I'm fascinated by the popularity of food shows on TV. Apparently a lot of people like to watch other people eating food. Entire networks play nothing but programs of people devouring food, or stranger yet, connoisseurs critiquing all of this incredible food viewers will never eat.
What does eating food have to do with audio you ask? They're both sensual pleasures. They feel good!
So what's the difference between a decent pair of $100 speakers and carefully selected $500 ones? Continuing with the food analogy, I'd say it's akin to the difference between supermarket frozen pizza and a slice from one of the better NYC pizza shops. Frozen and fresh-out-of-a-brick-oven pizza are made of the same stuff -- flour, tomatoes, cheese and spices -- but there's a world of difference in the way they taste. Cheap and midpriced speakers may share superficially similar parts -- drivers, wires and a cabinet -- but the sound they produce can be so different.
I make a living writing about the sound of products my readers can't hear in the moment. If I do my job well, some of you might take the next step and audition or even buy the products I like. You can "taste" the sound I heard for yourself!
Of course better headphones, speakers and AV receivers sound better, but in many cases better sound feels better too. The music's emotional pull feels stronger, so your connection to the music is stronger.
Your favorite band put their blood, sweat and talent into recording their music, and a great system will get you closer to their original intent. The thrill of hearing more of the music's energy and passion is exhilarating, at least it feels that way to me.
Sound quality is next to impossible to quantify. You can play music over the tiny speakers in your phone and hear the same notes, melodies and rhythms I hear over a great set of speakers or headphones. What better speakers or headphones have to offer is sound that creates a greater connection with the energy the musicians put into the music when they made it.
I love hearing from readers who took the plunge and bought headphones, speakers or electronics and were blown away by hearing their music sound better than ever. Recorded music at its best is a mind/body experience that can be savored again and again. So consider upgrading, but I have to warn you, great sound can be addictive!