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magma90210
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Newbie Philosophical (?) question -- Am I imagining this sounds better? or how not to go crazy

so i bought my first real nice stereo this year as a result of some great advice i got in this forum...cambridge 540p amp w/matching phono pre-amp...epos ELS 3 mini-monitors...Rega p1 turntable...used NAD CD player..got speaker stands and positioned them correctly in my study/record room.

So...basically...sounds great. So much better than what I was used to, listening to CDs through my surround sound DVD player in the living room or an old technics receiver/jbl speakers/technics turntable setup or iPod.

So I feel like I'm kind of getting addicted and I keep wanting to buy more stuff. Like I just replaced my cheap feeling felt mat on the rega P1 with a herbie's way awesome record mat II, which got great reviews online...

so I get it in the mail, and i'm sitting there taking it on and off, listening to miles davis, listening to a REALLY beat up copy of sgt. peppers, listening to the new spoon record, listening to a reissue of master of reality by sabbath..all different stuff trying to figure out if the "soundstaging" is better, if the bass is "tighter", if the "noise floor" is lowered, etc etc...and honestly i'm really NOT SURE if i can tell that much of a difference, sometimes I think i hear a great focus and better spacing of instruments in the stereo field, but is it just the placebo effect?

then of course, the rega comes with a pretty cheap cartridge, so I'm thinking "well maybe I need to get a new cartridge so i can hear the detail of the record mat"...or "maybe i should buy one of those rega glass platters, supposed to be better than the MDF one"..

but the funny thing is this ALL sounds 100 times better than before, but somehow now I'm not satisfied, like always thinking about how it could sound better or maybe if I got a better cartridge i wouldn't get that annoying pop that comes up on side 1 of the donald byrd record i just got...i don't know...

so basically long story longer, how do you guys know when new parts or tweaks are really helping or if it's just your imagination and how do you just learn to say it's good enough? i just want to enjoy listening to music and for the most part i AM, but still there's all these nagging doubts...

woah that was long, sorry in advance!

Elk
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Re: Newbie Philosophical (?) question -- Am I imagining this sou

A sad story, well expressed . . .

And welcome to the hobby!

I find that the trick is to put my emotionally energy into listening to and enjoying music. My intellectual energy I put into understanding the equipment and the characteristics of sound.

This way my emotional enjoyment is rarely disturbed by "thinking" about whether the system can be better.

While I know that my system can be better (all can be) I try not to worry about it.

I play with speaker positioning and other tweaking whenever the mood strikes. Often putting lots of effort into positioning is well rewarded.

No matter how good the sound is you will grow accustomed to it and the thrill you initially had is no longer there. Hopefully this will be replaced with long term enjoyment. You have some great stuff there to enjoy.

But recognize that better sound is like more horsepower. Both are addictive. Both are initially thrilling. Then you must have more.

But speed costs money. How fast do you want to go?

Buddha
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Re: Newbie Philosophical (?) question -- Am I imagining this sou

Ah, yes.

The Audiophile's Lament: "The enemy of good is better,"

You're a goner.

Welcome.

smejias
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Re: Newbie Philosophical (?) question -- Am I imagining this sou

I'm smiling.

Elk's advice is awesome. But I bet a lot of people would have a very difficult time separating their emotional energy from their intellectual energy.

I would say that the only way to answer your question is to try different things and listen. You might go through phases where you're listening to the gear more than you're listening to the music, phases when you're not having as much fun as you might, but it's just a process.

I went through that crap. It helped me learn more about what I like.

rvance
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Re: Newbie Philosophical (?) question -- Am I imagining this sou

Great comments, Stephen, Elk and Buddah!

The lie of the digital CD "revolution" was that perfection had been reached ("perfect sound forever") and no new development was necessary. In truth, the audio bug is a life-long journey of finding new discoveries in music and the equipment that delivers it. Enjoy the trip even if you never make the destination.

bobedaone
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Re: Newbie Philosophical (?) question -- Am I imagining this sou

It's so nice to see you're coming with us on The Trip; Kool-Aid's on the table.

Seriously, though, it's natural to want to improve things.

"Hey, I could tweak this and make it better. Wait: Would it be more beneficial to just replace the component entirely? If I upgrade component X, will component Y be revealing enough to make it worthwhile? Should I replace component Y first? Am I getting the best sound at this price point? Manufacturer Z just introduced a new product and the journalists are raving. Is it better than what I have? Oh, no! What if it's a lot better?! Then I'll feel let down by my system..."

We've been there. The key is to not let it get between you and the music.

rabpaul
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Re: Newbie Philosophical (?) question -- Am I imagining this sou


Quote:
how do you guys know when new parts or tweaks are really helping or if it's just your imagination and how do you just learn to say it's good enough? i just want to enjoy listening to music and for the most part i AM, but still there's all these nagging doubts...


Find your favourite piece of music (CD/LP) and play it at least once a month. This is something I have been doing for 20 years and I can assure you that you will know when something has changed for the better or worse. Somewhere along this path you will find you are spending more on buying music than on anything else. This means you are almost there.
My practice has been that I will "try something", usually a tweak, once every six months. My last "try something", IC dampers, brought about a significant change to how my system sounds. I will even say don't ever stop trying new things but do pace these attempts or you will lose sight of the wonderful music thats out there.

Elk
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Re: Newbie Philosophical (?) question -- Am I imagining this sou


Quote:
Elk's advice is awesome. But I bet a lot of people would have a very difficult time separating their emotional energy from their intellectual energy.


I'm a Gemini. We're good with mutually exclusive dichotomies.

smejias
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Re: Newbie Philosophical (?) question -- Am I imagining this sou


Quote:
I'm a Gemini. We're good with mutually exclusive dichotomies.

Virgo. We suck at that.

Buddha
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Re: Newbie Philosophical (?) question -- Am I imagining this sou


Quote:

Quote:
I'm a Gemini. We're good with mutually exclusive dichotomies.

Virgo. We suck at that.

Wow.

I'm a Virgo and all I can see is the continuum between dichotomies.

I guess my Virgo planet or star or something had a heaping helping of "it's all relative" on my birthday.

I mean, I like Clarice AND Hannibal.

What were we talking about?

Oh, yeah, systems.

One other thing I think I think is that on some days, how my system sounds to me is just as much about me as it is about what my system is doing.

Gotta watch that, or your eustachian tubes, last night's potato, or how your significant other is doing could cost you a lot of money for a new preamp!

Jan Vigne
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Re: Newbie Philosophical (?) question -- Am I imagining this sou

OK, fella, put down the magazines, drop your wallet, sit down and listen and no one will get hurt!

My separation of priorities has always been whether I'm after a better music system or a better hifi. If you chase the hifi around the block, it will change and morph into something new every time you open a magazine or even think about walking into an electronics shop. If you are waiting impatiently for the next month's TAS or some other magazine, you're chasing the hifi too much. There will always be something new and something that does what your current system doesn't or at least does it better than your system can manage. That's the message.

No offense to anyone at Stereophile but they are pushers. Their job is to make you want something you don't have. What do you suppose the audition is for that job? "Sell me this pencil"? How about, "Sell me this $50k speaker."

The audio industry is just like any other luxury goods industry, their objective is to provide you with something you don't have or need and to make you feel better about yourself by possessing something other people don't have or can't acquire. For God's sake don't get caught up in the quest for NOS vacuum tubes. How NOS power triodes are sold is a study in over the top consumerism run amok; long plate, grey plate, black plate, specific time periods of production and specific production plants. If you have the matched pair of black bottom Western Electric 300B tubes that were soldered by Betty with the long red hair on the second Thursday of the fifth month of her third pregnancy before she had a late lunch but after her early morning break ... Audio Nirvana! If you don't ... too bad for you. It will all be packaged up in a polished mahogany laminate box with an extra pair of white cotton gloves since you'll be saving these tubes for when you play only the very best one eyed Shaded Dog, first pressing of whoever's LP was manufactured in such and such a plant on such and such a day that you have searched for the last five years to find with the plant numbers etched on the Side One label by the inscrutable master of pressing plant purity ...

Well, you should get the idea. There will always be something you don't have that would make your life better. And then there will be something else.

There used to be a distinction between those who had a record collection worth more than their audio components and those who had the opposite. I don't hear much about that distinction now days. Probably because LP remasters can sell for $150.

You can buy that new component that allowed the reviewer to hear John Lee Hooker's booted foot slide over the unvarnished 3/4" birch ply just before his trimmed fingernails made contact with the brass wound strings of his National Steel guitar that needed the low "E" string replaced.

Or you can simply listen to Hooker.

You can listen to Hooker like the British did in the early 1960's through portable record players they carried from house to house. You can think about Clapton and Jagger getting hooked on Hooker despite the pops and snaps and low fidelity and having to flip that 78 every two and one half minutes. And you can follow the line of the music that leads you from here to there and when you get there leaves you breathless and makes you want to hear this man live and in person. Then you can spend your paycheck on a ticket that allows you to cram into the hall with several hundred other Hooker junkies to hear "Him". And you can leave breathless and reliving each stroke of his right hand and the pounding of his foot every time you put that beat up old LP back on the table. You can listen through the noise and the lack of lows and highs and you can conjure up emotions and thoughts you had long ago and hope to have again. You can search out some other recording you know you need to have because it's part of what you need to hear to understand John Lee Hooker. And when you get that record, you can't wait to hear it on whatever system you can afford and you'll call your friends over to hear it with you and to marvel not at the soundstaging but at the music making.

IMO Hooker's probably the best analogy to buying a music system. He seldom did more than one take and played as best as he could on each recording. He knew what he had to accomplish and set about doing it in the simplest way possible to achieve the best results possible. He collected his money and then he left the building. The music he made in 1949 is still as powerful as it was then if you listen to the music and not the hifi. You move your feet and follow his path. You wind up exhausted and exhilerated. You wonder what it was like to hear "Him" live. You wonder what it was like to play with "Him". And you want to find that one record that makes sense of Hooker. You hear "Serves You Right to Suffer" and "Decoration Day" and you understand Hooker. It doesn't take a great hifi to do that. Just a great listener. They don't sell lessons in how to listen to Hooker in any electronics shop because that doesn't change with every year's hifi show. Nobody's come up with Hooker mk.II.

Libra.

magma90210
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Re: Newbie Philosophical (?) question -- Am I imagining this sou

thanks for all the advice guys. well said stuff.

and i still don't know if this record mat makes any difference

but at least it doesn't stick to the records like the old one does, that's nice....

i'll try to settle down and just enjoy it..

dcstep
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Re: Newbie Philosophical (?) question -- Am I imagining this sou

A-B, B-A, A-A, etc. can all be stressful. You need to put the new mat on and listen for a while, listening to familiar music. Try to relax and enjoy the music. Write down your impressions. Switch back to the other mat and do the same thing. Over a week or so, do you notice anything?

You may or may not. I don't happen to know these two mats. If you're talking about something really subtle, then you may not hear it. Not all tweaks work.

In the early nineties I was trying to find proof that high-end CD players were superior to average players. I'd go into a high end shop and they'd say something like, "Listen to that, it's obviously superior". I tried several times and didn't buy. Finally an understanding dealer said "come in at close on Saturday and keep a PS Audio Lambda and DAC and see what you think." Well, I got two copies of the same CD and switched back and forth, back and forth for an hour or so, but I wasn't hearing a difference. So, I gave up, concluding that there was no difference.

Since I had the PS stuff for the rest of the weekend, I just sat back and listened. Believe it or not, I was listening to the Jennifer Warnes "Runaway Horse" on the Rob Wasserman CD (this was pre-Sumiko making it somewhat famous) and I started hearing the air around Wasserman's strings and more subtle resonances in Warne's voice, etc., etc. When I switched back to the average CD player I heard a glare and hardness. When I got in the car I heard the glare and hardness, yet when I came back to the PS, all was clear and clean.

My ear had finally picked up on the difference and it was now obvious and crystal clear to me. Once I heard it, it was easy to repeatedly hear it. Hearing it the first time took total relaxation and getting out of the "review mode." Over time, I've gotten better at hearing differences in an A-B situation, but you've got to remove the stress first and gain experience.

Welcome to the hobby. Sorry about your wallet.

Dave
Sagitarius

Elk
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Re: Newbie Philosophical (?) question -- Am I imagining this sou

Dave, great example of how we listen differently under different circumstances and how long term listening can reveal differences that A/B short term listening does not.

VinnieVeedivicki
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Re: Newbie Philosophical (?) question -- Am I imagining this sou

Great question. My answer is to stop building open ended upgradable piles of stuff. Took me 40 years to figure that one out. Instead build a really well matched SYSTEM. Then STOP. Enjoy!

Keeps me from wanting to run a new Audio Research Phono Preamp with an Ortofon OM10. (Multi thousand dollar phono section for a 60 dollar cartridge...)

Works for me. Four years ago I embarked on a fifteen thousand dollar upgrade to move up to more of a class "B" system. I finished it last year and have had zero upgrade bugs for a whole year. With luck this should last until my next house. Then its Quads if they still make em dammit.

gkc
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Re: Newbie Philosophical (?) question -- Am I imagining this sou

Magma, you started a great thread. It is the only one that really matters, in terms of our hobby/obsession/life. "How do I know when to stop"?

Or, "How do I know when to double my spending, since my first upgrade yielded such splendid results?"

All of the replies to your questions are terrific. I like the ones that involve time. Yes, T-I-M-E. I am happy to read that your initial result got you closer to whatever you originally imagined. And, yes, imagination always works.

You hear music that is a "sound" that ought to come closer to the perfect sound. So you upgrade. And, there it is -- better (you MAY have no idea how tough that is to pull off...). Immediately. But not perfect. You now seek subtle improvements. Enter the audio whores. And the attendant hyperbole.

I agree with Buddha, Stephen, and the others who have chimed in, here. You just got a taste of what the cliche, "high end," really means.

All I can contribute is an echo. First, listen to your "match-up" ideal. Is it live music? Is it amped-up raunch in a pseudo-live setting? You mentioned the immortal Miles Davis, so I assume you yearn for something that came out live, in a studio or a concert setting.

So, keep your system as it is. Put time on your side. Seek out live jazz venues, and listen closely. Go back home and listen closely. Repeat as directed. There is no rush. Just try to identify what it is you hear live that you like (or don't like -- hey! this is the exception, but your listening experience is the ONLY one that counts...).

Then, just listen around. Go to the shows (if possible), and haunt the dealers. Do NOT pay for anything that doesn't get you closer to what your imagination originally dictated. If you listen enough, something will turn you on. THAT is when you upgrade. And, no sooner. No need to volunteer for the audio carousel. Just stay patient, and listen.

The only reason I am spending so much time blathering on about these problems is because you mentioned the magic word -- "imagination."

As long as you love music and can imagine how it "ought" to sound, all you need is patience.

Just don't get side-tracked.

Happy tunes. From the sound of things, you may never need to spend another dime on hardware again. Now, software? Whole 'nother topic.

JIMV
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Re: Newbie Philosophical (?) question -- Am I imagining this sou


Quote:
Dave, great example of how we listen differently under different circumstances and how long term listening can reveal differences that A/B short term listening does not.

My test is different, do I get lost in the book I am reading or do I put it down to listen to the music...I never put the book down with my modest home entertainment system but almost always do with my stereo system.

tom collins
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Re: Newbie Philosophical (?) question -- Am I imagining this sou

ah, the old book test. i was doing just that last night and put the new cisco pressing of Aja on the platter. i could not read much as something in the music would take my attention away. that is a good indicator of the quality of the source you are listening to. this is an easy test that anyone can do, even when it is unintended.

Tom

Elk
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Re: Newbie Philosophical (?) question -- Am I imagining this sou

A great real-world test.

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