I've mentioned this before, but I've recently had another couple of refresher courses in live music. It really changes one's perspective on audio reproduction and the insular little world it can become if you don't get an occasional taste of the real thing. I'm speaking specifically of acoustic music in its various forms, of course, because live music through an SR system, although it has the advantages of freshness, is really just another experience listening through a sound system.
Most recently I heard Cecilia Bartoli and the little Baroque Orchestra that accompanies her on tour. Her voice is marvelous of course, but what struck me was the sound of the strings. We were in the balcony (where the tickets were only $50) so I think we could hear the orchestra even better than if we had been downstairs. There was a sweetness, delicacy and subtlety in the sound that I have never heard reproduced. And just one double bass could quite easily fill the auditorium and balance the rest of the orchestra--this was thanks in part to the amazing acoustics of Zellerbach Hall on the UC Berkeley campus. I've thought I had pretty good woofer setups at times, but I don't think I've any that have that open relaxed naturalness of sound. Listening to speakers is just spatially wrong, or something.
I also recently heard Rudolph Buchbinder do a solo concert in a smaller hall on campus (these are in the Cal Performances Series). The piano was a Steinway (is it always?). I can't say what model, but it looked as long as a dragster and two stage hands strained to roll it a few feet when it turned out there was a floor fixture right where Rudolph wanted the heel of his pedal foot to be. Here is where the power and refinement come in, trying to reproduce that sound. I have to say that some of the speakers I've heard do an amazing approximation, but the live music just washes over you and IT HAS NO PROBLEMS!
Anyway, this is by way of encouraging you all to avail yourselves of any opportunity you have to hear the living thing if you can. We have the great good fortune to live within fifty or sixty miles of places where world class stuff gets put on, but I think if you look around you'll find something within a doable distance. Even when I went to my first college out in the middle of the country in western New York, there was a concert series that was quite good. And if your taste is for acoustic country or small combo jazz there are often local groups that can provide a pleasant evening of the real sound.
After one of these refresher courses my expectations from the home stereo are quite moderated. I appreciate more what it can do as a reminder and obsess less about its inability to do the impossible.