Is Upgrading Degrading?

Is the search for the "perfect system" a kind of vulgarity?

We don't tend to say "I' had an old Bach recording, but I've upgraded to Schoenberg!" We appreciate the wildly diverse character of these two geniuses on their own terms.

ok--it may make sense to say "I've upgraded from the Spice Girls to Bartok" but once music reaches a certain level of seriousness, it seems to me the correct approach is to bask in the aesthetic differences and perhaps the same is true of music systems.

Are we really getting "better sound" along an imagined continuum that runs from ghastly cacophony to some auditory Valhalla or are we just experiencing different wonderful systems with personalities as varied and unique as human beings are?
All hobbyists are somewhat infantile. New toy new sound which happens often...
FYI, since you are fairly new here, I would like to point out that writing in all capital letters is considered "yelling or screaming".
(i.e. used basically just for making an occasional point).
Most of us consider the use of writing in all capital letters to be somewhat rude and annoying. (Your topic heading was written in all capital letters.) Just thought you should know.

As far as your topic is concerned, I am somewhat confused as to whether you are stating that upgrading our systems is vulgar, (in the pursuit of the perfect system), or stating that upgrading our taste in music is somehow vulgar.

I don't consider it vulgar to want to improve my system to sound better. (And I can't image why anyone would care that I choose to spend my money on such an upgrade, or call it vulgar when I do.)

(Obviously there is a point of diminishing returns, especially when it takes many thousands of dollars to get a fairly small improvement in the sound quality. I can understand that someone might consider this somewhat wasteful, but not vulgar. Given that this is a hobby, (mine in this case), and I am not forcing anyone to give me money to support my hobby, so I don't see what the problem is.)

As far as upgrading my taste in music, I don't know if I would call it upgrading so much as I would call it expanding. I have made many friends through Audiogon and Audio Asylum, and I have had them introduce me to many new types of music whenever we get together. I have developed a true love of jazz, and a certain degree of fondness for classical music as well, due to these new found friends. I have not given up my love of rock and roll, but I can now say that I have expanded my love of music to include more than just that one category.

My two cents worth anyway.
A better analogy would be that you just heard Tchaikovsky: Symphony 6 "Pathétique" in B minor Op. 74 performed by The NoName Symphony Orchestra and now you would like to hear the same performance performed by either the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra or Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Now that’s an upgrade. Comparing one artirst to another is a matter of personal taste.
or are we just experiencing different wonderful systems with personalities as varied and unique as human beings are? Marburg 04-08-11
That's just not a realistic point of view, at least not for me. When my system is "wonderful," I'll be happy and content. I think many feel like this. "Wonderful system" means that changing gear stops. Putting together a "wonderful system" can be easy for some, and full of difficulty and frustration for others. If you are fortunate enough to have a high end system, or any system, and it's "wonderful," you better be listening to music. Forget about upgrading!
"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Is that true?
I can't speak for anyone but myself, but for me, it has been a long process. I don't really consider the evolution of my system "upgrading" toward some absolute standard. For me, it has been more about learning what is important to me personally in a music system. I have been a slow learner, partly because I read too many ads and reviews. I am more in touch now with the sonic priorities that make music sound good to me. Of course, affording it all is another matter...
I have noticed recently less of an interest in reading reviews in Stereophile and TAS as well as the many online publications since I finished "tuning" my system after years of investment in gear of all kinds. My shift is clearly to music and I find myself opening up to new genres. I am on a huge bluegrass kick right now. I've been in this hobby for decades and never really appreciated the musical chops that the finer bluegrass musicians possess. As I write this I'm thoroughly enjoying the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's "Will the Circle be Unbroken" Awesome stuff.

For me at least, settling on the performance of my system has sifted my focus to the music. Good thing that.
Jult52 it was for Dostoevsky here on Audiogon it is more like All happy audiophiles are like all other happy audiophiles, all unhappy audiophiles are unhappy due to their system, room, individual pieces of equipment and anything else that might be part of the audio experience and each to their own varying degree of unhappiness.
I AGREES WITH MARBURG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Well any change I've made to my system, and kept, was because I thought the change gave me more music. Often that has meant more detail, because it seems more basic equipment loses information or hides it.
What seems to me a possibly related question turns on the issue of "naturalness" as the most sought-after attribute in a fine stereo system.

To what degree do audiogioners agree (or disagree) that approximating a live performance ought to be the highest goal? If a violin sound is pleasing to us but significantly enhanced through technology to the point where it is no longer a close equivalent to a real instrument, is this an abomination or a natural extension of our abilities to play with sound to an almost endless degree? After all, many recordings are heavily edited to remove performance mistakes and artificially create a performance that may not be duplicable in "real life."
Marburg, editing a recording to remove a mistake doesn't seem to me to be the same thing, or done for the same purpose, as an enhancement "through technology to the the point where it is no longer a close equivalent to a real instrument".

For example, Glenn Gould spliced tape to get the most perfect expression (in his view) of the music as it was written. I believe him to have been a bit compulsive about this but I'm not arguing with the results.

The goal of high end playback technology is similar in nature although the expression is not the same in kind. What playback wants to do is alter the original recorded signal as little as possible.

That has to be done with a grain of salt when we are remastering Alan Lomax's recordings of Jelly Roll Morton, for example, since the recording technology produced a signal with speed variations.

I guess this is where your point seems relevant to me. We can all agree that a musical sound is more natural when the recording and playback systems don't change the data or introduce artifacts. Some of us can hear the imposed data better than others, but all of us can hear some things.
Hi Tobias,

Yes--I pretty much agree with all of your points. I guess the issue seems relevant to me at the moment as I've just supplemented my system with a new Rel sub bass and have spent hours fastidiously playing with its position in the room, cross over point with the main speakers and volume adjustments. I'm sure I'll do a lot more tweaking.

At the moment however, the sound is decidedly NON-natural, if by natural I mean scrupulously duplicating actual orchestral sound. The sound is richer in the low end in an unnatural, but nevertheless, deeply intoxicating way. Again, you'll accuse me of lumping different issues together and that's true. I suppose we'd like our components to reproduce the recording as faithfully as possible, prior to any downstream processing, but it's at this point things seem to get tricky. Perhaps Stradivarius would have been thrilled by a violin sound modified through electronics in a way that no earthly violin could quite get? Is it heresy to attempt to go beyond duplication of acoustic instruments to try to actually improve them?
Say What?
Ebm, it's this: are you allowed to make your system do things to the music that no real-life instrument would do? Beef up the low end with a sub for example (calling Dr. Velodyne!), or add euphonious coloration (the Linnie phrase for tubes) in the mids.

Marburg, I strongly suspect that all or most all new owners of RELs go through a honeymoon with their subwoofer. I am considering a T5 for my mini-system, myself...
tobias--I'm really enjoying the T5. I know many have spoken of the challenges of integrating a sub with monitors, but have not found this to be the case with this particular item. I'm getting more and more pleasurable sound through extended adjustments but was actually able to achieve a gorgeous, well-integrated sound just by following Rel's setup instructions, in fairly short order.

As I mentioned on another thread, I particularly love the depth, pressure and pregnancy of sound I'm getting, often at very low volume. I was listening to a Ron Carter 24/96 file and was pretty much blown away, not so much by the low freq itself as the definition the sub seemed to contribute. You can hear the bassist's fingers pull the string before releasing it to vibrate. The notes' texture and attack are really in a whole new realm. If you go the Rel T5 route, I'd be very interested in your impressions.
As your system and perhaps your ear, improves, I think you becom less tolerant of modern compressed recordings. That seems to be all you get in mainstream pop recordings these days.
Part of this hobby is spreading out your musical interests. As Kurk Tank says, meeting friends with a common interest, listening to new music at shows, picking up tips from the hifi press, all lead you into new areas. Currently, having discovered the ECM label, wonderful recordings and music, I am trying to find all I can
All things are relative in regard to the "high end". Just as long is to short, and shallow is to deep. In this arena we have no measuring sticks, consequently no one knows how tall or how short their system is in comparison to the next system, and brand names alone won't cut it.

I once met an audiophile at a repair shop who invited me to check out his rig. I was dazzled by the equipment, it looked like an add out of Stereophile. He was grinning like a "Cheshire cat" when I walked in. The expression on my face told him I was impressed.

After he turned it on, I was wandering what was wrong; it sounded like a good "mid fi" rig, but nowhere near what those names were capable of producing. Since I was in transit, I didn't have the time to either tell him something was wrong or help to get it right.

Names don't guarantee the sound even when they are new. We no longer have the high end emporiums that you could visit and make a "relativity check"; consequently, who knows what's short and what's tall.
Orpheus10, you clearly do. And so does everybody else. Your ears don't lie. The goal is reality. If you're hearing more resolution, you're hearing less distortion. It's really that simple. Adding "flavor" is simply adding distortion. Having your cake and eat it too means resolution that mimics reality. You can't have one without the other. The absolute standard is fooling your ears. IMO