How well do you know your system?

The initial response will probably be ‘very much so’ but is that really true?

From my own experience when I am about to play a familiar track I have an expectation of how it will sound but am often slightly surprised (usually for the better) when it actually plays. I suspect that if I listened to a small variety of music or just a few rips then the expectation would be more accurate.

I am not talking about a totally different sound as if listening to a completely different system but just enough to be noticeable.

Many of you will consider yourselves audiophiles, with the associated great hearing ability and all else that comes with this. Others, like myself, will just be system users with a desire to get a great experience regardless of our system expense or complexity. The rest of you will fall somewhere between the two.

To put my experience/ability in perspective, I am in my sixties but consider my hearing to be OK. My vocabulary when trying to describe what I hear is not great or eloquent. My ability to hear differences is very mixed. Sometimes I can tell a difference but am not always able to quickly determine if it is actually better or just different.

Expectation bias is high as I find it impossible to blind test on my own. When it comes to differences between Hi res files, 16/44.1 vs 24/44.1 vs 24/88.2 vs 24/96 vs 24/192 vs 32/352 etc., I find it difficult even with the same master. NativeDSD have sample files in various formats and I am convinced I only notice differences with a heavy expectation bias. If someone was to play me the files and I had to guess which was which I am sure I would not be able to do it.

I do find DSD files to be slightly smoother in a positive way but again, subject to a quiz with someone else selecting the files I am sure I could not tell.

This is not to say that I don’t appreciate the quality of hi-res music just that I could not listen to something and state ‘that is 24/xxx’.

For all of you good people that strip your systems down to rebuild and find a great improvement, do you first notice that your system is deteriorating or are your actions triggered by a ‘spring clean’ mentality?

If your latest and greatest switch/cable etc. was swapped out could you get used to the sound without it and would you really miss it?

Frustrated by my inability to hear differences between streaming services I subjected my daughter to a blind listening test. She also could not differentiate between Spotify, Tidal and Qobuz. My ears are getting on but she is young and works as a forensic speech analyst!


Very interesting! I actually did a lot of listening between streaming services and felt that Qobuz sounded better than Tidal, Geezer, Spotify etc. which is why I stick with it exclusively for streaming.

I wonder how many of us could 100% pick out which streaming service was playing on our system if someone could perform the blind tests for us. I don’t mean hearing the difference with MP3 but which hi res streaming service was playing the track.


There are two fundamental variables in play, I think - the quality of the listener’s hearing and the quality of the playback system. I wonder what the results would be if you had a chance to listen to @Thruster04’s system and he (I assume!) had a chance to listen to yours.

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@Bjm I think know where you’re coming from but I HOPE(!) I’ve long given up thinking about how good it’s sounding, at least at each and every listen. Having just gone through a series of upgrades, some planned, some not, I’m certainly hearing different things in my music collection, in a very good way but that’s the end of it.


I definitely don’t consider myself to be an audiophile, especially if I am expected to do critical listening with my system instead of just listening to and enjoying music. The only time I listen to a system is when I am auditioning kit or have made changes to mine, e.g, adjusting speaker positioning after a change of amp.


Yes @LindsayM , that’s kind of my point. All the music that I play sounds great regardless of what resolution, excepting obviously very poor recordings and the fact that I do not listen below 16/44.1.

I am hearing so much more and have the lovely option of being able to listen to a piece as a whole or to be able to follow individual threads. I don’t think of it as playing my system rather just playing music.

Another major advantage is the wide range of volume control I now have. There are so many increments between whisper quiet and whatever loudness I fancy (can bear!). I don’t find myself getting hung up on what resolution is playing.

So many threads are concerned with the sound quality and which is best - I am no longer interested in this and just enjoy the music. I am keen on hearing the thoughts of others including your good self.

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This proves your system is fit for purpose! :+1:

Yes it would be interesting but I came from an NDX2/SN3 with my Kudos Titan 606 and now hear so much more. The speakers are in the same room and position so that is one less variable. The music is from the same rips and Qobuz so I am hearing NDX2/SN3 vs NSS333, NAC332/NPX300, NAP350.

Interesting thread. Answer to the title inmy case is extremely well – but it is actually a very simple system (though even in a previous tri-amped incarnation I knew the system intimately). However, I realise that’s not what you were asking!

A lot of your description of yourself is remarkably similar to how I describe myself in terms of relationship with hi-fi, though in recent years I have tended to blind test things more often than not (I have a son who loves trying to catch me out!). I also am in my 60s, (though won’t be for a lot longer). I used to consider my hearing to be not bad for my age, but increasingly I was struggling to follow conversations properly in noisy environments, and realised I was saying “pardon?” with vastly increased frequency unless the background was very quiet, and came to recognise it was annoying to others. A test with a phone app suggested I was suffering from mild age-related hearing loss, so I went for a proper hearing test, and thd result was that I have been Wearing hearing aids for the past six months. As a consequence I discovered that the higher frequencies from my music had probably been voting off over a period of time, and they are now back! They certainly recommend an initial test with a phone app, which might confirm your hearing is still fine, or might punch you in the direction quite a few on this phone have gone.

Music listening I always find it satisfying, and always enjoy it. I never try to compare one day with another – I know I do not hear exactly the same every day, sometimes better sometimes worse (and the same goes for other people even if they don’t necessarily recognise it, as it is a physiological fact that hearing isn’t totally constant, and nothing to do with gradual hearing loss).

As for high res vs CD quality, there have been various threads on this, and as I noted in one just a few days ago, I am not wholly convinced I can always tell the difference - but when there does seem to be a difference, with certainty that the copies have been produced only by the 16/44 being downsampled from the very same hi res file, it is only along the lines of “greater air around the performance”, to use a term picked up from others that seems to fit my feeling. I haven’t tried DSD, and I don’t get hung up on what resolution, though unless a big price premium I tend to buy hi res if available.


My upgrade project is into its fifth month, and the cycle of reevaluating and testing has lost its appeal. Thankfully, the end is well and truly in sight. Still, it has been fascinating to see how much more I have learned about my collection as the system combinations have progressed and given more insights into the music.

I agree with what you said to @LindsayM. Any decent recording played through my system sounds fabulous. I’m revisiting things I have neglected for years and I have a renewed appetite to go out and explore new stuff.

In a way I do now seem to be able to distinguish between CD quality and higher resolution playback, in the following sense. There have been occasions when I have thought a particular track or album sounded poor only to discover I had played the SD version instead of the HD version, or I was playing from Qobuz instead of my local copy. But I don’t lay claim to any special skill or ability.

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Being an audiophile does not automatically mean you will have great hearing ability.

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I have had a Hifi since I left school aged 16 in 1980.

And an exponentially Evolving all-Naim system since 2004.

Until I came on the Previous Naim forum about five years ago, I only ever listened to the music, never to my system, Unless something new had Entered the system recently.

My normal approach to listening these days is the same.

I listen to the music and enjoy the music, but when I just change something in the system, I’m more likely to listen out for the sound quality.

But since I got my 52, and since I sorted out the cables in my system, weeding out some really bad cables, often I’m startled and delighted by how good the system sounds.

The :olive: era sound that is generated by the NAC 52 and NAP 135s into SL2s is Crisp and clear and viscerally present and engaging and I never get complacent about how good it is with good recordings.


This is how I am with my system now, whether playing recent music acquisitions or some really old albums. I am sitting there listening to the music and suddenly notice I am smiling and think, WTF, that is so much better. Whilst this mostly happens with the TT or rips it does also happen when listening to internet radio stations. My exercise regime is going to pot and the number of TV shows recorded and not watched is growing week by week. I hold Naim mostly responsible for this state of affairs, though Audio-T Brighton shares some of the responsibility by letting me audition new kit over the year.

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Don’t think of myself as an audiophile and very rarely listen to my system analytically. Only when something has changed and only for a few days. I do know when something sounds off or has improved but never really notice any gradual degradation over time. When I rebuild the system I am often astonished at the uplift in performance. I listen to Spotify and have tried Tidal for a month but was unimpressed. My investigations into whether there is a difference between 320bps lossy and lossless have given me the opinion that if there is a difference, it is not in quality and may only be apparent to professionals who listen critically on a daily basis on high end studio equipment. There have been numerous blind tests published online and the overall impression I get from the results is that most cannot distinguish between 320bps mp3s (Spotify) and lossless. Where the bitrate is lower, many can distinguish between that and lossless. No offence intended to Quobuz users. Just my opinion. :blush:

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Very well put. I may have a crack at a test myself at some point.

I particularly relate about hearing differently. I also listen at different volume levels depending on many factors and really appreciate that my system sounds great at all levels.

Like you, I would opt for the best quality available if not prohibitively expensive, just to be confident I have the best quality. Also, I don’t understand the ‘greater air…’ comments. When I notice differences it is usually along the lines of a particular instrument or voice sounding a bit more natural i.e. convincing.

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You can combine music with exercise.

Get a couple of dumbbells and a yoga mat, Put on an album, and do some stretching and weights for 30 minutes or an hour.

Bob Sherunckle…


“A bit more air”, maybe greater ambience, not something I can put my finger on - and perhaps, yes, a bit more natural even if already seems pretty natural. But not all have a discernible difference to me, and it is slight, so without doing some really thorough blind comparisons I couldn’t swear, hand on heart, that I could be certain to tell the difference.


Yes, I have been following your progress with great interest. 2 x NPX300 on your NAC332 and a reluctance to entertain one on your NSS333!

I will occasionally get up and check the stream if I feel it seems ‘a little off’ and more often than not I have selected the Qobuz stream rather than rip. Not always though.

One surprise for me though is that listening to CD/SACD rips attached to my NSS333 can sound better than the same rips on the Roon Rock internal storage - all are from the same file on my backup portable drive.

True but I was eluding to whatever ‘skill’ an audiophile must have as opposed to us mere mortals.