Good Advice

As an old mid-fi'er seeking to upgrade both my old Onkyo receiver and Boston Acoustic speakers, it was great to find this advice in Epinions.

"Dancing on the Diminishing Returns Curve: Choosing Stereo Speakers
Dec 15 '05 (Updated Feb 18 '06)

The Bottom Line Don't go overboard and turn into a "tweak." Buy something inexpensive but good, dial it in, and enjoy the music.

It happened again the other day.

I was at someone's house and they were showing me their $20,000 stereo. Tube amplifiers. Elite CD player. $6,000 speakers. It sounded...great. And boring. Precise imaging. Tight bass. Unbelievable delicacy. And the whole was...less than the sum of the parts. I was unmoved by the music.

And so was the owner, I think.

He had the furrowed brow of someone with audiophilia nervosa, obsessed with achieving audio nirvana and spending his listening time noticing imperfections that could only be improved with a different amplifier, or different speakers, or maybe different interconnects or speaker wires.

He could never be satisfied with his system, and he could never slow down and enjoy the MUSIC.

At home, I have a modest but good system consisting of $1000 speakers, under $1000 worth of solid state amplification (and a $600 tube integrated amplifier which I sometimes use), a modest CD player, turntable, tuner and subwoofer. And the thing is DIALED! It sounds great to me.

Yeah, the imaging is a bit diffuse, inner detail is only good, and the mid-bass is a little round. But who cares? When I listen to music, I enjoy the music. And I'm not thinking about what component to get next, even when I'm sprawled on my bed reading Stereophile magazine.

What did I do right?

I gave up on finding sonic perfection and found components that work well together. And I made sure the cost of each component was on that part of the diminishing returns curve where things flatten out: where large increments in amount spent lead only to small increments in sound improvement.

The bottom line is this: You can have an excellent stereo system for a fraction of what the "tweaks" are paying, and you'll probably enjoy your music more than they do. The speakers are probably the most important component in a home audio system, so shop around and figure out what kind of sound YOU like.

Then have fun assembling an inexpensive system that's 80% or 90% as good as the best out there. After that, forget about the system and enjoy the MUSIC."

Truth is, whether you're spending a 1K or 100K the bottom line (or what should be the bottom line) is the MUSIC and your enjoyment of it. If you lose sight of that, then I would really wonder "what are you spending your money on and what are you trying to accomplish?".
Good advice,but always remember ,what sounds good to one may not sound good for all...We all have different priorities and we all tend to think we know whats best for all.Bottom line when really only know whats best for oneself....
I've never understood why enjoying the music and sound quality are characterized as opposite ends of the spectrum so often. When I'm listening to music, I'm loving the music. I notice, sometimes, how it all sounds. Sometimes I get focused on why it sounds the way it does, get interested in trying something different, focus on the gear for a bit. That's fun too. Then a new batch of CDs comes in and I get focused on listening to them.

I know at least a dozen people who are really into music, and I know only a couple of people who would even consider spending money on a modest system, much less an expensive one. From my perspective, the world is properly balanced in favor of "it's the music!" over audio nervosa, but it's fun to indulge in the nervosa on the occassional basis.
The balance between owning something for the sake of owning it, because its expensive, pretty, or exotic, vs. the pure enjoyment and pleasure it brings to you. They are not mutually exclusive, nor incompatible, just difficult to balance in equal measure. They are yin and yang. You must have some quality in the reproduction (which costs) and you must be able to let go of the objects to enjoy the music. We all suffer from the same illness: wanting to get closer to the music and the artist through our equipment. May we all eventually get to the state where we can forget about the things we have purchased and just listen. (at least for a little while) Now where did I put my Stereophile magazine??
my 1st really good set of speakers- ADS-L810's, looked great and sounded wonderful. at the time they were an expensive investment for me- $900. words cannot express how much i enjoyed them; to this day i miss them. now i have a pair of speakers that cost 60X as much. they are astonishingly good of course, but i have mixed feelings about WHY i do what i do.
if the goal is a lifelike presentation of even the most complex musical signals, i have no problems with what i've done- the dream grew in my consciousness every time i went to hear a live concert. but way before i even had a STEREO, i was happy listening to a tape of beethoven #5 on my concord-220 (mono) reel-to-reel. the other "component" was a blaupunkt am/fm/sw radio. so it's all psychological as far as i'm concerned.
Cleaneduphippy has just said what many of us know is true. equipment is equipment.....spending more won't get you your 'musical' soul back.
A couple days ago I found an old Wards Airline console at a garage sale. I bought it for $3 figuring I could take the tube electronics out and have some fun this summer as I am a teacher. I powered it up and put an album on. It sounded so weird as the speakers were in the wrong place and there was a big imbalance in output between channels. But I loved it. Its A Beautiful Day sounded great. My 16 year old daughter wants to put it in her room and listen to my old 45's. My wife wants it in the trash. Tubes and turntable in a console-what a blast! I think this is part of it. This is fun. I didn't care about the sound. I might just use it for my garage system. It even has rca imputs. The same day I bought a Kyocera cd player for $5 and hooked it up. Not great sound but fun and its music. Just my 2 cents. Dan
I agree that we, in this hobby, obsess about the imperfections and sound artifacts that annoy us rather than the sound and the enjoyment of the music as a whole. However, given that we are into this hobby to enjoy higher quality sound reporduction of the music we love, it gets frustrating when we try to enjoy listening to music when it's reproduced poorly.

Those little nuances in the music and the recording that either annoy us or send us into nirvana are what makes or breaks this hobby for us. My system sounds great on well recorded CD's. Lousy, compressed, pop CD's sound bad and take the enjoyment out of it. THAT'S what is frustrating. No being able to listen to the music we love because it sounds so damn bad.

I get more enjoyment as my system gets better. This has been going on for me, for many years. My money; my choice but thanks for the input. I don't expect Wilsons where I'm going in the afterlife,probably they will have Bose? Thank God in this life we get to make our own choices and I have no problem with this concept.
Speakers are perhaps the most important part of a system. There are many great sub-$1000 spks. (Rega Jura, Tannoy's, Snell's, ADS, Spendor to name just a few....)But to get the most out of these spks. good amplification is needed to bring out their best. As well as good Interconnects/spk. wire. But the point is that a very musical system need not cost a fortune. French_Fries, I have a pr. of ADS L500's that sound so good. I can only image how good those 810's must have sounded! Regards, Bill.
I have hundreds of hours in research finding the best of the best recordings of classical music. Invested $$$'s in my collection over the past 6 yrs. Kept 500+ cds, sold off during the apst 4 yrs and lost to katrina last yr...oh about another 500 why should I do that smae DD (due diligence) in researching what I believe is the ..."best bang for the buck" amount of hype will misguide me. Its all about the music I agree. But why not try to find the best possibly listening medium for your enjoyment.
No merry-go-rounds for this kid..

Baton Rouge
it sounds like your friend might have not observed rule #1 of audiophilism: just because a different component/tweak/IC/whatever makes your system sound different, that is not necessarily better. more detail, for example, is a lovely thing, but not if it comes at the cost of other factors.
Concerning the point of diminishing returns, I've run into this dilemma recently as I've shopped for replacement Speakers. My current Speakers are full-range, review by Stereophile and "A rated" and currently retail for $5.5K
I've had them for 2-yrs now and have been very happy with their performance but was curious to see if I could take it up a notch without breaking the Bank.

What I found after 2-weeks of extensive auditioning of what are arguably considered the best Speakers currently available regardless of price, is that a) the Speakers were too large for my above-average-sized living room b) noticably better sound started at twice the retail price of my current Speakers c) my current Speakers are sonically within single-digit-percentage-points of the best sounding Speakers that asthetically fit my space.

I won't even go into the electronics, noticable sonic improvment (to my ears, not the salesman's) came at 4>5 times what I spent back in 2004 on my Stereophile "A rated" system.

What this has proven to me is that regardless of all the hype from the media/blogs and retailers, Hi-Fi equipment reaches a sonic plateau much sooner than consumers are expected to believe and stays there for much longer. Top-shelf Hi-Fi gear is NOT sonically outdated every couple of years as most consumers are lead to believe.

BTW: Nothing and I mean Nothing made my current Gear sound low-fi. When I walked into the Dealers I would mention my existing gear has components that I heard and liked, then the Salesmen would automatically go into this pitch about how the difference between those components and what I was auditioning was night and day and could not be compared on any level. Then at the end of the audition, I would tell them what I own and the shades-of-gray differences in what I just heard and they would be speachless...busted!
I guess it depends on how you see a "tweak". To me, Epinions is describing what I thought of as an "audiophile", until quite recently. A tweak is obsessed with gear and sees the forest not the trees (extension, air, et cetera and not the music), is that right? Can I put in a good word for the tweak?

To me, a tweak is something like a set of points, an isolation device, a change in speaker placement, an AC outlet, a rug on the floor in front of my listening chair... something which makes an audible difference to me but is not costly. I tweak a lot. The most important tweaks I think you can make are the ones that improve your room acoustics.

Do that thoroughly, and for sure you can get wonderful mileage out of modest gear. It might even be 80 to 90 % as good as the best out there when the best is not in a treated room.
I think what you did right was to assemble a system YOU like. Whether it was by happen stance or it was thoroughly planned out consider yourself lucky and blessed.

My current line of thinking is that the "it's all about the music" phrase is a crock of sheeot coming from us audiophiles. If it were truly just about the music we'd be happy with cheap mass market electronics and the term audio-nervosa would completely unknown to us.

The audio gods have blessed you, Sir CleanedUpHippy!
Lots of interesting points of view here and I certainly hope that some of y'all don't think I'm putting anyone down for the amount of money they put into a system. That's not the point. Believe me, if I had deep enough pockets I would have a system to die for. But once achieved I don't think I would obsessive with how to get that last little itsy bitsy teeny weeny bit of perfection out it. Why, you ask? Well, I learned a long time ago that quite a bit (if not most) of great music has been recorded under less than ideal conditions, but even so, the performance of the music more than makes up for whatever sonic imperfections that might have been captured in the recording of the music. I myself am a member of a community that actively collects and trades recording of live shows. And I sure all of y'all understand that the quality of these recording vary widely. Some are recorded very well, others well......., but even so, almost all of these recording has something in the performance of the music that make it worthwhile hearing. My question to members of the audiophile community would be, could you listen to a great performance of music and get into and be moved by the music, even if the performance itself was recorded under less than ideal conditions and your audio set-up was quite revealing of these imperfections? You know sometimes the quest for perfection leads you away from what you truly seeking, which hopefully is listening to musicians opening their heart and soul in performance of their music, be it in a recording studio or live on stage. Also, quite often during a performance it's the "mistakes" that give the music it's soul and character and often time move the music to a level of greatness. Anybody, that listens to jazz understand the concept that musically you got to take chances if you want to reach greatness, and quite often those chances are taken in a live environment and if a recording is being made it's probably not going to be the best quality in the world. Indeed, in most cases, it'll be just a "working demo" for the musicians involved.
i think itms is true--it's the music stupid.

a two part study in stereophile showed that sound quality was not a guarantee of satisfaction.

you can get just as much satisfaction listening to your favorite music ona $300 personal stereo as on a $100,00 stereo system.

no, the sound is the same, but you can connect to the music, emotionally, even if the sound is mediocre.

what happened in the 30's when the sound quality by today's standards was poor. didn't people enjoy the music ?

staisfaction is more dependent on the person than the stereo system.
mrtennis is correct
I think it depends on what your hobby is. If your hobby is the music, then it's good to remember that and follow the advice of the first post. But IMO, there's absolutely nothing wrong if you realize your hobby includes active participation in the delivery and facilities required for music. my personal experience is below for those who want to read on . . .

For years my primary hobby has been boating and water skiing. I pursued that with obsession, not only dealing with new Boats, Skis, upgrades and tweaks, but also buying lakefront property and building a house and dock to maximize my enjoyment.

Similarly I now actively pursue a hobby that I consider to be "audio", which is not only the music, but also the delivery, and facility. I have always been passionate about music, and it's always playing. BUT, I'm a geek, and I enjoy the active part of the hobby as much as the passive part. I find every tweak, and new piece of equipment invigorating. Not only the active part when I install it; but I'm almost always thrilled by the results when I sit and listen.

Just as my enjoyment of boating has evolved, and I no longer tweak, I'm satisfied with the boat I have and simply go out and drive it; I expect this will happen with the audio part too. At that point I will passively enjoy just the music, but will probably have some other hobby to satisfy the geek in me.
cleaneduphippy is correct. i have known 100's of serious music lovers over the years as well as audiophiles. i have been lucky to have friends too, that are both. generally speaking, the two groups have nothing in common. the guys who spent the most time listening to, purchasing, collecting and studying music, always had modest systems, with no special wire or tweeks.
Great thread! I too have a couple of friends who cannot sit still and listen to music. They are always making changes in speaker positioning, trying a different tweek on every song, and even coloring CD's with markers to compensate for the recording.

To me, it gets annoying after a while. Not to mention, they will only purchase CD's that are "good recordings". The Artist and Material have gone to the wayside. It is kinda ridiculous if you think about it. I mean who wants to sit around and listen to every Patricia Barber or Norah Jones Album over and over again? I would rather watch an episode of the OC which is what I consider torture..

While tweeking can be fun and I have heard the differences, for me, it is all about the music and escaping into it for enjoyment. I love sifting through my collection. The stuff I listen to is rarely recorded perfectly and I accept that. Some stuff sounds better than others.

My system now consists of a Simple Tube Integrated, a moderately priced pair of speakers. The Digital Front end has changed from time to time but the core stays the same. I have own more expensive setups but they did not give me the level of enjoyment I currently have. Go Figure..

I think most of you have good points, but this statement I dont agree with;

'i think itms is true--it's the music stupid.

a two part study in stereophile showed that sound quality was not a guarantee of satisfaction.

you can get just as much satisfaction listening to your favorite music ona $300 personal stereo as on a $100,00 stereo system'

No matter the quality of the recording, a good system makes it 'sound' better.

I will put it this way. When I was very young (six years old maybe?) It was discovered that I had a vision problem. So I got my eyes examined and spectacles were prescribed for me. The day I got them I was astonished as to all that I was not seeing before, but the night was the most dramatic, as I finally saw the stars for what they were for the FIRST time! I only saw blobs of light for the brightest stars previously.

For me its the same with equipment. You have a little radio or boombox and you listen to music and its fine. BUT, when you step up to a good system and listen to the same music, it's like you have never heard it before until then. I am not saying that the $100,000 dollar sytem is what' need to do that either, but if the gear makes my music sound more enjoyable, more enticing, more real, then I will get that gear.

In the end, the gear is part of the music too.

To end, try thoroughlly enjoying the 1812 Overture or even Maroon 5 or Dido, on a transistor radio or a cheap mini system. You might like it until you hear it with a very good setup( that only needs to cost maybe $1000). Then you will LOVE it!

I'm kind of surprised I didn't get flamed for my last post. It seems more A'Goners than I realized have the awareness to recognize that it is also about hifi and the equipment for us audiophiles. Of course in varying proportions.

It's interesting that I'm not very critical about the quality of the music playback while in my car or at work. I'm just glad to have music in those environments.
Synergy, Synergy, Synergy!!! does any other word apply? I have a pair of very expensive but huge speakers, that the material costs alone almost come close to the price paid, how about the sound? Well if matched with the correct configuration they are far worth it, but that can be very tuff with about a half million amps and components out there to deal with, so best thing is go with proven brands that can create magic together, price points then don't matter...

A friend of mine has a Killer small tower pair of speakers, they were hard to get a lot of high end gear to sound very real on, well Guess what, it ended up a VERY pricey MCintosh piece with tone control solved it, and super PURE components just did not sound as good on it (place any audiophile name you like *HERE*) then what was really funny is a 200.00 JVC Receiver was the only other that Worked Damn near as good!!!! Go figure, but we thought okay then lets get a super duper Denon or onkyo whatever and see how badly this JVC gets stomped... Guess what on this specific Speaker nothing created the magic of the Mcintosh or the JVC in this specific case... Flavor? who knows.

So never think anything about this audio game has a conventional solution.
Undertow? I used to play on a Quake server with that name.
a month or so ago, stereophile nearly published a lukewarm reveiw of a 12k+ sacd front end. i say 'nearly' because they loved it, but were compelled to admit that sacd is indeed ending, thus not making it the greatest investment. i say this to the outrage of many, all the time, but the difference in front end's has always been more about build than sound. the dna in the latest generation walkman is not that different than a megabuck audiophile player. By design, thats the way phillips/denon/sony always intended it. high end equipment is fun to own, or collect, if you don't have have another hobby, or kids, or a family, but it has '0' to do with enjoying music, or collecting music as a hobby. there is a widening gap between the hi end industry and the 'everyman'. its no wonder its dying. for those manufacturers who b.s. 'those who should know better', that this is primarily about enjoying music.....well, its way easier to say that, than it is to offer true value, customer service...and satisfaction. the evolution toward vintage used gear is as much about 'value today' as it is 'nostalgia'. the ces show is now about '100's of manufacturers chasing dozens of retailers' who are dropping like flies. we will get the hobby we deserve. you can now get a subscription to the above mentioned magazine cheaper than a half tank of gas. trust your common sense.....then let your 'ears' in on it.