Written by 6:00 am Audiophile

Is Your Current System the Best Choice?

Paul Wilson looks at the wisdom of a new audio system…


AR-5MillionDollarAudioSystemSmallScale225.jpgImprovements, 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. 

AR-Architect225.jpgRather 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.

AR-DigitalFilters225.pngJust 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. 

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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? 

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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. 

AR-TimeForChange225.jpgIt 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.

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