I remember the very first time I heard a high-end audio system: a pair of JBL corner horns, an Audio Research preamp and power amp, and a Thorens turntable. It was a stunning revelation compared to my Kenwood integrated amplifier, AR turntable, and Phase Array speakers.
Today that same high-end system that first took my breath away would elicit only a polite smile and a soft chuckle of reminiscence.
We’re first taken by the magnitude of contrasting levels: Kenwood to Audio Research; Wonder Bread to a French baguette. Once we adjust to a new level of performance standard, we need ever greater contrasts to make the same size impression of improvement.
I remember well going to a Hong Kong reviewer’s house and listening to his collection of vintage equipment. My only reaction was to wonder how I ever thought any of those ancient treasures sounded good.
Each time we reach new levels of performance our standards change. What might have impressed us once no longer holds sway.
It’s called climbing the Ladder of Excellence.
Each higher rung advances our understanding of what’s good and what’s merely acceptable.