AV Upgraditis: The Lure of the Upgrade – A Personal Account
I admit it; I get upgraditis like any other AV enthusiast. And I should know better. I have written articles telling folks not to let their quest for “the best” overrule their common sense. Despite this, my lizard brain gets the best of me, and I find myself ordering stuff I don’t need because it does this one thing slightly better than another piece of gear I have. But I took control, sold it all, and went back to basics. Eventually. This is my personal story of AV upgraditis and how I learned to avoid the lure of the upgrade.
What Is AV Upgraditis?
First off, it’s a term that we can apply to almost any hobby. AV upgraditis is the lure to upgrade to something slightly newer, despite the marginal improvement (if any) you will get in performance.
Console or PC gamers are notorious for this. Wait until there is a new Xbox or PlayStation released. The marketplaces will have scores of the last-gen of the consoles for sale. Usually for half of what they sold for just a year prior.
But Why Do We Do It?
I can only speak for myself, but it was because I bought into the hype. For example, I bought an Nvidia Shield Pro in 2019 when the new model came out. I was in the market for a streaming box that could give me a lossless pass-through for Plex and allow me to use the latest Atmos or DTS codecs with most streaming services.
And I loved it. I used it for everything, and it worked flawlessly. But in 2021, when Apple Music went lossless, I was convinced that I “needed” an Apple TV 4K to get the most out of their lossless music. The lure of the AV upgrade was strong and my upgraditis kicked in! I went out and got the first-gen Apple TV for $100 even though my LG B9 and AV receiver had Airplay 2 and could stream wirelessly at (or near) CD quality.
It Didn’t Stop There
But what did I do? I read forums and watched YouTube videos where people said, subjectively, that they could tell the difference between lossless audio and AirPlay 2. Never mind that since my Nvidia is an Android box, I could easily side-load the Apple Music APK and get actual lossless on my Shield. That wasn’t something that registered. My upgraditis could only see the shiny new box that I wanted! I convinced myself that I needed the Apple TV to do it properly. Here is the worse part, Apple released the second-gen Apple TV 4K, with marginal upgrades and a new remote soon after.
You can probably guess what I did next.
I ordered a new Apple TV on a flash sale and sold my old one. I sold my old one for what I paid and got a smoking deal on the new one, but it didn’t add anything. Oh, and the new remote? I never use it because I have a Harmony!
But it didn’t end there! The lure of upgraditis isn’t satisfied with a new AV upgrade. It is always on the lookout for the next thing that I “needed.” I ended up buying several CD players because CD quality on a disc is better than CD quality streaming (or so said the Internet). That led to a DAC because “I needed one.” But you can’t have a DAC without a standalone amplifier, right? “Don’t be ridiculous.” my upgraditis told me. So off I was to buy an external amplifier because my 91dB sensitive speakers really needed 125 watts to “really open up!” Or so I was told by the Internet.
If this sounds like a sickness, it very much felt like one.
So Why Did I Get Rid Of It All?
Believe it or not, it was programming my remote. It dawned on me just how many steps I had to go through to turn on a component. Sure, the Harmony remote automated it. But if it messed up, I had to use component remotes. I realized was pulling out 4 or 5 remotes. And for what? Marginal to no difference in sound or video? I felt like a hoarder that finally looked around their house and realized they were surrounded by junk. But the lure of upgraditis was strong – I’d paid a lot of money for these AV upgrades. I had to be sure they weren’t needed.
I have to give my wife props. That poor woman sat downstairs with me and A/B tested CD vs streaming vs AirPlay. She helped me compare amplifier vs no amplifier. I took hours of her life that she will never get back, and for what? The only thing that she could tell me was that she liked the menus of the Apple TV a bit more because it was like her iPhone. Oh, and she likes HDR and Dolby Vision over SDR which isn’t exactly surprising. Nothing about sound quality, she didn’t notice the fancy up-mixing, and she sure as heck didn’t see the fancy frame-rate switching from 60fps to 24fps.
She Wasn’t the Only One
And if I am being honest, I didn’t notice much either. Sure I could see some minor judder with fast-moving scenes on my OLED. That was because I know what to look for, and I am long past caring that I have to trade off some judder for outstanding HDR performance. Plus, that had nothing to do with Nvidia vs Apple TV 4K; that’s an OLED thing.
As for CD vs streaming, I “think” I heard a difference, but it wasn’t about quality. I know that streaming services normalize their tracks to ensure a consistent volume from song to song. CDs don’t follow the same guidelines. That meant that the music on my CD sometimes played louder at the same volume setting on my AV receiver. So the difference I heard was volume, not quality, and our brains tend to think moar louder=moar better!
I now have my AV receiver, my Nvidia Shield, my Xbox for games, and a CD player. I didn’t keep the CD player for quality; instead, it’s about ritual and nostalgia. It takes me back to a simpler time in my life and forces me to slow down and just enjoy the music for what it is. But the rest of the gear? Sold on the used market. That money was much better spent on acoustic panels and a second subwoofer. AV upgrades that not only feed the lure of my upgraditis, but actually make a sonic difference!
It’s easy to go down the rabbit hole and keep going for the “1% more” to bring you audio nirvana. But at some point, you need to stop and ask yourself if you are chasing sonic improvements, or are you chasing something else? And don’t get me wrong, if you have the means to afford all of this, by all means, upgrade to your heart’s content. Feed that AV upgraditis beast all the upgrades it wants – just know that the pull of the lure will never end!
But I am speaking to the new person who has a limited budget (I count myself as one of you). Make meaningful purchases. Treat your room before you add more gear. Most importantly, understand that there is a point where you are shelling out money for prestige or bragging rights to a group of internet strangers. Sure, you may have the new thing, but that doesn’t mean it sounds any better. That was the whole point, wasn’t it? When I remembered that, I suddenly realized how much money I’d wasted. Learn from me.
I have found the biggest thing that led me to buy, buy, buy, and upgrade (was it really a true upgrade ???) stuff was the ease of shopping and buying online, eBay, Amazon or just at various electronics retailers. This can if one is not too wise become a cash robbing rabbit hole.
Add to this the endless blather of hi-fi, AV gear reviews including now YOUTUBE videos and notably often toxic online forums blather creating a FOMO effect is a concern. It was not like that before the internet and online shopping.
In the days of only buying through brick and mortar shops (yes you could get printed out catalogues and buy mail order) one was less likely to buy, buy, buy, or get upgrade fever as much. Back then we had no online forums blather and what is mostly nonsense opinions and glorifying one’s own stuff bought to show up mostly others whom are really strangers anyways to you. You only got the bug maybe to buy if you first bought off the magazine racks or subscriptions Hi-Fi or AV magazines to see and learn about gear.
For me shopping for electronics, hi-fi, a/v and digital camera gear online has really just caused me to toss away good sums of my earned money and worse stupid credit, as well as waste much of my time and life. In that almost never really getting much if any better sounding audio or much better video picture. It was really becoming like a drug addict who pushes a needle into his/her veins, for me to buy more stuff and that again wasted much money, did not perform much if any better that what I had, but it made me feel good for a short while much like that drug addict and his/her drugs. Much of it was also PLACEBO EFECT backed by again often online forums banter and blather!
There is a case to buy new gear and it’s to make credible and measurable differences, ie; say going from a 50″ t.v to a 70″ t.v. or by adding a subwoofer or two or updating a woefully outdated AVR or blown speakers etc.
But I have come to see the toxicity of the ease to shop online and how the just BUY IT NOW can be a very dangerous thing having you possibly throwing money away or worse using credit to buy ‘crap’ you have no business in buying.
Ease of shopping definitely hasn’t made the lure of the upgrade any better.
I have to agree with you. It is so easy to get caught up with the hype, especially when speaker companies give our samples like candy when a new product is released and they get a huge number of positive reviews right away.
As I said in my article, I should know better. I am educated and I have written lots of articles about what makes a difference. But my smartphone knows what I am looking at and next thing you know, I am getting a “flash sale” from Amazon on a product I was looking at. Imagine that! Buy now, I will never get a better deal.