I mentioned earlier that the more you listen to high end equipment the more you learn to hear. As in astronomy, the more time you spend looking through a telescope, the more you are able to see. It's a learned skill & the same is true in audio. It's evident when you have one person listening to a stereo at a loud level & enjoying the immersion into the music & another comes by & just hears very loud music. The one enjoying the music doesn't think it is loud at all. People "listen" differently. Inexperienced or uninitiated listeners often don't perceive things like soundstage & imaging until these things are pointed out to them. Then they learn to listen with different ears & start to hear subtleties in the music that were beyond their ability to perceive previously. For the most part, we are not comparing equipment that sounds like "crap" to a wire with gain. Most of the moderately priced equipment available sounds decent at least & can be very entertaining within it's limited abilities. It's when you become accustomed to large doses of high quality music reproduction that you become hopelessly addicted to the pursuit of just-that-little-bit-more improvement. Learning to "hear" what a fine stereo has to offer is what it's all about & it's not just about the components that you choose.
+1 and btw, kev I was in complete agreement with you when it comes to driving, going to meet, stores(if available) to listen/check things out/talk to people who's been there and done that. This saved me a lot of $ when I was heavily involved in pro-audio. Sometimes, I even went to gigs to listen and audition speakers/amps...Making an effort is the key and it's very rewarding. If one can't or has no access at all to all the things mentioned, then well, internet's forums and amazon I guess.