Tweaks vs. fixes

June 20, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

How do you know when to tweak or fix?

Does it make sense to buy a new amplifier when all it might have taken to get better sound was an afternoon working with the system?

I think these are all valid questions.

In the short run, if you’ve exhausted all the avenues of tweaking then clearly it’s time to buy that new piece of gear to enhance the system’s performance.

That said, in my experience, that’s too simplistic an answer because it’s only the rare few who actually take the time to set up their systems properly.

For the majority of folks, they did the best they could with system set up and then called it good.

The tweaks start from that point.

This is one of the reasons I wrote The Audiophile’s Guide, The Stereo.

Using a systematic approach to proper set up goes a long way toward achieving sonic nirvana.

Of course, if you’ve gotten all you can out of your system, time to step up to the plate and get that new kit!

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31 comments on “Tweaks vs. fixes”

  1. Having done a new room last year, the plan was to get it right and leave it alone. The only thing I knew I was going to change was the phono stage, which I did earlier this year. I’ve been through long periods of being perfectly happy with everything, a decade or more. Is the audiophile allowed to stop thinking about changing anything, or do they have to stay on the hamster wheel?

    1. Ha, like that last sentence. That’s one of the smart things about this place, always engaged, always thinking about the possibility of change. Anyway, can’t stop, my bearings are loose, just off to research purchase of a new wheel.

  2. Of course it mainly (usually) depends on financial priorities.
    Personally I’d prefer to just kick back & enjoy the music rather than to jump
    down another rabbit hole that may only give me a 2.3% sonic improvement.
    Especially now that it has been revealed that Putin’s murderous attacks on
    Ukrainian civilians could go on for many years to come, causing inflation,
    a Bear market, rising food, petrol & electricity prices, massive public world
    debt, stagnant wages, CoViD-19 & a threatening CCP in the Pacific…
    Who’s got the money to battle the law of diminishing returns when it comes
    to home-audio equipment?? Probably only the Boomer generation 😀
    Oh…that’s us!
    Btw, my DeVore Fidelity – O/93’s are sounding very sweet as they reach
    400 hours burn-in.

    1. That’s the thing isn’t it, diminishing returns, the further you get it’s usually a case of so much more money for a marginal improvement. Of course the flip side to that coin is what price pleasure and enjoyment. It’s up to each of us to find our own sweet spot but usually there’s still a nagging doubt that it’s never quite done. Music to someone’s ears.

      1. …yeah, home-audio manufacturers; & it’s not music…it’s money 😉
        However, one man’s financial budget is another mans small change.

  3. I both agree and disagree with todays premise.

    Agreement in the fact that speaker set-up is a key primary step. Especially for the things that are bantered around on an almost daily basis. Soundstage / Holographics etc.
    Disagreement in that many nuances and details can be brought out by the addition of ‘tweaks’. ( Room tweaks are a big one, Vibration control, power outlets to name a few).

    IMO a tweak is not a fix. It should be used as an enhancement and evaluated for effectiveness. (Install, then some longer period of time later remove) if the tweak is truly effective you’ll soon find yourself missing something.

    Knowing where the issue resides is a big first step. That’s where experience and time come into play. Our illustrious moderator has built a life around the high end audio industry and has decades of being involved in the development of audio equipment and sound optimization. Think of what Paul has at his disposal… From a design team, to a special purpose built room, to his own recording studio.

    It’s very easy to infer everybody else knows…or should. It’s commendable that some of that expertise is shared.

  4. It is all about money. The problem is there are people who will spend on tweaks ( because they can afford it ) rather than save that money for the needed basic improvement ( fixes ).

    Here is an example. Your system is weak in bass performance. I can think of five things to do.

    1. Get Iso Acoustic feet for your speakers ( Tweak ) $800 or less
    2. Get new speaker cables ( Tweak ) $1000 or more ( probably will not help that much )
    3. Get a subwoofer(s) ( A Fix ) $1000 or more ( better than getting new cables )
    4. If you think your speakers can produce more bass get a better power amp ( A Fix ) $5000 or more
    5. Get bigger better speakers ( The Ultimate Fix ) $10000 or more ( beware you may still need a better power amp )

    It’s complicated and it is all about money.

    1. You skipped over the first solution- move your speakers/chair, potentially more effective than 1, 2 and 4, cost: free. (Or about fourty bucks if you use Pauls book).

      1. My comment was based on Paul’s post that said you have as good a setup as you can do. Obviously if you have not tried a better position for the speakers then do so first.

        1. I guess moving speakers is neither a tweak nor a fix, rather a different category ‘setup’. Maybe to continue the theme of expensive solutions to not enough bass we can add 6) build a new room/buy a different house ($$$).

    2. High end audio = High end budget
      The higher the end the higher the end….
      That’s the way it is, we’ve all been conditioned. There’s obviously enough monetary support to keep it going and growing.

  5. Great post. Yes. I did many many tweaks and explored so many avenues to what my equipment can do, but now I got a point where I stepped up to the plate in a big way and the answer was getting a good quality, fully balanced Tube Amplifier. I ended up deciding on the Woo Audio WA 22 Headphone Amplifier with a pre amp option out to utilize my solid state amp with a bit of tube flavoring. I feel this is the best of both worlds and I get to experience way more tweaking in sound with Tube rolling!

    Sometimes you gotta just bite some of the Fianancial costs to refine your self interests in a completely legitimate way. I have absolutely no buyer’s remorse. This was a good move. Just have to wait a bit till the amp ships out do to the colour availability I selected.
    Impressions to come hopefully in one month.

  6. One thing I have incorporated is “time away” from my system before making a change. When you are grinding so intently on listening, I think you get in such a fatigued state that you are not hearing normally. The best thing I have found is to simply take a couple week break from the system. Most of the time, what was bothering me is suddenly gone.

    It’s like being on the golf range. You are hitting well, then start getting tired and hitting different. Instead of stopping, you start beating more balls trying various fixes and end up in disarray.

    In the same way, you start making all kinds of sudden changes and end up never listening for any length of time to the same thing. You end up in the same state of disarray.

    One big societal change in this day and age is the pace and speed of things. Everything needs to be fast paced with instant gratification. I think most could benefit from slowing the pace of changes, carefully plan and save for a meaningful upgrade.

    1. I understand exactly. I took a permanent vacation from golf. The world is a better place for me as there’s far less frustration. The added side effect is that I can afford more audio gear now.

  7. How do you define a tweak. At one time I would have called vibration control a tweak and then I tried one example and the change, positive to my ears, was way more significant than a change in CD drive in this case. Or the time I compared amps where the only difference was the material for two sides of the chassis. It might as well been a different manufacturer the difference was so profound and the only differenence was vibration control.

    1. I shoved 8 (AU$200 worth of) IsoAcoustic ISO-Pucks under my DeVore
      Fidelity – O/93’s & the improvement in SQ was immediate & very noticeable.
      Now the question remains…Did I tweak my rig or did I fix a vibration problem?

      1. All tweaks are kind of fixes. Upgrading all your wires are a fix. Even positioning your speakers and subwoofers in the best place is fixing a room problem.

        1. Ha!
          Now I saw changing from a multi-strand loudspeaker wire to a solid core one
          as a tweak, because it didn’t cost me anymore money & my rig sounds better.
          Different strokes for different folks 🙂

      2. FR,

        Those DeVore O/93 speakers must be pretty light weight given that those Iso-Pucks are rated at 6 lbs. max each. Hope you’re not overloading your vibration isolation products. Isoacoustics also makes a heavier duty foot with threaded attachment called the Gaia. They come is a range of weight ratings and I think you want the Gaia III which would easily handle your 45 lb. DeVore’s.

        Good Luck,
        Kurt

        1. Hi Kurt,
          There are 3 different sizes with the ISO-Pucks:

          The ‘ISO-Puck Mini’ is rated to 2.75kgs (6lbs) each.
          The ‘ISO-Puck’ is rated to 9kgs (20lbs) each.
          The ‘ISO-Puck 76’ is rated to 18kgs (40lbs).

          Since my O/93’s weigh 45lbs (20.5kgs) each I am
          using the ‘ISO-Puck’ rated to 9kgs each, so it’s all good.
          Thanks for your concern.

          Cheers,
          Martin.

  8. Clean the connections, put the amplifier on a sturdy platform with the proper ventilation, use good speaker wire and power cord if your power cord can be detached. Make sure it can properly drive your speakers or you shouldn’t have been using it to begin with. It should sound great even before the tweaks. Tweaks won’t make an amplifier sound the way you want it to if you don’t like the sound to begin with. It just fine tunes a great sounding amplifier.

  9. It really is a great hobby simply misunderstood by most…
    If you overheard just my side of the phone conversation with my accountant going over my expenses just prior tax deadline:

    Those are headphones.
    Those are also headphones.
    Headphones. Nope, DIFFERENT headphones.
    Again, headphones.
    Seven pair.
    Well, different ones for different types of mood or music.
    I guess I have an ‘audiophile’ condition.
    That’s a headphone amp.
    Another headphone amp. No, different headphone amp.
    Um, that one is a DAC/headphone amp, but I’m using it just as a DAC.
    A digital to analog converter.
    Headphone amp. But that one was a TUBE headphone amp.
    No, I don’t re-sell them.
    Yes, but not all at the same time.
    That was a headphone cable.
    Yes, it came with one, but this one is better.
    Actually that is one of the more reasonably priced ones.
    Yes, really.
    That was a balanced headphone amp switcher.
    It allows me to switch between headphone amps.
    That was for the eight balanced cables to go from the switcher to the headphone amps.
    Yes each.
    That was for speaker cable.
    Not a roll, just six feet.
    Not really, some folk spend thousands on cabling.
    Yes, really.
    It sounds better.
    Yes that much better
    That was for a pair of Magnepans.
    Magnepans are speakers.
    Actually they were used.
    Yes really. They WERE a good deal and they are already broken in!
    No, not broken, broken IN. You see, new speakers…… long story.
    That was an USB cable. No, just one.
    Yes, but the Walmart ones aren’t quite up to audiophile standards.
    It is a person who appreciates fine audio… you like fine wine right? It’s kind of like that but with sound equipment.
    No, just me. It is not really a big group/sharing hobby.
    Well I wouldn’t say ANTI-social….
    That was a pair of PS Audio monoblock amplifiers.
    Well they’re mono blocks so you need two.
    One for each speaker.
    Yes, but they are of very high quality. Kind of like your expensive wine.
    Well it kind of IS the same thing, but I except have to replace them after I use them.
    Sorry, I wasn’t meaning to be….
    That was for a listening chair.
    No it doesn’t produce sound on its own, it is my sweet spot chair.
    Well it is more comfortable than a regular chair. And is stays in the soundroom.
    Yes, a room just for audio.
    That is ROON software which allows me to organize and stream music.
    No that’s per year. There is a lifetime subscription for eight times that amount, but at my age
    I’m not playing those odds.
    So can I write ANY of this off?
    Why not??

    1. Hello Pikpen,
      Thanks for all that typing. Very funny!
      Sounds similar to conversations I have explaining my ASC Tube Traps, Magneplanars, speaker cables, etc. to friends and my wife. The look of incredulity that comes across the faces of guests as they try to stay polite when I explain that my next project will be a 2′ wall extension to the right of my speakers to balance the acoustics of the 2′ wall to the left. Acoustics?…

      Thanks Pikpen from, I suspect, a lot of us. THIS is how you know someone is an audiophile. Paul should send it out as a Post, with just a 1-2 sentence comment from him at the beginning and another at the end.

      Jeffrey in Philadelphia

      1. And it is surprising how little we need to embellish to adapt our personal plight to an comedic anecdote…
        If we had a dollar for every raised eyebrow, a fiver for every eye roll and a fifty for every “pfft” scoff – well, we’d just buy more audio toys now wouldn’t we…?

        I’ve always said, and I’ll say it again, Everybody’s got SOMETHING that they spend WAY too much money on, that makes everybody else go: “Pfft – you’re an IDIOT”..
        It’s not until you get deep into a hobby that you find the extremes some folk go within that hobby…
        Just stand back & throw money at it…

        Jeffrey in Courtenay!! (British Columbia)

        1. Thanks Kip,
          (I don’t wanna confuse the Jeffreys)
          I needed a good laugh this morning with my coffee.
          I put Bob Newhart’s voice to your ‘comedy sketch’.

          Cheers,
          Martin.

          Rubber chicken…anyone??

  10. Another tweek (small little repair?)
    Paul, You recently wrote here about adding a small capacitor as a bypass to the power supply for the amplifier. And when I tested it (150nF) on my DYI streamer source, I was very happy with the improvement. But then I thought … My power supply has two branches starting with the double secondary winding on the toroidal transformer and I use the second branch to power an ethernet switch which is like a repeater between the network wall socket and the streamer. What if I put the same capacitor on this second branch? What will happen? Nothing? So I tried it, it’s only $0.1 … The result was surprising. The sound became fuller, more colorful. When my wife returned from work, she listened with interest and asked me, “What did you do to sound it so good?”
    Heh – who can explain this to me?

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