Make your system sound better NOW, Part 2

Make your system sound better NOW, Part 2


audio, audiophile, IsoAcoustic, Stillpoints, audio accessories, hi-fi tweaks, PMA Magazine

Read “Make your system sound better NOW, Part 1” here.

Cable Spaghetti

Cable spaghetti is the term used to describe the nest of cables and power cords behind the hi-fi cabinet. Cables touching each other can have an extremely negative effect on sound quality, especially when it comes to the electromagnetic interference (EMI) power cords transmit to signal cables, including Ethernet cables, RCA interconnects, HDMI cables, and speaker wire.

audio, audiophile, IsoAcoustic, Stillpoints, audio accessories, hi-fi tweaks, PMA Magazine

Behind my hi-fi cabinet was one of the worst cases of cable spaghetti I’d seen, with at least 30 cables lumped together. The good news is that reorganizing cables is a free fix and just requires us to spend some time behind the cabinet, separating the cables from each other, but especially the power cords from the signal cables. I have noticed, on virtually all occasions, that doing so brought significant gains in sound quality. Ethernet cables are especially sensitive to the corruptive effects of EMI generated by power cords, and so should be kept away from any power cord by a distance of at least eight to nine inches.

I have a TriField EMF (Electric and Magnetic Fields) meter that can measure the amount of electromagnetic interference from a power cord. It’s easy to measure an EMI field the whole length of a power cord with a TriField meter, which acts similar to a Geiger counter, but instead of measuring radiation, it measures EMI. I slowly sweep the power cord with the TriField meter, repeating this process with each power cord, to see, on the meter’s screen, the intensity of both the energy along the length of the cord and away from it. That way, I know how far to keep the signal cables and power cords apart.

In cases where it’s difficult or impossible to get proper separation between a power cord and signal cable, I wrap the signal cable near the power cord with copper tape, which is an effective shield against power cord-emitted EMI. I never wrap a power cord in copper tape because the tape is conductive and could cause electrocution if there’s damage to the power cord. I use copper tape only on low voltage signal cords such as Ethernet cables, HDMI cables, and RCAs.

Since I’ve found Ethernet cables to be most susceptible to EMI, those are the cables that I prioritize, although other signal cables will benefit from separation from each other and shielding. The improvements in sound quality can be substantial, with much clearer and transparent mids and highs, tighter, deeper bass, and a bigger, better-defined soundstage.

I built a simple wood lattice support fitted with horizontal copper-lined steel conduits to separate and channel the power cords and cables away from each other. Doing so provided obvious gains in sound quality, not to mention in visual appearance!

Mitigating Vibrations

audio, audiophile, IsoAcoustic, Stillpoints, audio accessories, hi-fi tweaks, PMA Magazine
From the bottom left going clockwise: an IKEA Gunstig and Gunstig squares, SVS SoundPath subwoofer feet, a box of Stillpoints isolators, Black Diamond Racing Cones, Synergistic Research MiG 3.0 feet, and IsoAcoustic Iso-Puck Minis. IsoAcoustic OREAs came in the black box at centre.

Talk of tweaking a hi-fi system to get it to perform its best would not be complete without including the subject of vibrations. Reducing vibrations from entering your electronic components and speakers can dramatically improve performance. 

There are many products on the market that can mitigate vibrations in your sound system, some very effective and moderately priced. Some affordable options can work wonders for improving your system’s sound quality.

Household items I’ve found to be effective against vibrations, to varying degrees, include silicon pads, felt pads, cork, and rubber mats. The best I’ve tried is IKEA’s Gunstig waffle-shaped silicon mat, sold as a trivet in the kitchen section of IKEA for about $10.00 CA each.

I recommend cutting up a Gunstig mat into approximately 12 squares and placing a square under each of the feet of your components. In many cases, I’ve found that placing two or three squares under each feet resulted in further improvement to the sound.

Much more effective than a Gunstig mat, but much more expensive as well, are IsoAcoustic OREAs, IsoAcoustic Iso-Pucks or Iso-Puck Minis. I’ve tried IsoAcoustic products directly under components’ feet, but consistently found I got better results by placing them against the bottom panel of the chassis, assuming, of course, that the IsoAcoustic products are taller than the component’s feet. Overall, I’ve been very happy with IsoAcoustic accessories.

This year, I realized significant sonic gains by placing all my electronics on top of 8mm-thick, 16-layer Baltic birch aviation plywood shelves, under each of which I installed a set of IsoAcoustic OREAs or Iso-Pucks. Musical timing and detail were greatly enhanced by this setup. However, it’s difficult to source the Finland-made Baltic birch shelf, so I had to order it through a friend in Europe.

I’ve recently started replacing some of my IsoAcoustic Iso-Pucks under critical components with IsoAcoustic OREAs, to great effect.

I also experimented with placing Bamboo or Maple cutting boards underneath the IsoAcoustic Iso-Pucks sitting on top of my BDI hi-fi cabinet, with a Baltic birch aviation plywood shelf on top of the pucks. In my setup, the cutting boards have been beneficial under some components.

Having a well made hi-fi stand or cabinet can make a big difference in sound quality. I recommend those from Quadraspire, Salamander, and, specifically, the Naim Fraim.

audio, audiophile, IsoAcoustic, Stillpoints, audio accessories, hi-fi tweaks, PMA Magazine
Top: centre channel speaker sitting on IsoAcoustic Iso-Pucks.
Under: Linn Klimax DSM/3 Hub sitting on a Baltic Birch aviation plywood shelf over a set of IsoAcoustic OREA Indigo isolators.

Stillpoints offers effective but expensive options for vibration control, and, if money is no object, Silent Runnings sells stands designed by NASA engineers. Other excellent vibration control solutions include those from Townshend from England and String Suspension Concepts from Germany.

To improve the sound quality of speakers through vibration control, I’ve found a number of things that can help significantly.

For bookshelf speakers, you can improve their sound by placing them on top of a set of four IsoAcoustic Iso-Pucks, or on top of studio monitor stands from Yorkville or Primeacoustic.

For floorstanding speakers, IsoAcoustic Gaias have consistently worked better in my experience than traditional spikes. 

For subwoofers, I’ve found the most cost-effective way to mitigate vibrations and obtain tighter, deeper, more tuneful bass was to place them on Auralex SubDudes isolation platforms. 

There are other anti-vibration solutions, of course, but the aforementioned are the ones that have given me the best results so far. Obviously, experimentation and personal taste are key.

In my case, using the methods depicted above have brought a sensational new balance to my system’s sound, along with a newfound boogie factor. Bass is deep, musical, and detailed. Listening from an adjacent room or down the hallway, I hear virtually no extraneous bass bloom. The mids and highs are extremely detailed, with well separated instruments and voices that carry unprecedented emotional impact.

It’s a great payoff for all that time I spent, and continue to spend, tweaking my system to make it sound as good as it can.

I hope some of these methods can be as helpful to you as they were to me.

More of them coming soon.

Read “Make your system sound better NOW, Part 3” here.

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