My Stereo Is Broken

    Issue 39

    It’s not the buzzing of a ground loop or the scratching of a bad stylus. It’s silent. Merely silent, staring at me with reproach, speaking not a sound.

    Okay, I’m a geek, I can handle this.

    Let’s start on the Mac side. Check the output settings on Roon. Fine. Check the system preferences. Yep, they’re correct, the Dragonfly is set.

    And yes, the Dragonfly is lighting up.

    Let’s switch to the other USB port. No difference.

    Okay, not the Mac. Not the DAC.

    It must be the amp. Tube amps! What a pain in the neck.

    But both channels at the same time?

    I check the switch and the fuse. No luck.

    Okay, maybe the amp is dead. Fortunately, I have another one, a little 300B SET amp. I swap the cables, the inputs and the speaker cables too.



    Must be the DAC. I have this old DAC somewhere, oh, here it is, swap it in.


    It must be a dead USB port. I Google and find the secret instructions for restarting the SMC. It’s not that hard.


    About then, my wife (who’s considerably smarter than me), walks into the living room.

    “How come the speakers aren’t connected to the speaker cables?” she asks, pointing to the four cables (all four of them!) disconnected on the floor, a foot from the speakers.

    Well, how about that. It wasn’t me. It wasn’t the dog. What’s going on here?

    I’m busy coming up with people to blame, and not having much luck.

    Then I look at the cables. The spades have sheared off.

    It turns out that my new speakers, the extraordinary DeVore O/96s, have the speaker posts on the bottom. They might be the only speakers I know of that have this unusual set up. I’m at a loss for why they were designed this way.

    As a result, though, the speaker cables take a 90 degree angle just before being connected. And my old speaker cables couldn’t handle it. Over time, they stressed, stretched and finally broke.

    Here’s the thing: Without a doubt, my music must have been degrading for weeks as this was happening. Without a doubt, they must have sounded strained, and then there’d be just one speaker and then none.

    Which is precisely the opposite of the narrative I’d been living with. The legend of the Devores is that they get better over time, that the break in period is this marvelous extended period of better and better every day.

    And so I’d been telling myself that they were getting better every day.

    I guess deep down I realized what I was actually hearing, that the reality of the sound being presented, was beginning to undermine my giddiness with my new speakers.

    But the mind is far more powerful than the electron. It took silence, complete silence, to wake me up.

    A few minutes later, the system was back together, the cables were newly snipped and reinstalled and the stereo sounded better than ever.

    Of course it did.

    The number one audio tweak of all time is simple: persuade yourself your stereo sounds great.

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