Tweaks'n'Squeaks Page 2

Once your gear is properly connected, reread the manuals to make sure you understand all the controls and features: make sure you know where the preamp's mute switch is; familiarize yourself with every selector switch and button (polarity, source, mute, power, etc.); check your speakers for bass or treble boost or attenuation controls. In other words, learn your gear's capabilities and proper use before you do something to damage it, and in order to realize its maximum sonic potential.

Many preamps have separate selectors for the main output and the source being used for the tape deck. If the preamplifier does not have buffered tape outputs, leave the tape recorder turned on. If the tape recorder is turned off but connected to the signal passing through the preamplifier, its resulting nonlinear input impedance can add distortion.

JA on speaker placement
One thing almost always covered in loudspeaker manuals is where to put a pair of speakers in the room to get the designed-for performance. If you don't follow the manufacturer's instructions---by placing speakers meant to be used out in the room against the wall behind them, for example---you could waste a lot of the money you paid for your loudspeakers.

Like all the best tweaks, finding the optimum positions for your speakers is not only free, but has a large effect on the sound quality. I included the low-frequency warble tones on the three Stereophile Test CDs (footnote 1) to make this easier. Test CD 2 also has a "Music Articulation Test Tone" which will help in this regard.

Start with the manufacturer's recommended positions and listen to the warble tones from your listening chair for each speaker in turn. Do they sound evenly balanced, or do some tones disappear while others boom? Better still, using the cheap analog Radio Shack sound-pressure-level meter, measure the level of each tone. Move each speaker in, say, 6" steps until the warbles are more evenly balanced. If you go too far and it starts sounding or measuring worse again, move the speaker back---but now in, say, 3" steps. Repeat with finer and finer steps until you've locked-in the optimal bass balance. You can now play with toe-in and room furnishings to optimize the midrange and treble balance and the imaging.

(One of the best helps I've found for optimizing speaker placement is an inexpensive computer program, "The Listening Room." Available for both PCs and Macintoshes (footnote 2) this software allows the user to move virtual speakers around in a virtual room---a much less sweaty procedure. Having used the program to determine the best positions, use them as starting points for further fine-tuning by ear. -- John Atkinson)

Feet/cones/stands
Audiophiles all over the world have found that equipment can sound better when placed on something other than the manufacturer's supplied feet or bases. This trend of experimentation began in earnest with the use of spiked feet or cones under loudspeakers. The tweak has proven so popular that most speakers (as well as speaker and equipment stands) now come with dedicated spikes. Spikes have also proven effective under other pieces of gear. Some of the more popular spikes include Mod Squad Tiptoes, SimplyPhysics Tone Cones, Goldmund Cones, Shun Mook Super Passive Diamond Resonators, German Acoustics Steel Cones, and Michael Green's Audio Points.

An alternative means of support for equipment other than speakers is various soft materials to damp or eliminate resonances. The most popular of these include AudioQuest Sorbothane Feet, Monster Cable Footers, Sumiko Navcom Silencers, and AudioPrism Iso-Bearings. Other popular feet and/or bases are available from Combak, Merrill, Microscan, and Bright Star, the latter incorporating sand to resistively dissipate resonant vibrations as heat. Many of these products are reasonably priced and can be tried without altering or damaging your equipment. The sonic benefits are very often well worth the cost and effort.



Footnote 1: See the recordings page on www.stereophile.com .

Footnote 2: Available from Sitting Duck Software, P.O. Box 130, Veneta, OR 97487. Tel: (503) 935-3982.

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