Tweaks'n'Squeaks Page 3

Audio equipment can almost always benefit from a good stand or rack. In general, stands and racks provide rigid foundations that help isolate equipment from its environment. Excellent products are available from Arcici, Target, Sound Anchors, Merrill, Solidsteel, Chicago Speaker Stands, Sanus Systems, AudioPrism, Bright Star, and others. In addition to providing a proper foundation for your equipment, racks can look good and help you organize an otherwise jumbled array of hi-fi gear.

Connecting everything
Your different components are connected with various plugs, lugs, and wires; in order to ensure snug fits, the first thing you want to do is thoroughly clean every contact. You should be primarily concerned with those that are related to cables, including: the headshell connections from cartridge to tonearm; the tonearm to phono-cable plugs; phono-cable to preamp plugs; transport to DAC leads; DAC or CD player to preamp connections; preamp to amp(s) or crossover(s); crossover(s) to amp(s); and amp(s) to speakers (both ends). Other connections include power plugs, tube pins, and anyplace where power or a signal is moving between removable parts. Be sure to remove all the grease and grime (which can come from your fingers)---not just the obvious dust and dirt---as well as any oxidation. Cramolin, Caig ProGold, AudioQuest Ultraconnect, Signet SK-302 Contact Cleaner, and Sumiko Kontak are good products for this task.

Once the contacts are clean, it's important to keep them clean. Products such as Sumiko Tweek will prolong the pristine state of newly cleaned connectors---and they're heartily recommended by many experienced audiophiles. At a minimum, as a crude mechanical way of cleaning the contacts, periodically (monthly) remove and reconnect everything, and rub or twist the connections back together. A better idea is to periodically undo all the connections and clean them with a lint-free cloth or pencil eraser. Better yet, use a commercial cleaner followed by a treatment with a commercial preservative.

After cleaning and treating the contacts, make sure you hook everything up correctly. As a simple rule to keep the channels straight with your interconnects, always use red for the right channel (if there's no red, use white for the right). For your speaker cables, use red (or white) for the positive (+) connection. Numerous inexpensive test CDs (and harder-to-find LPs) contain channel-identification tests---eg, track 1 on Stereophile's Test CD 3 (STPH006-2). Track 2 on the same CD is a phase test which will help you determine if your speakers are properly connected (ie, in-phase). Also useful are the XLO/Sheffield Labs Test & Burn-in CD (reviewed in Vol.17 No.6, p.139), and the three Chesky Jazz Sampler and Test CDs.

Most phase tests help you determine if your speakers are connected in the same correct phase---ie, a positive electrical pulse causes both speaker cones to move outward into the room. If the speakers are connected out-of-phase, then one will move in while the other moves out. The result is a loss of bass, a lack of any firm central image, and often a phasey, buzzing feeling in the ears. Even if both channels are connected in-phase, they may be connected with inverted acoustic polarity---a positive electrical pulse makes the woofer cones move inward. One way to check this is to briefly connect a 1.5V cell across the speaker terminals, with the battery's positive (+) terminal connected to the red speaker terminal. You should hear a brief click or pop and see the woofer cone move inward or outward.

Many audiophiles hold that optimizing absolute phase is essential to get the best from recordings. Unfortunately, not all recordings are recorded with the correct polarity. Adventurous tweakers might want to read Clark Johnsen's The Wood Effect to learn more about absolute phase (footnote 3), and listen to the Absolute Polarity Test on Chesky's first Test CD (JD37).

If you don't have the right connectors, you can use an adapter that will turn an RCA into a BNC or XLR---all are readily available from Radio Shack---or you can use cheap bananas with your speakers. It might be necessary to use these things to get your new piece of gear up and running, but they're poor long-term sonic choices. Get the right connectors on interconnects and/or speaker cables as soon as possible---it'll be well worth it in the long run.

Footnote 3: Available from The Modern Audio Association, 23 Stillings Street, Boston, MA 02210. Tel: (617) 357-8040.