What was your first big eye opener with regard to audio?



Hello friends,

what was the most fascinating thing you did with the compilation or optimization of your system in terms of SQ or performance, that really got your attention in either a good or bad way?


what was it that actually impressed or surprized you once it was in place?


or what DIY project was it that once done really gave your audio system a big shot in the arm SQ-wise?


maybe it was simply finding out just how much some items could cost


something always seems to take place that changes our philosophies or understandings and maybe even our approach to arranging a fine audio system.


what was your’s?

 

Perhaps it was buying a quality rack, platform, or maybe a pr. of amp stands?


rolling tubes? adding iso footers?


biting the bullet and bringing in a decidedly  more expensive or merely a different electronic component? DAC? Line stage? Mono blocks? Speakers?


what amazing things could be done with as little as 8wpc?


for example, my ‘eye opening’ events came two  fold. adding power line conditioning and using upscale wires/cables, or power cords.


which of these came first I’m not sure but all of them  came with a huge amount of prejudice on my part as to them doing anything positive to the quality of the sound, but indeed they did!


other things came along with nearly the impact or mind altering impact but those were the initial items that paved the way for me to keep an open mind with respect to building an audio system and preserving its synergy.


what was or has been your epiphany? your most surprising  ‘move’ in audio land?


blindjim
Tubes. My first taste was a tube phono preamp. It simply removed the grain and veil of solid state.
I made many discoveries which helped educate me thru auditions at Hifi shops.
The major eye-opener in my own system was the purchase of high quality aftermarket power cords. Sometimes adding a PC to a component has been transformational.

But in the beginning, like most novices, the prices were a shocker.


Can't remember the actual first, so here are a small number of things that were totally unexpected (for me). Here are some, in no order:a) using a hi-performance dac; suddenly my music files became fascinatingly listenable; b) after-market power chords (diy, no less!) c) replacing my passive pre with a top-level active (who’d have thunk it!) d) matching the phono input to the cartridge output spec - (unbelievable difference!)


Post removed 
Great post! It makes me reflect upon my purchase decisions. My top #3 would be

1. Loaner Cardas speakercables. Suddenly my speakers and amp sounded just right. Beforehand I tried for months to get the sound right but was never successful. Sold the speakers right after, because I had dreams for something better mmmm.... Still think about that system.

2. Wadia 9 classic dac. This dac is simply possessed. It does everything, and I mean everything right and then some. Huge difference with my previous dacs. It cost too much actually. But I can't let it go.

3. Proton D1200 monoblock version 2x with Alón II.  This combination is magic. It has the top end sparkle that eludes me at the moment. And that sparkle is special!  But are also the fastest amps I own. With good recordings it has gravitas and a organic seamlessness which are difficult too beat, with all kind of music. Why in the hell did I sold those speakers?



@noromance2
tubes

I was shocked the first time i heard an all tube system. I knew then that was the ticket for me if not solely but as an additional rig in house.

Its sound still haunts me.
Thanks much.


@lowrider573
I dig both sides of that coin, cost and performance.

the right mix is in fact revelatory. thanks.

@gregm3

yes indeed. Top performing DACs are THE key to digital musical enjoymnent. thank you.


@
kosst_amojan2
This is a no-brainer. It was building my F5. Design-wise, it's an almost ideal amp for my speakers. But to say the amp was a revelation doesn't make the point. The design of the amp lets you decided what kind of distortion you want. I messed with that thing for a while

blindjim>
interesting. if there's something I miss about electronics its the ability to dig deeper into the build/design and tweaking it, or making your own unit.

Sadly, for me that ship sailed long ago.
thanks much.


@jouri_knegt

cables, or perhaps the right mix of them does seem to introduce magic where it was not previously.

for me it was power cords first, and it remains that way when wires are getting arranged into a rig.

plus 1 foor DACs.

matching amp & speaker is as key as any other portion of the mix IMO.
thank you
That a good quality pre-amp is really important and that phase is very important to me. I hear phase issues in bass as well as high frequencies as well as phase consistency across the entire spectrum: I can’t enjoy MQA for this reason - too much phase distortion. It may be why I like active speakers with correct phase response across the crossover. Many people don’t seem to be bothered by phase accuracy at all....so I guess we all focus on different aspects. Phase distortion immediately sounds artificial to my ears - MQA is a really contrived sound to my ears for this very reason. 
My first eye opener in audio was actually as a teenage guitar player when I fell in love with the sound of a vintage Fender Twin over the 2-dimensional SS amps they were cranking out in the 80s.  The wonderful sound of tubes still forms the backbone of my audio system today but the seed was planted in my musical soul back in high school.
Going to a friend’s house back in ’79 and listening to his system: Quad 57’s/Futterman H3aa’s/Marantz 7 tube preamp/ Thorens 125TT/Rabco SL8 arm/Panasonic Strain Gauge cartridge. Afterwards at home, my 4 speakers/4 SS amps/active x - over no longer sounded as good! So I resolved to get a system like my friend's. And now I have!
Thank you Doug K. for letting me hear your wonderful system!
My biggest "eye opening" experience was discovering the effect of cable geometries and their impact on the attached components.

Cable geometry is the placement of individual conductors in relation to the other conductors within a single cable. The selection of the gauge of the wires used is also a factor in the implementation of a good performing cable geometry

Some well known geometries are: 
- Braiding, as in Kimber Kable products and 
- Ribbons, as in Nordost products.

Not only do cable geometries improve sound quality, some allow the connected solid state components to perform more efficiently and generate less heat.

The improvement in sound quality can be jaw dropping - in one case, installing a Helix geometry speaker cable surpassed improvements made by my most significant component upgrade.

My second most enlightening experience was how effective brass/bronze cone feet can be. a simple mechanical application that surpassed my expectations, but I probably would not have heard those improvement if it were not for the cables I had implemented.

Regards - Steve

Hearing electrostatic speakers for the first and second time. First time the RTR tweeters in the ESS Transtatic I, the second time the Infinity Servo-Static I.

Then it was hearing a direct-to-disk LP played by a Decca cartridge. I don't separate the two because their sound is so related. Lightning fast transient "snap" (like the crack of a bullwhip), attack, immediacy and tactile presence, punchy bass (when played aggressively, the strings of an upright bass, piano, and bass drum really "pop"), and the startling dynamics of live music, Vocalists sound spookily in the room, standing right in front of you.

Then it was finally hearing a loudspeaker that reproduced the size and scale of instruments and ensembles: the Magneplanar Tympani. They make just about all box designs sound like the instruments and vocalists are being squeezed through two missing bricks in a wall (left and right), with the vocalists mouth about three feet off the ground. Pianos through them sound like miniature toys compared with big planars and the real thing.

Those are things I heard without owning them, not what I did to a system. But then I acquired them, so I guess that counts.

First time I heard a pair of Magnepans a 

xshadorne
That a good quality pre-amp is really important and that phase is very important to me.

blindjim> could not agree with you more on the preamp importance. IF there is more than one decent source of course.
many thanks.


three_easy_payments:09am
My first eye opener in audio was actually as a teenage guitar player when I fell in love with the sound of a vintage Fender Twin over the 2-dimensional SS amps they were cranking out in the 80s.

blindjim>
in HS it was a Craig Power Play AM.FM 8 track removable deck.

never considered tubes at all.
THX


roberjerman
Going to a friend’s house back in ’79 and listening to his system:

blindjim>
regardless the venue it is about the sound.


williewonka
My biggest "eye opening" experience was discovering the effect of cable geometries and their impact on the attached components.

blindjim>
I've decided not to cut any of my wires open to check out their construction so I go with what happens when this one or that one gets into the signal chain and I subjectively account for the change.

and often it is simply put, 'change'.

Improvement is more rare.
many thanks.


bdp24507-17-2019 9:33am
Hearing electrostatic speakers
Then it was hearing a direct-to-disk LP played by a Decca cartridge.
Then it was finally hearing a Magneplanar Tympani.

blindjim>
maggies are fascinating speakers. I agree just not my cup of tea as it were.
limited EXP tells me carts have their own voice and can utterly change the entire presentation.



zavato
Magnepans a

blindjim>
yes indeed.
I heard the top Maggie many years ago driven by Levinson power and fronted by the Phillips/Sony cube SACD CDP.

you could shake hands with David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash.
astonishing.

if they only had some slam and bottom end!
very cool
When I was five years old, the smell of the tubes and the soft glow of them from my dad’s system. Scott/Klipschorn.
I've been "into" home theater for a long time, but less serious about 2 channel listening.  One day I wandered into the one local hifi shop in the area and the owner demo'd the new (at the time, circa 2010) Klipsch RF-7 II speakers.  He queued up Black Cow by Steely Dan and being a home theater guy, the first thing I asked was "where are the subwoofers?".  There weren't any.  It was the best sound I had heard up to that point and it started me on a quest for better sound quality for music, which I have always loved but never made it my first priority.  Say what you will about them, but I still have a lot of Klipsch speakers and listen to a modified pair of Heresy I and also a pair of modified KLF-30 on a daily basis.  I've moved beyond Klipsch in my main system, and continue to learn and improve my system(s), in large part with the help of all of you here.
Pre-amp upgrade to Audio Research made a big difference but biggest difference ever was first time I heard my Class D Bel Canto ref1000m amps. It was a total sound transformation from prior and I wondered what the heck just happened? My ears had to adjust quite a bit which they did pretty fast.

Many years earlier, hearing how good my Walsh 2 speakers sounded outside on a porch from about 100 yards away was a real eye opener.
@mapman 

Many years earlier, hearing how good my Walsh 2 speakers sounded outside on a porch from about 100 yards away was a real eye opener.

So I suppose it's safe to say you do all your critical listening from 100 yards away now? ;-)
So I suppose it’s safe to say you do all your critical listening from 100 yards away now?


That would be interesting wouldn’t it?

More practically, I’ve come to realize how big a factor room acoustics is in determining the sound (perhaps the single biggest) and been much smarter about dealing with that.

Also I realized how loud and clear the Ohm Walsh speakers could go, not to mention how robust and practically indestructible they are even under the most extreme conditions, and learned to appreciate the sound quality and value they offer even more as a result.   
I bought a pair of Altec A7s in 1970 or so for my band...when I hooked 'em up to my stereo rig I immediately got a clue about what's what.
I worked in a mid-fi stereo store in 1977-78 (as a 14 year-old gopher).  I got my first speakers (Acoustic Research) on salesman's concession. 

The first revelation was listening to them for long periods of time before I made up my mind.  This was an early lesson in listening fatigue that I've carried with me ever since. (another lesson in fatigue came a year later, listening to a friend's Bose 901s)

The second was getting my new speakers home and moving them around in my room.  In the shop, they set up all the speakers on top of each other in a wall. In no time at home I was way ahead of anything I'd heard in the shop.

A different kind of revelation was the exposure to the ethics of my boss and a few of his colleagues and competitors.  I felt like I'd been slimed.
Hearing my first pair of field coil speakers.  I still cannot get over the sound!
Biggest improvements:
Upgraded and modded vintage Polk SDA speakers and added Dreadnought
Increased wpc from 75 to 200Replaced receiver with amp/pre/phono pre
DIY room treatments
Speaker cablesICs
It's been a joyful trip, and has cost a lot less than you might think. Amazing what you can do in baby steps.
Opened my shop in 1973/4 season.  Listened to 34 different brands of speakers with the same front end sources.  Realized I had NO IDEA what I was doing regarding reproducing recordings as accurately as possible with a complex system.

Learned VERY FAST...back then, big manufacturers we carried spent time educating us on pretty much everything so we could sell more.  I don't know what they do today, but B&O, Audio Research, Magnepan, Nakamichi, Sequerra, Tandberg, Sony, Marantz, Scott (remember them?), JBL, AR, Technics, Shure, Satin, Supex, AT, Revox, Crown, etc., etc. helped us immensely.

Probably my biggest personal surprises:

1.  How poorly large Advents really sounded.  We LOVED them in college, just like everyone from that era, I guess.  No disrespect to Henry Kloss, truly an audio pioneer and did the best he could for about $95.00 retail!

2.  How ridiculous Bose "direct reflecting" speakers sounded...we literally laughed out loud.

3.  How Klipschorn speakers distorted everything, especially opera.

4.  How "screechy" Crown and Phase Linear amps sounded.  Crown stuff never lasted more than a couple of hours before blowing.  Phase Linear was pretty bad as well--but, customers abused PL 700's quite a bit!

4.  How Magneplanars, even in those days before many refinements like the Tympani IV-4 A, were a revelation when compared to any box speaker on the floor.  Only close box choice would have been Fulton 100's.  (Bob Fulton--along with so many, a great audio pioneer.)

5.  Finally, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, that the customer's ROOM was the most important "component" of any audio system and always will be.

Long time ago...huge changes in many parts of the audio game.  However, the objective remains the faithful recording and playback of live music or recorded music that adds and/or removes nothing.

Cheers!
Mine was a combination of helpful advice that I got 30 years ago from a wise audio salesman and the revelation that occurs when it transpires. 

I was in the market for new speakers but the variety was mindboggling across numerous showrooms. 

The advice was, “listen to everything, and you will just know when you hear the one that speaks to you.”

So that’s what I did, and he was SO right!

30 years ago for me it was B&W that I couldn’t afford until 20 years ago, and these days it’s Spendor. 

Listen to everything, and you will just know when you hear the one that speaks to you. 

Oh, you’ll know ... 👍
Three come to mind, Late 60s hearing decent separates for the first time, hearing Maggies for the first time and finally how MC501s made my 3.6 Maggies sing.
Since 1964 I have been on a steady ascent in gear, from the small suitcase type record player with built in speaker, to now, Clearaudio table, tube preamp and tube amp. with custom made floor standing speakers. Many small increments up over 54 years. 
The biggest single improvement was about 1 year ago I put on a Clearaudio Virtuoso cartridge, outstanding.
So now I stand in the room and think "Whats next?"
adding a subwoofer and feeling the bass rather than simply hearing it.
That wpm ratings are not the last word in determining sound quality.

Accepting that my ears are mine and hear things differently than others.

The day I finished building my dozen 2' x 4' absorbing panels 
and nearly went to tears when I heard the difference they made.



 


viridian
When I was five years old, the smell of the tubes and the soft glow of them from my dad’s system. Scott/Klipschorn.

jim>
I sold Scott but not the type you refer to here. sure sorry to have missed that previous Scott bus.


big_greg
"where are the subwoofers?". There weren't any. It

jim>
its still neat to me to find speakers that can dig deep and not need help below 40Hz. they are either few and far between or real pricey.


mapman
Pre-amp upgrade to Audio Research made a big difference but biggest difference ever was first time I heard my Class D Bel Canto ref1000m amps. It was a total sound transformation

jim>
a good while back a friend owned a pr. of those amps and a pr of $10K Canton Karrat speakers and I found that rig very desireable. temprorarily adding in my tube line stage it became IMO even more so.


wolf_garcia
I bought a pair of Altec A7s in 1970 or so for my band...when I hooked 'em up to my stereo rig I immediately got a clue about what's what.

jim>
Its something how a sound can hit a vein and leave an indelible lasting mark which then calls us to discover more about it..


ahofer
I got my first speakers (Acoustic Research) on salesman's concession.


jim >
AR was big back then. I never saw the attraction.

JBL Century 100s were too but cost more... I did see an attraction there. especially with those sculpted orange foam covers.


jfd
ARC SP6 1978
Jim>
you got to that party real early.


on the flip side of engrossing and revelatory rewarding experiences I've found too some events were not so good but as has been mentioned here, each was a educational session.

the note on aR & JBL brought to mind a real kick in the stomach for one guy.

in 1975 - 76 I made my last trip to the Mediterranean and while visiting Italy loads of guys bought new audio gear. they had to navigate one obstacle and that was to get it safely aboard the ship while at anchor despite weather and shifting seas.

for security sake motor boats which carried upwards of 200 men ferried us to and from the piers from several miles at sea.

rough weather set in during my return late one evening and some fellas were hauling their new devices back to the ship.

handing a top flight reel to reel to the man on the landing the grip was lost and the tape deck dove quickly to become a part of Davey Jones' stereo rig.

even though it wasn't mine, it left a sinking feeling in a lot of stomachs that night and that witnessed it, certainly the guy whose deck it briefly had been.


BTW... I'm sure worse events have unfolded we can not easily forget.
I can recall a fair number without half trying.
Audio Physic speakers open my eyes about high quality music and the professional listening room where I heard soundstage with depth first from those speakers.

Digital room correction; it was shocking to hear my friend 30EUR D-Class  Chinese amp with laptop charger sounds better (under 10-20W power) with digital room correction than my 2000EUR good brand A,AB-class without room correction.

Acoustic panels, I was surprised about 4piece of small, 0.6m x 0.6m well placed panels can clean shape of instruments and improve quality of vocals in the living room.

Tubes, their magic on music.

D/A converter differences, how important to use as good/as new converter as possible. 

Different speaker cables sound different; as an engineer I didn't believe it is audible, but I clearly hear it in a professional listening room. I don't think it is too important but surprising.

A pair of Mordaunt Short speakers in 1985 hooked me.  Sold them and regretted it ever since.  Could never find another pair.  They weren't anything special, but they had a tremendous sound and moved some air.
In the army, at the stereo PX, standing in front of a pair of big Tannoys. They were only lined up on a shelf with countless other speakers. Even so, it was obvious that something very right was going on. I didn't buy them. Too expensive back then. Next time was at WES Stereo in Allentown, Pa. They had the Carver Sonic Holography C4000 preamp hooked up in a TINY room. I absolutely flipped. All of the instruments had their own space. I thought everyone was going to want one of these preamps. The next revelation wouldn't come until 1995 at Soundex in Jenkintown. Snell Type B's, Threshold T400, T2 preamp, Krell KPS 20i and most important; Transparent Reference speaker and interconnects.
To this day, I haven't ANYTHING that comes close to the sound I heard that marvelous day at Soundex.
I had a few revelations:

1. My late mom's cousin had me put on a pair of Olsen headphones, through his early 60's stereo, and I was hooked. I was about 12 years old.

2. Swapped out some okay AR interconnects, on my analog tuner, to some low end Audioquests and was amazed by what a difference they made.

3. My friend worked at a high end audio store in the late 70's. He purchased a wonder system that consisted of a Linn TT with some sort of MC cartridge, Linn Isobarik speakers, Naim electronics and whatever high end interconnects were available at the time. I listened to a Ricki Lee Jones direct to disc on his system and found out what imaging was all about. It was a well engineered album, but that system made it absolutely stunning. I think he still owns that system.
My biggest eye opener was when I purchased my first power conditioner, a Shunyata v Ray. As soon as I hooked it up even my wife noticed. It was a transformation. 

@jnovak
To this day, I haven't ANYTHING that comes close to the sound I heard that marvelous day at Soundex.

jim>
I guess everyone will have that one session or event that continues to haunt them with its incredible ppresentation.

mine was an all tube 30wpc set of monos and a pr of VSA VR 4JRs of all things. some unknown tube cDP, perhaps Cary. the Thor line stage and EL 34 monos played Diana Krall. the sound was glorious. evocotive. emotive utterly engaging.

not able to afford that rig's price tag I tried mostly in vein to duplicate its sound. using some of the same and some different pieces. got the line stage still. had the same speakers. got similar costing cables and power filters. a BAT SS amp.... then a pr of EL 34 monos. at that point things were very close indeed. then I exchanged the vSA units for Silverline Sonata IIIs and the presentation exceeded that of the former showroom demo, but it still did not have the former demo's inner glow within the notes.

the monos I used were running 60wpc in ultralinear, the demo monos ran SET at half the power of those I could acquire.

I've come to the notion once you find a rig that you love, duplicating it elsewise is likely not gonna happen. emmulating it? sure. bettering it in some regards? perhaps.

but if you love that demo's sound, asemble that outfit as precisely as you can in your digs as synergy is a result of all of its components.
thanks much.

for me... experiencing sound when it is ultra good takes on spiritual properties.
Hearing a set of Stax electrostatic headphones in the 70's with Yamaha integrated and tuner as the source.

I purchased them and couldn't understand why they didn't have the same magical sound when paired with my Lafayette Radio LR4700 receiver.
That was the beginning of my understanding that in audio "everything makes a difference." (I wound up buying the Yamaha gear too!)



First opener for me was hearing a properly setup system of Linn LP-12/Mark Levinson/Magnepan at Audio Concepts in Houston in the early 80s. I was in my 20s, had component systems since age 15, and still remember thinking how amazing it sounded.
Didn't have another "wow" moment until I installed room treatment in a dedicated room just a few years ago. Biggest change, by a huge margin, ever. Truly "eye-opening". Actually "ear-opening", though I'm sure my eyes were wide open in disbelief at the transformation in sound quality. 
Nothing sexy about acoustic treatment, but man does it work.

blindjim: Yes, you're correct about everyone having that one experience. It would have been interesting had I have gone back say three days in a row to compare the sound. I had a stereo friend way back when who invited me to a listen at a local shop where a system blew him away. We sat down in front of the same setup he heard only days earlier. We were both unimpressed and left scratching our heads. Go figure.
Early ‘80’s; I walked into a few shops and said “what’s the best system I can get for $1,000?” One salesman was showing me their entry level Denon setup when I asked “what would you show me if I had $10,000 (even though I obviously didn’t).

With a sly grin he kindly walked me to another room and played Jazz at the Pawnshop on an Oracle Delphi/ARC/Acoustat system. I thought the Oracle was from a UFO and I didn’t even recognize the tall skinny Acoustats as speakers, but I’ve never forgotten that sound. 
The first time I heard a pair of KLH9's; I was about 19, a freshman in college.  It was a shock to hear a level of sound quality I had no concept even existed.  And, the first time I heard a "Direct To Disk" record.  I had always assumed that any improvement in the sound of my own system would only come from better equipment, but that record said that there was a huge variable in the quality of recordings.
My first eyeopener was at the CES show in the early 90's when I heard my first single ended amp. I believe it was a Cary. And now I have an all tube single ended system, and loving it!

TISH
1977 a buddy and I learned there was a world of audio beyond the malls and Crazy TV Lenny. Walked into a shop in the burbs of Milwaukee as they were unpacking a butt ugly pair of speakers from a little company in California. Cold out of the box not on their stands the Vandersteen 2’s lit my hair on fire.  They are still there selling Vandersteens 
First opener for me was hearing a properly setup system of Linn LP-12/Mark Levinson/Magnepan at Audio Concepts in Houston in the early 80s. I was in my 20s, had component systems since age 15, and still remember thinking how amazing it sounded.
Didn’t have another "wow" moment until I installed room treatment in a dedicated room just a few years ago. Biggest change, by a huge margin, ever. Truly "eye-opening". Actually "ear-opening", though I’m sure my eyes were wide open in disbelief at the transformation in sound quality.
Nothing sexy about acoustic treatment, but man does it work.


No one believes that it makes that much of a difference as they are all experts in what they know......except...this thing,this acoustics thing.. they forget......that they do not know it..

then.. proper acoustic treatment. Correct acoustic treatment. That’s the hard part to get right. To have the right lore the right knowledge and the ability to do it right. That’s a tall order, and a long way away from most folks.

So they live with their ears and brain adapting to a far more inferior sound quality. And telling themselves...it is all just fine.
Ha!  Interesting thread.....for me vacuum tubes. 

I added an (Audiogon purchased) C-J PV10B (preamp) on top of my existing Marantz 2285 and Wowza!  Unbelievable!  Made my JBL L65 speakers (of the time) sound fantastik!   

From that point forward I became a Tube Convert; now owning a C-J Premier 17LS (pre) and a C-J LP66S (amp).  Both all tube.
After optimization of my system with fine components, speakers, cables, room treatments, etc, I have recently been adding various products from Perfectpath Technologies.
I am beyond astounded by the transformation in the listening experience. For the first time ever, I can honestly say that I don’t have anymore “upgrade fever”.  My system sounds so much like “reality” that it’s mind blowing to me.

"something always seems to take place that changes our philosophies or understandings and maybe even our approach to arranging a fine audio system."
Realizing one day that I have spent five years with a $100 boombox on a bar stool (sort of) and never felt the need to buy a more decent equipment.

It reset my priorities, I guess.
1-Hearing Maggies at Audio Art and at a friend's house. To this day 40 years later I still get goosebumps listening to them in my own system.
2-Working my way up each price point from entry level SR-60 to SR-325 Grado headphones.