A photo of my stereo from high school - the mid 1970s: Crappy all-in-one stereo with bookshelf speakers I built. Notice the camera box and piles of books/magazines. I haven’t changed much in over 40 years…
I can say with certainty that I now have the best gear that I have ever had. The sound I can reproduce with my current setup is way beyond anything coming from any stereo in my past. In addition, the recordings I have access to are better than the 8-tracks and records of my youth - in many cases much better. As a baby boomer, much of the music I love has been remixed/remastered and is available as high-quality digital files that I didn’t even dream of 40 years ago. Albums that I’ve listened to for most of my life have been revealed to have amazing depth and complexity. One example of this is the Steven Wilson Remixes of Yes and other albums - in this regard, I’m a pretty happy guy right now.
If you’re curious, I have a mid-line Yamaha receiver and very budget, but Andrew Jones designed, Pioneer front and center channel speakers. Having lots of bass has always been important and my subs are the only speakers in my current system that I built. Twin, high quality 12” drivers matched with 240 watt amps and my AudioControl “Phase Coupled Activator” - an old sub-harmonic synthesizer - gives a nice bottom end. The surround speakers are just small bookshelf models – Polk and old Minimus 7s. The whole system is really not very fancy or expensive but has great bang for the buck, IMHO. The only odd arrangement is the front Dolby Atmos “height” speakers which are bounced off the ceiling from the back of the room. This gives an airy feeling and the whole system creates a rich and detailed soundstage with lots of bass when needed. The Yamaha receiver is really good at surround decoding as well – movies and multi-track recordings sound great.
The music is what’s really important, though, and I’ll often buy a better-quality recording of a favorite piece of music if it’s available but even CDs sound great. I don’t spend much time tweaking - once I set things up, I rarely change any settings. Listening is what it’s all about. I have more time now to just sit and listen to a favorite album. Being single again wasn’t my choice but I’m at least trying to enjoy the freedom it affords me to listen when and at what volume I want. It’s not that I couldn’t when I was married but there is more time for serious listening now. I can fall asleep to music if I want to and I often do.