What's being broken in?

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You break in a wild horse, a set of piston rings, a new spouse. And, we ease ourselves into new situations too. But stereo equipment breaking in? Why not.

I doubt anyone reading this column hasn't heard of breaking in stereo equipment for best sound. I understand there's a large and diverse opinion set amongst my readers, and I am thankful for those varying thoughts and opinions. How dull it would be if we all agreed on everything? N'est–ce Pas?

Some look at the idea of equipment break in with a cynical eye, suggesting it is the listener that is actually adjusting to the new sound–and that's certainly plausible. Others believe hundreds, even thousands of hours are required before quality listening time can be spent with any piece of equipment–and there's merit to this as well.

Let's begin our discussion on break in by taking a look at something we might all agree upon. Mechanical break in. Few would argue that over time mechanical objects break in: a new set of tires, a stiff new coat, new shoes. So it should be no surprise when I tell you that stereo equipment based on mechanical designs breaks in as well: the surround on a loudspeaker, the membrane of a ribbon or electrostat, the suspension of a phono cartridge. These things take time to sound their best.

In fact, the break in period varies from minutes to years and often, once broken in, they revert back to their state of stiff operation and need to be rejuvenated. It should be no surprise that a new pair of loudspeakers sounds better after 100 hours of use–there's an obvious change in the elasticity of materials. Over time and a great deal of use, surrounds go the other way, losing their spring and need to be replaced. Phono cartridges too, and headphones as well.

Take a minute and think of all the mechanically based items in your hi fi system and you'll get a notion of what things are subject to obvious break in. You'll also understand more how the system varies its sound from day to day - a subject we'll cover tomorrow.

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Paul McGowan

Founder & CEO

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