What steps forward were actually steps backward?

I'm always fascinated to read about how many "upgrades" were improvements, and that very few were actually disappointing and could be considered a "downgrade". Are we all so knowledgeable and incisive that all our hardware purchases are always for the better?

Who is willing to admit that their "upgrade" was a "downgrade"?
Accuphase AC3 Phono Cartridge - bought on recommendations from the mags - "best imaging cartridge ever made" - sound familar. Cold as a well digger's ....! Decided to live with my Grace 'til it died.

Next in line was my Thiel CS3 "best imaging..." you get the point. But the good news - I got a very extensive and expensive education in how to get it the proper amp, how speaker set up the speakers, how to treat a room, etc. But like you might do with I mate, as I was trying to get it to work I discovered Quads, which caused the Thiel and I to get a divorce.
A fully loaded (except true balance) Placette Active Linestage. A fantastic pre-amp with excellent transparency, a decay that goes forever, and smooth/silky highs. But overall, it's lack of dynamics and it's weighted presentation toward the highs (in my system) simply was not to my preference.

But the Placette truly has so much going for it. In another's system, it may be just right.

Audio Research CD2:graced the cover of Stereophile in 1998.After 2 months of trying to burn it in i started using it as a transport only,but "sonic rainbow" as they said on the cover it is not.(good transport though)
Conrad Johnson MF 2500A:i bought a pair for vertical biamping of my Snell type B,but they failed to bring them to life.Light jazz and guitar and vocals are fine but my rock collection was rendered useless after this purchase
Also Theta digital transport was a nightmare,but i cannot recall the transport's name because it was turned back to the store in a day (i believe it was a transport only version of their Miles model)
None yet. Though I am still young, on my third system, and have only been in the hobby for three years. So it is doubtless I will make some mistakes in the future! But so far all up my upgrades have been vast improvements. I've been mostly upgrading from lesser components to better ones. So all in all I've been most satisfied thus far!

I imagine a lot of the responses you are going to get are one of two things

1. Did a lateral 'upgrade' to a comparable item. Didn't like the change in sound.

2. Bought something based solely on someone else's opinion (magazine, internet review, internet buzz, dealer buzz, etc) without extensively auditioning in one's own system first. And was let down as a result.
Although no one is always right in any field, I have never regretted a purchase made after first listening in my own systems.
Since we all buy something, sooner or later, before hearing at home, trying to stick with what is recommended on Audiogon, or more than one of the "professional" reviewers, allows for re-sale to someone where the system synergy is better.
Home trials can be very helpful in finding high value for the money, and in training our ears to hear differences that a newcomer to the audio listening hobby considers only jargon, or stock phrases.
Spendor SP100's. I read so many positive reviews that I had to own a pair. Somehow the reviews failed to indicate that, in a small room, they would not put out bass without being driven loud enough to loosen teeth.
New Thiel 2.4's. After months of breaking them in with all the 'right' components backing them, I bailed. On less than perfect material they were just too harsh & revealing. The treble energy always had me reaching for the volume knob or listening from another room in the house. I will admit they were incredible on the right material, just not my cup of tea overall.
Although I am coming around to the sound of my new Synergistic research cables I miss my MIT reference.
I dont think the Synergistic cables are any better or worse but the MIT's just worked better with my equipment choices.
I am VERY happy with them, but would switch back in a heartbeat!
Good news is everything else has been a success!!!

I also miss my ARC Ref II preamp!
But not over the Spectral, would like to have both.
Vader007, I would think the Synergistic Designer Reference cables would be way too bright with your set-up (unless that's what you like!). In my limited experience, if that's what you're hearing, you might want to at least try the Synergistic Resolution References.... half as expensive, but warmer. When I was listening to cables from the Cable Company I was told that when their customers tried Res Ref and Designer Ref side-by-side they never choose Designer...
All of my upgrades I think have been OK. The one issue in all of them however was that they made my system more revealing to the recording quality of the music being played. So now some of my favorite music in fact doesn't sound as good even though it is being played through "better" equipment.

Maybe upgrading isn't so great...

Steps backward in disguise, based on marketing and lies:

Solid state amplification
Acoustic suspension speakers

In 1970 I went from a kit-built Dyna SCA-35 to a transistor integrated whose name I've repressed. Now I'm back with tube amps, I realize I lost the music for thirty years.

I never did find the amp that could make bass sound tuneful rather than thumpy on my AR2ax's.

For over ten years my music-loving friends drove me crazy with CD hype secondhand. Why couldn't they hear the weird dynamics, the acid highs, the decay falling into the bitbucket ? The technology is only just coming right. It's a shame to think of the recordings of the early digital period. Even today, younger music lovers think badly-made CDs and yucky MP3s are normal.
I think that much (not all, but much) high-end equipment gives out an increase in detail and so forth but sacrifices the music. Since all this detail is impressive, many do not even realize that their upgrade has, musically speaking, been a disaster. Not understanding the difference between being impressed and having the music wash over you and carry you away, most defend their purchases and present them to the world as significant upgrades, and the more money they pay, the louder they sing their praises. Many who have invested enormous amounts of cash (because they were, at bottom, not satisfied but couldn't find the spot to scratch) are in this boat now, but not having heard systems (except cheap ones, which preserve the timing more often than not) which can present the subtleties of timing which is the core of musical expression, they simply are not aware, and keep dreaming of that next, significant "upgrade."
When I decided to add an extremely powerful powered subwoofer, the Intermezzo 1.2 with a 850 watt amplifier, to make my horns fullrange, I realized that in connecting it, it add a low range electric hum....regardless of whether I use speaker output connections (shared with another pair of cables) or RCA inputs, the cables in my system or on the way to the subwoofer pick something that makes it hum. Thus, I had decided to detach it from my present system. Amazingly, I do not miss it.
To see whether the sub was defective, I decided to connect it to my portable CDP, with some XBSComplexity and ambition to a fine set up is DEFINETLY a downgrade in steps.
Good post, johnnantais. I find myself torn between wanting the impressive sound (and falling for it) and despairing that I am missing the musical forest for the trees. Audiophile and music lover, like Jeckyl and Hyde.
B&W upgrading their Matrix 800 to the Nautilus 800. This is a step down. To step up, one needs to actively bi-amp the matrix B&W800.

Drubin, the siren call of "impressive" is paved with misery, but it is a siren call. However, having one's cake and eating it too is possible, but I believe that amount of information is, for the most part, inversely proportional to how much music survives. To put it otherwise, the more detail a system retrieves, the more difficult it is to hold the music together, bordering on impossible. The late and lamented "Listener" magazine once ran a photo of a top-of-the-line Wilson speaker with the caption "There is a use for these!" - the photo showed one being hoisted up from the water at the end of a chain on a boat: it was an anchor! We reduce the importance of timing by dubbing it "Prat," thus offhandedly dismissing it. But a system without timing is good for nothing but boat-anchors, as Listener believed. Which is why that magazine attempted to review only musical equipment, with that missing "magic" factor.
I agree with Drubin, Johnnantais's post is excellent, as is Mattybumpkin's. I've never been bothered by an upgrade to my system where I've had the piece in my system for an extended audition, which is almost all pieces these days (even my upgrade of my Audio Logic came with a promise from Jerry Ozment to undo the upgrade if I didn't like it). I don't really listen critically after the first hour of trying to hear what the objective differences are--after that, I just sit back and see how the music moves me for the next few days, listening to pieces of music that I like. I then reinsert the piece I'm thinking of replacing and see if I still like the upgrade better. Not an exact science, but it seems to work well--my Jadis JP80 withstood many assaults from objectively "better" preamps for years via this method. There is a fine line between revealing more information and losing the musical enjoyment; you can have them both, but there are not that many products out there that can perform this balancing act well.
Sold my Mcintosh MA6900 to "upgrade" to the more "audiophile" route. It was an interesting detour but I came back to the Mcintosh and eventually upgraded to tube Mcintosh separates. Just so damn musical. I got annoyed at losing money, but the experience was educational and education is always a worthwhile expense. I learned what I like and don't like (and what's overhyped).

Another set up that I upgraded from only to be disappointed was a Pass Aleph amp and an FT Audio passive pramp. Great for the money, great anyway. Just a little short on dynamics.
Wonderful comments so far about reaching the goal of enjoying the music when we listen, rather than merely unveiling the remaining inadequacies in a system, when we upgrade part of it.
The best upgrade would be one we can audition in our own system, before we irrevocably commit our money. I have made many "upgrades" based on faith in opinion of those more experienced, until finally reaching a point where I can feel confident deciding for myself.
Home trials, with their lack of sale pressure, have proven very valuable in forming my own preferences. Joining an audio club has also been of great value, unless you already have a neighborhood circle of audio buddies.
Although it seems too obvious to state, there is musical, and audio taste, so that each of us must protect our own sense of what is really enjoyable. In every field, a guru guides the novice to reach personal sophistication, even if it is not identical to the guru's view. At least the phrase rhymes.
The modern inexpensive int. amp (under $1800) which I've owned recently, haven't been all that great sounding especially given their cost.(The exception, a French Kora "Explorer" which IMO is an outstanding sounding amp) The sound quality of older Mid-80's Sony "Legato" int. amps is excellent and are absolute bargins used. My 70's Kenwood KA-7100 stills sounds/performs as new. Tuners haven't advanced at all, IMO. Since my introduction (early 70's) to this crazy hobby, I've come to the conclusion that great sounding/musical systems need not cost a fortune to assemble. Much of what we've been programmed to believe is not necessarry true. I see a big demand in older equipment! Without question, hugh steps forward have been made in IC/Spk./Power cables.
To Johnnatais's comments on timing, I want to comment, somewhat sheepishly because I know that what I am about to say borders on heresy or is at least un-PC in audio circles, that I wonder if the superb timing of cheaper systems (boomboxes, our car systems, clock radios) is in fact NOT preservation of the timing of music but rather a distortion of that timing.

I say this because I hear timing (and some other good things, like an extremely coherent and accessible presentation of the musical line of songs) more in these "cheap" systems than I do in live music (that's the heretical part). I've never been able to get into Springsteen songs, to take just one example, as well on my home system as I can in the car or on the clock radio, save perhaps for the songs on Nebraska. Although it was better with my old Quads than with the succession of highly-regarded dynamic speakers I've had since.

And another thing: I love detail and resolution. Why can't I have it all? :-)
An argument for Downgrading!

Drubin: Ah-HA! You have noticed the better timing of cheap systems! Actually, I am not the first to make this observation, as several intrepid audio reviewers (who soon thereafter were flipping burgers) comment on this phenomenon as well, one explanation being not a distortion of timing ( this reminds me of the old "Do Tubes create musicality that's not there" debate), but the fact of cohesion due to fewer parts, a single loudspeaker driver (what tannoy markets as Coincident) and so on. Your old Quads share in this single-driver approach as well.

Having thought about this phenomenon myself over the last several years (and about the fact that while impressive, sound in high-end shops almost never tempts me to stay and enjoy the music, with stuff playing like Spectral and so on), I have come to the conclusion that the neurotic search for ultimate detail is just that, and that it ultimately dissects the music, except in the hands of a genius of some sort. The problem with today's designers (for the most part) is that they have no talent (as in no unexplained "gift"), but instead a clipboard with a list of dos and don'ts: Do: use acrylic, use thick faceplates, use Hovland Musicaps and so on.

While stereo is just electronics, music is much more, and rather than the purely technical approach used by businessmen cashing in on the latest fahion (now single-ended) these days, audio needs men of passion with the unexplained gift, such as the designer of the unfortunately expensive Jadis equipment, or the genius (whoever he is) of the ASL equipment, or the greats of the old days like Saul Marantz. This is why so much of the old stuff is gaining in value: it is set against a background of soulless business propositions. Let go the detail and be free! Besides, even the Wave 8s give me almost too much detail to deal with with sensitive speakers, and they're so much damned fun I forgot all about audio nitpickings for two years and simply listened to my entire record collection (and to hell with Linn recordings!): I have never had so much fun with music in my entire existence (unless it was those old reefer/Pink Floyd days). And the more sensitive the speakers, the more responsive, and the more responsive, the smaller wattage you require, and the smaller wattage translates into excellent timing, and lots of luscious detail.

Soon, an old Sherwood tube integrated I found will be restored and I will see what special magical ingredient it may have: 32 tube watts and a phono stage! Then, I will buy the Rega Ela or Naos speakers: very sensitive (92 db) and I know from experience nothing times like these - and they're reasonably priced! Think small, not big, think sensitive, not power hogs is my suggestion. Of course, sensitive speakers come in many flavours too, and you'll have to find the one which appeals to you, assuming you don't already have sensitive speakers. And you want to hear supreme timing on the cheap? Get yourself an old AR-XA and put a decent low-mass tonearm on it (Grace etc.), and then put a good MM on it. Cheap, fun, and educational, like this audio hobby should be, at least in part: Mitch Cotter of AR was another genius...and youll be astonished at the amount of detail this can retrieve. No timing, no fun, too much money, no fun. Sorry for the rant, but someone had to say it. But thanks for the discussion Drubin and Nrenter: a blast!
One of the reasons cheap systems appear to have better timing is that they don't have any bass, the midrange is emphasized and instead of real high frequencies you get some treble sizzle. On a typically arranged and recorded pop/rock songs from the last 50 years, such a lo-fi system will highlight the snare drum, rhythm guitars (or equivalents), the hi-hat cymbals and the lead vocal. Obviously, such a stripped down sound will have nothing if not toe tapping rhythm. Most standard or "premium" manufacturer installed car systems exhibit this characteristic sound.

Better audiophile systems can have excellent rhythm, but it usually depends upon treating the listening room with proper acoustic treatments to smooth out the deep bass response and maintaining a proper balance between the lower midrange and high frequencies.
Getting rid of my Bel Canto DAC-2 in favor of SACD was a sorry move. At least I was able to get a replacement DAC-2 here for a fair price and dump the SACD player.

I don't want my components to be musical, I want them to be accurate so I can hear the music as recorded. I don't like warm or sweet or any other type of coloration. I want an accurate presentation so that the music has a chance to be heard and hopefully, be musical.
Onhwy61, Good try, as far as it goes, at explaining why low-fi systems sound more musical than many (or even most) high-end systems. Apart from the tacit admission that low-fi systems do in fact appear to have better timing/musicality, you miss the fact that by cheap systems I include also cheap "audiophile" systems, which also, overall, manage to convey the timing/rhythm/musicality of music far more often than high-end systems do, without all the distortions you list. Which is why we probably end up in this obssession. As well, many high-end systems feature mini-monitors which have no bass to speak of, and yet still manage to lose the musicality/dissect the music. Through my years of various audiophile components and systems, I was always astounded at the direct musical communication which comes from my sister's Rotel receiver/Optimus LX5 system, which I set up(!), which is overall quite sophisticated (that superb ribbon tweeter), yet which communicates the music directly and without effort, making everything sound good. I always left her house with doubts. I know this is a very common experience for all of us (c'mon, admit it), and when we return home we convince ourselves on the basis of more air, better imaging, more detail, and so forth...and then we head out to the stereo store to see what we can improve. I think the plain fact of the matter is what I stated: designers with clipboards and textbooks and no real gift. Perhaps there is an unknown ingredient X which gets washed out with improved power suply regulation and so on, or perhaps it is simply the relationship I set forth earlier: amount of information is inversely proportional to musicality, overall (which is kind of like the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, come to think of it...).

It may sound corny, but we have to learn to listen with our hearts instead of our heads, and demand the same from audio designers, or else Pack your Bags, Scum! Now, having inherited high-end speakers, I am faced with spending thousands of dollars to gain - maybe - that musicality I had when I retired from the game with a pair of Sound Dynamic speakers and a pair of Wave 8s driven by a Pioneer preamp. I did the tour of the shops, considering expensive Tannoys, the Reference 3As, Energy Veritas, all of which sounded impressive....and then I had the idea to see what the new Athena Technologies incarnation of the Sound Dynamics were like, specifically the AS-F2s at $600. They were hooked up to a Harmon Kardon receiver, the guy turned them on (I wasn't expecting anything), and when they sarted to sing, my soul started to sing. And I immediately heard that ingredient X which put a huge smile on my face. I foresee a lot of audio fun in the near future. I don't known what it is (certainly timing is a part), but I think damn the high-end neutral speakers (I'm going to sell them), I'm buying the AS-F2s tomorrow, I think (they're enormous, however), and I bet they'll sound terrific with my new Wave 20s. You see, I am upgrading! But I can't stop thinking about how good that HK sounded as well. I lifted it to see what kind of transformer there was inside, and it weighed a ton. Damn it sounded good, is there someone with talent working at HK? Hmmmmm.....I'm at my sister's right now, and I can't believe how good her system sounds right now, as she happily plays music for hours without thinking anything but "this is a good album!", playing Santana right now, I think I gotta buy this one....
Dampening devices are killers of music. Tom
Buying cheap components as stop gap measures and also to placate the wife have lead to unsatisfactory music reproduction. Too many artifacts in the music presentation just prevented me from enjoying the music, as that is what it is really about. Some one once told me "Buy cheap, buy twice". That has proven itself to me over and over again. Also spur of the moment buying in the mid-fi store (aka Tweeter, etc.) has produced the same experience. I was never happy with what I ended up with from that place. Also listening to the hype surrounding this hobby has proven itself to be misleading. A component with 50+ positive reviews on Audioreview.com and mutliple positive posts here were proven wrong (IMO). The component, in my system, was a dissapointment from the start. It never lived up to its hype.

So, live and learn. I'm pretty happy now, but I've taken a few hits in the wallet to learn what sounds good to me. Listen first and decide for yourself.
The trick to downgrading or buying "budget" equipment (due to the ridiculous prices of cables these days the concept of "budget" has become distorted in this hobby: recently two high-end dealers in this area said that people spending $1500 on a component were cheap - but I put it to you all, while many on this website label $1500 components "budget", you'd go apopleptic if your mechanic tried to screw you with a $1500 bill for repairs, wouldn't you?!), is to focus on musicality and timing, and forget about all that audiophile bullshit (which a good budget component will give in good measure anyway) in which a budget component will of course fail to measure up. But given a truly musical piece, you just don't care about all the missing "information". Now if we all followed this philosophy in buying this equipment, maybe there would a "Trickle Up" phenomenon, and we could expect all high-end components not to disappoint us in the long term, and the designers to start listening instead of measuring. I know I'm pie-eyed.
An excellent thread. I recently sold my MOSFET output Sony ES integrated amp and 'upgraded' to a McIntosh MA-6900 integrated. The Sony put out 20wpc Class A, shifting to 100wpc A/B. The Mac puts out 200wpc all Class A/B. What a difference!! The Sony sounded faster, more detailed and with more slam than the Mac ever has. The Sony simply overwhelms the Mac on soft passages and microdynamics, which are very important to me as I mostly listen at relatively low levels. Wish I had been smart enough to hang on to the Sony as one rarely sees a TA-F808ES on Audiogon. So I will try Denon's MOSFET integrated in the meantime.

Similar experience with Cardas Golden Cross bi-wire speaker cables. They should have blown away my relatively inexpensive Tara Labs bi-wires. But, no way. After three months I was back to the much better sound of the Tara Labs.

Guess the old saw of 'horses for courses' sures holds true in audio. Next time I hang on to the old until I spend some time with the new.
Sold an Adcom GFP-750 preamp and bought a Pass X-2.5 preamp.
The Adcom sounded better in my particular system! Sold the Pass and bought another Adcom!I know this makes no sense whatsoever, but my ears don't lie to me!
I like this thread, so I thought I'd bounce it to the top again.
Going from Thiel CS7s to Dynaudio Contour 3.0s. After a year I finally "found my way again" and bought a pair of CS6s.