New Music vs. New Equipment

I assume that many people are like me in that we are always looking to optimize our audio systems. Unfortunately, to do so can require spending thousands of dollars. Furthermore, when all is said and done, the system sounds better, but it's never going to sound like real musicians playing real music. At what point is it better to leave the equipment alone and instead purchase more music? As an example, will I be better off spending $2,500 on new bi-wire cables, or should I buy 125 (@ $20 each) new albums? The new cables have the potential to make the 2,500 albums I already own sound marginally better, yet 125 new albums should yeild some great music. Which way should I go?
This question pretty interesting. It made me check what my actual expenses of equipment vs software is. I expected to be about 50/50 or slightly infavor of software over equipment. Fact is, it's not, I've spent nearly 2/3 in equipment. I've been buying a lot of albums and CDs in the last year, so this was a bit of a shock. I can't answer your question for you--only you can do that. But the question did make me look at my expenses, and I will probably be reducing my equipment expenses now.
Like Abstract7, my spending has thus far been ~2/3 on equipment. This scenario is out of line with my way of thinking and exists only because last year was "The Year of the Great Upgrade." The intention now is to bring them on par. So, if I were going to spend $2,500 today it'd be on new music. A car without gas is a hunk of metal; a gun without bullets serves little purpose; a great sound system is nothing without music. Buy the tunes!
The way I look at it is there is no problem with your expenditure on gear being much higher than on software, and that it is not necessarily a trade-off decision. Over the last 20 years my income and stereo have improved a lot, but the rate at which I buy software has not. I have always bought somewhere between one and two albums a week. Realistically, buying at any greater rate is silly - unless you are a collector or if you have a lot of time to listen to music. I don't believe you can do justice to your software purchases if you try to consume at a faster rate than this. You could of course buy three or four a week and discard two or three after the third listen, but that is still maybe six hours or more of listening on the discarded ones, let alone the one or two you keep, let alone the albums you bought the week before that, and the week before that, etc. So my point is that I reckon you should be setting your level of consumption in line with how much time you have to listen and how much you like to explore new albums as opposed to your existing collection. If what money is left over only allows you to buy a $5,000 system, then so be it. But if what is left over allows you a $100,000 system then so be it too - no need to waste money on albums you will never do justice to.
redkiwi, i couldn't agree more. i can't think of a time in my 30+ years in this hobby when i've ever been faced with a decision such as that posed by onhwy61. indeed, tho i've sometimes spent several hundreds of USD on software at a time, i've never purchased anything like 1000 or 2500 UDS' worth in one fell swoop. my purchases of equipment demand very different considerations from my software purchases. but for collector lps, of which i own many, my software is close to being disposable. i certainly can't say that of my hardware. in my experience, when i've upgraded my system in a major way, i'm driven not only to play my favorite recordinds but to buy more than usual. if you stick with this hobby for as long as i have, you will eventually assemble a sizable software collection buying as does redkiwi and do i.
Hi Onhwy; I've asked myself this question many times, and glad to see it brought up here. I can identify with your concern, and also the thoughts of the above posts. I have about 1,000 CDs (est. cost $15K), but I have about $30K in my primary system. I listen 3-5 hours every night and still cannot cycle through all my CDs in any reasonable length of time (months). What happens is that I listen to a dozen or two CDs for several days or weeks before moving on to a new group. Also, I've found that every time I make a significant change in my gear, almost every CD sounds different-- so it's like starting over. Quite frankly, I go in "fits and spurts" between buying music and upgrading my system-- I like doing both. BTW, I do not keep CDs I don't like or those that don't have potential, so to accumulate 1,000., I've probably purchased 1,500. Unlike Redkiwi, I buy CDs in binges-- maybe 30-40 in some months, but them go 2-3 months and only purchase a few, but I do agree with Redk that there is no problem with having your system cost more than your music. It would take me a long time to listen to and enjoy 2500 albums as you have. FWIW, some years ago, JA of Stereophile mag. said he would not hire a reviewer who had more money in his equipment than in his music. That position, IMO, is ridiculous because some systems are LP based, and LPs can be found pretty cheaply in many cases. Put another way (extreme) would you rather have $10K in music and $500 in gear or the other way around? IMO, both are would be way out of balance. I look for a balance that I am comfortable with-- right now, I need to be buying music. Cheer. Craig.
I am lucky in that I live in an area where used CD's are available in the $1 to $8 price range. Most of what I purchase is in the $1 to $3 range and I purchase on an average average, at the least, 20 CD's per month. They come from a local flea market (at our high school) as well as the local thrift shops. I also trade and purchase as a local record store that I traded/purchased vinyl from in the 70's. The selection can be a bit odd, but considering the price, I don't worry about it and am exposed to a great deal of music that I would never find at the record clubs or on Amazon. Music, to me, is the reason for all of this madness in the first place and has always been my first priority. I have also always been interested in non-mainstream music (especially local live talent when I was younger) and this purchasing scheme suits my taste as well as my budget.
I am also lucky to live in an area where I have been able to clean up on LP's others have found outdated. But after realising that I have more than I can reasonably listen to and still have time for my old favorites, I have focused on making sure my equipment is up to the task: a new cartridge, new caps, extra tubes, better cables. It's good to remember that it is not only a question of trying out better components, but being able to maintain those that you like. I do like listening to new music as well as hearing what I already know sound better. I still buy new music when a favorite group releases something on vinyl but I don't worry about keeping up with the latest CD's because I figure that once it is digital, it will be around for a while.
even tho i have only ~1000 albums & ~100 cd's, it's prolly all i'd really *need*, as i have some stuff that hasn't seen daylight for at least a year, if not longer. but, i still go to the record shops every now-n-again, yust cuz it's fun to put something gnu on the platter.

but, i have a 1st-quality tuna & two excellent radio stations, so a lot of listening i do is via the fm format. if yuve never heard a truly hi-quality tuna broadcasting a good stations' signal, ya mite wanna inwest some hardware dollars *there* - then, yure getting *lotsa* free software! ;~)

regards, doug

"Hi-quality tuna broadcasting"? I can smell, er, hear it now. "You're listening to WAHI, the finest fishing spot on your radio dial. Let's cast a line out (sound of reel spinning) for the new one from Sashmi."

"It's all green and kind of mean...WASABI!..." (Insert rimshot)
Another possibility (other than new HW or SW) is actually leaving the sweet spot and seeing some live music. I tell you, the soundstaging is great, the tone accurate, and it is very involving. It's odd to me the kind of megabucks some of us throw at our systems in an attempt to get close to the real deal when for the same money you could see a live concert every day of the year.
It depends. You have to get your equipment right where YOU KNOW that you have put together ( cost could be low if your lucky or high ) system that delivers almost every aspect of music close to perfect ( of course, it is never gonna be like live music) reproduction. Addding a little better cable or line conditioner might make subtle difference at a cost of some of the aspects you had it right in the first place. Then you shoud consider exploring new music. Sedond and Reguirre have great alternative suggestion. Sedond, No I have not heard a great FM broadcast ( my current tuner is NEC T-6 Delivers goodpeformance, but honestly, I am skeptical doing upgrade to say Etude and have CD like, so to speak, performance), what kind of tuner/antenna/cable-to pre-amp combo do you have?
hi nil,

i use an onix bwd1 tuna w/soap power-supply. i've heard the nec, & it's decent, but not in the same class, imho. i haven't heard the etude, but the 101 is nice. i still like my onix better. i also have a revox b-261 that compares favorably w/my onix, in a second system. the onix is a bit warmer-sounding than the revox, which i prefer. both show up used occasionally, for less $$$ than a used magnum 101. for antenna, i use an aps ap-13 ( my reception area is poor - i'm on the bottom of a ~1800' ridge, on the western side, w/the stations i listen to ~60 miles to the east. this set-up is the only thing that works.

preamp is a melos music director, cable from tuna-to-pre is an all-silver kimber clone.

ya, i get cd-like performance - if wpfw is playing a cd... ;~) the warmth of the onix & the warmth of the melos more than compensate!

regards, doug

ps-i guess there's fm-haters out there, yudging by the negative feedback i received on my prior post here. oh well...

Thanks, Sedond, I will have to look in to it.
While I agree with Redkiwi and Cornfedboy I really back Raguirre's post. I got into this expensive hobby after I heard a live concert of the Chicago Symphony when I was 14 and realized that my parent's Zenith console playing Reiner didn't sound like the CSO from the 12th row of Orchestra Hall. To me that still is the only reason to spend so much on equipment. In addition to classical my wife and I listen to rock, electronica, middle eastern and indian music but if it wasn't for our roughly weekly dose of live classical music we wouldn't spend the money on high end audio.
I am not challenging the comments about the validity of attending live concerts, but a quick look over my software tells me that more of my favorite artists are dead than alive. Maybe if I am really good, I will have the opportunity to hear them in the afterlife. For now the legacy these musicians have left behind is all there is, and much of it is more valuable to me than any artist performing today. Perhaps just one audiophiles justification for the software and the hardware.
Albert - as usual you make an excellent point. I love that I can listen to a lot of reproduced music that for whatver reason I can't get to live. However, I do think that tons of exciting music is being created today, even if it's not as good as legendary performances. I know that it'll be hard for me to find anyone matching Bird's manic brilliance, but I still preferred seeing Dave Liebman live to staying at home and listening to Charlie Parker CD's. I've never had a CD sit at my table during the break and have a conversation with me about music. I got into this hobby through the music and a desire to get it closer to a visceral experience (Jarret's intro in The Complete Guide articulates these ideas better than I ever could), but I'm always aware that it's a second place to actually being there. But that's just an opinion.
Interesting thread. I guess I have slighly more invested in music than in equipment, considering I purchased a lot of my equipment "pre owned". I make major equipment purchases about once a year..and have gone for up to 2 years w.out making a single change. However, I spend at least $ 100/month on LP's/CD's..and sometimes a lot more. Yes, I am sure I can improve my system and definitely have a "wish list"..but i just can't resist new music. I try to listen for 2-3 hours each day, and find myself also listening to "groups" of CD's/LP's for a whiele then moving on to a new group. However, I will also randomly pick LP's or CD's out of the shelves 2-3 times/week to "force" rotation. Last, I also find that some music I bought 2-5 years ago simply doesn't appeal to me anymore. This is more likely to happen w/ pop/rock than classical,jazz or blues..though I can sometimes pick up a new pressing or recording of a classical piece that "supercedes" one I already own. For example, I own five differnet versions of Carmina Burana, but only listen to two of them; I own several versions of Mahler's symphonies, but for the most part keep going back to Solti's, etc. etc. I also own multple pressings of the several LP's (e.g., 3 pressing s and one more on the way of the Dorati 1812 on Mercury) My point is that new music (even if only a new recording of the same piece or even a new pressing or remastered CD) can be as rewarding as a major component upgrade, and often more so. At the end of the day, your system is only as good as what you feed into it.