My butt clenches every time I drive across the intersection of 95th and Arapahoe, heading west. Sorry for the visual, but that’s life with low-profile tires in an area of Boulder where cement trucks, semis and trailers dominate.
With my car in the shop, I made the same pass in my wife’s car the other day, and I basically floated across the patchwork crossing. What a difference a big set of tires and some extra suspension makes.
When it comes to the ground connection, most of us have it figured out. It’s rare to see a rock climber wearing sandals while trying to grip overhanging stone with her toes. But for some reason, many folks tend to put their speakers directly on carpet or a floor or desktop, with no thought about the fact that these are intensely vibrating objects and they need proper footwear to sound best.
Consider the delicate turntable, where a stray bump near the player produces either a huge cone movement in the woofers or worse, a skip or scratch on the record. This is another element in the stereo chain which begs for a proper base and always sounds best with the right one in place.
This week’s installment in thie “symptoms of a serious audio system” series looks at the connection to earth for these hi-fi stereo components, and while speakers and turntables are the most obvious beneficiaries of good footing, they’re not the only elements that can improve. I’ve seen tricked-out systems where every single piece of equipment (including the cables) is suspended or spiked in some way. What’s good for one is not necessarily right for the others, so we’ll take a look at them individually.
A speaker vibrates to make sound. We’ve all seen a vibrating phone fall off a desk before. Thinking back to Sir Isaac Newton’s epiphanies, we remember the “equal and opposite reaction” law. A speaker may be heavy enough to not visibly move across a carpet while playing, but there’s plenty of negative effect going on that we can’t see.
Minuscule movements opposite the speaker cones’ own movements will muddy the sound a bit. It will take energy away from the drivers and make them less efficient and less precise. Most speakers come with optional spikes you can screw into the bottom, which provide a sturdy connection to ground through the carpet. When used with protective discs, they can greatly reduce the surface area of attachment to ground on solid floors, and this reduces the energy transmission and consequential energy loss.
When it comes to turntables, the rule of thumb is to do what we can to remove the connection to earth. I’ve seen special isolation feet like Clearaudio’s Magix Footers, which use opposing magnets to float a turntable in air, and I’ve seen DIY air-suspension record player platforms that you inflate with a bicycle pump. Records and needles are easily damaged, so some kind of buffer to the earth is something that should always be planned for in a serious audio system.
As usual, space is limited here, so if your interest is piqued, take a look into it on your own. There’s a whole segment of the hi-fi audio industry devoted to spikes, stands, footers, platforms and plinths available to up your audio system game.