A Complete System And Its Flaws

One of the first things to understand with the Systematic Approach is that it is firmly based in the idea that a system is a complete and interactive entity. And that complete entity includes your room, your mains, your music, your tastes, and, well, your brain. We all listen to music in surprisingly different ways, subconsciously, and this has a significant bearing on what we need to consider when managing the upgrading process.

So first of all lets look at some of the technical aspects of our systems. A conventionally set-up system, as a complete entity, will suffer from some seriously debilitating effects of these hi-fi system faults. Some are external or ‘environmental’, others are ‘interactive’ in their nature. Looking closer we see that these effects have clear root causes and that some of these causes are constant, others are variable – and often a by-product of the constantly changing levels of energy that our systems generate (and therefore volume and music program dependent).

The Root Causes

We describe the root causes as follows:

Cause 1 – Radio Frequency Interference (RFI):

  • largely environmental, can be variable, but can also be interactive.
  • RFI can come from many sources and be present over a huge range of frequencies. At lower frequencies things like poorly maintained electric motors can send significant levels of RFI back down power supplies. At high frequencies we have a myriad of digital equipment around us, throwing lots of noise onto the mains – and radiating the stuff too. Mobile phones of course are deliberately radiating significant amounts of RF energy. Finally, don’t forget the hi-fi itself, which will generate a certain amount of noise itself. And that noise is right at the heart of your system (many digital components ‘push’ a substantial amount of RFI back onto the mains, polluting the supplies to other components in the system).

Cause 2 – Acoustic (Vibrational) Energy:

  • Within component structures (circuits and chassis). This can be environmental, interactive and variable. Vibration might get into your components from the ground (up through the supports). It may be internally generated by devices such as transformers and optical disc transports, or just picked up from high sound pressure levels in your listening room.

  • Passed around the system by all the cables. Again this is a combination of factors. Transformers constantly send their vibrations around all the mains leads, vibration from speakers is fed back to the amplifier along the speaker leads. And, similar to ground-borne vibration being fed into your system through a stand, it can also be fed into your mains loom through the sockets in your wall.
  • Note that when we say acoustic or vibrational energy we don’t just mean the obvious low frequency thump of a bass drum, or foot fall. No, we mean vibration at frequencies all the way through the audio range and right through the ultrasonic spectrum too.

The Effects Of System Faults

There are some other concepts to bring in here at this point, to aid understanding (we never said it would be easy!) – and these are the effects. Or in other words, what is it that the root causes actually do to damage performance.

Effect 1 – RFI Induced Distortion:

  • Unwanted RFI in analogue circuits raises the noise floor, losing fine detail and phase information (blurring the image), and it ‘inter-modulates’ with mid and upper frequencies causing a noticeable harshness and edge. In digital circuits, RFI raises digital distortion and effectively reduces the fidelity of the reproduced recording, making it sound significantly flatter and compressed.

Effect 2 – Microphony:

  • Unwanted acoustic vibration causes extensive damage to sound reproduction because almost all electronic components are to some degree ‘microphonic’ – that is, if they are vibrated, they will turn some of that vibration into a small unwanted electrical signal, which is literally added to the actual signal we want to process. They all act like mini microphones! Just vibrating a few of these components, or allowing this issue to effect the whole system, produces increasing amounts of damage, ranging from subtle loss of precision and detail, right up to gross blurring and distortion. The damage varies massively with level too, so usable headroom is curtailed and important timing cues from percussion peaks are lost.

If you have not heard about these causes and effects before, or seen these sort of descriptions, they can all seem rather complex, and perhaps not really plausible – after all surely, over the past 6 or 7 decades of hi-fi design, these things would have been fully explained and tackled. But, up until recently, they have been almost totally ignored. What we have done at Vertex is carefully identify and understand all these effects and designed techniques to counter the causes. And there’s a very good reason why we have done this – when the causes described above are significantly reduced, the improvement in audio reproduction is truly massive.