Directionality, Fuses, Demagnetizing, Warm-up: Tweaks Matter!

Every once in a while something comes along that, while not at all new, really drives the point home.

Went to listen to some music the other night and it sounded just plain awful. Grainy, distorted, recessed, muffled, confused (don't know how else to describe it), and with a woody tonality as if coming out of an empty roll of paper towel. To top it all off this was with a brand new (to me) interconnect known from experience to be genuine reference quality and a whole lot better than what it had replaced.

What happened?

Well first it helps to know the norm: warmed up amp, always-on stage and motor controller, demagnetized and anti-static sprayed system, stable everything. 

But on nightmare night: Everything off for a week (vacation) with no warm-up. A Blue Quantum Fuse blew and had to be replaced with a stock cold zero-hours factory fuse. To top it all off the wild-card, unknown to me at the time (bone head mistake) the new interconnect was going the wrong way. Oh, and stone cold from having sat on the porch all day.

This all produced a sound and an experience so horrific it was hard to think about anything else for the next 24 hours. By then all the factors and mistakes (direction!) were clear but it still seemed unlikely any combination of these was going to ever get this anywhere near back to where it was. Which would be a disaster, considering the new interconnect, a Synergistic Research Resolution Reference MkII ought to be elevating to a whole new level. Despondent don't even begin to cover it.

Next night, first thing, fix interconnect direction. Warm up the amp (only thing turned off), demagnetize, spray anti-static, sit down and.... wow now this is more like it! In some ways still not quite there (only 24 hrs on the fuse, which is still stock factory fuse after all) yet in other ways clearly better than before.

All from correct signal direction and a few tweaks. Stuff a lot of people still have a hard time believing makes any difference at all. Transformed literally unbearable into eminently enjoyable. Two additional days later, doing nothing but letting things settle in, and the sound is truly exceptional and in every way just a whole lot better than before. As was to be expected given the new SR interconnect. When its in the right direction.

Are there truly people out there unable to hear this? Or is it that they are so sure of what they think must be that they've never actually tried to discern what is? A little of both? Or completely different?

Got a PM so a couple details originally left out- the Melody I880 integrated amp is normally turned off and got its usual warm-up.

Also should maybe be clear, that while the new fuse is now probably pretty well burned it it is still just a normal factory fuse. So in other words the Synergistic Research Resolution Reference MkII that sounded so awful in the beginning (running backwards, cold, etc) now sounds so good it has made up for having been forced to downgrade from the Blue Quantum Fuse.

This could all probably be summarized as: Direction, warm-up and burn-in are so important they can not only wipe out the benefit of a major upgrade, but actually make a system sound much worse in spite of a major upgrade.
Are there truly people out there unable to hear this? Or is it that they are so sure of what they think must be that they’ve never actually tried to discern what is? A little of both? Or completely different?
And there are people who believe Keurig machines make good coffee.
Just the world we live in.  
Funny you should mention, every day when my thermos of freshly ground and brewed coffee from home runs out I have to resort to the break room Keurig. But today for a change I'm drinking the Keurig first and saving the Cuisinart for later. Then you bring up Keurig. Morphic fields? Kidding.

But, you raise a serious point. If we go and search the coffee enthusiast forums will we find a similar faction insisting instant is all? No ones taste buds could ever discern the difference between fresh ground and Folgers? And dismiss and disdain the fools overpaying for quality no one can taste? Without ever even having had a taste to see?

You may be on to something there.

I was a professional musician for many years and I learned something - don't assume that nobody else can hear something just because you can't.  I had a professor that said anyone who couldn't hear the difference between a white key and a black key on the piano was deaf.  Linn devotees swear they can hear the difference between the 2 sides of the felt mat.  Just try to enjoy yourself.  
Is it true that musicians can’t really hear as well as the average person? Is it because of high sound pressure levels in the orchestra pit or on stage?
Stereophile has had a number of articles and even series of articles related to this over the years. Its a fascinating subject. Its attractively simple to put it down to hearing damage. An awful lot musicians do have hearing loss from all the high volume.

But it can’t be put down to hearing loss, or even hearing ability. Lots of people who hear perfectly well are nevertheless bad listeners. And vice versa. I had a guy one time tell me it was a waste of time asking him to sit in the sweet spot. "I’m wearing two hearing aids!" he told me. Then 5 minutes later he was telling me how impressed he was with the imaging.

So its not hearing per se, but listening. Unlike hearing, which is physiological (your ear either registers sound or it doesn’t) listening involves interpretation. Its a skill. The significance of being a skill: skills can be learned. More to the point, skills tend to need to be learned. They don’t tend to come naturally.

Unlike music. This is where the old Stereophile articles were really fascinating. Because they seemed to show that at least some people who are musically talented appear to listen or maybe even hear things differently than the rest of us.

Like, there was a whole series for a while on musicians and their systems. Every single one of them loaded with millions, connected with all the top engineers, could have whatever they want. Yanni as I recall had a monster megawatt Martin Logan system. Tony Bennett a little mid-fi console in his Manhattan flat. More often than not it was a meager or budget stereo. Yanni was sort of the exception. Quite a few of them seem not to care.

For me what I hear is what I listen to, and I relax and focus and do everything I can to follow and absorb. Darken the room, close the eyes, try and see with my ears. But it seems that for a lot of musicians what they hear affects them quite a bit differently. They don’t so much follow as interpret, as if all they need is the barest of bones and they fill out the rest in their mind. When the music is in your head, what do you need with hearing? Bach was deaf!

The replacement for the blown Blue Quantum Fuse came the other day. Waited a day before using in order to x-ray and see what's inside. The one that was blown was supposed to have been slo-blo but the wire inside was thin and looked exactly like every other fast blow fuse, except of course for the big gap where it burned out. The replacement, again supposed to be slo-blo, looked exactly the same. Hard to know what they are doing here.

One thing for sure though, it works. Confirmed with Keith Herron which way power flows through the fuse, which was the way it was going before. Keith designed the VTPH-2A with a polarity reversal switch. Not audio. Reverses AC polarity. Couldn't see how it could make any difference. But it did. Quite a bit in fact. Not huge, but easily, readily apparent. Thought it might be the BQFuse, that reversing polarity was reversing current flow through the fuse. Keith said no, flows the same either way.

So there's another one for the noggin' scratchers to cogitate.

Me, I only care what makes my music sound better. If I can understand why so much the better, but its not a prerequisite.