Fine Tunes #41

This episode of "Fine Tunes" is mainly about the care and feeding of speaker drivers. Before I launch into some of the tweaks—a few fairly wild and wacky—sent in by readers, here are two from my own experience.

First, tighten those drivers—perhaps once a year. You might be surprised at how the retaining screws can vibrate loose; tightening them improves the sound in just about every way imaginable. Second, if you live in a large city with air as thick and full of particulate matter as New York's, use a large, very soft brush to occasionally remove the dust buildup on the drivers. Gently does it!

On to the mail. Allen McGillivray, from Ontario, Canada (, seems a friendly chap (his e-mail began with a hearty "Hello there!"). He insists that a very inexpensive and easy-to-implement tweak "made such a dramatic improvement to the sound of my speakers that I just had to write to you and share it." His Paradigm Monitor 9 v.2s had a small "fleck or overspray" of some kind on the rubber surrounds, as he described it. And he thought the surrounds weren't as shiny and smooth as he'd seen on other speakers, which I'm not sure is of primary importance. But he decided to treat a small area of one of the surrounds with—hold on to your hats—Armor All! Paging Sam Tellig!

Deciding that Armor All had no negative effect on the "integrity" of the surround, Allen treated all four surrounds "with about four treatments of Armor All." He mentioned that the first three "pretty well soaked in and the fourth treatment 'beaded' somewhat, so I wiped them dry and was pleased that, cosmetically, they looked fantastic!"

Looking good is one thing, sounding good another. "The real shock came when I sat down to listen. The sound was in every way improved. They lost their slight boxy coloration, and the speaker became more tuneful. It was easier to follow individual musicians on all my recordings, and vocals were much more intelligible." Seemed to work for him. He described the bass before the treatment as "a little indistinct and 'thrummy' under about 50 or 60Hz, and remaining so down to the speaker's lower useful limit of about 35Hz." Although the tweak didn't lower the speaker's bass extension, "it dramatically improved the quality of the bass below 60Hz or so."

After a few days, Allen reports, the sound never failed to put a smile on his face, especially with solo piano. "Before the tweak, the sound was okay but nothing special. Now it is much improved and far more musical. Hope this helps!"

I haven't tried this tweak chez Scull and so can't really endorse it and have everyone scrambling for the Armor All again...but the idea makes sense to me. In fact, Allen's e-mail reminded me that the driver surrounds on our JMlab Utopia located closer to the skylight were indeed lighter in color than the other speaker. Some time ago, after doing a Follow-Up on another pair of speakers, I reversed the Utopias' positions for uniformity's sake. This might be a good one for many of you out there. But before applying any Armor All, I suggest you check with your speakers' manufacturer—driver surrounds are made from different materials.

Rich and Celeste Crimi ( sent me an e-mail whose subject line read "toilet tweak"! (I had a sudden urge...) This one's great for all you catophiles. It seems the Crimis take in cats for a rescue organization, and one foster feline took a liking to their speaker cables, "nipping up near the binding posts each time it made its 'hunting rounds' behind the speakers." The solution? Slipped some empty toilet-paper rolls over the cables, especially over the "spot of attraction." Problem solved! "Here's the tweak part. You may have to use duct tape for better resonance control. But whatever you do, by all means use 100% recycled materials—no chlorine additives. Enjoy!" writes Rich. "I credit my wife with this one," he added. Good man. Thank you, Rich and Celeste! [If your binding posts and/or spade lugs are silver, avoid rubber bands. The sulfur in the rubber quickly tarnishes the silver.—Ed.]

Hand in hand with that one came an e-mail from Greg Brown ( entitled "Tar Paper Sleeves." In an effort to clean up his soundscape, as he put it, Greg recalled that he had a roll of roofing tar paper in the ol' storage shed. "I cut off a 6" strip from the roll and cut that into four equal pieces approximately 6" by 9" each. I cupped a piece of tar paper around the plugged-in power cord/interconnect. Then I stapled the loose ends together so it fastened tightly around the wires like a cuff around one's wrist. Then I slid the tar-paper cuffs against the body of the amp, CD, preamp, power-line conditioner, wall socket, and so on.

"All I did afterwards was sit back and enjoy a miraculous difference in the music. Noise floor gone. Clarity times two. Holography in spades! I tried a pair around my speaker cables at the amp (biwired, high-frequency only), with nice results. This is almost a zero-dollar investment with a big payback," exulted Greg. "I have yet to try a double cuff or other variations on the theme to see what happens. Too many of these can deaden your sound, so play around and tailor the results to your system. Great sound is always in style!"

Couldn't agree with you more, Greg. Again, I haven't tried this one at home; if anyone does, let me know if you have a similar epiphany.