As Easy as ABC
My first recommendation is probably the least expensive and simplest to follow: Do not under any circumstances listen to any music whatsoever for one whole week, period. Nothing. Nada. This goes for the radio, television, and live concerts. After the week is over, put on one of your favorite pieces of music. There, doesn't your system sound wonderful?! What? It still sucks? If that's the case, then skip to the last tip in this article.
The next step in improving the sound of your system involves a bit of tinkering on your part, but it still won't cost you anything. Simply take the leads to one of your speakers and wire them out-of-phase with the other speaker. Now sit back and listen for at least several hours. Okay, I know---something doesn't sound right at all, and you're ready to pack it all in. That's when you go back and rewire that speaker correctly. Ah, that's more like it! I knew it wasn't my system that sounded so bad!
The next bit of advice is---I'm sorry to say---aimed only at those who use tube amplifiers. But if that doesn't include you now, it may be best to read on anyway. This info might come in handy one day after you also decide to join that real lunatic fringe of high-end audio, the tubeaholics.
If you've spent any more than several hours with your piece of tube gear, I'm sure you've started wondering just what those new KT999.9 output tubes really sound like. Well, rather than going to the trouble of buying those new tubes, taking the time to install them, and then rebiasing the amp, here's a tip that will have you enjoying your amp like never before. Just turn the bias up as high as it will go. Yes, you guessed it. KABLOOM! You've just detonated your output tubes, and with any luck at all, maybe you've taken out a few resistors to boot.
You see, now you'll need to take your amp in for servicing, or, better yet, send it back to the company that made it. That would probably take the longest, which, in either case, means no amp for some time. Boy, when you get that thing back, even with the original kind of tubes in it, you'll be so appreciative of having music again that you won't even think about making another tube change for at least...oh, several days!
For all of you who've tried the various computer programs for proper speaker positioning (such as "Wanna Buy A Duck?" software, or any of the special room treatments such as the LooneyTunes products), I have a tip that is sure to save you much time, effort, and money. Now, I must admit that the idea for the LIAR test did originate with Robert Deutsch, who mentioned it in last February's Stereophile. (What an appropriate name for a test by an equipment reviewer, eh, all you people who've gotten burned by the latest rave...?) LIAR stands for Listen In Another Room---ie, you step outside of your listening room and see if the music sounds as if it could be "real musicians playing in real space."
That's really a test to see just how truly excellent your system sounds. But what if the highs are shrieky, the midrange recessed or too forward, etc., etc.? You need to follow my GAFAAP program (Go As Far Away As Possible). Yes, not only do you listen from outside the room, you may need to leave the house altogether! And won't your spouse be delighted when you throw on some music and, instead of hibernating for the next several hours, actually ask her (footnote 1) to go for a walk!
Now let's just say you follow through on GAFAAP, letting the music blast away while you go for a walk. If you should happen to leave your door unlocked (cracked open a little would even be better), then you'll have stumbled upon my last-resort tip for better sound: making your system available to someone less fortunate than yourself, someone who has more important things to spend his or her money on---like food, rent, clothing. By making your system vulnerable as described above, you just may return home to find your hi-fi troubles a thing of the past. (Of course, so is your stereo!) Now you can visit your neighbor's house and listen to how really fine your system sounds in its new abode. (You always knew how much better someone else's rig sounded than your own anyway, right?)
Footnote 1: I don't really mean to leave people of the female persuasion out in the cold, but are there really any women out there who are into the equipment end of this hobby? I'm not talking about an interest in music per se, or even good sound, but all this upgrading, equipment swapping, etc.