The Systematic Approach Blogs by Steve Elford – Part 1 'An Introduction'

Now we have moved over all are marketing to Quiescent, it’s about time we started to re-introduce the core concepts of sound quality problems, system building and equipment design that we work to. So I now plan to use a series of blogs to go right from first principles and then slowly develop all the logic and practical solutions on the topic, which we call The Systematic Approach.

Systematic Approach

The Systematic Approach is a unified way of thinking. It means we consider all the influences on hi-fi performance in an integrated and balanced way, and we need to have all the information required to hand. It draws together the views that a system is both a set of discreet components and a whole entity built into an architectural framework. And then it considers how the system is affected by internal interactions and the environment within which it operates. The Systematic Approach enables us to make logical decisions that will take us in the right direction, towards an effective system performance, and not down the myriad of blind alleys that wait to trap the unwary.

Your 'hifi system' includes your room, your mains, your music, your tastes, and, well, your brain. We all listen to music in surprisingly different ways, subconsciously, and this has a significant bearing on what we need to consider when managing the upgrading process.

A conventionally set-up hi-fi system, as a complete entity, will suffer from some seriously debilitating effects. Some are external or 'environmental', others are 'interactive' in their nature. Looking closer we see that these effects have clear root causes and that some of these causes are constant, others are variable - and often a by-product of the constantly changing levels of energy that our systems generate (and therefore volume and music program dependent).

The Parasitic Root Causes

There are essentially two parasitic root causes of systematic faults as follows:

Radio Frequency Interference (RFI):

Environmental or system generated, RFI can be variable and interactive. It can come from many sources and be present over a huge range of frequencies. At lower frequencies things like poorly maintained electric motors can send significant levels of RFI back down power supplies. At high frequencies we have a myriad of digital equipment around us, throwing lots of noise onto the mains - and radiating the stuff too (EMI). Mobile phones of course are deliberately radiating significant amounts of RF energy. And the hifi components themselves will generate a certain amount of RFI too, and that noise is right at the heart of your system (many digital components 'push' a substantial amount of RFI back onto the mains, polluting the supplies to other components in the system).

Acoustic (vibrational) energy:

Vibrational energy exists within all component structures (circuits and chassis). This can be environmental, interactive and variable. Vibration might get into your components from the ground (up through the supports). It may be internally generated by devices such as transformers and optical disc transports, or just picked up from high sound pressure levels in your listening room.

Vibration energy will be passed around the system by all the cables. Again this is a combination of factors – transformers constantly send their vibrations around all the mains leads, vibration from speakers is fed back to the amplifier along the speaker leads, and similar to ground borne vibration being fed into your system through a stand, it can also be fed into your mains loom through the sockets in your wall.

It is important to remember too, that when we say acoustic or vibrational energy we don't just mean the obvious low frequency thump of a bass drum or foot fall. No, we mean vibration at frequencies all the way through the audio range and right through the ultrasonic spectrum too.

What's Next to discuss?

In the next blog, I will describe what effects these two root causes produce when we listen to our systems!