Tips – free upgrades!
Clean plugs and sockets
All plug and socket connections build up some impedance and therefore attract RF signals as they corrode or collect pollution from the air. Disconnect everything every six months and use proprietary hifi cleaning agents on all metal connection surfaces you can reach. Cotton buds dipped in cleaning solution will deal with sockets. Use a Scotchbrite cloth on 13A brass mains plug pins and polish them to a shine. You’ll be impressed! It’s (almost) a free upgrade.
Time spent on speaker positioning will pay and pay and repay. It’s the cheapest upgrade you can make and you’re wasting money on your system if you ignore it. OK?!
There are some specific principles that govern the way a room works when stimulated by sound such as music. It can get very complex but an essential starting point is to place the speakers correctly.
Fortunately, a very nice man called George Cardas of Cardas Cables has laid out some straightforward guidance, covering both box and panel speakers, and including calculators where you can enter your own room dimensions. Read more under Room acoustics where you’ll find a link to the Cardas information.
The following may help with fine-tuning after the basic set-up above, because you should still be ready to tweak the final half inch.
Stand spiked cabinets on a 2-3ft length of hardboard, shiny-side down on carpet, or on a rug over wooden floors, so that you can easily slide them. Place a piece of tape on the hardboard and number the corresponding different positions on the floor with tape as you move the speakers.
Make larger changes to begin with then refine them like focussing a lens. Note the numbers and the differences you hear. Live with the good ones for a few sessions before making a final decision. By the end be precise to millimetres to ensure equal distances to the listening position, otherwise there will be timing differences in the arrival of the higher frequencies, the ones that define imaging, space and sound stage.
You may not hear much difference and you’ll think it’s a con. Unfortunately it means that your system is not delivering the fine detail and phase information to hear greater realism and imaging. The information is being destroyed within your system.
Read more under Vertex or call us to discuss.
Mains cables and ‘noise’
Keep mains cables away from all others, not just for hum pick up but because they radiate a lot of wide-band electrical noise. Read about screening below. If proximity is unavoidable cross at 90º.
You won’t necessarily hear this as noise directly, like hiss or hum, but its effect will be to bathe your music in an unpleasant haze. It inveigles itself into the music stream and corrupts it, but it’s inaudible on its own. At worst, you’ll lose detail and hear an increase in edginess.
DO NOT, DO NOT, DO NOT “dress” cables neatly, with the mains leads bundled together with signal cables, whatever the advice – about cable management – from manufacturers of so-called “hi-fi” racks.
Glass shelves on rubber pads? Ugh
Avoid like the plague equipment racks that have glass shelves supported on rubber pads.
These should not be sold as “hi-fi” racks because they are not. Mechanical energy from equipment ricochets around the glass, cannot escape and re-enters the equipment. Result? – hardening and edginess to the sound.
As a simple experiment to prove the point, try changing the interface between shelf and equipment. It could be layers of bubble wrap, foam, a bicycle inner tube gently inflated (very good!) or pieces of wood/MDF.
They will all sound different.
That should ring alarm bells! If they’re all different, is any one of them right? Probably not.
This should at least demonstrate the importance of equipment supports.
Is screening a good idea?
Screening cables may not be the best way to deal with RF pollution. Does screening stop the pollution from escaping?
Hifi is complicated and in our search for answers there’s a danger of over-simplifying highly technical topics. It’s not that some “facts” are wrong but they may be only half the story. When you see the whole it’s sometimes very different.
Take screening. A screened cable will reject some or all external radio frequency interference (RFI) but the screening – depending on its type – may lock into the cable such nasties as high frequency noise * that would otherwise be radiated. There can be a lot of damaging electrical noise created within the system and coming in through the mains – a good reason to keep interconnects well clear of mains cables.
A different approach is taken by some companies, such as Vertex AQ. They believe it’s better to absorb the radiation, travelling into and out of the cable, with methods based on radar-defying “stealth” technology.
The costs for materials and labour are high so the techniques are used more in high end cables where the benefits are increased timbre, greater ‘character’ to instruments and voices, that bring out the emotion in the performance.
* There is often misunderstanding about this term ‘noise’. It is not the sort of noise that you hear when there’s no music playing, like mains hum. Instead it’s a type of pollution that actually interacts with the music signal, modulating it so it becomes audible as part of the degraded music signal and it:
- creates distortion that causes hard, aggressive treble
- destroys phase information that delineates the sound stage and placement of musicians
- creates a haze around the notes, like the halo round a street lamp seen through a rainy window
- damages the timing of music, the foot-tapping thing – subtle, hard to pin down but crucial to our enjoyment of music.
However the increased clarity from removing it can be startling.
The solution is mains filtration but beware of types that use chokes, coils and transformers or regenerate the mains (big transformers create vibration). Solutions that use these methods can limit the dynamic demand for current to the system, stifling energy and life.
The Quiescent Balanced Power Distribution Block is an excellent solution because equipment plugged into it remains directly connected to the mains for maximum current delivery, while pollution is “shunted” off to the side. The Quiescent block introduces the benefits of balanced mains, together with massive absorption of vibration and RF damage.