When does the law diminishing returns kick in?

As I go through these threads reading responses I will look at the systems from answer writers. Wow, some of you guys don't mess around. As a music lover and audio guy myself (since the late 60s) I can't help but be envious.
Although my system is modest, especially compared to some, I get a lot of enjoyment listening to music on it. It took a while and a lot of trial and error to get what seems right to me. But when looking at the super systems here it makes me wonder what I'm missing. With the exception of deeper bass, am I missing all that much? How much would I have to spend to hear real (worthwhile) improvement?
It can get better with every dollar you spend. BUT... the key is to find out what kind of sound you like. You don't have to spend much to get mostly there once you figure out what you like. But it sounds like you already have. Don't take another step! The synergy may fall through. You won't miss what you don't know you're missing.
Abe Lincoln was once asked how long a man's legs should be (Abe was a pretty tall dude as I understand). His response was:

"After much thought and consideration, not to mention mental worry and anxiety, it is my opinion, all side issues being swept aside, that a man's lower limbs, in order to preserve harmony of proportion, should be at least long enough to reach from his body to the ground."

Be happy!

The point of diminishing returns is dependent on your ears, bank account, and priorities. Do you find yourself saying, "I wish I listened to more music?" If so, there may be some limitation in your system not delivering a sufficiently compelling experience to command your attention.

I have experienced a couple of upgrades which absolutely compelled me to listen to everything in my recordings collection all over again. Thousands of hours of enthusiastic listening for a few dollars per hour. I'd call that a pretty good entertainment value.

Software is still my largest investment, and finding new joys in that, is a good value proposition for me, sometimes.
People can justify anything they bought, but anyone who spent more than them is just trying to gratify their ego. Of course, that level changes everytime the person buys something new.

Every well thought out purchase is a good move. The law of diminishing returns??? It probably comes in right after the Bose wave machine. All equipment ultimately does the same thing, some pieces just do it better, while others do it a lot better. How good do you want it?
Audiophilia is made up of many types of individuals with varying priorities. Realistic playback of recorded music at home is not the end-all of involvment in this hobby.

Some are 'gear hounds' who may never really be happy with their system, no matter what it sounds like. Others are content with just enough gear to create pleasant noises in their environment.

Unfortunately, there is no linear standard for diminishing returns. It depends upon any number of variables. There are incremental improvements or degradations in most changes to a system, including those that don't cost money (cleaning contacts, repositioning speakers, other DIY tweeks.)

My best advice is to take a weekend trip to the big city and listen to as many pieces of gear as you can. How better to know if spending more will increase your enjoyment than by listening?
I can't spell his name but the guy from the tv show wherein he says "D-plane/D-plane" was considering suing his local city for building the sidewalk to close to his ass.
The law kicks in when you find yourself taking out a second on your house to finance that new cable upgrade.
Enjoy what you have! Depending on the type of music you listen to, it may not matter if your speakers or cd player can't go down to the lowest octave. Or if your hearing cuts out at 12Khz why pay for that new ribbon tweeter add-on?
The law of deminishing returns usually sets in after you have bought a prospectively wonderful component and find that it sounds like crap in your system!
I'll share a few observations from recent experience. There is a point of diminishing returns; it is subjective, and of course it does vary with pocketbook. For me, I hit that wall when I realized I'd spent too much buying equipment, amp and speakers, too big for my room. I had way more wattage, bass extension etc. than I really wanted for the way I actually enjoy music, as opposed to the way I might show off new gear.

To get that gear to open up all the music, it was uncomfortably loud; I felt beat-up by the pressure wave.

After downsizing, I had a system that cost far less and brought me more musical pleasure in the near-field at moderate volume. For me that came down to some of those 'why spend more?' components; mini-monitors around $1600 USd, and a tasty integrated at about $1200.
in my case the "law" never kicks in unless your spending too much or the upgrade was just to have a more current model without any sonic benefits.

ive tried hard to buy smart & sell even smarter so in my case this hobby hasnt been all that expensive & each rig that ive put together has sounded better than the last.

to really answer your question "am i missing that much" my answer would be no,your not missing all that much at all,as long as your rig was well thought out & all your gear works good together your right where you need to be.

I have spent a LOT of money on this hobby to get good sound.
It taught me that you don't have to spend a LOT of money to get good sound.
Well thought out components at reasonable prices can be as enjoyable as the higher priced stuff.
When you have no money left for lunch... for the next 14 weeks....
I usually do spend enough to be sort of tight in the checkbook dept... but I am insane.
It's not about money, my friend. It's about time. And have you met my new girlfriend? Her name is Au..Aud..Audrey-ogon....

She looks so cute in black and yellow.
I'm in the camp of both Panderso and Muzikat. I have spent a lot of time and money to arrive at a moderately expensive system that is more enjoyable than my previously more expensive systems.

I think the investment of time will likely bring bigger returns than money.

For me, my system built specifically for my near-field setup at moderate volume has given me a return of enjoyment and some bucks in the "dippy" account!

Oh, current system is:

Quad 99 CD-P CD player with remote volume control
Channel Islands VMB-1 monoblocks or
Bottlehead Paramour 2A3 SET tube monoblocks
Reference 3A MM DeCapo monitors
good cables


As everyone has said it really depends on you. For me it's about $2K used per component on average. But that's me. God I hope my girlfriend's not reading this!
Well I was hoping for philosophical answers and that's exactly what I got. As stated before, although my system is moderate by Audiogon standards it is musically satisfying to my ears. Think I'll keep it as it is for a while. Or maybe a new cd player....
Thanks for all the replys, enjoyable reading each and every one.

Smart man! If you are happy, don't mess with it. I agree that you may get some bang for buck replacing your CD player, however, I wouldn't just jump on anything. Decide on units you are interested in trying and wait for one to come along at a fair price here on A-goN. If you end up feeling it doesn't provide enough value for the incremental price difference over your NAD (if you sell the NAD), resell it on A-goN. You can likely sell it for near (or exactly the same) what you paid for it, maybe only minus the shipping cost.

I've done this many times and have ended up trying lots of different stuff in my system, for not much outlay.


Rule of doubling!

My opinion is that a quantum leap in fidelity will result when you double the price (MSRP) of a piece of gear. As you can see, this is a geometric progression, and not a linear one ($500 to $1000 to 2000 to $4000 to $8000, etc.) Many people will run into "financial clipping" rather quickly!

This is by no means an absolute truth, but rather a crude rule of thumb. A product with a high value to price ratio (Maggie 1.6 speakers) will be a pretty tough challenge to my doubling rule. Of course, synergistic component matching within your system is critical. There are many different types of tonal signatures that various design philosophies of gear will impart upon the music. This is especially true of speakers. AUDIO REPRODUCTION IS NOT AN ABSOLUTE SCIENCE! I view it as more of a combination of science, art, and just plain luck. The music that you like, and the kind of reproduction that appeals to your own preferences is the important factor. It was interesting to note the responses on the thread "Best and worst rooms at the CES". Two different people could walk into a room; one hated it, another loved it. Sometimes, the music being played could influence a listener's opinion as well.

It's ironic that many people ignore a critical component of their system, ROOM ACOUSTICS!!! A megabucks system can sound like crap if the room acoustics and speaker placement are ignored. Also, certain tweaks that cost much less than an equipment upgrade can remarkably improve the fidelity of your system. I liken this to maxing out the performance of a drag racer within a particular bracket, rather than moving up into a higher performance bracket.
I like that advice Reubent. I have owned three different cd players that retailed for twice the cost of the NAD but preferred the NAD. All of them resold on Agon. Soon after discovering Audiogon my wife was wondering what was up with all the UPS deliveries. It definitely adds to the enjoyment of this hobby. Thanks and good luck.
Just a note on NAD; I still have the NAD 3120 Integrated in my second system, driving venerable Totem Sttaf speakers. Lost track of how old the NAD is, over 10 years I think. I kept realizing how enjoyable the music sounded throught this modest system against far more expensive kit, one of the things that led me to downsize.

NAD isn't the only example of high-value gear to consider before spending more, but it's a good one.
p.s. I think FatParrot is onto something with his geometric quantum progression. New laws of economics being discovered here.

Jond's bold identification of $2K as the specific point of diminishing returns, give or take, also accords with my experience across a range of components and manufacturers. Beyond that, its not that you can't hear any difference, but you can pay a lot for modest gains, and wonder whether you are really enjoying music that much more.

There those who needn't balk at $10K or $20K, or $100K per component but they probably wouldn't look at this thread.
It's probably the old hippie/commie in me that balks at spending $10K or $20K for a piece of audio gear. But I admit the world would be a less interesting place to live if everyone were satisfied as simply as me. And what would Hi-Fi reviewers write about?
It kicks in when you stretch really far to buy a component that's 3X or 4X more costly than one you have, discover is sounds about 5% better, and are told by audiophile friends that if you only spend $X,000 more on addtional [fill in blank], "it will make your jaw drop."
When you KNOW where the next SIGNIFICANT sonic improvement lies and you can't comfortably afford it. Diminishing returns is a relative concept; one of its parametres is personal means.
Remember, however, it's good to LIKE what you have (rather than to strive for what you "want" and can't afford). And $10k is a LOT of money for anyone -- no doubt about that. Cheers
Well put Garyk! Does that ever hit home.

Sage counsel, Gregm.
When do diminishing returns kick in? ….. Immediately of course, but every upgrade can be worth it to you. You have to decide when you have had enough, but you can always improve the system. It may start taking a 4K investment to give you the “step up” that a 1K investment used to, but that’s the diminishing returns thing. Spend what you are comfortable with and enjoy the music. There is always better and more expensive out there if you want to keep on.
If you don't need high volumes and or a large room to fill with sound:
1) Amp: $350
2) Pre-amp; Volume pot ~$20.00
3) CDP: $500
4) Monitor speakers: $500
5) Tuner $300
6) Wires, etc. $80.00

TOTAL: $1,750.00

Of course, YMMV.

Also if you get into tubes, vinyl, or have a big room to fill with bass flat to 20hz that number could be $10,000 easy.
"Audiophile Development Costs"; Everyone decides how much they want to invest.
The law of diminished returns starts at the very lowest level . Although I don't no how important that really is if you enjoy music . In the end I haven't regretted a single purchase , most now go into five digits each . Buyers remorse stops when the music starts .
Resurrection of a six-year-old thread. It was interesting for me going back and rereading this one. I feel I definitely know the answer to my original question and am extremely comfortable not chasing an unobtainable goal. Life is good and getting better daily.
When you feel that you need to replace the room or the entire house to get the right sound. That's the point, I think, when one should stop upgrading. At least for a while.
Other than that it is highly subjective.
Fri at 4:00pm. Ho Ho.
The law of diminishing returns kicks in Quick with products like the NEW BOSE 901 series 6 version 2's and the Yamaha a-s2000 integrated amp.....the BEST bargains on the market right now and future CLASSICS that we will talk about for a long...long time !...
I'm with Fatparrot, in believing in a doubling of cost to get a definite audible improvement. That rapidly becomes literally ruinous. So in general, I believe if you are not doubling, you are pretty much moving sideways.
BUT, that does'nt mean that value for money is'nt very variable. There are some real bargains to be had out there, often from small companies, without massive marketing budgets, retailers distributors. I am sure the way to go for me, is direct selling from the manufacturer. Many cable manufacturers go that way and some selling boxes, speakers too. That's were I look for value, especially if they do sale or return.
Since a chain is no stronger than it's weakest link, and the audio chain is the same; this means you have to plan on replacing all the components in the chain to get your money's worth. That law kicks in when you can no longer buy the components.
in economic terms, production is optimal when mr=mc, i.e., marginal revenie - marginal cost.

in audio it means if you spend an additional dollar to attain less than a dollar's worth of sonic improvement, diminishing returns has been achieved.

this is subjective of course. but i think, i have defined, literally what diminishing returns means.

it is a term used in economics quite frequently as most corporations try to maximize profit.

if you produce too much the additional cost of production will exceed the additional revenue.

in audio , if you spend too much, the additional benefit in sound is not cost justified--subjectively speaking of course.

its almost a corrolary of the famous equation:a sale occurs when the value in use = the value in exchange.

the value in use , could translate into the value placed upon the sound of a a component.
Your have to spend A LOT MONEY to get that last 5% !...
I have recently developed a very different answer to this topic than I had previously. While it is generally true that one has to spend much more to get a smaller return in sound quality, there are 2 factors I believe that mitigate this phenomenon somewhat.

First is that computer design and materials science has created whole new categories of products or products parts that may in fact perform better than more expensive but more traditional products.

Second, and more relevant is that the much more expensive (and better performing) product has a setup and tweakability factor that the lesser product may not have. For example, you go out and buy a speaker that is twice as expensive as your current speaker. Perhaps it only performs 30% better than the previous speaker. We have the classic model of diminishing returns.

Now let's say on that more revealing, more accurate speaker, you put a better set of cables, or roll in some NOS tubes, tweak speaker position, etc. You are going to hear more of the benefit of those changes, than with the older less revealing speaker.

So yes, initially you only got a 30% improvement for a 100% increase in cost. However, over time, if other areas are improved upon (like any decent obsessed audiophile most likely will) those small improvements will pay larger dividends than with the older speaker.

That 3% increase in sound quality you got from that cable upgrade last year is now a 5% increase. And on down the line until all the small increases (now more audible) add up to significant benefits on top of the new component's qualities, making better use of the other components in the system for the one upgrade. I recently had this experience upgrading to the TAD CR1 speakers (disclaimer: which I use for audio work and sell) I wasn't getting the full potential of the great tube electronics I have, until having a transducer in the system that could faithfully reproduce the delicate signals being provided to them.

So, in this instance, a very expensive upgrade truly allowed me to first hear how significant some of the tweaks done previously were.

It may not be a linear relationship between money spent and sound quality, but with optimization and good choices of equipment and accessories every dollar spent wisely will be heard.
So the new interpretation of the law is as follows - there is no law of diminishing returns.
The further I go, the more I separate the cost equation from the more interesting subject of how we measure sound quality. A certain expenditure buys a high quality system. Above that price point, a relatively small and sometimes even inexpensive change can make for a large perceived improvement. How can this be? Well, the ear quickly assimilates all prior improvements into a roll of the base line. The road ahead is mapped out with increasing clarity. At some point the perception of progress shifts to Zeno's paradox-- each step forward is logged as a percentage of the distance uncovered, not behind. Approaching goal the distances are very small yet the preception of progress is heightened. Thus if your system is 90% there, getting to 95% sounds like a 50% improvement. Looking at it any other way fails to explain the audiophile's basic psychology.
I'd say it kicks in as soon as your girlfriend becomes your wife.
'Looking at it any other way fails to explain the audiophile's basic psychology.'

keep it simple. it's basic economics 101. each person has an optimal price to pay for a component. when you exceed that price, your returns have diminished , relative to the cost of the component.
It kicks in right after cognitive dissonance has passed.
depends on how excessive compulsive you are.......
After the honeymoon :)
Let me reword that -

It kicks in right after buyer's remorse has passed.

In other words, once you have stopped questioning the wisdom of your purchase, you have entered the realm of diminishing returns. If you had no second thoughts about your purchase, either you are immune to bad financial decisions or your transaction was modest enough to keep it in the solid investment range. It's unlikely anybody will worry about return on investment or solidity of value when buying a $20 T-amp.