Just for grins I pulled out a 30 year old preamplifier from PS Audio and gave it a listen. I was stunned at just how good it sounded.
At first I was depressed because it immediately said to me that we can't have made much progress over the last three decades. But then it occurred to me that in point of fact, if it sounded good then it should still sound good today. Why? Because the definition of "good" sound is the same today as it was back then: getting close to the original recording.
I think we tend to exaggerate how far we've come (to getting closer to the truth of the recording) because when we hear an improvement, especially one big enough to motivate us to exchange models, we are somewhat awestruck by the new experience. In fact, our progress is probably measured in inches, not giant leaps as we would like to believe.
The first time we experience something new, it's always going to be a bit overblown. For me, this is half the fun of it. I want to hear something new, deeper into the music, closer to the real deal. Gimme more!
I guess I just shouldn't be surprised when, in hindsight, the change isn't as big as I remember.
We'll probably never get as close as we'd like, but it sure is fun trying.