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(Note: I have no financial interest in anything recommended in this blog. All recommendations are solely on the basis of my positive experience of the product).
1. Balanced Mains Unit ( around $1,500 basic 1000 watt unit)
(Last updated: February 2015)
You know what a balanced mains unit is, don’t you? Of course you do. Well I didn’t. What I do know is that it has made more difference in terms of sonic improvement than virtually every other tweak I have experienced put together, all at once. It is totally astonishing. Suddenly the music is alive, engaging, pulling you in, causing your feet to tap involuntarily, total transformation in character and presentation. You laugh out loud at what has just happened when you switch on. It’s like someone just secretly taken away your current system replaced it with the that top of the range system you knew you could never in a million years afford, The Gotterdamerung Nirvana Total World-Domination Apocalypse Ultimate Pro VII MkII.
It’s functional, not a pretty desktop ornament, but it can be discretely stashed away behind the scenes with the other engine-room electrics, so you won’t see it. You will hear it hum softly sometimes when there is a peak of garbage coming down the mains, means its doing its job. But by Jove will you hear the difference! Utterly astonishing. This is a different order of magnitude of change. This redefines the meaning of the word “improvement” – total transformation, more like.
The product comes under the same category as “mains conditioners” but it works in an entirely different way, splitting the voltage across the live and neutral (240v:0v becomes 120v:120) which has the effect of cancelling out any variations in the electrical flow. This hyper-pure electrical flow has an amazing impact on amp and especially pre-amp signal purity. Spatial definition and positioning is solidified on the sound stage, studio room or concert-hall acoustics appear with subtly enhanced realism, the tonal range widens, the bass floor becomes deeper and more velvety rich, whilst the top end will pierce your eyeballs.
All this of course is already encoded in your source medium, vinyl or digital, but more than likely you haven’t been able to hear it – until now. Balanced mains is commonly used in recording studios, established technology, so it is no “parlour trick”. What is new is balanced mains principles applied to “dirty” domestic electricity supply and the home hi-fi.
It is not cheap – the copper in the heavy-duty transformer is enough to keep metal thieves in luxury for months – but the effect is so significant, I reckon this the highest return value for money improvement you can make, aside from that other essential, a record cleaning machine.. Available from many manufacturers but the one shown here is from Russ Andrews. Thoroughly recommended
Top-tip: Power the balanced mains unit directly from the music-room wall socket (which should ideally be a dedicated spur from the domestic circuit fuse box). Connect a typical eight-socket audio-grade distribution block to the balanced mains unit. From there, run every component of the hi-fi from this powerblock, which distributes 120/120v balanced power supply to the whole system. All hi-fi components will run quite happily on balanced mains, including turntables, power supply units, amplifiers, even Ethernet switches and connection points, with the one exception of power purifiers. These should be plugged instead into any available general mains supply wall sockets, to do their work on the whole spur.
2. Replace speaker bridging strip with high grade audio cable and plugs (cost for a five cone floorstanding pair of speakers, around $1500)
Some system weaknesses can be found in unexpected places. The superb Linn 242’s have five speakers in all: two bass, a mid, a tweeter and a super tweeter. Linn supply discrete tin strips to distribute the incoming signal
You will probably be unaware how badly the bridging strips are crippling the performance of your speakers. Five pairs of jumper cables of the same audio quality as the speaker cables were introduced in their place, piggybacked, to deliver a pure signal to each speaker from a dedicated wire. The resulting improvement in speaker performance was astonishing, like a completely new Hi-Fi.
Not a minimalist solution and you will need a good memory for what goes where, or you can cheat by labelling everything, which is what I do.
This is not a cheap upgrade, but it is a lot cheaper than upgrading your speakers. I suspect it is also a part explanation of the improvement of quin-amping, the most mind-blowingly expensive upgrade you can imagine. A separate audio-grade cable to each speaker individually – you have something very similar happening here.
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