I'm interested in hearing what "the best" systems sound like, where to go?

I have my system sounding pretty good now with a wide sound stage and good depth and imaging. I hear faint details that I have never heard in songs before. It took me three amps, two CD players, two sets of speakers and room treatments to get where I am. But the rabbit hole being what it is....I can't help but wonder....do I have the best it can be? I've been to brick and mortar, high end audio stores, but they don't really have listening rooms. Do any of you know of a place that has a good selection in stock that also has a good listening room to try them out? I would like to hear what is considered "the best". I would like a yard stick to use to determine if I'm getting everything out of the recordings that I can get. Even if it is thousands of dollars outside of my budget, I would like to know what I'm chasing.
. Do any of you know of a place that has a good selection in stock that also has a good listening room to try them out?

If a place is mentioned, do you plan on traveling to it ?

If a place is mentioned, do you plan on traveling to it ?

Probable answer, maybe if its not too far from where OP lives.  Besides, its interesting to see people's opinion on what are the great remaining audio stores.

If your satisfied with your system, don't tempt the audio gods, just enjoy your system for the effort already invested. Nothing wrong with hearing different systems but we as a group tend to lose sight of the system at hand, kind of like having a beautiful, great girl friend, dropping her for another just to find out you can't live with the new one and wish you had the old one back. Just sayin
Your best bet is still an audio show. I used to travel to neighboring states to hear systems at dealers. I even looked for audio shops when on trips around the world. 

There is as much variety in audio salons as there are in shows. You will hear some of the best at shows. Take the room into consideration and enjoy the gear as presented. 

Beware of claims of "the best". Think of performance not as a peak, but as a range of ridges of varying heights. There are MANY superb components, speakers, cables, etc. There are MANY systems that are world class. There are usually at least two or three memorable, stunning rigs at shows. 
You don’t say where you live. In my area (Dayton, OH) there are still audiophile 2 channel brick and mortar dealers where company reps will have shows occasionally and permit critical listening to some fantastic medium expensive and ridiculous, out of reach expensive systems.

But I agree with you that listening to the out of reach systems is instructive. I got to listen to a huge ballroom sized system of the biggest, most expensive Focal Utopia loudspeakers driven by a Boulder solid state amplifier the size of a dishwasher. Very amazing, fun experience for all. I was not an opera fan before, but someday I could be one thanks to demos like that. And just a re-listen of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” album on a great turntable over this system was a real revelation over songs that I thought I was completely familiar with.

I would encourage you you to go to whatever big city is near you and make a visit at some different dealers and familiarize yourself with some different product lines. I know for me, I assembled my audio system backwards from the speakers, which in my case are Thiel CS3.6. Notorious power hunger made spec’ing my Bryston 4Bsst2 amplifier a choice that I felt pretty great about. You might have different priorities for amplification or speaker attributes.

Listening to those uber-expensive demo systems educated me on what compressed dynamics weren’t. It is the definition of what uncompressed dynamics are! I suffered through my favorite music on CD’s played over a Sony D5 Discman through a harsh sounding NAD 2200 amp for 30 years! I knew my system was fatiguing and finally set out on a discovery quest on ways to dig deeper into my favorite well recorded music that I knew damn well had many, many added layers of detail to them that my equipment at the time could not un-ravel.

For my money, I feel like Bryston components are a fantastic old-fashioned value. The current cubed series amps are worthy of an audition. It would be worth your while to search for the nearest dealer near your zip code and make a day trip out of it. I haven’t listened to the Bryston 4Bsst3 amp yet - if I could convince my local dealer to get one in stock and set up a proper demo, I would most likely purchase the amp on the spot if its performance is to the 97th% of perfection that I suspect it is living at.
That gentle readers is the $64,000 question. Having had the misfortune to live in Dayton, I would be inclined to eliminate Dayton from consideration. 🤗
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Anywhere, literally anywhere but an audio show. An audio show can take a $250,000 system and make it sound like a $5,000 system.

+1 On audio equipment vendors who will spend large dollars on demo rooms. Ditto for high end audio stores, ones with a consistent good reputation, but don’t expect all their rooms to be good.

There are lots of hifi clubs around. Some people will have better, some people will have worse setups, but when you listen to a lot, you can see consistency in setups that translates into things you personally like and may want to work on.
Spend a week in Southern California, visiting all the great dealers in the area. You’ll need a week because the traffic is horrific.
The closest cities to me are Indianapolis and Cincinnati. There is a great dealer in Indianapolis that I've purchased a couple of items from, but their "listening rooms" are all very cluttered with equipment. I hoped for a treated room that was set up specifically for listening, not storage of inventory. They are great people and they are very knowledgeable, I don't want to give the impression that they are hacks...far from it!

The hifi clubs interest me. Maybe I could hear systems in real world situations? I do want to hear systems that I couldn't possibly afford only to hear what I'm missing. I want to know what to listen for when I make a system tweak. Audiophiles use words to describe sound, but listening is the only way to apply attributes to those words.

Last year I auditioned a pair of B stock Forte IIIs. I drove 720 miles round trip to hear them. I had just purchased a pair of the new KLH Kendall towers and I wanted to compare them to the Forte IIIs. The room wasn't treated in any way, so I had to keep that in mind since my room does have absorption and diffuser treatments. I left without them. I had cash in hand to buy them, but I didn't think they sounded as good as the Kendalls. It wasn't a wasted trip, the person auditioning them for me did turn me on to a great demonstration song and I bought the CD as soon as I got home. Nils Lofgren, Keith Don't Go. The whole CD is awesome!
Steakster, I would love to have had the opportunity to sit with a reviewer and experience the process he used for critical listening. I'm sure you learned a lot!
I'm interested in hearing what "the best" systems sound like, where to go?

"The Best" does not exist objectively, unfortunately.  However, go listen to any system in which the owner claims it is among the best, and let them explain why he/she thinks it is  --- The process will help you to assemble a system that fits your budget and gives you the most satisifaction.

@gaclagg ...

  • I have my system sounding pretty good now with a wide sound stage and good depth and imaging. I hear faint details that I have never heard in songs before.

Consider getting off of the equipment merry-go-round and start reading the multitudes of threads here on A'gon that deal with tweaking. Pay particular attention to the threads that deal with micro-vibrations, micro-arcing, and room treatments. There's tons of extra music, and vast improvements in SQ, that can be wrung out of your system without spending money on more/different electronics.

And I agree with the poster above who said that audio shows are not the most ideal places to judge audio equipment.


Assuming its not cancelled you should hit the Axpona show in Chicago next month 4/17-19.
Showroom must be very bad in general, except some very well designed...

I will reiterate my rant: most people dont know that one of the best audio system in their city is the audio system they already own...Suffice to controls the 4 embeddings of most audio system that are good to transform TOTALLY your listening experience...

One of the best audio system there is relatively to the ratio quality /price is mine already, because of the controls methods I create for the 4 embeddings... But it seems that no one pay attention except for buying ready made costly solutions in every thread....

The ultimate test is when EACH AND EVERY ONE of your music files sound terrific even the less good one, and you cannot stop listen ANY files picked by chance without interruption and without been bored for the coming hour because it is too much beautiful...

my advice: dont buy anything, think and read, and think, ideas and understanding will come....

My best...

"People dont buy simple solution, they are too simple to be believed" -Groucho Marx
I know a place that represents the state of the art in SQ. Lucky me, it’s not very far. 🤗 Blow your mind. 🤯 I know a little bit about how to get good sound, you know, having been in Best of Show systems at CES at least three times.

where do you live? at least give us a region.

hard to recommend a place to use as a reference when we don’t know your area.

and from my perspective it’s unlikely a hifi brick and mortar dealer has state of the art sound, compared to the top notch private local systems and rooms. rare that those dealer systems get the tuning to reach the heights. lots of pretty boxes only gets you so far. and typically the best sources are not at dealers.

i’ve just never heard it done yet. and hifi shows are not really any better. i suppose it all depends on your expectations.
I'm interested in hearing what "the best" system sounds like, where to go?
Its in Redmond, WA. PM me, I will send you my address.
Based on the fact he said the closest cites are Cincinnati and Indianapolis I am guessing the mid-west likely Ohio or Indiana. Hence my Axpona rec.
If you have your system "sounding pretty good", you are way ahead of most of us. Just sit back ,enjoy the music now and forget about the equipment. Good luck!
@douglas_schroeder :
Beware of claims of "the best". Think of performance not as a peak, but as a range of ridges of varying heights. There are MANY superb components, speakers, cables, etc. There are MANY systems that are world class.
+1 on that. "Best" also depends on taste.

As to shows, there are many wonderful systems at shows, but to find one where the background noise (mostly, salesmen and/or audiophiles yammering loudly over the music) doesn’t preclude listening is difficult. At AXPONA 2019, I found two that were wonderful and quiet: the Bricasti room (with Tidal speakers) and the Aesthetix room (with the Mimas integrated).

A really first-rate dealership is another possibility, recognizable by a room that has been designed and treated by an acoustics professional.
AXPONA should give you an idea what is out there. Maybe not the ultimate in room acoustics, but still worth hearing.
+1@gulpson, demo rooms to become familiar with latest models.
The effort put into listening / learning will be beneficial ...
If you will be visiting New Jersey - we can go visit with Michael Fremer and hear what he has.  May not the absolute best but you get to hear something that you probably have not heard before.  The we can go visit VPI Industries and they have 9 showrooms set up plus there are about 5 dealers that will give you an idea of various options and sound.

Happy Listening.
There is no substitute for experience. My advise to you is to listen to as many live music events as you can. That’s the only sound reference you will get. When it comes to home audio system, you would never know what sound best, until you try many different system combinations for a long time - at least a mount for one audio system at the time. So, my friend, there is no easy way out here.
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Hard to imagine anything can compare to Mike Lavigne’s setup...

As far dealers go, Hifi buys in ATL has two outstanding listening rooms. 
I think a great idea would be Audiogon has a contest of its members. The reviewer can decide the cost and category of your system. They come out listen, and rate your system. The prizes can be credit from sponsors like Murrow Audio, Audioquest, Nordost, Roon, Tidal. One set of categories for a business and another for personal or home. Stream, CD, or records. Who knows what will happen with these shows with the Corona Virus problems. 
I love Mike’s system. I think it is awesome how he thinks out of the box. I can only Imagine how clean his main system sounds!
On my bucket list is to head to Boulder, CO and hear Paul McGown's listening rooms at PS Audio.
Thanks for the serious eye candy, but what did you do with the cow?

hi Joe,

you are welcome.

before i moved into my barn in 2004 it had real horses in it, and the corral was functional. but no cows. 

OTOH i do have a herd of Elk that hangs outside my front gate every 2-3 weeks. plenty of critters around all the time. we see the occasional bear and even a cougar or two sometimes.
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One more thing Mike. I just realized that you are the guy who always outbids me on EBay. 
One more thing Mike. I just realized that you are the guy who always outbids me on EBay.
I think this is the end of a beautiful friendship.

(hopefully not)
One more thing Mike. I just realized that you are the guy who always outbids me on EBay.
honestly; i've not bid on ebay vinyl for a few years; been in gear mode lately. i get my recent used vinyl on Discog.

it will soon be time to aggressively jump back into acquiring vinyl as i'm done adding tt's and cartridges. so watch out, here i come. :-)

I can only Imagine how clean his main system sounds!

no need to imagine it, come on over next time you are in the neighborhood (east of Seattle).
Oooohhh boy.  Is the thousand dollars you mention happen to be hundreds of thousand?  If you are more or less satisfied with your system don't even go there.   If by chance you come upon it, great.  If you seek to experience "The Very Best", find it and you like it.  It could ruin your life.   Speakers = House Mortgage.  A fair sized house to fit the speakers.  Electronics = New top end Mercedes?
Then the new upgraded versions comes.

@mikelavigne  that's the first time I've seen your system & I now have to get a plane ticket to Seattle. A walk around the area looks like it will be nice too...

Don't know what part of NC you are in but there is a great place called Liquid Hi Fi outside Charlotte, NC. Ron has a great listening room set up in his home that you could spend hours in, playing around with different components and permutations.
I second the idea of hearing the best. Years ago I had the good fortune to spend some time at Goodwin's High End near Boston. At one point in the conversation I asked the owner what was the best system he had. To put it mildly, I was impressed. That system has since become my reference point. I will never be able to afford it, but I now know what is possible with really good components.
I think it depends on where you live.  It is always a good idea to spend a few days at a good audio show.  However, many of them will bring some of their less expensive speakers because they assume most people will spend the money.  They should have floors dedicated to beginners and floors dedicated for high end.

I remember sitting in a $1 million room at the RMAF and a writer for Stereophile Magazine was there.  He handed them a CD and said this was the best to listen to system capabilities.  After a few minutes he asked how much the system cost.  When the guy replied $1 MILLION he replied that's not too bad.  I knew he was full of ...........  Quite frankly, I didn't see the value unless you have so much money you don't know how to spend it.  After you set all of the gear up in a room, it looks ugly.  No way I would want something like that in my home.  Who is going to stare at ugly speakers for hours without seeing something visual.  Different strokes for different folks.
Sound quality is variable. It’s relative. You have to compare a system to something else. There are no absolutes. What might sound great to you could rather generic and mundane to someone else. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, “but my system sounds fabulous!”
Comparing one audio system to another, with different embeddings and different gear has not great signifiance to be polite...There is always better than what someone owns....Then you are right Geoffkait….

Making what we already owned very good and working at his peak potential quality is the key problem in audio....But most people has never even listen to their own gear at his true potential sound quality...And they even dont know that....Dissatified and bored by their self imposed limitations instead of thinking about how to makes their system works, they bought the new hyped gear or ready made solutions....It is not my way... :)

When the guy replied $1 MILLION he replied that's not too bad.
Got to be Fremer!
Definitive Audio in Seattle, when I was in there last year, had a system of flagship Audio Technica, D'Agostino, Wilson and I forget what else. Only remembered long enough to look them up and add them up and realize that was a $1.3M system. 

Grusin, Time Out, and it was certainly dynamic and detailed and I came away more impressed than ever.... with how good a job I did, to have a much more engaging system for having spent less than the sales tax on theirs.

Interesting, I never have the chance to listen to this kind of very costly audio system in my life....I am sure that it will sound musical with  tweaks tough.... :)

And I trust your words for your feeling about your own job...Because I feel the same...

My best regards...
I have a gut feeling those guys are not the tweaking kind. Most likely they are from the “only good solid engineering” school of thought.

”We don’t do tweaks here.” 🧐