Can the need for novelty and change be mitigated by rotation?
There is a not too serious term audiophilia nervosa; it may be a joke, but it builds on a valid observation: there are people who are never content with their equipment in medium term.It is not the initial period, when one does know much about gear and learns; or the question of disposable income, when one gets the best they can afford, and upgrades untill he (or, probably less often, she) buys the dream system. Audiophilia nervosa is a state later on, a plateau, when a desired piece initially gives much satisfaction, yet it wears off, and the person gets uneasy and looks for smth. else. To give a personal example, I was on a quest for my ultimate power amp. Had to be Pass Aleph; happened to find Aleph 4. Did not suit the speakers (Lowther Fidelio) too well; got other speakers (MBL 101b or c) ; still not there; got ML no. 23. Much better; but still uneasy about Aleph and speakers for it; got Gradient 1.5; fine with ML, Ok with Pass; exploring options, got Parasound 2200 mk2 (and a couple of PA amps). And I needed a preamp. Seller insisted on only trading ML no. 28 together with no. 27, — another power amp. Now the ML 28 is there to stay; Gradient 1.5 are keepers too; but I’d keep old MBL101 even if they stopped working (I’d probably use them as garden sculptures), so they stay, too. But I have way too many power amps (the listed, and a few more), I would need to sell some. The trouble is, I cannot decide. So, in order to decide, I rotate them. ML 23 is very good with MBLs, fine with the Gradients. ML 27 is very good with the Gradients. Parasound 2200 2 is very good with the Graients, - but in a different way. So I swap every few weeks, and I still cannot decide. And after each break I [re-]discover things I like about the particular amp / amp-speaker combination. Again and again... Which made me think: — What if this ‘rotation’ takes good care of my need for change and novelty? After a while I will decide which one(s) to sell, and later on I will probably want smth. new. But for the time being, keeping and rotating them slows down my pace - and I see it as a good thing, as in the aftermath I do not think my decisions have been sufficiently well informed (for instance, I am getting used to the fact that I actually do not like sound of Pass Alephs as much as I thought I do, and my Aleph 4 may be the first to go).
I think there are two kind of related things. One is a lot of tweaking is really psychosomatic BS. Get a good sounding room and you will quickly get off the merry go round of a lot of snake oil garbage.
I also agree with you that it is fun to try different things. I saw an Anime where the cover of our superhero was a cafe which had a dozen different small tube amps, and I was really struck by the idea. Instead of trading big iron every six months, keep a few sweet sounding amps that do not look or sound alike so you can swap them in on a regular basis. Also, have an espresso machine.
The other option is run different hifis in different rooms. Then take your pick where to listen...different rooms provide different opportunities. Streaming and wireless technology opens up new options not possible in years past. Gotta think out of the box.
Thank you, good points! Once I try a bigger room, I am unwilling to go back to a smaller one. And I would not want equipment to spread too much; also I am unwilling to adapt the room too much. And no caves for me, please!!! Equipment must be neat enough to look acceptable in the living area, preferably good looking. If possible, no MDF paralellepipeds. I am willing to take sound into account in planning stage (I plan to build a house, land plot is waiting), but first and foremost I want clean architecture and proportionate design. I am willing to plan for appropriate volume and proportions, materials, drapes, carpets, most probably double height or cathedral ceiling, culd live with a huge chandelier or two if they improved dispersion and reflections, but not unsighty panels and traps, at least not from the outset. As for small amps, so far I like solid state better than tubes (have 300B SET, some older p-p EL84), and do not feel that more powerful amps are loosing smth. tangible compared to smaller amps. My current speakers have low sensitivities, 200W in 4 Ohm works, I do not look at less powerful amps.
Periodically changing out gear (4 amps; 2 different floor standers) works for me too, though I tend to go a few months in between. Keeps the sound fresh with, as you say, each "new" setup having its own virtues.
I have about 12 sets of headphones. They all sound different, and there are different things about them that I enjoy. It's nice to have options.
Of course in my main system, most of the components are a lot bigger and a lot heavier than a set of heaphones, so I'm less inclined to move things around for that reason alone.
I have more than one system, so I can move things around from one system to anotherif I want, and I have a couple of "spare" pieces, but I'd rather sell them and let someone else enjoy them than have them sitting around so that I can switch things up if the urge hits me. Reminds me, I need to take some photos and post some ads this weekend...
Part of my premise is a question if past some threshold we can meaningfully speak about “better”. There is a broad agreement on what sounds poor (for instance, we had Grundig “Party Center 2200” when I was a teenager; fine for radio news, orherwise crap). I recall Williamson did a lot to set benchmarks. Past that lies the land of diminishing returns, where different people prefer different things, and “better” becomes individual. If swapping into the system a different piece of equipment which was set aside for a half a year causes me similar [positive] emotional reaction as a new piece of equipment, I interpret it that I have reached a plateau. Most probably it is my hearing limitations kicking in, there surely are much better ears (I cannot sing, at least I dare not, and, more importantly, nobody asks me to)... but I am not so sure whether there is a strong correlation between good ears and audiophile hobby (that could be an interesting research topic). It is a scientific fact that people in average think that they are better than the average person. So audiophiles normally should believe that they (we?) have better ears than the average person. Before research, I have my reservations to agree to that (for one thing, I believe research consistently shows that women have better hearing than men). Moreover, if smb. hears a difference, and smb. else does not, it may just as well mean that the first person’s mind plays a trick - we often experience what we expect to experience. So those are my problems with subjective approach to sound quality - if I observe my own behavior, I conclude that I may be going in circles. I could knock myself out doing ABX comparisons, etc., but that is already done, results can be repeated, no need to re-invent a diamond frame bicycle. That being said, some subjective observations remain consistent, e.g., I consistently set aside Pass Aleph 4, and I prefer to it ML no. 27, 23 and even Parasound hca 2200 2. I like Aleph’s purist schematic and SE class A, but I prefer a different sound most of the time. I would not call my preference “better” though.
I have an abundance of gear and yes, I enjoy swapping components when the mood strikes. I have a Coda #16 SS amp, an Aric Audio Transcend Push Pull and arguably the best sounding, a Linear Tube Audio ZOTL40 which at about 20 lbs makes it very easy to move. I find this does help the craving.
I also can highly recommend a room with cathedral ceiling such as my living room offers. There is a positive effect on the sound stage that’s hard to explain.
@lancelock It’s an interesting amp, indeed surprisingly light (my “hificollective” Glasshouse 300B is some 25 kg/ 55 lbs; sturdy steel chassis, but the real weight is transformers). Thank you for the tip on cathedral ceiling. It must alter ceiling reflections and room modes - good to know that brings improvement. I guess I really need to turn to planning from acoustic perspective ... end result will be a compromise, of course.
Congratulations! You have discovered an aspect of audiophilia that is quite appealing to a subset of enthusiasts! These are the listeners who as a pursuit, a goal, seek variety.
Some of this is in my character, and I see it expressed in my life also in terms of motorcycles. I would rather have two fine motorcycles of quite different genre (cruiser/sport) than one considered higher pedigree. The excitement of the distinct difference in experience is better imo than being held to only one experience. I have no doubt that in the moment, riding a higher level bike would provide some unique experiences, however it cannot provide the variety of experiences. That is the crux of the dilemma; if you put your money to work in a restricted fashion, then you will not get the variety of experiences, or at least not when you wish.
I spent a long time searching for "The One", the one speaker, the one system that would ultimately satisfy. Because I always heard deficiencies in the sound regardless of what equipment was used, I finally realized the performance spectrum is SO wide, and the inability for any rig to capture a nearly perfect sound internet, that I started to expand my components and speakers. Over the years, the focus has turned solidly to speakers, because their physical characteristics are so varied that one simply cannot get similar sound from a different genre of speaker. I also learned that this does not change as one moves up in the quality of the electronics.
This has brought FAR more contentment, enjoyment, exposure to the experiences of the High End than any pursuit of The One. Variety is not a problem, but a great passion and pursuit. It is a legitimate means of enjoying the music, of course not for all, but every bit as valid as any other expression of involvement in the hobby, i.e. being a Mediaphile and focusing on collecting and curating media.
What level of equipment does one need to attain in order to not be plagued by perceived imperfections in the sound quality? That is for you to figure out; it’s personal. But, I attest that when one reaches a high enough level of sound quality with the capability of swapping around systems, it is a pleasure that nothing else in this hobby for decades provided.
Concluding, then, your post as stated in the title suggests that variety is a sign of some issue, problem. Not at all! It's only a problem if you are unaware of the vast spectrum of performance, cannot accept deficiencies in systems, and do not want to spend any money! If you address the realities of the process of setting up rigs and accept that it is a great alternative to anchoring to one expression of sound, pursuit of variety is fantastically fulfilling!