How to get the most from your system: Part III...Tweaks

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Mike Knapp, Jan 7, 2002.

  1. Mike Knapp

    Mike Knapp Supporting Actor

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    Tweaks, where to begin. How about let’s start with a disclaimer. The following information is stuff I have discovered that worked for me. It may not work for you, hell, it may not even work at all. I may just be imagining it all together. But I believe it works and so I will report on it. Keep in mind that your results may vary greatly.
    WIRES So many wires, so little time. Let’s divide them into three catagories.
    Speaker Wires: The last link between your gear and your ears. There are a large number of people that believe that 12G OFC (Oxygen Free Copper) is all that is needed in every circumstance. It may be true that it is all that is needed, but it is not all there is. There are many exotic braiding techniques and many different types of wiring materials being used by the manufacturers. There are a multitude of di-lectrics (skins) and there is a plethora of terminators. You MUST experiment with these to find what works well in your system. What sounds great in Bill’s rig may sound terrible in yours. As with any wire purchase make sure you can return or exchange them. I use IXOS gamma weave wires custom made for me by IXOS.
    Interconnects: This is an important piece of your system. Many people report hearing not so subtle differences between various interconnects. Again, the construction and materials will make a difference in what you experience here. I prefer a snug fitting gold plated connector. The locking connectors are cumbersome to work with and too large for many of today’s receivers with many inputs. I use Better Cables’ products. I have found them to be of a vastly superior quality and very reasonably priced. I use the Silver Serpent line exclusively. I feel that consistency in the cables, no matter the brand, is crucial. Try to have the same interconnects through any given path. Your system will only sound as good as it’s weakest link.
    I have not heard any differences between various optical cables I have tried, but I do prefer the sound from a digital coax to that of the optical connection. There is a large segment of the population that feels “bits is bits”….I simply disagree. I use the coax connection whenever possible.
    Power Cords: Every unit in my system that can support an after-market power cord has one on it (even one of my subwoofers). They can make a difference. The folks that argue “the last six feet wont matter” have either never tried an aftermarket power cord or they forget that the pipes in your house will effect how your water tastes….even the last 6 feet of them. Be sure to buy only cords with a liberal return policy. I use VansEvers power cords. The "Pandora" tunable model is my current preference.
    POWER CONDITIONERS I use them on all of my equipment. It just makes good sense. The surge protection alone is worth the effort. The more expensive conditioners will enhance your audio/video performance as well. I had to re-calibrate my display and my audio after installing a conditioner on my system. I use lower drive settings which will contribute to the longer life of my picture tubes. Oh, BTW….I use after-market power cords on my conditioners too! Try to avoid the conditioners that route video through the unit. We spend lots of time (at least we should) making sure electrical signal does not interfere with our video…why then run the video right through the box that all our electricity is flowing through? Be sure the company has a return policy. I use VansEvers power conditioners exclusively (3 total).
    DACS: Every piece of digital equipment has them. The outboard ones sound better. If you want to hear your music with a clarity and space never before experienced, get an outboard DAC. You will not regret it. I feel the same advantage that you get from having your amps in a separate chassis from your processing unit is carried over to having the DACS in a separate chassis as well. That coupled with the higher quality electronics will create a sound field that will astound you. I use Perpetual Technologies P-3A up-sampling DAC and their P-1A anti-jitter unit in conjunction with the Monolith power supply for both. I couldn’t be happier. There are less expensive alternatives as well.
    CD TWEAKS Green pens, freezing, de-magnetizers, vibration reduction discs….none of them have worked for me. The one thing that did work was a piece of Peter Belt’s foil. It didn’t give me an “improvement” each time but it did change the sound. The “Bendini clarifier” worked as well but so subtly that the effort involved in treating the disc was not worth the benefit in my opinion.
    SPEAKER TWEAKS Various wooden blocks, rubber discs, isolation feet, blu-tac, felt discs around the tweeter, coins, etc….all of them work for me, they do not always produce desireable results however.. Finding a good combination is a tough task. (this applies to mostly 2 channel listening, the effects on film soundtracks will be largely wasted.). Try using whatever you may have available. Everything resonates…use the resonation to your benefit if possible. Don’t limit the placement of these things to the speakers, place them on your equipment as well.
    ROOM COLOR Black is best, grey is next….the darker the better.
    LIGHTING Keep the lights off. Make sure the equipment lights are not in your front sound-stage near the image. I used to have mine there until a friend gave me a heads up. Once I moved the equipment I was most pleased with the results. Disable any “dancing lights” on your equipment by covering them with black electrical tape. Be careful not to cover the IR eye.
    VIDEO MATTES Make some. Search the home theater sites for information on how, and then make some. Do it!
    WIRE BRIDGES They work to a slight degree. If you have the inclination to make some give them a try. For many people they are not practical because of set-up limitations. I cannot use them myself.
    ISOLATION DEVICES Sand bags, air bladders, water bags, cones, sorbothane pads,…these work to varying degrees (again for two channel use) and can be made cheaply (except the sorbothane). Bicycle tubes under transports, hot water bottles partially filled with jello under turntables, sand bags atop CD players, all have an effect. Experiment, its cheap.
    That’s all I can think of right now. I will add to the list as things come to me. Anyone have a favorite tweak that was omitted? If so, post it so we all may benefit.
    Please notice that I have said many times that results may vary and these things may not work for you (or at all) so there is no need to rag on any of these tips. All skeptics please stow your inflammatory comments in advance, thanks! [​IMG]
    Mike
    [​IMG]
     
  2. Mike Knapp

    Mike Knapp Supporting Actor

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    135 views and not one response. Depressing.

    Mike
     
  3. Peter Apruzzese

    Peter Apruzzese Producer

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    We're out trying the tweaks instead of replying! [​IMG]
    Seriously, I'll give some of these a try when my equipment gets its new home. With the room it's in now, I doubt I could hear any differences.
     
  4. Mark Austin

    Mark Austin Supporting Actor

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    I agree with most every thing you said Mike. Thanks for sharing. [​IMG]
     
  5. Lanny Hoff

    Lanny Hoff Stunt Coordinator

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    I think that one of the reasons you've seen so little posting on this topic is that most of us are a bit shocked by the number of tweaks that you have tried or at least know something about![​IMG]
    Thanks for taking the time to list them all. I'm a bits-is-bits guy (and, by the way, a wire-is-wire guy as well) so I don't necessarily agree with most of what you said, but I like the fact that you compiled these suggestions and that you don't claim to be the final word on any of it. The best advice ever: try it for yourself and see or hear what happens.
    I enjoy this forum so much because of folks like you taking the time to spell things out. Thanks a heap!
     
  6. John H

    John H Second Unit

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  7. Mike Knapp

    Mike Knapp Supporting Actor

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    The Bendini unit requires you to place the disc on a spindle, press a button, allow it to spin for 30 seconds, remove it from the spindle....all too much for this "instant gratification" guy! [​IMG]
    Mike
     
  8. MichaelG

    MichaelG Second Unit

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    Since I just moved and I am in the process of tweeking my speaker placement, sub palcement, ect, I need to search on some of those speaker tweaks. I never have used isoloation pads, pennies, or anything else in the past. I also need new speaker wire, but I was just going to get some 12-14 gauge wire from RatShack and connect directly to the posts on my Denon.
     
  9. Charles L.

    Charles L. Agent

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    Mike

    The hardest thing about tweeks is the fact that everything interacts with the end result. One cable brand might tame the highs. If you have overly bright speakers you might appreciate them in your system, another owner of the same system might think it destroyed their sonic qualitys. Another angle is this. You find a tweek that works good in your system. You might dismiss future tweeks thinking they dont work in your system. Are the tweeks not compatable with one another. If you bought new speakers you wouldn't just throw em on the floor and start listening. You would start back at the begining angle em in, adjust levels, move em closer or farther from the wall. You would find what worked best for your new addition. Now you have to go through your whole system and redo the whole damm thing. Are tweeks any different? Is it far to do a tweek and not change anything else? There are so many variables its enough to make you go mad. One other point. Some tweeks are so small it's hard to tell if any thing has changed. Some people might relate to this. In the 80's when CD's came out a lot of people didn't notice the benifits right away. Only untill they listened to cds for a while and went back to tapes. My wife was the same way on DVDS and VHS. I heard of a reviewer that put a tweek in his sytsem and couldn't tell any change. Several months latter he took it out and then noticed how terrible his system sounded. Every one should keep this in mind when tring a new tweek.
     
  10. Joseph Hoetzl

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    OK, I somewhat recently filled the legs of my speaker stands with lead shot. I did it because after all the long calibration, a visitor bumped into the speaker and totally moved it. Now I fear this was a bad move. AFAIK Lead is a health hazard. I did seal the ends with epoxy but I wonder if the vibrations of the speakers is causing lead dust to be scattered about. I propably could have used sand, but that can be a real mess.

    Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

    Anyone with the real health info on lead and if there is something I can do to alleviate the problem. Would sealing the ends with epoxy hold it back? I'm not against getting new stands at this point, rather spend $100 now then die sooner than latter.

    Thanks!
     
  11. Ted Lee

    Ted Lee Lead Actor

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    mike -

    i'll agree with some tweaks and disagree with others, but in any case, i (along with others, i'm sure) appreciate you spending the time to make suggestions.

    it'll always be up to the individual to see what works for them.

    anyway...what's a wire bridge?
     
  12. Lee Scoggins

    Lee Scoggins Producer

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    Mike,
    Great post as per usual. Fairly complete list.
    You left out one big, cheap tweak however.
    Contact Cleaning!!!
    In the recording studio and even more at home, I have found that regularly (I do it weekly!) cleaning of the electrical connections to be very important, even if you have gold or rhodium (Cardas) connectors like I do.
    Here's how you do it....
    1. Purchase pipe cleaners from a old-time tobacco shop. Going ahead and enjoying a cigar is up to you.
    2. Purchase Caig Pro Gold or if available Kontakt from the UK.
    3. Bend the pipe cleaner in the middle and insert around the middle of the connector. Spray a little of Caig or Kontakt and work around the inside of connection. I find that keeping a few paper towels help clean up over-sprays as well. Change pipe cleaners as they become dirty (grey) and focus on interconnect areas (CD player, preamp) and speaker areas. I have an audio research tube amp and clean the tube pins from time to time as well.
    By the way, Audio Research makes tube damping rings which control microphonics for $4-6 each, another cheap tweak that works.
    4. Also, Audioquest makes specialized connector cleaning tools if you want to get fancy.
    [​IMG] Thanks again Mike.
    Lee
     
  13. Lee Scoggins

    Lee Scoggins Producer

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    One more note on tweaks. Stereophile magazine has great tweaks at the end of every issue in a column by Jonathan Scull. Great, sometimes funny reading.
    Michael Fremer the vinyl guy also does great work here in vinyl tweaks and Sam Tellig occassionally gives hints as well.
    [​IMG]
     
  14. Mike Knapp

    Mike Knapp Supporting Actor

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    Wire bridges are devices (usually ceramic) that are used to suspend the speaker cables above the floor as they travel to the speakers. They are also used for power cords.
    Joseph, if it is sealed I think you are probably safe enough. Next time use cat litter. [​IMG]
    Mike
     
  15. Jason Watson

    Jason Watson Stunt Coordinator

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    Mike,
    The Bendini Clarifier too much trouble!!! I thought all you vinyl guys spent at least half an hour cleaning each record before it even hits the TT. [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]
     
  16. Chris RM

    Chris RM Auditioning

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    Pardon my ignorance, and this may be a stupid question, but what does the color of the room have to do with the way a HT will sound?

    Chris
     
  17. Dan Hine

    Dan Hine Screenwriter

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    Chris,
     
  18. John H

    John H Second Unit

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  19. Eric Kahn

    Eric Kahn Guest

    I was happy to have a functioning HT set up now I have to tweak it?????[​IMG]
    since none of my equipment (except the klipsch speakers) classifies as high end, I doubt that most of these tweaks would do me any good and after pricing high end wires, my whole setup cost less than I would have to spend on the wires. I tend to use the ones that come with the equipment because I never seem to have enough of them
    my nest step is to buy the Avia or similar disk so I can calibrate my system, I already have an analog radiocrap SPL meter that I have had for years
     
  20. Magpile

    Magpile Auditioning

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    I had this great tweak before, it was those leather ears that one wears outside one's own ear (forgot what it was called.) All of a sudden, imaging became much better, the imageless imaging of the Bose 901 in the local low-fi/washing machine shop suddenly became less imageless. Although it did make the midrange more prominent, and I had to buy a set for each listener, or else they can't enjoy the music with me at the same time.
     

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