Living in a vacuum

September 22, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

As much as our mental faculties like to focus on one thing at a time, the reality is we do not live in a vacuum.

Everything affects everything else.

When we opt for a new phono cartridge it has a very different electrical and sonic character than its predecessor. We’ll need to readjust the cartridge loading, perhaps consider the connecting cables, and then at the loudspeaker’s output, there’s a whole new presentation of music to deal with.

Or consider what happens when we change interconnecting or power cables. The signal or AC power may travel unmolested between equipment but what of noise or other upsetting events unrelated to the signal?

Do you believe your equipment is immune to noise?

Evaluating and judging the impacts of a single piece of equipment or cable within a complex system is a crap shoot at best.

You might love what chili peppers do for your dinner but it probably doesn’t work in a cake because we don’t live in a vacuum.

Our 2-channel audio systems are exactly that: systems.

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43 comments on “Living in a vacuum”

  1. Exactly! But the listening room is a most crucial part of this system. Thus shouldn’t a serious manufacturer of audio systems precisely describe the characteristics and basic and most influential parameters being set for “voicing” his systems? In the end: the minimum of set-up-stress I had with my active loudspeakers (point-source design, wireless digital input). 🙂

    1. Addendum: 2-channel audio system”??? Really? I would argue that every multi-way loudspeaker is splitting the 2-channel source signal into multiple channels corresponding with the number of drivers each sending out an individual sound-wave/signal reaching the ear along different paths. And what about these strange multi-mic array recording techniques? Multiple channels are finally mixed down to two channels. 😉

  2. I’ve been living in a vacuum tube. Does that count?
    I’ve been quite diligent into tube research and have done some rolling. Certainly a power source that changes the sound…big time.

    1. That works for my palate… I remember having dinner near one of my retail stores in NYC at my favorite Italian Trattoria. The owner, Carmine Mitroni was big on experimenting with the taste of true Italian so one night for dessert he brought me handmade Chocolate Gelato with Pepperoncini (just a touch for correct balance) made in a 150 year old Gelato maker he brought back from Italia. This dessert took me by supprise and when I got home that night and turned on my system… A Miracle…everything I played sounded s heck of a lot better!

  3. I’ve designed a new music room. Since I stream most everything I don’t need all the equipment in my room.
    I will build the room and locate the equipment outside of the room away from the vibrations and contamination.
    The only components inside the room will be amplifiers and speakers.

    Just think all the time and money I won’t have to spend on vibration influencing the sound quality. Some of the better anti vibration footers and accessories cost multi thousands including the racks housing the equipment. The extra room adjoining and isolated from the room will be cheap in comparison.

      1. Yes that’s true. It will be a bit inconvenient to play albums and CDs but I believe an it repeater will fix the CD at least controlling it.

        Hmm maybe a trained monkey to flip and wash the records.

        1. Years ago, when I was still single, I had a system of three mirrors set
          up so that I could fire the remote into the other room that had the CD
          player & the integrated amp in it.
          I had drilled two holes through the brick wall for the loudspeaker wires.
          Trained monkeys were hard to come by at a reasonable price.

  4. “Evaluating and judging the impacts of a single piece of equipment or cable within a complex system is a crap shoot at best.”

    It may well be but we’ve been doing it for years and I don’t know of a better way, surely the only way. It’s a tried and tested method for any endeavour. You change one thing at a time and evaluate the changes, hopefully reaping the benefits.

    Because nobody changes anything to make it intentionally worse do they. Cheaper, yes, but not worse, but that’s a whole other discussion.

    I feel I should add that the last paragraph is not aimed at PSA or even audio specific but just a more general observation about some products today. Stepping down from soapbox now.

    1. Some people like to promote the circle of confusion – where everything matters – and after changing everything and spending a lot of money you get back to where you started and start changing that, rinse and repeat.

      Or you can select a product and live happily with it until is breaks or becomes technologically redundant, which happens very rarely.

      My hobby is jumping off bandwagons, I recently jumped off the phono cartridge bandwagon, junking a Koetsu for a humble Denon DL103 with a stylus and cantilever upgrade from Expert Stylus.

        1. Got of the multi-component bandwagon (still have one or two more than I would like) and off the cable bandwagon (got cables, no changes needed). Still on the vinyl bandwagon.

      1. You junked a Koetsu? Naw, you’re kidding me. Next you’re going to tell me it was a Rosewood Platinum?
        Next time you want to junk any component please let me know first. I would happily pay for shipping even from Overseas.

        1. It was a Urushi I bought second hand about 8 or 10 years ago, after a retip and full inspection/test by Expert Stylus. After another retip and a further 3 years or so it got damaged, it could have been fixed quite reasonably if the internals were not bunged up and I was told it really needed a complete rebuild.

          I also have the SoundSmith Zephyr medium output MI unit, cost more than the Denon, but the 20% cost for a replacement stylus is a very good scheme.

          1. That’s a hell of a cartridge in my opinion. A while back I owned a Black Gold Line Upgraded in 1980 to a Standard Rosewood but the price was much lower then. I loved that cartridge but it needed to be re-tipped as well so I traded it in there and at that point in time I was not listening very much and a friend of mine who was a manufacturers rep gave me a Dynavector Ruby I believe . At present I have a Lyra Lydian which is quite articulate but certainly less harmonic Integrity. Nevertheless, I find the Lyra cartridge musical to my ears and it really tracks well which makes for fast attacks that my Maggies can respond to with equal speed. In retrospect, I really wish that had I’d re-tipped my Rosewood.

            1. Once the bits inside get grubby, they lose their agility and that’s it. It is about $2,500 to get a Koetsu rebuilt. Not going there. The upgraded Denon was well under $1,000 new (I forget how much) and sounds way better than the Koetsu did at the end. Wet-cleaning records reduced stylus wear by about two-thirds and stops muck going on the cantilever. Anyway, in a happy low-cost non-bandwagon cartridge place.

  5. Today’s post seems to be implying the fully matched and complete synergy from one manufacturer approach. Power plants to minimize or eliminate the mains supply issues. Then the supply of all electronics and speakers. Finally their recommended interconnects, speaker wires and power cords. From where the manufacturer stands then any issue due to noise or a ‘mis-sound’ comes from the user’s environment.

    For the enthusiast or ‘tinkerer’ the above option is not in their ‘make-up’. So that leaves the evaluation process for those type of people.

    Finding problems like noise may seem like a crap shoot, but with the proper tools, experience, and time, the cause can be located. Resolution may be harder to come to by depending on the noise source.

  6. I agree, a system understanding is required. Sometimes a one for one swap is OK. When I compared the PST to the DMP a one for one swap was fine since the two units had similar electrical requirements and had no serious down stream effects. However, changing speakers in a system may require other changes to really understand the impact of the new speakers. The new speakers probably have a different impedance response and that may require different amps and / or cables to get the best out of them.

    1. Yes, a speaker change has to factor in the potential cost of new amplification, and cables (for those on the cable merry-go-round). My French box of tricks at around 200w was not really enough for even the smaller Focal Diablo.

  7. Do you believe your equipment is immune to noise?
    Noise can be generated from many sources, including vibration. Some components are microphonic. The best exposure I had to microphonics was while working on UHF VCO. We mounted the chamber on spring suspension system and used special super fine- ultra flex jacketed coax to help mute /prevented a tap or vibration from being transmitted into and by the system over the air.

    1. Vibrations are a nightmare for audio especially when acting on the plugs of interconnects. I wonder why there are no highend plugs-and-sockets designs with strong and defined contact force and resistance!

      1. Don’t WBT connectors fit the bill? On speakers the outer sleeve screws inwards to clamp the centre pin in the socket and on RCA’s the outer screen is clamped to the socket, both types creating a strong grip. There are also IEC mains plugs which hook into the socket of the equipment by way of a plastic clip so it can’t be accidentally pulled out. There is no contact enhancement though. XLR plugs already clip in but I realise there is no defined contact pressure on the pins.

        1. You see the problems! But don’t forget the aspect of micro-vibrations/movements of the plugs in the socket. I recommend to put some sticky but easy removable sealant around the socket/plug connection. The improvement in sound quality is sometimes most remarkable especially when listening at high volumes creating powerful sound waves – as preferred by FR. 😉

    1. Thirty-eight comments now Rich 😉

      I like the RCA plugs that Denis Morecroft from DNM Design supplies, as they are built to really grip the socket & if the socket is gold plated then they will very rarely require removal.

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