Longish post, however I want to write about a few simple tricks that many hi-fi heads will already be well familiar with, but took me years to learn about, or learn the value of, which profoundly improved the way my music sounded through a system I thought was incapable of that level of performance. And I did it for next to nothing.
I recall after buying my first set of real speakers, walking back into the hi-fi shop and asking if it was possible to get another set of fronts to run together with the ones I’d just bought. This because I just wasn’t hearing what I wanted to hear from my new purchase. “Why would you want to do that?” the store owner asked me. “Yours are fine.” I thought she was saying that just to justify the fact that she’d let me buy an inferior pair of speakers (which my Cerwin Vega VE-15s sort of are, but in some ways they aren’t at all). Instead of a new pair of speakers though, she led me to purchasing a QUAD 99 power amp that I could run from the pre outs of my Yamaha AVR. Which did go some way to sweetening the sound I was hearing from those Cerwin Vegas. Though after a few years of use, and the entry of a nice turntable into my life, I started to think that I really should just leave those massive VEs as home theatre speakers, where they perform incredibly well, and set up a second system to do hi-fi duties.
It was in this mood that I met Allan MacDonald, of Vinylhead Records in Coffs Harbour. My initial question to him was around possible speaker recommendations. “What are you running now?" he asks - and I tell him. “Oh, right. Well, they are a very efficient pair of speakers, those Cerwin Vegas,” he tells me. “They should be sounding ok. How have you got them set up? Are they on spikes?”
“What sort of floors are they on?”
You really need to have them on spikes or some kind of rubber pads to isolate them properly from the floor, he tells me. “You don’t have to spend a lot,” he says, and points to a pair of speakers nearby that are sitting on rubber pads he’d picked up at a hardware store.
So, first chance I get, I go to Bunnings and find these inch and a half square rubber anti-vibration pads. After a bit of internet research, I also decide to put down some stone tiles, which went under the pads/speakers.
The change in sound was immediate and satisfying. There was greater detail and air, and a general increase in focus and that undefinable element i'll call juice.
It didn’t end there though.
While it sounded great with jazz, after playing one of my CDs of more modern music with more consistent bass frequencies, I noticed that the bass was sounding really boomy. The Cerwin’s have always been established in the bass department, but never so much that I felt annoyed. Now, there seemed to be the overwhelming, droning bass response. With them already well away from the wall, I thought it was the tiles at fault, or maybe the fact that the speakers were off the ground now. I emailed Allan, with a couple of pictures of my room.
“You speakers are fine,” he says. “But I notice that you have your components sitting on wooden shelves in your entertainment unit. You should try isolating the components as well, as this will help with tighter bass.”
So back to Bunnings I went. And once again, once installed, the improvement was little short of amazing. The boomyness was gone. They gave my bass a new control, sharpness and punch, and the new clarity in the bottom end seemed to open up the mid-range to a new level of detail. The isolation also gave my CD player a heightened expansion and finesse I wasn’t expecting, and though I really should be using a platform for my turntable, jamming some larger rubber squares under its feet also made a noticeable and enjoyable difference to its sound, just in composure and presentation, and warmth. In short, I learnt the value of a hi-fi rack without actually using one.
I emailed Allan to thank him for his advice, and let him know of the results. “I am right into isolation,” he replied. “Most audio shops don't sell or mention it, or don't know?”
His comment got me thinking. Maybe the hi-fi shop owner was legitimately confused at my desire to find new speakers. Maybe she wasn’t avoiding the fact that they were not that good. Maybe that was because she had tested them and thought that they were. And now that I’ve got all of the components in my system isolated, including the speakers, the difference in music presentation is night and day. They are lovely, particularly with jazz. So why had nobody suggested I do this before? When I started complaining about my speakers initially, why was isolation not mentioned? Ok, so the store owner used it as an opportunity to sell me a new piece of equipment, in the power amp, and maybe that is the reason. I might have been satisfied with my AVR’s sound had I just isolated everything in the first place and went from there. And though I’m happy I have that power amp, I think I’d have been happier setting things right up in the first place.