Originally Posted by marcoarment
It's easy to believe that there's always a higher peak — there's always another upgrade to lust after, and possibly save up for and actually buy. That first time you listen to something new is always (or, at least, usually) such a memorable, significant experience that it's tempting to recreate it. But, of course, you can never match the feeling of hearing [equipment X] for the first time.
Once you're accustomed to amazing quality, it becomes normal to you. That doesn't mean you stop caring about quality — it just means that you've succeeded in reaching or approximating "the best", whatever that means for you.
After that point, it's easy to look around and think, "What else can I upgrade? What's the next level? I just spent $1000 on headphones, so this $200 amp must be insufficient. A more advanced DAC was just released, so I'm not hearing the best quality that I could be hearing. There are $400 cables out there — surely there must be a noticeable difference over my $5 set. And I'm still using this inferior stock power cable, plugged into a consumer-grade, unfiltered surge strip!"
Someone will always be happy to sell you another upgrade, and you'll always find people who tell you they got it and heard a huge difference. But most of that is placebo, and the few upgrades with real benefits might be measurable but not necessarily noticeable.
Once you reach the point in your setup where you're struggling to hear the difference with an upgrade, there's no shame — and plenty of sensibility — in pausing the upgrade train (I won't say stopping — let's be honest with ourselves) until there's something better out there that you'll actually get a major, noticeable benefit from.
A sequel to your favorite headphones? Worth investigating.
An entirely new kind of headphone, or a new generation of old tech, that has the community raving? Worth investigating.
Everything else? Rarely worth the time or money.
I've seen so many people get a nice midrange set of $300–500 headphones — say, the HD 650 or DT-880 — and then spend $2000 over the next couple of years on higher-end supporting equipment than they (or anyone) can really distinguish, while they could have instead just spent the same (or less!) on, say, an HD 800 and an Asgard 2, fed from a Mac or iPhone's built-in (and surprisingly good) DAC. Few people, even around here, could honestly say that the midrange headphones with the fancier amp and DAC would sound better overall than the flagship headphone setup with the "value" amp at a similar total price.
Recognizing this doesn't mean you're losing interest — it means you're realizing what matters to you, and what doesn't.
Hi Marco. It is cool to see you on Head-Fi, as another person who crosses between the Apple universe and the headphone one.
I'm going to write something or make a video about "huge differences" -- I spent years pondering it, but after an experience with noise, unrelated to music, I realised what was going on. Short answer: We tend to over-sensitise ourselves to small differences and the higher we experience, the more aware we become of things that we wouldn't have noticed when we started.
An example from another industry: Have you ever watched the Lion King? A friend of mine drew some of it. But in doing so, animation is now ruined for her. She can watch any Disney animation of that era and tell you, scene-by-scene who drew it, even if she wasn't involved directly. She is aware of a whole level of subtlety in the animation that we just aren't.
Back to Head-Fi -- I feel that portable technology has definitely evolved considerably over the last few years. When I first went looking for IEMs to use in a portable rig, EVERYTHING I tried was awful, even IEMs costing $500 or more. Now there are IEMs for <$100 that sound great. The latest $1k CIEMs from some companies now no longer have what I call the "IEM sound" where the treble sounds unnatural. In DAPs too, nobody took the AK240 seriously until they tried it. The first thought I had when I tried it HD-800s was "Bull****! This can't be possible." But that was with binaural tracks. I sure as heck wouldn't have bought one if I was still listening to Van Halen (the recordings of whom are quite poor, even now) as I was doing 10 years ago.
Likewise full-sized headphones. When I started, other than the discontinued Sony R10, Grado HP1000 and Stax models, the top-of-the-line dynamic headphone was the Ultrasone Edition 9 for $1500 (now sold, without the fancy metal bits, as the Signature Pro if you want to ever compare). The planars available are, IMO (and if you like the tone of them) along with the HD-800s, so far ahead it isn't funny.
I think, most importantly, to not lose interest, one has to not lose interest in music. When I started, I never listened to jazz, but now I do a lot of the time. A lot of classical I would have ignored if I hadn't experienced both excellent recordings and excellent reproduction. That is why I have taken a strong interest in digital audio, to the point I sometimes feel it has gone backwards in the pursuit of high-res numbers and that is a point I often started losing interest until more recently, when some manufacturers have stopped the brand-name-chip-in-a-box designs to develop far better solutions that can reproduce the sound of instruments in a way that doesn't sound so artificial.
I am totally with anyone who says about their basic system "This is all I need." In reality, there is no such thing as "need" in this hobby (except when it comes to absolute technicalities) as we are here for enjoyment. Right now what I enjoy most about the hobby is going to meets and meeting people. I don't see myself ever losing interest in that.