How To Boost Your Hi-Fi Setup
Creating a perfect Hi-Fi system is the holy grail for all kinds of music fans. Combining an amplifier, audio cables and speakers with CD and record players, a Hi-Fi setup allows you to listen to your music collection in the way it was intended.
Part of the appeal of the audiophile hobby is tweaking your Hi-Fi setup with upgrades and optimisations to get an even better sound. This might seem like a daunting task at first, but with this list of Hi-Fi boosting tips, you’ll be an audio engineer in no time! From brand new components to shifting your speakers an inch to the right, we’ll give you the knowledge you need to take your Hi-Fi setup from flat to forte - or from boring to booming, for all you nonmusicians - with little to no effort required. Let’s get started!
Eliminate vibrations through isolation
It’s well known that vibrations are the bane of any record player. At best, they can introduce hum and static into your record playback. At worst, they can cause the needle to jump and skip across the surface of your vinyl, ruining any chance you had of enjoying the track. What you might not know, however, is that even CD players and other digital audio components can be negatively affected by vibrations. Suffice to say, no sound system will be feeling the good vibrations if they’re too intense!
So what’s the solution? Proper sound isolation! If you want to minimise vibrations, fitting your Hi-Fi setup onto a Hi-Fi stand with multiple tiers is the best option. Put your record player on top for easy access and then stack your other components on separate shelves. If you don’t have the space for a new piece of furniture, resting your equipment on specially made vibration isolation feet or pads is an easy and cost-effective way of keeping vibrations in check.
If you use bookshelf speakers, you’ll want to isolate them as well. You can do this with feet and pads as mentioned above, but a set of dedicated speaker stands are even better. They’ll eliminate vibrations entirely and allow you to reposition your speakers easily as well, which brings us to the next item on our list...
Proper speaker placement
Have you noticed that music sounds quieter or louder depending on what spot in the room you are - even when you’re the same distance from your speakers? That’s because the soundwaves coming from your speakers are dampening each other, causing interference.
If you imagine sound as a series of waves that spread out in a cone from each of your speakers, it will be easier to picture how speaker placement affects sound quality. If your speakers are improperly placed, the waves crash and bounce against each other rather than flowing smoothly into your ears.
As well as making your music seem quieter and louder from different angles, this kind of interference can also reduce sonic quality, making your music sound muddy and unclear. Setting your speakers up properly is key to optimising the sound of your Hi-Fi setup.
Tracking the pathway of invisible waves might sound difficult but it’s actually pretty easy. To place your speakers properly, decide where you’ll be positioned in your room while listening to music and place your speakers so that they form an equilateral triangle with your listening position. If you want to be as accurate as possible, use a tape measure to ‘draw’ the lines of this imaginary triangle.
Try to keep your speakers as far away from the walls as possible, as soundwaves bounce off hard surfaces and create distortion that way too. You’ll want to remove any objects between you and your speakers for the same reason. Height is also important for finding the right position for your speakers: they should be set at roughly the same height as your head is when you’re playing music. With these tips, your Hi-Fi system will soon produce an oasis of sound that doesn’t feel “Half the World Away” (see what we did there?).
Buying quality speaker cables
If you’ve spent hundreds on a state-of-the-art Hi-Fi setup, it would seem ridiculous to ruin that investment with a single poor-quality component - and that’s exactly what using cheap audio cables can do.
This is all due to the analogue nature of Hi-Fi equipment. Because the signal that travels from your amplifier to your speakers is carried on an electric current, it can be affected by the electrical resistance (also known as electrical impedance) of your cables. A high-quality speaker cable is made with the lowest resistance possible. Buying a quality cable is especially important if you position your speakers far from your amp, as length increases electrical resistance.
Some audiophiles spend hundreds on cables to maximise the capabilities of their audio equipment, but that’s overkill for most casual listeners. Proof that you needn’t splash the cash to get some quality gear, you find some fantastic audio cables from the likes of Audio-Technica and other big brands in the business for as little as £10! When it comes to buying cables, it’s important to look for high-quality copper wiring and gold plated connector tips. Copper and gold are excellent electrical conductors, resulting in a cleaner signal.
Upgrading your turntable cartridge
A turntable cartridge, also known as a photograph cartridge, is where the magic happens on your record player. A cartridge is made up of three parts: the stylus, a magnet and a set of coils. The stylus drags along your record’s grooves and vibrates with every note. The vibration travels from the stylus to the magnet and coils, which create an electromagnetic current that’s amplified and turned back into sound by your speakers. Because it's such a core component of your record player, upgrading your cartridge can make a big difference to the sound quality of your favourite vinyl records.
Cartridges come in two main types: moving magnet cartridges and moving coil cartridges. If you want a truly peerless sound, look for moving coil cartridges like the Goldring Elite series. It's a bit technical, but moving coil cartridges have a moving mass that’s closer to the pivot point of the stylus, which reduces inertia and creates a superior sound. If a moving coil cartridge is over your budget, a good moving magnet cartridge like the Ortofon 2M series is still a great choice for an upgrade.
Adding amplifier accessories
Amplifiers are a vital part of any Hi-Fi setup. They boost the audio signal created by your record player, making it powerful enough to drive the speakers. An amazing amplifier is crucial for any Hi-Fi setup but, once you’ve got one, there’s still room for improvement! Many Hi-Fi system manufacturers produce accessories for their amplifiers that allow you to add new features to your system.
One example is a DAC module. DAC stands for Digital Audio Converter, and these gadgets act as a bridge between your analogue Hi-Fi system and your digital computer. They let you play audio from your computer through your speaker system, which is great if you watch films or television on your computer and want a more immersive experience. Better yet, some DACs also work in reverse, letting your computer pick up audio from your record player. If you want to digitise your rare vinyl collection, you’ll need one of these.
Bluetooth receivers can also make for a worthy upgrade to your system, letting you stream your records directly to a pair of wireless headphones. So, whether you’re cooking up a storm in the kitchen, hoovering the living room, or taking a well-deserved rest in bed, you can enjoy your own silent disco straight from your record player without having to lug it from room to room, sweet!
The final track
Now that you’ve lifted the needle on our Hi-Fi setup advice, all that’s left to do is to try out these tips with your own music collection and prepare for the best listening experience yet! Whether you listen exclusively to CDs or prefer the warm pop of vinyl records, these tips will bring new character and better clarity to every toe-tapping track.
Upgrades and accessories are one thing, but what about the core components of your Hi-Fi setup? Buying record players for the first time can make your head spin - but don’t worry, we’re here to help! If you’re looking for advice on where to get started with a new Hi-Fi system, take a look at our guide to the best retro record players on the market. Now, let the music play!