Case Study:

Optimizing a
Solid Starter System

The system
  • Pro-Ject RPM 9.1 turntable
  • Ortofon 2M Red moving-magnet cartridge
  • Arcam CD37 CD player
  • Arcam A28 integrated amplifier
  • B&W 684 loudspeakers
  • Quadraspire Q4 four-shelf rack
This is a fundamentally well-balanced set of electronics and speakers, recently purchased and belonging to a customer whose children have now grown old enough that he can once again indulge his hobby and his existing record collection. As well as records, it will also need to play the CDs that were previously played on the family's mini-system, now departed for college with the eldest daughter. The system lives in a reasonable-sized lounge, which allows the fairly large floorstanding speakers room to breathe, and the electronics are housed in the Quadraspire rack.
Existing setup
The electronics and turntable are placed directly on the Quadraspire Q4’s MDF shelves and connected directly to the wall sockets with their supplied power cords. The lowest shelf is currently empty, but adds height to the rack to bring the turntable to a more comfortable level. The CD player uses a pair of ChordCrimsonPlus interconnects, with the speakers biwired with two sets of QED Silver Anniversary speaker cables. The turntable currently uses the patch cord supplied with it. The system is placed between the speakers and next to the TV, with the satellite and DVD player also connected to the Arcam amplifier.
Structural weaknesses
Although the electronics and speakers are basically well matched, the system’s infrastructure (cabling and supports) are limiting the performance of the setup as a whole.
  • Stock AC power cords are used.
  • There is no unified or separate clean AC ground for the electronics.
  • The interconnects and speaker cables are poorly matched, drawn from several different sources and employing multiple different material combinations.
  • The equipment is standing on its own "isolation feet," meaning that there is no effective mechanical ground.
  • The rack employs Quadraspire’s first generation MDF shelves, which have since been much improved.

The overall effect is to collapse the musical performance into the confines and plane of the speakers, while a sluggish and heavy bass drags the rhythms and clogs up the soundstage.

Upgrade path
This system is crying out for the application of simple Foundation Theory, creating an operational environment that will allow the equipment to really show what it can do.

Step 1
A Nordost Blue Heaven power cord was run from the wall socket to a QRT QB8 distribution unit, placed on the empty bottom shelf of the Q4 rack. A length of 30A ground wire was run from the binding post on the QB8 to an earth post sunk in the garden.

Benefits: A significant drop in noise floor, resulting in blacker backgrounds, greater instrumental color, detail and separation, combined with wider dynamic range.

Step 1.1
Two more Blue Heaven power cords were run from the QB8 to the amplifier and CD player.

Benefits: As above but more so -- with even greater dynamic range and deeper, more powerful bass.

Step 1.2
Time to adjust the position of the speakers to allow for the greater bass energy now present. They needed to be moved out around an inch and a half to restore proper balance, and at the same time they were carefully leveled and their toe-in adjusted. The Nordost System Set-Up & Tuning Disc is an invaluable aid in this regard.

Benefits: Faster bass with greater impact, a more coherent and much better defined sense of space around and behind the musicians. Music in general is more engaging and energetic.

Step 2
Blue Heaven LS interconnects on the CD player, a Blue Heaven tonearm lead on the record player and a single run of Blue Heaven LS loudspeaker cable to each speaker. The terminals on the speakers are bridged using a pair of Norse Series Bi-Wire Jumpers.

Benefits: The system now has a completely coherent cable loom linking all of its electronics and speakers. The signal cables all employ silver-plated solid core OFC conductors and FEP insulation, with topology and geometry optimized for each specific point in the signal chain. The result is far more natural performance, the recording stepping away from the speakers so that you hear much more of the music, much less of the system reproducing it. The color, shape and placement of notes all improve, so that the relationship between the musicians becomes much more obvious.

Step 2.1
Replace the Q4 shelves with either Q4 Evo or even better Q4 Bamboo ones. At the same time, sit the amplifier, CD player and QB8 on Quadraspire Bamboo Couplers, allowing energy generated inside the equipment to escape into the rack structure.

Benefits: The better shelves and couplers banish a “thuddy” and slightly one-note quality from the bass, while also improving focus, transparency and rhythmic integrity. It’s easier to hear what’s happening, and what’s happening makes more sense.

Step 2.2
Place three
Sort Kones (AC or BC) between the plinth of the record player and its shelf. The belt will run lower around the platter, but that is not a problem.

Benefits: The record player will gain dynamic range, clarity, drive, pace and poise. Suddenly records will have a sense of energy and power in reserve, bringing music much greater presence and emotional impact.

Taking stock
The system is now working dramatically better than before. Different discs and different music take on their own identity, and you listen ton the music rather than the system. The music itself is more engaging, more natural and more communicative. It’s as if the musicians are suddenly much better. But we can still get more out of the same set of electronics.
Step 3
Add a pair of Qv2 AC Line Harmonizers to the QB8.

Benefits: More color, more space and a greater sense of musical flow makes recordings far more natural and convincing.

Step 3.1
Add a Qx4 and Blue Heaven power cord between the wall socket and the QB8.

Benefits: Greater clarity, transparency and focus, with much crisper and more precise timing and placement of notes. Oh, and suddenly the TV looks a lot better too, with richer colors, more dimensionality and greater depth of image.

Step 3.2
Add Leif Series interconnects between the TV source components and the amplifier, and Blue Heaven HDMI cables between them and the TV itself.

Benefits: TV and movie sound now benefits from all the same improvements as the music played on the system, while picture quality also improves still further.

Final results
The musical performance of the system has improved out of all recognition, delivering the kind of results normally associated with far more expensive equipment. It is not just more impressive, it also much more natural, enjoyable and easier to listen to, encouraging longer listening and more use. The fact that the TV sounds and looks so much better was also an unexpected bonus. This system is now finally delivering on its potential -- delivering entertainment and musical satisfaction.

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