Glad you didn't go insane Andy, it's about the music my friend...not the gear!!
Many times highly refined equipment needs highly refined associated carefully matched equipment to sound good. I'm listening to two mid-80's NEC CDP's which sounds awfully good especially considering I paid $10/$44. One of the CDP's, a mint one-owner CD-650 which I paid the $44 for, sounded so good I decided to sell my CAL Icon MkII. It's all about the music...not the gear as Dave said.
I've read from a book somewhere that says a human conscious mind can only process a maximum of about 8 bits of information per second (they collected a bunch of data and this is their conclusion) therefore most of the amount of data must be processed by your subconscious mind. This may explain why listening to super detail equipment is so tiresome since your conscious mind is overflowed with data. I supposed a good system is one that can effectively communicate with your subconscious mind.
I used to own a Nad S500 and now I am very sorry I had let it go. A very musical player.
Assuming we're talking about good music here, however small or great the details, beautifully reproduced music is truly in those details. But it has to be a forest for the trees perspective. Or perhaps the final presentation of the detailed music you hear must be greater than the sum of it's detailed parts. The details may contrast or compliment, but ultimately every last detail creates the final presentation when combined.
For example, tremendous detail in a system with a high noise-floor, much grain and hash, lacking power for macro-dynamic passages, and which also induces much negative sibilance would sound real ugly and real monotone real quick. Perhaps enough to make you stop listening within a few moments due to listener fatigue.
On the other hand, tremendous detail in a system with the lowest possible noise-floor or the blackest background, with no grain or hash, with enough current draw for macro-dynamic passages, and without a trace of negative sibilance can be pretty awesome stuff. Perhaps enough to keep you up until 4 am every night and thinking about calling in sick the next morning, because you feel this desire to play just one more album.
The musical presentation just seems to make so much more sense or perhaps 'gel' so much better when the details are so independent, yet so intertwined and dependent on other details.
I hate to use this new age term but it's all the details that provide the 'wholistic' beauty of the music you hear.
This last statement may sound kinda' lame and I'm not even sure I know what I'm talking about here, but it makes sense to me. Otherwise I'd change my opinion. :)
C'mon over for a beer Andy, and we'll listen to some "non detailed" music. Many of us began our audio journey well before CD and on equipment that struggled to produce much coherent sound outside of "midrange and boomy bass". However, the music mattered, small album clicks and pops were part of life no matter how delicately we treated our albums and many rebelled at the new "Digital sound" of CD. All of this started many of us on our quest for better "sound". However, somewhere along the way greed, audio eletism and other ugly warts formed in place of enjoyment. These days, I find "detailed" and "musically natural" to be mutually eclusive. What I want is for a piano to sound like a piano and not have cymbals provide so much shimmering "detail" that the sound shimmers into the next song. Andy, continue on your "musical" quest and enjoy that which you hear.
IMHO you can't get too much real detail HOWEVER, what is peddled as "more detail and more highly resolving" which is usually said in conjunction with "expanded stage and depth of image" is, more often than not,nothing more that either a slight recess in the mid-range/and or a slight elevation in the uppermid/highs, either of which will make the equipment "sound" to the inexperienced as if there is more detail present. While this engineering practice is nominal on any specific piece of equipement so many manufacturers are doing it that, cumulatively, it become very unmusical. It ain't just CDP's and DAC's - cartridges, amps, pre amps, speakers, and wires, all participate. That is why folks talk about synergy. I've been in analog a long time and while it CAN sound better I've been able to tune in a CD system that also lets me enjoy well recorded CD's without drawing any attention to the medium. None of it is perfect by a long shot.
Often detail (and high-frequency extension) comes at the expense of sibilance. I have had a number of customers that extended the frequency response of their systems, only to find that some other component or cable was causeing sibilance that was previously masked by the system roll-off. Also, improving HF dynamics can aggravate sibilance in components that are prone to sibilance because of thier poor design. The way to achieve detail without sibilance is to mod practically everything in your system. Even my speakers are modded - they caused sibilance as well.
I guess I was a bit frustrated when I made my comment.
I don't mean to take on the extreme stand on the matter.
I agree with all your responses.
Detail is good if handled correctly but that is a HUGH "if".
I really don't have unlimitted amount of resources and time to try out all possible combination before I get it right.
If handled correctly then music will flow out from your system as if there is nothing but you and the music. If not done right then you already know how messy it can get.
As mention from other post, synergy is everything. But the problem is that not all manufactures made the entire range of equipment from Cdp to speakers. There are a few out there but they may not be what you want. So it's still very diffifcult mix and match ...
The next best thing is to chose an Amp/cdp combo that has the sound you like. Then find a pair of speakers that will complement your amp/cdp.
Cables should come last. But this is just my opinion.