High-End Standards Page 2

Miscellaneous Problems

Audio Interconnect Connections: Power-amplifier inputs should never be spaced more than 5" apart. Many high-performance audio interconnects are permanently paired, with links that prevent their end plugs from being separated by more than a certain amount. And regardless of the configuration of the two amplifier channels—whether they have common or separate power supplies, for example—there is no compelling reason why their inputs need be placed more than 5" apart.

Phono-cartridge pins: Let's, for heaven's sake, standardize the diameter of phono-cartridge connecting pins. Different cartridges vary so much in this respect that it is almost always necessary to readjust the tonearm clips when changing from one cartridge to another; then, of course, the clips have an irritating habit of breaking off from the leads when so manhandled. There is an existing standard for pin size (DIN 98.1, Section 7.5.3, Fig.2), but you'd never know it. Most American manufacturers conform to this, many Japanese manufacturers do not. But since the US is Japan's largest market for cartridges, we should be able to bring pressure to bear for the adoption of the DIN standard. DIN is, after all, supposed to be international.

Front panels: Here's another area where the lack of a standard is more of a pain than a crisis, but it's irksome, nonetheless. Some components have extended front panels with holes in them for rack mounting; some don't. All components should be provided with the means for rack mounting, whether this is an optional replacement front panel or a pair of brackets that can screw to the unit's polished wooden end panels.

MC Cartridge Output Ratings: In terms of actual signal output available to the user, today's simple voltage ratings are almost meaningless. Because a moving-coil cartridge must generally work into a fairly low-impedance load, which knocks down its output voltage in inverse relationship to that load, MC output should be rated in terms of power, which specification would relate to the load impedance. This would allow one to ascertain its output voltage after its signal has passed through the step-up device that the cartridge will be used with.

Turntable Height: Now that the importance of acoustical isolation in a turntable is generally recognized, it should also be recognized that anything which destroys that isolation is a no-no. This has apparently not gotten through to a lot of designers.

We still see new turntable models that are so low in height that the usually stiff cable coming out of the bottom of the tonearm pillar bears heavily on the unit's bottom plate (or on the underlying surface if it doesn't have a bottom plate). This provides an efficient vibration path between the "isolated" suspension and the surface under the unit, which is subject to loudspeaker-induced vibrations through the air or the floor. While it is possible (in some instances) to lift the cable ou of the way by bending it upwards and fastening it somehow to the pillar, this is often quite difficult to manage, and it should not be necessary in the first place.

If a 'table is always supplied with its own arm, so-called "low-profile" design is dandy. The manufacturer can do his own fancy cable tying. But an ostensibly good turntable which is sold for use with any tonearm should not have less than 3½" clearance between the top of its motor board and the surface directly under the arm.

Power Amplifier S/N Ratings: Since the gain (amplification) of a power amplifier cannot be varied (unlike a preamplifier, which has a volume control), the amount of hum or hiss audible from it under no-signal conditions (which is when hum and hiss are audible) does not bear any relationship to how much power it is capable of producing. So a power amp signal-to-noise rating which relates to full power output (which is the way all are rated these days) has no significance in terms of actual listening. A power amp's S/N Ratio should be related to 1W output, not to its full-power output.

Summing Up

None of the foregoing is really of crucial importance. People have managed to get audio systems working for over 35 years with few universal standards. Standards are just one sign of the maturity of any technological field, but by that criterion, high fidelity shows evidence of retardation. What's forgotten is that today's consumer is different from that of 1950. Today we expect mundane things to go together neatly, easily, and with a minimum of hassle, so we can concentrate on the less mundane things (or just be lazy). And we have a right to expect the observance of standards.

What is perhaps so remarkable is the fact that, 36 years after the birth of the LP, these niggling little things are still not standardized! The Institute of High Fidelity Manufacturers, one of whose responsibilities is to establish standards has been around for 30 of those years. What, I wonder, have they been doing all that time?