I'm always asking people what gear changed their recording life. Perhaps this shows our age. Some of you may not understand some answers.
Here's mine: Mackie and Alesis. Before the Mackie Mixer and the ADAT if you wanted to record in a semi-pro fashion you had few options. For a console, you had to grab a live board from Crown, Yamaha, Carvin, etc... and they were NOISY and the mic pre amps were horrible. I mean horrible. You could find mic pre offerings from Aphex or DBX, but they were expensive and aimed at broadcast. You normally had to record on a cassette, 2, 4, 6, or 8 track cassette! If you had the bread for a reel to reel, it was a 2 track or a broken 4 track. You didn't have any good options at all. Then, Mackie shows up with mixers that had great preamps and were QUIET! And the ADAT shows up with 'pristine' sound. Look: we were so used to tape hiss that anything that was dead quite was a Godsend. No one called it brittle, cold, or harsh, because we were so used to tape hiss.
Well, that's my up hill in the snow both ways story. Please share yours.