Hmm, perhaps that is not the best title for this article. The word 'collide' is generally not something desirable when driving (or racing) on one of the many street courses around the world. As various members of our industry have commented, Steven is one crazy driving Ferrari guy... or perhaps just crazy. In either case, the reason for my lack of editorial in April was due to on-track tuning some of the winter tweaks and a few additional track session test days. Tweaking and tuning is on ongoing exercise not just within the high-end audio systems here, but also the re-retuned suspension in ye ol' money pit called a track car. For those of you about to stop reading, there is audiophile content below, and perhaps some humor and comparisons. Maybe the other guys are right, Steven is indeed crazy (or perhaps deeply passionate about living life to the fullest).
If i may indulge a bit, last year's track efforts were more of a learning experience for Yours Truly, as the car's first effort into an uprated suspension system fell short, with eventually blowing out a front shock (literally), pushing the rear shocks to such a high level they basically blew out too, dismal single tire choice as funds are low, and last of seat time (experience) played their parts. As an audiophile, the growth and learning were along those same lines. Got my first taste of high-end audio at a very early age and was smitten. Then came the upgrading of the system that naturally was followed by bliss and contentment. Eventually, usually not too long afterwards, came the realization that while the system was good, it could be much better.
First Time Pleasures
Sure the first try at bettering my system was good, given the limited budget and lack of information (there was no Internet and gurus were far and few). Anyone remember the Boston Acoustic A40 bookshelf speakers? Man-o-man those babies were amazing for the lowish fundage! They were mated with my then Yamaha 50-watt stereo receiver. While the receiver has become a hand-me-down to my father, the A40's were traded in for Infinity RS6000. At the same time i had a great fellow drummer roommate (Greg) and enter my very first dedicated listening room. We would sit in the virtually bare living room, having only the stereo in optimum position of course, and enjoy hour after hour of Rush, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Billy Cobhan, Jack DeJohnette... The bass energized the room; the highs floated 3D in space, while the crucial midrange came through what i felt at the time was crystal clear. Pure heaven! Of course the second generation of the system was light years ahead of the first. That first system with the Boston Acoustic A40s was in my then one room efficiency for those curious about room setup. Life was harsh, funds were low, but darn it the music mattered! As experience grows, and finances saved and spent, so did the capability of my then music reproduction system. The same can be said for that other hobby.
During the winter of late 2005 into early 2006 came some realizations, plus added finances saved. Steve's holiday present wish for winter 2005? Funds to aid in the cars constant evolution. Stock springs (180 lbs) were already uprated to 300 lbs front 250 lbs rear with much better custom/lightweight dual adjustable shocks. While Öhlins shocks were not in the budget (and still are not), the problem was the shocks needed to be set on higher adjustment levels for both rebound and compression. So after blowing out the shocks in spectacular fashion at Lime Rock in late July 2005 and data mining my notes — plus help from others — out with the springs and in went Hypoerco's 400 lbs front shocks and 350 lbs rears... and custom made (larger) adjustable sway bars. We must keep in mind the car is also a daily driver for the street, so dedicated and super stiff suspension was not an option. Did you know that race guys have their own lingo just like audiophiles! You have roll bars (called sway bars by some or anti-roll bars by others), and shocks have bump dampening (also called compression) and rebound settings. Lingo aside, what matters is that the user understand what it all means.
Like in audiophile-land, there are ways to drastically improve things for low funds, while getting that very last bit of performance can get very costly. Improving your cables is one way to gain quite a bit of performance as would be going with New Old Stock (NOS) tubes for those who enjoy the loving glow. Cable or NOS tubes may allow your system to achieve 5 to 10 percent higher music reproduction delights. Of course there is chassis dampening, pods, cones, platforms, etc.
In the car world, at least in my case, we have springs, shock settings, tire pressure.. Speaking of tires, it was time to retire the Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 tires on lightweight Kinesis Motorsport K27 rims for the track (with the exception for track days in the rain). Another set of matching Kinesis rims will soon be shod with Michelin Pilot Cup R-compound rubber, as they last longer than what may consider the best (Hoosier DOT slicks). Remember, funds are low and buying a new set of Hoosier (or cheap scrubs from well-funded teams) for every other track event is not achievable while Pilot Cups may last two months or so given the amount of track events. Simply changing to Pilot Cup tires should yield lap times about 5 percent faster! Anyone who regularly tracks their car is familiar with going from even the best normal consumer rubber to R-compound will result in much lower lap times.
The Comparisons Continue
There is an old saying in motorsports, "How fast can you afford to go?" This same adage holds true for us music lovers. At some point you reach a plateau where dollars versus performance reach the sweet spot. There may be ways to further improve the system, yet at what costs? Congratulations, you have reached the law of diminishing returns. This is a great place to be! It means you have tweaked, component and room tuned, carefully positioned the speakers.... You have reached a point where there is so much right in the system that whatever may be missing becomes nearly insignificant. Usually this is sins of omission versus the more annoying sins of commission. The high costs of getting that last very small percentage can be quite steep.
In Formula 1, as is true with lower-form gentleman racers such as myself, the costs to achieve shaving off the last second, or tenths of seconds, from your lap time become staggering! Maybe you can shed off another 10 lbs from the car... if only you could afford a custom Carbon fiber body and the enviable replacements as those crack or you suffer a track incident. Or how about the amazing $3,000 Carbon-Kevlar seats to save a paltry 4 lbs or $1,000 carbon fiber steering wheel to save 0.5 lbs. It comes down to the power versus weight issue. So how fast, or how much of those very last high-end audio performance Blue Notes, can you afford?
Round And Round
As if to almost taunt us all, over the years many audiophile have realized that audio is indeed akin to street course track driving in that it is challenging, moments of pure unadulterated bliss is (inevitably) followed by pitfalls, and you find yourself going round and round in circles... sometimes winding up right back where you started from. Sometimes what we feel will improve things only shake out to be a step backwards.
And on that note, if you are near the New Hampshire International Speedway in New Hampshire on April 27, or America's Watkins Glen on May 1 and 2 (for SCDA event) or May 3 and 4 (for Ferrari Club of America event) you can see Yours Truly on track or tinkering with the car in the pits between sessions. Please stop by and say hi. As we always say, in the end what really matters to me is that we all....