We hired a cleaning service this week, so actual professionals were attacking our war zone/dander pit domicile with gusto. Real results came out of it, I’m happy to report, and this wrecking yard/toddler cave has never smelled or looked better.
I don’t know about you, but if I was cleaning a house and saw a 4-foot rack of stereo components topped by a giant amplifier with all its circuitry exposed and sticking out of the chassis, standing alongside stand-mounted speakers and giant cables and four subwoofers, I might proceed with caution.
I’m glad nobody was electrocuted when they dusted the inside of my amplifier, and I will be sure to leave sticky notes next time. But the reason I mention this is they also moved my speakers and stands around, and as an audiophile, they might as well have just murdered me. I had spent hours and hours moving things by centimeters and sometimes millimeters at a time in order to perfectly integrate the speakers to each other, to the room and to the subwoofers.
Occasionally when I would move a speaker or subwoofer slightly, I would sense immediately that it “clicked” into place with the other speaker and sub. I knew this because all of a sudden, the stereo music I was playing (I like to use vibraphone as test material for stereo, so it’s usually Gary Burton) would open up slightly, and sound would stop coming only from the speaker I was closest to and move toward the middle of the room between the speakers.
Anyway, I’m not bagging on the cleaning folks but instead trying to highlight the importance of getting the placement of speakers in a room just right. Besides opening up a soundstage with real width, depth and height, I was finally allowing my listening room to reproduce very subtle elements of excellent recordings.
And that is the place where you start hearing clear differences between recording quality, where you can hear the effect of a new cable in the system and where you can tell that a new piece of stereo gear has collapsed the sound stage a bit. Or that it has surpassed your expectations and taken your whole system to a new level.
Audio, and high-end audio in particular, gets a bad rap in some quarters for claims like this, although much of the vitriol is aimed at expensive little “tweaks” that purport to solve big problems, or at things like high-priced cables that claim to “lift the veil” while using “quantum tunneling” or beeswax or whatever in the design.
The hard part about this is that we’re both right. Exquisite cables can change the sound of a system, as can a high-end fuse. So can isolation platforms, proper cable routing/elevation and even “resonator” devices like singing bowls and wooden statues placed around the room. But you won’t hear any of that improvement if the speakers aren’t correctly aligned or if the system has too many flaws up the chain for the tweaks to shine through.
I like tackling big, tough subjects here, which can require a few columns on a topic, so this will be the beginning of our new series on fine-tuning an audio system. Buckle up, and we’ll meet next week for more stereo shenanigans.