Since I've been popping into the forums lately, thought I'd quickly introduce myself. By the way, the member blogs are very cool. I couldn't help myself the other day by posting one (and then this one); but, in the long run, doubt I'll have much to contribute other than the occasional interesting article.
Studying computer information systems in school led me to my current job as a consultant for a small tax software company. What got me into the audiophile hobby wasn't an interest in technology, but jazz. Minoring in jazz studies brought on some challenging homework assignments. We were asked to transcribe (notate the sheet music) for jazz solos by ear. I spent countless hours listening to beautiful music on some pretty bare bones equipment: a pair of Fostex T50RP and my computer's noisy soundcard. I also spent countless hours performing and evaluating live music.
After awhile, I was completely unphased by the occasional fits of buzzing noise in my headphones that signaled the processor doing some extra work. My focus was on notes, rhythms, and chords...hearing them and then writing them down on paper. Long story short, all that hard work gave me a deep appreciation of jazz as an art form, but my actual piano playing has continued to suffer because of some tension in my left arm that required surgery.
After college, I found myself unable to stop analyzing and dissecting music; I had forgotten how to just sit back and enjoy: without constantly projecting my own thoughts and reactions into things...creating a buzzing noise (so to speak) over top of the music because of all the extra mental work. But maybe if the quality of music were actually enjoyable, it might help my situation?
Of course, subjective enjoyment of music is itself a mental process, and obviously would not be possible without some evaluative parameters. ("What are you enjoying right now?" "I'm enjoying the sounds of this grand piano.") However, my experience is that there are some important differences between passive enjoyment and critical listening (of course, there are grey areas in between and different listeners will have different experiences). Learning to recognize them helped me slowly enjoy the music again. For instance, critical listening forces my mind to evaluate the sonic past, present, and future in ways that compromise the pure intake and digestion of the sonic present. I'd really like to see more discussions about how people are listening to their equipment in passive versus critical mode. Maybe there are good tips to share to help other audiophiles calms their nerves and just relax. Learning a little meditation helped me learn to quiet my mind. We're not talking extreme mountain monks here, just a book I found for Kindle called 8 minute meditations or something.
Anyways, I am on a very tight budget (newly married, school debt, etc). I have a very modest setup but it sounds really great. The more I learn about audio, the better my system sounds. That is what's rewarding about it for me. You study and learn and push yourself to improve your equipment. Then you sit back and have a beer and enjoy all the hard work. Then someone slams a cabinet door and you consider removing a wall and adding on a listening room. Surely the landlord will understand...
Furman PST-8D power conditioner-->iMac 2011 (256 SSD, 1TB HDD for music, 8GB RAM, i7 processor)-->cheapo optical out cable for now-->DacMagic-->Audioquest Sidewinder interconnects-->Audioengine A5+-->DIY speaker cables with MIT terminators