I have found that the single most important factor in setting up a good audio system is the room. After this is the speakers. Once you get these two factors right, the next most important thing is getting good recordings.
However, most of the debates amongst audiophiles pertain to other subjects. They argue about LP vs. CD reproduction, about different amplifiers and cables. Many of them will spend thousands on cables and amplifiers that make little audible difference, while doing nothing for room preparation. Room effects totally swamp the comparatively minute sonic differences in electronics. And the sonic resolution of the microphones typically used to make even the best recordings is barely enough to reach the limits of well implemented LP or CD reproduction.
I have two systems that I consider to be of reference quality: My headphone system and my primary room system.
The obvious question is: how do they compare?
Both have natural timbre, excellent detail and similar neutral tonal balance, but they present it slightly differently. The room system has better imaging and a touch more midrange presence. It's like a front row seat, versus a couple rows back on the headphones. The headphones capture deeper bass, but this is not usually noticeable. The difference is only 20-30 Hz, and most acoustic music simply doesn't have much energy in this frequency range.
A question people often ask is whether CD players sound different. The quick & easy answer is obviously YES - at least some players are poorly designed with audible sonic flaws so they sound different from others. The real question is whether two well engineered CD players can sound different. Here the answer is not as obvious. Surely even a well designed and built CD player is not perfect - it has measurable sonic flaws. But measurable does not necessarily imply audible. Are these sonic flaws below the threshold of human audibility? For example, take the CD players in my two systems. One is an Onkyo DX-7555, the other a Rotel RCD-1070. Each is a well designed, well built player that sounds and measures great. Here is a more in-depth comparison which may help answer this question.
LP TO CD
Yes I do convert LPs to CDs. I use a high quality process that ensures the best possible results, limited only by the quality of the LP.
Here are some recordings that highlight any good audio system. They all sound excellent in my primary audio room and on my headphone system. The quality of these recordings goes far beyond what would be rated tops in music guides like Stevenson or Penguin. They are listed in no particular order.