Still Tweaking After All These Years

April 6, 2011
A recent drawing of the author tweaking his preamp

Here’s another barely credible tale from my tweaking files. After getting back from my listening session with the Magico/Jeff Rowland/Wadia system yesterday, I decided to try and resolve an issue that’s been bugging me in my own far more humble system.

As I mentioned here, I’m regularly fiddling with my system but I’d hit a bit of a brick wall with something related to my new StereoKnight transformer volume control. There’s no doubt that this is the best preamp I’ve had in my system and that it does everything better than the Yamaha A-S2000 integrated that I’d been using for ages with the Sachem monoblock power amps. Better that is expect for one thing – the placement of vocals on the soundstage.

Any vocals were obviously coming from both speakers, there was no clearly defined central vocal image but instruments were properly placed and easily discernible. This really didn’t compute and it was driving me mad. I thought that I’d made a chunk of progress with this by changing speaker cables, and the move to longer runs of Monster cable definitely helped but I was only 50% of the way there and that’s where I was stuck.

In the process of trying to sort this out, I’d experimented with five different speaker cables, long and short runs, biwire and single wire. I’ve used at least four sets of interconnects, tried two lengths of the same interconnects in various locations and mixed and matched every cable I had.

I’ve changed the isolation feet under the preamp from the stock feet (with and without spikes) to Finite Elemente Ceraballs, Black Diamond Racing cones, Audio Technica Sorbathane feet and even popped in blobs of Blu-Tack.

A recent drawing of the author tweaking his preamp

I’ve messed around with the speaker positions, slotted in a few CD players and different phono stages and basically moved stuff around like an angry Tasmanian Devil on acid until my brains boggled and my blood boiled.

Then last night, in a fit of desperation, I removed the spikes under my Theophany M5 speakers and plonked these big floorstanders onto a pair of 2 inch thick laminated wood boards that I had lying around. I then moved the speakers a little into the room (in a position that I’d already tried mind you) and hey bleeding presto! Sorted like a sorted thing at the sorting convention.

I can’t even begin to explain how having the speakers on spikes didn’t gel with this specific preamplifier or how it only affected the vocals. If I popped another preamp into the system, the problem didn’t exist but until I lost the spikes and placed the speakers on boards, I thought that I might be doomed to start searching for a new preamp (shoot me now).

This is probably further evidence of the conspiracy to have me locked up in the white room because anyone reading this is likely to assume that I’m an audiophile who’s fallen way, way off the deep end. Could well be but I’m listening to The Watson Twin’s Fire Songs as I write this and my system is sounding as good as it ever has and I’m happy as Larry. If that counts as grounds to be put away for the protection of society, well then so be it.

(The moral of the story is never assume that you’ve exhausted all the possibilities of system tuning and tweaking – there’s always something else to fiddle with)


  1. Spikes can do weird things. I tried the tweak of putting square head screws into floor through the carpet, just below the pile for the spikes to rest in. The idea being great stability of the speaker with minimum contact with the floor. Seemed like a good idea. The stability was there for sure, but the sound sucked! It caused a ringing in the midrange and mid-bass that was just awful. Removed the screws, spikes back through the carpet and into the floor, all good!

  2. The variations are infinite and oft baffling. I keep my system modest because I’m working with a difficult room, a turd that can’t be polished. None the less, when I changed from standmounts (Royd A7X) to floorstanders (Tannoy Mercury MX3) without any extra financial outlay, there didn’t seem to be any harm in having a play; the Tannoys are spiked, and the floor is carpeted, so installation posed no problems. Initially, they sounded okay and provided some of the improvement I’d hoped for. However, they have a chamber at their base for mass loading, so into each one went 12 kilos of builder’s sand. Then I positioned them on grey concrete paving slabs from the local building supplier (I got away with this because the speakers have grey grille cloth) using Blu-Tac as an anchor and sat the slabs on big screws driven into the wooden floor through the carpet. It produced a pretty substantial improvement – much tighter bass and a different soundstage at normal listening volumes. All good fun.

  3. Agreed. Also the construction of the floor has a huge effect on SQ, I’m lucky to have had concrete floors in 2 of the 3 homes I’ve owned – vastly superior to the chipboard used in the first house out south.
    Ash why don’t you spike yourself to the floor, it’d be the ultimate test of mass-coupling…

  4. Using slabs of heavy granite can produce wonderful improvements under speakers on old T+G floors. Kitchen companies that sell granite benchtops can provide these as off cuts at reasonable prices and the the colours selections can be stunning….cheers Paul

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