Article 1 - Listening to Music
There's a difference between listening to your music and actually hearing your music as the "Artist Intended" - most audiophiles and musicians with very good systems already know this. So, how can your listening experience be enhanced? There are a lot of factors that come into play. Let's discuss some of these from basic to more advanced. While for this particular article, we created levels of audio performance and listening abilities (which come over time for some), you might experience some of the sound characteristics levels we discuss below before you experience others:
Level 1 - Clarity, detail, horizontal sound-staging (side to side static sound-staging) are immediately heard in good systems. The volume at which the music is playing also will enhance the sound up to a certain level (before distortion or clipping of the amp starts to occur). With distortion and clipping, the sound starts to degrade. Clipping can damage can damage your speakers).
Level 2 - At level 2, you will begin to notice the dynamics (instrument/vocal volume range from loud to soft), colourization of sound (instruments sounding accurate or having a bit of colour added) and attack and decay (the ramp up and ramp down of the notes of certain instruments - e.g. piano, guitar, cymbals, xylophone, etc.). You will hear movement in your side-to-side horizontal staging (instruments like drums, guitars, etc. move side -to-side across your soundstage).
Level 3 - At level 3 you will begin to hear back to front horizontal sound-staging (some instruments appear to be closer to you and some further away from you). Separation of instruments and vocals becomes more obvious. Each instrument and voice occupies their own space within the soundstage. While you might have noticed it before, you become much more sensitive to the quality of the recordings and the resulting quality of the sound that is delivered to your ears.
Level 4 - At level 4 the harmonics (and the harmonics within the harmonics) become more important. The air or openness that you can hear in certain instruments (e.g. cymbals, saxophone, etc.) becomes very clear to you. The speed and movement of instruments both side to side and from to back become more noticeable and desirable. Complex passages in music become more simplified with instruments being in their own space , sometimes moving in space and at volumes loud or soft. You hear all of the instruments (i.e. no missing information), fully separated from each other.
Level 5 - Focus becomes more important (pin-point positioning of the instruments and voice(s) and the space they occupy). Vertical sound-staging becomes noticeable (if your system can provide it) ... and when most of the above come together and your two channel systems starts sounding somewhat like a surround sound system, you are really getting there.
Level 6 - An amazing harmony of sound where all of the above come together. The music surrounds you with a large soundstage (side-to-side, front-to-back and vertically) with each instrument focused in its place and sometimes moving in space in all 3 dimensions, great dynamics, an extremely low noise floor, amazing accuracy of instruments and you're hearing level 1 and level 2 harmonics.
Level 7 - Where you can just relax and listen to all aspects of the music described above and even know which of your components are doing great things verses which could be improved (e.g. speakers, input, pre-amp, amp, cabling and/or acoustic treatments for your listening room).
Article 2 - Components - Which are Most Important
The Most Important Components of your Audio Set-up
We wish that there was a simple answer to this question and the answers can be somewhat controversial. As somewhat of a prologue this topic, although not directly related, we wish to communicate the following: Many people confuse noise or hash with the fullness of the sound of their system and think that the noise is detail. Many confuse shrill, harsh or thin treble with accuracy or detail, when it is actually compressed sound and insufficient rounding off of the treble. Many confuse loud and bloomy bass with having great bass, when it should be tight, focused and carry sufficient detail. Many enjoy sterile sound because it sounds so clean, but in some cases either information is missing (in many forms) or the music is dry and not as enjoyable. After coming a a realization that something is not right, not enjoyable or missing, many of these people have turned to us to ask which component(s) they need to change.
Inputs (turntable, CD Player, streaming services) are as important as the output devices (loudspeakers or headphones). If you are going to start anywhere, start with the input(s) as they provide the information and detail that will be fed throughout your system. Outputs are important in providing the information and detail in the sound to your ears. The ability for the outputs (speakers, headphones) to play back the information delivered and separate it and provide the detail and soundstage is very important. Accuracy in playback might be more important to some than others. The in-betweens are the pre-amp, amp and cabling and interconnects. The in-betweens are as important as the inputs and outputs in carrying and resolving the information between inputs and outputs. How the preamp processes/resolves the information it receives and then outputs can make a huge difference in your sound. Some describe the preamp as the heart of any system. Amps are very important. They should have enough power to drive the speakers properly, handle rapid changes in sound level (dynamics) and be neutral in their amplification of the sound. Slow or lazy amps, or amps that are not clean can kill a system. Almost as important, once you get to a certain level, are your room acoustics (try playing your system in your bathroom or a room with a lot of windows or a room with no dampening). Cables and interconnects are also very important (discussed below in Article 3).
Article 3 - Cables & Interconnects
Cables & Interconnects - Do they work?
If you system is sufficiently revealing, an investment in better cables and interconnects will provide you with better sound quality. Not all cables and interconnects are created equal. Some work very well and some do not. Some of those that work well will match you system well and some will not. There are many reasons for this and it is partially dependent on how you listen and what you wish to get out of your system. Many people doubt the effect and value of cabling and interconnects. This is probably because they have not heard the effects in systems that are sufficiently revealing in their sound or they simply that not tried cabling/interconnects that actually work well. The less revealing your system is in its components, the less your cables and interconnects will do for it. The quality of the conductors, the type of conductor (silver/copper) and the size and number of conductors (especially in speaker cables) can make a large difference in your sound. As well, the quality of the shielding (against picking up the electro-magnetic radiation your components emit) makes a difference in the the sound you hear. Cabling and interconnects have a lot to do with delivering the clarity, detail, openness and even the certain frequencies of the sound that you will hear coming from your speakers. Match your cabling/interconnects with your system - mid-range systems to mid-range cabling/ interconnects and high-end systems to high-end cabling/interconnects.
Cables & Interconnects - Directional
Yes, certain cables and interconnects are actually directional and should be connected in the direction of input to output. Many times, there is an arrow on the jacket of the cable that shows you how they should be connected - From -> To . On some cables that might not have arrows, you should look to the direction of the text/writing. The direction of the text, left to right, determines the direction of From -> To for connecting your components (e.g. from you CD player to your pre-amp or from your amp to your speakers). Why are certain cables and interconnects (typically higher-end ones) directional? The current travels one direction? Directionality can be affected by grounding, the direction of extrusion of the copper and/or silver conductors and the ...
Article 4 - Cartridges
Moving Coil verses Moving Magnet - Generally speaking, moving coil cartridges will outperform moving magnet cartridges and can significantly do so depending on your setup. However, moving coil cartridges, will likely (but not necessarily) involve more of an investment. Moving coil cartridges will require the use of a step-up transformer as the current they produce is less than that of moving coil cartridges. Cartridges, as well as tonearms, can make huge differences to your sound, including detail, focus, sound-staging, accuracy, the delivery of most or all of the information and even the life of your vinyl.
Step-up Transformers - Step-up transformers are sometimes required to produce a sufficient level of current to your phono preamp. The quality of a step-up transformer is equally important as any other component in your system.
Article 5 - Subwoofers
How many, Set-up and Wiring - For the best effect, run two subwoofers instead of one. You will get more controlled and tighter bass, which is what many of us want. As well, you will get better focus. We recommend setting your sub(s) on isolators such as the Primacoustic recoil stabilizers, which will bring out more detail in your bass - read reviews on Primacoustic recoil isolators here.
When running two JL Audio subwoofers, try wiring from your left output from your preamp into both the left and right inputs of your left subwoofer (see wiring/cabling picture and diagram below showing a single lead from the preamp output with a split to two leads into the subwoofer ). Do the same with the right output from your preamp into both the left and right inputs of your right subwoofer. This will enhance the sound of your bass.
Adjust you settings so that the effect of the subwoofers disappear into your music. They should be an enhancement to your sound and not take over the listening experience (unless of course if you really love loud bass). If frequency adjustments are available, adjust the upper frequency of the subwoofer to match the lower frequency of your speakers so that there is no overlap.
Article 6 - Power Conditioners
Yes, they should be used if your system is at a certain level and beyond. Like interconnects, you should/can match what you purchase to the level of your system. The correct power conditioners work very well. Simply put, they provide cleaner electricity to your system that removes the noises, lowers the noise floor of your system and allows you to hear the detail and clarity. Some work well and some do not. Be careful with your amps. If the power conditioner does not provide sufficient power to your amp(s) they will not sound as good and clipping (which can ruin your speakers) can occur. Their are other solutions that can be used with respect to powering amps so that sufficient power is delivered to them. The power delivered to our houses is noisy and we can even have what we call bad stereo days when A/C units or other noisy appliances are being used in our neighbourhood.