We seem to be weighing in on the same threads. I have two systems that I primarily use ... a higher end Musical Fidelity system and a mid-fi NAD/SONY system. I use the same speakers in each system ... I own 2 pair of Acoustic Research 302 Classic Series speakers ... so the ultimate sound is pretty similar. The speaker placement is very different and that causes some sound differences. But, I can also hear clear distinctions between the two systems and I am very satisfied with how both systems sound.
With that being said, my NAD/SONY set-up gives me 85% of the Musical Fidelity set-up ... so I could effectively downgrade the MF system with less expensive equipment (i.e.: buy a Music Hall Mambo Class A integrated amp and pair it with a Music Hall MMF CD 25 cd player, that I already own) and I would probably wind up with 90/95% of my MF system sound.
The ONLY thing that stops me from doing this, is that I paid about 45% for the MF equipment on closeout, but it was also brand new. So downgrading buys me nothing at this point, but I could have achieved pretty much the same sound with less costly equipment.
<<< The implication is that more expensive gear does not provide better sound. <<<
This is where I would disagree. More expensive gear CAN provide better sound. But to my mind, the 80/20 rule plays big here. The question becomes ... does the incremental difference in performance justify the price difference? I might also add, is there also a need, for our own sanity, to rationalize the typical huge extra expense that chasing down the remaining 20% in performance entails? I do not make light of the pleasure that achieving near audio nirvana can provide, but dropping an additional $10 to 20K in the process, is something to examine, as well.
I purchased the MF equipment mostly because of the excellent sale price that I was given. So many of the Agon members buy their equipment used. This is why we own the high end equipment in the first place. If we were to limit our purchases to only new and to only list price ... our discussions might look more like an excursion through the Crutchfield catalog
, as opposed to the Upscale Audio web-site
(btw, both first rate, exceptional companies).
To your point, there is truly a fair bit of moderately priced, mid-fi gear out there that gets you a lot closer to the high end than most would care to admit. Engage someone like Roy Hall (Music Hall products) in this discussion and he will tell you that so many of the high end products are unique, but terrible sounding. Granted, Roy's business is in providing great sounding, but moderately priced products.
So, yes ... you can downgrade and get equal/better sounding gear. I would add that it is not that difficult to do.