In this article I want to talk about the ways that you can improve your audio listening experience. Sometimes the obvious and simple things can be overlooked so reading this and using it like a check list could reinforce whether you’re doing everything you can to get the most out of your music system.
Connecting the components in the optimal way
With the many different components available there are often multiple ways you can connect these pieces together. Some connectors look the same as others, which can be confusing. For example a phono input uses RCA connectors as does a line input. If your record player has a selectable built in line/phono switch and your amplifier has a phono input try testing the amps phono stage to see if you get an improved sound. If your CD player has analogue and digital outputs (provided you have a digital input in your amplifier or receiver or you can use an external DAC) try both to see which one sounds better to your ears as the different converters will impart a different sound quality.
Cabling upgrade to better quality
Now that we are looking at connectivity it’s not just worth mentioning the right inputs but also making sure your cabling is right. Poor quality cables can have an impact on the sound in a clearly audible way but it’s not until you have heard the difference that you will appreciate good quality cables. Better cables sound clearer and offer more detailed with less distortion and noise. You don’t have to have a seriously expensive system to hear a difference but the more revealing the system the more noticeable this difference will be.
Set up the speakers in the the right spot for the room
Great sound in a space starts with correct set up. things that should be considered are:
Speaker positioning, speaker angle, spacing, proximity to walls, distance from the listener.
Having speakers close to back walls can create a boomy sound, having your speakers too close together or to far apart will impact on the image and perceived loudness. Keep in mind you want to be equal distance from the speakers as the are apart. Sitting too close or too far away will also have an impact. If your speakers are too close to walls or there are lots of reflective surfaces between you and the speaker this can create unwanted reflections. Ways to fix this apart from adjusting the angle or position is to use absorptive materials to help control this. If you have wooden floors try putting a rug between you and the speaker as this can help.
Minimising unwanted vibrations with Isolation devices
Things vibrate. Sound is a vibration through air, which is a good vibration. A speaker that is sitting on the floor vibrating making a racket is a bad vibration. Managing this by placing feet or absorption material underneath to decouple it will improve the sound. Isolating a product from vibrating can improve performance like placing isolation pads between a surface and a turntable.
Room acoustics and treatment. Reflective and damping materials, diffusion, decoupling, isolation of components
As every space has its own unique set of characteristics there is no set way for controlling how reflections from the ceiling, floor and walls from fusing together with the direct sound can create a more balanced sound if you have a large percentage of reflective surfaces. On the other hand having too much damping surfaces can suck the life out of the sound making it dull and boring.
Calibration and room correction tools can be a way of optimising your speakers to perform better in the space they are in. Basic calibration is usually enough to make an improvement, however more refined and complex options are available. If you feel you are at this stage of optimisation then it’s worth having a conversation in store.
Power conditioning products can improve performance by eliminating unwanted noise that can come from the power sources. They offer stable power and isolation to each component, which reduces issues between AV gear. Another great bonus is they offer surge protection, which protects your gear from being damaged if there is a spike. Less noise and more clarity is the outcome.
Upgrading individual components and matching quality
You could look at upgrading a component in your system to boost performance. For example upgrading the quality and power of your amplifier might enhance the efficiency of the speaker making it sound better. Maybe upgrading the speakers from a bookshelf speaker to a floor standing speaker could give you a fuller sound if that’s what your looking for. If you are happy with your speakers and amp you could then look at other components like a new phono preamp, cartridge and stylus on a turntable, cables or a new sound source.
Using the highest quality sound source
The more revealing the system is the more the quality of your sound source will be noticed. I would compare it to having a 1 mega pixel image on a screen and a 10 mega pixel picture. You will see more information and detail with a 10mp picture, which will recreate a more accurate description.
The same goes for sound so if you have a product like a CD player with a cheap DAC, a turntable with a low quality phono preamp/cartridge or a low resolution file format, you may not be getting an accurate representation of the sound. It’s about eliminating unwanted noise, compression, artefacts, distortion and lost information.
Adding a subwoofer
Adding more speakers is about adding more information and detail to your playback system. If you have a music system and you feel it sounds weak, thin or tinny, or it doesn’t sound full and warm the adding a sub could be the way create fullness. You can add a sub to any system but generally the smaller the speaker the more you will notice what the sub is adding in the low end.
Adding a centre channel
Do you find yourself sometimes turning up the volume to understand what someone is saying but then the music or other sounds seem too loud? If you are having trouble understanding dialogue while watching tv or movies and you have a receiver then adding a centre speaker can enhance the speech making it easier to understand and can give you control over the music / dialogue balance.
I added one to my system so when I watch football I can hear the commentator more with out having to hear as much crowd atmosphere noise.
Cleaning products eg vinyl cleaner, record brush, needle brush, vacuum
Making sure you clean your records and remove the dust before you play them will result in a better licensing experience and add longevity to your gear. Dust and mould inside gear can create all sorts of problems so regular cleaning keeps it playing at its best for longer.
Servicing your gear
Maybe your gear has a few scratchy pots and connectors caused by dust. Maybe new valves or a few new capacitors and resistors could add life back into your favourite gear. Sometimes its less economical to do this for certain products but it may be worth checking.
Once you have gone over all of these steps, hopefully you will have found one or more areas that will give you some improvement in your system. The goal at any level should always be to get the most out of what you have so you can enjoy the music as much as possible.
Why do we listen to vinyl still?
There is something magical about listening to a record that’s different to listening to a digital file. It seems to sound warm, open, detailed, dynamic, spacious, deep, 3 dimensional, smooth and inviting with the perception that you are in the same space