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Are You Suffering from Upgraditus Too?

Paul Wilson looks at the upgrade merry-go-round…

I wouldn’t think it too far of a stretch that most audiophiles spend as much time thinking about replacing a component as being happy with the ones they have. Wanting something new is not exactly…well, new. Even if we are satisfied with what we have, the new this or that may easily be a desired thing. Let’s face it; wish lists exist for a reason.

AR-Good-Sound.jpgWhen I look at my component progression over the last five years it seems to bear this out. For instance, I’ve had four DAC’s over the last five years. I kept trading in, and up for that matter, until I found the sound that just spoke to me. Were someone to have asked me five years ago what I wanted sonically I would have likely been unable to provide an answer, at least not specifically. Which is not to say I was unaware of qualities like LF extension, dynamics or imaging. I just always held the conviction that I would certainly know the sound I wanted when I heard it, that one definable sound that just spoke to me. And that’s exactly what happened.  Hence the four DAC’s.

Upgrading, in general, is a difficult thing to accomplish easily. I say easily because doing so involves far more than a quick trip to the corner audio dealer, load the demo model in the car, hurry home to hook it up and decide if it is acceptable. At least not for most people and most components. This is not so much about sonics as it is about the physical process of securing a demo component. It is not at all surprising, therefore, that many audiophiles turn to reviews, audio shows, advice from dealers, and even on line forums to assist the decision making process.

Having the ability to demo a product increases in difficulty as the cost increases. This is because as component cost increases, the odds of finding it on a dealer’s floor decreases. Then there is the distance in which most audiophiles find themselves from a dealer. I once drove about 400 miles to demo a set of very expensive mono blocks and I could have hardly been more disappointed. Even hearing the system with two different sets of speakers didn’t help matters any. So did the mono blocks not live up to the universal acclaim they have received or was it something else? The optimist in me thinks it was the something else but that belief doesn’t answer my questions on the viability of buying the amps.

Audio shows don’t always help either. Anyone who attended AXPONA this past April knows the problems some of the most respected names in audio had in getting their room’s sonics commensurate with the level of equipment. On the other hand, I heard any number of rooms I thought sounded spectacular, and not all of them were hyper expensive. I heard one system that sold for $4500.00 complete, source to speakers, and I thought it sounded great. So the cost / room dynamic is not the only determining factor in how a system might sound at an audio show. I realize a hotel room is not the ideal place to make a final determination of the sonic quality of a component or system, but admittedly, shows are a great sales tool as well as a means for consumers to hear a wide variety of equipment.

AR-Merry-Go-Round.jpgI recently had to replace my kitchen sink. The old one had become scratched over the years. My new one is pretty much an ultra modern style that I think looks really slick. My girlfriend now tells me I need to replace the counter tops because, as she claims, they don’t match the sink. If I agree to do this, I have just created an unwanted expense for myself. I only wanted to replace the sink, not new counter tops which leads to new tiles on the backsplash, oh and the appliances won’t work either, and on and on…

Sound familiar? Same thing happens in audio. Upgrading “this” potentially means “that” is no longer acceptable and should also be replaced. This is a perfect example of the weak link in the chain on steroids. This is something I suspect happens all too often. If that sounds like the voice of experience speaking, guilty as charged. Perhaps the happy upside to this is a system that not only sounds spectacular, but also most importantly, sounds spectacular to the owner. It’s writing the checks that are the difficult and painful part.

Then there are audio dealers. Would it be an obvious statement that a dealer will almost always promote the brand they sell as opposed to a competitor’s brand? Of course, dealers are just doing their job. That concept is a given and in far more things than audio components.  So talking to, and visiting more than one dealer with competing brands possibly brings about as much indecision as conviction on a new component.

All of this leads to manufacturers themselves. How many audiophiles have settled into a feeling of contentment and joy at the purchase of a component and as soon as they feel relaxed, a new version is introduced. Well, sure, manufacturers HAVE to keep releasing new components and improvements lest they go out of business. Everyone understands that concept. Regardless, an inevitable question becomes, should I get rid of this version I just purchased, and with which I am very satisfied, and get the new version with the new upgraded design? Such questions are the intent of any manufacturer and the absence of such would be very detrimental to staying in business.

It is the very nature of being an audiophile that we all crave the absolute pinnacle of musical reproduction. Even if we are content with the status quo, the “what if” factor usually has some influence on whether or not an upgrade makes sense – fiscal or otherwise. Regardless of cost, we’ll just about always consider an upgrade. Going through with them is a compendium of decisions, each having equal importance as the other. So enjoy the merry go round, because it will probably be a bumpy, but entertaining ride. 

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