Small matters

April 25, 2018
 by Paul McGowan

Little things add up to bigger things. And often, we pay so much attention to the big items like loudspeakers, power amplifiers, and regenerators, that we ignore the little things.

Yet, it is the little things that often matter most. System setup; cartridge tweaking; turntable leveling; anchoring racks; proper grounding; dedicated lines; musical selections. Setting the perfect volume levels.

For me, it often depends on my mood. If I am in my critical zone—where everything has to be just so—I’ll use CleanWave, I’ll dial the level to match the number of people, I’ll make sure the lighting is just right.

The next time you want perfection, remember it’s often the little things that matter.

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35 comments on “Small matters”

  1. Following the path to the unreachable goal of audio perfection I rather would innitially address the big points (room acoustics for instance and mains power supply). If I had the chance to build a new “music room one” I would install the audio rack in a separate room having only the speakers in my listening room. Thus no detrimental airborne effects can degrade the sound quality. Remote control is performed via a WLAN solution based on a tablet PC (iPad). Good luck, Paul, for your efforts optimising the new music rooms.

    1. In the era of LP, a friend very concerned by what he had read about the acoustic feedback on turntables, put all the equipment in a nearby room, had to spend a lot of money on long lengths of exotic speaker cables, (so as not to have losses) pierce walls etc. new problems arose, for example, when the disc was finished, he did not have time to lower the volume and raise the turntable arm, which produced a great noise in the listening room, with potential speaker damage, another problem that he had is that when the volume was not at the level he wanted, according to the disc he was playing, he returned again and again to the room of the devices to adjust it.

      I made the following joke: You’re going to spend half of your life calibrating the equipment in the other room and the other half, listening to it in disagreement with what you want. He was badly upset with me.

      The first time he invited me to hear his “sophisticated” installation, I felt that something was missing, accustomed as I was, to seeing all the equipment working together in the same room, which gives me a sensation of comfort, be able to check that everything is working correctly.

      It is the kind of unsuccessful experiments, which are the result of an excess of precautions and that can border on the obsessive.

      In what I have been able to experience, in this digital age, acoustic feedback problems are not as severe, as they used to be, but they could be with WLAN / wifi: RFI problems, and not EMI problems as jb4 says.

      1. Most interesting.
        My turntables (ReVox B790, ELP-LT) have a remote control for lifting and moving the tonearm. I never heard WLAN entering my tonearm-cartridge systems but some 30 years ago the vinyl part of my system had severe problems with a nearby radio station preferring the tonearm as radio antenna. 😉 However I always have my eyes closed when listening to recorded music from my stereo system. Background music however is another story. But even here I don’t focus on my equipment at all.

        1. The problems of RFI, are not solved moving the turntable to another room, most of the time is when the voltages measured to mass of the different components of the chain are different, due to the PS filtering failures and the way is to minimize them with a true and close connection to ground, or orienting the AC plugs one by one until it disappears, or decreases. When the RFI is very severe as when there are transmitters very close, the problem becomes more difficult to solve, but not impossible. An extreme case is to build a Faraday filter, unusual in domestic installations.

          Any device that emits electromagnetic radiation for example cell phones is a source of pollution, so strong, that recent studies have been known to influence the neurotransmitters of the human brain in the face of prolonged exposure.

          1. Agreed. But don’t you think that Spectral Audio even offering MHz-amps and Prof. Keith Johnson have already solved this problem? If not this company would have big problems selling it’s devices in our RF polluted world.

            1. Many modern companies have taken into account the effects of RFI and EMI on their designs when they are extremely extended range, using exotic materials such as mu-metal, and other considerations.

              I have had in the past, however, problems with manufacturers such as Theta by Mike Moffat and Conrad Johnson, for example with the Premier 3 tube pre-amp, whose susceptibility was extreme to capture RFI, and at the factory they suggested that I change it with Premier 2, which being of lower resolution, did not have those problems. More frequent these are with those of valves, MC pre-pre.

              There are many other companies that sell cheaper equipment that do not have such problems, however. Everything is reduced to the design and correct layout of the different components within the chassis.

              My Amber Series 70 with a perfect star ground, are exempt from that kind of problems.

  2. Hobbyists of every variety obsess about the minutiae, that’s what a hobby is all about. To the hobbyist it’s almost a matter of life and death, to the outsider the hobbyist is either mad or stupid or both. It’s normally the result of having too much time or too much money, or both.

    1. I strongly doubt such generalizations are valid. Otherwise all researchers or explorers would be mad. 😉 Maybe some people fighting for beating the world record or getting an entry in the Guiness book of records would fit your characterization? As all men are not equal audiophiles are not equal too (heuresement).

      1. I only have two friends who is remotely interested in audio for its own sake. For decades I had what might be considered a socially acceptable audio system, namely CD player, integrated amplifier and speakers. I abandoned vinyl round 1990 and only got back into it thanks to my son.
        When I acquired a more populous system including mono blocks, things with valves, power conditioners et cetera, everyone who came to my house and observed the various boxes assumed it was a midlife crisis or some other form of disease. I therefore had a cabinet made to hide the whole lot away and then sold most of it, to be replaced mostly by a multifunctional unit.
        I very much feel that I’ve changed from an insider looking out to an outsider looking in and would praise many multifunctional units now available at all price points, which has arisen due to streaming and the greater acceptance of more efficient forms of amplification. I am probably talking to the wrong crowd.
        There was a milestone announcement on the radio yesterday evening, that streaming revenues now exceed physical media sales. I presume this information derived from RIAA, who compile the industry data. At long last the tide has turned.

          1. I have, but the technical stuff is way above my paygrade. Streaming and computer audio seems to provide thousands of ways to crack the same nut, not necessarily for any benefit in audio quality.

        1. “I am probably talking to the wrong crowd”
          Not only that. You are “talking” on the wrong site (forum) for years already.
          Why , FOR GOD’s SAKE, do you keep posting your anti-audiophile comments here day after day.
          You are not an audiophile. Fine, congratulations, but why do you have the urge to give us that information over and over again.
          You made your point of view clear.
          Now get over it, and stick to your real hobby (profession ?), i.e. photography.
          Or stay on this site as well, but then stop trying to convince us all we better buy an all-in-one with cables of 5,99 (or is that still too expensive…) per meter.
          I said it before : I don’t give a damn about photography, not interested AT ALL. So, do I post on a site about photoghraphy ..?
          What do you think ? NO, of course not, why should I ?
          To tell the people over and over again that a camera of USD 500
          (or even more expensive) is a waste of money and a smartphone does the same trick, maybe even better..?
          Well, that is basically what you do on this site.

          1. Nice of you to say so. I enjoy what Paul has to say and am a customer, is that good enough for you?

            I had a bit of success this weekend. My 80 years young father, a music lover, has a $200 Aiwa system. We were having dinner and MrSpeakers headphones Badbeef recommended were lying around. I use them a lot. He fell off his chair at the cost, but when he actually tried them he was instantly won over. The source was iphone and Mojo, streaming music of his choice in HD. He was dumbfounded that you could do this sitting in the garden running off batteries.
            It’s never too late.

            1. It is assumed that this forum is for those who enjoy good quality audio, who want to talk about photography or the modern version of Edison’s phonograph (all in one) or family anecdotes, or show their monstrous ego, I’m sure there are other sites that are more suited to those individual needs.

              1. For what it’s worth, the camera and audio industries have run almost parallel for over 100 years, experiencing the same technical and commercial issues, whether analogue/digital, miniaturisation etc. We can now get professional level audio and images from a portable device (“phone” is a misnomer), unheard of 10 years ago. The camera market has been crushed and audio may experience similar contraction if it does not innovate.
                Many professional photographers use smartphones extensively, there is no reason why audio should not go the same way.

                I am surprised PS Audio has not made a portable DAC yet, as they have done so much technical development, hopefully the way to go and they don’t have to compromise on audio quality.

            2. Yes, I’m nice, but also honest, even when my words may seem a bit harsh.
              And, in a way, they are not personal. You’re probably a very nice person as a neighbor, but that is not the point here.
              Nor if it’s “good enough” for me.
              It’s not about me, but about the fact that you make the same statements on a regular basis.
              You can’t deny that.
              But, then again, that is a little bit the problem on a daily forum like this. Lots of opinions repeated by the same persons.
              For me the reason that I don’t even read some persons anymore. I know by heart what they are telling us.
              The little story about your father is nice, though.
              It’s good (no kidding) he had this nice experience.

              1. There’s honest and then there’s unfiltered. I’m reading an interesting book that mentions the concept, “wait 5 minutes” rather than reacting immediately (however honest it may be). You’ll usually write something more nuanced, or simply delete when you realize it’s not advancing the discussion.

                Believe it or not (because I have been unfiltered/unedited here before) I have dozens of posts I cut and saved (since it was clearly Genius-Level Stuff at the time), then never posted when I read it later.

                Steven is a hobbyist photographer – so when he wrote about that, I expect he was including himself in the definition posted at 2:31.

                1. My goal was not to “advance the discussion”, just telling there are several people here making the same statements over and over again.
                  I couldn’t have said that more nuanced.
                  Just read my 6:06 comment again and I’m confident you will agree with me.
                  The 7:53 post of Audiomano is a good addition to what I wrote.

                2. Top notch advice there, Mark, and modest to a fault. I also apply the 5 minute rule in dispute negotiations, if we cannot agree on an issue in 5 minutes we agree to disagree and leave it to the judge to decide.

                  Photography fascinates me for far more reasons than audio ever could, it is a commercial tool, an artform, a hobby, a recorder of history, a socia!, economic and environmental force, a technological marvel, the list goes on, and ever present in our modern lives. Truth in audio is ephemeral, in photography it is inescapable.

                  Twitter was invented for people who want to lead unfiltered lives.

  3. Although I agree with paulsquirrel on removing the equipment rack out of the room, I for one would never do it. And I don’t think Paul should do it for his new digs, for the the simple reason that audiophiles want to see and admire their equipment while listening to music. It would be like Mac users not being able to stare at those big blue meters while listening to Pink Floyd. It’s not going to happen.

    1. I still would try at least putting the TT outside the room (assuming one ends up in the new MR1), unless a nice, comfy null can be found for it. The sub columns in the IRS system move a lot of air, and that’s hard to get around, unless the room is enormous.

  4. I really do agree with today’s message. Still I always recall my friend who was a fine audio designer Murray Zeligman’s comment about worrying about the mice while the elephants are loose.

  5. Like many setups, especially those that I see in the shows, my component rack is center stage with the amplifier on the floor between the speakers. Talking about little things, I found that placing a Michael Green acoustic pillow over the top rack component and amplifier improves soundstage and imaging significantly in my dedicated room.

  6. In experimenting I was surprised many times how small incremental changes were clearly audible. A change in 1db, even half a db over an octave was audible. A few milliseconds of change in time delays were audible. Changing any of the variables such as loudness, spectrum, and angle of arrival of reflections is audible. With so many variables to adjust and each one seeming to affect all of the others, getting recordings to sound the way I want them to can be a long frustrating experience. Then just when you think it sounds right, you leave it, come back to it a day later having changed nothing and suddenly it’s not right anymore. Your ears had adjusted to the sound as you were tweaking it. For me, one of my most common errors is a 1 db rise at 5 khz. This is where hearing is most sensitive. Result, excessive brightness. Without all these adjustments available, nothing works for me.

  7. I have been saying it for years, it’s attention to detail that makes the difference between an ok system and a great system. And that applies to budget and mega buck systems.
    Tweaks on their own often make very little difference, or improvement, but multiple tweaks are accumulative. Together they add up to a fully optimized system.
    Although tweaks should be done after the room is treated, power, and components have been addressed. The thing with tweaking, is that it can be expensive, or done diy. A good example would be component isolation, you can buy isoblocks for very little if you get them from a company that sells them for isolating air conditioners and furnaces, do a search at the Audio Asylum, there are links. I have found that most hardware stores sell rubber plugs in various sizes. After trying cones, myrtle blocks, and other isolators, I prefer large rubber plugs under my power amp.

    1. If you can not access the VPI Magic Bricks, a valid and chip alternative is soft rubber pieces of the proper thickness to absorb the vibrations of the transformers of the amplifiers that are placed on hard surfaces.

      Imagine what would be the engine of a vehicle, if not had rubbers in the places where it rests, to the chassis.

      1. I used to have wooden cigar boxes appr 8″ x 5″ x 4″ with felt on the bottom filled with lead weight. I had one on each speaker, and I think I tried a third on various components. It did change the sound, but I wasn’t convinced it was for the better. When I moved, I don’t remember what I did with them, and that was about 10 tears ago.
        My amp sits on a piece of veneered press board with brass cones, then a wood cutting board sits on 4 isoblocks, then the amp itself sits on 4 large rubber plugs, sometimes referred to as stoppers. They are the same basic shape as a cork or rubber plug that you would use with a test tube.
        The floor is carpet over concrete.

        There are solutions if you do want to put your system in a separate room.
        As to the problem of not being able to mute the system when the record ends, a simple remote extender would allow for volume and muting. And with the turntable there are a number of products that can be installed to lift the arm at the end of the side. I use a Q-up which is probably the least expensive, but works perfectly. There is at least one that offers enough height flexibility that I think it could be used with a TT that has no plinth where needed. You could probably mount it right to the shelf or isolation platform.
        I got one when I started digitizing records, and it can save a lot of wear to your stylus, if you nod off.

        1. Manufacturers offering ultra expensive speakers, hire experts in various disciplines, such as: Dynamics, Graphic Static, Resistance of Materials, etc. To design the supports of theirs very heavy models, Karma and others come to my mind.

          But we, mere mortals, can not afford those luxuries, and we only have to follow our intuition and look for the cheapest solutions that serve the purpose, and it is our ears that tell us if we have been successful or not.

          I remember Enid Lumley who used to write for TAS, whose pair of ears any man would dream of having them, who said that the best support for CJ’s Premier One was 3 VPI Magic Bricks under each of the transformers, and seated in the floor by means of a rubber of adequate density, and that at the same time fulfilled 2 functions: to cut the magnetic field of the transformers, and to offer a solid support to the ultra-heavy amplifier. This solution is what I am using in my Premier One.

          It must be recognized that women when they are trained in audio have a greater sensitivity than any man. Let us not forget that they can distinguish the cry of their newborn son, in the midst of that of the others who are in the same room.

          As for having the equipment in other rooms, I am not a partisan of that.

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