The Big Niggle or What drives you to upgrade?

During one of my rare introspective moments I was wondering what drives me to upgrade my system. I mean it already plays music very well, upgrading is a pain and usually costs rather a lot of money.

On face value this is a question that is likely to have a statement of the bleeding obvious as an answer, but bear with me here. I’ll start my tail during a period of contentment with my system and the music is reproduces …


After spending enough money to buy a BMW, I now have a system that reproduces music rather well. So most of the time I get on with enjoying the music it brings into my life, and by-and-large I ignore the system that is reproducing it.

But I’ve been here before, happily listening to music and unconsciously ignoring the system that’s reproducing it. Once a period of contentment lasted uninterrupted for nearly four years! Then it happens, not very often but sometimes - a little niggle appears. Some aspect of the reproduction emerges, from where I don’t know, but it’s getting in the way of enjoying the music.

Usually the next day, to my relief, the little niggle fades away and I’m back to musical contentment. Maybe I was tired, maybe it was a bad mains day, maybe the beer was bad or maybe I just had too much beer, no matter the music is too involving. Boy I am lucky!

I did say “usually” and sometimes I’m not so lucky - the little niggle doesn’t go away and it develops into The Big Niggle and then it grips me, or I let it grip me, and it begins to get in the way more and more to the point where it’s distracting. Even though only a few months ago The Big Niggle was, to all intents and purposes absent. Why me? Why am I so unlucky?

Then my wife notices as I can get grouchy when the system “isn’t working” and she now instinctively knows the when I’m displaying symptoms of an oncoming Big Niggle. She tells me in a reassuring voice that I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, that I’m mad and that the system sounds just fine (translation – oh no we’re about to haemorrhage some more money and I need to employ some damage limitation tactics).

But it’s too late. The Big Niggle needs to be dealt with. The upgrade bug has bitten. So I start thinking about what can be done to improve the systems’ ability to reproduce music and banish The Big Niggle forever. I start with a rational and logical approach and seek wisdom from the Great Sages to be found at the Naim forum and at my local purveyor of fine HiFi wares. I describe The Big Niggle and the disruption it’s causing and humbly ask for options to make it go away.

There’s lots of advice, most of it helpful. Some of the advice would require the type of finance that would send my wife into an apoplectic fit and/or send my bank manager into a bout of incredulous laughter. Some of the advice makes sense. Some of the advice doesn’t make sense. Such is life and even with the sage guidance duly received, I clearly need to go and listen and make up my own mind.

“At last you finally got to the write answer” you sigh. But the story doesn’t stop here because the solution to remove “The Big Niggle” is still miles away and there are so many blind alleys …

Over what seems like a short space of time, but in reality lasts for a few months, the task of removing The Niggle has transformed into a Great Quest and I’m now in a state of bewilderment. All the “fixes” will cost a four-figure sum or more (“try a 552 sir it’ll do the trick!”) to implement and I seem to have lost all powers of objectivity and what decision-making powers I may have possessed have also left me.

My head is in a spin and I suddenly realise that …

… I’ve been seduced! (or is that suckered?)

I have forgotten what started me on my journey and I’ve lost sight of my original Big Niggle. I have even been reading HiFi Magazines and sometimes believing the writings therein. Arrgghhh! Bugger! I’ve joined the band of other irrational seekers of The Ultimate Fidelity and I’m never going to enjoy recorded music again. I’m doomed …

Wait… Whoa …

That’s it! I remember now! It’s the music! It’s all about the music! Whew, that was a close shave and now salvation is near at hand. I look for the option that gets me back to the music without any niggles. It all seems so easy now and I can’t imagine what the problem was – really! I now know exactly what to do.

So where does that leave me? Well I’m back to listening to the music again, ignoring the system that is reproducing it. So the tail is nearly over – well at least for now.


“Aw come on what was The Big Niggle and what did you do to banish it?” I hear you ask; well at least those of you who I haven’t managed to send to sleep may be.

Well The Big Niggle was that I wasn’t enjoying listening to vinyl any more. My aging (1979) Rega Planer 3 and not quite so old Grado cartridge seemed to have lost the ability to do the music thing. My search to banish The Big Niggle ended in a new bearing for the Rega and replacing the original S shaped silver arm with a new RB250 equipped with a Rega Elys. This is like a new turntable, lots more music - astonishing.

But there’s more. While on the Great Quest, amongst a number of dead ends, I heard a demo of a second hand CDS2 at a Naim dealer. Well it trounced the CDX/XPS I had and I had to have it – so much more music. This meant a much-reduced solution to my original Big Niggle was needed and this eventually resulted in the old Rega being tarted up. Cest la vie.

“So what?” I here you say. Well does anyone find this strikes a chord? If so why not bear your soul here? What niggles have driven you into the madness that is upgrading and where did the upgrade journey take you?

I’m listening to vinyl as I write … the Rega is good, but if only it was a little better, I mean compared to the CDS2 … … Aaaarrgh not again!!

Jim J
Original Post
All things in moderation.


Great post - but got the feeling you dictated it to a half-moon spectacled Swiss-type gentleman whilst lying on a couch?

I'm in the middle of an upgrade session at the moment - and I know exactly why it came about. Those of you who don't care or who know already (because you're one of the strangers in the pub/on the bus I've been yammering to) can skip to something about more exciting like dissing Linn Classiks now.

If you're still here, it's all the fault of a 'cheap' Yamaha Home Cinema amp. There I was for 7 years (!) with a nice Naim set-up (CD 3.5/FC/92/NAP90x2/Epos ES14s) and not the merest thought of upgrading. I buy a house and decide to get multichannel for my DVD. Yamaha make good stuff, thinks I, and rushes off the John Lewis to buy a box with 5 90w amps and a decoder in it. And a radio. And some fancy echo/reverb effects. For the price of a Flatcap.

I invite my mates around, stick the Matrix on and when we get to the amp-demonstrating/neighbour-hating/lobby-destroying bit I realise something profound.

The amp sucks. Can't hear a thing!
It's all just boom babba boom babba boom.
I cheered myself up pretending its the sound of the police guys kicking Keanu Reeves in the chest.

Never mind, my birthday comes to the rescue so I blow for an AV2 (which is what I wanted all along) and another NAP90 (I was trying to breed them but I think the first two were the same sex).

I retire the 92 cos the AV2 is just as good for music (I think its better than the 92) and joy is restored - films sound fantastic and the number I actually watch (rather than watch gather dust on the shelf) reaches an all time high.

Niggle factor zero at this point.

Then I take the AV2 to HQ in Salisbury for a software upgrade.


3 hours plus in a room with a pair of SL2s driven by a 300, fed by a 552, sweet-talked by a CDS3. I was so out of touch with what was what 'these days' I didn't know what ANY of these components were at the time.

Didn't grab me by the throat to start with but over the course of the session I became aware of just how *easy*, unforced, slick and just plain listenable this kit is. Details in other systems were all edges and no filling, so they stuck out like spikes. This was not spiky but super smooth, high resolution loveliness that showed the edges and the substance behind them, all in order, all sounding just 'right' and unforced.

It took me *three days* just to get used to the sound of my (very good) system when I got home again.

Mark from service gave me some blurb to read. I nearly fell off my chair when I totted up a total of 30 grand for the kit I'd been listening to.

That's a BIG niggle!

Thankfully a CDX2 (yes, already!) has significantly improved my system and the 'main' NAP90 will get swapped out probably for a much better amp (benefits both music and films, see) before I perform a seperation operation and get a dedicated music-only pre-amp as counterpart to the AV2.

I can't afford the system I described above (there, I said it!) - and the one I have is superb and kept me happy for seven years. The question is, the slower I go, the longer between jumps and so the bigger jump I can afford. The problem is, the bigger jumps mean I go more slowly, and I want it all NOW!!

But I'm being patient - and between upgrades I'm fiddling with dedicated spurs, plinths on ball bearings, cable dressing, speaker positioning, room treatments, fuses etc. This is keeping me in the black but my mates are about two minutes away from calling the men in white coats. (I'm posting on this forum at about 1:45am after all).

It's a never ending road, but right now I'm glad to be back at square one (excellent system, next upgrade some distance away). My system is actually difficult to get up and walk away from, it sounds so good. When that wears off, I'll take another step along the road.

And when I've revamped each component, I'll go active (again)!


My reason for upgrading I would have thought is much the same as every one else including yours Jim.

After an upgrade their is a honeymoon period, where you are so pleased with the improvment that you listen to lots of music and are happy. After A while your ears learn the signature of the system so well that you can begin to pick out small aspects of the sound you want to change/improve.

So you upgrade...... as long as their is better/more exspensive/different kit availible, you will continue to do so as long as funds permit or your hearing detreorates with age.

This is why I belive an upgrade path is essential as it is not the absolute sound of the hifi that we enjoy, but the marginal improvment over other peoples (or our pre upgrade) hifi that makes it enjoyable.

If you bought cds3, 552, 500, NBLs for example as your first hifi, I dont think you would enjoy it any more than cd5, nait5, IBLs, and it would be damn exspensive do improve on.

Start with the basic system working your way up and with each upgrade you can enjoy the marginal improvment for a few months/years.

I realy think that it is all relative and not absolute.

Originally posted by i am simon 2:

If you bought cds3, 552, 500, NBLs for example as your first hifi, I dont think you would enjoy it any more than cd5, nait5, IBLs, and it would be damn exspensive do improve on.

Start with the basic system working your way up and with each upgrade you can enjoy the marginal improvment for a few months/years.


Sorry, but this does not make any sense to me. I would buy the best I could afford (assuming that I do know what the "best" is) and forget about the hi fi thereafter. I do not like continually making upgrades as this tends to detract from enjoying the music.

Perhaps I'm in the minority.

[This message was edited by hockman on FRIDAY 08 August 2003 at 12:01.]

I am currently niggleless having spent rather a lot of dosh this year. I made the decision to go for as good a system that a remortgage could provide. Happily there is no chance of a second remortgage and my salary is not of the 552/500/DBL variety. My hope is that the itch will go away with just the occasional lusting over the top gear.

I have a few setup issues to address and that should be it. One thing is for sure, my next move if there is one will bring on probable bankruptsy! Famous last words!


Personally, I find the little tweaks as satisfying to my "if it ain't broke, fiddle with it anyway" nature as the big upgrades. As long as I'm evaluating something I'm reasonably happy. So I'm off to find some more ball bearings. You can muck about and have fun without having to spend money.
Maybe it's like learning to walk. You start with a crawl naturally (cheap HIFI), you see people walking (Good HIFI) and then feel motivated to walk. You then go out one night and see people running (Live Music) and then learn to play an instrument. You then decide you can't be hassled with the time it takes to learn the instrument and play in a live band. So you stick with your HIFI, and then spend the rest of your life needlessly trying to run with HIFI.

Unfortunately, everyone is laughing at you trying to run knowing you'll never quite get there.
The rules of Evolution definitely apply to Hifi. I look back to my teenage years when a Technics reciever with a 5-band graphic equalizer was the ultimate system. Here I am 20 years later and my simple Nait5 based system seems so wonderfull. I suppose that 20 years from today I will look back and laugh about the little integrated amp that I had.
With me, it's simply money, Jim. Most of the upgrades I've made have produced an improvement to my system, some great, some not so great.

I'm content to live with my current system until I realise I can afford an upgrade. Unfortunately due to the law of diminishing returns, this doesn't happen as often as I would like!

I then give my old friendly dealer a call & see what I can lash out on. One of life's great pleasures, don't you agree?
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