Think of your speakers as a musical instrument. You would not place a violin in the corner of a room. Walls and furniture interact with your equipment. Move the speakers carefully until you are not getting sound and ‘boom’, or excess bass, from the walls. Most speakers benefit from a slight toe-in, however with some amplifiers there is the possibility of room correction. In an ideal world, the less you interfere in the signal before or after it reaches the speaker, the better. Mid size speakers should be on proper stands (ideally filled to make them dense). Small bookshelf speakers should be on stands, or at least on isolating feet and definitely NOT on the floor!
‘Speaker fatigue’ is becoming tired of listening to your speakers after listening for a relatively short period. It comes about when you have speakers that have peaks in the lower regions (bass) and in the higher frequencies (treble). Less expensive speakers are designed to offer a bit of ‘boom and tinkle’, initially impressive but tiring after a while. So, when choosing speakers, make sure you are not being impressed with a larger-than-life sound that will quickly want you to lose the will to listen.
Yes, speakers do sound better once the voice coils driving them have been used for a while. We often don’t like selling our demonstration models as they have been used and optimised for listening, however if we do ever offer you a pair, take them!
Speakers that say they handle 50W can still be damaged by amplifiers that give out 50W! Speaker specifications are not all detailed, some amplifiers will not be sending out a ‘clean sign-wave’ at all frequencies at maximum output. This is results in a wave form that ends up melting the voice coils that drive your speaker. In other words, turn the volume down when you are leaving the system, changing music, and/or changing inputs. Make sure you are insured for when you children/cleaner/drunk party invitee decides to examine your ‘radiators’ and they find out belatedly that it’s an expensive high-end driver (tweeter). You would be surprised at how many tweeters we replace because of such instances!
Really good equipment should not need to be played loudly. A mark of a really great hi-fi is how well it reproduces sound at low volumes. Certain amplifier/speaker combinations are really effective at presenting a realistic sound without distortion or deafening sound. We have been to customers’ houses when the police have arrived, this is something we do not recommend. If you really live in a house with paper-thin walls, then we can get you the £50K Sennheiser headphones; they won’t upset the neighbours- except with envy.
Bearings are the part that the spinning part (platter) rests on. They can be of different quality. The better the turntable the more durable and quieter the bearing. Older turntables that used to be very popular (such as the Pioneer PL12D or Acoustic Research turntables) were budget and may suffer bearing wear.
Better turntables go to greater lengths to avoid noise being transferred from the motor onto the platter (then onto the record and into the pick-up cartridge, arm and into the amplifier where it interferes with the music).
Older turntables such as the Goldring GL75 or Garrard SP25 used a motor that drove a wheel that turned the platter. Noise went straight through to the turntable platter.
Top tip - there is probably plenty of ways to upgrade your turntable- this section talks about isolation. The better isolation the cleaner the sound.
If turntables are located in the same room as the loudspeakers (even in a cabinet) there is likely to be some transference from the sound waves into the base (or deck) of the turntable. Even if the vibrations are small, they can interfere with the sound quality. There are a number of solutions to overcome this problem. The turntable base may be isolated using special feet or platforms. It is quite easy to demonstrate the difference this can make to your music. The turntable base itself may be heavy and dense and less likely to vibrate. Another solution is to enable the turntable platter and arm to ‘float’, this is called a ‘suspended turntable’. The ‘float’ is created through a series of springs, which isolate the record from vibrations.
Top tip - When you upgrade your turntable; think about the arm and cartridge to match or how to upgrade these parts later.
The ‘arm’ is technically a ‘pick-up arm’. The piece at the end of the arm used to be called the ‘pick-up cartridge ’ and is now simply called the ‘cartridge’- the cartridge holds a stylus at the end of a pivot (‘the cantilever’). All arms sound different, this may due to; the arm type, mass or design. Design features such as the method of pivoting, the bearings used and even the cables from the pickup to the turntable cause differences. It is always wise to keep your turntable cables away from sources of interference (e.g. mains cables).
The arm shape controls the alignment of the cartridge. The arm alignment should be at a tangent to the record. However if it is a tangent at the beginning of the record it will be quite far off at the end of the record. Hence, some arms were designed to be ‘parallel tracking’, (i.e. they tried to keep the cartridge at a tangent throughout the whole record) however the mechanics involved in this method often introduced extra noise into the system.
Longer arms are more optimised for alignment, however it was found that the greater mass meant that they didn’t perform as well as smaller arms with less mass. A famous example of a long arm is the SME3012. Getting a good arm/cartridge combination is important. Not all cartridges are compatible with all arms.
The cartridge holds a stylus. In the early days of gramophones thorn needles were used (and these sounded better than the longer lasting, but more damaging, steel needles). As the stylus vibrates in the record groove, you want a solid contact and to play it at the right weight. Too light and you will get noise, or it may not be comfortable in loud expansive music where the record modulations are larger.
Too heavy and it may collapse or cause increased record wear. Somewhere in the middle to the recommended tracking weight is preferred. As the stylus vibrated it is attached to either magnets (called a ‘moving magnet’ cartridge) that are vibrated within a coil to create an electrical signal, or the stylus may be attached to coils (a moving coil cartridge). Moving magnet cartridges have lower mass and lower cost and can be plugged directly into the phono input of any amplifier. Moving coil cartridges have lower output and apply a different curve (RIAA curve) so you would need a special pre-amplifier or an amp designed especially for moving coil. With rare exceptions, moving coil cartridge stylus replacements involve sending back the whole cartridge - whereas moving magnet stylus can be plugged in.
Moving coil is harder to produce and is more expensive, however for people who love this sound it is addictive.
All cartridges need to be corrected (RIAA bias) in an input and they have much lower outputs than other devices so your amplifier needs to have a phono input, or you will need a separate one that plugs into your tape/aux input.