1. Lack of any audible distortion,
2. Good textural variety (to me, tubes kind of smooth everything out),
3. Even tonal color and density, and
4. Adequate dynamics (I like a lively sound i.e., P.R.A.T.).
Yep, that'll work...
When you can't think of anything that will improve on what you already have.
I don't own the 'best' of anything, but I have invested a lot of time in synergy and set up of what I have. I often sit and think how nice some other stuff might be, but then, when I really think about it, I can't think of what I'm really trying to get out of my system. I'm happy, I'm done. Now if I could just lose the fantasies.
I solve this problem by re-directing my energy to finding new music.
Yeah, it's good enough when all I can afford to do is to listen.
There are moments during certain favorite albums/songs when my heart/head tells me, "There ain't no better than this." But then the next music starts to play and I start thinking, "This would sound so much better if...." and I start fidgeting.
"But then the next music starts to play and I start thinking, "This would sound so much better if...." and I start fidgeting."
Is it safe to assume its not just the variation of quality from recording to recording that accounts for this?
I find when I think things are good enough, I can clearly hear the differences good and bad from recording to recording and I am pretty much getting the most I can out of each. That can be hard to know for sure. In general, when I hear only good things happening in the best recordings overall, I tend to conclude that most limitations or issues I might hear in others are the recordings fault, and there is little one can do to reproduce something that is not there in the first place.
As a technically oriented and analytically minded person, I find myself making such determinations in a manner similar to the manner in which the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said he distinguishes between pornography and Constitutionally protected free speech: "I know it when I see it." Or in this case hear it. Although the results of such determinations tend to change every now and then.
Al, I am similar I think.
I often say you have to know what your target is before you can hit it.
Once you hit it, what more is there? Until you stop hitting it. Then the question becomes why? It could just be us having a bad day or going through a bad time. Or something with the power, weather, who knows? All the more reason to not jump to conclusions too quickly with this stuff. Its often very nebulous why things sound the way they do to us. The equipment merry go round is never a good answer. You have to be able to get off that from time to time. Unless one just likes to play with different gear, which is fine.
Also I agree with dweller. I can enjoy listening to anything for a period as long as no audible distortion. What floats ones boat beyond that is highly subjective I would say. Many tasty ways to make soup, in either small or large portions. large portions tend to cost more though if equally tasty.
I interpret this question as a variation of "at what point does diminishing returns start to set in?" I take it as axiomatic that any system, from the intro audiophile to those pushing the SOTA, can be improved upon. For me it comes down to a case of incremental money spent and added system complexity versus current enjoyment levels. I look at some people's system pages and they have listed 30+ components (including tweaks) in single source systems. I just don't want a system that has that many variables. Nor do I want to spend $100k plus either. I became an audiophile when $5,000 was a very expensive component and only a single company made a loudspeaker costing more than $10,000. When I listen to systems costing multiples of what my current setup costs I marvel at the sound, but I still find myself perfectly content with what I have.
Among people who post here I suspect I'm a little more forgiving of sound quality than most. To give an example, I recently had to replace a tube in my preamp so I ran the system without a preamp with the D/A going directly into the power amp. I strongly prefer the sound of the system with the preamp, but it still sounded great without it and after a few days of acclimation I really didn't miss the preamp. Push come to shove I could live with my Fisher 400/Monitor Audio Studio 20 system as my only system. That system does everything Dweller outlines in his post. But then again, that's just me.
You make a good point that applies to me:
Is it my system or is it the recording?
In the future I will keep that in mind and will attempt to answer that question first before I do anything else.
Something I never expected from this hobby has been the realization that hifi reveals poor recordings. It reminded me of when I was a young man how I avoided Motown cassettes/8-tracks because they sounded so awful and CBS/Columbia tapes usually sounded better than other labels. I had forgotten how disappointed I was when I first obtained Stevie Wonder's "Innervisions" on tape. Whoah! That hiss!
First and foremost for me, the music has to sound like music. Set aside for a moment that I have absolutely no idea what the actual recording process was or what the recording engineer heard, instruments must sound like instruments that I am familiar with.
Notwithstanding that different pianos or violins will sound different. I know a good violin or piano sound when I hear it. Joe Sample's piano sounds totally different than Bob Jame's piano.
I know what a cymbal sounds like. Again, it does depend on the recording, because the engineer or artist may have used electronic instruments instead of the real thing.
But, first, it has to sound natural to me. Space and dimension are separate and totally recording dependent. Its hard to get space and dimensionality from electronic instruments that are wired directly into the mixing board. But, place mikes in front of the instruments in space, then maybe you have something.
Is it natural? is it too bright, too soft? Do the artist step out of your speakers, place themselves in your room exactly as they were when the recording was made? Yeah!!! there we are.
I have played classical violin, sax, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, etc. I know what instruments are suppose to sound like. That is one reason why I'm so critical of my system, music and sound. Basically, I know what I like. Others have their own criteria.
People can and will pick your system and styles apart, because to them, you don't know anything and they are the master. But, they aren't the one listening in your home to your music. your are. They aren't the one that has to come out-of-pocket and purchase your equipment.you do. If you enjoy the system (yeah it can be nice furniture also. My turntable is made out of Rosewood and really is beautiful to me) and your music, and it doesn't drive you out of the room, and sounds real to you, then you are there.
Yes, you can (and often will) improve things, but, that will be in small incremental steps.
If I had a dollar for each time I thought I had reached nirvana with my system, I could buy ... well, another system. *lol*
First and foremost, this hobby is about the music. The more revealing the system is in an accurate musical sense, the more in touch we are with the artists and to their artistry.
I think a lot of us desire periodic "fixes" that allow for more information from our music collection to be revealed. This may take the form of a high-end fuse in the preamp ... or a new and better sounding preamp. Spikes under the speakers ... or new speakers.
Personally for me, I continue to experiment with tweaks to get the best out of what I already have. There are advancements all the time in this industry.
The curse is when a person continually buys and swaps out expensive equipment in an effort to find what they want without knowing what it is they really want. We all know the type ... credit cards maxed out buying equipment, only to sell the equipment, pay off the credit cards and then start all over again. One thing I've noticed about these sorts ... they never seem to have an extensive collection of recordings. Maybe fifty CD's and a hundred records max ... all "audiophile" releases.
onhwy61 commented above about his Fisher 400. I had one at one time as part of a bedroom system. Loved it. If I had it today it would be sporting a SR RED fuse and tube dampening rings. All tubes would be replaced. Every contact area, including the tube pins would be treated with Caig Pro Gold. A qualified tech would have tested all components to be sure the Fisher was operating at it's best. Then, I'd be using high quality cables and good footers. Oh .. and a pair of the small Harbeths would be nice too. And now for the CD player ... Bottom line, one great Fisher 400 transporting me to the world of great music while enjoying my morning coffee and a magnificent sunrise while listening to Bach's beautiful "Air On A G-String."
In other words Mapman ... I don't think it's ever "good enough."
When I consistently hear new details and nuances in material I know well. Still at that stage with my current rig, so consider myself "there" at this point in time.
For contrast, I recently did some auditions with TOTL Magicos and Wilsons driven by much more costly McIntosh and ARC/D'Agostino respectively. Better than what I have? Noticeably. Useable in my current environment? Hardly.
I'm satisfied & can concentrate on the music!
My hi-fi is good enough when .
- I return from a visit to my local hi-end stores, after listening to systems that can exceed of $300,000
- drop some vinyl onto my TT and think - Hmmm - my system doesn't sound too shabby at all :-)
I seem to do that a lot :-)
Having said that - the last item to really peek my interest - a very nice pair of Avantgarde Duo's :-)
Alas - too big for my room - what a shame
A system is good enough for me (as for others who have said the same here and elsewhere) when I find myself completely absorbed, consumed, and inhabited by the music---becoming one with it, rather than thinking about the sound of it. Good equipment, and even good sound, is only the means to an end---more appreciation and enjoyment of, and deeper connection with, music---God's greatest gift to mankind (followed closely by dogs ;-).
As long as I smile when the music plays, I am happy.
As long as I don't feel like doing something other than listening, I am happy.
As long as I have other financial burdens in life that take priority over indulging in new gear just for the sake of upgrading, I am happy.
As long as I can listen to a poor-quality recording, and hear through the flaws, and instead feel like I am hearing what the artist and recording/mastering engineers were trying to accomplish, I am happy.
As long as any music I want is available in at least one format that my system can play, I am happy.
And, yes, I am happy right now, and have been since my last audio purchase in 2013.
Doesn't it depend on what your objective is in having the system?
If it is to have the "best," I think it is an endless pursuit. Like the saying that one can never be too rich, too thin, or too good looking. (I disagree about the 'too thin' one, but you know what I mean).
If the aim of having the system is to listen to music, rather than music being used as a reference to judge system quality, I think you can reach a 'good enough' point that makes sense, whatever your budget. It doesn't mean the quest stops, but the focus changes- more interest in hearing different (and new to you) music and recordings, rather than using the same set of references, more interest in exploring different pressings and masterings of favored recordings (a factor that makes a significant difference, sometimes more than a gear upgrade) and more focus on non-gear aspects of the system when listening to it. Does that mean that one becomes complacent? I don't think so. I can still hear the shortcomings, the weaknesses, in my system and others, but often, those shortcomings are in the recording itself, and throwing money at gear and tweaking will not do much to change that. It is nice not to be on the merry-go-round, but I also understand the thrill and challenge of the gear pursuit. The problem, in my estimation, is that if the objective is largely if not entirely on the system's performance and possible improvements, that's where you stay focused. I know, from hanging with the "audiophile" crowd for a long time there is this belief that, if only I get to X place, I can then enjoy it. And that X is never achieved, because it is a moving goalpost- some audiophiles do have the time, energy and resources to constantly tweak, upgrade and reassess-- and are deep into musical enjoyment of their systems. Some of those audiophiles are on this board. And to them, I tip my proverbial hat. Because they can pursue more than one goal at a time. That isn't so easy, is it?
It depends entirely on the individual. Some people are always on the "hunt," while others find a comfortable patch of audio goodness and stake their claim there for the long haul. I used to belong to the former camp, but for the last five years or so, I've been firmly in the latter. I know my system can be improved, and I may make a few small tweaks here and there to get me a little closer, but for the most part, the rig does the trick for me, and I haven't felt the need to make a big change in a long time. I think I got the fundamentals right, and that's a big step. If something blows up and I need to replace it, then that's a different matter! :)
The best measure for me I can come up with for if my hifi is good enough or not is how much time I spend listening and how much I look forward to the opportunities.
If my interest wains its usually an indicator that something is not right because I have always looked forward to spending leisure time just listening to music.
"Mamas don't let your babies grow up to be audiophiles"
"Women don't let your husbands become audiophiles"
2015 was a year of upgrade after upgrade for me, after we decided to have me migrate the audio system from the living room, to my "man cave", a much larger room.
After installing my sixth bass trap (to control the boominess in the room), my wife said "I've unleashed a monster".
But I'd say I'm about 95% of the way there now. Oops, just ordered a new headphone amp...
Like Chayro, my upgrades stopped when the money ran out, or rather, I retired. You can always improve on a system, but if you have chosen wisely, then I believe in the old rule, that you need to double the cost of a component, to really improve the sound. A little very basic maths tells you, that soon gets very expensive.
A general guide is, that you can go to a show and all but the uber expensive rooms, sound worse or no better than your gear. At a recent show with Wilson Alexias and D'Agostino Pre and monoblocks, sure I could clearly see what I was missing.
Secondly, do you count a day not hearing some music on your setup, as a day wasted somehow. My 2 cents worth