Working remotely and social distancing have become our new reality for the time being and there is no question that this is going to be a huge challenge for all of us. Those of us who find themselves working from the kitchen table or home office surrounded by children who are out of school for the foreseeable future need some form of escape to keep ourselves mentally healthy. Music is a very healthy distraction; one that allows us to focus on something positive for even a short period of time. Clearing your head listening to music will make you more productive and reduce your stress levels. There are inexpensive ways to improve your listening experience at home.
iFi PowerStation ($499.99)
Power conditioners are a controversial topic for audiophiles; especially when some have advocated for products that cost more than an entire system as a viable and affordable accessory. If you need to spend $5,000 to improve the sound of your $10,000 system – you bought the wrong $10,000 system. A properly designed power conditioner should provide immediate surge protection, reduce power line noise, lower the amount of noise that you hear across the entire frequency range, and fix ground loop issues. In our experience, they also improve the performance of network routers, and improve the transparency levels of source components like digital streamers.
The PowerStation can handle 8 components; although we would still advise plugging large power amplifiers directly into the wall, and its impact was immediately noticeable. Background noise/hum completely disappeared from my office system and the overall presentation was more immediate and focused. Plugging my MacBook Pro into the PowerStation and using the Tidal desktop app to stream was also quite satisfactory; MQA-encoded files sounded smoother and vocals were most certainly warmer sounding.
QED Reference XT40i ($135.99/5M) and XT25 ($89.99/2M) Loudspeaker Cable
Consumers rightfully roll their eyes when audiophiles try to convince them about the value of $5,000 power cords, or 3 feet of interconnect cable that sells for the same price of a 48-inch Viking gas stove for your kitchen. It is not money well spent. Been there. Done that. Cables do make a difference; a well-designed cable can dramatically clean up RFI issues and improve the sound of your system. Copper cables alter the tonal balance of your system differently than silver cables; silver cables have a tendency to sound brighter and more detailed at the expense of midrange warmth and low-end punch.
There is an argument to be made for affordable cables that elevate the sound of your system; lower noise floor, improved transparency and resolution, and more insight into the performance. QED has always steered towards the more affordable end of the spectrum with all of their cables and we are particularly fond of the XT40i and XT25 loudspeaker cables that do a rather remarkable job on the clarity and detail side. Music sounds very punchy and dynamic; although we would steer clear if your system leans towards the analytical side of the spectrum. Connect these loudspeaker cables to warmer sounding loudspeakers to really experience meaningful sonic benefits. They are built well, easy to connect, and very affordable.
Iso-Acoustics ISO-PUCK Mini Vibration Devices ($99.99/8 pucks)
Having used vibration platforms and cones for 20 years, I’ve developed an understanding of which products work effectively with specific audio components. Every experience will be different because every component reacts differently to resonance control. I use vibration control products at work with our balances, scales, and laboratory equipment because repeatable accurate results are mandatory and vibration can skew results. In the case of the ISO-PUCK mini devices, what inspires confidence is the background of the company and their decades of experience planning and building radio and television studios for the CBC across Canada.
During my ten years in radio and television production in Toronto, I spent countless hours in studios situated in buildings either built directly over the subway system, or in buildings next to the city’s busiest thoroughfares. Vibration and noise were the enemy – but thanks to the engineering work of people like IsoAcoustics’ President, David Morrison, our studios were great places to record and edit. The ISO-PUCK mini vibration devices make bookshelf loudspeakers sound more open, detailed, and improve their imaging. They are ideal for a desktop or media unit and are very easy to use. The one caveat is that they do have an impact on the bass response which some people may not like; bass is tighter and quicker but less visceral as there is less interaction between the loudspeaker and your stands or room.
When placed under components like a digital streamer, there is a definite improvement in the overall sound; lower noise floor and more detail with most tracks that we tried on Tidal and Qobuz.