Improve your stereo
Before you upgrade your stereo system it makes a great deal of sense to make sure you are getting the best out of it. These tips and advice will enable you to get quick and substantial improvements in the sound you get at home. They won’t cost a lot of money but they will offer you better enjoyment of your music at home. Do as many of them as you can to ensure the maximum return on the stereo system you already own.
Not only will they improve the sort of system pictured above but they will also improve a really good system too. We use these “rules” to help us set up any system we supply.
In order to work properly speakers need a little care and attention. A speaker is basically a box with drive units in it. Usually that’s a tweeter and a bass/mid driver. These are fitted with screws or allen keys and they often work loose! As they do this the speaker looses it’s precision and speed; particularly at the frequency extremes. Tighten these up carefully once a year. Exhibit care; don’t go at it like Garth but do make sure they are tightened snugly.
Think carefully about what your speakers are sat on. Are they on stands? If not consider putting them on some light and rigid speaker stands. A stand will get the speaker to the correct height and also make the speaker rigid. Both things are critical.
The correct height is for the high frequency unit (tweeter) to be around ear level when you are seated. It’s obvious really; they want to work at their best when you are sat listening to them.
Always put the speakers on the wall facing your listening position.
The above diagram shows the “golden triangle”. It is the easiest and best way to position loudspeakers of all shapes and sizes. Please ignore the actual measurement between the speakers because you will need to calculate it yourself. If you can see the line between the two speakers in figure 2 – measure the distance from that line to your settee or chair. That distance is critical. Whatever that distance is; your speakers want to be a little less than that distance apart. For example if you sit 8 feet away from that line; your speakers want to be around 7 feet apart.
The reason for using the Golden triangle is that if your speakers are too far apart you will get a “hole in the middle” of the sound-stage.
What is the sound-stage?
The sound-stage is the stereo image created by the left and right speakers. It creates an audio illusion of a performance; be it a small band or a huge orchestra. The last thing you want is a hole right where the singer or soloist is.
Even worse is when speakers are placed too close together because the sound-stage is crushed and unable to present a clear “picture”.
To ensure you get the best follow the “Golden Triangle”.
Avoid having speakers too close to corners. Corners make speakers “boom” or sound bloated and fat. Distance from the back wall is dependant on your choice of speakers. Most speakers tend to work at their best ten to eighteen inches from the back wall. If in doubt do some listening experiments. What we find happens is that when you move the speaker closer to the back wall the bass improves but the sense of depth and stereo image tends to be reduced. Moving the speaker forward reduces bass but improves the stereo image. With a little simple experiment (using the same piece of music) you can find the best spot to give you the best of both Worlds. Take a little time here because it will give you lots of benefits.
Finally toe the speakers in a little like in figure three. Doing so will bring the sound-stage into focus and often improve the stereo image. When this is done you should be able to close your eyes and the singer will be singing from directly in the middle of the two speakers.
Why use stands?
Stands get the speakers to the correct height and make the speaker rigid. Most use adjustable spikes to ensure there is little or no movement in the speaker. This helps the speaker do it’s job properly and stops it vibrating.
If you can’t use stands then a shelf will suffice but do try to avoid placing the speakers too high. Use bluetak to prevent the speaker moving about and vibrating.
Wall brackets tend to be a last resort, simply because people tend to put them high up and out of the way. They simply fire over the listener. At the correct height however there is no reason they can’t work well with the right choice of speaker and provided they hold the speaker rigidly.
Use decent cable. It needn’t cost thousands but it will make a big improvement. If you use bell-wire – get rid of it as soon as possible. Anything with a good copper content from 79 Strand upwards will sound much better. We can help you with this and we are glad to offer practical advice.
This is bad!
This is much better!
We’ve already written about turntable set-up here. Once your turntable is set up and working properly it is worth considering where to place it. It will work best on something level, light and rigid. Most of us tend to use a piece of funiture which will probably be made of wood and may even be heavy and contain our vinyl. This is not the best place for a record player. If you can get the turntable on it’s own little table or shelf it will sound better. If you can’t make sure that the cabinet is solid and doesn’t vibrate. Avoid sitting the record player on the rest of your system
The wall-shelf above is perfect. This one is made for Rega but there are others. Not only will it allow the turntable to sound at its best but it will prevent footfall problems and your stylus jumping out of the groove when your daughter decided to do the Watoozi or the twist.
Electronics require less fuss but they do like to sit on a rigid, level surface and have a little room around them to breathe. This way they can ventilate themselves and not get hot under the collar. You can stack items on top of each other if you wish but bear in mind transformers can hum when places close to other transformers.
If you are going to use a mains distribution block, avoid the cheapest and make sure you use a 13 amp fuse; especially if you are plugging an amplifier into it as well.
Use decent quality interconnects to plug your items together and avoid the thin and nasty ones that manufacturers sometimes provide. You don’t need to pay a fortune to get something decent but the free ones should be avoided at all costs just like the speaker bell-wire. Put simply; they choke the life out of your system. We particularly rate Atlas and Chord cables.
Ensure your connections are good. Pull out and push the cables in once a year. This action will remove oxide on the plug and socket. If they get really dirty a little wire wool will remove any oxide.
If you own British Audio equipment like Naim, Rega, LINN or Quad; consider having it serviced. Don’t wait till it breaks. Service it to keep it at it’s best. Our in-house service department will look after your precious equipment.
If your amplifier uses 4 mm speaker sockets it is worth having plugs fitted to your cable. Doing so will ensure the best connection. They are not expensive things to use. Many are screw-on type but of course we’d be happy to advise and of course to fit them for you.
Some useful tips
- If you can’t get your speakers/stands rigid try sinking cross-headed screws into the floor. They won’t damage the carpet any more than a spike. Screw them down flush and sit the spikes into the cross-head.
- Use a tape measure to make sure each speaker is the same distance from the back wall. A little trouble taken here is usually rewarding.
- Look after your CD’s and vinyl to maintain your investment.
- Have your turntable serviced now and again. Change the belt every 5 years and your stylus every 4.
- If your room is minimalist and has very little soft furnishing (or hardwood floors) use throws, rugs, cushions, soft beanbags or lined curtains to “soften” the room. You can also use canvas type pictures or artwork with foam inserted behind the frame – it will prevent reflections and yet still be decorative.
Finally – upgrading
When you do decide to upgrade your system; please talk to us. We’d be extremely happy to help and to make sure you get the product your music deserves. As a rule of thumb we would generally suggest you improve in the following order; Source Component, then amplification and finally speakers.