If you knew then, what you know now...

WHAT would you have done differently in your path to "audio nirvana" ??? Given that most of us have spent WAY more than we realized until just recently : ) this might be a good way to help others out. They might be able to learn from our mistakes without having to spend as much money to get where we are at today. Sean
That's easy Sean--don't assume that more $$ equates to better sound. And don't assume that if you like component X from a certain manufacturer, you'll like their more-expensive component Y even more. In my experience at least, it turns out to be true less than 50% of the time...
My advice would be to wait/save and buy what you really want (really want but can honestly justify the purchase/expense of) the first time around. To buy a component with the thought that it will be upgraded (it will do for now) will mean that you will never be satisfied with that component and that you will lose money down the line when you finally do upgrade it. I just went through this thought process with power cords that I plan on updating and decided to just bite the bullet and buy the ones that I "really" want. This decision for me entailed seeking approval from my wife and auctioning a few pieces of art from our collection to finance the cables. Had I used this thought process over the past year I would now have a much better system and would not have wasted a lot of money on gear that has since been resold (at a loss) or given away as it was no longer being used. I am also very frugal and don't believe in throwing away money either. A good example of this was when I purchased an equipment rack for $150.00 which was on closeout at AA and had the bolt together frame welded into a one piece unit by my auto mechanic. I feel that it is as good or even better in some aspects (it came equiped with upturned brass spikes for all of the shelves as well as brass floor spikes) than the $600.00+ racks that I looked at locally, plus with the money that I saved I was able to order Neuance shelves for the rack. This I feel saved money, but there was no compromise as far as the sound quality goes, so I am happy. The speakers that I have always wanted to own are the long discontinued Gallo reference speakers on Barcelona stands. I like their sound as well as their artistic design and consider them to be both Hi-fi and art. Other than a speaker kit that I would like to build (for the hell of it) I doubt if I will upgrade the current Reynauds until I can both locate and afford a pair of the Gallo's. By not buying a bunch of speakers in between this should be an easy task to accomplish. If you don't own any gear at all and are just first putting together a system this is a hard road to go, but if you are upgrading an existing system then this concept can be used as each piece is upgraded. This plan will not work for people that thrive on building new systems on a continual basis, but will do fine, I think, for those that wish to complete a system to their satisfaction and then sit back and enjoy the music. I personally get a kick out of reading about what gear the other members here pick up and assemble and hope that at some point in the near future I won't feel it necessary to have to continue the process myself. If that point never comes though, then I have a problem (though it would be a cheaper one than blow:-)
...I'd have taken more time and effort in attempting to understand my own musical tastes,needs and desires.
I wish that I had much earlier set up an idealised musical goal and a path to achieve it rather than flitting about with ever more expensive hardware in some elusive and nebulous hunt for "better" and "more".
It was all too easy to fall into the HiFi trap of unending flirtations and unattainable expectations and forget that truely good audio is merely a personalized collection of appliances at the service of Music.
My greatest discovery was a simple one, applicable to many things in life: know thyself.
I agree with Dekay, I would be more patient. Instead of upgrading one step at a time, I would wait for my budget to grow and upgrade 3 or 4 steps at a time. In other words maybe buy 1 main item every year or two. Like replace the amp this year and then the preamp will just have to wait, That way I'd be able to live longer with the purchase and not have to go through the buying/installing headaches. Sean, you had a earlier post as to the headaches of setting up the system, and your right it can be a pain. So my advice is to try to have more patience than me, it will be much easier and more rewarding in the long run. Gotta go buy more cables. See ya.
I agree completely with all of the posts above. However, I will say that my botched purchases have taught me almost as much about audio as my good ones--at a price of course.

My two cents: I would have taken more time to make sure any components, cables, etc. purchased work well together--just because something is expensive and highly rated doesn't necessarily mean it will match with another piece of gear. And I wouldn't assume that what some expert (anyone) is telling me is correct--I would try for myself. Oh yeah, I almost forgot the most important part--when I do screw up--to smile about it, and chalk it up to experience $$!!
Lots of good components, speakers, and cables out there, but it's important to match them well. Recently I went to a high-end store and was surprised to hear such harshness coming out of > $25K systems --bright-sounding sources, bright-sounding amps, bright-sounding speakers. A few months ago, I upgraded my system with a very good solid-state amp, but things sounded tinny when using my well-regarded $18/ft speaker cables. The system sounded much better with my $4/ft cables, and better still with the $100/ft cables I'm using now.
I would have never purchased SS.

I also don't believe that more expensive equates to better sound.

A change of component may mean different sound but not necessarily better.
All of the audio equipment that's been in my life, for whatever reason, led me to the knowledge I have today. I would not be happy if I had not explored every opportunity. All was a learning process, even discovering what I did wrong. I do agree with one poster who said "save for what you want." I have never considered the price of equipment to be as important as the music it delivers. When I can get a bargain I am absolutely the first in line, but I will not buy a bargain if it does not deliver the magic.
All this is time dependent. In 1989 you couldn't be saving for something that isn't on the market yet.(True now for 2004)It's all a learning, understanding, appreciating,process. We will all take our present skills to the next level.Looking back, we all know how much we have learned; there will be more,unless we buy the "perfect"system and retire from "learning".
Send your money to charity (or Italy) and start reading books. Ok, just foolin. The biggest mistakes I make are two:

1) If you really know what you want just buy it. Too many times I am unwilling to throw down on an item because it is just not quite a good enough deal. But I never say after I buy 'I paid too much for this and should have waited for this slightly better deal' I just say I paid alot and I like it.

2) And almost always with any purchase there are compromises that I overlook. Usually because I am blinded by some percieved benefit my new purchase will bring. In the end the overlooked comprimse outweighs the benefit and I am wallowing in a mire of unhappiness. So, if making a new purchase make out a pro/con sheet and think about it. Demo the unit to death. The more expensive the unit is (relatively speaking) the more you think/demo and consider the purchase.

If 1) and 2) seem inconsistent, well...fine. Those are my mistakes and I stand by them.

You can buy a lot of great music for the price of a modest component.

Depending on what type of music you listen to, you're quite possibly listening to an effect more than the recreation of a "real" thing, and in this case, if it sounds good it probably is good.

The room is going to have a huge effect on how good things will ever sound.

A corrolary to that is that if you're not willing to modify / treat your room, you're going to be considerably more limited in the performance you can achieve.

An early question to ask is how much you value convenience vs. performance. CDs are a lot more convenient but many swear the only true performance is vinyl. A CD changer randomly playing tunes is great fun (as a transport only, of course), but many would say it's too big a sacrifice.

Spend the big bucks on the source. Go for the best even if the rest of the chain is worth only a few hundred. Buy second-hand and insure shipping for full value. Listen and read about others' experiences for a long time before buying. Then pay what you have to, to get what you want. Believe that having what you want will make a difference. Pass up a few hot deals if you're not quite sure. Listen, listen, listen and don't analyze the sound as you listen ; pay attention to how you feel instead. When you hear something that just seems to work, make notes on how you feel. Talk about your notes. Make audiophile friends, they're not all component-mad, they're almost all music lovers, and mine are princes.
Tobias, I would have to say that speakers are the most important, with a tip of the hat to Kthomas and room dynamics. Auditioning speakers on the dealers good equipment would be cheaper than buying the source and power only to be unhappy. If you know what good speakers can do with some elses good equipment then you're already ahead. With good speakers that work in your room I would think it would be easier to "get there". But I've been wrong before and thats why I make this comment. Regards.
Tobias: I am not disagreeing with you (the source is very important). But if that source is digital it is pretty hard (for me anyway) to go for the best I can afford at this time due to the SACD cloud that hangs over my head. I am very happy (now in retropspect) with my decision to purchase the Bel Canto DAC which will most likely make a nice companion to an SACD player at some point in the future. I was however in the beginning dissapointed with my decision due to the additional IC, power cord and isolation components needed for the seperate box. In this regard I feel that DAC's for standard playback are still a good focus at this time, unless of course in the future manufacturers decide to include better preformence (for standard playback) in the SACD models offered within my realistic price range. I have noticed a lot of pussyfooting going on as to how good the standard playback quality of even the current model $5K to $7K SACD players is and also notice that people are having the players modified in order to improve this method of playback. The Bel Canto is just my reference in that it is what I own and enjoy the sound of, but I guess that I am endorsing the purchase of any high quality DAC at this time in the event that you will add SACD to your system in the future. This is anyway how I have concentrated on the source in my situation, be it both mental and budgetary.
Go to many stores, audition lots of stuff. The first time i bought speakers, I only went to one store. I didn't have the speakers for very long. Ignore Stereophile's classification system. As a reference, it does not apply well to real stereo-assemblage situations. I also think it's important to be confident, not letting others dictate to you what is good or bad. The first time in a audio salon was a little intimidating for me, and i let myself be led by the salesman. Now, I've found that i get a lot farther by being friendly with the salesman while taking control of the audition/purchasing process. I put too much stock in the reviews, pro and amateur. Doing that can result in wasted money. Obviously, I've made lots of mistakes; thank god for return policies. Having fun is the most important. Screwing up in audio is much more difficult than getting good sound, so just relax.
My most painful lesson in retrospect: I had an absolutely wonderful synergy with some older Luxman equipment which is of course no longer available. I knew that it would eventually fail one day, & so I tried to collect all of the manuals, parts lists, schematics etc. in advance preparation for that fateful event.
When the amp failed after 14 years service I thought that I was prepared - wrong! The 79 cent driver parts that I need can no longer be found anywhere in the world. I considered trying some equivelant semi's, but was told (by a respected authority who absolutely knows his stuff) that it won't sound the same. I've spent megabucks on other components since then, but cannot come close to achieving that synergy with anything else that I've tried. It would have been way cheaper to buy myself a spare/duplicate setup of that Luxman when it was still available. I had considered doing just that many times, but I didn't & now I'm still kicking myself.
What I really know now after moving 9 years ago into my present environment is how very very important a good room is. Components aside, the room can be the most important component in making even a modest system magical. It is going to be my next major upgrade.
If I knew what I know now back in the day I would rather get into herion. It is also a conversation starter when someone asks "what are you up to?" you can reply with "shooting herion" which always gets a better response then I am into high end stereo, try it some time. But really I would buy everything used if I could do things again.
if i had to do it all over again, i'd be born rich, living my life as a trust fund baby and ignoring the hoi poloi on this most pedestrian of audio sites; should I, quite unlikely, find it amusing to listen in on your rf static, i'd have my secretary input all my putdowns. in other words, i'd have the best b&o system my unearned income could buy.
I wouldn't ever read another internet news group about anything audio related. I'd go into the local radio shack, buy their best middle of the road gear, and never ever find out how good music really can sound. I'd save thousands, have more time to do other things, and never have to see or hear the word "upgrade" ever again. My car radio would still sound good to me, I could re-arrange my furniture at will, and the muzak at work probably wouldn't threaten my sanity (hey, I could probably even sing along with the tunes played when some company puts me on hold on the phone).

And life would have been much diminished.

Try to recreate the experience, not the sound.

I remember the first time hearing a super high-end audio set-up and being totally floored at what it sounded like. That was about just 5 years ago. I've gone through several decent systems since then, but none costing as much as that first system I heard. Well, I can now more than afford that "dream" system and went to a dealer to listen to a VERY similar system, same speakers and front-end, similar amp and preamp. I expected to be floored and was ready to buy if I was. Well, I wasn't floored. I could hear all the things wrong with it. My ears have gotten better trained, I've heard better systems and I now realize that that set up wasn't so great, but it was still better than anything that I had heard up to that initial listening 5 years ago.

When I hear people say that component XX they had 15 years ago sounded better than anything available today, I take great pause. I suspect tha it was the experience of hearing someting great back then that made it great. This experience included both acoustical and emotional aspects.

E.g. I've demo'd eqpt while on vaction (or on Caffiene), that never sounds as good while not in such a relaxed (or hyper) state. The audiophiles goal should be to recreate the experience of being blown away by the music each time you push the all those toggle switches.