A couple of weeks ago, I inserted a new cartridge into my system and all of a sudden I had a huge hum problem. I guess hum problems are one of the most common audio gremlins, but it got me to thinking about all the strange and stupid things I have had happened to me over the years. I’m going to share a few of these with you; not to scare you or to make me look stupid, I can do that without writing this, but to entertain you. I also hope some of these will help you not make the same mistakes, or at least know where to begin looking for the problem.
Let’s start with my Linn Turntable that played a French speaking radio station all by itself. Of course, at first I didn’t know what it was. All I knew was that even with everything turned off in the system, I could still faintly hear this darn radio station.
Now, this happened about 36 years ago which means my sources were all analog. I had the Linn turntable, a Tandberg reel-to-reel, and a Tangberg FM tuner. Of course, the first thing I tried was to unplug the tuner, but no luck, and so it went with each source. Finally, I decided to try unhooking everything and hooking the system back up one by one.
I discovered that it didn’t play the radio station with none of the sources hooked back up. Imagine my surprise when I hooked up the ground wire from the Linn tonearm to the back of the Naim preamp, and presto, there was that French speaking radio station. The ground wire’s length was more than enough so I tried cutting off about an inch of the wire, and the radio station was gone. In my lifetime I’ve heard of people who claimed that a tooth filling could sometime pick up a radio station. I doubt it, but I know a ground wire did.
The second strange thing comes as an admission of stupidity. Around 25 years ago, my audio bud Steve called me up and said he had a new pair of Threshold monoblocks that I just had to hear. So, we set a date and he drove two hours for me to hear. We hooked them up to my speakers and I didn’t want to say anything but they just didn’t sound right. Steve soon said he didn’t know why but they didn’t sound like they did at his house. So we went to lunch and let them continue to cook for a while.
After listening a little longer, things hadn’t changed. Steve said he had better head back and we got up to pack up the amps. When we went to disconnect the speaker cables I heard Steve groan. Sure enough we had one amp and speaker hooked up out of phase. We couldn’t believe two seasoned audiophile could have made such a stupid mistake, even more stupid was the fact that we hadn’t checked to see if they were in phase. This is probably the reason that to this day I always double check the phase.
The next thing that comes to mind happened about three years ago. It was weird, careless, and very expensive. I was doing something I do well over 100 times a week: removing an LP from the turntable platter. To this day I still don’t know how it exactly happened, I’m always so careful to lift off the LP with both hands and not to let my fingers touch anything but the outer edge, but still somehow my left hand got ahead of my right hand.
The result was that the record took off like a flying saucer and sailed right over my right hand. The problem though was what it hit on the way to its landing on my listening room floor. Of course, the tonearm was locked into its rest and as the LP sailed by, it went right under the $3,500 Benz Micro Ebony TR S cartridge. I thought I had just missed catastrophe, but I was wrong. While, the cantilever looked just fine, it wasn’t. There was no longer a stylus attached to it. Somehow the record had just caught the stylus with enough force to knock it off the cantilever. The lesson for me was to never take putting an LP on or taking it off the turntable for granted ever again.
The last story I’ll share at this time is kind of a Bill Cosby vs. Dr. Huxtable story. If you remember the Cosby Show, you will remember that his wife was always hiding his tools. Sometimes she would even bribe the hardware store to try to keep him from doing his own repairs.
By the time I was a senior at Baylor, I had put together a system that consisted of a stacked pair of Quad 57s, driven by an Electrocompaniet amplifier (25 watts, pure class A), an Audio Research SP3 with some letter behind it (who could keep up with the upgrades?), Sony’s top-of-the-line turntable, a Tandberg reel-to-reel, a Nakamichi cassette deck, and the most used product of all; a vintage Marantz 20B FM tuner.
Like I said, at that time the tuner was what I listen to most. It was the heyday of FM and there were great stations with great sound in Dallas. They even aired live performances from time to time. So, I was grieved when I discovered tuning knob no longer moved the indicator up and down the dial.
This is what led to the Dr. Huxtable-like behavior. I opened the 20B up and saw all it needed was to be restrung and I figured surely I could do that. Well, by the time I finished, the tuning string was broken, not restrung. Not only that, the glass dial had slipped so that it no longer looked right, and I had managed to destroy two solder joints. When I took it to the tech, he just shook his head and said I had turned a thirty minute job into a half day project.
Well, if you’re through laughing at the old Beatnik, I hope at least when something strange or bad happens in your system, you will know it happens to all of us.
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