It’s the time of year for saving money!
Improvements, sonic or otherwise, are hallmarks of the audiophile hobby. Our aspirational, oftentimes lofty goals are to improve the sounds our systems produce. We want to be enraptured, enveloped even by wonderful music stunningly reproduced. Two things stand in the way of that goal – the room and audio system. Well, maybe three things – also cost.
Few audiophiles will take the time, trouble and expense to have an architect professionally design, and a contractor build a listening room. Far more than an average number of us will, at best, have some measure of room treatments, be they made at home or commercially purchased. Many systems reside in the family room with little or no regard whatsoever of sonic presentation.
Rather than divest our attention to a space in the house a significant other may find wholly objectionable, it is perhaps wise to invest attention in the system itself. Maybe repositioning speakers, or replacing a component bringing a higher level of satisfaction will outweigh disruptions room alterations might cause.
For me, I seem to be in a revolving state of flux regarding my system. What seems silly to me, when I make a small change, maybe an adjustment of a speaker or subwoofer, maybe incrementally moving the listening chair, if I hear an improved sonic presentation, I am completely and unequivocally convinced this is my new and permanent standard. This combination of alterations gives me the sound I want.
What is completely insane, even comical, is more often than not, at some future time, I might become equally convinced this new arrangement is wrong and will set sail once again on a different setup. Even more puzzling, and frankly, sort of a head scratching exercise, it is not uncommon for me to put things back exactly as I had them before. I have no reason to explain this other than that’s just the way I roll.
Just the other day, for instance, I decided to play with the DAC filter settings. I have been using one particular filter on my DAC for years. I have tried changing the filter settings to the other available choices several times. It took me no time at all to determine my original setting was best. I haven’t changed things in a year or more – until recently. After almost an entire day of listening, and the second opinion of a friend whose evaluations I trust, I changed the filter setting to OFF. I found, for now anyway, the elimination of a filter makes the presentation less digital and more lifelike.
All of this experimentation, in my estimation, is part of the audiophile hobby. Very often we can create a new listening experience without purchasing anything. Maybe a change of the room, like putting the system at the opposite end or moving the listening chair will make a noticeable difference. Maybe something as simple as repositioning speakers a few inches in one direction will create a new and positive experience. What we seldom do or even consider is scrapping our entire system and starting over.
I have heard some really fantastic systems in my audiophile journey. Many of them were well into the six-figure price range. Several I have heard were seven figures, then a decimal point. These systems have displayed remarkable sonics, so much so I have marveled at what I heard.
Here’s the funny thing. In very few instances did I want to trade those systems for mine. Is my system expensive? Yes. Does it sound remarkable? I certainly believe it does. Would I like to improve the sound? Of course, what audiophile doesn’t? Would I trade my system, lock stock and barrel for one the others I’ve heard? No, not really.
Suppose you were going to buy a new shirt. You go the department store and find a shirt that fits your budget, has the quality and workmanship benchmarks you require, and stylistically, goes with your entire wardrobe. There is a blue shirt and a brown shirt. You like the color blue but are not turned on by brown. Which shirt do you buy?
There are aspects about my audio system I like above and beyond all others I have heard. That alone tells me I have the system that suits my needs. It’s my blue shirt. Those other systems, all of them sonically amazing, might have some attributes better mine, but maybe not all will be superior. Call those systems the brown shirt.
Some may have better clarity but lack the dynamics and imaging my system portrays. Some may have better made components but do not work as harmoniously as all of my components do with each other. There are many such examples, but the salient point is simple.
Any of us can find an audio system we like. We can also easily pine over and be desirous of better equipment, more expressive, more immersive sound. We can conversely be completely content with what we have and suffice our path to better sonics in things we can control – like setup, position, room treatments and music selection.
It is not always necessary to scrap what we have and start again, though many might like to do so. We call our devotion to this musical cause the “audiophile hobby.” Because that is exactly what it is for many of us. It is a means to occupy our free time, whatever amount of it exists. How we do so is a personal journey.
Have I heard systems that sound remarkable? Yes, of course. Have I heard a system, ANY system that makes me feel like I have wasted years and many, many thousands of dollars in the process? Never. Not once. All those other systems, as nice as they might be, lack one attribute – they don’t make me feel the way my system does. They are not my blue shirt. When you find a combination of components in a set up that speaks to you, you’ll know. Best of all, that’s when you realize everything’s right.
“What is completely insane, even comical, is more often than not, at some future time, I might become equally convinced this new arrangement is wrong and will set sail once again on a different setup. Even more puzzling, and frankly, sort of a head scratching exercise, it is not uncommon for me to put things back exactly as I had them before. I have no reason to explain this other than that’s just the way I roll.”
Oh yes, I’ve done that, too! I attribute it to two things: (1) The imperfection of any audio system. Once I recognize an imperfection, changing — even slightly — the nature of that imperfection can make the system sound better again; and (2) The audiophile affliction’s being both a love of music and a love of tinkering. After a while, no matter how good the sound, I need to scratch that second itch again. Sometimes, I just change a power cord, to prevent myself from messing up a great setup with changes hard to undo.
Well, Mike, I’m glad to see I’m not alone!
And I’d say your Number 2 is spot on.
Thanks for your comment-
NO. Just a hodgepodge of gear that all seems to work just fine. Most of the stuff left at my age of 73 is stuff that beat out the 2nd stringers on the audio team. There will be some new stuff later this year I am sure. I will still spend more on music that gear like I always do.
The more i know, the less sure i am that $ is ever the solution when it comes to system “perfection”…every room/environment is different as is the taste/mood of the listener…years later and my Marantz 2385 (my holy grail of audio desire) sits unused in my sons bedroom while i listen in awe to (my first amp) the 30 watt per channel MCS 3822 that i purchased from JC Penney on close-out sale with the matching tuner (both made in Japan) for $60 and a pair of $24 thrift store Infinity Reference 5’s that i refoamed/painted myself thru another $15 thrift store find NAD C515BEE cd player: i can’t believe there is a better-sounding combination in the world – but thats just me! Cost of entire system including new surrounds/paint = about $120.00 US.
There is no doubt that to achieve perfection one will have to spend close to beyond 6 figures and if that is not an issue for someone, I am happy for them as I am sure they get great enjoyment from the music being played. Hopefully it is not just audio bling. I still keep in mind that much of the music we buy is less in quality than a $100K audio system, and the sound on a scale of 1-10 can be anywhere from a 6-10, but the music may move you and matter more than the sound quality.
I love finding bargains like the Project Audio Systems S2 DAC I have used for over a month now and it sits in Stereophile Magazine’s Class A rating DACs, rubbing elbows with dacs costing thousands. Is it the same, probably not, but for the money it is unbelievable to me and something I can easily justify. I will buy two more shortly and bring two other digital systems way up in performance. There are CD players I could buy costing $600 or more that are not Class A. It is kind of like what many companies like Elac are doing in the under $1K bookshelf speaker market and taking it to a whole new level of performance. These are great things for people who love music, but can’t, or won’t, waste money on audio.
Your post was a great reminder of why we love this hobby and there are many ways to get the most out of our love of music.