Fine Tunes #20 Letters

Letters in response appeared in the June 2000 issue:

Some fine tunes

Editor: This letter concerns Jonathan Scull's "Fine Tunes" in the February Stereophile, and his previous mentions of the use of damping materials to create a nonresonant listening environment.

I'm fully aware of the use of sand for this purpose, as 30 years ago, a sand-filled pedestal supporting my turntable completely eliminated some vicious low-frequency feedback that had been introduced by an 18" subwoofer. I thought the woofer was going to blow up, but the damping solved the problem.

Since I went digital, the thought of providing resonance correction for my system did not occur to me until I read Jonathan's February article. I am using a Wadia 860 sitting on a Target rack and going direct to MartinLogan Monoliths, with the two amplifiers on Target platforms. The initial modification to the rack was placing a glued-and-screwed 1.8" by 20" by 1/8" steel plate to the underside of the CD shelf. In addition, I poured sand into all hollow areas. It took only 15 lbs of sand to fill the rack, but the ringing disappeared when I tapped the metal surfaces with my fingernail. The rack also became more rigid.

The following benefits were easily heard: Listening to voice improved center image. Outer edges of vocals now seemed "flared" prior to the damping. There was more air between voice and instruments, and between instruments. The soundstage widened and went deeper. The bass was more dynamic and seemed to go lower.

Because there were 35 lbs of sand left in the sack, the next step was to fill the legs and frames of the two amplifier platforms. Bass response was further improved. It became tighter, blending better with the electrostatic top end, and there was less "smearing," with more defined impact.

All of this enabled me to increase the distance between the speakers; now they really breathe. Any improvement of sufficient magnitude in one area always beneficially impacts other acoustic factors.

You can quote all the superlatives. This was the most effective tweak I had tried since I began listening in 1964—much better than lifting the cables off the floor, which resulted in a small plus for the system. When some friends visited, they said it was hard to imagine improving the sound of the Monoliths. My comment to them was, "When you hear it, you'll know it."

In the context of maximizing the benefits of hollow tube racks, it would be nice if manufacturers provided sufficient access—say, an opening about ½" in diameter that can be sealed with a threaded cap screw. This will enable easy filling with sand or shot.

Outstanding, Jonathan. Well done.—Harvey Fleischman, Boynton Beach, FL

No more foot massages

Editor: After reading Jonathan Scull's "Fine Tunes" in February, I decided to do something about the annoyingly springy suspended floor in my listening room.

I purchased two screw-type floor jacks from my local home center and placed them under the floor in the crawl space. I put them at approximately one-third points along the length of the room and at the center of the joists. I tightened the jacks until they were snug, then added approximately one more turn. Total cost $30.

Results: 1) tighter bass; 2) the room no longer swallows up deep bass at low to moderate levels; and 3) no more foot massages!—Brian Remington, blr@dmv.com

Edifice Wrecks

Editor: Jonathan Scull's advice in the February issue about jacking up the floor of a Victorian house is, at the very least, ill-advised, and at worst downright dangerous. Floor-jacking is not something to be lightly attempted, or used as a cure for some imaginary audiophile syndrome. It should be done by a qualified home-restoration contractor, who will have proper floor jacks and the correct bases on which to set them.

Once the floor has been slowly (about half a turn of the jack handle per week) brought level, the contractor will install appropriate lolly columns to support and stabilize the floor. He or she will also scavenge and shim joists as necessary.

The haphazard method that Jonathan advises risks, at the very least, badly cracked plaster and sprung floorboards, and could in rare cases cause catastrophic failure of nonbearing walls and other interior structures. In addition, the use of piled-up cement blocks and trailer jacks (not designed for the loads involved in raising house joists) is a recipe for collapse and injury to the people working on them.

I have been reading Old House Journal and Victorian Homes for many years, and neither of these has presumed to advise on stereo components. Stereophile ought perhaps to exercise the same judgment.—Les Berkley, wogears@fast.net

Thanks, Mr. Fleischman, and good to hear about the improvements, Mr. Remington.

Les, sorry to have so provoked your ire. As all readers who follow "Fine Tunes" know, I offer cost-effective or, whenever possible, zero-cost options for getting better sound out of your system. I was, I thought rather obviously, talking about lightly and selectively reinforcing certain small areas of springy floors to prevent tonearms from being launched into wild gyrations by heavy audiophile footfalls.

This is hardly an "imaginary syndrome." I know one infamous reviewer on Lon Guyland who would certainly benefit from such a fix, and two or three others who have quite successfully solved their analog problems in just this way. They didn't wildly jack up their floors to attic level, or even actually "raise" the joists—they just applied light additional bracing at one or two strategic points, et voilà: Zen stylus.

However, I agree with you: When a project involves the proper leveling of the floorboards in general, a restoration contractor is just the ticket. Just make sure the truck doesn't say "Binford," and that your contractor doesn't go by the name of Tim the Tool Man!—J-10

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