A Conventional System View

System upgrades should always be taken with a balanced approach in mind, and with an awareness that its almost always the significant faults in a system that are the overriding factor with performance, and not the quality of your ‘best’ component. In other words, find the systematic faults and treat them before spending more money upgrading what might already be pretty good electronics. To do this we need to rethink the system – we need to describe our hi-fi system as a set of linked structures with definable acoustic parameters.

So let’s use a simple system setup in a normal domestic environment as our example. The diagram below represents how we think of the system conventionally (click diagram to enlarge).

Vertex AQ Systematic Approach – Rethink the System
system conventional view – click to enlarge

And when we look at the diagram of the electronics on the rack, with the cables going in and out of the back, how many of us remember how we just drop the electronics boxes onto the shelves, connect up in a rush, and fire the system up. We sit back and listen, and in our minds, the performance is all about the electronics inside the boxes and all that peripheral stuff is not really relevant – how can it be?

A Systems’ Materials View

But we must now consider a very different view, one based around the acoustic behavior of the complete system, as an entity of linked structures. Most critically, it is then the acoustic behaviors of these structural elements that we have to look at in detail. Examine the diagram below carefully.

Vertex AQ Systematic Approach – Rethink the System
system materials view – click to enlarge

So to rethink the system we have to apply the following principles:

Different types of solid materials conduct sound waves at vastly different speeds and efficiencies. Compared to the speed of sound in air, soft materials such as rubber conduct sound very slowly, about 1/4 the speed of sound in air. Very hard materials such as steel and granite conduct sound extremely quickly, about 16 to 18 times the speed of sound in air. Materials such as copper and silver (the metals used for conductors), which you could say are moderately hard, conduct sound at about 10 to 12 times the speed of sound in air. Commensurate with their speed, these materials ‘lossy’ characteristics follow a similar pattern – but note that whilst soft rubbers are very lossy, even moderately hard materials are only fractionally lossy compared to air, and very hard materials lose hardly anything in comparison to air. So for instance, a steel bar will conduct a moderate level of acoustic energy at very high velocities and over a very long way indeed, but copper or silver does not lose out much to steel.