Fine Tunes #43

Checked my e-mail and a message from one Thomas J. Zukowski (tjzhighendaudio@snet.net) caught my eye. I sensed something...friendly. The subject line was "Re: August & September Fine Tunes." A reader, great, and on my birthday no less.

"Dear Mr. Scull," it began. Okay. So far, it didn't feel like an e-mail written with a hot temper and clenched teeth. "I look forward to 'Fine Tunes' each month when I receive my copy of Stereophile..."

Something about the August and September installments had resonated with TJZ regarding laser-alignment tools, and he had a great tweak he wanted to share—an inexpensive one (nudge nudge, wink wink) he uses and strongly endorses. Thomas bought an inexpensive laser pointer made by Apollo (part #MP1200, available at Staples for $14.95), and hey, jeez, perfect—it's flat on one side, so it won't roll around and cause alignment errors. Then the intrepid Mr. Z, checking to make sure he wasn't being followed, made it over to RadioShack and picked up a Mini Vise with Suction Base (part #64-2094) for a whopping $3.59. This little gizmo allows placement on any surface that'll take a laser pen held by the jaws of the vise. This tweak totals $18.54—"perhaps not state-of-the-art, but it works pretty good for me!" declared the adventurous Mr. Zukowski.

TJZ is committed to proper setup: "I hope that all readers understand how important it is to use some of these processes, no matter how inexpensive or expensive their system may be. I've had the opportunity to tweak some very inexpensive systems for people, and the results can make them sound like a million bucks." Right on, as my dad used to say.

To further establish his pedigree, Tom Z. sent along a list of the equipment populating his stereo and home theater systems—all first-rate. Just because he has the luck and the bucks for a big, impressive system doesn't automatically make TJZ a Golden Ears (in fact, some would say the opposite), but it's interesting that even folks with his level of equipment tweak around seeking sonic nirvana.

"Enjoy your day!" he signed off. Nice guy.

On the subject of levelin'n'laserin', the following—posted on the rec.audio.high-end Usenet newsgroup by Michael Lyle (michael_lyle@pacbell.net), a "long-ago surveyor"—struck me as excellent advice. I'd guess he doesn't think a plumb bob has anything to do with fruit.

Let's say your level isn't of carpenter's quality, but a smaller one you use around your audio system. When you're leveling (with your significant other, for example, explaining why you've just spent so much money), spin the level and take a second look. If the bubble isn't in exactly the same spot it was the first time, just split the difference to establish your reference level point. According to Michael Lyle "This produces accurate results with inaccurate instruments." He also said that "the sun shining on a component may move it substantially off level." Wait a sec, lemme make a note of that...

I try to keep "Fine Tunes" on a single subject, but how much can you say about leveling, except...do it! The following shocking tweak from James Schrimph (jschrimph@theriver.com) seemed a good way to cauterize the open wound. It's another cheapie.

James lives in Southeast Arizona, where, he says, static electricity is a big problem. He found that lightly spraying the carpet in front of his equipment rack once or twice a week with Static Guard ($3-$4/can) eliminates the potentially dangerous, damaging, and certainly annoying pops provoked by static discharges. "I also lightly spray my listening chair to avoid static buildup when I get up to change albums." Not a bad idea, I thought, eyeing the Ribbon Chair. James also sprays his speaker cables. "Tsk tsk," says he. "They rest on the carpet." Tsk tsk, indeed.

"PS," he ended: "the June 1995 'A Matter of Taste' is my all-time favorite Stereophile article. Isn't it time for an update?" Maybe so, and maybe we can convince some of the rest of the staff to write up their listening rooms as well!

Static-related (if not "Fine Tunes" cheap) is Music Hall's ZeroStat Gun 3, made by Milty in the UK and available through Audio Advisor for $59.95. There's nothing like it for getting rid of static buildup on LPs. After I've placed an LP on the platter, but before I slowly pull the Gun 3's trigger a few times over the vinyl, I give the cartridge a squeeze or two. Don't be alarmed by the clicking sound; according to Roy Hall of Music Hall, it just means that the ZeroStat is working.

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