Interesting experience this afternoon
Thought I'd share this. Picked up my second system from Richers yesterday: Denon DM39 and Q Acoustic 2020i. Set it up for a first listen this afternoon. While I was terminating the speaker cables I listened to main system Music Streamer II+-->DM39 --> B&W CM8s. Just listening at what I would call sociable levels (10 on the Denon's display). I was surprised at how well the DM39 coped with these reportedlly hard-to-drive speakers, but didn't sit down for a decent listen, so observations were limited. This got me thinking that I should listen to the new system against my main one, so I set it up with the 2020i speakers placed on top of the CM8s. Thats a £2,000 system vs a £350 one. Listening the Blue by Joni Mitchell and switching between the systems (using iphone as digital source for new system) I perceived some differences. Obviously the bass was more audible and deeper with the CM8s, although not by as much as I expected (clearly this album is not the definitive bass test album, but it was what I fancied listening to). JM's voice sounded more prominent on the new system - I put this down to a brighter sound. I thought her voice was also slightly less clear and detailed but this was fairly marginal. Overall the difference was not the night and day one I was expecting.
Then the interesting thing happened. I went off to make a cuppa and left one of the systems playing. By the time I came back I had completely forgotten which system it was. River had just begun playing. Oooh, a blind test I thought (yeah, I don't care that it's not scientific and that I might have subconsciously know which I had left running - I honestly didn't know consciously). I sat down closed my eyes and listened. I was surprised to realise that I could not tell which was playing. I listened to the last three tracks on the album, and it was great fun not knowing which system the music was playing on. By the time The Last Time I saw Richard had finished, I had decided that I thought it was the new system playing, but I wouldn't have put money on it and, I thought, if I was right then I'd reconsider the value of spending large amounts on kit, particularly as I felt I was guessing on the basis of tonal balance rather that outright fidelity/transparency.
I opened my eyes, and found that I happened to be right. I'd like to think that if I'd been blind switching between the two I'd have had no doubt, but that experience of listening without the benefit of comparison and being in considerable doubt about whether this was a budget or a good midrange system (with which I am familiar) tells me that the weakest link in my system is probably my auditory senses. That doesn't mean that I'm about to sell the HRT/Naim/B&W. I love knowing that the sound is in fact superior, even if it's not night and day, and I suspect that some of the quality is felt as enjoyment of the music rather than in objective perception of greater detail.