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Upgraditis and where I am today

Kevbaz

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Apologies first for the long post.

I have been into audio since college, even though my dad always involved me in his music.
I ignored my dads advice as a young man which was to build a separates system starting with the speakers. Instead when at college I bought a Technics Mini-system like all my friends did and it sounded poor compared to my dad and brothers systems based on components. looking back I think it was the B&W speakers they both had that really made the difference.

My dad and brother still have the same systems they had over 25 years ago and they still enjoy listening to them, only upgrading anything that broke.

I kept that mini system all the way through college along with my Sony Walkman and Sony headphones into early University.

It wasn't until I started at University studying Electrical and Electronic engineering that I got the "itch" to upgrade.
Since Uni and now into my later adulthood now 45 this year I have lost count of the number of CD/Record, Tape players, Amps, DACs, Speakers I have owned. Although early into University I moved away from speakers to headphones as I found I could get better sound for less money (important as a skint student). I got a Pair of Grado SR80 and stayed on those until 8 months ago (must be over 20 years old now) and recently upgraded to SR325e although not convinced I would call them an improvement.

I then in last 8 months "upgraded" to Sennheiser HD660s which I use mostly now, although I keep going back to listening to the Grado's and questions which do I really prefer.....

Now the daft thing is in last 25+ years I have only owned 3 headphones Grado SR80, SR325e and Senn HD660s (I havent used speakers much for many years). But stupidly spent way too much on Amps, DACs and damn cables.

Since joining ASR I got that upgrade itch again, I bought many USB DAC/Amp dongles and was toying the with idea to spent crazy money on a Benchmark or RME DAC in that aim to get "better" endgame sound. Not that I’m nocking the RME or Benchmark they look to be fantastic products, but have way too many features and connectivity I don’t need.
I had to step back and think my dad and brother still have there old systems and love listening to therm so I decided to start a fresh and build a new system I will stick with (kind of). But taking more of an Objective approach where I can.

I figured the CD player I have works (Arcam Alpha 7se) and I wont replace unless it breaks. Im sticking with CD as I have a big collection and love researching what CD Masters to get when I want a new album. I also like the experience of getting a glass of whisky, popping the CD in and reading the CD cover and contents etc. I know this is more subjective approach :)

I decided to find a DAC and Amp that would do what I need, which is simple take optical feed from my CD player and give a clean transparent output to drive my headphones and any I'm likely to buy in future. I wanted to purchase something US or EU made (just a personal choice) and from a company who's philosophy I like so I chose the JDS Labs Atom DAC/Amp+.
I bought Amazon Basics cables (optical and RCA) as its just a cables and as long as its well made and shielded, been as short as they are it doesn't matter.

I finally built the system this week and its great, its sounds good, I enjoy listening to my music. I don't feel the need to change anything.

For the 1st time in years I feel content with my system and have no itch to upgrade, I feel I have built my system in a way that negates the need to keep chasing the next shiny product because some subjective reviewer says this is now the end game DAC/Amp you need. or I just like the look of it and have some money to spend, and heck it costs more so surely sounds better.

I believe now the electronics part of my system is as good as my ears can tell.

The only itch I have right now is should I have got the Sennheiser HD650 not HD660s. I may buy the HD650 as I can give the headphones I like least to my son. Or maybe I'm missing a whole next level with better headphones. But then I like listening to it now, so why upgrade??

If I get any upgraditis itch in future, I need to look at how I chose my system, the components in my eyes cant get any better given the basic features I need.
I may upgrade the JDS Labs Atom DAC/Amp+ to whatever JDS release in future if it measures better, but not because I think it will sound better but because I want to support a company who's products and philosophy I really like and it fullfils that Upgraditis/purchasing itch.

Anyway sorry for the rant, just wanted to tell my story how for the 1st time in years I don't feel like upgrading :)
Back to my cuppa tea (Yorkshire Tea of course with milk and sugar in a mug) and listening to a well mastered CD of Enya Watermark on my system I would be proud to show my dad.

Cheers
Kevin
 
Last edited:

Jim Matthews

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The Benchmark product line has a robust mechanical feel and impeccable (measurably so) credentials. If and when your CD player taps out, I have been very happy with my BlueSound Vault which rips the CD to an on-board hard drive.

The BlueOS makes finding Albums, Tracks and Artists simple.

There are computer based systems that do much the same, but the BlueSound stuff updates on its own.
 
OP
Kevbaz

Kevbaz

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The Benchmark product line has a robust mechanical feel and impeccable (measurably so) credentials. If and when your CD player taps out, I have been very happy with my BlueSound Vault which rips the CD to an on-board hard drive.

The BlueOS makes finding Albums, Tracks and Artists simple.

There are computer based systems that do much the same, but the BlueSound stuff updates on its own.
Thanks Jim I will have a look at the BlueSound Vault, I’m hopefully the Arcam CD player will last a few more years yet. I would also consider buying another one second hand as they are pretty cheap to get n eBay.
Cheers
Kev
 
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Kevbaz

Kevbaz

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"Keep calm and upgrade" :)
I must admit I’m really tempted to upgrade my headphones, but I want to wait till I can audition some Dan Clark headphones in a shop in the UK and when I have saved up enough.
I still have a soft spot for Grado’s so want to listen to some of the more expensive Grado’s to get that out of my system.
Cheers
Kev
 

Joe Smith

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I think you've made a good choice. I also lust after Benchmark equipment, but can't justify the cost. Most of my listening is via speakers, but for headphones, I really like my Schiit Modi 3/Magni 3 combination. If I was buying today, I'd probably go for the JDS stack. The Atom+ DAC will also be a great benefit if you get into streaming as well as CDs.

I think all of us in the hobby have periods of contentment and a urge to upgrade from time to time. I have so much equipment now, really no room for any more until I move some of my unused items along. The cost of maintaining 40 year old amps is getting formidable and the relatively low cost of great sounding new speakers/amps can't be denied. I do hope that the majors keep producing decent CD decks for around $200-300 for a while, as some of mine are getting very long in the tooth. I doubt there will be any more new cassette decks at an affordable cost, so I baby mine a bit...

There is a lot to be said for not accumulating a lot of extra gear and just enjoying the great sound one has!
 

tonycollinet

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Just remember when you start glancing around in the future. Your DAC/Amp cannot be bettered for sound quality at any price. It is essentially audibly perfect.

So no point in upgrading for sound. To support the company : Fine. New features : yep. But for sound improvment: you won't get it.
 
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Kevbaz

Kevbaz

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You don't list a speaker system :cool:
My speaker system is pretty old, it’s an Arcam CD player and Alchemist Kraken Amp. I can’t honestly remember what the speakers are other than floor standers.
Cheers
Kev
 
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Kevbaz

Kevbaz

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Just remember when you start glancing around in the future. Your DAC/Amp cannot be bettered for sound quality at any price. It is essentially audibly perfect.

So no point in upgrading for sound. To support the company : Fine. New features : yep. But for sound improvment: you won't get it.
Agreed looking at the measurements there isn’t anything for me to upgrade the DAC/amp to unless I need new features. And I like JDS as a company.
The only worry I have is lack of DC protection, and a fault in the amp/DAC frying my headphones.
Cheers
Kev
 
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Kevbaz

Kevbaz

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I did circum to the upgrade itch and order a pair of Dan Clark Aeon X closed f m Drop today. Really looking forward to trying them
Cheers
Kev
 

a2copywriter

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Great post, Kevbaz. I sympathize.

My first pair of good headphones was a revelation, and I listened to music for 1-2 hours every night in high school.

Then: I fell deep into the upgraditis rabbit hole when I was in college.

At one time, I owned more headphones than I could even listen to:
* Stax 2020s
* Grado SR-80s and SR-325s
* Sennheiser HD-540s
* Sennheiser HD-590s
* Sennheiser HD-600s
* Etymotic ER-4Ss
* Low-end Sony
* Other models sold on HeadFi after a few hours' use

I also owned:
* a nice Philips SACD player with upsampling
* a Toshiba CD player (for reasons beyond my understanding)
* Creative Labs portable music player (actually a must back then)
* a DAC1
* a Firestone Audio Spitfire DAC with a separate USB -> COAX converter)
* A Meier Audio Aria amp
* An Earmax tube amp
* Another amp, manufacturer and model long forgotten
* About 500 CDs
* Lots of supporting equipment.
* And different tubes for my amp (still, I lusted after ultra-rare Soviet models)

But I don't say any of this to brag.

See, this room-full of gear was NEVER enough.

And the more I added -- and the more I spent -- the less I enjoyed what I already had.

As my collection of gear grew, I listened to music less, spent more time (and money) on HeadFi and other sites, and never once asked what I loved most about high fidelity audio.

Whatever I bought, there was always something brighter and shinier just around the corner -- and that made me less happy about what I already owned.

But eventually, I finally got back to my real goal: enjoying the music.

It's been more than 15 years since I stopped dumping money into "more and better is better" audio gear, and I'm happier for it.

Today, I'm EQ'ing my headphones instead of "upgrading," and I use the occasional tube amp modeler if I'm in the mood for that sound.

I've kept only my pairs of Etymotic ER-4S's and Sennheiser HD-600s from the early 2000s. I added Bose QC-20s for flights and podcast listening while hiking.

I'm using a cheap FIIO Mont Blanc amp on the road (driven by my phone or my FIIO X3 portable audio player). And at home, it's FIIO X3 ----> Firestone Audio Spitfire DAC from (maybe) 10 to 15 years ago ---> Meier Audio Aria

And now, because my front-end is showing its age and not working with my new phone...

.... I'm finally upgrading again.

But this time, I'm being intentional. And I know where the point of diminishing returns is.

I ordered the Topping EX5 to replace my existing DAC and amps; I'll either keep the old ones for my home office setup or sell them somewhere.

I'm trying out Roon for playback.

And in 2022, if I hit my business and personal goals, I may get the Monolith by Monoprice and one new pair of headphones (MrSpeakers).

That'll streamline my setup and keep me busy for the next decade.

By then, I'll be nearly 50, my hearing will have declined more, and I think I'll be set for most of my remaining years.

Long story short:
* Get gear that you love (one DAC, one amp, one or two pairs of headphones, maybe a portable amp/DAC).
* EQ your headphones to fix flaws -- it's free and far more effective than constantly upgrading.
* Clean your ears with distilled water and vinegar to boost your hearing ability.
* Stop believing that the next new piece of gear will part the heavens and fix that nagging sense of "there's something missing." New gear won't change anything if the problem is between your ears (it was for me).

Most importantly: Listen to more music!
 
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Kevbaz

Kevbaz

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Agreed a2copywriter, important part is to focus on the music. Also buy the best you can once and stick with it.
Funnily out of anything I upgraded, the only thing that made any significant difference was the headphones, not any of the active electronics such as DAC
 

Pugsly

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Apologies first for the long post.

I have been into audio since college, even though my dad always involved me in his music.
I ignored my dads advice as a young man which was to build a separates system starting with the speakers. Instead when at college I bought a Technics Mini-system like all my friends did and it sounded poor compared to my dad and brothers systems based on components. looking back I think it was the B&W speakers they both had that really made the difference.

My dad and brother still have the same systems they had over 25 years ago and they still enjoy listening to them, only upgrading anything that broke.

I kept that mini system all the way through college along with my Sony Walkman and Sony headphones into early University.

It wasn't until I started at University studying Electrical and Electronic engineering that I got the "itch" to upgrade.
Since Uni and now into my later adulthood now 45 this year I have lost count of the number of CD/Record, Tape players, Amps, DACs, Speakers I have owned. Although early into University I moved away from speakers to headphones as I found I could get better sound for less money (important as a skint student). I got a Pair of Grado SR80 and stayed on those until 8 months ago (must be over 20 years old now) and recently upgraded to SR325e although not convinced I would call them an improvement.

I then in last 8 months "upgraded" to Sennheiser HD660s which I use mostly now, although I keep going back to listening to the Grado's and questions which do I really prefer.....

Now the daft thing is in last 25+ years I have only owned 3 headphones Grado SR80, SR325e and Senn HD660s (I havent used speakers much for many years). But stupidly spent way too much on Amps, DACs and damn cables.

Since joining ASR I got that upgrade itch again, I bought many USB DAC/Amp dongles and was toying the with idea to spent crazy money on a Benchmark or RME DAC in that aim to get "better" endgame sound. Not that I’m nocking the RME or Benchmark they look to be fantastic products, but have way too many features and connectivity I don’t need.
I had to step back and think my dad and brother still have there old systems and love listening to therm so I decided to start a fresh and build a new system I will stick with (kind of). But taking more of an Objective approach where I can.

I figured the CD player I have works (Arcam Alpha 7se) and I wont replace unless it breaks. Im sticking with CD as I have a big collection and love researching what CD Masters to get when I want a new album. I also like the experience of getting a glass of whisky, popping the CD in and reading the CD cover and contents etc. I know this is more subjective approach :)

I decided to find a DAC and Amp that would do what I need, which is simple take optical feed from my CD player and give a clean transparent output to drive my headphones and any I'm likely to buy in future. I wanted to purchase something US or EU made (just a personal choice) and from a company who's philosophy I like so I chose the JDS Labs Atom DAC/Amp+.
I bought Amazon Basics cables (optical and RCA) as its just a cables and as long as its well made and shielded, been as short as they are it doesn't matter.

I finally built the system this week and its great, its sounds good, I enjoy listening to my music. I don't feel the need to change anything.

For the 1st time in years I feel content with my system and have no itch to upgrade, I feel I have built my system in a way that negates the need to keep chasing the next shiny product because some subjective reviewer says this is now the end game DAC/Amp you need. or I just like the look of it and have some money to spend, and heck it costs more so surely sounds better.

I believe now the electronics part of my system is as good as my ears can tell.

The only itch I have right now is should I have got the Sennheiser HD650 not HD660s. I may buy the HD650 as I can give the headphones I like least to my son. Or maybe I'm missing a whole next level with better headphones. But then I like listening to it now, so why upgrade??

If I get any upgraditis itch in future, I need to look at how I chose my system, the components in my eyes cant get any better given the basic features I need.
I may upgrade the JDS Labs Atom DAC/Amp+ to whatever JDS release in future if it measures better, but not because I think it will sound better but because I want to support a company who's products and philosophy I really like and it fullfils that Upgraditis/purchasing itch.

Anyway sorry for the rant, just wanted to tell my story how for the 1st time in years I don't feel like upgrading :)
Back to my cuppa tea (Yorkshire Tea of course with milk and sugar in a mug) and listening to a well mastered CD of Enya Watermark on my system I would be proud to show my dad.

Cheers
Kevin
It really is a funny thing when one realizes that 'end-game' in terms of fidelity to the source in Amps and DACs is trivially easy to achieve today... Not sure if you EQ, but next time you get upgraditis 'itch', you might consider a decent laptop and a program that allows you to play with equalizers and other audio settings using VST plugins. It is amazing what can be done in the digital realm with a system-wide EQ/etc.
Some free ones available, but for Mac I strongly recommend https://rogueamoeba.com/soundsource/ for $39 USD. It includes built in access to headphone EQs from a wide number of open-sources, as well as the ability to easily attach and turn on and off rafts of VST plugins, allowing one to manipulate the sound to one's heart's content. I particularly like, albeit for some recording and not others, the BeyerdynamicVS (virtual studio) which can with the right recordings bring the music 'out of your head' when listening to headphones.Needless to say, however, with all of the free VST plugins around, one can tweak settings, reverb, add effects, second/third/fourth harmonic distortion to their heart's content for basically nothing (and without the danger that the new expensive piece of coloured gear will always add an effect that cannot be changed or turned off)!
 

a2copywriter

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I forgot one important thing: If you've lost hearing, stop being stubborn and get hearing aids.

Nobody cares that you're wearing them... but they *do* care if you can't hear them.

Trust me; I know from years of experience.

I've tried countless audio gear, but since losing hearing, nothing has made a more profound difference than hearing aids.

Consumer Reports recommends Costco, but whatever source you choose, be sure the person helping you is an audiologist, not a salesperson.

So if you've stopped enjoying music, can't hear birds or crickets, hate talking in crowded places (because it's hard to hear, not because of covid), etc...

Get your hearing tested and get it upgraded.
 
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