One of the very important aspects about all of us, as hi-fi enthusiasts, is our attitude to change and experimentation. Some people have a system that has been set-up, and then not touched in any way for years, whilst others buy and sell components on ebay with the weekly washing. Two unusual extremes of course, but in our view both of these scenarios, and most points in between for that matter, are far from beneficial for the enjoyment of music.

Vertex customers will be familiar with our Systematic Approach philosophy, whereby the whole hi-fi, the room, the mains and so on are all considered as important elements for the resulting performance. This philosophy considers the capabilities of our electronics and speakers, but also goes into, for example, great detail about the issues of RFI and vibration travelling around the whole system, and how if left untreated, these things can really hold back performance. And when customer’s talk to a Vertex dealer, try some Vertex components out for themselves perhaps, the result is significant change (usually for the better!). But there is another hugely valuable dimension we can add to this process – the development of your own instinctive understanding of systematic issues.

Okay, so what sort of change and experimentation are we talking about here? Well, simple stuff first of all, that won’t cost you money either. This is about time and thinking. Here are a few ideas, and when you get the hang of it, you’ll invent more for yourself.

1. Move your system and listening room around. This really is worth a bit of domestic upheaval for a while – in the pursuit of knowledge. Perhaps keep your listening position unchanged at first, then move the speakers out a fair bit say, and listen for a day or two. Vary the distance apart too. You must allow your listening perception to adjust. The bass will probably be lighter for instance, if you bring the speakers further out into the room, but what are the overall changes like. Remember these changes accurately, or even write them down (this is the ‘scientific’ bit). Then move your listening position and get used to compensation and change, the pros and cons of all of this movement with the speakers and listening position. Then move the electronics if you can. Take them away from the wall, redress the cables better and so on. This may not be how you are going to leave the system for ever – but we are gathering knowledge here (but we’d say the odds are pretty even, by the way, that after doing this your system won’t end up in the same position it started in).

2. Clean some mains plugs. If you have ordinary non-plated mains plugs on the end of your mains leads (particularly standard UK 13A plugs), pull them out and scrub them until they gleam with one of those green plastic scouring pads. What you are doing here is lowering the impedance around the mains loom, improving current flow and lowering RFI*. If you want to add an extra bit of interest with this experiment, just clean the Earth pins first, listen, then clean the live and neutral pins later (the Earth pins are often quite important at dumping away noise from our system, back to Earth – just cleaning these often brings worthwhile improvements to sound quality). Again give yourself time to listen to the effects, making notes if necessary.

Edit 26 Dec 2013. With item 2 above, this applies to non-plated brass pins of standard types of mains plugs. It is only on un-plated pins that you should try using the green scourers. For any plug that is plated, do not use a scourer or anything abrasive – you may damage the plating. The plating has been put there of course to prevent the buildup of the tarnish, and hence the problem of un-plated plugs. But for any plated pin you certainly get the best from that plated surface by using a good liquid contact cleaner – we find Caig Deoxit, even on the best quality plaiting, gives an audible improvement.

3. Try some DIY couplers. If your electronics are stood on their own feet, go out into your garden and find some nice, appropriately sized and shaped hard stones. Start with one bit of electronics at a time, and without disturbing cables etc. and keeping everything stable, put 3 stones under a component, raising it off its own feet. By doing this you will be changing the vibrational behaviour of the box, and the hardware inside it. Listen for a while and make notes again. Try under different boxes one at a time, and then do multiple boxes at the same time. Go right through the permutations in your system and carefully note the sound quality changes.

Okay, once you have done a fair amount of all of this, sit back and analyse the sound quality changes you have heard. How has cleaning the plug pins brought more drive to the sound perhaps, and also revealed more information. Maybe the DIY couplers have added spaciousness and 3-dimensionality, particularly under one component. And perhaps moving the speaker positions initially didn’t bring overall benefits, but later on, when the plugs were cleaned and the ‘stones’ were in place, the changes were far better balanced when the system was positioned differently. It is very important to always revisit the layout issue by the way, whenever you make any change in a system.

Vertex customers have usually done some of this sort of work already. But if you have purchased 1 or 2 bits of Vertex, have you been through all of these permutations and truly optimised everything? If you have not tried any Vertex products yet, have a go at these experiments first – hopefully they will give you much more of a feeling about the effects that environmental conditions can have on your system. Then of course, remember that our products are specifically targeted at these sort of issues – that is what they are designed for. Trying a few bits of Vertex with this new knowledge and experience firmly in place, really does start to bring substantial performance improvements in your system.

* If you have points of high impedance (ac resistance) around any circuit, such as across a dirty connection, then high-frequency noise gets left on one side or the other of that point, depending on where its coming from. Clean the contact, the impedance is reduced, and the noise passes through more effectively, and finds an easy route back to ground.

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