Written by 4:44 am Audiophile

Audio Best Practices – Then and Now

Paul Wilson looks at whether “The Rules of Audio” have changed over the years…

In my early years of being an audiophile, if that term in those days was accurate, a very specific set of rules applied to folks who also had audio systems. These rules were a governance not infringed upon. They were not to be trifled with. Well, at least I held them sacrosanct, I can’t speak about what my other buddies were doing.

AR-Walk-Under-Ladder.jpgRules may sometimes be confused with superstition – like the one about walking under a ladder brings bad luck. For this to be true, one must first believe in luck, both good and bad, and then have something bad happen once breaking the commandment. Many of these rules or suspicions, are, in fact, based on plausibility. Getting hit in the head with a bucket of paint while walking under a ladder separates real life common sense from superstition. Having a black cat cross your path may be a little something different.

From an audio perspective, my friends and I, back in the day, followed set guidelines. In those days, none of us had anything beyond a turntable for a source. Amplification was mostly limited to an integrated. There was also the occasional tuner. While we knew about things like reel to reel players, we lacked the financial where-with-all to actually own one. There just weren’t that many lawns that we could mow.

Back then, playing an LP more than twice in twenty-four hours was strictly forbidden. It just didn’t happen. Oftentimes, one of us would get a new album, chosen sometimes simply by the look of the cover, play it and fall in love with it. “What a killer album!” we’d happily tell each other. We’d debate about which song on the album was the best. And if this killer album was played at, say, 2:00 PM on a Saturday, it couldn’t be played again until 2:00 on Sunday. Doing so would do something bad to the album. At the time, none of us knew exactly what that bad thing might be, only that it was sure to happen. Perhaps this is the audio equivalent of a black cat crossing your path.

AR-Rules.jpgAnother directive we followed was always turning down the volume when changing anything. You simply never allowed the tonearm to be raised or lowered without first lowering the volume. In fact, this is one I still to this day practice. While the fragility of tweeters, midranges and woofers is probably not as precarious today as in the 1970’s, this seems to “track” as an old habit dies hard sort of thing. I cringe anytime I see someone lowering a tonearm on an album at volume and hear that brief but all too noticeable “pop” as the stylus hits the record. Does doing so actually cause harm on today’s level of equipment? Probably not. But given the cost of today’s equipment, I’m just not taking any chances. Call this one the walking under the ladder analogy.

When it came to the albums themselves, we had spirited debates about how best to store them. First was the album sleeve. Which was the proper way to insert it back into the album cover – with the opening out to allow easy removal of the album, or with the opening up to keep out dust? This one had no sense of agreement. I always opted for the easy, aka, lazy way of opening out so I could easily remove the album. My friend Jimmy always told me I was crazy and that I would just ruin my albums with dirt and dust. As such, he always put the album sleeve in opening up. What is so funny, perhaps confusing, possibly idiotic, I don’t remember any of my friends or myself doing anything whatsoever about cleaning an LP. I seem to remember a little brush that attached to the end of the cartridge but that’s about the only thing. So what difference did it really make how an album was inserted into a cover?

AR-Turn-Down-Volume.jpgFinally, there was storage – stand them up or lay them down flat? The argument for flat was the weight of the albums would keep them from warping. Being the genius that I was in those days I held with the flat Earth theory. When, a few years ago, I found a box of LP’s I didn’t know I had, I almost laughed out loud when I saw that I had packed them all in the box flat – for twenty years or more they stayed that way. Not one of them was warped! Sonics may be another question. Would it be obvious that today the almost universal storage method for an LP is standing up? Jimmy was probably right about that one.

Just to show how things have come full circle, I now discard the paper sleeve from an album, replace it with an audiophile sleeve, insert it with the opening up (to keep out all the nasty’s), and normally put the whole album in a separate clear plastic liner. I also use a full compliment of brushes, stylus cleaners and of course, an ultra sonic record cleaner. Sonics may be one thing, but I will play albums with the confidence that they are definitely clean.

I didn’t mention cassettes, CD’s. By the time I graduated from albums, to cassettes, to CD’s, some rules no longer applied – others were simply ignored. Cassettes and CD’s brought with them a new simplicity. Most of the rules we applied to albums just didn’t seem necessary. Or perhaps we had grown tired of them.

In modern times audiophiles have a whole different set of rules and guidelines that they follow. Only thing, today we are supposedly a better educated bunch. Today, we do things based on science, not because we’re scared of a black cat. All in all, the rules I followed in my past, as well as the rules I follow today all serve one purpose – to enhance the listening experience. And that sounds pretty good to me.

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