Originally Posted by imagic
Cut the propaganda. Nobody said $50 speakers sound as good as a properly-designed, (necessarily) higher priced but also higher-performance speakers. Well, you said it, but you are making that up.
As for amplification, that's a real issue with the high-end guys, they don't seem to understand what it means for an amp to offer flat response and distortion below audible thresholds as long as it's not driven to clipping. Instead there's a belief that amps and magic cables should be used to "tune" systems which is fairy-tale BS.
A good AVR, a high performance sub and some well-designed speakers that don't cost a fortune, with a bit of EQ and proper placement and attention to the room, and you are golden.
I've seen many posts about "cheap chinese speakers" and accompanying in room response graphs after EQ that showed them measuring flat. That was proof in their eyes that their speakers must sound as good as any. So no, I'm not actually making it up. Granted this is not the majority opinion but I've seen it here often.
As far as amplifiers go, I'm of the opinion that at a certain quality level (linear response, low distortion as you note) most amplifiers sound more similar than different. However the subtleties matter a lot to audiophiles. Amplifiers (as well as your other electronics) have an affect on things like soundstage, imaging, transient response, low level resolution, etc. Many of those are harder to suss out in both measurements and in short ABX clips. And small subtleties like soundstage positioning (forward vs. back) that are very minor in a small bookshelf system manifest as quite large on a full range system in a large room.
Then there's a whole other argument about whether chasing low distortion levels and absolute linearity is even the right goal to have for re-creating a musical event. Most tube lovers would beg to differ.
I think my real problem is that even when you do show measurable differences in the gear, the old ABX blind testing crutch comes out. "Even though it measures different, you must prove it audibly by blind test!". Once it goes into the ABX black hole, all bets are off. I'll just quote the article again here: "At best, ABX test results will tell us something about the abilities of each tester under the specific conditions of the test. Nothing more, nothing less."