14 Simple & Inexpensive Tips for Improving Your Stereo System (TAS 197)

14 Simple & Inexpensive Tips for Improving Your Stereo System (TAS 197)

1.  Tighten your speaker’s driver mounting bolts

The bolts holding the loudspeaker drivers to the baffle can loosen over time, causing the drivers’ basket and flange to vibrate. Gently snug-down the bolts and you’ll hear an increase in midrange clarity and resolution. Be sure not to over-tighten the bolts and strip the baffle. Cost: Free.

2.  Cross Cables At Right Angles

It’s inevitable that analog interconnects, digital interconnects, and AC power cords will meet behind your rack. Where they do, they should intersect each other at right angles rather than running parallel to each other. Separate all cables as far as possible. A great device for separating cables behind a rack (or behind power amplifiers) is Shunyata’s Dark Field Mini Elevators.
Cost: Free, or $99 for a Dark Field Mini 12-pack.

3.  Clean All Contacts

Remove all interconnects and speaker cables and clean their plugs and jacks with Caig DeOxIt contact cleaner. Do the same with tube pins and sockets as well as AC cords (after disconnecting them from the wall outlet, of course) and your equipment’s AC jacks (but not the wall outlets). Cost: $9.95 for Caig DeOxIt

4. Don’t Listen With the Lights Dimmed

Light dimmers operate by chopping up the 60Hz sinewave of the AC power supply, which puts noise on the AC line. Turn the lights all the way off. Cost: Free.

5. Absorb Sidewall Reflections

Hanging a rug or other acoustically absorbent material on the sidewalls between you and the loudspeakers reduces tonal colorations and significantly improves soundstaging. Cost: Varies.

6. Move your loudspeakers

It's unlikely that you loudspeakers are optimally positioned. Experiment with small movements and be sure to get the toe-in on each speaker perfectly identical. Even a slight difference between the left and right speakers will affect the tonal balance and degrade imaging. Cost: Free.

7. Isolate your components from vibration

If you don’t have a high-quality equipment rack, invest in one. To improve the performance of your existing rack, put cones or feet under your components. The budget-minded should consider Vibrapods; those with more ambitious systems should look at the Harmonic Resolution Systems Nimbus.Cost: $5.99 each (Vibrapod); $45 each (HRS Nimbus).

8. Turn off component displays when listening

Some products allow you to turn of the front-panel displays—and for good reason; they can subtly, or not so subtly, degrade the sound. Cost: Free.

9. Insert shorting plugs in unused preamplifier inputs

Preamp input jacks can pick up noise; shorting those inputs to ground prevents noise from getting into the audio circuitry. If you have a power amplifier with balanced and unbalanced inputs and use the unbalanced connection, be sure to insert the small “U”-shaped shorting pin in the unused XLR jack between pins 1 and 2, or use XLR shorting plugs. Cost: $39 for a 10-pack of AudioQuest Noise Stopper Caps or $59.50 for 12 Cardas RCA Caps.

10. Replace stock bi-wire jumpers on your loudspeakers with high-end ones

If you have loudspeakers that can be bi-wired but use a single-wire connection, replace the stock jumpers with a premium replacement such as Cardas bi-wire jumpers. Stock jumpers are made from brass; the Cardas units are solid copper with rhodium plating. Cost: $16.50 each.

11. Move the listening seat forward or backward to adjust bass balance

Loudspeakers in rooms set up standing waves—stationary areas of high and low pressure in the bass. Moving the listening seat forward or backward by 1–2' can greatly influence the system’s overall tonal balance. Cost: Free.

12. Get rid of the stock AC power cords

Those AC cords that come with audio gear might be fine for home appliances, but they are bad news for an audio system. Even entry-level AC cords made for audio can render a huge improvement.
 Cost: $79 each and up.

13. Turn off all digital components when listening to vinyl

Digital components (CD players, DACs, multichannel controllers) radiate noise that can pollute analog signals, particularly the miniscule output from a phono cartridge. Some digital components radiate noise even when turned off. Those products should be unplugged from the wall during analog listening sessions. The background becomes blacker and a haze over the music is lifted.Cost: Free

14. Forget about the sound and enjoy the music

Don’t fall into the trap of constantly judging your system’s sound quality. After your system is tweaked, turn off the critical listening and immerse yourself in the music. Cost: Free.