The plunge vs. the splash

March 21, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

When it comes to embracing change we’re typically afraid to take the plunge. But, why?

The story we sometimes tell ourselves is that we’re afraid of the splash, but I wonder if that’s true.

Could it be that we’re so afraid of upsetting the apples in the status quo cart that we lay blame on the outcome rather than the trigger?

While we can clearly see what the plunge looks like because it’s right in front of us, the same cannot be said about the future splash.

When we dream of a new pair of loudspeakers we imagine just how great our music system might be. But what if we’re wrong? Is it better not to take the plunge, nesting in the safety of what we know, or risk failure by taking a chance that it might work?

The best systems I have ever heard were crafted by people willing to step out on a limb where the sweetest fruits are found.

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47 comments on “The plunge vs. the splash”

  1. A “plunge” usually requires some sort of monetary outlay for any project or hobby, not just audio, & many audiophiles & audio enthusiasts in their Autumn years have greater financial priorities than spending thousands of dollars on slightly improving on what they have spent a lifetime crafting into a very fine audio set-up.
    For those with unlimited funds, project or hobby ‘plunging’ can be done at whim, however for the rest of us mere mortals the Law of Diminishing Returns is a very real consideration.
    If you can make a great improvement by spending a few hundred dollars then that’s a very good value plunge, however for those of us who have spent the last thirty years slowly & deliberately building our audio rigs into our own reference system, it’s gonna take thousands to make even a small improvement & the cost of living & maintaining a comfortable lifestyle as we age does slice more & more into most people’s pool of available funds.
    When Paul takes the plunge with an MR2 ‘IRSV/PS Audio’ reference system improvement, like adding AQ Dragon power cables & replacing the subs with twelve new ‘Dayton’ 12″ bass drivers & redesigned/reworked crossover, I’m pretty sure that it’s paid for by the business…maybe even partly a tax write-off.

    And sometimes the other side of the coin can be, “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you got till it’s gone.”
    So some will always err on the side of caution sighting, “If it ain’t broke then don’t fix it.”

    1. This law of diminishing return is the crucial point – based on individual hearing abilities of course. For more than 25 years I used to regularly visit the designer and manufacturer of my loudspeakers checking his new designs. And to my surprise the annual improvements in sound quality were always most significant while the new electronics (the only exception was a new preamp/power amp combo based on vacuum tubes) and DACs rarely showed any significant improvements. Rather there were specific speaker cables or power cables and power filters which made improvements. Thus I upgraded my loudspeakers in a three years rhythm until I finally found that it was impossible to get the same improvements in sound quality in my listening room as perceived in the designer’s demo room. Thus room acoustics and mains power supply went into focus instead of upgrading electronics or loudspeakers. And isn’t it revealing that a 3 k Benchmark Audio preamp is listed in Stereophile‘s A+ category in a row with megabuck triple chassis preamps?! Thus before going for a new loudspeaker check your listening room and ask the designer for basic setup requirements (minimum listening distance, listening room acoustics used for voicing, amp used for voicing, etc).

  2. I’m a member of FatRat’s Meremortals Club. I think he’s on to something there, because those with unlimited funds or a corporate expense account probably see audio-risk only from an audiophile rather than a financial perspective, so it is unlikely to be a choice between new hifi and a family holiday or a new car.

    I remember travelling in the mountains of Northern India 30+ years ago. Often newly cut roads, thin tarmac on gravel, no barriers or signs, and the road workers painted warnings in big white letters. “HURRY AND WORRY”, “LESS HASTE MORE SPEED”. Things like that. Good advice, because one mistake and you end up mangled at the bottom of a ravine. The risks in audio are more monetary. No one ever died from buying a DSD DAC.

    I’ve always been one for making quick, informed decisions, mainly because I find there should be a reason for doing something, then a process for achieving the objective, but if the process takes too long I forget what I was trying to achieve in the first place. A good time to stop. I see no need to take risk or go out on a limb, research is easy and I will arrange a dealer demo or home trial. I am budget-conscious and risk averse, but it didn’t stop me selling my CD player in 2009 for streaming, a simple decision based on it being the same data in a far more convenient format. I used to keep a pile of the CD booklets for reference, now no longer necessary.

  3. It is just natural behavior that manufacturers and dealers suggest to take the plunge more often than not. Once arrived at their offers, certainly rather by upgrading among them than going elsewhere.

    And it’s certainly true, that you can just improve if you act.

    A possible matter with funds set aside, it would be so easy to noticeably improve in case new equipment would be perfectly compatible among each other and towards the room acoustics and preference of the customer all the time. Unfortunately that’s not the case, not even when moving towards one manufacturer. It’s not the case because usually nothing in the whole chain is adjustable towards changes and room acoustics, except by slight positioning effects or cabling (which by all means usually shouldn’t be used as tone control but selected by other characteristics and qualities).

    So finally people fear the splash for good reason and by according experience of others or themselves. If manufacturers or dealers want to make customers more sure in changing equipment, it would need more than the pure suggestion to take the plunge more often, it would need more effort in making components compatible to various rooms, preferences and upcoming changes within the setup.

  4. Everybody would like to have a skunk works. Sometimes it’s not possible to offer people the opportunity and release time to work on projects different from the mainstream product but related to it. Once the boundary is crossed separating concept to preproduction prototype, the value, viability, and verve may result in bringing the product to manufacture, or not. That is not usually the purview of the creator(s).

    Sometimes the product is so different that it can’t fit in the mix. Sometimes the product fills an obvious hole or changes the direction of the company.

    Back in 1960s when the moving coil cartridges appeared, the most common way of coupling them was step-up transformers (there still strong transformer adherents today). These are as much impedance matching devices as anything else.

    One the engineers for one of the major audio companies came up with a design that used transistors, provided gain with a very low noise level, provided the MC cartridge with the load it needed, and connected to the 47k Ohm phono input, utilizing it’s RIAA or whatever EQ. It was powered by a 9 volt battery and had such low current drain that the battery could last a year. Problem was that the company had no solid-state products and this would not their first.

    The engineer was told that he was free to find buyer. He shopped it around the various audio shows and one of the transformer companies bought it from him and killed the product as soon as the ink was dry on the purchase contract.

    No one wanted to leap. Times have changed and there are all sorts of inboard and outboard devices.

  5. All of today’s comments make total sense so far. That fact alone is kind of unusual.

    Taking the plunge on electronics is relatively low risk once you decide what level you want to jump in at. This is especially true with PSA electronics and the 30 day in home trial. Taking the web order plunge on a new speaker design not so.

    I thought I was in the new speaker market years ago, and had great excitement and anticipation for the PSA newly developed speakers that were right around the corner. I was ready to plunge headfirst and was expecting a big splash. Obviously that hasn’t happened yet. In the mean time I started playing around and learning what I could about room acoustics, coupling that sound into the room, and the role equipment isolation plays. It’s taken a period of years, but little by little the 30+ year old hybrid planar ribbons now sound like a new speakers. – From soundstage to tonal balance. – Having an isolated room that has allowed that experimentation has helped. So even though the speaker plunge didn’t occur the splash did. I will say say I’m dipping my toes in concerning mains regeneration or conditioning and may plunge into the low risk electronic kiddie pool again.

    1. As has been well described, just as speakers are highly room dependent, I’ve found that the benefits of power treatment requires an understanding of your mains power supply quality and the demands and operation of your audio equipment. I’ve used regeneration, conditioning, uninterruptible power supplies, external and internal linear power supplies and small 9v power supplies (both low noise switch mode and pure battery power). I still use most of them, but if like me you don’t know much about electronics you do need help to understand if you may have a problem and what might be the solution for each component or group of components.

      1. Hello not to be confused Steven,

        My background in electronics is not at the design / engineer level, but if I have a schematic or enough time can usually figure out any issue I have. Since I I live in the northeast US in a rural setting, power can be iffy at best. I never paid much attention to the mains as I really don’t have any control over them. The class A brute amps I was using are now in the rebuild process, so I now have class D mono blocks. So in my mind taking into consideration a lot of things, like the way class D works, I wonder about regens and conditioning. As far as other power supplies go, linear or switching or pure DC, it depends on the application and of course the execution of the power supply design. Eventually In the end for me I’ll front the cash and find out for myself about the regen. If I notice enough of an improvement using a model that fits my budget then it will stay, if not back it goes.

        Sorry for the late reply. Weather so nice here today that a round of golf was called for. Everything still brown and no leaves on the trees yet. But it felt good to be out. Summer is coming, and vaccines hit my age group. So things are looking up and audio will probably take a back seat to the outdoor activities for a while. ✌️

    2. Mike,
      True about the 30 day home trial & if it was available here in Australia there’s a very good likelyhood that I’d take advantage of it.
      However, I’m not sure that I need AU$35k worth of high-end audio gear to listen to
      Rock ‘n Roll when I’m doing it now for AU$4k.

      1. Hey FR,
        I was gonna lavish you with praise over your post today. But like jb4 I didn’t want your head to swell. 😉 Interesting you brought up a specific AU dollar amount. I agree that for most setting a budget and getting what sounds best to you, regardless of the “measurement” is the way to go. The round about points I was trying to make were
        1. For me auditioning speakers over a long period of time preferably in many different environments is key, along with some side by side comparison in those different environments. But since choices are severely limited for local comparison and now is not the time to fly around the US, then the only choice I had was to improve what I have. That turned out to be treating the room and other tweaks. I no longer have the desire to change speakers as they sound as good now as when I got them in the early 90’s, and to my ears now sound like they did in the best set-up I ever heard them in.
        2. That all being said and wanting to try something else, regen or conditioning now falls into the budget scope for me. The only way I will know is to try . Does class d amplification like cleaner, and how dirty are my mains?

        My music preferences lean towards rock and blues. But now also towards all the variants of jazz. So I’ll always stick within a budget, the only question is to which hobby to devote the discretionary $. That varies on the season for me ✌️
        By the time you read this it should be Monday. Happy Music Day. 😎

  6. In the U.S. you might be reading this on your 42inch mega monitor but here in the U.K. on my iPad this print is just TOO SMALL and proving a strong discouragement to read. I know, old news and I should just get a 42inch screen but it’s not going to happen is it. Perhaps you’re trying to attract a younger audience with sharper sight and more acute hearing but don’t discard the core older audience just yet. Dark humour, but over time natural selection will do that for you. Fat Rat said it already today, I believe you also have used the phrase. Why did you fix something that wasn’t broken?

    1. Richtea,

      I’m in the US and reading this on an iPad since my 15in monitor crapped out.
      Not sure what iOS you have on the iPad, but if it’s a newer iOS, touch two fingers down and then separate them on the screen. It means more scrolling but you can enlarge to what ever you want

      Hope this helps.

      1. I am not having so much trouble with the font SIZE as much as the contrast/darkness of the font. Anything Paul puts in bold is perfectly readable, anything in normal text causes me to have to really concentrate the text color (text is more light gray than black) just fades into the white. Paul commented yesterday he was going to have it looked into.

          1. Paul, the contrast is fine. The font is just very light face (thin characters), harder to see than regular face. I think it is a wake-up call for some that they need more powerful reading glasses. They should take the plunge!

            1. As with all thing audio, everyone’s monitors are so different as well it seems, and subject to much interpretation. I personally don’t think that the font type is that narrow, but, it is such a light gray on all my screens that at times it is indistinguishable from the background color of the webpage (which is white). I sent Paul some screen shots, and it was obvious to my eyes the differences and the readability issue. Let’s see how it gets tweaked!

    2. Richtea,
      Better yet go to the browser bar (where the web site address is displayed) and tap on the aA if you press the capital A the font will get bigger and bigger. Make it what ever size you want. 100% or 115% or 125% etc

      1. Thanks for the tips Mike, both helpful. There are more options and facilities on this iPad than I could ever possibly need, a bit like a review of a car I was reading recently where you could specify 447 different options for the footwell lighting. I think they were joking but you get my drift. I’m running iPad OS 14.4.1.
        I suppose my real point was that for me, everything on this posting site was fine before, shade, size, readability etc and I didn’t need to configure options to make it usable. I like a simple life, unless I choose to complicate it, like we can do (some of us) with our hi-fi systems.
        Every day now something seems different on this site, unless it’s my imagination. Now, where did I put my glasses….

        1. Richtea,

          The solutions may not be the most convenient. But if reading the daily posts is important then a work around is handy if for nothing else, the short term. For me I have have no issues with the format so I don’t criticize or complain. For those having issues making the moderator of what they are is important. My guess is they are not going backwards to the old, so a work around is better until a happy medium can be reached.

        2. The topic of font size and style reminds me of a course I took in making Microsoft PowerPoint presentations.

          Determining optimum font size: Estimate the age of the oldest individual in your audience, then divide by two to determine minimum font size acceptable.

  7. Relatively late to the party…
    I read a lot of excellent comments today. The first one the 2:44 comment by Fat Rat.
    This must be one of the best comments you ever wrote on this site Fat Rat. You NAILED IT.
    And you’re absolutely right : take the plunge (or “splash” or whatever) and try and buy something new, that’s easy to say if you’re the CEO of an audio company. And there, of course, we hear the ENTREPENEUR.
    And I’m okay with that, but it’s good to remember that trying to stimulate us to buy something new is part of this site and all the prose PmcG writes on a daily basis.
    But we, mortal souls, we have limited funds, alas. And spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars every 3 or 4 years for a 5% improvement….nah.

    As for the “new” site : a lot of readers are complaining about the visibility of the new font and/or contrast.
    And concerning the contrast they are certainly right.
    I cannot even begin to understand why PmcG does not see this while at the same time everybody else (including me) does.
    Just COMPARE it to the text of other audio magazines…so much better (the other ones).
    So PmcG, don’t be stubborn, change it.
    Make the characters BLACK again instead of GREYISH.
    Give the people what they want. After all, the customer is king

      1. Fat Rat, I wanted to praise you even more, but then I thought : enough is enough, or he’ll be too big for his boots 🙂
        But seriously, I think most old(er) audiophiles can relate to every word you say in the comment.
        And for the last decade or so more than once I came to my senses right on time the moment I was thinking of an upgrade.
        (“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you got till it’s gone.”).
        So, I don’t want to be mushy (too much love will kill you), but keep up the good work.

        1. jb4,
          (blush) Hugs all ’round then.
          The upgrade itch is always present but time & experience teaches us that it’s usually just curiosity & sometimes boredom.
          With that knowledge one can be more rational about making a decision about plunging.
          I like what ‘Mike’ had to say (5:36am) about doing the room first, in today’s Paul’s Posts.

  8. Back to the topic of change.

    I took the initial plunge into hi-fi many years ago, and stayed averse to splashes and plunges for 10 years at a time. I added no new equipment except for maintenance parts and music, each decade. Then I plunged in and upgraded my system, doing so several times during my working life. I stuck with the splash-proof world of NAD—safe, comfortable, competent, incremental change, and sounds that I’d grown accustomed to.
    Now, almost 4 years into retirement, I made the big decision to change, It wasn’t broke, so I fixed it!

    PSA equipment, Magepan speakers, and the hell with any splashes. COVID has pushed us all indoors and will keep us there more than we all like, so fighting forced changed with planned change seems like the best way forward—taking control.

  9. Embracing “Change” allows one to evolve.
    Having the attitude “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” sometimes will bite you in the ass depending how specialized your interest is.
    I think Audio is incredibly diverse, especially with the tweaking and the science behind it. Taking the plunge is a great sign of evolution. Evolution I feel is synonymous with progression and change. 🙂

    1. Neph,
      Let the designers & the developers do the ‘plunging’, as they have the financial resources to do so, & once they’ve got it right then the customer/hobbyist can do the auditioning.

  10. Taking the plunge….yes indeed…something that
    takes thought and consideration of what is the
    expectation to be attained vs cost to get there.

    With me thankfully each step has proven the post
    burn in results far better than anticipated….

    Power regenerator, power cables, speakers, xlr ics
    speaker cables, preamps and power amps..

    As for a good number of us…each component was
    a plunge financially. When I consider the sum total
    could purchase a very nice car cash outright or
    the downpayment for a new house….

    A plunge indeed accompanied with a very gratifying
    end…with no regrets…

    In olympic nigh dive competition…no reentry splash is a major part of the performance…

    Thanks Paul

  11. This topic is way to sensitive for me to post about it in great detail. Based on my experience both good and bad I can highly recommend the following advice. IF you can afford it, take the plunge for what ever it is that you really want.

    For me ( and several other men that I know ) it took a brush with death to understand how important the above advice is. So again, IF you can afford it take the plunge.

  12. Fortunately I’ve not had such extreme circumstances as tonyplachy above at 11:30am but would endorse the sentiment.
    Another thought which occurred to me many posts ago now but seems relevant today and relates to the law of diminishing returns. Although that new product may only bring a 5% performance improvement to your system, that 5% may increase your enjoyment factor by say 25% or more thereby making it more cost effective overall. At least it’s a good way of justifying the extra money spent to yourself.
    To be honest this is exactly what I’ve found with recent upgrades. Performance improvements can be hard to quantify as a percentage but the enjoyment factor is much easier, I just don’t want to stop listening.

  13. Fantastic comments gentlemen!

    On another topic, I agree with all those saying light grey on white is difficult to see. I would prefer black lettering.

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