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American Sound of Canada

He’s At It Again Why Modifications are Questionable by E. Leopold
Absolutely nothing is as upsetting for a reviewer (and me) than to evaluate a product, publish the results and then find out that the component was modified before the magazine hit the stands. This also makes EF angry as hell. He states that although it doesn’t happen often, even once is one too many times. He and I agree that such modifications may sometimes be beneficial; more often than not they aren’t.

Then there are those who modify components claiming that they can improve the sound quality; I’m sure you have heard about some guy who modifies and “improves” CD players, amplifiers, preamplifiers, etc. I know a few fellows myself who claim improvements that are outright stunning. However, careful listening after the deed had been done often reveals that the improvements are really simple sonic modifications, not better, just different. Personally, I hold that electronics that need to be modified should not be on the market in the first place. The Aurum system reviewed in TIE’s last issue is a perfect example. Derrick Moss is a talented designer who did all the tweaking and necessary modifications before he put the system on the market; obviously it was designed so that you and I could enjoy the music — no modifications required.

The worst offenders are likely those who swap tubes continually and may (or may not) find one tube more sonically pleasing than another. However, you know what they say: you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

Modifying sound is sometimes appropriate — as long as it is done to enhance a system’s performance, not to change it to meet preconceived, and often misguided, notions regarding accuracy and musicality. If a system has been assembled with attention to detail, the sound should be good; too good in fact to be modified. If the system or component didn’t sound right to begin with, why buy it?

However, changing the system configuration to perform at its best should be a no-brainer. Let us not call this modification, but rather enhancement of the listening experience. This can be done with good wiring, resonance inhibiting shelves, contact cleaners, power line conditioning and many other logical tweaks.

I hold that no one has the right to tell you what to do when it comes to improving your system (except me, of course). However, you must take steps to avoid costly mistakes. You must train your ears; let these fine instruments guide you toward the right decision. This will be easier once you have achieved the art of listening, which can be practiced by listening to the subtle sounds of everyday life.

Begin listening to — I mean hearing — your spouse. This will train your hearing apparatus to appreciate inflections, textures, significance, colouration and volume levels. Think I’m kidding? Think again, for I know — as should you — that volume levels go up and down in audio as well as in conversation. If, however, the level goes up too much, one solution is to turn off the apparatus that created the noise (I recommend not trying this with your spouse; it may be that the one being turned off is you). All joking aside, I urge all audio enthusiasts to learn the art of careful listening, not only with the ears, but with the body and soul. Live, preferably unamplified, music will serve as the best reference and, while unamplified sound may be difficult to find, it’s quite possible — I go to a piano bar where I can sit right next to the instrument. Listen and make notes of timbre (a sound of distinct pitch and quality), fundamental notes and overtones (harmonics), attack (the initial compression or rarefaction wave caused by striking a string or drum) and texture (traits that define and establish the character of instruments).

Once you have trained yourself to listen to musical instruments and recognize natural sound, the electronics will truly become the medium for the art form, and only then can you relax and appreciate a great artistic performance conveyed through a good sound system.
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