Getting the most out of your hi-fi – Part 2

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In Part 1 we took a close look at the speakers, or more importantly, the placement. Now we investigate setting up the rest of the equipment.

When wiring up the speakers pay close attention to the polarity on the cables. Speaker cables traditionally come in either two or four core (often referred to as bi-wire cable). When connecting the speakers, double check to make sure positive (+ or red) goes to the positive terminal, negative (- or black) to negative. Repeat at the amplifier end. Then treble check both ends of the cable. An ‘out of phase’ speaker will produce a distant, muffled bass sound, as the soundwaves from each speaker combine to cancel out the sound.

Once you have your speakers positioned carefully, the next things to concentrate on are the amplifier and source equipment. The placement of your hi-fi rack is just as important as the speakers. Sound waves from the loudspeakers can cause vibration. Moving around the room can cause vibration. To the audiophile, vibration is the enemy. A solid hi-fi will give an accurate and lifelike sound, whereas a system prone to vibration can cause a disappointing listening experience.

The two types of vibration come in the form of physical, or structural vibration, and acoustic vibration. Physical vibration can be caused by a number of things and is somewhat easier to spot. An unstable turntable or CD player will be far more susceptible to these external vibrations, exacerbating the problem. Ensure both the source equipment and amplifier are secure and stable on a solid surface. Hi-fi racks are a great way to minimise these vibrations. A solid rack will absorb vibrations caused by any number of things (such as footsteps and noisy passing traffic outside).

Acoustic vibration is normally caused by the sensitive pickup of the turntable stylus. Soundwaves from the speakers are the most common cause of this type of vibration. To minimise this, look for the best place to position the equipment. Acoustically, directly between the speakers is the quietest place in the listening room. By positioning the turntable here will mean no nasty soundwaves causing unwanted distortion. This also has the advantage of requiring the shortest length of cables to connect the speakers, as the equipment will be as near to the speakers as possible

A stable turntable will give musical excellence.

A stable turntable will give musical excellence.

A level turntable and CD player will also track much better. Data read from the laser and information picked up by the stylus is converted into the soundwaves we hear. Keeping the information as accurate as possible is the easiest was to ensure perfect sound reproduction. By using a spirit level on both the turntable and CD player will provide accurate tracking and, in turn, the best sound. A quality hi-fi rack may have adjustable feet or spikes to counteract uneven floors.

Much in the same way speakers can cause vibrations in the source equipment, they can also cause vibrations themselves. An unsteady speaker, poorly positioned, can vibrate causing nasty hum and rattle, as well as poor sound control – especially in the lower frequencies. Ensure the spikes on the speakers or speaker stands are level by gently trying to rock the speakers. Even speakers should sit firmly without any rocking back and forth. For smaller speakers, on either stands or a solid surface, blu-tac is a great, cheap method of improving the sound. Three or four pea-sized dots of blu-tac will minimise vibrations and, at the cost of a few pence, increase sound quality noticeably. If you can avoid it, don’t put any small items on speakers as the vibrations will be audible. If you need to, then use more blu-tac to fix the item down.

With a little attention to detail, and some creative positioning of equipment, it’s possible to vastly improve performance at little to no additional cost. For those with a passion for music, these little tweaks should get the most out of your system.