Practical matters

September 17, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

A few years ago when we were researching the PS Audio PowerBase product I spent a few weeks digging into the sonic impacts of vibration control.

What I discovered is how much of a difference a solid rack or other means of damping and controlling vibrations in our electronics makes. It’s a big deal.

It’s also a potential rabbit hole.

The more I listened and experimented the more important it seemed to me to place footers and Sorbothane dampers under each and every piece of equipment until it looked like some sort of nightmare.

Why stop there?

How do you decide to stop if everything you do matters?

Where I wound up was a compromise. I bought an excellent and sturdy shelf for the equipment, closed my eyes, turned off the OCD voices, and called it good.

Good enough.

There’s a point in every system and in everyone’s lives where practical matters supersede the temptation to go further and further.

I don’t compromise on equipment and cable upgrades but I do draw the line on just about everything else from room treatments, seating, vibration control, and even lighting enhancements.

Yes, it all matters.

But then the practical side of life gets in the way.

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38 comments on “Practical matters”

  1. I put my audio cabinet on some industrial wheels and put 8mm between the wheel plate and the wooden underside of the cabinet. Makes a big improvement for pennies. The units I have that require damped feet come as standard.

  2. “How do you decide to stop if everything you do matters?”

    I like the concept behind that question, a possible answer being ‘you don’t’ but if course that’s hardly realistic. One way of knowing when to stop is when what you’re doing does harm rather than good. For example reducing toe in of speakers to widen the soundstage will eventually lose the centre image, there will be a hole in the middle. Time to stop, time to go back.

    In whatever way temptation is restricted I don’t think it goes away. We still ask ourselves, what if?

    As to compromise I wonder, is it true to say that virtually every decision we make is to some extent a compromise, the limiting factor usually being financial.

    1. All valid points Richtea….

      The what if?… followed by How Much!!! (That’s often shouted by the significant other) Then back to reality with the phrase….”things are pretty good now with the choices I’ve made and the space I have”…

      A few months or so later, repeat above statements.

  3. If everything matters (I would agree: recently I exchanged the 9V wall wart power supply of my active digital RCA cable by a huge 12 V LPs resulting in a huge improvement of sound quality) shouldn’t you then clearly define and reveal the boundary conditions for your extensive voicing of new circuits or loudspeakers? Maybe a voicing using headphones might be a better approach avoiding these room and rattling rack effects???

  4. Wow Paul knows the meaning and application of compromise when it comes to his high end audio. 😀 Maybe not so much when it comes to cables and electronics, but definitely when it comes to damping and controlling vibrations. 🙂

    Like most anything in this hobby there are extremes and those are there for the extremist.

    A lot of what I have done has been through home made concepts initially and then in many cases onto something commercial for aesthetics. When I question their effectiveness I remove them after a period of months. Usually after the semi annual cleaning ritual. (It doesn’t take long before they are all returned to their original locations) Personally I like IsoAcoutic products and Auralex products. Of course there are many more that may be better or theoretically more proficient at their task. But like cables, the choices can become overwhelming and lines have to be drawn somewhere.

    For floor stands I started with 3.5in thick local (my back yard) rock Maple slabs with spiked outriggers for the amps and under the speakers and subs. (First rough sawn – then eventually planed, sanded and a oil finish) They stands are very aesthetically pleasing and functionally very good. The choice in feet under the electronics became the next quest. In my case the iso pucks worked well there.

    As far as a rack, a great friend sent me a VTI rack for Christmas a couple of years ago. The aesthetics went way up – and the functionality is great.

    So no obsessing over vibration and damping for me anymore either.

    I will say that playing around with that stuff was fun, and a eye opener into how sensitive some of the audio equipment is.

  5. Aah, there’s that word that I like to throw around…”compromise”…& Paul used it twice.
    My equipment & loudspeakers sit upon ISO-Pucks; the former also upon bamboo
    chopping boards on top of 1cm thick sheets of cork, ON THE FLOOR.
    That, & running my interconnects, wires & cables over rebar chairs is
    enough isolation for the level of ‘reveal’ that my rig is capable of achieving.

        1. Either…. or
          Although one may be easier to find the max.
          Specifically I was talking about the reveal which involves the drivers transmitting to the ears 😉

          Or is good enough good enough? 🙂

            1. Or the enemy of better?
              Like life. Compromise and choices….
              To each their own.
              But back to the original question… put another way… is the reveal obtained now all that is obtainable from your current equipment?

  6. I’ve made the experience that final audio magic often lies in the care for those topics, others stop at. Most already stop somewhere at cabling and positioning, others later. I also don’t overdo everything, but I experienced, that results one would want to reach with e.g. a better amp or speaker etc., often are much easier reached by e.g. better cabling and so forth. Most don’t know the potential of their equipment before they continue to use a new one and still they never reach what others do with garbles money.

    Those who stop too early will always just have standard experience and often are repeatedly flashed by the experience of others as soon as they copy something of it, that applies in their case, too.

    I also experienced that it’s important to care for most optimal surrounding preconditions for the equipment, because the judgement of equipment changes with that and it avoids compensating and non-goal-orientated meandering in terms of equipment.

    Vibration control?
    Is individual per component and situation, not a matter of review winners. It needs individual listening and especially in case of speakers and turntables, has big effect.

  7. I think the operative word here is not so much compromise or practicality, but PRIORITY. If the priority is to develop the most perfect sound system possible, there’s never going to be an end. But if the priority is to get as much enjoyment of your audio system as possible within your budget, it becomes a lot easier. Yes, that’s compromise, but it’s the truly practical side of compromise – a reason for the compromise, if that makes sense. In other words, if slapping your pre-amp on top of your washing machine during spin cycle gives you the most audio pleasure, who and why am I to question that?

    1. Thanks for the link Stuart, I probably would have missed it otherwise. BTW, nothing wrong with a bit of self promotion. 🙂
      I read once that you are never far from a model railway and yet, despite the fact that almost everyone likes music, it is in my experience extremely rare to meet a fellow audiophile.

  8. I think the kind of practical and habituality matters, superseding audiophile neurosis, which Paul experiences in the Pro world and which partly seems to drive him nuts, is just a step more pragmatic than the one or other’s own. The caring can be overdone easily, but it’s also a fact, that everyone thinks, where he stops is the point where further fiddling is not relevant enough anymore. For the one that’s everything beyond a kitchen radio, for the other it’s not good enough unless the resonance of every cabinet door in the listening room is neutralized 😉

  9. I have an ancient pair of Sequerra Metronome Pyramid speakers. They are extremely heavy because Dick Sequerra lined the cabinets with concrete to stop any cabinet vibration. I also have an Oracle Delphi turntable on tiptoes, and all of my components are on a rack with sorbothane feet. My room treatments are primarily bookshelves loaded with books and vinyl albums. It seems to be enough.

    1. Nice to know. I have a pair of Dick Sequerra MET 7 mk2 sitting in my closet. Too big for my desktop situation. Got them in the late 80’s. They were always very good in the room I had them in.

  10. With regard to vibration noise inexpensive Sorbothane pucks did the trick for me and they are basically invisible in my rack. One aspect concerning the use this amazing product is they can’t make the system sound worse.

    Mike, you are fortunate in that you have your own listening room which I no longer have. That’s a big help. My biggest issue is living in an apartment now in Florida ambient noise from Air Conditioner’s on the roof the neighbors making noise occasionally really mess up enjoyment of music listening. I don’t think anyone has brought up this topic of ambient noise to the best of my knowledge and it can easily override any system distortion that has been discussed over the years.

  11. I often wondered….

    What vibrations are we eliminating? Is it from the bass that comes from the speakers that vibrates objects? Or, is the vibration emanating within the electronics itself? Or, both?

    1. Genez,

      All of them, in particular natural ground borne vibration which may be better or worse depending where you live and what you live near. If your listening room has a suspended wooden floor it will be naturally springy, much more so than a solid concrete floor and it will be of even more importance. I don’t think anyone should underestimate the value of vibration control on speakers, turntables and CD transports, but ultimately all electronics will benefit. It’s another reason our systems sound better at night, less activity means less ground vibration.

    2. I think in most cases it is both. My very basic impression of what vibration control has done for my system is improving bass response and a better acoustic image.

  12. My listening room is really neat, looking one way is a hi-fi system with all the best PS Audio equipment. If you sit 90 degrees to the left it’s a full Dolby Atmos mixing studio with the latest Genelec speakers. The Genelec speakers are very accurate they will show the flaws in any recording, I think they are about as accurate of a system as you can buy, interesting thing is they are all self powered speakers. It makes me think about the vibration of the electronics by the drivers in the speaker cabinets. Of course my hi-fi system sounds much better than the studio system but there isn’t a more accurate system than the Genelec powered speakers. How is this possible if vibration is so destructive?

  13. We all have epiphanies from time to time and we would be missing something if not tried.
    Every object has it’s own unique resonant frequency. Do these resonant frequencies interfere with the audio band, well probably some do or some combination of objects do.

    Remember the vintage gear humming transformers that would cause the whole case to vibrate.

  14. So… should speakers be on spikes,or on isolators ?? I would like to think this conundrum should be definitive. But it’s not. Chris B from PS Audio likes spikes. But i seem to think isolation makes more sense. Of course its up to our ears etc,but boy this one should be either or???

    1. Phil,
      My old Celestion – ‘Ditton 66’ floorstanders sounded best on metal cone-
      spikes, however, my DeVore Fidelity – ‘Orangutan O-93’ floorstanders
      sound best with IsoAcoustic – ‘ISO-Puck’ isolators under them…go figure.
      You can only experiment for yourself & find out which sounds better to you.

  15. Paul,

    Please provide organ instrument details for your upcoming organ recording, e.g., instrument builder, year of build, number of ranks, number of stops, number of pipes, longest pipe, etc. This info will be much appreciated and will help with assessing instrument / recording expectations.

    Thanks,
    Mike Maduras

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