A COMMON SENSE GUIDE TO HI-FI Many people do not comprehend the very obvious logic of how to assemble a hi-fi system.

This is easy to understand, given each man- ufacturer's claims that the particular component that they produce is THE most important in any system. Speaker manufacturers far outnumber all other manufacturers combined, so it is only natural that the hi-fi industry as a whole places the most emphasis on speakers. This is a serious mistake. A new loudspeaker can change the character of a hi-fi system. It is unlikely, though, that it will offer any real improvement to a system, unless the current speaker is already the weakest link in the system (rarely the case!). The place to start anything is at the beginning, and the beginn- ing of a hi-fi system is the source. In a record playing system, the source is the record and the hi-fi components occur in the following hierarchy: 1) 2) 3) 4) 5) 6) The The The The The The Turntable Tonearm Cartridge Preamplifier Power Amplifier Loudspeakers

If you do a poor job of getting information off the record at the beginning of the system, it is impossible for any component further down the chain to improve upon that signal. It is not possible for an amplifier to improve upon the signal that is put into it. It is not even a matter of how good the amplifier is; it simply cannot improve the signal that is fed into it. The same is true of speakers - in fact, improving the speakers when there is a fault earlier in the system will only serve to more clearly reveal the fault. The turntable is the platform for the arm and record and is the component that assumes the primary responsibility for maintaining a fixed relationship between the record and the cartridge body. It is this relationship that is critical in recovering any signal from the surface of the record (the cantilever has to move while the cartridge body stands still with respect to the record surface, in order to generate a signal). For this reason, the turntable is the first, and most fundamental component in a hi-fi system. A very good turntable, even with a budget tonearm and cartridge and a budget amplifier and loudspeaker, will produce a very acceptable level of performance. In other words, the performance advantage of the turntable is fundemental to everything downstream. Next in importance comes the arm, which is the interface between the turntable and the cartridge. The capabilities of the tonearm are more important in the hierarchy of a hi-fi system than the capabilities of the cartridge. If the arm can't hold the cartridge still, then the cartridge can't work. It makes much more sense to have a very good arm with a budget cartridge than to buy a moderately good

tonearm with a very good cartridge. The next component in the chain is the cartridge, and if the turntable and arm have both been optimized, then the cartridge will be the next limiting factor. It is important to realize, however, that all high-quality cartridges will impose demands on the preamplifier. If may be that a very wide bandwidth cartridge will saturate the preamplifier or overload it with signals it cannot handle. So, it is sometimes necessary to improve the preamp before, or at the same time, that the cartridge is improved. The preamplifier is next in the hierarchy, followed by the pow- er amplifier. If these items are optimized, it becomes possible to use a pair of budget loudspeakers at the end of such a system with extremely good results. Indeed, it will be impossible to surpass the result obtained with such a system than by using the best available speakers with a lesser turntable or an inferior amplifier. Only when all these components have been optimized does it make sense to use the best speaker available. If you think about this proposition for a moment, it is self-evident, logical, sensible, and obviously correct. Unfortunately, hi-fi magazines have for many years attributed most improvements to loudspeakers. They apparently believe that because loudspeakers are big and produce the sound (good or bad), they are the most important component in the system. This is completely absurd. You have to examine the signal path and the hierarchy of a hi-fi before a system can be rationally selected, upgraded, or built. A competent retailer will be prepared to demonstrate every component in the chain and its relative importance. It will be readily apparent in a fair, blind demonstration that any departure from this hierarchy will produce an inferior result. For example, if you take a Heybrook (Linn or Sota, as well) turntable with a Sumiko MMT tonearm and Talisman III-S cartridge played through a budget amplifer driving a pair of budget loudspeakers, the system will produce a sound which is fundamentally and obviously superior to a Perreaux tri-amp system employing a Sumiko "The Arm" and Monster Cable Alpha Two cartridge, but with an inferior turntable as the source. Although the price disparity will be in the region of 10 to 1, the cheaper system will out-perform the system which is ten times more costly. I hope that this brief discussion of the hierarchy of a hi-fi system has provided some insight into the proper assembly of, or improvement to, your hi-fi system. It is still critical however, that any change that you plan to make in your system be carefully evaluated by actually listening to the component in question. Any competent dealer will have demonstration facilities which are sufficiently good to clearly and quickly demonstrate the hierarchy of a system and to allow the necessary comparisons to be made. Confusion will only arise if the dealer's demonstration facilities are inadequate (for example, if he has more than one pair of speakers in the room at one time), or if some other fundamental error is being made. Your best safeguard against that is a basic understanding of the hierarchy of a hi-fi system and system set-up Armed with this knowledge, you can quickly evaluate a dealer's understanding of the bas-

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