Warning: personal experience and long/possibly boring narrative ahead. Proceed at your own risk
I'll start by saying that I like to think of myself as an audiophile, but I am certainly not one.
I've been coming to these forums for a few years, mostly lurking. My desire for better audio started in 2007 or so. It began with the frustration that my music didn't sound any better no matter what $10 ear bud from Target I used. My brother then spent $100 on some fantastic amazing superb bose triports (haha), which actually piqued my interest in higher audio. I was on slickdeals when I saw a deal for some sennheiser cx300, which I picked up to start my hi-fi interest. I then found head-fi, upgraded to some PL30s, got some ADDIEMs, and then splurged on a deal for TF10s. I decided to call it good there with my new top-tier IEMs (aside from picking up budget meelec M9s), not expecting much improvement in further investment. Cut to the present day, I have now become interested in a pair of cans, and bought some UR40s (KSC75 drivers) to hold me over.
Now comes the sad part. Lately I have come to realize that after this collecting, I'm really not rediscovering my music like I heard others and thought I would. The TF10s do everything nice and I notice the better soundstage, but I really don't see a vast improvement in audio quality as I should from everyone on these forums. I picked up some high quality chesky albums, and noticed the quality in the recordings, but don't quite grasp concepts such as visceral impact, transparency, rhythm and the likes. I understand what they are and what I should be listening for, but I can't seem to actually notice the sonic qualities. It's really quite sad. I compared the high quality recordings in my UR40 and the TF10s, and I definitely hear the different sound signatures, but I don't seem to hear the improved quality of the TF10s, just a bit better soundstage and more open feeling. The same is about true for the Meelec m9s.
So then I thought to test the differences in quality of recordings. I took some fairly complex flac recordings and converted them down to MP3 quality at varying bitrates. I tried 320 and 128kbps. I did some abx testing with the flac, and was shocked at my results. Not only could I not notice differences with 320kbps on my TF10s, I didn't notice any palpable differences between the 128kbps and the flac. Only when I went down to 80kbps did I notice the differences.
Now on this test here http://www.klippel.de/listeningtest/lt/, I was able to get down to -30db on the a/b comparison (it felt like I was guessing a lot of the time). So it seems like I should at least be able to notice some differences. When it comes to it though, I don't notice the sonic differences that everyone on these forums seems to find easy. I can hear both extreme high and low frequencies fairly well, so I don't think my hearing is bad. I've just lately become discouraged by my apparent lack of ability to see the nuances finer points of high quality audio. I read reviews mentioning "clear highs" and "smooth mids" and I understand the ideas behind it, but I don't understand the translation into audio for my ears.
So now I was interested in getting a external DAC for my laptop, but I don't want to spend more money (I'm a college student haha) to not notice a difference. (btw, my other source is an ipod nano 3g)
So I guess my question is, am I alone in this experience? Has anybody else gone through this? And is there any way out of it for me? Or should I just give up on hi-fi and settle with my above average audio equipment?
Thanks for spending the time to read my wall of text! And also thanks for any input!