The Horror

After getting  back home from “The Show” in Costa Mesa, California this past weekend, I walked over to my stereo system and turned it on. And silently wept. I had held out a feint hope that my cross-over modified 1.7i Maggies and mighty Parasound A21+, fed from a Prima Luna 300 tube preamplifier could somehow manage a slight shimmer of resemblance to the robust setups I witnessed at the SHOW. Not—- on— your —-life. Not even close. I slumped into my over-stuffed couch and stared long and hard at the thing I created: an anemic concoction of false hopes and wishful thinking. The horror, the truth: entry into serious audiophile listening begins with purchase of speakers that cost the price of the car I had to finance for 4 years, closely followed with the added expense of beefy sophisticated electronics and wiring, not a gaggle of cheap wanna-be plastic and tweeks. I so wanted to belong, but that’s turned out to be just a fever dream I’ve got to wake up from. Maybe one day, if ever I have the nerve to rob a bank, find Jimmy Hoffa, or survive a head-on collision from a sleepy Amazon driver, I might make it. Maybe. Feel free to play the violin with two fingers.



Who's that on the cover of Time magazine?

Anyway, I think many of us have felt what you're feeling. I do think you're being too hard on yourself. You chose what you chose because it sounded good to you at the time, and it was within your budget. 

The sound of your system is probably far better than anything your non-audiophile friends have ever heard, Cheer up! 

I came home and today I fired up Pink Floyd and feel pretty damn good about my system. I assume that you saw the PBN system with six JBL 18"s, two JBL 12"s, and an AMT in the big ballroom? Mine is similar but with just one JBL 18" (2241H), one JBL 10" (2251J), and a modified ESS Great Heil AMT per side. Does one really need twelve 18" woofers in a living room? These were designed in the room for the room and may/probably even image better than the PBN system.

I didn’t hear anything that imaged any better than these though some certainly did a great job. But I’m betting that few could attain the realistic volumes of a live rock concert at undistorted levels.

BTW, my speakers cost <$1,500 to make with used drivers but new crossover components.

This is an SACD played on an OPPO95 through a Yamaha RX-Z9 RECEIVER in Pure Direct mode. Video was recorded on a Nikon D750 DSLR using the internal mic. There is no eq or room correction, either electronic or physical, being used and the room is ~5,000 cu ft so of course you hear the room in the recording.

BTW, we are in the North Tustin area and members are welcome to come by and hear for themselves.

@roxy54, @toddalin

What I saw and heard from the start was the Gryphon room, off to the right in the lobby. Talk about setting the bar right from the start! Honestly, though the Gryphon’s total package wasn’t really that obscene, (I mean it’s a Tesla, for chrissake. Doesn’t everyone have one of those?), it was still outside my reach. And the sound. Well, to cut down on the hyperbole, it was sound I’d not heard until that day, alerting me to the naked truth: This, this sound, is not what I do at home. Not now. Maybe never. I stumbled out of that room in trembling recognition of how real speakers sound. Then, of course, I heard the Vandersteens and the $57,000 Boenickes. Slam! Bam! And on it went. I was reeling. There were certainly some mighty mouses doing their best to take on these giants, but as good as many of them were, they could not drive the sound of those giants out of my mind. I appreciate @roxy54’s heartfelt encouragement. Rest easy. I won’t jump. It’s just a sad day.

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After returning home from one of the old NYC Audio Shows around 1993 I was happy to listen to my current setup using KLH Nine full-range electrostatic speakers. The sound was so much better than anything I heard at the show, despite those systems out-pricing mine!

That was my fantasy, Jason. Yeah, I fancied I’d be driving home with whistling delight about how my modest system would wipe the floor with those big dogs. Ludicrous.


I did not really understand your post. Your system costs 5 times what I spent on mine. I don't think I will ever have half your budget and I think mine sounds absolutely amazing and riveting. I guess we have very different perspectives.


Yes, you’re absolutely spot on, it’s all relative in the end.  I  had, at one time, an even  more modest system. It sounded good.  But I kept reaching and I cobbled together my funds, swapping-out gear, used good tweaks, and all the other things we do to reach the next level, and then, I reached it.  My music was sounding so good.  I loved it.  I was truly happy.  And that’s the shape I was in when I arrived at the SHOW.  Boom.

I understand, I have seen and heard expensive systems and I can imagine owning and enjoying them. (I probably couldn't hear the difference between a 50K and a 150K system but it would look nice in my living room)

I just realized it’s a very addictive hobby and the price to enjoyment relationship is not linear. Unhappiness to obsessing about what I can’t have is exponential - to me. So one day I stopped watching online reviews and gave up on big upgrade plans. It never stopped me from enjoying the music.


Well said. It hit me hard, I can’t lie, the feeling of being so foolish as to believe my inexpensive panels could rival those monstrously engineered speakers and boxes that only the rich can patronize. Well, at least I know now. I’m free of the delusion. It’s time to take a breath, and, in time, see where to go from here. You’re right about it being about the music.  

You have to start somewhere and you have to have a target to shoot for. You take evolutionary steps. I'm 70 and just getting there.....I think.

Disillusionment can be costly. And once you know, you know.

Everything in audio is a trade-off. Everything.

Quality costs money. Usually LOTS of money. 

Discipline is knowing your equipment is the best you can do, and being happy with that.

IOW, almost everyone has to learn to be happy with "good enough".


You have some nice equipment, you will be shocked at how much better it sounds if you research and apply some room treatments! From your system page it looks like you will have a lot of unwanted reflections going on in there.

If Gryphon/AGD sound dazzled you, it might be time to set up the Maggie as a Asian wall divider (rest its speakering duties for a few months, let the old lass rest). Get a Borresen X2, before any price hikes.

The rest of your electronics should be just fine.

I would get rid of that goofball Martin Logan sub and get a Rythmik FM8 subwoofer (considering that you may have a Borresen and Maggie as speakers).

Much of audio group Denmark’s tricks revolve around their unique noise mitigation solutions, which can dazzle many dudes perceptually. You can do it affordably with their AXXESS line of cables and power conditioners. Otherwise, spend a little extra on the Ansuz (mainz) power conditioner.

Last, but, not the least, if a small (setup restrictions, etc) and untreated room is all you can do....lower all expectations, have several swigs of whisky, renounce everything and become a wandering monk.

Maggie’s are very hard sometimes impossible to get set up optimally in most people’s rooms and without that everything else is bottlenecked. I’d focus on that. I had them for years and ended up punting and going with relatively affordable Ohms.

Also learned the lesson throwing money at a problem alone does not solve it.

The best sound comes from good quality and well matched gear that works well for one in their room. Need not cost like a Tesla at all.

If you like to listen to genres including modern pop and more electronic instrument based music, Maggie’s are really not designed to do that well like most good quality designs with more traditional dynamic drivers.

You have a very nice system, but it seems you are really forcing the Magnepans into that space. Seriously, consider some high quality stand mounts, you can find that bliss. 

@zlone +1.

My suggestion would be a pair of KEF R3 meta on stands. Optionally add matching kef sub tuned in just right for that room and you are in very good shape. 

@erik_squires , lol.

You're probably not far off....

I'm sure we'd all have Dartzeel or Dan A'gostino amps if we could afford them.

But alas.....I'll have to be content with my British convertible sports car and my modest Canadian amp/preamp.

I figure I'll be OK.

Just for the record, I'm joking.  I don't actually give a damn how much a system costs as I believe excellent sounding systems are available at many different price points.

Spend some time with your room acoustics, speaker setup and choice of listening position. More than half of what you are hearing is your room and rest assured, hotel rooms are not ideal so there is reason for hope. Optimize what you have, you will be surprised. Drop a six figure system into poor room and you get poor sound.

@ghasley +1

You don’t need more money, you need more knowledge. A far less expensive system than many in those room set up with care, knowledge -- synergy between components and room acoustics -- can bring you bliss. Your system can be great, but you’re going to have to figure it out, not sell a kidney.

@mapman My suggestion would be a pair of KEF R3 meta on stands. Optionally add matching kef sub tuned in just right for that room and you are in very good shape. 

I run KEF Reference 1's, so I will agree with you! I attended AXPONA this year and heard some great systems, but mine still sounds great to me.

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It’s just relativity. Next time you get home from T.H.E. Show, don’t listen to any music for a week.

And consider what those super systems cost to insure. That part is not a gift that keeps on giving.

Honestly it’s hard to tell how much of a troll this is. The number of great systems I’ve heard is about 1 system per show, on average. Usually the rooms are so bad that I can’t tell anything good about what I’m hearing (with Vandersteen and Fritz being consistently above average in terms of show performance).

On the other hand, I’ve seen / heard audiophile systems which go off on their own unique directions and sometimes these unique directions set a trend/fad of sound quality all it’s own. The 1980’s pairing of Audio Research with B&W speakers was one such fad I could never get on board with, but those sound characteristics became what audiophiles wanted MORE of. 🤮

So, is the OP trolling, or has their direction taken them off to a unique set of sound characteristics that they lost track of what a full bodied system sounds like I can’t really tell.

I can say, with little doubt, that hotel rooms and audio shows are usually terrible places to listen to systems, and that aspiring to speakers that are too big for the room in every way is also bad. There’s a great sounding system for every size room.

@tvad Jim Smith’s book is a good recommendation.

Magnepans were the only speakers I bought on the spot when I heard them, which in hindsight was a big mistake. I never had the room needed to set them up right like I heard them when I bought them.

The shop was Audition in Birmingham AL in the late 80s. The owner of that shop which had the reference setup for Magnepans was, drum roll…… Jim Smith himself! The Maggie’s were set up about two thirds of the way into the room well away from side walls and closer to center. Who can do that at home?

Also they are very power hungry so not just any amp will do.



Geeze, dude, “troll”?  Give me a f’ing break already.  I could not have “ lost track of what a full-bodied system sounds like” since I’d never  heard it until  I was pummeled with it at The Show.  That was the point of my post.  You’re displeased because I had the sickening realization that there are major differences in what money buys you in this hobby.  Read Plato’s Cave, ok?  The blinders are off.  It may take me a few moments to deal with it.  Alright?  I’m a grown-up,  and I know it takes an occasional slap in the face.  What I am thankful for are those here who’ve been through it and lived to tell the tale.  Thanks for sharing.

@erik_squires + 1 - most of the rooms I've been at at audio shows try to compensate for poor room treatment with more volume. Louder will almost always sound better if it's not distorting. For me, having to hear Diana Krall or Nora Jones at regular volume is bad enough....  

You’re displeased because I had the sickening realization that there are major differences in what money buys you in this hobby.

Not even a little displeased. More like, surprised that you had any sort of revelation at a trade show. You’ve also come to very different conclusions than I have, so again, surprised, but if you want to be unhappy about your life choices I’m not about to get in your way.

Your original post, and this one, are very emotional but also very generic. What system would you say caused you to have such an epiphany? What speakers and system, how was the room set up, what did you hear and what are the actual sound characteristics you feel now you are missing?

As I read your original post, and the one above, what you seem to most be upset about is not being able to spend as much as you want to.  That's not the same as not being able to have a certain musical experience.

But like I said, I'm not about to get in your way of your tears.  Let them all out.


You know, Roxy, I think you’re right,  the non-audiophiles in my life were always astounded when they heard my system. That helped a lot to give me succor and the  illusion that all was well.  That, and the sweat work and money I put into it, of course.  I was proud of my rig.  But I was living in my own bubble, and though I did audition the Maggies, mostly everything else I bought without demo, based on reviews, and reputation, certainly brand.  Not what I’m recommending  going forward.  As many here have stated many times, it’s different in your room. I guess, what I’m realizing is I’m getting a bit more experienced now, more knowledge, as someone here noted.  But it bites to learn the hard way.


Well, Eric, I certainly don’t know how else to measure  the quality of sound except to hear whats in front of me.  I sat down to listen to the speakers in the Gryphon room, the Vandersteen and the Boenicke rooms.  I did not know the price, I just listened.  Then I asked.  Then I knew.  They all were the sound I would call way better than mine.  Now, they all did not have perfect setups and rooms.  I thought the Gryphons needed more toe-in, and that the room was way too small.  The Vandys were spread far too apart for my liking and their highs were a bit biting.  The Boes were, well, perfect.  But I get it.  I just want expensive toys, baby can’t have them, Wah!!!!.  Right?  Or could it be I just want the best sound.  And that simply is  out of my reach.  

@audiodidact here is good part: you can get sound that you love (a lot more) by trying different speakers and amps and preamps and sources in your current budget. Members here will lend you gear and you can order it to try out and then buy it used. Of course you know it, you have been doing this for long.

I have bought a lot of cheap stuff on shopgoodwiill, had generous loaners or gifts from members here, and made amazing improvements on a small budget.

I go to shows mainly to hear what is supposed to be the best hifi sound. I always find a couple setups that I determine sound best to me. Yes Fritz and Vandersteen seem to always rank high.

Then I go home to assess what I have versus what I heard. I do a lot of homework and try to make well informed decisions. Experience, reviews, value, specs and measurements all come into play to help make a good buying decision.

Nice thing is I have not felt need to make a change as a result of show sound for several years.

Cost is not the driving factor. I get that sound at home for much less cost than most hi end show systems by doing the homework and learning along the way.

After all, it’s a system and systems must be integrated properly in order to perform best. The room is probably the most important part of the system to get a handle on because that might be tweaked but can’t be changed. That determines your speaker options and you go from there to get the max out of the speakers.  

My goal recently has been to retain that sound while downsizing. I do a lot of homework to try and identify the technical innovations that might help and learn a lot along the way. The latest and greatest Class D amp technology has perhaps Been the biggest game changer, followed closely by wise application of DSP for room correction and other sound tweaks as needed.

Just my few cents….

suggesting KEFs is like telling someone to go to Cabo, because... well, you just came back from Baja? Not very profound in my opinion, with the understanding of a 1000 incredible speaker choices 

Your system sounded great before you heard better. It hasn’t changed. There’s always something better out there, a better car, house, stereo. This does not in any way prevent you from appreciating what you DO have. 

This smells even more like a troll cave which upsets me mostly because too many a'goners will try to help out of genuine concern for the OP's post not realizing they are being kited around.

The OP has essentially tied the problem and solution together:  He didn't spend enough money.

Had the OP described his problem around music and it's reproduction there  would be many useful and affordable suggestions possible, but so long as he adheres to framing the question in terms of money spent then there is only one more solution: Spend more money. 

I'll leave you all here to enjoy the ... um, scenery of the OP's mindscape as much as you want.


A recipe for sanity in this insane hobby. Thank you. And thank you to everybody for talking me off the ledge and helping me get through this reality check so that I can get back to the music. Even you, Eric. Thank you.

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Seriously, start over with your room and your setup. Like many on this thread I’m sure, I hopped on to see if you had your system online and you do. Thanks, that helps those who want to be of help. The presence of photos also helps....and informs, so thanks for that as well.


That’s why I suggested that you work on setup and acoustical treatment. I was trying to be kind but the way you have your system setup in the small alcove just amplifies your potential for trouble preventing your system from performing to an appropriate standard for your enjoyment. Additionally, and I can’t speak for everyone...Maggies in your room as pictured may not be ideal. The challenge is you wont know until you begin the proper setup process. Sometimes the room dictates the compromise and sometimes the ideal optical system placement is at odds with the ideal acoustical setup for best sound.


Please take the wise advice offered by @tvad because you have some great gear. In fact, I would take almost any wager that in a few hours some of us could rearrange your setup, apply a few tasteful acoustical treatments and you wouldn’t believe how great your gear and room would sound. The only thing I know for certain is that it isnt your gear holding back what is possible, its your room and setup. If you absolutely have to have it set up in exactly the current configuration, Maggies may not be choice A for you. Since none of us know your room, all advice (including this post) is purely guesswork.


In summary, you presently have a fine system that is handcuffed by the way you have it set up and the absence of appropriate room treatments. Good luck!

@ghasley I’m all in. I want the sound. I don’t give a flying wallenda about the gear if it doesn’t produce the right sound. Later today I will post more up to date pictures of the gear and room to help you all help me get this right. Thanks so much!

I did not see the Dana Point Room as I never got to that part of the lobby until I picked up my program before leaving.  I guess that I didn't realize there was even a room over there. Damn!

Actually, I think that the rooms were not all that bad for sound, and certainly better than most people’s home listening spaces.

The rooms were actually quite large compared to a regular living room and set up symetrically. Speakers were typically well into the room and not placed along the wall nor was the seating. Most demoers had absorbant panels or such placed next to the speaker and many, around the room.

AND..., if you sat toward the front middle, there was no furniture to get in the way and create diffraction.


What’s “kited around”? While you’re composing your response here’s a definition for you:

”troll”: “A…troll is someone who intentionally tries to start arguments, hostility, or conflict in an online community by posting offensive or provocative messages.”

Honestly, have you had a good look at what you’ve posted lately? You’re not the boss of us, my man. You’re just another member, like me, and you’re entitled to your opinion. But throwing shade like that does not help. I may not know enough about hi-end gear just yet, but I know a thing or two about decency. Would it kill you to have some? I’m open to suggestions, not insults.

Gawd, must there always be that guy in the life raft?