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Positive Feedback ISSUE 61
may/june 2012


The following submissions are for the 'Readers Who Want to be Writers' Contest. The authors are not Staff members of Positive Feedback.

From Dad to Son: Sharing A Gift
by Neill Grimes

A delight of the past several years has been the entry and growing interest of my son in the world of audio. He and his sis grew up with music playing constantly, but about three years ago Ben said, "Dad, I'd like to get into analogue." I replied, "Knock yourself out" and pointed to where my table and vinyl were stored. The resulting journey of little discoveries has been nothing short of neat. Pushing into the world of vinyl, his interest in how to pull more music out of those grooves has multiplied. Ben was already streaming, downloading, and ripping, but now he's listening with more discrimination and slowly building a system for both formats. It's been a joy to share and explain and recommend.

So, I thought I'd put together a baker's dozen list of items Ben needs to keep in mind as he wanders deeper into this fun, paranoid, and crazy world of audio. I've found these to be true for me; I hope they will be helpful and confirming of others' experiences, especially Ben's.

Pay close attention to the source. Whatever is lost at the head of a system cannot be regained. It's true for components and recordings; better recordings and better source components make all the difference. Lost signal cannot be recovered downstream.

A great power supply is priceless. A quality power supply is one thing that is shared in common by great components from across the audio spectrum. From transient attacks to decay trails to plumbing deeper into the bass, a good power supply turns music loose.

Keep lowering the noise floor. I was astounded the first time I had an audio tech put some metal film resistors in a preamp. The noise floor just went down; you could hear and feel it; music became easier with more bloom. Noise is everywhere--cabling, component parts, on power lines, etc. Keep pulling the noise out; you'll be amazed at what your ear can hear.

Pay attention to the room. Because I've never had a dedicated room, I know integrating a system into a living environment can be done—aesthetically and acoustically. Simple formulas may not always work. It depends on the setting: long wall, short wall, concrete foundations, first reflections, traps, etc. Pay attention, take your time, and you'll be amazed at what you can achieve.

Look for synergy; that's where the magic is. Synergy makes your eyes pop and puts a quiet smile on your face; you know it when you hear it. We traipse through audio, piecing together various components, but once in awhile we stumble on a combination that is musical, fun, and pure joy. There are some combinations that just work and it's a delight when you find them.

Don't be afraid to modify. This industry known as Hi Fi started out as hobbyists designing and building, and it continues today with techs/companies who are excellent at updating and modifying. If you've got a component you really like, but it's getting long-in-the-tooth, find a good tech and do some mods. There are some good people doing great work out there.

Get off line and build some relationships. The internet has given us so much access and information, but isolated us as well. The heart of audio is in relationships. Call somebody; send an email to a dealer, a manufacturer, a writer, an audio club; visit, ask questions, converse. Those contacts, conversations and subsequent relationships will heighten your enjoyment.

Go slow with the tweaks. There's no intention here to cast aspersions--designers or users--but 98% of the music is elsewhere. The name describes it: tweaking is maneuvering on a boundary or edge as opposed to the heart of the matter. Go there when all else is done.

There will be days when your system will sing and times when it will suck. Don't worry; it happens. The reasons are many, from the phase of the moon to the time of day to your personal disposition to the price of eggs in China. Who knows? It will be different tomorrow.

Trust your ears and enjoy what you enjoy. Your ears are better than you think. Trust your decisions and live with what you enjoy. Don't be overly pushed and pulled by others' perceptions. They can/will be quite helpful, but in the end it's your choice and your preference that matters and that you'll be listening to.

What's wrong with a little euphony? This industry trumpets transparency and resolution, imaging, frequency extremes, and accuracy, but I say what's wrong with some music that simply sounds good? It doesn't have to reveal and disclose every minutiae—a subway train rumbling beneath the studio recording or the viola player's chair creaking. Let me hear the music and may it sound good.

Forget those ongoing feuds. Vinyl versus digital; tubes or transistors; FLAC or WAV; dynamic transducer or electrostatic; these preferences go on ad nauseum. That's all they are, preferences that will change across time, varied avenues to reproducing music in our homes. Don't get trapped therein.

If you stay with this long enough, you'll sell a classic you wish you still had. Changes always come and changes are always made. Once in awhile you'll realize you just let go of a special component. You can always repurchase, but my mantra has become go slow. There's some great stuff out there and you may already have a piece of it.

That's my baker's dozen—for this week. I'm no professional, just a fun loving amateur who enjoys this hobby. Good luck, Ben; and the best to my other audiophile brothers and sisters. Enjoy the music and the pursuit to recreate it.