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How Long Should You Keep Your Audio System?


An undeniable truth, in all facets of society, is that technology moves ever onward. What is by today’s standards new, fashionable, and cutting edge will be, unfortunately, passe’ and yesterday’s technology tomorrow. Technical progress is the foundation of modern manufacturing and an essential requirement in ensuring societal advancement. 

As it specifically applies to our high performance audio systems, the difficulty and impracticality of remaining on the leading edge of new and improved is understandable. For the average consumer, there are simply insufficient levels of disposable income to replace a component, be they amp, server, streaming device or speaker anytime a new model or product upgrade is introduced. For almost all of us, we have fiscal boundaries to which we must adhere. This, we steadfastly remind ourselves, is just a hobby. 

When we read audio magazines and web sites about all this new gear, we may easily develop a sense of longing. What is simply an article in a magazine or web site is suddenly, and copiously, transformed into an object of desire. It is very common when presented with a new and desirous stereo component we begin to plan and strategize on how best the new whatever may be obtained. 

We try to find within ourselves how we may best, and most easily, justify something new. We tell ourselves it will bring a welcomed and easily perceptible sonic improvement. Better bass, midrange, treble, clarity, imaging – all these will be ours for the simple act of writing a check. 

If anyone buys into that, fine. Here’s a question – how long should you wait before doing so? 

We are surrounded by magnificent audio systems. We read about the systems we would love to have in a variety of media outlets. Audio dealers, whenever close by, have gear we would simply love to own. We very often develop a sense of longing for something we know we cannot purchase. “Wish lists” are both encouraging and resentful. 

Many audiophiles, myself included, oftentimes work for years to find a sonic presentation both pleasing and satisfying. When finally, at long and arduous last we sit in that listening chair, play a song and completely and totally enjoy the sound, we can close our eyes and enjoy. I have reached this level of contentment in my system. Or so I tell myself. 

Something funny, however, happens on the way to the party. What is magnificent today may easily become compromised tomorrow because of one simple aspect of audio. It’s called advertising. 

It happens all the time. We read an ad, see a commercial, talk to a friend, dealer or some contemporary and those little wheels inside our head, long ago rusted inoperable, suddenly find lubrication. And as they begin to turn, we start thinking, what will this new thing do for my system? Will it deliver even more satisfaction and a better listening experience? 

Face it, we are all too often our own worst enemies. 

Back in 2010, when I decided to up the ante on my audio system, I had a vague notion what I wanted to spend. I had no tangible, clear cut, identifiable idea what I was looking for in terms of sonic greatness. I only knew, convincingly so, I would absolutely know the right sound when heard. My journey consequently began with no real indication as to budget or sonics. 

Fast forward to 2020. I finally found the sound I have been after. When I listen to music, I am content. I am happy. I am satisfied. I want for nothing more, better, or increasingly costly. Or so I tell myself. 

Today, my system cost is thirty times more than what I envisioned spending in 2010. I’m at a loss to justify my expenditures. I tell myself, and especially non audiophiles that happen to ask “how much did all this cost(?),” that I made these purchases incrementally. Little at a time. Just a “spoonful of medicine” thing. I did not go out and write one check for the whole lot. This is a ten-year compilation. 

And then it happens. I see, read or hear about something new. Suddenly, infuriatingly, those little rusty wheels find new life, moving from dormant silence to making me question every flippin’ audio decision I’ve made in the last decade. 

It is a very worthwhile question to ask ourselves how long an audio system should be kept. One simple answer is keeping a piece of gear as long as it works properly. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it sort of thing. 

Another legitimate option is keeping something as long as we continue to appreciate and enjoy the sonics produced. How long a time frame that ultimately will be is conditional – it depends on our available cash reserves, our personal acceptance of existing sonics and our approval of both. 

There are audiophiles who will be content with the same system for many years. Decades even. If something does malfunction, they will see repair as the only logical solution. Replacing a loved for many years component is not even a consideration. 

Others, not so much. There are audiophiles on a rat’s exercise wheel as it applies to new components. There are those who are seldom, if really ever, happy with the status quo. They want new and improved, and as soon as may reasonably be purchased. It doesn’t matter what it is, cable, speaker, amp, or something else – only that it is new and purports to improve the system’s aural greatness. 

There are also those steadfastly in the middle. They are more circumspect about replacing any part of their audio system. It must make technological sense. It must make sonic sense. And finally, and likely most importantly, it must make fiscal sense. They are both satisfied with the current, the here and now, but also keep a wandering eye on the what’s new. 

How an audiophile deems their system’s sonics and need to replace any part of it is a personal choice. If we choose to do so once every twenty years, every once in a while, or as soon as upgrades are introduced are decisions we all make for ourselves. For me, I’m pretty happy. I like what I hear. 

Or so I tell myself. 

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