It Really is The Little Things

Are you happy with the sound of your music system? Does it still “thrill” when you play your favourite albums? It is amazing how many people I have run across that become unhappy with their system and suddenly run out and grab a new component, only to realize after a few weeks of listening that it really didn’t change anything except their bank balance.

The best advise that I can give to these folks is to look at the set-up of the system and the room itself, then consider changing patch cords or speaker wires, clean all the contacts, change a stylus or cartridge etc., before you go out and spend a whack of cash on a component. I know that some of this was covered in previous posts but not all and it may be worth a reminder.

Why the Room?  This is where we relax to our music. It may be the livingroom or den, maybe the basement or the garage ( many people are now turning the garage into a playroom). Regardless of the room, size or shape may be an issue and often this is the easiest fix.

  1. Too much Bass? Try to position the speakers away from the rear and side walls, try to keep them away from corners (most speakers should be about 18″ from a wall). Too little bass – in this case the first thing that I suggest is to check phasing – are the speakers hooked up right (red to red / black to black). If phasing is incorrect, the voice will wonder, bass response is low and overall image is scattered.
  2. Too Bright? If the floor of the room is hardwood, try a small area rug or some tapestries for the wall. Make a simple wall decoration. Not sure about this, throw a couple of pillows in front of the speakers.
  3. Too Muddy?  If your flooring is carpet, try to add spikes or cones to the bottom of speakers. One quick fix is using a patio slab under your speakers to isolate them from the carpet.
  4. Check the polarity of the outlet your hi-fi system is plugged in to. While you’re doing that, take out the old receptacle and use a “Hospital Grade”. More contact = better power
  5. Finally… add a long leaf plant or re-position furniture. Each piece of furniture has different absorbing / reflecting characteristics

While you are checking the phase of your speakers, check the connectors and wire itself. Is the wire brittle and dried out, is the length good – not too long or short? Are the ends of the speaker wire still coppery of is it dull?

  1. The speaker wire is the conduit between  the amplifier and speaker itself, basically speaker wire works with electrical signals like a water pipe does with water. The “pipe” and it’s termination points must be kept free of debris from stort to finish. Regardless of the connection, be it bare wire, spade connectors or banana plugs all aspects of this cable needs to be clean – Again, contact cleaner can do the job here. As the speaker wire is the conduit, the actual size of the speaker wire and makeup are again tres important. We all know buy now, the larger the pipe, the more water it can move. The same can be said about speaker wire, although there are other considerations to take into account.

Unlike water, audio frequencies move through different parts of the wire. Bass response is reputed to travel through the core, while highest frequencies travel through ” The Skin” or outermost areas  of each wire strand. Hence “Strand Count” or number of strands are important. It is advised to use some caution while considering speaker wire size or gauge. The thicker the gauge, the resistance in the speaker line can be decreased to an unsafe level for some amplifiers. In addition, the wire may become too thick to attach to the connector on you speaker and amplifier. For the average receiver or integrated amplifier a good quality wire from $3 per foot ($10./M) is usually a good bet.

Interconnects or patch cords can also make a huge difference. Though not easily changed for every component, they can work wonders on CD players etc. Added detail, better midrange even deeper bass are all possible. When choosing a digital interconnect (Coax, Toslink)  for your CD player or computer, you may want to note that the proper length for this cable is 1.5M. I personally like Atlas Cables as they make my system bloom, or DH Labs if I need more detail.

Those of you who “spin Vinyl” already know what a huge difference a new cartridge or stylus can make. My rule of thumb is to change the whole device once every 3-5 years. Why? Stylii wear out and can damage the record grooves, Cartridges too begin to lose their output which will result in a loss of detail.

My Favourite Fixes:

  1. If your speaker has gold jumpers, get rid of them and use quality speaker wire.
  2. Clean your contacts
  3. If your gear has a removable power cord – replace it with one from Gut-Wire. Makes a huge difference for under $100. CDN.
  4. Use Hospital Grade Outlets
  5. Keep your source material clean: good Record Cleaners, Stylus Cleaners and CD Cleaners
  6. Keep your turntable tuned up; Balance, Alignment, Lubricant

Lots of ideas that won’t cost a weeks pay and will work on new components if you really want to replace.

Thanks for listening.

gord@allthatjazzhifi.com