Paperclip Transmission

“Good news!” Stephen exclaimed, the second I walked into his office. I saw my Usher S-520s plopped lovingly in my cubicle. “Check your email,” he instructed.

An email from JA read:

I couldn't find anything wrong, Ariel. I measured both speakers and also listened to them…they match very closely—as well as the individual responses of the tweeter and woofer of the sample that didn't have the biwiring jumpers connected.*

Could that have been the problem?

Could this have been the problem…

Could this have been the problem?


Uuuggh. I felt like such a fool. Rushing to Stephen last week like some sad puppy with a frown on my face complaining about speaker woes, spending hours at home fidgeting with different options, and then asking JA to take my speakers home and figure out what was wrong with them when all I had to do was look at them.

The truth is, I still would not have known the cause of the problem even if I looked right at it (which I probably did). As a noob to all of this hi-fi stuff, most everything is still a mystery.

So I asked JA for a solution, and he told me: “Just get a paper clip, and connect the two posts so that the woofer is connected to the tweeter.”

“Is the signal transferred through that paper clip?” I asked cautiously.

“Well. Yeah!”

Constantly surrounded by components and different purchase options while working on the Buyer’s Guide, you begin to believe that audio options can only be purchases, often at uncomfortable prices. Instead, this one was simply stolen from Liz’s office.

So I took a taxi cab home early from work to go play with my new toys. Stephen told me to try and mimic the shape of the jumpers with the paper clips. The jumpers gripped to the exterior edges of the top binding posts, flanked downwards parallel to a sharp concave edge, and then extended back outwards leading to the bottom binding posts.

“I can do this. All I have to do is bend a paper clip around some stuff. Can’t be that hard.”

Well the task ended up being an “exercise in frustration,” mostly due to the concave wall of the speaker's terminal housing. Once I thought I had a good hook around the top binding post, the paper clip would reject my wishes to bend back evenly along the angles of the speaker wall, and as I screwed down the post on the bottom end, this horrible “eeecrrrawwwww” sound grated my ears. It sounded pretty darn similar to a screw being stripped, so I stopped this strategy immediately.

I diverged from SM’s advice, as it wasn’t working with these speakers due to that nasty little bent wall and the limitations of my paperclips. Back to square one. I removed all of the binding posts.

A light bulb flashed above my head. With wide circular openings now available in the middle of each of the posts, I threaded the paper clip graciously from the bottom post into the top one, just like a guitar string. The posts were screwed down, paper clips pressed down tight. Music ready to be made.

I was slightly worried about the presence of the paper clips in the middle of the binding posts, thinking the clips would interfere with the banana plugs, but then I just reasoned with myself: it’s all electricity anyway, and it’s going to get transferred through the paper clip one way or another, with or without direct contact to the plug. Maybe the connection is not quite as solid as it could have been with a correctly positioned paper clip jumper, but the slight scratches on the back of my loudspeakers, as a result of the previous attempts to connect the paper clip “correctly,” told me to leave it as is.

I placed the speakers on my new Target Hi-fi FS Series speaker stands, with a slight toe in. Connected the Blue Jeans Cable locking banana plugs to both the posts on the backs of my speakers and my Cambridge Audio 540a v2 integrated amplifier. On the left hand side of my system was my Rega P1 connected to a Bellari VP129, which was in turn plugged into the amp with more BJC stereo cables.

Oh, what record to play, what record to play…? My fingers tingled, just thinking about touching those cardboard sleeves. Unfortunately, I had no time for such heavy decisions. It was another open mic night, and I had to try out a new song I had been working on. I plugged my iPod in through the Y-cable, gave a quick hear to make sure all was clear (which it was), and bolted out the door.

*Congratulations to Robin, blog commenter, on figuring out the solution right after my first post. If I had a prize to send you, I would do it. For now, complete awe and appreciation is all I have to give you for your soothsaying abilities and obviously, incredible knowledge.

Skellum's picture

Having just returned from the "cable wars again" in another forum.....I just gotta ask....uh have you tried other paper clips to see if they affect the way the speakers sound? I hope you used the big fat ones! Nice little system, enjoy. Like your writing btw.

Fred von Lohmann's picture

A good reminder of how bewildering hi-fi can be to newcomers. My father (an engineer), for example, unpacked the Project turntable I bought him for Christmas and blithely snipped the string that dangles the anti-skate weight. How was he to know?

David's picture

In my newbie days, I went for nearly a year with the bi-wire jumpers missing. As a result, I didn't listen to music much because I was so disgusted by the sound. The sound was ok from movies because my surround speakers were still getting the full signal. Talk about stupid! I am happy that you have your solution. At least it took you less than a year to figure out.....

robin's picture

So no stereophile t-shirt? ;)But, seriously I'm glad you're system is up and playing music. I covet the Rega P-1. I've had a Rega brio amp for 4 years and it's a lot of performance, fun and soul for the money.All the best.

Tom's picture

Bi-wire can be confusing, for sure (and it doesn't neccesarily contribute to better sound).Paperclips do work but don't sound as good as short pieces of solid-core copperwire.A bi-wire tip for those who use single-wire cable and bananaplugs: plug the red (positive phase) plug into the red high-frequency terminal and the black plug into the black low-frequency terminal (with the HF & LF terminals bridged with wire of course ;-)). That way, the HF unit will get the most direct signal and the LF unit can release it's back-EMF more easily. In most cases, this will sound more coherent.Great blogs on Stereophile, by the way (when is Wes going to write about his cats again?).

Ariel Bitran's picture

have you tried other paper clips to see if they affect the way the speakers sound?The blue and green paper clips add some coloration to the upper midrange, while the red and yellow ones make my speakers warmer. The pink clips added some flesh and bone to female vocals.Just kidding. No, I just used plain old silver jumbo paper clips.Thank you Skellum, for the comments and reading.

Ariel Bitran's picture

Fred, I've always been worried about that anti-skate on the Pro-ject tables for the reason you just stated. I could see myself doing the same thing, if I first got that TT.David, I fortunately noticed right away, but hi-fi can be dissapointing as a newcomer, with so many variables to control. I guess that becomes the fun part later on.Robin, Stephen and I were both surprised at how quickly you found the solution.Tom, I will try that out this weekend. it definitely makes a lot of sense, and its an easy alternative. I too, miss Wes's cats.I also plan on getting my speaker placement set this weekend and whether I want the tweeters on the outside or the inside.

Doug Bowker's picture

Good story Ariel. As Dave says though- just put in some short pieces of speaker wire. paper clips are pretty crappy and as you noticed, not so great for a solid connection.

Skellum's picture

LOL Tounge in cheek (just got back from dentist)If i have this correct you are from N. Shelby County?, if so, a shout out from home.

AlexO's picture

Congratulations! Problem solved! I hope you enjoyed your system.
As someone mentioned already, you would probably have been better off just connecting a piece of wire/cable instead of a paper clip. The job would have gone smoother and you wouldn't have scratched the speakers.

Oh well, as long as it works. Congrats again. I hope you have many hours of musical enjoyment.