Towards a Better Sounding System – Part 3
This section is meant for the audiophile who wants to get the most out of his system without spending 10 of thousands of extra money.
Tweaking is a way of getting better sound from your system while not costing as much money as up grading components. There are 6 main areas that most of the tweaking occurs. The first one is room treatment and equipment set up. This is discussed in parts 1 and 2 of this series. This area is responsible for at least half of the sound of a system. There are two very weird tweaks for the room. First are the Himalayan salt lamps. A friend of mine had gotten one because of the supposed positive health effects of it. He reported to me, that he thought it made his sound system sound better. I tried it out and found it did make a sound difference. The highs were crisper and cleaner. There better imaging. You can‘t AB test. It takes overnight to take effect. My room actually smelled different after a day. The results will dissipate with time, after unit is turned off. The second one is a Schumann Generator. An acquaintance brought one over to a listening session near Bend Oregon. He set it up on a pole behind the listening position. He did not say anything about the unit. I looked at it and thought it couldn’t possibly make a difference. We plugged it in and listened to our last cut. I was blown away by the improvement. It was right away, one of the biggest differences I have heard a tweak make. The sound was crisper and cleaner. The image was deeper and more defined. The bass was tighter and more controlled. The effect happens almost immediately. These can be ordered from the fareast for under $60 on Ebay. There are some on Amazon for under $40, but are smaller and do not include the power supply. The Schmann effect is well documented by scientific studies. There is very little on the internet about its audio effects although. I can’t possibly explain how it works for audio.
The next area is electrically based. Dedicated power lines to your system are a good idea. Use of better power cords are a good idea also. Power cords costs should be appropriate to the cost of you system. Better power cords can range in price from $100 to over $10,000. There is a situation of diminishing returns on high price power cables. Sure they might be somewhat better, but you need a very expensive system to justify them. You would probably not put $5000 cables in a $20,000 system. There is a lot of technology in some modern high priced power cables. I suggest for most people to use $100 to $200 cables on your source, preamp and power amp.
The next thing is power conditioning. Like power cords, power conditioners can have the same range of costs as power cords. Power conditioners can lower the noise floor of your system, bringing out more detail and better imaging. Unfortunately really good conditioners are very expensive. Amps should not be plugged into most conditioners. Power conditioners that can handle big or tube power amps are few and very expensive. I have found that putting a Shakti Stone at the breaker box, where the dedicated lines are coming out of, can produce good returns. Shakti Onlines work well on power cords. There are also a number of plugin power line noise reducers that are available.
The next area is component isolation. I use isolation sand boxes. This idea came from Bright Star Audio. I do not believe they produce them anymore. You can make them yourself although. I use isolation cones under my components. I put them under my components, which is sitting on the plinth of the sand box. Sand boxes are used under precision laser mounts for vibration isolation. For a short while I would replace the top cover of a component with a ventilated plastic cover, this improved the sound. I have stopped doing this because I could not mass load the component. I find mass loading components is very useful. Mass loading a component is very effective. This is another idea from Bright Star Audio. All things will vibrate at some frequency and volume. Mass loading lowers the frequency and causes the volume needed for component to have to go up to cause vibration. I first used marble slabs for mass loading components. It was too cumbersome to get enough weight. I went to using lead sheets and bricks for mass loading. Lead must be sealed before using it. I use 25# lead sheets on top of a component, with lab rubber stoppers as spacers between component and lead sheet. I used lead bricks on top of speakers. This is particularly effective on sub woofers. This worked very well even on very expensive components and speakers. I also found that putting Shakti Stones under or over components gives good results. The Teknasonic Speakers Dampers were available for a while and made a definite improvement in sound. I don’t think they are produced any more.
The next area is cabling. This includes interconnect and speaker cables. Like power cables there is a big range in costs, with diminishing results as price goes up. For most people I think $200ish interconnects and $400ish speaker cables is a sweet spot. The cost will depend on length needed. Raising cables off the ground is a good idea. This is easy to try. Get two friends to lift cables off the ground on a second playing of a track. There are some expensive lifters commercially available. I made mine with 4X4 Cut to a flat point at the top. A friend used wire tube holders. Interconnects and power cables should be as far apart as possible. Cables supplied with components are usually worthless. Shakti Onlines are useful on interconnect and speaker cables.
Disc treatments are the last area of tweaks. LPs have disc destatic devises, disc cleaners, disc clamps and special sleeves. LP vacuum washing devises are somewhat expensive and should be used before each play. If commercial cleaners are used, the disc cleaner should be used with DI water every 2 or 3 plays. There is a residue that builds up in the tracks after commercial record treatment fluids are used. One playing of an uncleaned record can permanently harm a record. Better than provided record sleeves should be used. If you care about the album cover, an aftermarket album cover is a good idea. A stylist cleaner is also needed.
There are some antistatic devices available. Record clamps are less needed for modern heavy vinyl records. Digital discs have a lot of possible tweaks. I use a 6 step tweaking procedure. First I use a German Disc Lathe to bevel the edge of the disc. On CDs, I bevel both the top and bottom of the outside edge of the disc. For DVDs, Blu-rays and 4K discs, I only bevel the top edge. This cuts back on stray light being reflected back into the disc. The concave surface of the edge acts like a parabolic light reflector. Unfortunately I think the CD lathe is no longer made. I would not trust buying one on the used market. The cutting blade is only good for around a hundred discs and a used beveller may have a worn out blade. If anyone knows of a source for replacement parts, I would like to know. Because of this, I only use the cutter on special discs. The next step is using a xylene based pen to color the outside and inside edge of the disc. I use a blue green color for this on CDs, SACDs, DVD-As and DVDs. Flat black can also be used. The xylene base is needed because it has better adherence than the alcohol based pens. On blu-rays and 4K discs I use either an orange or flat black pen. The third step is degaussing the disc. I use a Radio Shack tape demagnetizer. I got an old woofer to increase the magnetic field. I cover the magnet of the woofer with felt. I put the disc on top of the magnet. I then run the tape demagnetizer in a circular motion over the disc for 20 to 30 seconds, Care must be used to not let the demagnetizer be dropped onto the disc. I then make 5 radial lines with a black xylene pen at 72 degrees apart on the label side of the disc. I read about this on Utube. I thought this was ridiculous, but being someone that is willing to try things out, I gave it a try. I found out that the label side needs to be cleaned first, to have ink stick properly. I used a disc that I had two off. Both went thru my regular disc treatment. I then put the lines on the label side on one of them. I played both and the one with the lines sounded better. This treatment may very negatively affect the resale of the disc. I did not do much with this for several weeks. I took both discs over to a listening session in Bend, Oregon They immediately heard a difference. We probably did this to about 30 discs. The listeners thought it was one of the biggest tweaks that they had heard. I now do this to most of my discs. I have not experimented on more lines and different spacing. I have no idea why this would work, but it seems to work. The next step is to clean the disc with a commercial CD cleaner. The last step is to put the disc in front of a compact fluorescent light for about 40 seconds. The bigger the wattage the better the effect is. The wiping off the cleaner creates static. The nasty electromagnetic field from the light neutralizes the static on the disc. This is an easy and cheap tweak to try. Play a track of a disc. Then hold disc in front of a compact fluorescent light bulb for about 30 seconds. Play it again. If the disc sounds better, use the tweak. If not, think of it as a lunatic idea.
I hope that these tweaks can make a better sound in your system, they did in my system.