After covering some basic good practice tips in part one of this series, there are more lengths to which you can go to preserve the operating life of your prized home theater equipment, and make things easier for yourself in the event of needing to troubleshoot common technical or logistical problems. The more you can do look after your equipment, the more you will find the hobby can be free of stress and enjoyable, too.
For someone branching out from owning, say, a stereo music system and into a world of 7, 9, 11 or even 16 channels of audio – not to mention managing any number of video sources – usually requires a commitment of both time and money, as well as an ability to plan ahead. The lockdowns owing to the virus pandemic have afforded many of us more time to take stock and now is possibly the best time of all to revisit some of those jobs you have never got round to doing. Certainly, as far as cabling is concerned, and even if you are used to a custom installer or handyman friend doing the grunt work, this could be the perfect opportunity to roll up your sleeves and get some of it done yourself.
A rack of fault-tolerant computer servers in an office basement needs to be cooled with multiple fans in climate-controlled zones, and you should be thinking of your hi-fi kit in the same way. AV receivers and preamplifiers now carry micro-processors and video cards which run hot, and that’s before you add in the compounded heat put out by your power amplifiers. It is not an accident either that most middle-to-high-end audio and video equipment is designed to be just over 17-inches wide and therefore primed for placement (sometimes with included ears) into 19-inch steel computer racks. Most people do not want unsightly industrial hardware on show in their living rooms or entertainment areas, so for many this is not an option. But there are things you can do to keep your rectangular black doorstops cool.
AC Infinity AIRCOM S8
The most obvious solution is to allow components to breathe in cabinetry with open fronts and backs. If this option is not available either, then invest in commercial quiet-running cooling fans. Until comparatively recently, dedicated fans for computer and AV racks could be eye-wateringly expensive. Even the now-discontinued Niles FM-1 and Elan Z Fan 2, which were quiet fans designed specifically to sit on top of audio components, each retailed for about $300. These two products were 12v-trigger controlled but only ran at one constant speed. However, there are now options from California-based AC Infinity who have picked up the mantle and offer a series of ‘AIRCOM’ component fans in two series denoted by ‘S’ and ‘T’. The AIRCOM T series fans are temperature controlled, programmable, and will allow you to view current temperature on the front LCD display. The S and T series both draw cool air up through your receiver or amp, but you can order different SKUs with forward, top or rear exhaust, and all are much cheaper options than the former US-made Niles or Elan models.
Middle Atlantic Comp-Cool
You will often find that there is one area on your receiver topside that is hot enough to fry an egg, and which is usually situated directly above the HDMI switching board. While I use AC Infinity fans to sit on my power amps, Middle Atlantic’s palm-sized 12-volt-triggered Comp-Cool (pictured above) is perfect for drawing cool air up through the grates of this region. HDMI circuitry is often the first point of failure on modern receivers, so consider your options.
Are you one of those people who has a tidy and welcoming home, but has an unsightly pile of spaghetti strewn across the carpet behind the TV? You won’t be the first if you answer ‘yes’. There are so many reasons to keep your AV cables well-organized. But perhaps the most important four are these: safety, AV performance, the ability to troubleshoot and aesthetics.
Although many say that well-shielded cables present no induced voltage problems in their AV systems, it is a good general first rule of cable management to keep data and power separate i.e. HDMI, ethernet, line-level and speaker cables away from power cords, which themselves should be allocated their own raceway or trunking. You can cable tie up to about five power cords together, but you should monitor how much heat builds up as a result. If you’re uncomfortable, separate them out.
Wherever possible, use cable ties, hooks and raceways to keep everything looking orderly. Measure distances from terminal to terminal accurately, so that when you’re ordering a number of cables from a discount vendor like Monoprice, you won’t have excess lengths to have to deal with later. At some point during your multi-channel audio hobby careers, you’ll experience a failed channel, either due to a loose cable or a bad component. Cables do come loose over time and no matter how careful you are, you will also wire up a speaker out-of-phase at some point. To troubleshoot a failure, it is imperative that all cables are labelled, so that you can isolate the guilty item in a fraction of the time. Also, make sure you use 12-gauge or thicker speaker cables for long runs and remember that you’ll probably need a good price/performance fiber optic HDMI cable from the likes of Ruipro (available from Amazon) or Monoprice for 4K projectors. (With all that said, room installation will require another article in itself.)
Don’t be afraid to walk into pro audio shops to get the gadgets you need. If you’re in SoCal, for example, Pacific Radio in Burbank has just about every cable management tool available to mankind. You’ll have to set up an account, but you won’t regret it. Finally, wire up your system to make it look good and professional. It’s fun to clean up your AV system and your friends will think you’re a rock star – or at least a high-caliber audio engineer – if everything looks swish behind the rack!
When powering up eight or ten components, you will need a power conditioner or surge protector, or preferably both in one unit. Do not be tempted to use a $5 power strip from Home Depot or Target. Some line conditioners can clean up the audio noise floor and improve video performance, while surge protectors can protect your valuable equipment against ‘dirty’ power, nasty spikes and electrical storm surges. Some manufacturers include schemes with a purchase which will insure your equipment for tens of thousands of dollars. You will need to do your research, however; there are literally hundreds of products out there and it’s a minefield, but there are some reputable brands like APC, Furman or Panamax (Amazon sample links) as a starting point.
Once again, let us know your thoughts or experiences with any of these or other maintenance tips below…