Tweaking your Record-Player Page 11
Dirty phono plugs can degrade sound quality. Metal oxide buildup between contact surfaces acts as a rectifier, exhibiting higher resistance for one signal polarity than the other. Gold-to-gold connections don't have this problem, gold stubbornly refusing to react with the air, but any other kind will develop it over time, and because a moving-coil cartridge has extremely low output impedance, it takes very little reverse resistance to dirty-up its sound.
The phono plugs should make a very snug fit into the preamp inputs, and while it is not necessary that you first scrape the connecting surfaces clean (merely plugging them in will clean them), it is advisable to treat them initially with a contact enhancer (Tweek or Cramolin Blue, for example). Then unplug them, re-treat them, and plug them in again every six months or so.
Although there is no known reason why AC line filtering on a turntable motor should improve phono performance, it sometimes seems to lift a veil or two and firm up the soundstaging. A conditioner is worth trying if your dealer will let you borrow one for a few days. If you can persuade yourself that there's really a difference, and that the difference is worth the not-inconsiderable cost, a line conditioner may be a worthwhile purchase.
Dampers and spikes
While it may seem silly to combine spikes, which couple something to the underlying surface, and dampers, which isolate them, the interactions between these offer another means of subtly modifying the sound of a record player. I can offer no generalizations about anything here, but can only suggest that you experiment along these lines after you've pretty much zeroed-in on everything else. You're working well into the area of diminishing returns here, so don't expect the dramatic differences sometimes attributed to such hairsplitting tweakery.
Several Stereophile contributors swear that regular demagnetizing of MC cartridges keeps the sound pristine, presumably by ensuring that the armature on which the coils are wound is not magnetized. Suitable demagnetizers are sold by Sumiko (expensive) and AudioQuest (cheap), and the infrequent need for demagnetizing means that it is worthwhile sharing just one unit between a group of audiophiles. However, never, ever demagnetize a moving-magnet cartridge—the noise and distortion will probably drop to zero, but so will the signal!
You probably won't have much time for this kind of tweaking anyway. By the time your system is sounding almost exactly the way you want it to, you should be spending most of your idle hours rediscovering your record collection. Enjoy today; tomorrow you can tweak again.