set-up, and what was possible, I eventually bought a Naim (Olive) bi-amped set up with Epos 11s. Fast forward; got married, sold my rig, got divorced in early 2000s.

When I did pick up the hobby again, nearly 3 yes ago, I went Naima again, as I loved my system from the 90s, and what it gave me. But, no. I found, now in my mind 50s, the Naim sound just wasn't doing it for me.

Perplexed by this, my journey is now a case of;

 "I Don’t Know What I’m Looking For, But I’ll Know When I’ve Found It"

...and I must say, I'm having a blast looking for it 😂

What's with this "we" stuff? I've enjoyed every single audio setup I've ever had and have improved the quality of all of it over many decades for FUN. I'm certain many other of the somewhat less tightly wound among us feel the same. If I'm trying out a new thing like a cable or speaker or something and I don't like it I can simply change it without descending into a puddle of psychotic angst. Get out more...meditate...join a cult...rev your Porsche up to the redline in every gear and calmly explain it to the cop who stopped you...he'll understand.



What is your system? The more you hear, the more you hear what is wrong. Maybe tape cassette is a better medium.

Plus this isn't 1970. Our modern intercommunicated world is constantly bombarding us with new products. Too many choices with no way to define by words is bound to promote OCD / dissatisfaction.

Sorry this font is really big but can't change it.




4,561 posts


It's because we've become empty inside and only consumer purchases can fill the aching void.



That’s a pretty dark take, but OK. The pleasure of hearing a virtusuo ply his trade and turn an instrument into an absolutely sublime experience is more than just a consumer purchase. It just is. I sometimes listen to records, older somewhat obscure pressings brought to life with improved sonics and frankly am taken aback with their abilities.It’s like how could I have not appreciated this earlier.Really, it’s because now I hear more clearly the nuances. Maybe I’m filling a void but it’s a bit presumptuous to paint us music lovers as being empty inside.


+1 @dentdog Of course there is a capitalist element here given the luxury of affording this equipment. But there is the beauty and the happiness afforded in the joy fullness this hobby delivers, derived from the soulfulness of the music we enjoy when we sit down with it.