My dad is a bit of an audiophile, and I love music, so I was already predisposed. My first set of speakers was a pair of old junk Fishers I got at a yard sale for five bucks. They were missing the tweeters. I remember thinking that hole was so you could upgrade them with extra speakers if you wanted to. How far I've come.
I began to really get in to it when I was about 16, had a bunch of old junk thrown together, didn't sound very pretty but it was loud and impressed all my highschool friends. My first piece of "nice" equipment was a lightly used Yamaha Natural Sound HTR reciever. Over the years I've slowly upgraded and expanded. I still have that reciever, sitting about half way up my rack, but it's only purpose in life is to act as a crossover for my subwoofers. I have an NAD CD player that my dad bought a few months after I was born, he gave it to me because it was just about at the end of its rope. Wouldn't play a single CD without skipping at least a little. I took it apart, one last time, cleaned the lens and greased all the moving parts. Works like magic, but I know it won't last too much longer. It was the first digital source that my ears really fell in love with.
I have an heirloom turntable, bult by my father when he was just 19, out of an old sony hi-fi player and finished with hardwood and green marble. Elegantly shining off to the side of the platter on top of that dark polished stone is a near mint condition Grace 707 tonearm with an F9E at the tip. The sound is wonderful, at least to my ears.
For the longest time I had difficulty trying to tune my system. I've read every tutorial and experts' offerings of wisdom, but never could hear any. real. significant. difference. I thought maybe my ears just weren't developed enough, and I really tried, to sit, and listen and train them.
First came the Onkyo Grand Integra P-308, a hand-me-down freebie from an acoustic engineer friend of the family. It came with the matching M-508 amplifier, but my dad wanted to use that for his homebuilt 1 ohm ribbon speakers in place of his old Accustat (?). The preamp was a nice little change, music sounded a little bit clearer, a little... "nicer". But nothing big.
Just a month or so ago I decided to purchase my first pair of nice, new speakers. After many reviews and much dispare that I don't live anywhere close to a hi-fi place where I could listen to anything, and then many more reviews, I decided on a pair of Energy RC-10's. What a difference over my old rebuilt Infinity RS2001's! I'm only about 60 hours in to the break in, but they started sounding amazing the moment they came out of the box, and have only gotten a little sweeter.
I started to notice more detail in voices and instruments were better defined, not to mention that dynamics and overall volume handling was significantly improved. They fill the room very effectively with sound, whereas all my old speakers have simply been a source of noise.
Tonight I stopped by my dad's to gather some components for a speaker project. "By the way," he said while I was cramming loose drivers in to an old backpack, "I don't think I'm gonna use that Onkyo amp. You can have it if you want." A matching Grand Integra setup? I'd be a fool not to! After lugging the 56 pound box up the stairs, I eagerly ripped my twin Dayton APA150s (originally purchased to run subwoofers) off of their respective channels and shoved the big amp in their place and wired it up. I cannot even explain what I heard.
It was like an entirely new system. Dynamics were effortless! I heard real silence in music, only a microsecond before the blast of a trumpet, the healthy pluck of a bass, a guitar strum, and a vocal wail all in the same room, and I could pinpoint them all with greater accuracy than ever before! Low notes shine like dark gold, like polished amber in the firelight, being driven with authority as if the amp weren't even trying. Highs are sweet, silky, smooth, and have incredible presence. Vocals are rich and easy to listen to, and the sense of rythm and timing are flowing and precise. The sound is... elegant. Classy. Never have I really understood what a real, proper soundstage should sound like, but now even out of my sweet spot, vocals are nearly three-dimensional! I could go on and on about the sound, but you guys know what I mean! :D
I'm nearly 23 years old now, and as I sit here tonight writing this, just a couple feet forward of my sweet spot, while my favorite copy of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon (original mastering, 24bit/192khz wave file) I know I finally have hit that point, where I have a setup I am proud of, that I can sit and listen to without every few minutes frowning and getting up to adjust something. I finally have a basis for what to really listen to when tuning a system, and tomorrow I'm gonna go crazy moving my speakers around until she sings reeeeaaaal pretty. And I finally can say (admit) that I'm hooked on this drug, this occupation of time and endless spending habit. I am an audiophile.