Does hi-fi gear really need to be serviced?

Yes, all electronic and electromechanical equipment needs maintenance.

Actually, pretty much everything made by humans needs some form of periodic maintenance or service. When we think about complex electronic equipment, often operating decades beyond its intended design life though, the need for maintenance is obvious.

Design Life

The manufacturer-specified maintenance information is usually found in the service documentation and takes the form of cleaning, electronic and mechanical adjustment and parts replacement necessary to keep equipment running reliably. This maintenance is what was thought would be needed over the projected design life of the equipment. When this equipment was designed and built though, nobody imagined that it would still be working, let alone cherished and sought after, 30, 40, or even 50 years later.

Often there’s very little maintenance information, a reflection of the consumer nature of this equipment and its projected lifespan. The extended life that much of this equipment sees is well past the intended design life in most cases though and much of the maintenance it needs now is simply not covered by service data. Keeping these pieces running requires experience and an understanding of how equipment ages. Many of these techniques have been pioneered and developed by Liquid Audio and others over the years.

Avoiding the Magic Smoke

Owners of hi-fi equipment are often unaware of these maintenance requirements, or that electronic components degrade over time. Eventually, mechanical parts seize or fail and the ‘magic smoke’ is released from electronic components, leaving hi-fi equipment no longer functional. *

Having established that all hi-fi equipment needs maintenance, the more complex it is, the more maintenance it needs. Turntables and cassette decks are generally the most maintenance-intensive, followed by amplifiers, CD players, tuners, preamps and then things without knobs, like DACs, roughly in that order.

I’ve written more about how and why electronic equipment needs periodic maintenance here and here. Periodic maintenance reduces the likelihood and potential severity of equipment failure and dramatically improves its performance. Whatever you do, just have the work done by someone competent. Your equipment will eventually fail if you don’t maintain it.

* What’s magic smoke, you ask? Well, just like magic, when the magic smoke is released from an electronic part, that part and your equipment no longer work. Magic smoke appears out of nowhere and may be almost impossible to trace. Magic smoke cannot be ‘re-installed’, only new components containing their factory original magic smoke perform to specification.

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