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Frequently Asked Hi-Fi Questions

 

Turntables

Does Vinyl really sound better than CD?
Yes. Even our $399 record player will pretty handily outperform the best $500 CD player. The difference is immediately noticeable. There may be more pops and clicks, but the actual music is more lifelike, immediate and enjoyable in almost all cases. As well, higher end tables, absolutely destroy any CD player or digital playback.
 
What's the best way to clean my records?
The simplest way to clean your records is with a carbon fibre brush every time you play the record. This removes any surface dust. If you have a dirty record, wet cleaning is the only way to go. But don't use tap water! It has so many impurities, it will always leave a film on your records. Concept makes a great product called RCM fluid which goes for about $20 and will clean about 200 records. If you have a collection of 300 or more to clean or you want the cleanest possible records, use a record cleaning machine such as the Model 1 from Nitty Gritty.
 
Do I need to clean my stylus?
If your cartridge costs even $100 you should be cleaning your stylus. After you've seen what one looks like under a microscope after a year of use, you won't believe how much dirt and vinyl shards get stuck to the needle. And, all this reduces the sound. LAST Stylus Cleaner has been a standard for over 30 years.
 
What is the definition and purpose of a phono preamp? 
The phono preamp (also called a phono stage) is needed for any turntable setup. The audio signal coming from your record player is significantly quieter than an iPod or CD player. To simplify a bit, the phono preamp boosts the audio signal so that it is usable by your amp/receiver. Without one your vinyl would sound quiet and anemic.  They commonly come in three forms: built in to the turntable, built in to the amplifier, or a separate box between your turntable and your amp. 
 
 

Amplifiers

Is a pre/power combination better than an integrated amplifier?
Under about $3000, no. With a pre/power combination you have 2 boxes and generally a lot of duplicated components inside both boxes. You also need another set of interconnects and more room on your rack (i.e. buy a bigger rack). Today's integrated amps are so well built that they often outperform even very good pre/power combinations from 15 years ago. They also have shorter signal paths and simpler circuits which almost always results in a better sound. The nature of the audio market today also means that manufacturers sell a lot more integrated amplifiers (people have smaller spaces, WAF, etc.) so they can devote a lot more engineering resources and economies of scale to something that sells better. Over $3000.00 the lines get a little blurred, but many of the super-integrateds still outperform their pre/power competitors nowadays.
 
What is the difference between a tube amp and a solid state amp?
Put simply, tube amps rely on vacuum tubes to create and control power within an amp, while solid state amps make use of a circuit board. Tube amps typically have a "warmer" sound than solid state amps and many long time audiophiles swear by the sound their tube amps provide. Tube amps do require a little more maintenance from the user and tubes must occasionally be replaced whereas solid state amps are much more "plug and play." It is true that several decades ago, tube components were generally better than their solid state competitors, but nowadays there are many well built solid state components that rival the best tube amps in the world. We carry a variety of both tube and solid state amps for every ear and budget.
 
 

Speakers/Acoustics

If I have a small room, what kind of surround sound do I need?
Quality of the speakers is paramount. Consider two really good speakers only. Or fronts and a centre. Rears are largely ineffective in a small room because you can't get them far enough behind you. 
 
 

Headphones 

What's the difference between open and closed headphones?
Open headphones let all sound in and out, which means that you can hear what's around you and people around you can hear your music. These tend to be the best sounding headphones because there is no resonance from the chamber. Closed headphones tend to be more bassy all things equal, but they do provide a quieter environment for planes or the streetcar.
 

 
Digital Audio

Are hi-res downloads really that amazing?
We've downloaded over 100 of the new hi-res versions of our favourite albums. Love Supreme, Kind of Blue, Let It Bleed etc. and in almost every case there is only minor improvement over the best 16bit/44Khz versions. Some are worse due to poor mastering equipment or engineering errors. Hi-res is no panacea. On the best transfers we feel that it can be worthwhile, but considering 99.99% of your music will be 16/44 for the foreseeable future, invest in a DAC which sounds good first and foremost on 16/44 and forget about the technical superiority of hi-res. A hi-res file or DAC cannot do anything to fix a problem in the rest of your system and in almost all cases the improvement of swapping a speaker, amp, or source will overwhelmingly do more for your total music enjoyment than any hi-res file.
 

  
Tweaks

Do all cables sound the same?
Cable do not all sound the same. How different do they sound? It's never as much as any other part of the system such as source, CD or certainly speaker, but if you have a decent ear it's easy to hear. In absolute terms, a cable can change a system 5-10% one way or the other, usually in terms of "bright-warm". We recommend cables based on your taste and to bring balance to a slightly mismatched system. If you have a badly matched system you're wasting your time buying cables. Swap components for a much bigger bang for your buck. 
 
Do expensive cables sound better?
We've auditioned most of the expensive cables from the big name brands (Nordost, Transparent, Cardas, QED, MIT, Monster, Van den hul, etc.) and aside from a very few exceptions they don't sound as good as our hand selected "inexpensive" ones. We care about sound and value and there are far bigger gains from investing in good components than in expensive cables. 
 
Is bare speaker wire better than banana plugs or spades?
Bare speaker wire is the best sounding because there is no extra interface between the amplifier and the speaker. All plugs, whether crimped or soldered affect the electrical characteristics of the wire, which always affects the sound. However, bare wire oxidizes (rusts) which greatly reduces connectivity and sound quality over time. This is why we recommend plugs. Between spades and banana plugs we absolutely recommend banana plugs for the simple reason that it is possible to use an air-tight banana plug which seals the wire so it doesn't oxidize. Using a plug that doesn't stop the wire from oxidizing is pointless because it is doubly detrimental on sound, from both the plug itself and the oxidization over time. We don't recommend spades for this same reason, as we have yet to find one that is air-tight. In short, if you don't mind re-stripping your wire once a year, use bare wire. If you have more expensive wire and you wish to stop oxidation, use banana plugs.

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