What's the Goal of a High Performance System?

I have a question for the community. What is your goal building a high performance stereo system? What are you ultimately trying to achieve? Why not just use a system from Best Buy? Obviously you want better sound but elaborate on that. What do you mean by better sound? How is the sound better than a cheap system? When you sit down and listen what to you expect to hear? What’s the point of our hobby?

I’m asking this questions because everyone I know thinks I’m crazy for spending so much on audio. I built a $36,000 system with Mcintosh and PS Audio electronics and $12,000 KEF speakers. When regular people listen to my system they all react the same way: it don’t sound no different than anything else. Boy did you waste your money. This frustrates me.

Today, just for kicks, I compared my system to a cheaper system I own built with Best Buy components that add up to under $1,000. Honestly, I don’t hear much of a difference. I mean, yes, my expensive system sounds better but it’s not THAT much better. I think the cheap system sounds fine too.

So this has me asking myself, what’s the point of this hobby? What am I trying to accomplish? For me I want to bring the sound of a live performance into my home. I feel my system does this. Nonetheless, why does no one else hear the difference…why do even I sometimes not hear the difference like today? Did I waste my money?

I’m trying to get perspective on the point of this hobby. Why do we spend so much money on our systems? Is it really worth it or does a cheap system sound good enough? Are we paying a fortune for only incremental improvements? I kinda feel that way after comparing my two systems today. Please help me understand. Tell me your story. Give me your point of view.


I had a modest office system, each time I upgraded it people would comment. On the other hand tho people could easily hear a difference, they would choose to spend their money on other hobbies which is fine as far as I’m concerned.

It’s very easy when upgrading your system to get trapped into a system that just doesn’t draw you into the music. Many times a change isn’t necessarily a good change even if it lets you hear things you never heard before. Switching a cable with itself will also let you hear things you’ve never heard before - that’s just the way our ear/brain works. Tipping up the top lets you hear new stuff too, but it gets tiring pretty quickly. I always live with a potential upgrade for a week or two and 1) if you find you aren’t using the system as much or 2) when you switch back to the original equipment it feels like home I pass on the “upgrade”.

I also found that joining an audio club is a good way to get exposed to a variety of systems and perhaps find things that you might not have thought about that can help with your system. There are also often friendly people with good experience.

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I know the feeling as often times when trying to explain my system I am met with similar skepticism. That being said, when I demo my system to those very people, the result is quite opposite. Aside from picking their jaws up off the floor, words like “Wow!,” “Holy $hit!,” “Damn!,” etc. are uttered.

I don’t know your system and $36K is not cheap, but it is also on what I would consider the lower end of the spectrum - depending on how many components you have of course. Regardless, price isn’t everything when it comes to sound quality. It could be your components are sublime individually, but just don’t gel when connected. So much of our results depends on component synergy. It is frustrating because if you spend $36K on a system, it should leave a Best Buy purchased system in the dust! It makes me think something is awry in your listening room.

My suggestion is stay the course. This hobby has merit and there are countless people on this forum and other forums that are in audio nirvana and my guess is the path to that destination was not easy, quick, cheap, or free of frustration. Don’t get discouraged. If you have audiophile friends in the area, invite them over for a listen and audio geek-out session. And, travel to their homes for the same.

Lastly, don’t get caught up on what you spent and don’t feel as though you need to swap anything out until you have systematically analyzed every piece of your gear for overall compatibility.

Lastly, whatever you do… DO NOT forget one of the most important “components” which is your room acoustics. Invest a couple hundred bucks on a USB microphone and software to take some measurements. Send them off so someone who can interpret them and offer advice.


Yeah, some of us are never satisfied it seems. I keep chasing incremental improvements because after a certain point that’s all there is…and I want them! Within whatever your budget is , and mine isn’t huge…but if I can afford a $500 cable or tweak that will make a positive change I’m going for it. Recently I’ve decided I’m not chasing at the component level anymore…well maybe later speakers, but the last couple thousand I’ve spent has been on room treatments and power cords trying to coax that last 5-10% out of what I’ve got…

Music. Music is the goal - presented as realistically as possible.


Ted, you nailed it. We want to be drawn into the music. As audiophiles, I believe we all have experienced a musical event/events that were emotional and transformative. I want to get as close as possible to re-creating that original experience or enjoying new similar experiences. I’ve listened to systems that convey a ton of clean precise information but were clinical and cold, devoid of emotion. I know my quest is to experience goosebump moments, and those only happen when there is an emotional connection.

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If someone said that about my $13k system (which is a far cry from your $36k system), I would promptly escort them right out the front door and never invite them back.


I have to agree with the coffee man. The most common comment I get is along the lines of “wow, I didn’t know you could get something in your home like this -it sounds like she is singing right here in your room”.

I think there is something fundamentally wrong with you setup or your room.

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I wouldn’t worry if friends can’t hear the difference. I would if you can’t. In the realm of the sensory evaluation, receptivity (both biological and learned) is a critical factor. The ability to recognize differences and to value these differences both aesthetically and monetarily varies a lot between people.

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The goal is to impress the girls - That’s why I have such a lovely wife


Hi Roy,
Do you have a photo or two that you can share with us so we can see your room and equipment?
Also I find that there are two camps of music listeners. Ones that listen in the background and can play music on their speaker phone or Bluetooth speaker and be totally satisfied with the music. Then the avid music listener that has attention to their music, takes care of their collection, attends concerts and sometimes even plays an instrument. So in other words some put more weight into music reproduction than others in their lives.

As far as how your cheap system sounds compared to your high end system, yes it’s definitely law of diminishing returns but your $36k system should handily trounce your cheap one. I have 4 separate systems and each have their own merit and each have different strengths and weaknesses and price.

I think it’s all about being drawn into a recreation of the original performance. -At least for me.

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Most people think a compressed MP3 sounds as good as an audiophile pressing. If you’re an audiophile or audio enthusiast, you listen to a lot of music and will recognize the emotional joy your system brings you. Anything that improves that experience is money well spent. My recent hobby expenditures have been in the headphone and headphone amp arena. A couple new headphone amps, three new sets of cans/cables, and some extra tubes. I’m having a great experience with the headphones, but YMMV. This is a hobby most of us don’t share with neighbors/friends - they just don’t get it…but you know what makes you happy…Enjoy the music :sunglasses:.

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I lose my way a few times a year and realize I’m not listening to entire albums or discussing music with friends yet spending too much time intellectualizing equipment and software.

I tend to house sit 3-4 times a year in a home that has an unremarkable system (Denon AVR, Andrew Jones Pioneer bookshelf speakers and an ancient Polk sub) but a remarkable room. During these times, I stream Spotify or Google Play Music and just become immersed in album listening. This happens because the system is completely out of my control, leaving only music. So great!


My first and primary love with this hobby is music. I’m passionately involved with music.

My interest in audio gear is to put together the means to serve the end of hearing everything there is to hear in each recording so as to realize, to the greatest degree possible, the intentions of the musicians and sound engineers. I’ve found that my appreciation for the music and musicians deepens as I learn ever more about, and apply, the things that enhance playback of my recordings.


I’ll put it quite simply. To me there are 2 major tests that make the whole difference: the toe-tapping test (when you find yourself doing it whereas not the case with the previous setup), and the remote-squeezing test (the emotions you get from the new system now have you squeezing your remote control intensely as you live the experience). When this happens I know I am on the right track.

Unfortunately for me it’s got bad, really bad. I don’t have the $$$ means, started out with a modest B&W Zeppelin and now got a system my family and friends are not particularly happy about -I’d say in the vicinity of your 36k also. It’s got so bad that I upgraded from a flat to a larger house ONLY to have my dedicated, and treated, room but I now sleep on the couch.

Not sure that is a bad thing though!


I just worked myself thru this wonderful question and the epic replies given. The PS Audio community is an interesting bunch I must say. :man_teacher:

Can anyone of you imagine spending that much money on stamps, sculpture, paintings or whatnot. Audio equipment at least gives you permanent pleasure and satisfaction by means of listening and watching meters, tubes and/or lights. Same goes for automobiles, airplanes and other (mostly male) toys…

Everytime I hit the play button on par example the new James Blake album I feel like I am in another world where there is only pleasure, fun and happiness. If I close my eyes I can see stuff that I can’t see any other time unless I have a bottle of Jack Daniels.

The same goes for the times I enter the Autobahn and floor the pedal. That feeling of being pushed in the seat, the smell of leather… It’s orgasmic to say the least.

I know one thing for sure: When my two 250’s arrive I am gonna put them backward so I can watch the tubes… Hahaha, y’all have a great sunday…!


Wow…! Bravo Roy…!

With me it’s the music. Always the music. The equipment is a means to an end. With the right equipment the more musically engaging the performance. And, this can be achieved usually more easily without spending massive fortunes on equipment, if attention is paid to the combinations of equipment chosen.

I need to engage with the music I’m playing to the point I sit transfixed, mere HiFi traits leave me cold. I do the very same as Ted, I will listen to a new whatever and I won’t swap back & forth and then after a few days if I don’t experience greater musical insight and impact from the whatever it maybe, then it isn’t for me.

The DS was a classic example. I heard musicality right from the get-go, a paradigm shift, and I was sold straight-away on the DS. Cables tend to leave me cold for the most part, yes - they do impact on the performance of a system and can improve a system, but, I can get a level of musicality that floats my boat from well designed and sensibly priced wire without going full Brodric.
Ted nails it once again because that is exactly the way I hear and feel about cables for the most part.

The only equipment that would upset me if they were stolen and weren’t available to buy anymore would be my speakers. I’ve used as my main speakers Shahinian Diapason - Omni-directional for over 25 years - the rest of the equipment I’d adapt to something else …!

…A good system for me is one where the music moves me, music floating throughout the room - which can be fully appreciated at very low listening levels, where there is no loss of musical information or emotional impact…


Some audiophiles lust for the hunt, to constantly collect trophies and show it off to others. Some are nervous nellies and can never be satisfied, worried that something better is out there. Some are tinkerers and can’t leave well enough alone and are in it to experiment. These folks aren’t music lovers.

Some want to reproduce the original performance (whatever that means, from assembled studio work to live in arena sound). Some, perhaps the majority, just want to be entertained (to hear what they want to hear). These are music lovers.

Home audio reproduction is a crutch, to help create/recreate performances in our minds. The truly gifted of mind and ear need very little help, but the rest of us need all the help we can get. Only you can soul search to know why you’re here.

As said above seems that like most, you’ve over geared the available room that may not synergize well. We all have spending comfort levels. If your $36k invest has become uncomfortable it may be time for a self inflicted intervention.