Can HI FI components really make music?

Hello everyone. I am posting this question possibly a bit early but I am getting frustrated and am about to throw in the towel, sell everything and buy a Bose wave radio and call it good. My question is does a good HI FI system ever really sound like live music? At this point I think not. I have been in this hobby for about 7 years and just can't seem to get there. Even the system at the local "hi end" dealer does not come close to live music. My system has evolved over the years to the following:

Wadia 861 CD
VTL MB 125 mono blocks
Supratek Chennin Pre
(2) Vandy 2WQ subs
Vandy 3A Sig
Cardas Golden Cross inter con
Kimber Bifocal XL spk cable
Vandy model 5 Xover

All this gear is in a 13x35x8 room. Although the sound is quite good. Better than most any other system Ive heard it still has a long way to go. In all fairness the 3As are not completely broken in but I dont think they will improve to the extent I want them to over the course of the next 30 hrs. My dealers solution is that I should get rid of the Supratek and replace with a VTL 5.5. I dont think so. Been there done that. Although the VTL is decent it cant compete with the Supra.

At this point I think maybe the VTL 125s are just not sophisticated or powerful enough to give me the sound Im looking for. I think they are the weak link along with cabling. I stated earlyer that the dealers system doesnt do it for me either and I think that may be due to the fact that their biggest amp is 185 wpc. Im thinking maybe a sophisticated amp with say 400 wpc might get me there with the 3As. I dont know... but I am not willing to spend 100K to what I want nor could I afford to.

For those of you that are still with me any and all input welcome. I am not one of those thin skinned audiophiles that cries like a baby when someone has the audacity to insult their precious gear. So fire away.

Hey buddy....been there ,done that.Your gear is amazing!Only your hearing is BETTER.You know there is more to it,and your right.Hi-fi can't cut the mustard,it sure can cut the cheese.Oh, that was me......Sell the whole thing ?...oh yeah!I did and will never look back.My guess is that your not as crazy as I am.Your ears tell a different story.
I don't know what 'sound you are looking for' but if you're looking for live, forget it. You will never even come close, dispite all of the hype! But, having said that you can still put together a fine system which will allow you to come close to replicating the information on the disc you are playing.

You are talking about your equipment - frankly you aught to be getting some fairly fine sound with your present stuff, even if its not as loud as you would like or would be available with a more powerful amp, or even if your speakers are not the last word in detail or transparency. All of this leads me to ask what you have done to maximize speaker and listening position set up and room acoustics?

But if you really want 'live' music in your room, forget it and get the Boze - you'll lead a less stressful life and live longer. :-)
Shahinian loudspeakers come very close to the live event. I have heard many of the big name/big money speakers. Although I could buy speakers costing more than my Shahinian Diapasons, I would be wasting my money and taking a step down in sound quality.
Unfortunately I believe your are in pursuit of the unobtainable. I for one have been to a few live performances and I am glad my system doesn't sound like that.
Think your expectations of reproduced music in the real world is out of whack. Nothing wrong with high expectations.

Agree with "Newbee" that you should be "getting some fairly fine sound with your present stuff." If unhappy with your music now, you'll REALLY be disappointed with Bose.

If I were to suggest anything, it would be a few acoustical

BTW, I have same questions as you but I'm not considering Bose.
Get the Bose, and with the money you save you can attend a lot of live performances.

On a more serious note, I like the way music sounds live myself. I'm always seeking that type of ambience in the sound of my system. I have several DAT recordings I have made of live events that my system does a fair job of duplicating, but certainly not equal to the event itself. However, I've learned to live with it and would not consider selling off my entire system for something along the lines of the Bose. In fact if anything, I'll upgrade since I enjoy music in general and it's a fun hobby.

BTW - you have a great system. If you do decide to sell it off I'd be interested in the Supratek.
Yes, but the big problem is that live music is not only an aural event, it is also visual. Once they figure out how to create a realistic, full scale, 3 dimensional visual then I think the illusion will work.

On the other hand, since you asked for it, I have always found your speakers to be slow and bloated and IMHO by far the weak link in your system. Live music is dynamic and your speakers are not. Your speakers are polite and inoffensive and so far removed from real music that you will never be satisfied with them. A pair of Lowthers or horns properly implemented with a low power SET amp and the rest of your already fine equipment will get you closer to the music than the 3A's ever dreamed about. I like the Vandy subs and they would give you the bottom end that Lowthers lack, or a pair of Avantgarde Duos used around $10,000 if the budget allows will amaze you.

Whatever you do, lose the 3A's.
Check out Jeffrey Jackson's web site for a fine example of this approach. Not exactly cheap, but the good stuff rarely is
No, not yet. Most of us do get to enjoy a fairly satisfactory facsimile. You might not ever be completely satisfied though. With most live music events depending on similar and in many case worse quality components, whats one to do? That is a mighty large room your filling there with just 125 watts per channel. IMHO with the possible exception of the VTL's (ironic?) while all quality pieces, they all tend to lean on the soft side of neutrality. Just what is it that you specifically find lacking/distracting in your system compared to the live event?
For openers, you should consider having your Wadia 861 upgraded to the Reference or Statement level provided by Steve Huntley of Great Northern Sound. I was skeptical but finally sent my 861 to Steve for the Reference mod. It was worth every penny. It's a lot of money, but the mods made an already fine CD player more involving and just better.

And I'm with Herman on the Vandersteens. I like and respect the man, and I've owned several pairs of his speakers, including the 3A Signature, but they just seem to lack the clarity and resolution of other speakers in the same price range. I went with the Von Schweikert VR-4Jr. nearly a year ago and would never consider going back.

There are lots of other good speaker choices, including some used Dunlavys. Don't give up just yet. Finally, let's not kid ourselves. Nothing approaches a good live concert -- assuming the sound crew knows what it's doing and the acoustics are decent.
Newbee is right - you won't be fooled into thinking it sounds just like live music. But you have a much better shot at getting closer with a TT than with a CD player.

Maybe you have too much noise in your system.

My biggest upgrades were my PowerWing XP from Alan Kafton, Sonoran cabling with the steel micro-bead insulation, and finally Sistum stand and/or AudioPoints.

Dropping the noise floor lets you actually hear your components. It lets you hear the microdynamics, the little things you didn't even know were there, even the pluck of a guitar string and then the note as it decays.

Anyone can sit down in front of my equipment and point to each person or instrument in the soundstage. I'm talking right to left, and front to back. I honestly sit down and smile everytime with my system, what more could a person want?

I believe if you'll start out by dealing with the power ( I chose the PowerWing XP ) over the Hydra-8, and power cords (the Sonorans Plateau's are about $550.00 a piece retail, but the Synergistic Research with the Active-X are really good and cheaper ), and pick up some AudioPoints or brass spikes (rather than damping your equipment with sorbathane or Big Feet, you'll be amazed and get back in this game that's insanely addictive.

I like my hi-fi, but I like my live music too. Saw Oscar Peterson last week, got Brain Wilson next week and a whole host of others to come (Rod Stewart, Joss Stone, James Blunt, Ibrahim Ferrer). Live music is usually amplified, unless you're listening to classical music. Recorded music is usually multi-miked (occasionally a crossed pair in live concerts) and engineered to sound as if you're in front of the performers in the studio. That is very different to being in a large hall LIVE.
Personally, my system does sound like the performers are in my front room. But it doesn't sound like a live concert. The best upgrade I ever made was my Avantgarde Duos, followed by my Tron Meteor tube preamp ( - now succeeded by the Tron Syren with its rave reviews). If you try the Duos, get them set up properly; this can make or break your experience with them.
i've been in this hobby for 25 years and NOTHING makes better music than the vintage stuff. a pair of large advents, a marantz receiver, and a thorens turnable, held together by the cheapeat wire known to man, pretty much sound as much like live music as my current system, which cost as much as my automoble. ironically one of the most popular speaker systems used my jazz, bluegrass, and folk musicians (on stage) is the bose 802 system. the 901 for pros. yhe only thing for sure in the hi end hobby, is that one day (maybe not today or in a week) your system will suck.
Sorry but hifi is not live music and vice versa. That doesn't mean that listening to recorded music can't have it's own set of unique pleasures. It looks like you've got a very nice system, so go put on a great recording and think about what you like about it. I mean there must be something about it that you appreciate, right? I think that once you adjust your expectations, and realize that there is a place in one's life for high quality recorded music you'll find that you're much happier and more satisfied with your system. Also, perhaps give some thought to simplifying things a bit, there must have been a time when listening was about the music and not the equipment, right? Well perhaps slimming down to something simpler, perhaps run the Wadia directly into a low wattage SET type amp and using that to power a more lively and efficient speaker it might bring back some of the pleasure you once had. Good luck and happy listening!
The answer is obvious when asked the way you do: no. I believe Peter Walker explained why many years ago. Recorded music is an ersatz, but as far as ersatz go name me one that is closer to reality? To help you people here will suggest all sorts of things: new cables, new components, new or improved room, line conditioners and a myriad of tweaks that cannot in any sane way amount to anything. The problem is not with your system, but with you. You have simply set the bar too high. I like what my wife said when we left the Mark Knopfler concert at Place des Arts last Saturday. She simply told me how much she enjoyed the show, but how it all sounded so much better on my system since live the lyrics were inaudible but recorded you can hear them all. Those are the small things you should be grateful for with recorded music. If you want it to sound live, simple: go to a concert. Good luck.
Before everybody sticks it to me....and before the moderator
shuts me down again...LOL

You cannot fix bad hi-fi with more bad hi-fi....components or theories .Ok shoot me down now.
I agree that your audio system will NEVER sound like live music of ANY kind, but you'll get closer with some kinds than with others.

I'm amazed that you didn't tell us what kind of music you love and are trying emulate. IMO, the highly synthetic stuff...pop, rock, etc....ought to be easiest to get close to, but you'll need more-dynamic, punchier speakers.

If you love big-orchestra music, you'll NEVER get there, but I'm very pleased about how close I am. Is your gear on a long or short wall? If you want a close-to-life-size soundstage, you'll want dipole speakers. The upgrade that made the most difference by far for me was the Quad 989s; the 2nd-most significant were the ASL 805 SETs. My multichannel system will present a reasonable facsimile of a real orchestra playing in real space.

So what kind of music?
I can't believe that NOBODY here addressed the biggest issue. Your room! NOTHING more important in a COMPLETE
system except for your ears. I have heard and I have owned
systems that sounded like live music. Jaw dropping. One room
was 28'x16'x10'. The next good room I had was 7.5 foot ceiling x 13'x19'. It really did sound great though small.
Find a room and a system that knocks you out and then duplicate it. Joe
Before you chuck it all, spend a few thousand on some Apogee stage speakers & then make a decison.
As most posters have concluded, attaining a "live" reproduction is improbable. The attack, air movement, delicacy, etc. is something I have never heard fully replicated. The system I presently own is most musical with a good deal of detail, and yet, following any live performance, acoustic or amplified, I invariably experience a sense of simpatico and disappoinment.

All the time and money invested has brought the illusion closer, and conversely further from a real event. Earlier in the week I attended a music festival with a variety of music, all amplified. I predominately spent the evening listening to Lucinda Williams. The drive and power is unapproachable. Two days later I popped on the new live vinyl of Williams' new lp. Good sound, yes, but not even close to what I heard Sunday.

Jeffreybehr, I relate to your dilemma. I try to deal with it often. Every new component or tweak is going to be the one. Within days the affair wears off. My wife has more than once suggested the ease of a Bose system. Just relax and groove to the music. No sweet spot. No discriminate listening. No Audiogon. A radical consideration.
Thank you all for your time, consideration and excellent input thus far. I want to take a little time to re-read all of your posts and respond. In the mean time keep it coming. This is great stuff. Real and no BS. I love it!

Everyone mentioned equipment and room. Even if you had the ideal of both, there's one more variable - the recording chain. The losses start at the microphone and continue to the speakers. So, no matter what you do on your end, the recording process is still a limiting factor that cannot be controlled.
Music contains expressive qualities that come through no matter what gear you listen through. My $11 Aiwa FM clock radio blasts golden oldies in the kitchen. A $68 Sony CD/Cassette/FM radio combo boombox, complete with headphone jack and digital clock, does it all in our playroom. Ditch the overpriced, distracting, nerve wracking system you have now. It obviously isn't connecting you to the world of music. Instead, go to the nearest music store and get yourself a real musical instrument. See if you can get that to really make music. Report back on your findings.
No way dude!
Music is being made by composers and/or musicians or combination of both listed above.
A well thought out system and configuration can provide you the very best that any recording has to offer. And that is all anyone can hope for in music reproduction.

In my opinion, the only way to achieve such sonic pleasure (even in many so-called 'poor' recordings) is by investing much time and thought into a system and properly addressing the obvious and universal drawbacks every system must cope with. Namely:

o Noisy AC.

o Inferior cabling between components and speakers that induce harm such as grain, hash, and/or time smear.

o Ensuring there is an abundance of AC power to the amplifier to fully reproduce the dynamics of complex and/or demanding passages even at lower listening levels. (dedicated circuits/lines)

o Obtaining the best possible speaker interaction with the room via proper speaker placement. (room acoustics itself is highly overrated).

o Implementing certain tweaks such as acquiring the best audio-grade accessories such as cryo-treated iec connectors, plugs, outlets, cables, etc..

o Air-borne vibrations captured instantaneously by the components and speakers themselves yet can only dissipate over an extended period of time.

o And never underestimate what a well-engineered amplifier can do to absolutely catapult your system's sonics into a whole nuther realm entirely. IMO, there are very few amplifiers that are capable of doing this.

In your specific case, I'd recommend starting off by experimenting with speaker placement, other interconnects, speaker cables, line conditioning, vibration control, and installing dedicated circuits/lines.

I had predicted a post such as Stehno's. A true believer, a true believer. Change cables and cure your ac and there you go: music!
How many of the people who trash Bose have actually listened to Bose speakers? Has anyone actually listened to them in a high end system? They are far from perfect, but even in cheap systems, soem of them are capable of reproducing dynamics and midbass surprisingly well. I have never heard them in anything but lo-end systems, but wonder if high-end gear well- matched would make them sing without the harshness they are known for.
I have heard them on stage, and they usually sound better than most stage gear. I remember one big band in particular that was using them, and from a distance they sounded incredibly real and natural (although up close they sounded quite harsh)
After 40 yrs. of this audiophile game, I am enjoying simulation of live music, probably 75% of the time. The secret, I feel is fine tuning after lots of direction and home work. The mini stealth AC purifier, aurios and sistrum stands all made major improvements toward realism. I use all JPS audio wires which in my system really added to the realism. I use Chapman prototype Q6 speakers which the manufacture (Stuart Jones) says are the most accurate speakers he has built in 35 years. The GamuT CD1R I use seems to read everything on the CD mwith its method of oversampling. The most refining component for my system, which seemed to make the leap to reality was my deHavilland Mercury preamp. Jazz and Opera definitely approch the live performance which I have compared on various occasions. Large pchestral works can appoach live performances also. With a prayer I think the effert is worth it. The other thing I have found is more expensive is not necessarily better.
After 40 yrs. of this audiophile game, I am enjoying simulation of live music, probably 75% of the time. The secret, I feel is fine tuning after lots of direction and home work. The mini stealth AC purifier, aurios and sistrum stands all made major improvements toward realism. I use all JPS audio wires which in my system really added to the realism. I use Chapman prototype Q6 speakers which the manufacture (Stuart Jones) says are the most accurate speakers he has built in 35 years. The GamuT CD1R I use seems to read everything on the CD with its method of oversampling. The most refining component for my system, which seemed to make the leap to reality was my deHavilland Mercury preamp. Jazz and Opera definitely approch the live performance which I have compared on various occasions. Large orchestral works can appoach live performances also. With a prayer I think the effert is worth it. The other thing I have found is more expensive is not necessarily better.
your system is awesome. if you are willing to spend more time and money, i believe your system can come closer to live. i have heard those close enough to put a big grin on my face and give me goose bumps, so i am a believer. a few suggestions:

1. try nos tubes
2. try connecting from wadia directly to amps
3. modify wadia
4. try non-power-limiting and neutral power conditioners (my favorite is running springs audio haley)
5. audition acapella speakers, even their small monitors will do
6. audition reimyo cdp-777

the above suggestions are the most cost efficient ways that i have learned to get closer to the live sound, in my experience. my own system is no where close to live. but occasionally it reaches out and connects with me. it keeps me a happy believer.

best of luck.
Maybe you should consider high efficiency horn or horn loaded speakers. Or even old ['30's &'40's] theater speakers with field coil [electro-magnets, not permanent magnets] for the bass drivers and horns for the mid's & high's. These can reach 130 dB of efficiency.
"more time and money", there you go "got live if you want it!"
There is no good or bad hi-fi. It's all subjective. A great sounding system to one typically is a P.O.S. to someone else. And over time your perception of your own system typically changes. And reproduction of "live" is typically lost long before the hi-fi is involved, namely in the recording process. Maybe someday we'll get there.
My system has spoiled me. I now usually prefer to listen at home rather than see live shows. Invariably, the sound at home is better than the sound at the live venue, and I don't have to listen to folks coughing and talking during the performance.

Going to see bands is now as it always was...all about seeing the band perform, and watching the people in the crowd. The energy of the band can transform the music into an experience beyond the words and notes.

But, if we're just talking about making music, then my Higher Fi system does it for me.
Your talking crazy talk with gear like that! Is there an audiophile or two that lives near Braro?! He needs an intervention... but seriously, it sound from here like a fine rig. What do your friends think of the system? Sometimes we get too close to the thing and need to lighten up and get an outside opinion or three. Set up is critical. All the great equipment in the world will not guarantee musicality though. Hopefully your just going though one of those temporary crisis modes of... What the hell is it really all about?! It will pass. enjoy!
Thanks for the distorted paraphrase, Pbb. Other than this flub, I'm sure your credibility is pretty solid.

Well I have settled down a bit. Now with a clearer head and your help I have decided to keep my gear and address some of the issues you have pointed out. I have to much time and money invested to just chuck it all. Not to mention the fact that I would really miss the music. I listen to just about everything but mostly jazz, blues, rock, fusion and electronica. Lately Ive been getting into 60s latin jazz. I love that Jimmy Smith organ but not wild about the big band backing. Let me know if any of you have come accross great latin jazz recordings.

I would like to point out that I am getting very good sound but as Pbb stated the problem is with me. I can be a bit of a perfectionist at times. The things I find lacking in my system are as follows: A huge lack of micro and macro dynamics (this is why I think more power may help), a much to forward treble, a strange un natural tonal character to the mid range. There are some good things like the huge holographic soundstage and pinpoint accuracy with certain recordings. I agree that all live performances dont blow my skirt up. Ive heard some terrible ones that make me love my system. What Id like to reproduce is the sound you get at a small well set up blues or jazz club. I saw Tito Puente at Jazz Alley and it was fantastic. To bad he's gone now. Ive only seen a couple of good big shows. The Cult was great and though Im not a fan of Sting (went for my wife) he sounded fabulous. Im not really considering a Bose Wave radio although I would love one in my bedroom or kitchen.

As far as set up goes I have a long way to go. This is what I have done so far and what I have learned about my room. I did the test tone thing with the Rives test CD and SPL meter and found that I have some big peaks and suck outs. As much as 12 db in some frequencys. Also I tested left and right channel independently and found that the right and left side actually vary quite a bit. Could this be causing the problems? Ive had the 3As all over the room. They are set up along the 13' wall about 6' out. They seem to image best there.The back wall is not perpindicular to the side walls. There is almost a foot more space behind the right speaker. Another possible problem? All equipment is on a mixture of 3 and 4 Black Diamond Racing cones.

I am going to keep the 3As and try to make them work. I have to, I just got em. I will put in a dedicated AC line and try to get the frequency response of the room a little flatter. Once you know where the problem areas are frequency wise, how do you deal with them?

I think Im going to go down and enjoy some music now without listening to the gear. Thanks again for all your help. Oh, if any of you are near the Seattle Tacoma area and want to help me sort it out please contact me.
I am going to keep the 3As and try to make them work. I have to, I just got em.

Well, that is very sad. A very poor reason to keep anything.

You said you are not thin skinned so here you go; Your speakers are lame, they always were lame, they will always be lame, there is nothing you can do to keep them from being lame. Unless you realize this and change your speakers you are going to be stuck in HiFi hell forever.
Herman I take it you use horns, Jeffrey Jacksons? Tell me about your experiences with them.
When I said to sell it all .....I ment it.I didn't say sell and give up your love for music,or to never listen again.You Have a hi-fi system and your not happy.Spending even more $$$ all of us have to get you nothing.Well you can buy hope i guess.

My conclusion is your keeping the sound you don't like and are giving up.Oh you will improve some by appyling some of my friends tweaks but in the end you will be doomed to mediocre sound.Hey even the 200K system here on audiogon are changing things around.Wonder why????If they can't figure out good sound then in theory YOU can't either.I used to be part of that club, Good luck!
"Once you know where the problem areas are frequency wise, how do you deal with them?"

Depends on the frequency. Moving the speakers and listening position about can cure a lot of bass problems, but not all (for those you might need a parametric equalizer). Toe-in can cause/cure a lot of sidewall reflection problems (mids and highs). Carpets can cure a lot of floor reflection problems (mids and highs) and ceilings can cause problems as well but are more difficult to treat because of WAF.

Get your meter back out and create a base line measurement on your system as set up and then start moving things about again and see what physical changes affect the base line measurements (chart it all, don't think you will remember 2hrs later). Pick and focus on one frequency abberation at a time (I usually start with the bass). If you need help after you have flattened it as best you can, give a very exact description/measurement of your room, furnishings, speaker and listening position. I'm sure many here will be able to give you specific recommendations.

You mentioned that your speakers measured differently. Is this the room or the speakers? Have you reversed the actual speakers to see? Have you just reversed the channels to see if its the electronics?

FWIW, your speakers are just fine, and in many ways ideal but they do have limitations. If you accept their limitations you will lose a lot of angst about not having a "perfect sound" system. Just don't spend a lot of money trying to get them to do something they can't! Be happy and listen to all that great music! :-)
Braro, I have Duos.

I am not so much a fan of horns as I am a fan of SET amps and highly efficient speakers. Music is very dynamic and inefficient speakers require tremendous amounts of power to be dynamic. These high powered amps are not as musical as low powered SET amps. This limits your speaker choices and horns happen to work with SET amps. The sticking point is that horns are difficult to properly implement and unless they are very big have limited bass response.

I've heard Lowther based systems that I really like (Beauhorn Virtuoso, Jeffrey's, Lamhorns) and some that I didn't. I've heard the Duos sound like crap when paired with the wrong components or improperly set up. I could live with any of the above mentioned but I happened to get a good deal on the Duos so I went for it. I've listened to a lot of systems over the years and mine has slowly evoled into one that I am very happy with. If you are in the market for a world class set of speakers and can afford it then Jeffrey's should be on your short list.
Herman, I like your room. I notice you have treatment in the front upper corners. Did you notice much of a difference after adding this tweak? My room has a sort of buzzing sound that is quite loud. If I clap my hands while sitting in the sweet spot the room rings or buzzes for about 1 second. I thought maybe the corners like you have would help.
Braro, I wrote earlier about my system. Now that I know you like jazz which I love, some suggestions which may be nothing new to you. The JVC XRCD jazz remasters are usually terrific. Most sound live in my system. Also many labals ie Columbia/Legacy, Blue Note, Verve have done a wonderful job remastering the classic greats from late 50s and 60s. The 20 and 24 bit remasters are particularly excellent. Usually the studio recordings are better but not always. On another subject, the PowerWing AC purifier "brass" edition not only refines the sound but will push your performance back further in the stage which might help you. Please read review by Dave Clark and Robert Levi, Positive Feedback, issue 8 on the net. I'm sure Alan the designer will lend you one to try. Of course I love my audio magic mini stealth which they burn-in before they ever send it to you. These two AC purifiers take nasty "grit" out of your system. The sound is then much cleaner and purer and you can never go back. Even my $3500 JPS Labs Aluminati Power Cord sounds better plugged into the Mini Stealth!
Hey! C'mon dudes cut your 'cheese'!!! 3A's, Horns, stats etc...
I listen to it live in the famous clubs of NYC such as Birdland, Blue Note, Irridium with EV or JBL speakers and probably beefy Carver amps and it does sound live since you hear more an instrument v.s. the speakers. The room realy means a lot!
Braro, improvement after adding the room treatments was very significant. I have them in all corners, in the middle where every wall meets the ceiling, and behind me where the walls meet. The front corners and wall-ceiling interface had the most profound effect but they all contribute. Check out this review for more info. It is a bit long winded but you get the idea behind the product if you stick with it.

In a nutshell, the corners act like megaphones. The sound pressure goes into the corner and when it comes back into the room it is like the corners are shouting at you. Just as if you cup your hands to make your voice louder.
The best a system can do is SIMULATE a musical event -- which simulation may or may not be close to the actual event recorded. Musicians & insturments make music, systems reproduce what's on the storage medium. I'm not saying anything new here.
To put some perspective in the excellent advice above, look for and put into words what ELEMENT of the reproduced sound you MUST have, to bring the sonic result closer to simulating (i.e. acceptably tricking your ears) "live" music...
FOr example, in my case such a very important element is transient attack/dynamics, or whatever you wish to call it: the ability of the system to reproduce sudden (and not so sudden) changes in intensity... YMMV

Generally speaking though, the usual "weak" points in any system are the sources and the speakers -- since both transduce / convert. We then have the matter of each component driving the next component, etc.

I believe that you should listen to a pair of wide-range speakers & horns -- just to experience a different approach. Your electronics certainly seem up to the task of providing good signal & power...

Why don't you buy a wide range of cd players,speakers,interconnects ,amps etc....Play around with it until you hit the jackpot.One in 14 million chance...You call that a hobby? LOL

I'll shut up now!
C5150, I dont see any reason to get rid of everything if a few inexpensive tweaks will get me close to where I want to be. If I can get say 75% of the way there I think I will be quite happy. Especially after realizing its never going to sound like the real thing. My wife put it in perspective when she asked me if Id ever heard a system anywhere that sounded like the real thing. My response was NO.