Audio System Spring Clean
Over my many years of audio enthusiasm, I have discovered probably one of the most reliable and cheapest tweaks to enhance the performance of my resident audio system. Some of this improvement is without doubt psychosomatic but interestingly some of the improvements have, I believe, a firm footing in practical science.
Now the psychosomatic aspect is interesting, Audiophiles are often harangued with mirth and ridicule from those that focus on the more extreme and bizarre claims made by various manufacturers and of course some fellow audiophiles, the most notable being cable performance and effects. Then there are the small and incredibly expensive bits and bobs that when placed on the precise nirvana spot on your speakers will clarify and focus the whole sound stage. Of course if this doesn’t work it is because you haven’t located the precise nirvana spot … yet. Psychosomatic effects are just human nature. Especially when you rush home, plug in that newly purchased cable, that cost you more than your phono stage and as much as your turntable, it just has to sound better .. doesn’t it? However ridicule aside, I have noticed this phenomena when I wash the car, the vehicle seems to have more power, run smoother and is just an all round better ride! Anyway unlike that mega buck cable, there is no cost with this tweek aside from a few cents worth of spray cleaner and a few hours of time.
The first thing to do is to have a listen to the audio system prior to starting the “spring clean”. Anything from a few days to a few minutes before is fine, it is just to refresh your memory as to how the system sounds. Arm yourself with some clean soft cloths, gentle cleaners (e.g. glass cleaner), damp sponge or two, a few scraps of clean cotton cloth, contact cleaner of some sort (my minimum cleaner is CRC switch and contact cleaner available at all friendly electronics hobby shops), some furniture polish if there is timber involved and any tools required like spanners and screw drivers etc. Try to include my favorite tool which is a soft bristled paint brush and those new synthetic brushes are great.
Now switch off everything both at component level and at the wall and dismantle the entire system, relocate the turntable if you have one to a safe place like the dining table. Include the telly is it is sitting on the same rack or structure as the audio system. Take note of what cables connect to what box as the idea is to reassemble the system the same as it was. I also move the audio rack. I then thoroughly vacuum the carpet (or other flooring) under where the rack and speakers lived. Included in this step are any skirtings, GPOs, pictures and anything else that is easier to get to with the system moved out of the way. Now replace the audio rack(s) and give this a thorough clean as well, if it has timber parts now is a good time to apply some grain nourishing polish. I use Marveer as my rack is not made from exotic timbers and Marveer is easy to use and drys quickly.
A quick word of caution at this stage, in my opinion vacuum cleaners and Hi Fi gear do not mix too well. Many ribbon elements have been stretched by this evil contraption and there are quite a few speaker driver dust caps that have been kidnapped as well. Especially interesting was an episode using a broom handle to retrieve a round volume knob from a vacuum cleaner hose whence it had firmly lodged, This had a highly interesting effect on the cosmetics of an otherwise pristine preamp. Use the Vacuum for the floor, then banish it!
Clean the amplifiers and other boxy components, use the paint brush to remove dust from vent apertures, heat sink fins, around switches, connectors and other nooks and crannies. Spray some contact cleaner onto a cloth scrap and clean the RCA connectors, retain this cloth to do likewise with the RCA cable hot pins, speaker connectors and mains pins as you come to them. If your audio rack has adjustable feet try to make it as level as practical before replacing gear onto the rack especially if a turntable is involved. Now replace the components one by one, I usually start with the power amp and run mains cables first, then speaker cable and lastly interconnects. Be methodical and try to keep mains cables away other cables, if they must be near other cables try to cross them at right angles, never run anything parallel to a mains cable if at all possible. Be especially careful with turntable interconnects prior to the phono stage whether its a stand alone unit or one built into a pre or integrated amplifier. Clean the turntable being especially careful of the cantilever assembly, the paint brush is especially useful here. If your turntable has a lid do not use abrasive or harsh chemical cleaners or scourers, it will spoil your day as well as the lid! Replace the turntable onto the rack and check that the deck is level and also the VTF (tracking weight). If this is an involved procedure then put it off until the rest of the system is finished.
Clean and replace the speakers and any sub-woofers you may have, taking care with the correct positioning of the speakers, including any toe in and rake. If the speakers are spiked to the floor ensure that they are firm and not rocking, use the spike adjustments to get a stable stance. Replace the cleaned cables and ensure that the connections are firm.
Nearly finished so double check all connections especially amplifiers to speakers and once satisfied power up the system. Whilst waiting for warm up replace any cleaned TVs and associated video boxes, if there is a lot of this non audio stuff consider donating it to the kids or maybe postpone powering up the Audio until this not so enjoyable step is complete. OK now power up, replace all nick-nacks, remotes and if you are so inclined any sound enhancing rune stones, crystals and ancient oriental vibrational enhancers.
Play a CD and see what you think. Now play an LP and again see what you think. I am confident there will be an improvement. Psychosomatic effects are always reliable and please note I am being self critical here and not picking on our dear readers. Real improvements should occur from simply the removing and replacement of all connections, the friction exposes fresh metal to the contact surfaces and cleaning greatly enhances this effect. Likewise the tidying up of the cable spaghetti should also yield worthwhile effects by reducing cross-talk and mains interference.
Listening to music is one of the finer, more considered contemplations of our human condition. When one combines this with a capable and classy home audio system then it goes without saying that a carefully crafted instrument, and that is what a good audio system should be, will always sound better when nice and clean!
Apply liberally at least once a year, springtime is good, but really any season is just fine.