When did good gear start getting your attention?

For me it as when I was a teenager. My older sister had a Panasonic compact stereo which had  a BSR changer with a ceramic cartridge. Then a friend told me about Dual turntables and AR speakers. That was in 1974 or 1975. Sister got married in 1976 and the Panasonic compact became mine, and I realized it just wasn't cutting it. Saved my money, and by 1977 I went to Tech Hifi in Manhattan. Left with a receiver, turntable and speakers. I've come a long way in 39 years but I still have all my old LP I bought at 

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It was the first time I walked into Tech-hifi around 74 or 75. I was blown away. I had no Idea this kind of gear existed. I saved my money and about a year later I bought SAE separates which were considered really good at the time. They were made in California. Then a couple of years later I saw Mark Levinson and Audio Research and I was hooked for life. 

I bought a Mac 2300 amp to use as a PA power amp, ca. '74.  I kept going back to the store.  I was a Mac/Tandberg guy for quite a while and then could no longer afford the hobby.  Picked it up again 10 or 12 years ago.  My old system never sounded this good (although it was louder, which seemed important at the time).
Back in the 60's.  My uncle had a JBL Paragon with Mac electronics and a Thorens tt.  I knew back then that this was special.  
My first taste of the high-end was the time I visited my friend in his college dorm, and his roommate had McIntosh tube equipment. It was then that I knew I needed something to replace my old fold-up, GE stereo. When I could finally afford it, I bought a used Fisher X-101-ST (still have it!) at a stereo shop and a Garrard Type A from a friend's father. I still needed speakers so, somehow I ran across some EV Wolverines that needed cabinets. I mounted them in cardboard boxes until I could afford the materials to build the huge cabinets in the plans supplied with the EV's.  
I'd had offhand discussions a time or two leading up to then about what gear might possibly be considered good, but it wasn't until the late 60's that I heard my first bona fide hifi: a friend of my brother had an all Mac system paired with Bose 901's in his large carpeted basement. It knocked my socks off at the time...made quite a first impression. To me at the time it was certainly something to aspire to.

My first speakers were the 301's...you can imagine my disappointment...
1986/87- I discovered a Yamaha stack (pre, power & cd player)
that blew me away. We do not get many chances in being exposed to a "first" time...
1978 working at Lafayette Radio and Electronics in Pennsylvania. 

I worked at Lafayette Radio in Michigan in 1978.
Those were the days. 😌

i bought my first "good" system there. The 40 watt integrated amp and matching tuner and the short speakers with Heil AMT.   Also Lafayette belt drive tt with Pickering cart. Not too shabby for a poor college freshman.
I had a lot of fun working there. 

Me too.  Learned a lot.  Testing tubes and helping replace parts was par for the course. 
Same as me.
Those were the days. I bought Koss headphones rebranded as Realistic at Radio shack. Loved them- had them many years. Lafayette as fun too. Tech Hifi was a wonder. Saw my first Infiniti black widow arm then. For me the late 70's were the days of my eyes opening to what was possible. I had essentially no money then, but it as fun to wish. A Philips GA212 was a holy grail. As was just about any Thorens. My first piece of equipment I bought that I truly thought was incredible was a V15 Type 3 
I reemeber going to the pharmacy as a 5 or 6 year old with my dad to test tubes!
In 1971, as a college freshman, I had a part time job working the high speed duplicator at a recording studio which had the contract for the Budweiser radio spots.  My job was pretty mundane, but after I finished the batch of duplicating work for the day, I'd ease up to the main control room, sit in the back and watch as the engineers mixed Chuck Berry's "My Dingaling", and was just smitten.

I'll never forget one night, when some engineers from Soundstream (who I believe were the first to deliver a functioning digital tape recorder) were visiting, discussing the work they had underway to develop an early prototype.  Bill, the engineer I knew turned to me and said "when they get this worked out, digital will change everything".  I didn't really know enough to understand what he meant at the time.

1977 I think, I was a late developer, then a LONG hiatus while the kids were arriving and growing. I restarted in about 1998.

I would be interested if anyone, who had a family, managed to maintain,  maybe develop and LISTEN to a HiFi system, in those long early years with growing children.

I was 15, my father bought a Sansui CA 2000 preamp and a BA 2000 amp .   Not too long after that I bought a Sansui AU9900 integrated amp and the rest was history.    I ended up giving it to my brother and it still works.......
Growing up, I had an uncle in North Carolina who we would visit several times a year and he was a huge Dead fan and did a lot of show taping starting in the early 70s. He had some awesome systems from what I can remember including McIntosh tubes, Linn LP12 TT, Nakamichi Dragon tape deck, B&W Matrix 801 series 2 and some A/D/S speakers I can't quite remember the models among a ton of other equipment he was always swapping in and out. I remember just being blown away by records or tapes he had made and just really getting into the music. His record collection took up all the walls in one room and two of the walls in another. He had a passion for music and live music in particular that really inspired me as a kid. I remember telling my friends in grade school that I think his stereo costs more than his house, which at times it may have. The last time I visited him was a few years ago and he still has the LP12 and the A/D/S speakers along with a bunch of other new as well as vintage equipment. 
In the mid 60's my uncle had a Mac receiver and tube amp pushing some big Frazier speakers. He had a Garrard TT and I'd take my Beatles & Stones albums over to listen.  I was never the same. I worked all summer to buy an AR TT, and Marantz 2270 and he gave me the Fraziers. There barely room for the bed in my room. Since then, I've gone through most of the phases: McIntosh, Klipsch, JBL Nakamichi.  There always seems to be something that sounds better. It's kinda like drinking....you gotta know when to say when.  
About the same time I started getting stoned.