Take only pictures
If you hike a bit you’re bound to see signs about leaving the land as you found it.
“Take only pictures, leave only footprints.”
The origins of this saying aren’t as clear to me as its meaning. Do no harm.
This simple idea might be good advice for more than just hikers—it can easily apply to our sometimes misguided desire to enhance, improve, and modify our stereos.
What would happen if we ran all our urges to make things better through the lens of do no harm? Or, put another way, asking ourselves if we’re fixing a problem or adding sugar to cover bitterness.
When I think of expensive audio cables with control boxes to modify performance or additive/subtractive circuits like tone controls I have to ask myself a basic question. Is this an enhancement or a means of preserving what’s natural?
When we add a Power Plant to our stereo system we’re fixing a basic problem with our home’s AC. That’s an act designed to do less harm.
When my cousin Don added a spring reverb to his car audio system that was an enhancement that veered away from our ideal.
The difference between doing no harm and making things better is a fine one indeed.
It’s worth asking the question.
Is it right?
How do you know when the audio system’s right? Some of us figure it’s fine when music sounds the way we expect. Others need to reach a certain level of excitement while still others rely on the judgment of others.
Clearly, if your stereo system continually provides an expected level of enjoyment there’s no need to even ponder this age-old question. And yet, many of us worry if we’re listening to the wrong thing or worried we might be missing out.
It’s not too hard to get the soundstage and tonal balance close to right. Most of us know how to rough in our systems, but few are capable of taking it that extra step towards perfection. And even if we get there how many of us are confident enough to know when it’s there?
This angst we all feel from time to time is perfectly normal. Even the best setup people in the world go through it themselves: stressing over the details or ripping the system apart time and again to get it right.
Our ever competitive environments are part of the reason we sometimes get antsy. Everywhere we look someone’s competing with someone else: sports, money, fame, notoriety, politics, status, social standing. It’s no wonder we can get jittery about our systems and their performance.
Whenever I start wringing my hands over the system I find it cathartic to roll my sleeves up and reseat all the equipment, make sure my reference material still sings and spend some time cleaning and adjusting.
Unless you’re ready to step up to better equipment it’s probably alright to just tune and tweak a bit to get your system’s luster back again.
After all, I’ll bet most of our audio systems are better than 99% of everyone else in the world.
That’s quite an achievement.