It's inherent in our nature to hunt (as men). Most of us here are men, hunting goes back to our neanderthal relatives. Today, some of us hunt with guns and arrows, but most of us have found other avenues for our hunting instincts.
It satisfies our competitive nature. And I think we have an inner need that drives us to constantly seek "better" or at least the perception of such. But I would add that the motive is, or at least should be, chasing that "holy grail" A.K.A. the absolute sound, so that we can enjoy the music even more. I will add a question to yours; do we develop such a relationship with music and are driven to seek ways to know it better? I know I do, when I make a change to my system I bring out my favorite recordings in hopes of rediscovering something within them.
In addition to the 'hunt', their is the urge to 'collect', hoard etc. We as humans will always believe that tomorrow will bring a better this or that.
Tick? How about seeking out grand audio components to cultivate our passion and love for music.
Those who have disposable income seek more expensive toys.
Fear that we are running out of time.
I don't upgrade all that often, but when I do, it is because I have heard something - at a hifi store, a show or someone else's home - that left me wanting what I just heard. To me, the challenge has always been: How close can I get to one of these Statement/Reference level systems with gear and speakers that I can afford? Buying used has been one tool in this effort, with this site an invaluable resource, as has membership in my local audio club.
I am not done yet, but I do feel that I am close. I own one or two things that I expect to hold on to for the long haul. And, like yourself, it is about that silly grin you get when you crank up the big rig and the music thrills you with each note. In a life full of challenges, there is no better form of relief or escape, IMHO.
Any technology-driven product area is subject to changes and improvements over time. It's not like most of us are constantly upgrading furniture, carpeting, or large appliances. Computers and cars, yes, because they're technology-driven.
I have a pair of 16-year-old speakers (Mirage M5si) that still sound marvelous, but OTOH there have been many innovations in speaker technology in that time--folded ribbon tweeters, more neodymium magnets, new baffling and enclosure schemes, new cone materials (e.g., aluminum and ceramic), new surround materials and configurations, more coincident drivers (KEF, TAD), etc. There's also been more tube equipment and major sonic improvements in class D amps, more upconverting D/A converters, better digital timing, asynchronous USB, the rise of the digital music server, and on and on.
What have been the innovations in tables and chairs, or shirts, pants, and sport coats in that time?
My take is variety is very important in this hobby. No matter how good your equipment is, hearing the same sound day after day can lead to desire for something else. It's human nature.
To use a slightly different analogy, I was born and raised in Chicago. When I really got into classical music I became a subscriber to the CSO which is a world class ensemble. However, I noticed after about 3-4 years I really began to look forward to hearing visiting orchestras because they had a different sound. Not necessarily better, just different. I think the same thing holds true for audio equipment. My answer to this issue of variety is to have two sets of speakers and a lot of different tube amps. I think this allows for sufficient variety and keeps me interested over time.
Like the universe, our audio world expands till one day it contracts to simplicity, fewer pieces, less power, and more enjoyment. Seems to be a very common trait, not driven by economics, but a truth that comes with alot of experience with the hobby. Do we all end up with integrateds one day?
I am very satisifed right now with my system. I moved from mid-fi to hifi around 1988 with the purchase of some planar speakers. That led to a used tube preamp purchase a year later. I had the preamp modified with cap, resistor and wire upgrades just after purchase and I used that preamp and those speakers for 14 years. Amps changed once or twice and my digital changed once. I sprung for a decent tt in 1992 and have been very happy with that since. After 14 years, I changed preamps and speakers which also led to an amp change. I wanted to be able to use MC cartridges and I want to try something different for speakers. I cycled through one set of speakers and a preamp before settling on what I have now. I can see updating my digital side again in a few years, but I am of the opinion that amplification technology has not really changed for a few decades. Sure, components have improved such as capacitors, which I could more easily incorporate into my current gear. I just can't commit to spend the equivalent of a new car these days to acheive an incremental improvement. Couple that with the lack of places to audition good gear, and I just don't see myself making big changes in the near future.
Someone tell me- have the basic amplification circuits changed in the past decade or two, or isn't the latest and greatest gear really just variations of a theme using more refined components?
I am very happy with my 30-yr old Spendor BC-1 speakers and somewhat younger Audiolab integrated amp. I do consider upgrades once in a while, but the sonic difference has never felt worth the price difference. I also don't feel like paying for beautiful cabinets etc (was tempted by Salk).
In a way, my yearning for perfection in a few well defined hobbies has been replaced by desire for broader balance. In classical music, I used to only want to listen to great orchestras and conductors when I lived in NYC and Chicago. A small breach in that outlook was made with Naxos CDs which made me appreciate that many A- musicians/ensembles at $4.99 were just as satisfying to me as A+ at $20. Slowly, I began to practice similar philosophy in live music. So, I would still go to CSO, but I can also enjoy less famous ensembles at a local church or college dorm at walking distance.
I hope it makes sense at least to some of you!