Written by 4:37 am Audiophile • 2 Comments

Is it Time To Upgrade Your Audio System (again)?

Paul Wilson looks at how and when he updates his audio system…

I purchased my first personal computer sometime about 1990, if memory serves. When computers first started gaining in popularity, it was a common joke that as soon as the new desktop or laptop was home, it was already outdated. Such was how fast technology advanced. From then to now, my usual practice has been to replace a computer about every two years. New technological advancements typically yields better performance and besides, I just like to have the newest and latest. That said, my current model is going on four years old and as soon as the new iMac’s come out this fall, it will almost certainly be replaced with a new version. 

AR-TimeToUpgradeSmallFormat.jpgComputers are one thing, audio systems, particularly high performance systems, something totally different. When I started my audio system upgrade path in 2010, I did so with unabated fervor. Since 2010, I’ve gone through four DAC’s, multiple music servers, four (I think) sets of speakers, several amps, two preamps and I cannot even begin to count all the various combinations of cabling I have had in the last eight years. I’ve added new components which, at the time,  I was positive I needed only to find them nowadays seldom used.  To be fair, I was chasing some unknown ideal and the status quo was simply not delivering on my perception of sonic excellence. So I kept revising and changing my system, and yes, each iteration more and sometimes dramatically more expensive than the previous version. Ultimately, I found my sound and the system I currently enjoy delivers on my own personal ideal – that level of sonic nirvana I set for myself. While I tell myself I am completely enraptured by the sonics my system produces, I cannot help but wonder if newer and more technologically advanced components might actually deliver a more musically satisfying experience. 

Only one thing stands in the way. Cost. 

AR-HighCost44a.jpgHigh performance audio is expensive enough in its own right, and keeping up with technology can be pervasively expensive. Now, of course, I could go back to using my little system I bought in 1972 because, yes, I still have it and it still works. Unfortunately, it cannot ever hope to sonically compete with my current system. Would doing so, or even making the attempt ever make me happy? My guess is no, it would not. So then, at what point in time do I reasonably equate what has come before as not being audibly acceptable? When do I allow myself to declare the status quo untenable and open the door for upgrades? And of course the all-important question, how much will this upgrade path cost? 

Another condition that probably cost me a pretty penny is the “weak link in the chain.” I vividly remember sitting in the great room of my former residence thinking “this speaker is not nearly good enough for this,” you name it – cable, amp, server and so on. “I need a new speaker system.” So began the quest for something better. I cannot even speculate how much the logic of those decisions cost me. However, it did yield one amazing sounding system – today – what about tomorrow? 

It seems logical that one’s own thought process makes a difference. For some, when a certain level of satisfaction is reached, contentment is realized and there is no real, immediate need for any measure of sonic improvement. Someday, perhaps, but the whatever is good for now. For others, there exists this burning passion to always be in possession of the newest, the best, the most advanced, and sometimes, yes, even the most expensive. I probably fall somewhere in the middle. 

AR-WeakLinkInChain44a.jpgHow then do we reliably reconcile this desire, and sometimes even need to keep up with technology? Of course, cost is the one prohibitive factor in all of this. While any of us have varying abilities to afford an audio system, does having the financial wherewithal automatically mean something that sounds good today, right now, should be abandoned for the better mousetrap? It makes perfect sense to say that okay, my current system makes me incredibly happy, it sounds fantastic (to me), and best of all, it is paid for. I simply don’t need anything better. Such is my current position. Still, however, there is that little nagging voice, almost like one crying in the wilderness telling me I’ll get even more satisfaction out of the newer, the better, the more advanced, the better sounding, and needless to say, the more expensive. 

Over the last eight years, my friends have consistently teased me when I would tell them about the new whatever I had just purchased and whereupon making the declarative statement – “I’m finished with my system,” they would laugh at me, roll their eyes and say yeah, right. And soon enough, just as a prediction come true, I had something new over which I could swoon. Perhaps the most maddening aspect of my madness is that because my really close friends are not especially audiophiles, I cannot yell at them and say “see, I was right! Listen to how good this system now sounds!” Like most audiophiles, however, I make upgrades for me, not anyone else. 

AR-VeryExpensive44a.jpgIn the end, I don’t suppose there is any rhyme or reason to upgrading a component. Just like a new computer, one day you just decide it is no longer getting the job done and must be summarily replaced. I optimistically tell myself my system sounds so magnificent that I simply don’t need to do anything else. Maybe someday, but for today, it is certainly good enough. At least until, like my current computer, it is not and the madness will begin again.

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