Check for a pulse!
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I don't believe you are ever "done", only "happy for now" exists in my life. My system has remained relatively unchanged for over a year and I believe I could be happy for at least another year, but eventually, I'll want to try something new. I'm happy here because I have tried at least one level "up" from each component/cable in my system and I didn't experience an appreciable improvement in quality of sound. So, one step down is where I have found my happiness, this is how I know I'm "happy for now".
Congratulations Scott, it has been interesting to follow your journey. I believe you have a very satisfying system, enjoy.
I have been listening to a few amps over the past months at home and feel i am almost done also.
I agree, once you can stop thinking about the equipment and just enjoy the music, you are done.
For me, being done is about both the music and the system. I think the music part is self-evident. It is the reason I got involved in audio in the first place.
On the system side, coming to terms with this question was much more challenging. There is little thought-leadership on this subject beyond the old mantra that the next significant performance upgrade is just around the corner (cable, isolation, CD player, power conditioning, etc), and that afterwards you will attain audio nirvana. I'm not saying that these do not improve system performance, in some cases they do. But they aren't the point, are they?
I tried a different approach:
1) I re-defined my system goals and objectives. I asked myself, what is being "true to the source"? Instead of the master recording, I re-defined this further up the production chain, to the intent of the performers, the intent of the conductor, and even the intent of the composer. I know how a great live performance makes me feel inside, and I know my reaction to a tepid performance. I don't have any idea, or really care about, what happened in the recording studio, or what the sound engineer intended. As my system makes me react more like I do to a good performance, it is "better". This is not the same thing as getting more detail, resolution, power, etc. And given this evaluation method, a cheap table radio or car stereo can be a great system.
2) To get the above, I re-defined how I view my audio system. I like to think of my system as similar to a musical instrument like a piano or violin or guitar. So rather than trying to continually "upgrade" my system, it simply is what it is. Like a piano is a Yamaha, or a Bosendorfer, or a Steinway. Is one piano better than the other? Or are they simply what they are, percussion instruments with different flavor of sound?
3) After experimenting with enough gear in my own system, and listening to other high-end systems at friends and dealers, I have enough context to realize that at some point it is no longer about getting better, it is already good enough. At some point, the improvements are marginal, even if the differences are there to be heard.
So, I still enjoy gear. There are a few things I will continue to do with my system. I want to add a mono cartridge to my turntable. I may do some mods to my phono stage. But I am pretty much done with the important stuff.
Questions / comments welcome.
I've had the same system unchanged for about 6 yrs. I knew i was done when i realized that my room was truely the limiting factor with out getting into gear 2X or more what my gear costs. I listen to a lot of live music and i've realized that my system and room are already waaaaay better than what the original music comes out of A friend of mine owns a high dollar studio (Manhiem Steamroller did some of their early stuff their and Disney does some of their work ther as well) and for cables he uses 12ga for speakers and monster for his low line level stuff that requires something better. He thinks high end cables are nuts. Tweaking what i have is more fun anyway and it frees up money for tunes.