50+ low cost ways to seriously improve the sound of any stereo or listening room, developed and confirmed by decades of meticulous, empirical listening tests.
Never use entire tracks or discs to compare equipment or room changes. Pick two or three one minute selections—longer will overload your audio memory, increase listeing stress and lead to inconsistent, faulty judgments.
Make sure your selections encompass the instrument timbres and dynamics that mean the most to you.
Always listen to exactly the same selections in the same order, before and after each tweak or change. After 25 or so of these tests, you’ll be surprised at how precisely you resolve small sound differences.
For LPs, you must de-static before every repeat listen. The diamond stylus rubbing the vinyl groove walls generates instant static; thus, every repeat of a track creates new static and new harshness. See our Static Draining Brush for more info.
Almost everybody sits way too far from their speakers, that is, 8' to 10' or more. Try a low chair (or floor pillow) 5' away. You’ll hear a phenomenal increase in clarity, bass impact, and soundstage—roughly like spending 100% more on your speakers. Sitting close (aka near-field listening) tremendously reduces all room acoustic problems and the need for expensive room treatments.
Nearly everybody sits too high. The "tweeters at ear level" rule sounds logical but almost always fails when tested. Every speaker has a different optimum listening height; if you’re off the optimum ear height, you’re not getting your money’s worth. Test by sitting on one, then two, then three phone books on the floor at your normal listening spot. At the optimum height, you’ll hear an amazing new warmth and fullness in baritone voice, trombones, tenor sax, plucked bass—and a far more natural treble balance.
If your listening room has a concrete or stone or tile or modern plywood floor (with or without carpet), then your speakers are suffering from a huge floor-caused sonic degradation that urgently needs to be addressed before you start dealing with true room-caused acoustic problems. Click here to understand and cure the floor problem. Many audiophiles waste years of time and thousands of dollars chasing mis-diagnosed “room problems” that are actually caused by their floor—simply because today’s conventional acoustic theory is so inadequate it doesn’t even recognize or deal with the floor’s dominant effect on the sound of a room.
For much improved bass and huge soundstage, put your listening chair or sofa right against the wall behind you--preferably the longest wall of the room. Position your speakers 5' from your ear and 7' or more apart.
Cures most of the acoustic problems of both tiny rooms and cavernous rooms. No room treatments will yield this much bass improvement. Note: since this puts the speakers more or less out in the middle of the room, it works for dedicated listening rooms but may be a problem in living rooms or other multi-purpose rooms.
For speaker placement, DO NOT use the rule of thirds or the equilateral triangle rule; they don’t work. To set speaker distance from the wall behind, start with the cabinet rear 18” away. Listen, move them 6” forward, repeat. As you move forward, imaging will improve but bass boost will decrease. Pick the distance that gives you the best balance.
For speaker spacing, start with the speakers 1/3 further apart than your ear-to-speaker distance (which should be 5’, as above). Increase spacing 6” at a time until the center image collapses, then subtract 6”.
Brass mounting screws make any cartridge sound better. Ditto for removing the heat shrink on cartridge clips and treating the clips with SilClear.
To get first rate sound and to get your money’s worth from any expensive cartridge, you MUST meticlously adjust VTA or tracking force every 3-4 months—that’s because stylus suspensions always sag with use. This lowers VTA and seriously kills dynamics and treble sparkle. Lots of people misinterpret this as a worn-out cartridge, an expensive error. Instead, raise VTA or lighten tracking force until your test record’s treble sounds too harsh, then drop VTA or lighten tracking force a hair. Your test record must not be thicker or thinner than the bulk of your record collection. Adjusting tracking force yields slightly better sonic results and longer cartridge life than adjusting VTA—and adjusting tracking force on most arms is WAY easier than adjusting VTA. For detailed, step-by-step instructions on the Mapleshade-developed tracking force approach to sag-compensation, click here.
TT sound is surprisingly degraded by the rubber, plastic or composite rubber metal footers provided by the majority of turntable manufacturers. Replacing them with small wod blocks, preferably maple, is always an upgrade. The largest single TT upgrade I know comes from draining the TT’s internally-created vibrations via super-rigid, massive brass footers down into a thick maple receiving platform. The improvement in dynamics, tight bass, midrange harmonic detail and treble airiness is HUGE—even for light, low energy storage TTs like the Linn. Unsuspended TTs—anything from a little Rega to the most massive VPI and Clearaudio models—improve even more.
Adding brass weights on points to turntable plinths, armboards, and motor housings can add 50% to the good effect of footers. Move weights and listen to find the sweet spots. Remember, adding too much kills all the gains.
For turntables with a suspension, bypassing the springs is always a transforming improvement, particularly in the bass. This is most easily done by placing the TT plinth (i.e., the part resting on the springs) directly on brass footers tall enough to lift the old spring feet clear of the shelf or platform below—assuming space permits on the underside of the plinth. Later on, you can remove the springs completely to get rid of their resonance.
If your turntable has a free-standing motor, upgrading the motor’s feet is just as important as the upgrading the main TT’s mounting. Rubber feet are the worst possible mounting. IsoBlocks, in our experiments, are the best, better than brass footers. You can adjust the motor height by adding or removing IsoBlock laminations. For vibration control support of motor and TT, a single long custom maple platform, preferably 4”, is both practical and yields superb sound. However, to achieve the ultimate in resolution, use separate large platforms for motor and TT.
On any turntable where belt tension is adjustable, replacing the rubber belt with the thinnest possible dental floss—or, even better, silk thread—is a HUGE upgrade (provided the motor pulley is not so polished that the silk slips). Use a square knot to make the thread belt. To achieve best-sounding belt tension (whether rubber or thread), always loosen belt tension until your stroboscope disc just begins to show speed slippage, then tighten a smidge. This makes a big difference.
Wrapping the tonearm with glass fiber, glass fiber reinforced tape (or an arm-wrapping kit) is a nice sonic improvement for most arms. Wrap super-tight.
Correct grounding yields major sonic gains. Test by ear grounding the arm directly to the preamp, then separately grounding to the preamp any metal plate that’s part of the TT. Use the thinnest possible bare solid core copper wire. Listen to each ground wire in both directions; they’re always directional.
Platter mats make a night and day difference in the sound of a turntable. Felt, rubber, foam or composite soft and highly damped platter mats always yield mushy bass and poor transient dynamics. For an immediate improvement, try each of the following: no mat, thin hard paper, hard manila folder cardboard, thin hard cork. To make meaningful listening comparisons, you MUST reset VTA for each mat. The choice of platter mat interacts strongly with the kind of record clamp or weight you are using; click here to learn about the ideas underlying the very best platter mat and record weight combination we’ve tested.
Remove your speaker’s cloth or foam grill. If you have a plastic phase ring (i.e. a small doughnut-shaped shield mounted with 3 or 4 thin "legs") in front of the tweeter dome, snip it off and you’ll get as much as a 100% improvement in treble clarity, dynamics and extension. We understand this requires courage because it is irreversible; hundreds of our customers have performed this Mapleshade "circumcision" with complete success.
Almost everyone mounts small speakers on stands that are way too high (24" and up)—and usually too resonant and flimsy. Our tests clearly show that the higher you mount a small speaker, the thinner it sounds. Want to hear how much bass and warmth your speakers are losing? Try ’em on the floor, tilted back far enough to point at your ear using a wood or metal block under the front. If your floor is carpeted, lay down a heavy plank or cutting board first. Click here for even better sounding solutions and a deeper understanding of the problems caused by stands that are too high.
Just as with subwoofers -- if your speakers or stands are spiked to concrete, stone, tile or modern plywood floors, your system is degraded way below its potential. They muddy the bass, smear the midrange, and add harshness to the treble. Many, if not most, perceived room problems are caused by bad-sounding floors. Instead of spending thousands on room treatments that address the wrong problem, here is a direct, evidence-based cure: drain the speakers vibrational energy, not into the problem floor, but into heavy Maple Plinths rigidly mounted above the floor via our brass footers.
Improving the internal wiring of speakers makes as much difference as improving your amp-to-speaker cables. Replace all internal factory wiring with 18 gauge solid core copper, preferably un-insulated wherever possible. For the ultimate in internal speaker wire quality, call (410) 867-7543.
For speakers with one enclosure on top of another, replace the manufacturer's soft between-cabinet couplers with hard wood buttons or, for twice the effect, brass footers (e.g. Low Heavyfeet). A huge improvement for WATT/Puppies or Von Schweikerts.
Replace your steel speaker driver mounting screws with brass ones for cleaner vibration tranfer. The tension of the screws has a surprisingly significant effect on the sound of all speakers. Do NOT tighten hard; this overdamps the sound of the speaker.
Contrary to manufacturer hype, subwoofer placement for exact time alignment is crucial. To get clean bass attacks, subwoofers must be precisely within +/- 1" of the same distance from your ear as the midrange driver. Do not use the subwoofer’s phase control; set it to 0. The subwoofer does not have to be centered between the speakers for best sound. On the other hand, corner placement is the worst; it always leads to boom. For perfectionists, do a final fine-tuning of the sub’s time alignment: use one minute of a well-recorded plucked bass solo as a test track and move the sub +/- 2” in ½” increments to see where the bass attack sounds the crispest.
For achieving seamless integration of the subwoofer sound in both two channel and surround systems, always use the speaker cable input on the sub, never the RCA line level input. That means adding a pair of speaker cables, one end connected to the same amp (or receiver) output posts that are driving the left and right mains and the other end connected to the left and right speaker-level inputs on the sub. The quality of the cables to the sub affects the sound of the main speaker cables, so don’t use bad-sounding zipcord or high end “garden hoses.” Make sure you leave the two main speakers connected directly to the main amp outputs, not to the subwoofer’s output binding posts. If you’re using a processor, set it to “Large Speaker” for the mains (or for all speakers) and turn off the LFE channel.
Always fire the subwoofer driver left or right, not directly at you or down into the floor. If the subwoofer is off center, then test left-facing versus right-facing to see which sounds better. If your subwoofer is designed to fire down, set it on its side with the driver facing left or right. Be sure to rigidly mount it to the floor or platform. You’ll love the increase in bass articulation and clarity.
By ear, set the crossover at the lowest possible frequency that doesn’t leave a bass “hole in the middle”. To do this, use as a test track one minute of a well-recorded bass solo that covers almost the entire range of the bass. Start with the crossover much too low so that there’s an obvious bass weakness somewhere in the middle or lower octaves of the solo. Nudge the crossover up 5 herz at a time until the bass weakness just barely disappears. Setting the crossover slightly too low sounds far better than setting it too high
Any subwoofer mounted on factory rubber or plastic feet, or placed on carpet without spikes, will have. If there is no provision for spikes and you have an uncarpeted floor, to get better punch and definition, glue three wood buttons (the kind used to cover screw holes in cabinets) to the bottom of your sub. With a spikeless sub on a carpeted floor, it is essential to add DIY spikes that penetrate the carpet and lock the sub to the floor or, to reach your sub’s full potential, install our massive Heavyfeet For Carpet.
Concrete, stone, tile or modern plywood floors have a disastrous effect on all subwoofers. They truncate and muddy deep bass extension and add harshness. These flooring materials reflect back into the speaker almost all of their received vibrations, out of phase and distorted. Modern engineered wood floors are nearly as toxic to good speaker sound, particularly floating floors that rest on rubbery insulating sheets. Carpet over concrete or plywood just worsens the situation. Many, if not most, perceived room problems are caused by bad-sounding floors. Instead of spending thousands on room treatments that address the wrong problem, here is a direct, evidence-based cure: drain the speakers vibrational energy, not into the problem floor, but into heavy Maple Plinths rigidly mounted above the floor via our brass footers.
Most laptops have better audio and video quality with their charger unplugged, powered by their battery.
When listening to streaming music online, the choice of browser affects the sound quality.
Firewire sounds better than USB 2. USB is a relatively poor sounding format for transmitting music. Wherever possible, avoid using Firewire or USB to power the connected component; power currents running parallel to digital signal conductors inside the cable always hurt the sound and picture quality.
AC power cord quality has a major effect on computer, laptop or server sound and visuals. At a minimum, use the skinniest possible IEC cord and strip the outer insulating jacket off the cord.
Do listening comparisons between hard drive and disc burner models and brands: the audio and video differences among them can be sizable. In any hard drive model series of increasing memory capacity, the smallest hard drive of the series (i.e. single disc) always sounds best in our comparisons.
For downloading or ripping from an external CD/DVD player, the quality of the digital interconnect makes a huge difference, as does the quality of the player. Among generic coax interconnects, the skinniest ones sound best.
Before ripping CDs and DVDs into computer files, use Mikrosmooth. Ditto for treating the media discs before burning copies.
To seriously upgrade computer speakers, replace rubber/plastic feet with glued-on wood buttons (the kind used to cover cabinet screw holes). If you have a separate computer subwoofer, make sure the sub is the same distance from your ear as the speakers, to the nearest inch.
For a radical upgrade, remove the plastic or metal outer cases (requires violence on plastic cases) on external drives, burners and DACs, then glue wood buttons (or our 1" brass footers) straight to the inner chassis. Caution: proceed at your own risk because nude drives, burners and DACs are easily damaged.
Never bundle any of your system’s wires: bundling looks neat and sounds nasty
Lift all speaker, power, and interconnect wires 8" off any carpet or plastic tile. Use string, wood, cardboard, or 20 ounce Styrofoam cups for temporary props. You’ll think you’ve pulled horse blankets off your speakers. For a more civilized-looking solution, click here.
For generic speaker wire, AC cords, and wall wart umbilicals, always split their two-conductor wires and separate by at least 6" for a satisfying upgrade. Don't forget to keep all your system wire—IC, speaker and power--off artificial fiber rugs and de-static them regularly.
NEVER use speaker cables shorter than 8'. Amazingly, 4' sounds much worse than 8'. Contrary to common belief, shorter interconnects (2 m or less) and longer speaker cables always sound WAY BETTER than the opposite—based on extensive head-to-head tests.
Bi-wiring helps quite a bit, but only for cables with quite limited bass and treble. The better the cable, the less the benefit. By the time you get to the performance level of our Double Helix speaker cables, the benefit in bi-wiring is negligible with most crossovers.
To audibly improve any cheap interconnect, use a razor to carefully peel the thin plastic insulation off the braided metal you'll find underneath. Split 2-channel interconnects and separate the two by several inches. Cut heat shrink and plastic strain reliefs off the back of RCA plugs and remove their metal barrels (if possible). Among generic wires, choose the skinniest for best sound.
To improve high end cables, remove any outer nylon mesh: the bad dielectric only adds grunge. Remove any metal barrels on RCA plugs—you lose the locking feature and gain transparency.
Any cable with a molded-in ferrite (the small plastic-covered cylinder at one or both ends) sounds way better with the ferrite removed. Just carve away the plastic covering, then crack the exposed ceramic-like ferrite with a hammer. Don’t worry; you won’t harm the wire.
Almost all tube gear sounds better with the cage or cover removed. If you must use a cage, be aware that light mounting screw tension improves sound (don't overtighten).
Cleaning oxidized tube pins (with OOOO steel wool, ink eraser or Flitz), as well as other connectors, always improves sound. Then applying SilClear quadruples the sonic gain.
Tube gear vibrates a lot, particularly transformers AND tubes. Draining this internally-generated vibration yields surprisingly deeper, tighter bass, much more warmth and new levels of midrange/treble detail .
Get rid of all rubber, plastic or spring feet; they trap vibration inside the component. Small wood buttons or blocks sound significantly better as feet. Best by a large margin are massive brass footers, preferably with sharp point contact top and bottom.
Placing a really heavy wood platform — most preferably air dried maple and 2" to 4" thick — under the footers doubles their effect. On uncarpeted surfaces, mount the platform on IsoBlocks; on carpets use Heavyfeet For Carpet.
Weights placed on top of transformers and near tube sockets can add a lot to the already large improvements due to footers. The best sounding weights, by a sizable margin, are made of brass and sit on points, Apply weight in small increments; too much kills dynamics.
Lightly clamping a bare metal hose clamp around a tube improves sound more than any soft ring damper. Even better, clamping with a massive full height brass collar yields significantly more sonic effect than the most expensive tube-rolling.
Tube gear is very sensitive to AC cord quality. Fat AC cords exacerbate "tubey" (i.e., slow) bass. For home brew, two (or three, when using a ground) separated strands of 18 gage solid core sound very good indeed compared to most "hi end" AC cable.
Never bundle speaker cables, interconnects, or AC power cables. Bundling creates serious grunge. If you must run wires parallel for more than a foot, separate them by 6" or more. Wires that cross at 45° or more can touch without any sonic degradation.
You can’t believe the extra harshness, muddy bass, and grunge you hear due to home appliances feeding nasty high frequency hash into your house AC lines and then straight into your amp, preamp, CD player, etc. No power conditioner, no line filter, and no dedicated AC line stops this hash from “poisoning” your system. To really sweeten your sound, try turning off every fluorescent and halogen light in the house, as well as air conditioning, oil burner, electric stove, dimmer, and CD boombox. Unplug every surge protector, cell phone charger, digital TV, computer, and U.P.S. (because even when you turn them off, their “sleep” mode puts out almost as much hash as their on mode).
Power cord quality has a major effect on PC, DVD, and server sound and visuals; it has a huge effect on flat screen displays. At a minimum, strip any outer insulating jacket off the AC cord and separate the wires inside by at least 6”.
If you use power strips, use only ones with no surge or overload protection, no on-off switch, and no neon/LED lights. Each of these features audibly degrades sound.
Most stereos have too many grounds—every 3-prong plug is a ground. Less grounds improve hum AND sonics. Either one ground per system (at the preamp or amp) or none is best. Remove one ground at a time and listen. Use a hardware store cheater plug; attach a 6" wire to the ground lug. Lock the wire’s other end to the hole in the middle of a Radio Shack banana plug [#274-721, plastic shell removed]. Plug each component's AC cord into its outlet via the 2-prong cheater. Plug the banana into the same outlet’s round ground hole. Listen with the banana in, then out. If out is better, eliminate this ground by clipping the cord's ground pin or by leaving the cheater in place (cheaters always hurt sound a little).
Nearly 50% of components have the wrong AC polarity. Use an unpolarized cheater plug (unpolarize the plug by snipping or filing the wider prong) to turn each component's AC plug in its outlet. Listen both ways. One way will sound noticeably more transparent than the other.
For any separate power supply: listen, then physically turn the box 90°, turn another 90°, etc. One of the four positions will sound way better (due to the transformer's non-uniform magnetic leakage field). In addition, the separate power supply is even more vibration-sensitive than the component it supplies.
Speakers on stands or shelves MUST use feet, but never soft ones: eliminate rubber/plastic feet, Blu-Tac, Sorbothane, etc. For firmer bass plus clearer mids and treble, try speakers and stands on three hardware store wood plugs or buttons. See our brass footers to get two to three times the effect.
Ditto for all CD players, amps, power supplies, etc. Nothing sounds worse than factory rubber feet. If the wood buttons aren’t high enough, try three small wood blocks (¾” or so), to raise components off their rubber/plastic feet. You’ll hear an instant bass-to-treble upgrade. Of course, stacking components is the worst of all worlds: you’re failing to drain vibrations and forcing the components to share vibes.
Never mount components directly on glass, marble, granite, tile, metal, plastic or concrete shelves (or floors). All these materials add harsh treble resonances and kill bass. Any solid wood shelf (not MDF or plywood) replacement sounds way better—the thicker the better, but do NOT glue two pieces together to increase thickness. If you need to keep your original poor-sounding shelves, cure their bad sound with a thick wood platform mounted on our IsoBlocks. To understand the underlying physics and experiments--and the resulting optimum vibration mounting system, click here
Adding weights on top of components is much more effective after you've replaced rubber or plastic (or no) feet with wood buttons.
The right way to add weight is one (or 1/2) pound at a time. Listen, then add one weight ore. Eventually, one more will deaden everything. Remove the last weight, then move the weights around to find the sweet spots.
Too much weight, wrong placement, or wrong materials seriously degrade potential improvements. Don't use lead, sand, concrete, brick, stone, corian or damped laminates. Of course, brass is still best; next iron, then wood.
Removing the metal covers of electronics enclosures leads to large, sometimes HUGE, sonic improvements in 98% of components: amps (a must-hear for big solid state amps), preamps, CD players, power supplies, processors, etc. The dramatic improvement is due to a) elimination of cover resonances and b) even more important, elimination of major eddy current losses generated in the cover by the big leakage fields of the component’s power transformer. Once the metal cover is off, improve the sound further with weights on top of transformers and/or on top of any wood cover you may use to replace the metal cover (wood covers cause essentially no degradation).
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