Some people may say we’re stupid for giving this advice. It puts pay to the wonderful and whacky methods of getting and keeping your valuable stylus in clean and tip-top condition.
Well, there are many products that claim to enhance cartridge performance, clean the diamond within an inch of its life and upgrade the performance of your cartridge, something akin to “a major cartridge upgrade.”
No! No! No! Just get a bottle of isopropyl alcohol, available from your local pharmacist and some cotton buds from boots, or wherever. Dip the bud in the alcohol and give that stylus a good clean using a back to front motion.
This method will blow away the old Audio Technica vibrating stylus cleaner, Clearaudios Diamond Cleaner, and all the other magic stylus enhancement treatments from Walker Audio, etc, etc, etc.
The best and cheapest method for effective and very, very clean vinyl reproductive sound!
Four-Way Use of Turntable Belt
If the turntable uses a flat belt, it will be appreciated that there are four ways in which the belt can be placed around the platter and pulley mechanism (i.e. turned both inside out and upside down). A valuable tip is that one of the settings invariably enables a much better sound to be reproduced than the other three settings, so try all four ways that the belt can be used and see which one gives the greater clarity, musicality, depth and width to the sound.
In the case of new belts, it may be possible to find which side should be on the inside by hanging the belt over a finger and seeing which side fits the more closely. This is because belts are made of tubes, then slit open and ground; having, therefore, at one time been in the form of a tube, belts have a natural inner and outer side to them.
Mark the belt accordingly, so that there is a reference for the future should the belt be removed; then, with a finger, apply a little talcum powder to the inside of the belt.(1)
This idea is going to sound crazy but bear with me because it originated in the factory of one of the most respected companies manufacturing high-end hifi. And this company has a machine that automates the process of implementing this enhancement.
Before connecting any cable to your system, give it a firm, robust shake. Grab hold of one end of the lead and shake it for a couple of minutes before you connect it to your system.
The process must – I suppose – do something to the molecular structure of the conductors, dielectric or insulation. What that is I do not know, but more often than not it works!
Give it a try. Listen to a cable as it comes straight out of the box; shake it, then listen to it again. Hear any improvement? Yes? Good! No? So what have you lost: five minutes of your day?
The strange thing is that this even works with Toslink cables.(2)
Orientation of support items
All objects have a natural top and bottom, one way up will sound better than the other. Try testing the glass or wooden shelves supporting your equipment, the felt platter mat, any object where you can experiment with the top and bottom side. You will find that when the object is positioned the right way up, the sound will be more natural.
Freezing using a domestic deep freezer.
Try the freezing experiment using a CD first - they are usually the easiest object to hand. If you have two identical CDs all the better as you can keep one CD as the control (no treatment) and put the other CD through the freezing/slow defrost process.
Place one CD in a plain plastic bag and place this bag in the domestic deep freezer overnight. When you remove the CD from the freezer, allow it to return to room temperature very, very slowly. You can achieve a slow defrost quite easily by wrapping it in a towel or blanket. Listen to the CD which has been through the freezing process first and then see if you can listen to the other (unfrozen) CD with the same pleasure !! Putting the previously frozen CD through the freezing/slow defrost process a second time gives you a further improvement in the sound.
If you have success with freezing a CD, then try putting an interconnect or an AC power cord through the freezing/slow defrost process also.
Also experiment by applying the same freezing/slow defrost process to such as batteries. Again have identical batteries. For experimental purposes the batteries used in remote controls are an ideal battery to use. If the remote control takes two batteries, then you require four identical batteries - two to be put through the freezing/slow defrost process, and the other two to be left as the control ones (non treated). After freezing two batteries, insert them into the remote control and listen to some music for a short time. Then replace the (treated) batteries with the untreated batteries and see if you can listen to the same music with the same pleasure as before !!
Although we do not specifically encourage people to put their audio equipment through the freezing/slow defrost procedure some of our customers have done this procedure with success. So, we would like to add a few words of caution for anyone wishing to attempt to freeze their equipment.
If you DO decide to put any of your audio equipment through this freezing/slow defrost procedure, using your own domestic deep freezer, make sure that the item of equipment is sealed in a plastic bag when placed in the deep freezer. After freezing make sure that the equipment is defrosted very, very slowly by wrapping it in a towel or a blanket for at least a day or two. This will minimise the chance of condensation getting into the equipment. Before connecting the equipment to the AC supply make absolutely sure that the equipment is thoroughly dry - i.e. no moisture or condensation inside or on the equipment.
One specific word of warning.
Any item of equipment which has such as a Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) may not be suitable for putting in a deep freezer, as LCD’s are not good at low temperature.(3)
Laser Light Refraction
The easier it is for the laser to read a disc the better and more accurate sound and pictures will be. One element that affects this is the laser scattering light over the disc and there’s a simple way to help reduce this. Get yourself a Violet permanent marker pen – preferably one with a flat edge. Run the pen around the edge of your CD disc two or three times to make sure the Violet is ‘solid’. Put it back into your player and enjoy!
Panel vibration on equipment can cause nasty signal interference and create a rather harsh and confused sound due to the microphonic nature of the internal components. Solution: Use our Ringmat Dampers, or Custom Designs Casework Damper, to effectively reduce the negative impact on the sound. or for a full and unique solution to the problems of vibration associated with both speakers and equipment, we provide comprehensive solutions to get rid of this evil!
Correct Cable Dressing
Often overlooked and sometime impossible, this can have audible effects on a high resolution audio system. Keep power cords away from any speaker, analogue or digital cable. (Ensure all leads hang freely, with no undue stress at connector points). Try to keep all power cords on one side of your equipment rack and audio cables on the other. Nylon zipties work very well for this application. This can sometimes eliminate hum and noise and can lower the overall noise floor of your system.
Upgrading your equipment’s mains cables is the most important mains upgrade you can make. Fitting one of our Power cords will reduce your mains impedance. Fit one of the more advanced Power cords and you’ll take your system to a whole new level. The sound will be much fuller, with improved balance, giving deeper/tighter bass, clearer midrange and smoother treble.
The first cable to replace is the mains cable to your CD or DVD player. The cost is well worth it as the sound and pictures will be so much improved. When you’ve heard their effect, you’ll want to improve the cables to your other equipment as well, Your Turntable, DAC, Pre & Power amps, tuner and TV screen.
You should hear an immediate improvement in the three-dimensional soundstage, that magical area between, behind, and in front of your loudspeakers. The sound should be significantly more open, transparent and alive. Voices and musical instruments should occupy discrete positions in the depth and width of the soundstage. Also listen for the dramatic increase and precise control of the bass response without any apparent change to the EQ settings. Also, listen for the focus and acoustic ambiance, or "live" presence in vocals, as well as for cleaner articulation of detail and musical nuance in the mid-range.
With the use of an effectively designed and cost efficient mains conditioner such as Puritan Audios PSM136 installed within your system, you can expect to hear definition take an enormous stride forward, individual instruments to gain air between them with their sound and timbre becoming believable, the sound-stage will move out of your speakers and into the room with gains in three dimensionality with clarity definition and space between the instruments for them to interrelate rather than muddle each other. Your listening will become a far more engaging and pleasurable experience.
Sceptical? Well, take a look at a practical demonstration in the measurement of noise floor reduction - Video Link of the PSM 136 the Bristol Sound and Vision.
Acheiving Ground Zero
The Ground or Earth connection is the absolute reference for all of your vital system voltages and
has to be as silent and stable as possible. This is an extremely significant key to achieving the
ultimate fidelity from your system. However, there are problems:
Almost every modern electrical item is equipped with a high frequency switching power supply;
kitchen and laundry appliances, chargers, TV’s, PC’s - the list is endless.
To meet emissions regulations these appliances use their Earth connection as a dumping place
for the interference they generate. And with substations often serving hundreds of houses, your
HiFi Earth/Ground connection may well be connected to thousands of Earth Line polluting
Long before the problem of high frequency interference on the Earth Line became as serious as it
is today, audiophiles in the know were utilising additional Ground Rods to provide an
independent Earth to their HiFi installations.
Elegant as this solution may seem, this is a colossally dangerous practice for the vast majority of
current installations*. This is because it risks the potentially massive current from any fault
between your HiFi and your local substation finding the easiest path to Earth through your HiFi
with expensive, and possibly tragic, results! This is why the practice of introducing directly
connected supplementary or dedicated HiFi Ground Rods is specifically prohibited by current UK
Wiring Regulations. (Except in very specific circumstances).
By utilising the Puritan Ground Master the hazards (and illegality) associated with the use of
additional HiFi Ground Rods are totally avoided. And this is achieved without compromising the
effective route to ground and hence the removal, of undesirable noise disturbance frequencies
on the Earth Line.
With the Puritan Ground Master used in conjunction with an additional Ground Rod the
potentially dangerous route to Earth of mains frequency currents is safely isolated whilst
offending noise and disturbance frequencies are permitted a highly efficient, extremely low
impedance route to ground ensuring their elimination.
Improve Your System by Understanding AC Polarity
Every component in an audio system is sensitive to AC polarity. Ensuring that your electronics are connected to the AC line with the correct polarity is essential if you want to realize your system's full potential.
What follows is both a simplified explanation of the phenomenon, and a description of a simple method to determine the proper connection of the power cord for any piece of equipment in your system.
All of the electrical equipment in your system has been designed with proper A/C polarity in mind. A specific leg of the A/C line has been dedicated as the positive (sometimes referred to as hot) conductor and the other leg as the negative (sometimes cold) or neutral. Often a third leg for ground is included. The problem begins with the A/C wiring in our homes. If our electrical system is improperly wired we may not have the positive leg and neutral leg in their correct orientation. Coupled with design differences among equipment manufacturers, we have no way of knowing that correct AC polarity has been achieved by simply inserting the plug in the wall.
Technically, the transformer in the power supply can induce a charge (up to 90 volts) on the chassis side of each component. Interconnects allow currents to flow between all of the associated components in your system, which is likely to modulate the ground reference of each consecutive gain stage. Proper polarity alignment is achieved by registering the chassis potential to ground.
Correct orientation of the A/C plug (polarity) can be easily determined with a simple Multimeter or Volt/Ohm Meter. One accurate enough to do the job (preferably a digital unit and one with a 10 to 11 Meg-Ohm input resistance) should not be too costly (the Meterman 5XP is a good choice an can be had for less than $40). A local electronics supply should have an appropriate model. A Multimeter can be used for a variety of tests and is something every audiophile or homeowner should have in their toolbox.
Before proceeding with the test, I would suggest you check all of your outlets for correct wiring. An electrical circuit tester (with three lights that tell you how the outlet is wired) is available in any home center or hardware store for a few dollars.
To find AC polarity with your Multimeter, proceed as follows:
1: Turn off all components.
2: Isolate each component by removing all wiring including power cord, interconnects, ground leads, antenna wires, etc.
3: On components with a 3 pin power cord, float the ground with a three-to-two adapter (often called a cheater plug or ground lift adapter). You can see a picture below. On many of these adapters the neutral side of the plug is usually wider than the hot side and reversing can be difficult. You may need to trim that side to allow reversal.
A Three-to-Two Adapter
4: Connect the common probe of the Multimeter (black lead) to a ground reference point.* I If you have a three-wire grounded receptacles, use the center pin.
5: Connect the positive probe (red lead) to the chassis or ground terminal of the unit under test.
6: Plug the component into the wall socket and turn on the power switch. Note the A/C voltage reading on the Multimeter.
7: Reverse the position of the plug in the wall socket and repeat step 5.
8: The correct A/C alignment will be the one that gave the lowest reading.
9: Unplug the component, mark the plug so that you can properly reconnect it, and proceed to the next component.
If you find that the AC polarity of a component needs to be reversed, you have two options. One is to leave the adapter in place and the other is to change the polarity on the outlet itself. Please do not attempt this if you are not comfortable working with line voltages and be absolutely certain the breaker is off and there is no voltage at the outlet!
Please note that in some rare instances, the higher reading will produce better sound from the component. Listening to each and every component in the system can be an extremely lengthy process. And in some cases, the differences will be so small that mistakes could be made. I would recommend for most people to simply follow the meter. But, if you want to get more specific, listening tests should be employed to determine which is best.
Significant sonic improvements can be realized by the proper A/C orientation of all the components in one’s system. The effect can be quite startling in some systems. Improvements in imaging, low level detail and high frequency clarity are often noted, with some components benefiting more than others. In my experience, preamplifiers and CD players (D/A converters included) are particularly sensitive to proper polarity, and often benefit greatly. Many tube units as well, seem to be rather sensitive to this phenomenon. It is important to do every component in the system, as improvements are additive. A little bit here and a little bit there adds up to a lot in the end.
Upgrade to Valves?
The "Thermionic Valve" (or Tube) is the original electronic device designed in the 1900s to rectify and amplify signals. the triode patent was filed by Lee De Forest in the USA in 1907...the rest, as they say, is history!
Why do they sound better than semi-conductors?
Some people would not agree with that statement! But, in simplicity, a valve amplifier only requires a few stages to make a powerful sound; whereas tens of transistors - occasionally many more are quite often used. Each device the signal passes through, does add a minute amount of distortion, whilst amplifying multiple signals (i.e. music). This is called intermodulation distortion, the fewer devices used, the less intermodulation distortion is produced. With a simple valve amplifier, there may be as few as 5 valve stages from CD player to speaker!
Why can I hear more detail in the music?
This is explained by the lack of intermodulation distortion above. Each instrument is amplified and not distorted nearly as much, enabling more detail to be heard!
What is "valve sound"?
That was the term used when transistor amplifiers were introduced. Many people preferred the more mellow sound of old valve amplifiers, rather than the harshness of transistor amplifiers; this was mainly due to early transistors causing distortion and poor high frequency response of the older 20th century valve amplifiers.
These days, the term "Valve Sound" is not so relevant, as modern high quality valves are manufactured using modern techniques; the amplifiers no longer lack high frequency response and now compte head to head with modern semi-conductor amplifiers.
Why are valve amplifiers so heavy?
This is because they are made on a sturdy steel chassis, and the transformers within the units have heavy steel lamination's as well as many metres of 99% pure oxygen free copper wire, in order to produce the purest sound possible!
Are valves reliable?
Yes they are! The average life of a power valve is about 3000 hours, and signal valves can last much longer!
References: 1. J. Rogers, 2. M. Steward. 3. P.Belt 4. J Aud. 5. Mike Lester