The Basics of Hi-Fi: Optimising Your New System

Article by Venoth Nair

Bookshelf or free standing compact speaker should be stand mounted for optimum performance

In this third and final instalment to the basics of hi-fi, we are going to look at what you should do after the purchase of your system to maximise its performance and ensure that it runs at its best. Naturally you would want your priceless investment to continue to deliver well into, let’s say, your subsequent upgrade perhaps? Focusing on the three basic components in your set-up, the source, amplifier and speakers, we shall address each component and discuss what needs to be done to keep them singing at their proudest.


Let’s begin with the brains of the outfit, the source component. Source components can be broken down into two kinds of designs, a solid state device such as media streamers and FM tuners or rotating devices such as CD players and turntables.  Solid state devices are pretty easy to manage and can be set up effortlessly. These devices are less fussy about placement except when considering its connections to feed it the raw data it requires, which can be a LAN cable for media streamers and an antennae cable for a tuner.


Rotating devices however do require special care during set-up. This is because the device is sensitive to vibration which could disrupt playback. It is important to place these devices on a solid surface that is stable to help minimise this. Also keep in mind that the device should be easily accessible so that switching out media can be done comfortably. In some more premium audio set-ups an isolation platform is employed to further safeguard the device from vibrations.


Looks good together but care should be taken to avoid stacking components

In many magazines and advertisements, we find the source component stacked over the amplifier and though the two may look great stacked up together, the reality is that this is the absolute worst thing that you could do to your precious amplifier. This is because amplifiers in general produce a lot of heat during operation and the unit needs to be given room to breathe. Most amplifiers are designed with large vents and heat sink which need to be exposed to allow air to flow around and help it to dissipate all that heat generated. You wouldn’t want your amp to shut itself down midway through a hot toe tapping track due to overheating now right?


The final component is the speakers and these require the most care during set up. This is because the performance of the speaker can be adversely affected by its surroundings and how it is positioned.  Different speaker designs require different kinds of placement to perform at their best. For example, a rear ported design speaker would require more “breathing” room behind to allow the port function at its best. It’s also good to note that most speakers have a sweet spot which can be obtained by positioning the speakers with a slight toe in (or not) creating an angle that would allow both speakers line to intersect.  This intersection point should generally line up with your seating location because obviously you’re not going to be listening to all that music standing up now would you? Its best to read through the included manuals as these days the manufacturer will provide the necessary data on how to best position the speaker to achieve optimal performance.


Speakers, just like the rotating source components, should also be stable when they’re in position. To do this some speakers come with adjustable feet or spikes that allow you to compensate for an uneven floor. Speakers produce sound through vibration and if the cabinet is not stable and vibrates when music is played, the sound quality would be adversely affected. In some cases loss of bass depth and overall bass quality can be attributed to vibration either directly or indirectly. In the case of bookshelf speakers, solid stands are a must, where some audiophiles even go the extra mile by filling the hollow sections with sand to further increase its stability.


If you haven’t already noticed, when it comes to hi-fi, the number one enemy is vibration. Anything from vibrating furniture to even ceiling panels could change the way a system sounds and in some severe cases, ruin it. So it’s good practice to find yourself a bass heavy tune and walk around your listening space and look for any vibrating items or furniture and try to secure them. This step is something you should do to keep a degree of sterility to your listening space.


These are the basics in getting the best of a hi-fi system and I encourage you to read up and explore other methods, technologies and practises to make the experience even better. It is hoped, through this simple guideline, that your system will run at its best and keep you grinning for a good blissful number of years.


Article by Venoth Nair

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