Which system would you rather have?


Which system would you like better? A system that offers one or two sonic attributes that are truly just "outstanding", but which comes at the expense of another sound category that is subpar, or a more balanced across the board system that may not rise above merely "excellent" in any category, but that does not really fall much below it anywhere either?

(Or would you rather take what's behind door number 3: truly "outstanding" in Every category and all the financial ruin that goes with it...)

I will go first. For myself, I believe the longer I've been at this game maybe the more I've come to appreciate a system that is well balanced across the board - even if nothing in particular is an overwhelming standout, and I may favor it especially so once all the sonic gremlins have been successfully tamed (no small thing that, sometimes). But, in my mind at least, maybe that comes the closest to anything I can point to as my "reference sound" anymore...or short of live music, anyway. Maybe the imbalance that I'm hearing in other systems these days is because most systems are simply "unfinished" and as such are in a state of flux. I'd say we can all appreciate how long it can sometimes take to consider a system truly finished. Maybe mine is unusual in that IS completed, I dunno, but I've now gravitated somehow toward more balanced, even if it must therefore be less spectacular in some particular regard. I find the better balance distracts me less when listening, when any shortcomings are not there to remind me that I'm listening to equipment rather than the performance...and even when no particular attribute, while it can certainly be wonderful to pay attention to in its own right, may actually be working to upstage the others, keeping all the musical facets from being on the same page. More of gestalt thing, perhaps. Or maybe it's just me. Anyone else feel like this??...or disagree??

ivan_nosnibor
Sorry Ivan but I'll take door #2,EVERYTHING behind door #3 WITHOUT the financial ruin.The more I experiment with the Chinese Boutique Brands the more I am convinced that in this day & age you do NOT have to settle for an unbalanced system.$500.00 Tube Integrated amps that outperform $10,000.00 amps from 5 years ago!$100.00 DACS that,in a blind listening test, stand toe to toe with anything under $2000.00.I could go on.The problem I see is that the guys who spend the big $ will NEVER in a zillion years admit to how good todays so called entry level gear sounds & the guys who write about the gear sure as hell aren't going to upset their gravytrain by telling the gods honest truth so the status quo remains.I wish Audiogon would sponsor a bunch of blind listening tests between so called entry level gear against the establishments mega $ paperweights,I'ld bet pinks there would be some VERY embarrassed big name manufacturers.
No apologies necessary, freediver. I was hoping to spark some reactions I might not have considered before. That's a pretty strong endorsement, I just may have to check that out for myself in the not too distant future. Certainly the amps have been intriguing me for a while. Thanks for the heads up!
I would buy my System again. It's the end of the road ....

Freedriver,

Tell me what Integrated tube amp that you can buy for 500.00 that will outperform a 10k tube integrated from 5 years ago? No offense but this seems like a pipe dream.

Door #3 .... Full stop ..... AND it did NOT encompass any assertion or aberration of "financial ruin".

I don't usually get fazed by these increasing number of provoking posts where the OP feels somehow compelled to assert his or her anecdotal and heavily biased personal opinions stretched to be alleged facts .... 

In this case, that threshold was somehow breached because I'm in strong disagreement with the OP and in strong agreement with Taters last post ... You only get what you pay for in this crazy hobby.

 Everything is built to a pricepoint (at a budget strata level, it is invariably to the lowest price-point possible .. Chi-fi anyone?) and there is no substitute or faking quality build gear, with a performance quotient that moves in lock-step.

A $500 kit versus a $10,000 kit face-to-face bake-off.... I'll take that anywhere anytime.

You only need to do the simplest math: at a $500 retail pricepoint, discount that to the wholesale pricepoint and then price-out the major parts -- E.g caps, power supplies etc... Then check out what quality Mundorrfs and quality power supplies actually cost.

Price is NOT  any comparstive yardstick in this hobby -- we  all started out -- and/or  continue -- sometime at the lower end of the price/performance strata in audio gear. This  hobby is a journey and not a destination.

I have an A, B, and a C system even now with differing price-points from $1000 to ... Well... Just call it high-end. . BUT I get that immense pleasure and satisfaction out of each them equally. 

yes, I also do have a "north of $10K " integrated amp  and matched price and build strata DAC in my A system . To somehow suggest that my entry level C strata gear somehow matches it in performance and even boldly suggest that it  bests it ... Well as Taters already  amply put it .... A pipe  dream.




I chased the audio dragon for over 40 years, though much more intensely over the last 10 years. Being a blue-collar audiophile, things, of necessity, had to be done as inexpensively as possible, though of a quality that would enable me to retire with a smile on my face.

That challenge was met using DIY where possible, and maximizing each aspect of the system to the extent possible within those parameters. I am happy to report, there is no audio anguish in my camp any longer, just long, enjoyable, listening sessions.

Life is good.
Regards,
Dan
IslandmanDan gets it.The Chinese made Boutique brands buy the EXACT same fancy Japanese Power Trandsformers, caps etc..that the big makers do, they just DON"T pay the HUGE markups manufacturers in this country pay.There’s a reason besides cheap labor everything is made in china these days.Let me also say BIG spenders are predesposed to hearing differences that are NOT there simply to justify the huge price they pay for so called better sound.This mentality is EXACTLY what keeps the status quo!As I stated,NO ONE that spends BIG $ will EVER admit how LITTLE they gain over so called entry level gear.THE LAW OF DIMINISHING RETURNS HAS NEVER BEEN SO APPARENT AS IT IS IN THIS DAY & AGE!I'll also say AGAIN, properly controlled bling listening tests are the only thing that will KILL the status quo.Why in the world do you think you never see these tests done in the audio rags,because they KNOW they would allow the truth to be exposed!!!

akg_ca,

Easy there akg, I was not trying to offend anyone at all. Neither personally nor even anyone’s sensibilities if I could help it. But, I suppose I was taking a calculated gamble. My door number 3 quip was actually merely a half-hearted joke really, but I did intentionally leave some things open to interpretation. It is not meant as an insinuation of any kind, or to impune anyone’s motives or motivation. It’s only there as an out-of-bounds marker to a mostly - but not entirely - hypothetical consideration, if you will. That’s also why I specifically left all reference to money out of it - so that each of us is allowed to interpret the boundaries of the question according to the breadth and depth of our own unique experiences. Consider it merely my invitation to each of you to decide for yourselves here more or less what you want the question to mean and how to answer in an appropriate way. And if you still decide to stick to your original sentiment, akg, then your answer above is no less valid than freediver’s, mine or anyone else’s here...yes?? But, as far as I’m concerned, the question posed is not meant to confine or nullify the answer so much as to expand the discussion of the topic. It all depends on your take on it. It does begin with a sticky, either-or proposition and therefore it’s meant to provoke some thought, yes...but, hopefully just the *thought* and not the person behind it. But, like I say, if your answer is still the same then I say so be it, it’s still perfectly valid to me.

As far as freediver’s comments on the Chinese gear goes, I find his comments and the gear to an extent, somewhat intriguing. As of yet I have no experience with it. But, it doesn’t automatically mean he is necessarily right. I may get curious one day and try one out for myself (what better way to know, right??) and, who knows, I may think it’s just da bomb...or I may think it’s junk. But, when that day comes it will be my money riding on it, so I don’t really see the harm in trying it out for myself. But, my real focus here is what anyone is willing to add to the original discussion....including you akg!

freediver, what experience do you have with expensive equipment to back up your claims?  I don't know how you can begin to comment on someones ability to hear differences in more expensive equipment when you don't have their ears.  Predisposed?  

"The more I experiment with the Chinese Boutique Brands the more I am convinced that in this day & age you do NOT have to settle for an unbalanced system.$500.00 Tube Integrated amps that outperform $10,000.00 amps from 5 years ago!$100.00 DACS that,in a blind listening test, stand toe to toe with anything under $2000.00."


It could be that you don't hear differences in better DACs because you're playing them through $500 Chinese amps.

I thought the same as you not all that long ago.

Experience,lets see.43 years of going to live concerts in some of the worlds best concert halls(life in the Army does have some perks).15 years installing custom home entertainment systems,30 years following all the audio rags & many THOUSANDS of hours visiting every audio shop within bus travel of whatever base I was stationed at.I miss Julian Hirsch.
You are most definitely qualified.
Freediver-You never mentioned that $500 giant killer tube amp? Let me guess it’s manufactured by Imagine Audio?
Especially with that Julian Hirsch comment.
Every guy I know with extensive army history has significant hearing losses due to all of the "Boom!" that comes along with the job.  Live concerts and a mediocre stereo system may indeed be indistinguishable in that case...
I have neutral speakers, and from movies, to R&R to jazz and world music, the comment I hear the most are "Wow, these speakers can play everything!"  And they do.  THey don't sound like any particular brand.

After tonal neutrality, lack of compression and distortion, controlled dispersion, and finally low energy storage in the mid/treble units. :)

Best,


Erik
Well Ivan, if I could afford financial ruin, I would go for door '3'. Since this is not possible for me I take door '2'. I believe this would provide the most satisfaction across recordings.

I also have 3 systems, at different price points, all far from door'3',  believe them all to have passed through door '2', and enjoy them equally as used for their purposes (best=dedicated room music sessions, next=outdoor back deck music sessions, last=living room video enhancement, background music).
I believe that if one is looking down the ultimate road regarding where one ends up at the end and the associated costs, then most wouldn't even start the trip.
I opt for door #3, but, with the understanding that it is a journey.  If the goal is about accurate sound reproduction, or as accurate as one can get, then the journey is also based on real-world financial expectations.
You get the best that you can afford and if you received the correct/accurate advice along the way, you understand that you will be upgrading many times in order to get "there".
So, you do the best you can at first.  Find something isn't quite right and begin the long upgrade path.  One is never "there", but there is diminishing returns after awhile.  Also a point where to get to the next real level would cost a ridiculous amount of money that may not be worth it to you.
When you get "there", can you live with what you have?  If yes, then there you are.  After so many years of getting "there", take a step back and add up the costs all along the way.  It would probably be really high. to the extent that If you were just starting out on this path, and knew the costs, you probably wouldn't even start out.

But, the real question is what makes one happy? For me, it is the satisfying volunteer coaching I've been doing since the early 1990's, music, art, good friends and family, being able to work hard and take care of my family and put my kids through college, vacations (I love this) and coming home, turning on the system, getting a good glass of wine, a good book, company and listening to music.
It's taken a long time to get to where I am music wise.  I'll never be completely there, but I'm good with what I have and where I am.
So, door # 3 for me, but with the understanding that it is/was a long term/long time goal.

enjoy
Thanks for your responses. Just now catching up to them. I'd answer in more detail right now, but I seriously think my boss is trying to see if they can kill us with overtime right now, lol....10hrs/day for the last 10 days straight...first opportunity for a day off may come up Friday - I may have to wait til then, but I will get back. Thanks again for all the replies,

John
Without going into the gory details, I spent a TON on this hobby, trying to achieve a system that was truly outstanding in all parameters. But, over time, it became increasingly clear to me that "outstanding" is a relative term. What may be outstanding and superior reproduction to me might not be to others, but for a long time, I wanted to shock and amaze with my system, and I became disillusioned when others didn't necessarily feel the same way I did about my rig.

Now I'm with you. I seek balance rather than fireworks (and internal satisfaction rather than externally derived satisfaction). Sure, fireworks are nice, and they tend to draw the attention of the ear more quickly than does a balanced system, but for me, at my age and after the experiences I've been through, I'm willing to forgo the WOW (all caps, knock you between the eyes) for the wow (lowercase and less obvious, but still impressive if one listens carefully). 

I've lived with my current system for several years now, and have zero plans to make any major changes. It's a thoughtfully assembled, high-performing rig that, while it may not scale Olympian heights in any one parameter, gets the overall WHOLE right. That's most important to me at this point in my audiophile journey.

@ mesch:

I myself am of the opinion that maybe if I were in any other life than this one, I would be going through door #3 myself...but, I'd say door #2 is turning out to be pretty cool...perhaps unexpectedly so, from where I started out.

@ minorl: 

I believe that if one is looking down the ultimate road regarding where one
ends up at the end and the associated costs, then most wouldn't even start the trip.
I opt for door #3, but, with the understanding that it is a journey. If the goal is about accurate sound reproduction, or as accurate as one can get, then the journey is also based on real-world financial expectations.
You get the best that you can afford and if you received the correct/accurate advice along the way, you understand that you will be upgrading many times in order to get "there".
So, you do the best you can at first. Find something isn't quite right and begin the long upgrade path. One is never "there", but there is diminishing returns after awhile. Also a point where to get to the next real level would cost a ridiculous amount of money that may not be worth it to you.
When you get "there", can you live with what you have? If yes, then there you are. After so many years of getting "there", take a step back and add up the costs all along the way. It would probably be really high. to the extent that If you were just starting out on this path, and knew the costs, you probably wouldn't even start out.
Hey, I feel like I could've written every word of that myself! Couldn't agree more, really. Even though trying to mandate an exit strategy on myself to put a cap on it has forced me to choose carefully as possible, I originally thought I might be able to get away with something comfortably south of 10 grand, but it has turned out to be more like 16. And you may well be right, perhaps if I'd known from the beginning...! 

@ lynott:

I can recall reading, from time to time, at Agon about those who'd actually downscaled their rigs for one reason or another and, often contrary to their expectations, found that their levels of satisfaction in their system's overall performance had actually increased. I was looking from the start to avoid that problem of 'overbuying' if I could at all help it...(this was mainly because of a chance discovery of mine of a power solution that was turning the light on for me as to what was possible for me to achieve with lower-priced gear). But, the description of your system sounds like my kind of listening! Good to know that after all you went through, you've reached a zen with your sound. That is indeed what I'm shoot for.

Again, thanks to everyone for their responses!

Regards, John
I'd say we can all appreciate how long it can sometimes take to consider a system truly finished.


What do you mean 'finished'...?


Maybe mine is unusual in that IS completed


What do you mean 'completed'...?
Only that the hierarchy of components is in place and will not need to be changed and that no more component substitutions or additions need to be made. For me I think my wiring is complete with what I have as well. Tweaking here or there may continue for a while longer, but is nothing either major in effect or cost (as in approaching the cost of a component).

"Finished" is in the eye of the beholder to me, but once you’re there, you tend to know it. It may be a little easier for me in that I’ve put together mine in the form of a ’preamp-less’, active tri-amped system: CDP>distribution amp>3 power amps>standmount speakers + passive subs. If I wanted to think about bumping up to the next level (which I don’t foresee) I would have to basically undo my multi-amping and basically start over from scratch and upgrade from there, which would be a major expense. I may eventually add a DAC I have my eye on in a couple years, or not...even if I never did, I know I could actually be happy with what I have now for a very long time.