Written by 4:16 am Audiophile

The “Joys” of Blowing Up Audio Gear

Steven Stone looks at some of the fun he’s had with audio gear that broke…

Yesterday, I fried a pair of speakers. It was totally my fault and was really easy to accomplish. All I needed to make a pair of dynamic drivers jump their gaps (tearing apart the surrounds in the process) was to forget to switch a DAC/Preamp from fixed output to variable output. The first ½ measure of music at an unattenuated output level of two volts was sufficient to do the deed. Sorry, speakers, it was nothing personal…

AR-broken1.pngI wish I could say that this incident was the first time I’ve ever destroyed an audio component, but if I did, I’d be lying. It’s not as if I’m a high volume head-bobbing AC-DC fanatic who listens regularly at 100+ dB SPL levels fueled by copious amounts of intoxicants. No, I listen at what most people would consider moderate and sane levels. Heck, I even owned Quad ESL57s for years, using a variety of amplifiers at 6900 feet altitude and never arced my pair once. And as I examine my personal history of “letting the smoke out” I’ve more often been a victim than a perpetrator of mayhem.

Many years ago, at the dawn of the age of home theater I had a system using my Quad 57 ESL speakers attached to a very high-performance, but temperamental tube power amplifier. Periodically one of the many power tubes in the amplifier would go bad, and when it did go bad it did it in a most spectacular manner, usually accompanied by a bright flash of light and a puff of smoke. Inevitably the amp would let its smoke out in the evening, at a critical plot juncture in whatever movie we were watching. Since replacing the bad tube required re-matching and testing power tubes the system was effectively silenced until morning. This occurred often enough that it was the primary reason for my moving on to a different and more reliable power amplifier.

AR-broken5.jpgOne time I managed to fry not one, not two, not three, but four tweeters in less than five minutes. It all began when I received a set of B&W bookshelf speakers to review. I had been using a tube amplifier with my Quad ESL57s but when I set up the B&Ws I also installed a robust Kinergetics power amplifier that had been sitting around for a couple of weeks after I had completed its review. When I turned on the system I immediately noticed that the tweeters on both B&Ws were dead with no sound whatsoever. I mentally shrugged my shoulders and called B&W to request a second pair for review. After the phone call I removed the B&Ws and installed a pair of Vision Acoustics bookshelf speakers. When I turned the system on I was surprised to discover that they too had no output from their tweeters. And then it hit me – the power amplifier was frying the tweeters! The amplifier was instantly going into oscillation, generating enough juice to instantly take out the speakers’ tweeters. After a call to B&W’s PR firm to apologize I “accidentally” dropped the power amplifier down a flight of stairs…which was the first and last time I have ever willfully damaged a piece of audio gear. I was that pissed off.

AR-broken4.jpgOne final story about damage and mayhem – I once owned a Crown DC300 power amplifier. I used this amplifier to drive the Cizak MG-10 subwoofers that were part of my subwoofered Quad 57 ESL system. The Crown worked reliably for several years, but one day I went to listen to the system and discovered that the subwoofers were not functioning. Indeed the drivers were locked in place, fused by the DC output from the Crown. Of course Cizak had been long out of business and the four 10″ drivers (two in each subwoofer) were custom-made units that were no longer available. A local Boston repairman was clever enough to make replacements from off-the shelf drivers by adding mass so their Q matched the originals, but it wasn’t an inexpensive repair. I sold the Crown to a friend with a canoe who needed an anchor.

If you’ve been an audiophile for more than a few years I’m sure that you, too, have stories of gear that didn’t survive for the long haul or left you with a hefty repair bill. Feel free to regale us with your own horror stories. I know that they are out there…after all it’s almost Halloween…

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