tweaks/upgrades: which ones really work?

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Walt Park, Jan 14, 2003.

  1. Walt Park

    Walt Park Stunt Coordinator

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    Ok.. so Chu got me thinking about stuff.
    After looking around, I think the silver serpent interconnects are just eichman bullets or cardas rca's soldered to the cable that DH Labs uses. I found the wire in bulk at http://www.welbornelabs.com/dhlabs.htm
    Then it's just covered in techflex and shrink wrap.
    So, DIY price for a pair of 1M interconnects would be like:
    $21 for 6 ft of cable,
    $40 for a set of 4 bullets,
    $4 for the techflex
    $.50 for the shrink wrap
    $.25 for some silver solder
    ---------------------------
    $65.75 total
    Bettercables price: 109.95
    --------------------------------------------------------
    Ok. So I could hear a difference between the $40 Monster Interlink 400, and the Monster ref 2. I didnt really hear much difference between the silver serpents and the Monster Ref 2, but that could be because the cheaper stuff I was listening on is now the limiting factor.
    So... there are a ton of upgrade parts that are supposed to improve sound. Which ones work, and which ones dont?
    1) Power cords
    2) Power Line noise filters (I ordered the blue circle noise hound but it's not here yet)
    3) mains speaker cable (I replaced my 12 ga ofc Home Depot with 8 twist/braid cat5 cables, and it sounds better but that could just be because it's effectively like 9 ga now.)
    4) spikes on mains(I can't hear much difference with/out them on my sub on carpet)
    5) vibration dampers special feet for components
    6) tube socks
    7) cd/disk mats
     
  2. Walt Park

    Walt Park Stunt Coordinator

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    nudge
     
  3. Chu Gai

    Chu Gai Lead Actor

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    well i think the best tweak that you can do is to work on the room/speaker/listener placements along with strategically placed room treatments. those little laser tools are pretty good for setting reproducible alignment. work on improving your soundstage and to that end keeping careful notes and possibly incorporating sound measurements using your sound card is not such a bad idea. the folks over at DIY will have a lot of positive suggestions and comments. however those of us with a not too significant other have to find out what we can get away with and live within those confines, no?
    while not a tweak per se, i think a whole house surge suppressor is a good idea. that is closely followed by improving the ground outside your home. after that, perhaps running a couple of dedicated outlets to your HT area. now's the time to splurge on some industrial or hospital grade outlets. at the very least, they're a little more rugged and have cool colors [​IMG] if you're a diy'r or have a friend who is comfortable around electricity, this is big time cheap to do.
    thinking about blocking off your tv screen to only show the picture can enhance your experience. so can painting the walls a dark color. gotta love the ralph lauren (overpriced) paints at home depot for that. some strategic lighting also can enhance the visual enjoyment.
    heck if you want you can make diy interconnects and dress em up any way you want. buy the wire in bulk, along with the other stuff, and get a few friends to share the costs. women have candle parties, have an interconnect one and do it over pizza and beer.
    its easy to provide good power and combine that with a friendly room and good speakers and you're off to the races.
     
  4. Bob McElfresh

    Bob McElfresh Producer

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    Well, I have to suggest you step back for a moment.
    What is more sensitive: your sight or your hearing?
    While I would go for the silver-coated cables from either source in a second for a VIDEO cable, the lower frequency demands for audio would make me hesitate to spend that much for AUDIO.
    The cables .. are at best a fourth-order improvement.
    - Do you use a good source (tape->CD->SACD)?
    - Do you have good speakers?
    - Do you have good electronics/amplification?
    - Are your speakers optimally placed?
    - Do you have good cables?
    The order of this list is IMPORTANT. Dont bother worrying about the lower items until you have done the upper ones. Expensive wires are NOT going to make cheap speakers sound great, nor will it help if you have good speakers shoved against the wall.
    You asked about other "tweeks". One of the most important to sound quality is:
    - Are your speakers optimally placed?
    You can make a HUGE difference in your sound by adjusting the location of the speakers in your room.
    There are numerious sites that offer all kinds of theories on how to place your speakers in a room.
    My advice would be that you do this experiement:
    - Treat the room like you are going to paint it some weekend. Pull all the furniture except the electronics out.
    - Pull the speakers 1/3 of the way into the room, 1/3 of the way from any side walls. Use a laser-pen to toe them in so the sounds intersect 1-2 feet in front of your single chair.
    - If you have an external sub, get the Radio Shack SPL meter and a test-tone CD and chart the frequency response of your room with that sub for sounds between 10 and 120 hz. Play with the sub position to smooth out the room response. (Hint: Go to the "speakers & subwoofers" fourm and search for "House Curve" or "RTA" "Real Time Analysis" for techniques).
    - Spend the next few hours/days really listening to your favorite music or movies. You will hear a depth/detail that you never heard before because of interference with the furniture/walls.
    All of the adustments above have a greater impact on your sound than the cable. And they dont cost a lot of $$$, just your time.
    OTHER TWEEKS & ADJUSTMENTS:
    Yes, there are some accepted equipment you can buy to improve your systems sound.
    - Behring Feedback Destroyer ($130) This device is like a programmable equalizer. You put it in-between your receiver and your sub and use it to reduce the peaks caused by wall-reflections. See the postings on "House Curves" for more info.
    - "Sound Studio Construction on a Budget" by Everest ($16 at Amazon). This book is a fairly good blend of theory and practice of room acoustics. It will help you spot reflections/trouble areas in your room.
    - Power Conditioner: you only need a conditioner if your AC power is 'dirty' during the times you listen to your system. Some places have dirty AC power during business hours because of offices/light-industry. But it 'cleans up' in the evening and weekends because businesses are shut down. If you consider one of these, find a local dealer who sells Gray's or PS Audio conditioners ($500) and bring it home for a trial. Make sure to listen during your normal times WITHOUT the conditioner for about an hour, then plug the electronics into the conditioner and listen for a difference. You may not need a conditioner. Once again, you are more likely to notice a difference with your video system rather than your audio system.
    A FINAL THOUGHT:
    I'm not a big fan of some of the tweeks you mentioned. (Yes, I am a soul-less engineer). But that does not mean they dont work.
    Just keep in mind that some of these tweeks DO make a difference to ... a Martin Logan panel system with an Earthquake 250 watt-per-channel amp driven by a SACD transport into a Lexicon pre-processor. ($30,000)
    This is a very "sensitive" system. Meaning that vibra-pods under the amp, little "stands" for the speaker wires, audiophile power cords can make an audible difference.
    But these tweeks are kind of silly for more modest systems. (Kind of like putting 220 mph speed-rated tires on your Yugo.)
    Just make sure you have done an honest job with the speaker placements, and level adjustments that your equipment already provides. The $40 Radio Shack SPL meter, a test-tone CD and a laser-pen can work wonders and will likely have a greater effect than many of the other tweeks. And you will learn a lot in the process as well as saving money.
    Good Luck.
     
  5. Alf S

    Alf S Cinematographer

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    Dear god..not ANOTHER thread about tweaks that "work" and "Don't". [​IMG]
    Do a search first and I'm sure you'll find something talking about the same stuff.
    http://www.hometheaterforum.com/htfo...der=descending
    Hasn't this been covered numerous times here in the last few months??
    Maybe we can steal the biggest thread and dump it into the FAQ's??
    Sorry to be so pissy, but the minute one thread fades for a day, another identical one pops up.
    p.s. In reference to this topic..I'd say using the right gauge speaker wire is the best "tweak" that makes sense. [​IMG]
    Good Day!
     
  6. Walt Park

    Walt Park Stunt Coordinator

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    Bob: I can see your point, and yes my sight is better than my hearing (I love LASEK btw). But I spend alot of time with my hearing, so it is important to me. This is for my audio setup, not my HT. I don't have a 30K system. I'm using Njoe Tjoeb cd4k cd player ($650 stripped/modded marantz 4000 transport with a tube buffer out) to a Blue Circle CS amp ($1.1k 85 W solid state. Not the hybrid) to drive a pair of GR Research Criterions that arent quite done yet($950 for the box, drivers and X/O [raven/eton 2 way])(right now Im using Jamo E800's which are not expensive, but pretty decent). About 2.5k {I think} carefuly invested. The pieces are modest, but they aren't crap (IMO at least). I have spent quite a bit of time playing with the placement of speakers and moving furniture around. I haven't done any acoustic panels yet, and because of WAF/SOF (not married, but not single), probably won't get to (aside from rearranging furniture)unless I can find some really nice looking large fuzzy paintings/sculptures.

    If I sold the Yugo and bought a motorcyle for the same price, would you still say the quality of the tires doesn't matter? Do I need to put it on a dyno to figure out how fast I can gun it before the tires spin or can I just take it out and try it?

    Alf: If this type of thread bothers you, just dont read it. There's no one holding a gun to your web browser and forcing you to read this. What is the "Right guage" wire you suggest? There is a noticible difference in the 12 ga ofc home depot wire and the 9 GA braided cat5 (10 foot pairs) and it might be more sensitive to it because they are 4 ohm nominal. Not huge, but you can hear it when you a/b.

    Personally I think a repeat question in sincerity (that is completely in line with this forum) that can hopefully help people is better than a bitchy response that helps no one. I'm not saying your not entitled to your opinion, but that doesn't mean I'm not entitled to my question.
     
  7. Chu Gai

    Chu Gai Lead Actor

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    so take the significant other and investigate some stuff for the walls. if you'd like i'll send you something via PM. if you find it useful, great, if not, there's always the recycle bin.
     
  8. Bob McElfresh

    Bob McElfresh Producer

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    Ahhh so you already have decent equipment and know a lot. Please excuse the tone of my eariler post. We get a lot of people hyped up by salesmen to put $500 worth of exotic wires onto their $600 HTB (Home Theater in a Box) systems.
    We also get into some bitter wars/arguments about how effective some tweeks are (like the $90 audiophile dryer power cord from Monster). I think Alf over-reacted a bit because of this, not because of your well-phrased request.
    Since I am mainly into home theater, I dont have a lot of experience with tweeks that might make a difference to a music system. So I'm going to sit this one out (other than my already-wordy reply above). [​IMG] Members that want to have a polite discussion, please join in. (But I will be watching so play nice.)
     
  9. Rick Faldo

    Rick Faldo Stunt Coordinator

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    Bob: Thanks for your input, always informative to see others perspective of tweeks. We all can use bits and pieces of others observations.
    Some people have a life and therefore don't spend every waking hour reading forums.
    There is no such a thing as a redundant post.
    Keep up the good work.
    Rick
     
  10. John Royster

    John Royster Screenwriter

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    Walt,
    I think most tweaks are worthwhile just to try them. I've done a few things that actually made my stereo sound worse, bi-wiring would be an example for me. [​IMG]
    But if you've really gotten the most from your stereo in terms of source, pre-amp, amp, speakers, placement and are pretty happy with the results then give them a shot.
    Search a little in the DIY forum for how to make your own power cords. Worked great for me.
    There comes a time when gaining improvements in a stereo start to carry pretty hefty price tags (a few thousand dollars). I've got what I consider a good SACD/CD source, and speakers, with mediocre pre-amps and amps. To get more performance I'll have to spend 5000 on a pre-amp and amp. So small tweaks are fun to try - and who knows you may be pleased with the results.
    OH - just reread your post. Spikes on mains offer a very significant advantage for me (and have for the last two decades on every speaker I've owned). Without them bass is dull and sloppy - with them taught, smooth and deep.
     
  11. Walt Park

    Walt Park Stunt Coordinator

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    Bob: I think your first response was not out of order at all, and I do appreciate your time in responding. It's always good to start with the basics when you're not sure where to start, and all your assertions were qualified. I was not offended.

    John: The criterions are bookshelf/stand mount. Spike those on the stand or spike the stand? As for the power cords I will be experimenting with that. I have a shielded 14-3 with a ferrite ring scavenged from a retired server. I'm probably going to order the marinco iec and power plugs and try the braided, but I'm trying to find some shielded single 14 since the twist doesnt completly negate the rf/emi. Scavenge is free, but making a cord is going to cost at least $40 for the ends.

    Tweaks can be inexpensive. But lots of cheap experiments add up. It would be nice if people that have tried would share what they tried and if it worked (describe benefits observed) or not, which is where I was hoping this would go. That way we could all save time/money in trying tweaks that may have a better shot of staying than going to the trash.
     
  12. Rick Faldo

    Rick Faldo Stunt Coordinator

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    Regarding spikes: How do you deal with spikes on hardwood floors? I know hardwood is not the most acoustically friendly, but many of us still have to compromise.
    Thanks
    Rick
     
  13. Walt Park

    Walt Park Stunt Coordinator

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    You can put it on something hard. Some spikes come with little biscuits.
    http://www.partsexpress.com/pe/showd..._ID=4918&DID=7
    http://www.partsexpress.com/pe/showd...ID=14971&DID=7
    They are little disks that have a dimple so you can spike into the disk and not scratch up the floor.
    Another option that I've seen suggested is that you put the spike pointing up, and spike into the thing resting on it, ie the speaker, or the component.
    If you want to use the biscuit, but the spikes you get dont come with them, you can use anything hard between the spike and the thing you want to protect. The little marble coasters would be pretty nifty, and are not terribly expensive. You could just hit a nickel or quarter with a drill and make a dimpled metal disk too.
    The more expensive spikes seem to come in sets of three, which I guess makes more sense than 4, since you dont have to worry about leveling.
    Alternatives to commercial spikes that I've read about tend to come from the sporting good section, like arrow heads, bullets (not sure I like this one), etc. I have seen small plumbs that would work (weight on a string in the tools section) as they have threaded tops. The big ones are probably too big. The one I saw was about 1.5X1.5 inches and looked sorta like a dredel top. (sp?)
     
  14. John Royster

    John Royster Screenwriter

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    I use these. I wouldn't pay that much for them, but they came with the speakers.
    Work well and really anchor the speaker to the floor.
    ETC spikes
     
  15. Bill_D

    Bill_D Supporting Actor

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    As far as power cables go, I am a fence straddler. I don't believe hundreds of dollars worth of power cable will make a difference in my system. But since moving up to separates, I am a firm believer that the shoestrings that are bundled with product are not adequate.
    I found this site and built my own. They won't make a Kraco sound like a Lexicon but they are of adequate design to deliver as much power as the wall is giving without adding any junk to it.
     
  16. Bob McElfresh

    Bob McElfresh Producer

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    (Ok, I lied. I will jump in. [​IMG] )
    Speaker Spikes:
    One technique I heard about was to play music at your maximum listening level.
    Now go to the stand/surface your speakers are resting on and simply touch the stand/shelf/floor. Do you feel any vibration from the music?
    If so, you are loosing some energy.
    One guy used this technique and wound up doing:
    - Putting a large tile square under his speakers.
    - Put 4 nickels on the tile for the spikes to rest on
    - Spikes on the nickels.
    For monitor-style speakers with stands, I have heard of using something called "Blue Tack" to connect the speakers to the stands (so they dont vibrate off) then using spikes on the base of the stands.
     
  17. Chu Gai

    Chu Gai Lead Actor

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    if i put the nickels tails up for one speaker and heads up for the other, will that mean my speakers are out of phase [​IMG]?
     
  18. John Royster

    John Royster Screenwriter

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    Alright now Chu. Easy boy...
    [​IMG]
     
  19. Walt Park

    Walt Park Stunt Coordinator

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    Hey chu, if you're worried about it, use pennies. Since they are copper coated zinc, the skin effects of the heads vs tails should be minimal. Also I think zinc is magnetically inert, but I could be wrong. Actually I think a stack of pennies on each, cuz then you get that litz thing going on. Also make sure that you get teflon coin wrappers cuz it's better dialectric. Oh, one last thing, canadian pennies are better. The .001% impurity in the copper coating on canadian pennies sounds better. I think that kimber guy said that once.

    Ok now on a more serious note. Bob, wouldn't it be better to spike the speaker to the stand? In your example, the speaker is vibrating the stand, since that newton guy and his action/reaction thing and all. Wouldn't spiking the speaker on the stand be better since it should avoid transfering energy to the stand rather than transfering energy to the stand to the floor?

    As for the vibrating stand test, it's hard to really feel. You'll be standing right in front of your speaker and if you have it turned up much, the air all around it is fluctuating so it's hard to tell if it's the air or the stand. Like if you crank up the sub, and it shakes a picture. It's not because the sub box is vibrating and the vibrations are transfered to the floor and up the wall. Like the singer that breaks a glass with a voice. It's not her vocal chords smacking the crystal, but the sound.
     
  20. Ted Lee

    Ted Lee Lead Actor

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    chu -
    remember your reply to me about the effects of speaker spikes? you did a mathematical breakdown of the moving mass? i couldn't find it, but i bet walt would get a kick out of that.
    for me, the two best tweaks i ever did was:
    1. get some decent (but not outrageous) cabling
    2. get speaker stands
    oh yeah...does my universal remote count? [​IMG]
     

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