The forever problem

June 27, 2019
 by Paul McGowan

It seems like we’ve been living with our reference system forever. The mighty Infinity IRSVs have dominated our lives, determined our sonic course, helped sort out performance standards for what seems like an eternity. Yet, forever has only been 6 years.

6 years ago, it seemed like we had lived with our Magneplanar reference system (including the Tympani 1 bass panels and Martin Logan Descent subs) forever.

2 weeks into my strict weight loss program and it seems like I’ve been doing this forever.

And so it goes.

Has your music system been there forever? Is it time to think about an upgrade?

When new things happen; when our settled in comfort levels have been disrupted; when our feathers have been ruffled, we work hard at getting back to forever.

Forever is comfortable, but it can get old.

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26 comments on “The forever problem”

  1. What is your definition of “new”? The big Infinity IRSV towers are some decades old and still your reference for the coming AN series claimed to deliver a similar sound for less weight, less size and less drivers? Where is the upgrade for the IRSV? If I could make an example with video: the first 3-D film I saw in NASA space center was something really new bringing new sensations. But the “upgrade” for tv screens from HD to UHD to 4K or 8k really is no improvement for the small monitor displays and viewing distance I use. Rather HDR is new and an improvement. Thus which technology is delivering a real innovation and sound improvement (not just a different sound) for audio? I really cannot hear a difference between 96 kHz and 192 kHz or DXD. “New” was an successful invention of the US car industry just making simple face lifts without any technical modifications for getting look the existing models “old”!

    1. We do tend to build ruts and then get comfortable in them. I lived with my AR3’s and a Dyna 70 until I replaced them with a DynAudio stand mount driven by a Hafler DH220. That combo was supplanted by a pair of Chane A5rx towers which was just replacd by a pair of Adante towers and a pair of Stellar m700’s.

      On the personal front I am in month 4 of drastic cutback of my beloved bourbon to shave off a few pounds, I had been working my way up in tonnage over the last few years. I hated to do it but if I want to keep listening to music . . .

  2. Given that you have a system which sounds pretty good to you, what motivates you to change it? Possibly hearing one which is better, and sows the seeds of dissatisfaction. Curiosity about what difference a new component would make. Boredom, and a desire to change for change’s sake. A belief in some audio nirvana. Perceived deficiencies. Change of circumstances.

    In my case I think it has been remedying weaknesses, but mainly curiosity about how a new and exciting piece of technology would sound.

  3. The sound mass of IRS V, together with the features that its design offers, can hardly be matched or improved by another system that does not have those characteristics.

  4. For 10 or more years I didn’t change a thing. The reason for changing then was the advent of streaming 10 years ago. Due to a refurbishment I changed speakers and now have a pair I could happily live with forever (and their owners rarely change), simplified the system to a server and all-in-one audio unit and have a turntable that I will never have to change. I can’t see any reason to change anything because from my perspective streaming has reached a practical end-point in terms of quality and practicality. I just select something on Roon from a phone or tablet, press play, it switches the system on and in a few seconds I have music. It’s not dissimilar to CD players, which by the early 1990s, 10 years after launch, had reached an end state in terms of processing and noise reduction. There are an increasing number of similar systems, like the new Naim unit, that are integrated with Alexa, but personally I’m not keen on voice-activation devices (although I dictate to my computer).
    My unit has a new streaming card with some future-proofing, including a lot of surplus processing capacity. As so much is software dependent these days, systems are becoming increasingly modular, upgrades being replacement of a card rater than the whole unit.
    The next thing I can see down the line is when domestic internet becomes wireless 5G. My mobile provider is already supplying 5G.

    1. Isn’t it most strange that today there are no significant audible improvements in digital audio while analog audio still offers exciting new technologies, see: an optical cartridge from DS Audio, Japan, a magnetic oil bearing for a tonearm from ViV Laboratory, magnetic platter bearings, improved direct drives for TTS, etc..There are even “new” improved designs for R2Rs!

      1. Analogue devices are primarily mechanical and there is probably no end of devices that people can thing of to part people from their money, although whether they provide any increase in performance is doubtful. It is clear that most people using turntables buy one and keep it long term. I doubt I have read a word about turntables in 5 or more years, however exciting any new technologies may be.

        My first streamer was a Linn Majik DS. It was released in 2009. It is still a very competent device. I upgraded to an Accurate DS in 2012, which is still the core of the current DSM model (M = multimedia added). I then had an Auralic Aries, sound much the same, but better software, hosted Qobuz and 25% of the price. So in my experience streaming was pretty good 10 years ago and the main development is that it can now be done a lot cheaper.

        I used network storage as I have a business server at home anyway, but it was only this year that I decided to invest in a music server on the basis that they had reached a development endpoint and offered an audio-optimised long term investment. There is clear audible improvement from multiple low noise power supplies and fibre cabling, but it is not that complicated and is cheap to implement.

        1. I couldn’t but mention the innovations in turntable technologies because I guess that the audiophilitis was born in this field of audio. My ELP LT laser turntable is a simple plug & play device too avoiding most mechanical and electromechanical problems of classic turntable designs.
          The storage of digital data on optical discs was a clever marketing approach. However data storage on HDDs or SSDs and buffering in RAMs is the most straightforward way!

  5. I love my system and can live with it forever. There’s been no big breakthroughs in Audio that merit me moving onto something else at the price point of my system. Only when there’s a significant breakthrough at my price point or my system breaks down and is too expensive to repair or I win the lottery will I consider something else. In fact there are some great systems going back to the 70’s that I could live with if I had to and I still own some of that gear that will kick the crap out of most mass market junk on the market today.

  6. I know there is something wrong with me. When I say “good enough” I mean good enough and have no desire to change for the sake of change. The only thing for me to compare my stereo to is marriage. I have agreed to be satisfied with one woman and I am. I can live forever with only my one stereo beause to be honest it is a fantastic, fabulous kick ass stereo which still thrills me like crazy when I turn it loose (like my wife). You may not like it but I didn’t put it together for anyone else but me.

    1. I hear you, FF. A lot of guys feel that same way about their motorcycles. There is a lot of “old iron” out there that looks like it just came off the showroom floor. Enjoy, and be grateful you are not addicted to consumption.

  7. A slightly different perspective on marriage for some of you is that when I was into bicycles I used to say that me alone naked with a 20 year old and she would kill me. The fact that I spent money on another bicycle she gets over.

  8. I don’t look at forever as a problem. My speakers are also decades old and still sound fantastic. However one of their faults is that they point out with great clarity the weaknesses or strengths of the electronics in front of them.

    What I’m hoping to find now is a Dac that excels at DSD (even at the expense of less than optimal PCM) at a reasonable price point.

    Once that’s done I can settle in with a complete forever system. At least for the next few years or so… 🙂

  9. Paul, you will have more luck sticking to the IRS than you will with your weight loss program. From my experience, severe calorie restriction only works for a few weeks and leads to a yo-yo reaction. A much better solution is based on removing excess carbs as part of a long term commitment to diet restructuring.

  10. Fortunately or unfortunately, nearly everything man made is not forever, be it clothes, cars, appliances, air conditioners, whatever. They get old and wear out. That guarantees that changes in these things, for better or worse, will occur even more frequently than we might like. Except for the expense of replacements, we generally like the changes due to improved function through new technologies and style refreshments. Our reference systems are constantly changing, some faster than others, whether we like it or not.

  11. Old joke; why is it you find something in the last place you looked for it?

    Eventually I had a specific sound in mind. It’s a sound I remembered quite well. Once I understood it I was on the path to try to duplicate it. Now that I have, there will be no changes. no replacements, no upgrades. Any supposed upgrade that changes the sound would be a downgrade. All alterations are within the range of controls built into the system. It’s been the way it is for 11 years and short of something failing and becoming unrepairable or irreplaceable with an exact duplicate it won’t ever change.

    Audiophiles seem to constantly be looking for something else, something better. IRS replaced Servostatic 1A static which replaced Servostatic 1. IRS went through upgrades up to IRS V. Genesis 1 replaced IRS V which was replaced by Genesis 1.2 Which was replaced by Genesis Dragon. Then came IRS killer now to be replaced by Paul’s IRS killer killer. What was wrong with these speakers? What didn’t they do sufficiently well that they needed replacement or improvement? What is the goal? The end game? Here’s a novel thought for people who experiment with designing and building ultimate high end audiophile equipment by building a better speaker, amplifier, DAC, or whatever. Start at the end with what you want to hear and work backwards by understanding it and designing and building equipment that is intended to achieve that goal. When I did that I found that things that had been done before had been more than good enough while other things were ignored entirely and without them, I’d never get what I wanted. You’re all focused on examining the trees when you should start by looking at the forest. A successfully engineered system is more than the sum of its parts. And don’t forget the recording and the listening room are also part of the system so you have to deal with those variables too.

  12. For me, “forever” can be measured in months, weeks, sometimes days when it pertains to this hobby. If one is deliberate, patient, fiscally responsible and imaginative, the new gear market is supported by such a robust second hand market that one can tinker, adjust, learn and nearly create whole new systems that become up to 70 or 80% self funded beyond the initial investment. One can play at a particular investment tier for quite a while and then partially fund a tier upgrade when that tier becomes boring and you feel like you have been listening to $5000 amps forever and now it is time for $10000 amps! However you do it, there are few hobbies that hold value, provide a near infinite combination of configurations to try and put so much power to modify, tinker and configure into the end users’ hands as this one does. Happy upgrading!

  13. Forget (fiddling with) hardware. My favorite music has been burned into my brain and will be with me “forever”. Some has been with me for close to 40 years (almost forever measured as fraction of my years on earth). Obviously, this is not a problem, and hardly means it is time for a music upgrade. Quite the opposite.

  14. My first audio system I bought when I was 19 and in college (Yamaha NS690 speakers and Yamaha 60 watt receiver). This system was in continuous use for 40 years starting in my fraternity room, my first apartment, two houses, until finally being moved to my workshop. I sold it two years ago to an overjoyed millennial for almost what I purchased it for.

    This year I sold my 30 year old Carver electronics and Klipsch Cornwall speakers for no financial loss after providing three decades of enjoyment. The speakers went to a very happy retired man who finally got the speakers he wanted, before he got married and had kids.

    Nothing is forever, but quality equipment that is well cared for lasts a long time.

    Currently I am in the market for an all new system to fill our home’s media room with music. Funds for the system are less of an issue than at any time in my life. And based on my habit of holding onto my equipment for three decades or more, this may be the last system I buy. Maybe that is why I am spending so much time researching what to get 😉

  15. If the audio system is very good and totally satisfying then why would one want to change it ? If one feels that the system could do with a little bit of this or a little bit of that then it’s an indication that things need improvement. Go ahead and change things. But if no such thought crosses one’s mind and in fact one is afraid to make a change lest the sound deteriorate in anyway then leave well enough alone. Length of time is irrelevant. Change for the sake of change can be a sign of insecurity. Having the best is not equivalent to having the most satisfying system.Regards.

  16. It’s stereo Jim, but not as we know it.
    I think one of the great motivators to audiophiles is the voyage into the unknown. We want to find out if there’s more and better sound to be discovered in the final aural frontier. Sure, upgradeitis can be engendered by peer pressure or audio magazines. But in my experience it’s seldom we’re motivated by a lack of enjoyment of the music. The big changes in my system are driven by “wow, this sounds great, how much better can it sound?”

    Not everyone wants to make hifi their hobby and that’s fine, I’m not a fan of jigsaws. But it’s a mistake to think audio tech lovers are not music lovers. What a sad life it would be to seek a great audio system if you don’t love music.

  17. I still have three out of my first four speaker pairs acquired from 1967-1975 but they are not connected. I mostly listen to my desktop system, a pair of Martin Logan Motion 2’s. They have no bass and limited dynamic range, but I only need them to edit my concert recordings while I am typing long winded answers on the internet. Because there is no compression or EQ in the close miked recordings, 1″ dome tweeters peak out. Ten years ago the MLs were far and away the smallest, cheapest model with AMT tweeters. As long as I can tell when the movements begin and end, hear any loud extraneous noises in the recording and the speakers don’t hurt my ears they are sufficient.

    I don’t really get stuck on the sound of my desktop because I only listen a few hours a week, while I normally hear a couple of acoustic concerts and six practice sessions in the same time. The sound of a piano is my forever. Although I have had six different pianos, they all sound a LOT more like each other than recordings of piano through speakers (except for my stage piano speakers).

    Acoustic pianos differ in dynamics, timbre, spatial projection and spectral balance but the sound is instantly recognizable as a piano in the house, even from upstairs and down the hall.

    1. Then, I believe you may benefit from a really good DAC (Stellar Gain Cell DAC) and some superior headphones, maybe? That is my desktop system.

  18. Does 40 years owning my Marantz Model 19 receiver and my Magnepan MG1s count as forever? Maaaaybee…

    In that 40 years, I have owned and enjoyed: an Audio Research SP1-a1 (which I wish I had kept) with an early VTL amp, a McIntosh MC-20 preamp with a pair of MC-30 mono amps (also, I wish I had kept), and a kit made Dynaco integrated amp*. And, a cornucopia of turntables and cd players and transports. And, I must not forget Henry Kloss’ remarkable large Advent speakers*; either as a pair or 4 stacked. The Maggies were schlepped over the country. I had many of pieces rebuild over time. The MG1s just got back from being rebuilt at the Magnepan factory in White Bear Lake, MN.

    My Maggies, now supplemented with two subs, ARE forever for me!

    Yet, after watching Paul’s humorous and educational videos and writings, I could not resist purchasing a Stellar Gain Cell DAC and Stellar S300 Amp. The Model 19 goes to my audio enthusiast daughter.

    My new house has a room with almost identical dimensions as Paul’s Music Room 1. My room is 9 ft high, 15 feet wide and 24 feet long, the ratio would be 1: 1.5: 2.4, not exactly ideal, but close enough.

    I had Helmholtz resonator installed into corners of the front of the room. I got the contractor to insulate the the inner walls throughout the house, extra insulation in the floor of my new music room, and to run a dedicated circuit, too. It’s all awaiting the new PS Audio Stellar system and, of course, the Maggies to be installed in my new forever listening room!

    If anyone is interested or has questions about the room’s build outs, let me know. I can post photos, etc.

    * I still have the Dynaco and a pair of Advents!

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