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There’s nothing like a good tendon injury to remind us about our bodies’ weak points.

I have a climbing buddy who is built like a lumberjack and has strong hands with fingers that look more like Doisneau’s photo of “Picasso and the Loaves” than a normal set of digits. So when I heard he snapped a finger tendon recently, I assumed he was trying to free a 2-ton truck from the mud or something. No, he was tightening a little strap on a piece of equipment. SNAP! Game over.


Besides my friend’s unfortunate injury, I recently encountered both a broken record player stylus and a compromised headphone cable in my audio travels, so today I thought we’d follow that topic and discuss weaknesses in audio gear.

Following is a list of little problems I’ve seen happen as audio products age or are used. A piece of equipment doesn’t need to be ancient to fall victim to a wear or use problem, but time is the foe of beauty in this world, so that’s often the case.

RCA jacks: Many audio jacks on the back of receivers or other devices are held in place with nothing more than solder. Solder is the meltable, soft metal that is used to make electrical connections inside a device. If you can wiggle a cable and make the sound cut in and out, your jacks are due for a re-soldering.

Guitar cables: The enemy of a guitar cable is your own feet. Stomp on your average $20 offering from Guitar Center more than a few times and you’re on your way to internal splitsville.

Speaker tweeters: I checked out a rare, collectible set of B&W bookshelf speakers this week, and the guy who owned them said his kid poked a finger into one of the now-irreplaceable blue tweeter domes, instantly destroying it. I asked if the kid was still alive, mostly joking. These things are fragile by design, and the metal ones can be destroyed quite easily.

Record player stylus: “The cleaning lady did it” is the most commonly heard excuse, but if you spend enough time spinning vinyl, it will probably happen to you. If you’ve got a cleaning cloth and you just want to get another little inch of clean on the record player surface just under that tonearm, STOP! You will 99% of the time swipe that stylus right off the cartridge — it’s that fragile. We are not precise enough creatures to be able to clean under a record player stylus, so either let it go or do the right thing and lift the arm with one hand and swipe with the other.

Headphone cable connections: It started with a few unexplained dropped calls as I was using my hands-free, microphone-equipped headphones. But then I’d be listening to a podcast, and the podcast would skip forward whole sections and then cease and resume with a different episode. As this kept happening, I started hawk-eyeing the plug connection. Once I found I could drop a call by wiggling the cable next to the plug, I knew it was time for a new pair.

So mind those cables, treat the styli like the fragile creatures they are, and keep those fingers away from expensive tweeters.

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