Got to admit having a friend who shared his audiophile passion helped a lot. I use the KT88s for their more complete sound on my system compared to KT77/EL34. I do however look at my CD collection built up since 1982 and think some madness possesses me! Glad you understood my journey!
Excellent tour through your mindset as you made this audio journey. I also went from solid state to tubes, and I'm not sure that I could go back. I am also a KT88 user, and going this way has been one of the more important changes I have made.
OK I'll try to keep it short but it's a journey! I arrived from the UK in 2014 with Pioneer separates and Rogers 8 floorstanding speakers I bought in the late 80's and wanted to get rid of power transformers, and play as usual my CDs but also old LPs that had lain dormant in my garage for years!
So I bought a basic turntable from Akai BT500 that had good reviews, a decent Sony AV receiver and teamed it with a Sony CD player and the Rogers speakers.
Then I wanted a better CD player that would play SACD's so I bought the Onkyo C-S5V CD Player (which I still use for SACDs).
Then, a friend that I go to live music gigs with got me listening to his tube amps and lent me a Manley Stingray, and so started the slippery slope to my current setup. I started looking at affordable but good power wattage tube amps (Manley Stingray at $6k was too much) and settled on the Willsenton based upon really good reviews and its flexibility to tube roll as it takes EL34, 6550 and KT88 tubes.
Things were sounding a lot better, but my speakers were 30+years and it showed so I looked for near full range floor standers. Went to lots of shows (RMAF was still running in CO) and visited HiFi stores. Auditioned lots of speakers and the Sonus Faber Sonetto 8's sounded great and as per the reviews a good allrounder for all types of music, neutral, detailed and with a good dynamic range, plus down facing bass port makes placement more straightforward. Then I got a great deal when buying the Sonetto's VIII's and created my current dedicated 2 channel setup.
Having so many CDs I wanted a better sound so instead of using the Onkyo as a CD player I decided to use it as a transport and bought the Bel Canto 3.7 DAC from my friend as I had heard the detail, warmth and tube output greatness from the Bel Canto DAC. Its R2R and has separate power supply and a completely dark presentation except when there is a signal. It's basically a great DAC. And to go further in achieving the best CD sound I bought the PS Audio CD/SACD Memory Player 2nd. hand from Audiogon - knowing PS Audio was just down the road if things needed fixed.
So my reasons for choices started out budgetary, then being attracted to tube sound, and then being able to listen to higher-end items before buying and driven because I wanted the best from CDs and LPs and CDs and listen to albums rather than tracks. (I'm still only using streaming to listen to CDs I might want to buy.)
Other tweaks - Furman Sound 8 Outlet Surge Suppressor; Self-made Belden and Mogami RCA and Coaxial interconnects; Self-made Furtech/Yarbo Power cable for the amplifier; Audiocrast HiFi Power cables; XLFM-RC1 XLR to RCA for DAC to Amp output.
So where am I now? It's a very good to great sounding system. It's very musical and has excellent soundstage, depth/breadth, very good detail throughout the dynamic range, and I really enjoy listening to it. But as I have the audio bug I'd like to potentially go two ways.
1. Looking at a better (more powerful) integrated amp or pre-amp/power amp to really drive the Sonetto's to their full potential while gaining some more overall definition, control and detail that I know the SFs can deliver.
2. Getting more live music feel by integrating a sub-woofer.