Helping you get the Best from your Hi Fi Equipment - Mana from Heaven?
This is the first in what is intended to be an ongoing series of Guides which will all have the same purpose; and that is to try and offer you ways in which you may be able to improve the quality of the sound you get from hi fi equipment and the audiovisual aspects from a Dolby surround sound system including the DVD player and other digital receivers you are using.
There are hundreds of ways to improve the audiovisual experience.These can vary from a little "tweak" that will cost nothing and take no more than 10 minutes to a systematic evaluation of your system.In terms of the latter the time you could spend is almost infinite.But, I have decided that it would be far more useful to limit the amount of time needed to take any of the action described in any one guide to a maximum of 3 hours.I also applied this limitation factor to cost.What I want to give you is a way of doing something which will offer a return (in terms of quality) far in excess of what you may need to pay.I will not therefore feature any single component replacement or upgrade that would cost more than £250.That takes into consideration the fact that this is eBay.Therefore,althogh something may cost you £400 this figure could be substantially reduced if it replaces something you could sell.However,I should add that many of the suggestions will not cost you more than your time.The essence is to try and make this as "real" as possible.
There are two more issues that I need to mention.The first is how easy - or difficult - something is to do and whether you need any specialised skills to carry it out.There is little point in writing about something that only a handful of people would feel confident in tackling.I have tried to include only things that an average person would be capable of doing.To try and get an idea of what competenecies,skills,abilities and knowledge this "average person" can be assumed as having I have roped in a load of relatives, friends, neighbours and colleagues who have agreed to give me their opinions.I am not sure if they realise what they have let themselves in for, and how much of their time I will expect them to give.I suppose I will realise I am expecting too much when the excuses for not being available begin to get a bit hard to believe. You know the sort of thing that goes something like the following :-
"Sorry, I'd love to help but it's my turn to change the water in the goldfish bowl this evening." or even more improbable - "tomorrow? No chance! The big game is on. It's a very important mid table match between Bratislavia United and Patagonia Athletic. I can listen to the commentary on my new digital radio."
As concerns the different abilities we all have I don't really have an answer. I tend to think of an ability as something an individual is naturally good at doing, something in their genetic makeup. As an example I hate driving , I detest it.my spatial awareness is appalling and I have no sense, no sense at all of direction.Indeed, anything to do with cars leaves me cold. If someone told me they would love a Ferarri I would think they were talking about ice-cream. If, however, someone said their son or daughter was studying Coleridge's poetry as part of English A level and could I give them a bit of extra tuition to help their understanding, I would not just agree but would actually love to do it. I seem to have an aptitude towards anything to do with language, with words - writing, reading or comprehending - and that is an ability I believe I have inherited.Some people are naturally good at some things and some at other things. A skill is different from a natural ability. It is something that you learn to do, something that you can be trained in doing. Of course, there are those who learn more quickly than others - they pick it up without any problem.But others struggle and find they have to be shown time and time again before they reach a level that is adequate. It is strange how things seem to level out, a bit like "what you gain on the swings you lose on the roundabout". I have often found that when it comes to applying a learned skill the "slow" learner is far more capable than the one who learned far more quickly.That is the principle of academic versus practical. But, I am digressing, so let's get back to the subject. Suffice it to say that some will find doing the things covered in some of the Guides easy and some things more difficult. And the opposite will be true as well. Wouldn't it be great if you could team up with someone who had the ying to your yang? Perhaps not. Part of the enjoyment in doing something is that it sets you a challenge, something to overcome with the sense of satisfaction you can get overcoming the difficutlies, achieving something which at the outset seemed impossible.
The second issue I need to cover is concerned with guarantees. Guarantees in this context means whether you actually get the improvement you expected. You've set aside your saturday morning to actually try something you have read in one of the Guides. You've read and re-read the article.You understand everything and have got together all the things you will need. Screwdriver? check.Stanley knife? check. A 5 metre tape, preferably a power tape that has the function that allows you to hold the tape at a certain distance, so you can keep both your hands free? check. (Was it 5metres or 3 metres? damn I've only got a 3. No problem - if I need to measure over 3 then it's simply do a 3 mark it and then a 2 or whatever additional is needed).Test disc? check.
I cannot gurantee that anything that is suggested will bring an improvement - no one can.But I think you can be certain about one thing.Get the basic stuff wrong and from the outset your effort is wasted.I used to have a terrible habit of cutting corners and trying to run before I could walk.The result was that I nearly always tripped over.Another weakness was not reading instructions - something many of us are guilty of.The result is that you end up spending double the amount of time correcting all the things you did wrong.That boy scout motto "be prepared"seems quite apt.Preparation is key.Without it you will waste time - even to the extent that you abandon a project because you don't seem to be getting anywhere.
It is not only the tangible things that can lead us to think that something hasn't worked.What we experience is a very subjective matter.So your idea of what an improvement means may be very different to mine, or to anyone else's.Our previous listening experiences, the way we listen and what we listen to can all have an influence on the extent of the improvent. Someone who listens to "classical" music and someone who listens mainly to heavy metal will seek different things from their respective listening experience and make judgements that are very subjective.
I have tried to explain in the preceding paragraphs the purpose of the Guides I will be publishing. My aim is to try and help people get as much pleasure out of their system as they can. I am convinced that there is almost always room to squeeze that last ounce of performance from a system.
Isolating Components - Using Mana Acoustics Equipment
Those of you who have enjoyed what I call "real hi fi" for more than about 15 years will recall a company called Mana Acoustics.When the products it developed and marketed were at the height of their fame every hi fi magazine (from those who catered to the mass market e.g."What Hi Fi?" to those whose target audience were termed audiophiles e.g. "Hi Fi News" all agreed that the accessories supplied by that firm were excellent.It is the only company I can recall where there was no divergence of opinion.So,where are they now?I don't know but what I do know is that the combination of steel,glass and spikes assembled with the aid of an allen key made an outstanding improvement to any equipment placed on it.The first time I experienced the "mana effect" was an occasion I will never forget.Baselines were more pronounced,sound staging and the seperation of instruments were refined and enlarged and the overall impression was one of how much improvement you were hearing.
At that time there was considerable debate on the subject of isolating equipment.If you go back a bit further in time - to when most music was on vinyl and played on record decks, you will find that many of those "in the know" realised that there were tremendous benefits to be had by making sure your deck was placed on a surface that was stable, and removed (isolated) from the the other equipment that could impact on sound quality.As a quick example of this I offer the following.
It was not uncommon to see a hi fi equipment placed on anything that wasn't being used for something else. So you might have a record deck precariously postioned on a table made who knows what.(This would invariably be a bit unstable with one of the legs having become loose).Then either the amplifier being used would be sited an inch away - or if there wasn't space - the turntable would be perched on top of the amp!Perhaps there would be a tuner to fit in as well.Last the speakers.At best - whatever their size they would be on the floor.However, where small speakers were being used you would find them placed on a bookshelf or any shelf come to that.It used to be great fun watching the boxes jump up and down with the vibrations.Many a record was scratched when some wayward speaker decided it wanted to be an olypic athlete and hurl itself from its place.Along with the airborne vibrations and other vibrations caused by all manner of things the poor old turntable didn't stand a chance- it needed to be rescued.
I very seldom see any products manufactured by Mana on eBay.That is a pity because those who have not had a mana experience are missing out.Could it be,I ask myself,that the many people who bought such a product simply cannot bear to part with it?
When I originally put this piece of writing together I had little idea how accurate my thoughts were about why Mana products appear so infrequently.What I have ascertained is that the number of items being auctioned will actually decrease as time goes on.the reason is very simple - the company does no longer exist and therefore the amazing products they designed, manufactured and marketed are finite in supply.Furthermore although I do not have meticulosly detailed empirical evidence to support the following contention:-
"those who have Mana Acoustics equipment know that the value of the products will increase as the years role by.There is an important point here in that the products were manufactured to such a high quality that even if they are in constant use they will not deteriorate - well not for a couple of 100 years or so.They are maintenance neutral apart from the need to remove layers of accummulated dust from the glass shelves every other month.No doubt they will get scratched and you must make sure that you test the interface between metal and glass to ensure that the item is "tuned" if your lucky enough to have a sound frame that is or some of their other equipment.I suppose the most likely cause of damage would be to the glass shelves, and no doubt that has happened.However,you would need to be pretty idiotic to drop one but I doubt it would smash or crack.The reason I say that is because the glass (using my own soundframe as an example) is almost a cetremetre thick and weighs in at close to 3.5Kg.But these are situated in people's homes comes a resounding comment.Surely a young child could stumble into the item and knock it.These things are dangerous - the little mite might hurt themselves.Now don't get me wrong.I am not a child hater (3 of my own and grandchildren prove that ) but it is a universal, proven absolute - hi fi systems and toddlers do not mix. It's not just confined to knocking things over.Children have a gift of being able, without trying to cause damage - usually expensive damage to all the parts that make up your system.Little fingers prodding delicate tweeters is a favourite.And the more adventurous child will want to see what happens if you keep on tugging at the leads or trying to pull out the CD draw as it closes or trying to stop it closing in the first place.Of course no child would be considered normal if it did not find pressing buttons and playing with all the controls as much fun as going to a circus followed by a trip to the zoo.These terrible tots, these malevolent monsters,these sisters of Satan and brothers of Beelzibub do not confine themselves to dastardly destructive deeds against your delicate hardware.Oh no - that is where they begin.Infants have an unquestionable belief that the primary purpose of jam is to gunge up as many CDs as possible.Would someone please give me an answer to a question on a par with does God Exist? How do they always know which discs are your most highly treasured, the rarity that even if it could be replaced would cost a months salary.I think it is best that I leave out what they do can do with a collection of vinyl.Unless you can lock that room and keep them out then wave goodbye to your music.Extreme measures - maybe.Exagerated - perhaps.A minimum of a "do not enter under any circumstances" rule - a definite.Children being out of the picture the Mana stuff was designed to last - no built in obsolescense here.No both of my soundframes will go on and on and on...very low maintenance with optimum performance - or rather facilitating the CD player or amp or turntable to operate at their best.
The smaller of my soundframes (more accurately referred to as a soundbase) is manufactured to the same standard as its bigger sibling.Being a bit of a tweaker I have put all manner (get the pun? manner/mana) of products on the young pretender -and I have never been less than astounded by the difference it can make.The original declared purpose of soundbases (they were usually sold in pairs but you could negotiate the purchase of a single unit along with a re-inforced piece of glass as described earlier.When sold as pairs you were supplied with 2 squares of MDF with measurements of 25cm X 25cm X 3cm (Length-Width-Depth). As with a full size soundframe you had 8 steel spikes.4 downward to the floor (the subject of floors and their significance is dealt with later) and 4 upward on which the MDF was positioned. You were unable to
My proclivity to experimentation led me to try out something within an AV set up.The 5.1 set up was reasonable.Not expensive but suitable for someone who only uses it to watch a DVD or a broadcast in surround sound.I thought it would be interesting to set up the system (total cost excluding the speaker cables about £350-400) for the duration of the Olympics.I actually used it as a platform on which I put my very inexpensive centre speaker.What became apparent within the first seconds of a broadcast was the amount of detail I had been missing.In addition voices were projected out into the listening triangle and the clarity and space surrounding a voice or an instrument was quite remarkaable.But that wasn't the end of the revelations.The way that sounds were shifted across the 3 front speakers and the timing was increased substantially.
All of a sudden I felt I wanted to see how some of my more action packed DVDs would play."Apocalypse Now" took on a quality I did not know was there!Bullets pinged from centre speaker to front right then front left and the scene in which fighter bombers napalm trees was stunning.The piece of that film that really took me by the throat was the scene when a helicopter firstly flies from front right to rear right but then suddenly changes course so that an effect is such that it hovers overhead with the synchronisation between the visuals on screen and the audio being produced was perfect.
It did not only have a beneficial effect on films.I have about 45 music DVDs.I have always preferred the sound from these to be reproduced using the stereo mix.However,listening to them with this new set up arrangement gave it an entirely different quality.And if you have a particularly well recorded disc encoded with theatre surround sound system then the audio performance is improved across the frequency range.Bass takes on a dominant but well articulated expression and there is far better seperation of instruments and voices.The entire disc oozes atmosphere and ambience to an extent not previously even imagined.
So, there we have it.This remarkable piece of steel conjoined with a sheet of glass and carefully tuned to maximise the audio system being used is moe valuable, more flexible and more enthralling than ever.
Pound for pound I do not believe that that any other single upgrade to a system can match the improvement that these isolation systems and equipment racks manage to do.
When I began to get into Mana some 14/15 years ago the cost was prohibitive,but even at these prices there was universal agreement (something exceptional and rare in high end audiophile circles) that if you could afford to buy these mystical and majestical objects then you would be a fool not to.This view was prevalent at the time when MA was enjoying its place at the very top of every hi fi lover's wish list - order books were full and supply could not keep up with demand.I don't know if this had an impact on the company and its eventual demise.What I do know is that if you get the chance to buy some of this "stuff" then you should seize it with both hands.I am certain that you will be delighted with your purchase.After all what is £200-400-800+ when you are being allowed to get closer to the holy grail of musical nirvana than ever before.