SQ perception “inflation"

I have been wanting to bring this up for some time now.
I initially started with a 272/555PS/300 system driving Sopras. The SQ was wonderful, I enjoyed listening at every opportunity and was content.
I then unexpectedly had the opportunity to upgrade to a ND555 and 552 at a significant discount with little time to decide , I pulled the trigger.
There was definitely an increase SQ In just about all parameters,not as much as one would predict,but absolutely no regrets. As brought up multiple times in this forum 272/555PS/300 is a special combo.
So here I am now 1year later still enjoying my music but my perception is that my current enjoyment level is no higher than it was with the initial system.There was that initial fleeting“honeymoon” period when it may have been somewhat higher.
So,do others think that SQ perception inflation exists? Is this like a narcotic where you need more and more to get the same effect?
As you all may have surmised , we are currently self quarantined . Time on my hands.


One thing I’ve definitely noticed, is that initially you spend a lot of time demoing to find something by which you’re wowed. When in your house for a while, being listened to regularly, that sound becomes the norm. So if you’re not careful you end up upgrading to experience the ‘wow’ drug again.

I’ve ‘solved’ that for myself by only allowing myself to replace everything/the majority. So once every ‘X’ years I get a system that’s significantly better than what I had. I don’t swap out individual components every year. I might upgrade my cartridge though as an exception.


It’s pretty simple. You change or make an upgrade, it sounds better/ different. After a while we forget what it sounded like before and the new becomes the normal. A good fix for this is shut it all down. Disconnect everything. Clean all connectors, I like Kontact. Put it all back together and Viola! Sounds new and fresh :bouquet:

Hi JS,

I know I enjoy the thrill of a change. That said, when my system is singing I enjoy listening to the music.

One thing I enjoy about listening to others systems is that it allows me to not only enjoy them but consider whether all that extra expenditure is really worth it.

One such system is @MDS. A 500 system fronted by a CD555 onto Focal 1028be, and VERY well set up. It is superb. It has scale, dynamics and subtlety in spades. Do I sit at home and lement the difference? No. I love listening to it, but I am very content with what I have.

That said, I would say that what I have now is better than what I had a year ago. In part that is due to listening to other systems and realising what was possible.

So, yes - there is a dangerous balance to keeping control of the wallet; but, also appreciating what you should be able to achieve.

So, will I be spening yet more, as long as the world continues to spin?

Speakers = No;
XOs = No;
300DR = No;
Allegri = Maybe. I might get an Allegri +. Not too fussed.
Audio Note DAC = See below.
Meridian 210 = No, loving this!

The DAC might get an upgrade. Interestingly I preffered my 2.1 to a 4.1 Balanced in my system, as did the owner. As my system has changed significantly over the last year I will be getting the 4.1 back in for round 2.

To directly answer your question:
I invariably notice a diference when I change something, whether it is an improvement is another matter.
I DO think that, like with wine and your palate, you train your ear over the years and so your decernment increases.

Absolutely correct in your thinking as like narcotics, dependence on a drug always leads to an inevitable tolerance which is a wearing away of the initial high/pleasure, followed by a craving for a little something more. This is why i will not continually spend oodles of money i cant afford on boxes and boxes. I orefer to diy upgrades such as isolation and grounding methods although im in the process of making a rca din cable and a power cable.
I think you need to reach a point where youre really happy with your system and any improvements will probably be minor anyway as you can only get so much out of it anyway, but its knowiing when youre getting close to the limit which is important.
Its like love where the initial infatuation wears away and you want that feeling back.
I reccommend not listening to music for a week whilst leaving your system on and coming back to it it will sound suprisingly good,
If you can truly understand whats going on then you will realize you can never reach the perfect sound and then settle for up to 99 percent SQ and stay with it rather than trying to reach a maximum 100 percent which actually wont be after a short while. Not only this but the search for ongoing SQ improvements seem always to get more expensive as well as seen by the ever increasing astronomical costs which audiophiles are sometimes prepared to pay.
Id say this is an evolutionary thing where you never stay completely content with having achieved something as human beings would never have evolved if this is the case.
Basically theres always an improvement possible no matter how good you achievment was, as this prevents you resting on your laurels and getting complacement.
A never ending chasing your tail situation which eventually leads to exhaustion and discontent and when this happens you want to get off the ride and LET IT BE.

I agree that the “new” becomes the “normal” over time.

But when I listen to music now on my 555/552/300 system, “normal” consistently blows me away and although I cannot exactly remember what my old Nait XS2/NDAC pair sounded like, I sure KNOW it’s way better.

After returning from holidays or other trips, my system always sounds better than when I left.


If you are like me you start to take the performance for granted on your system as it allows you to better enjoy the recordings for what they are, after all you are enjoying listening to the music, not the system… however when you step backwards with a system component you really notice it.
You might find if like me you get to a plateau with your system… the upgrade itch goes… and it’s about enjoying the recordings, and even appreciating the subtleties between different masters, though it took me many years to get there…

1 Like

The impulse (or justification) to upgrade (or spend more money) in part arises from the difference between acceleration and speed.

We can detect and enjoy acceleration with its promise of new horizons. We arrive at a speed and quickly become unaware of it.

The Jet-man

The jet-man is a jet-pilot. Match has specified that he belongs to a new race in aviation, nearer to the robot than to the hero. Yet there are in the jet-man several Parsifalian residues, as we shall see shortly. But what strikes one first in the mythology of the jet-man is the elimination of speed: nothing in the legend alludes to this experience. We must here accept a paradox, which is in fact admitted by everyone with the greatest of ease, and even consumed as a proof of modernity. This paradox is that an excess of speed turns into repose. The pilot-hero was made unique by a whole mythology of speed as an experience, of space devoured, of intoxicating motion; the jet-man, on the other hand, is defined by a coenaesthesis of motionlessness (‘at 2,000 km per hour, in level flight, no impression of speed at all’), as if the extravagance of his vocation precisely consisted in overtaking motion, in going faster than speed.

Roland Barthes, Mythologies (1957 ?)

Similarly, we become immune to new stimuli after a period of habituation.

You had been stalking a prey, you leapt, you devoured and yet it is not the last meal you will ever need.

One strategy (which I happily fell into) is to recalibrate.

I went from a comically elaborate Naim system to a CuteThing and n-SATs - even, for a while, an ipod through a 22/120 (actually lovely).

Two strategy (I’d suggest much better for all hifi problems) would be actively to expand your musical horizons and HUNT DOWN rare and obscure instances of your new passions.

You have all the primitive rewards you (briefly) enjoyed with your equipment purchase for so much less expense - and you become a more interesting person.

To other World Music nerds.


Wow! Must be the first time Barthes has been quoted on this forum! Well done!
(Just finished reading his ‘Camera Lucida’, on photography).

1 Like

I think it’s about reaching the point where things are ‘good enough’, a point that’s different for each of us. I’ve had a 552 based system in the past and loved it. Having downsized and then gradually built up again to what I’ve got now I’ve reached a point I’m very happy with. I’ve vaguely mulled a 555 and 552 but simply can’t be bothered. I’m not convinced I’d enjoy music more and it’s just so much money.

Before getting the 555PS and 300 I had an XPS and 250 and the move to 555 and 300 was what got me to the ‘good enough’ (for me) point. Somehow it just clicked. It’s not really just good enough of course, it’s absolutely lovely and I am very fortunate to have it.


Yeah - it used to be de rigueur on the old version(s).


I’ve had several brilliant sessions listening to @Polarbear‘s superb system. It does everything right. But everything is relative. My own system does everything equally well but in a different way. That doesn’t rule out any future changes but you just play the music and leave it at that.



1 Like

If you really, really enjoy listening to music through your system, how can improving the system increase that enjoyment - and continue to do so serially over time? I recall how I enjoyed playing music through my very first system, which would probably sound pretty poor to me today. But I can’t honestly say I enjoy listening to the music through my present system any more today.

My take on it is that it is not generally the listening to music that improves, rather being a different enjoyment - one of appreciating the sound quality. That can get a boost after a system improvement, but it then diminishes as it becomes the norm, so enjoyment increase is relative and temporary, not absolute or permanent. In that sense you can always improve enjoyment for as long as it is possible to improve on the sound quality. And at any time, maybe all more so as the overall system approaches nirvana, it is possible to marvel at the wonderful sound, maybe focussing on some aspect thereof, and boost that appreciation enjoyment again.

1 Like

I agree with some of your points here, to me a recording is like a book with layers … there is the music and lyrics, the musicianship, style and technique of play as well tightness and interplay of the band/conductor of an ensemble, the instruments themselves, the mixing, processing and mastering and engineering all there to convey a style or theme … this a key aspect you don’t often see discussed on the forum… and if recorded with a live audience… the audience interplay…
All of these aspects and more in my experience add to the enjoyment of a recording replay… and the more capable your system the better it can reveal these additional cues to allow you to listen into the recording… in other words it makes the recording come alive and you appreciate it as a moment in time.

1 Like

It’s now about a year since my system reached a level of SQ that consistently gave me the ‘hairs on back of neck’ moments, making it almost impossible to read whilst listening to music. Since then all I’ve noticed are the significant proportion of rubbish recordings (perhaps 10-15%) to which I believe no upgrade would bring about any significant improvement. My simple logic interprets this state as my destination, not a stop along the way. I have little doubt that a ND555 and top preamp would sound delightful, but would it give me £30k’s worth of additional pleasure? I very much doubt it, and, more importantly, feel no desire or yearning whatsoever to find out!

There’s a lot to be said for being content with one’s lot across the board, not just in respect of hifi

1 Like

I totally agree, and would add that on the one hand there are live recordings, and on the other hand there are are highly produced recordings - whether that be George Martin’s Beatles, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, etc etc.

On the latter, we DO find it fun to listen to, and for, those tiny subtleties that are buried in those layers of sound that are revealed by a highly capable system.

Obviously, that’s the kind of thing that Alan Parsons is referring to in his oft-cited meme; audiophiles use his music to listen to their system. He has it a little wrong however; it’s being able to delve further into his music. And it’s not lost on me that he produced DSOTM.

Bart absolutely… that is what I was referring to as mixed, mastered and engineered, but produced is probably a better term… and yes it is fun and engaging to listen at those aspects… perhaps it would be interesting to talk more about production techniques on the forum…in recorded (and live) music the producers, engineers, mixers are as important as the musicians and instruments in producing the end result


For me it is the point where the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. At that point everything is aligned, the emotion and detail is just right and you sit there smiling. Some recordings sadly never do that, even if I love the song and must be due to the elements Simon mentioned.

For me, when considering an upgrade, having got used to the performance of the upgraded components, the acid test is what happens when the old components go back into the system at the end of the audition.

You may not be expecting much of a change, only to discover that you can’t live with what you thought was a previous system which didn’t seem to sound a lot different from the new. I’ve been there. I’ve also declined more upgrades that I’ve ordered.

The difference here appears to be that you have jumped without evaluating the change. If the components were dealer supplied, all you have to do is consult with them. They should come and check/tune/clean up your system.

You can never discount the possibility that one or more components might be performing sub optimally. “Blown away” best describes my experiences when hearing a 552 on a number of occasions before I was lucky enough to buy one. The audition 552 that came to live with me for two weeks was about 8 years old and not mint. But it sounded utterly magical. Actually, it didn’t sound like anything - just beautiful music. My shiny new 552, even after 9 months continuous run in, just didn’t seem to hit the mark. It sounded fantastic but magic was missing.

On hearing this, my dealer whisked it away for a factory investigation. It was rebuilt. And when it got home the magic was available by the bucketful. The ND555 is bit of a mystery in my view. It should sound a lot more detailed and easy than the 272, excellent though the 272 is. The difference should be unambiguous. Unfortunately, without a home audition you are always aiming blind. Nothing is guaranteed. But again, your dealer may know how to help you.

I think that “SQ inflation” lurks around every corner. Which is why I never buy until the old components go back in for a second time. On many occasions I have tried components that were supposed to be more detailed, more incisive, faster, etc. only to find that the difference can be put down to nothing more than emphasising certain frequencies and attenuating others.

Digging out more detail, emotion, texture, timbre, nailing the timing and adding realism without artefact, is something Naim (not uniquely) are particularly good at doing. And they’ve been doing it for a long time. Such treasures can be extremely subtle. This is why I don’t like the 250. It tries too hard. The 300 is so much more natural and easy. But the 300 is also frequently criticised for being too “laid back”. I guess it all depends on what you want.

The 552 and 500, expensive and excellent though each is, when combined produce something truly greater than the sum of the parts. It’s uncanny. But a 552 and a 300 also go together beautifully. Or at least, they have in my lounge. Curious…

P.S. Musical memory is an unreliable trickster.