To dream the impossible dream,
Hi-FI marketing has propogated the same mantra for as long as I can remember, audio nirvana is just out of reach, just one 'upgrade' away.
The accepted logic ( and which I often hear ) is that products are built down to a cost and therefore the more you spend the less compromise.
Upgrading has been hugely successful for the industry, manufacturers like it, retailers like it, as do magazines, undoubtedly it has been good for business, but for the consumer?
In recent years the widespread availability of components actual measurements has allowed direct comparison, 'ask of everything what is it unto itself'! which previously was just not available, contemporary commentators also explain the correlation, between the measurements and what they actually mean in terms of sound quality, which is obviously hugely beneficial.
Dacs for example, I really used to believe there were significant differences in sound quality between dacs, there just had to be and perhaps twenty years ago there really were.
Then one day an engineer friend of mine suggested to me that the only valid way to really compare products was to accurately match their level to .1dB and then compare unsighted. So you just didn't know which component you were listening to.
This wasn't to determine a preference just purely to determine whether one could reliably
discriminate between the two, we discussed the method, bought the correct millivolt meter
measured the voltage at each dacs output, ( all a bit of a faff to be honest) and then he switched and I listened.
One of the dacs was a top of the line component, RRP back then around £25k and the other a newly released semi-pro model a tenth of the price.
With hindsight I realise that both despite the price difference both were properly engineered components and this was corroborated later when their respective measurements were published.
But at the time I was shocked that the differences I perceived sighted simply disappeared when the sighted component was removed.
It was revelatory.
I went on to compare other dacs and power amplifiers, Class A/B, class D ( Hypex and latterly Purifi) and the Benchmark AHB2 hybrid, once level matched and as long as they weren't being driven to clipping I could not hear any differences in actual sound quality.
The point is, electrical components are completely characterised by their measurements,
they are exactly how they measure, there is no magic sauce, if one component does sound different then it will be explicit in its measurements.
There is nothing whatsoever wrong in buying expensive components, they should look great, the cases are going to be solid the remotes hopefully not plastic and again one hopes they have been properly engineered and are therefore audibly transparent, which simply means they are not adding audible distortion to the signal, 'a straight wire with gain' as PJW put it so succinctly .
But you must not expect the more expensive components to produce better sound quality.
Price does not directly correlate with the quality of reproduction.
We as hobbyists have been indoctrinated for forty years with the 'upgrade' paradigm, how often have you read that streamer 'a', is the best under £1000 when in reality it is as good as anything at any price, in fact the WiiM Pro Plus ( £200) is also as good as anything at any price but you are never going to read that in a magazine and almost certainly will not hear it from a retailer.
Often the first question you will be asked is 'what is your budget', when it probably should be, 'how loudly do you like to listen, how far away from the speakers are you going to be sitting, do you want to hear a completely 'full-range' sound , which sources do you intend to connect'.
State of the art digital sources and solid state amplification are now relatively inexpensive, 95% of the sound quality you hear is the responsiility of the loudspeakers and their interaction with your room.
Blameless electronics, fit for purpose cabling a really fine measuring pair of loudspeakers and attention to their interaction with the room and that is it, that is as good as it gets.
Of the two below which is the 'better' amplifier?