The First Step
Tuesday, 31st December 2019
Follow Russ's upgrade steps for a better sounding system
Upgrading a Hi-Fi system can be a very confusing business. You might think that putting any 'better' component or cable into any system will instantly make the system sound better. We know from talking to lots of you that this approach simply doesn't work. Yes, better components and cables do work, but the key thing is upgrading with the right things in the right order.
To make the job easier Russ has developed the 'Upgrade Steps' to guide you through the system upgrade process and help you avoid the many upgrading pitfalls. The 'Upgrade Steps' consists of four steps: the mains and grounding; the signal cables; the supports; and the room environment. The purpose of the upgrades is to reduce the effect of noise, Radio Frequency Interference, acoustic feedback and other gremlins that reduce musicality meaning that your system doesn't sound as good as it could. And if you upgrade your system in the order we suggest, you will get the biggest improvement for your money at each stage.
In the real world, you'll probably do a bit of each step at a time and not do the whole of step 1 before you start step 2, etc.
Please, whatever you do, don't be put off starting because you aren't able to do the whole thing right now - in fact it can be much better to upgrade in stages, that way you get to really appreciate each improvement before you take the next step.
The first step in Russ's Upgrade Steps is getting your mains and grounding right. Because it's so important it's the main focus of this article. We'll cover the other steps in future articles.
THE MAINS AND GROUNDING
The first, and most important, area to address is the mains and system grounding. It is fundamental to the performance of any system, budget or High-End and so has a marked influence on the sound of the hardware and connecting cables. Typically, connecting cables and speakers are chosen which hide the effects of the mains problems - if mains pollution and grounding problems cause a system to sound bright, harsh or distorted, the temptation is to pick components that sound flat or soft to disguise this characteristic. This is why everything seems so system dependent.
If you sort out the mains first, you'll find that your choice of cable or component further down the line will be easier because you simply aren't choosing the products that mask the mains problems. You will choose the ones that sound the most natural and realistic.
Upgrades to the mains and grounding has several steps so we've broken them down into different key elements.
We recommend you start with the power cable that supplies your key source component - such as your CD player, streamer or turntable - and then work outwards from there. So, in a typical system you would upgrade your power cables in the following sequence: CD player (or turntable / streamer etc), preamp, power amp.
Once you've addressed your power cables the next step is to replace any mains extensions with one of our dedicated units.
Ordinary extension blocks available in shops can degrade the sound to a surprising extent so it makes sense to upgrade this essential step in your mains supply. Getting sockets nearer to your system is much more convenient, and there's a very good electrical reason for using a mains extension. It means your equipment is 'star powered' back to the wall socket your extension is plugged into. It sounds better and looks neater, too.
Once you have upgraded your system's cables and the extension they plug into, the next stage is to supplement these with filters. Computers and domestic equipment such as fridges - and even your Hi-Fi or Home Cinema - can put tremendous amounts of noise onto your mains supply.
Russ's filters have been developed to lift off degrading mains noise and harmonics and, because they work passively, you get all of the benefits of a clearer, cleaner sound without the increased impedance that some in-line filters can bring.
The final stage of your mains upgrades is to sort out your system's RF Grounding. Russ has added grounding to this first Upgrade Step since it's so important to get this right - the improvements can be significant. To see why he's added this crucial element see the box out, right.
The principle of RF Grounding is to connect your equipment's casework to earth via our RF Router which serves to 'dump' noise on the earth out of your system: there's a specific way of doing this which Russ has detailed in his RF Grounding Guide (ask us for a copy or view it online at russandrews.com/grounding). RF Grounding like this gives a really big improvement, complementing the rest of the mains upgrades and delivering a more natural, musical sound that gets you closer to the performances recorded onto your discs.
These four elements - mains cables, extensions, filters and RF Grounding - are the core of Russ's first upgrade step. Aim to fit a few of these before moving onto the next level and you'll be solving mains pollution problems and upgrading your system in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible
Written By Russ Andrews