Friday, 5 August 2016

Re-setting up my HiFi system

Well, it's a long story today. Be prepared for it. In January last year, my wife decided to resign from the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers where she had been the manager of the Penang branch for some years. The working condition in the branch she said, was bad with back-biting and little co-operation between the staff. No amount of carrot-dangling and counselling can ever get the staff to change their habits. Although the pay was good, the hours were long. She would come home exhausted. In the evenings, there was no respite from work. From our home, she would have to catch up on her office emails. Her mood was glum and that was one of the surest signs that she had to leave the FMM's employment sooner or later.

Of course, I welcomed her resignation from her employer from hell, if ever there was a term I could use to describe the situation. I welcomed her presence in our home 24x7 because we can see more of one another. She began to work from home. The pay was less than what she used to get but we survived because she was much happier with lots less stress in her life.

The downside was that I had to surrender the desktop computer to her. She still had to work at the computer and basically, this was the fastest machine I had. So I surrendered the use of the desktop machine to her. My blog postings became affected because I had less chances of using the desktop to do my postings unless she was out of the house to meet her clients. But a bigger sacrifice was giving up the access to the home hifi system. You see, the desktop computer was located right next to the hifi set. This being so in order that I could run the cables to hook up the computer to the amplifier. With such a hook-up, it would be easier to channel audio from the computer to the amplifier and also music from my turntable to the computer where I could digitise my vinyl records and cassette tapes. With the left Wharfedale speaker sitting on the table top right next to me, it's easy to imagine how anyone would be affected with loud music blaring from a speaker that's a foot away. Music-in-the-face, so to speak. So I gave up listening to my records and my cassette tapes.

At first, I was wondering what I could do without the computer or music. Luckily, I had a project coming up. In the last 12 months or so, I have been involved with the Penang Free School Bicentenary book. I was commissioned by the PFS Bicentneary Committee to write a book for the occasion. The project had consumed all my free time. If I wasn't out of the house to visit the likely sources of information - this will be a separate blog story altogether - I would be writing the book.

For that, I had little choice but to resuscitate an old laptop back to life. The laptop doesn't even belong to me. I only have a small netbook which is slow. Very slow. Ultra slow. With a small screen. Well, you know how small netbooks are. Took ages just to boot up as well. No way that I could do my job on this machine. Luckily, my son had this old laptop with him. Still slow but nevertheless, good enough for me. After all, I was going to use Microsoft Word most of the time. Maybe the Paint application that comes with Windows 8, and maybe too, the Google Picasa program. That was all I required actually.

But I couldn't place the laptop next to the desktop. No place for the machine. My wife wouldn't like it if I were to say that she had commandeered the rest of the workplace for her work stuff. But yes, that was the reality. As there was no place for the laptop, I retreated to the bedroom instead. There, at least, I still have a table to use. Not the most perfect place though because while I could see right out of the bedroom window, I was facing west and sweating from the afternoon sun. Turning on the air-conditioner became a norm for me. Pull the window curtains shut and turn on the air-conditioner. Cool comfort for me and not-so-cool comfort for my wife because she wasn't going to be mobile with the desktop.

Did I ever disclose that my wife is a fervent follower of fengshui? She would never fail to attend the annual start-of-year Joey Yap seminars in Penang. I tag along with her, like a dutiful husband should, listening to Joey Yap, getting entertained by him, taking snapshots of all his slides. But much of what is said doesn't register with me. More of a process of getting older rather than not paying attention. This year, 2016, the north sector of our house is not that good for people, according to this year's fengshui reading. This disturbed my wife a bit because that's where her desktop is located. After a lot of looking at alternatives, which included re-locating the desktop in the bedroom, an arrangement which I wasn't very keen on for various reasons, we decided that a new laptop would allow her to be mobile as well. So now, she works in the bedroom as well. Same like me.

However, the production stage of the Bicentenary book project required me to use a lot of the printer which is hooked up to the desktop. I needed to print the pages of the book for proof-reading. Pretty soon I gravitated to using the desktop for more of my work. The bonus was that I realised that I could use my hifi system again. Out came the compact discs and the cassette tapes. Then the jewel among my music collection, the records.

But horrors! Because I had not used the turntable for a very long time, the stylus on the tonearm's cartridge dropped off when I began brushing it to clear it of dust. It just dropped off, leaving me with a stylus-less tonearm. Couldn't even re-attach it myself. It's such a fragile thing. No other choice but to buy a new cartridge for the turntable. So I phoned the guys at the Wisma Audio Central at the Penang Plaza in Tanjong Tokong to arrange an appointment to bring in the headshell. Darn, a simple act of replacing the cartridge set me back RM450. The cartridge is still the Ortofon MC-1 Turbo but I am very happy with it. When I play my music, the soundstage seems to have opened up. I'm hearing sounds which I'd like to believe that I haven't heard before. An incredible transformation of my hifi system.

First though, I had to carry out a few tweaks to the turntable. Basically, what I wanted was to reduce the vibration to the turntable. To do that, I had to place the turntable on a solid base that, in turn, would stand on sturdy spikes. Weeks ago, I had made an order for four brass-tipped rosewood isolating spikes for the turntable. Ordered on-line from Do Good Audio Ltd, which is based in Liverpool, England. The small package arrived within two weeks. But the spikes did not include the spike pads. My bad, actually, because I had failed to see that I had not included the spike pads in the order. I was quite prepared to use coins as the replacement pads when I happened to go down to Kuala Lumpur two weeks ago.

While there, a friend told me about the annual Kuala Lumpur International Audio Visual exhibition which was taking place at the JW Marriott Hotel in Bukit Bintang. I popped in, saw a vendor sell some audio accessories and managed to pick up the spike pads from him. While wandering around the exhibition, I also picked up a new cork mat for the turntable. Not that the original felt mat needed replacement, but I had read that cork mats would be better because for one, it doesn't trap dust as easily as felt mats. Buying these spikes and cork mats set me back another RM250 or so, but it was enough. Also weeks ago, I had ordered a piece of 8mm-thick glass pane from a vendor in town. Originally, I was toying with using a piece of thick plywood as the base for the turntable but later opted to use glass instead.

Having acquired these accessories, I set out to assemble them. I removed the turntable from the shelf, balanced the piece of glass on the spikes and then replaced the turntable on top of the glass. Took me about 15 to 20 minutes to do all that, and then there was the difficult task of re-balancing the tonearm, It's something that I haven't tried before because I've always had someone else to do it for me! For this this, I sweated out for perhaps half-an-hour before I managed to get it right. I hope so. With the Ortofon cartridge, I'm employing a vertical tracking force of 2gms which I balance with an equivalent amount of anti-skating force. For fine-tuning, I used a reference record that allowed me to lower the tonearm on a grooveless portion of the record to determine whether the tonearm would swing to the right or left. I think I've got it done pat. I hope so, again.

All these accomplished, I'm enjoying all my record albums again. With the volume knob on the amplifier turned up to the 11 o'clock mark, the music that's emerging from the speakers are, oh, so sweet and marvellous. Who says that vinyls are dead? No, records are very much alive. The vinyl record is receiving a revival among audio enthusiasts who know better, and I'm just lucky to be in possession of some 700 records that I've acquired through the years. Time to spin them again....

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