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April 2020
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine

Plenty Of Time To Enjoy The Music
Roger Skoff tells how to turn a lemon into lemonade.
Article By Roger Skoff


Plenty Of Time To Enjoy The Music


  Seems like everyone I know is staying home lately. Either they're sick; afraid of getting sick; afraid they might unknowingly contract or carry the Coronavirus to someone else just by getting too close; or just staying home because the government (at every level, from the most local to all-the-way up) is telling them to. Besides, with just about every kind of social or recreational business, event, or activity shut down and just about every restaurant, bar, or bowling alley closed or restricted, there's really no place to go – especially if one of those businesses or events happens to be how they make their living.

Life's dealt them a "lemon", and they're dealing with it as best they can.

There may be a good side of it, though. For the first time in the better part of a century, many people are finally finding that – at least between all those many suggested daily washings – they have time on their hands. Now the question is what to do with it, and for those of us who love music and the means for listening to it, at least one answer is possible.

You know all those new albums you bought and haven't yet listened to? Or the recommendations from friends for stuff you really ought to stream, but you've never had the time? Do it now; catch up on your listening. All of a sudden, you've got plenty of time, and more!

Before you do any of those things, though, take the time to give your system a quick "cable tune-up". If it's been years since you last did it (or even if you've never properly done it at all) the results are sure to please. And afterward, you'll be able to while away your remaining time of isolation (and possibly even be inspired to do some of the things on that "honey-do" list that so mysteriously seems to pop-up whenever you're at home) with renewed gusto!

Losing work and play and society all at once is certainly a "lemon", but good music from a better-sounding system and getting stuff that needs to be done can be an enjoyable and effective way to turn it into "lemonade." (Besides, didn't people used to think that hot lemonade with honey was a cure for illness? If you have one, couldn't more time at home with your honey – especially with good music and her list done – lead to things "warming up"?)


Plenty Of Time To Enjoy The Music


The first thing to do to tune-up your system is to turn it off and completely unplug it – pulling all of the plugs out of the wall or your power strip or whatever, and disconnecting every connector for every component, accessory, or speaker. Once you've done that, use a product, like DEOXIT Gold from Caig Labs or XLO's TPC, to clean and treat all of the electrical contacts, both inside and outside, on every plug and connector, whether male or female. (NOTE: Unless you first turn off the circuit breakers or remove the fuses, DO NOT TRY TO CLEAN THE INSIDE CONTACTS OF THE WALL SOCKETS YOUR COMPONENTS PLUG INTO!) Just doing this one thing every year or two to remove and protect against contact dirt and/or oxidation will do wonders for the sound of your system.


Plenty Of Time To Enjoy The Music


Next, plug the system back together, making sure that all of the "right" and "left" channel cables are connected to the correct stereo channel at both ends. (Where it's not spelled-out, manufacturers will use two different color markers on the cables or connectors to indicate the two stereo channels. [Black and white, black and red, red and white, purple and gray, etc.] The rule is that the darker color always indicates the right channel. Make sure, also, that the directional arrows on all of the cables or connectors are pointing in the correct direction (from the source, to the load). Any error in either of these things will affect the sound of your system – particularly, if the problem is one of "crossed" channels, in its imaging and soundscaping.

Another thing that's good to check, even though it's rarely wrong, is AC power line polarity. This is not to say that the electrician who wired your listening room may have done it wrong; that any one or all of your components or accessories may have been wired incorrectly; or that any one or all of your AC power cords may have been terminated out of phase. Because the polarization of power plugs, sockets, and wiring are all regulated by law, those things are all extremely unlikely. What does happen, though, is that, in any multi-component system, the required AC ground wire on every component plus the fact that all inter-component connections are grounded, can make for multiple grounding points for the same component ("ground loops"), which can raise the hum and noise level of your system and even distort the sound of the music it passes. Unlike so many other things in audio that may be perceivable but not easily quantified, this can even be measured.


Plenty Of Time To Enjoy The Music


The way to check for this is to, once again, unplug all of your system. Then plug in just the amplifier, with (at least one of) your speakers hooked to it, but nothing else (no preamp; no source device). Turn it on and, with your ear or a microphone or your smartphone (set to a dB meter app) placed as close as you can get it to either your speaker's woofer cone or its bass-reflex port, notice or read out the hum level from the amplifier. Then, using a "cheater plug" (a "ground-lifter" polarized three-pin-in-to- unpolarized two-pin-out adapter from the hardware store) try plugging the amplifier in with the plug contacts reversed (out of phase). Does the hum level change? If no, or "yes-and-it-gets-louder", pull out the cheater; plug the plug back in normally, and go on to the next step. If the hum level gets lower, though, leave the cheater in, connect the interconnect cable from your preamp to your amplifier; plug your preamp into the wall (or power-strip or whatever); turn it on; set it to "phono" (but with no phono interconnect or turntable attached) and turn the volume control up all the way. (The reason for using the "phono" input is that it will usually be the highest-gain [hence noisiest] input) If you're using a receiver instead of a separate amp and preamp, this should be your first step.


Plenty Of Time To Enjoy The Music


Once you've done this, listen again – just to the level of hum and noise; nota music signal. Is it different than it was before? If so, is it higher or lower? In either case, try putting a cheater on the preamp's plug and re-plugging it with reversed polarity. Keep whichever is the best (quietest) plug-in arrangement (cheater or not, reversed or not) and move on to the next component or plug-in accessory. Keep trying this same procedure until all of the elements of your system (all of the components; all of the accessories) are fully re-assembled. You may find yourself using no cheaters and having kept no reversals. Maybe, though, you will have kept one or more. In either case, you will know (and if you've measured it, you'll have quantitative confirmation) that your system, when you play music on it from that point on, will be at its quietest and best-sounding through the rest of your quarantine period and a long time to come.

Finally, one last thing: lightly spray all of your cables (All of ‘em; power, interconnect, phono, and speaker) with "Static Guard" or some similar product (found in the laundry section of your supermarket) to protect against the build-up of static electricity on their surface, which could audibly affect system performance.

Then, turn the system on; select your favorite tunes; sit back; close your eyes; and...


Enjoy the music!

Roger Skoff


















































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