FAQs

FAQs

Welcome to our FAQs

This comprehensive, categorised and regularly updated set of more than 100 frequently asked questions deliver really useful information about amplifiers, speakers, turntables, general hi-fi stuff, service and repair, vintage vs modern gear and much more.

Each category contains questions I’m commonly asked, and some I know you want answers to anyway.

Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have a question I’ve not answered here. Suggestions are always welcome!


Categories

Click on a category to reveal the FAQs within.

Why did you remove the phone number from your contact page?

Basically, we were receiving too many calls and messages and this was interfering with workflow.

People seek guidance in choosing hi-fi gear, in purchasing hi-fi gear, advice regarding equipment comparisons, repairs, fault diagnosis, and so on. People also want to discuss potential bookings, equipment problems, the list is endless.

The problem for us is that we have processes in place to help people with advice and an online process for arranging bookings that captures critical information and reduces the volume of calls and messages that prevent me from getting work done. And yet people call, and message, even when it clearly stated we don’t use messages for business…

So with that in mind, a few people suggested removing our number from the site which I did, and it was a good decision. This has dramatically reduced call volume, strange out-of-hours calls, weekend calls and random text messages. We still get calls from folks who are given our business cards in Perth hi-fi stores, but that’s OK.

If you need to get in touch, you’ll have my number on a business card or you should fill out the contact form, on our contact page which captures all the necessary details.

Why do you have these FAQs?

The FAQs save my time and yours, by addressing questions we are commonly asked.

Over more than a decade of doing this work, there are questions I’ve probably been asked hundreds of times now. If I answered these same questions over and over, I’d seriously never get any work done! By developing these categorised FAQs, everyone can pick up a few useful answers and this dramatically reduces wasted time for me. Everyone wins!

What’s better: a short tonearm or a longer one?

Other things being equal, a longer tonearm is always better, with one exception: linear tracking arms.

The reason we want a long conventional arm, or a linear tracker, is to eliminate tracking error and therefore distortion.

When a tonearm moves across a record, it does so in an arc, because the arm is fixed at a point that becomes the radius for arm motion across the record. Ideally, the tonearm would move in a straight line across the record. That isn’t possible, except in the case of the linear tracking arm, seen on decks like the Technics SL-10 for example.

For conventional arms, the stylus will scribe an arc across the record, the curvature of which is determined by the length of the arm. The longer the arm, the greater the radius, the gentler the arc and the lower the tracking error, and therefore distortion.

This is the single reason why many of the best tonearms are 12 inches long in the old money. Very good arms are usually 10 inches long or close to it and the standard length is around 9 inches. There are some excellent 9-inch arms, but this is about as short as you want to go before tracking error causes significant tracking distortion.

You’ll occasionally find a turntable with a very short arm. I’ve worked on a few Gold Notes for example with 8-inch arms. This allows the manufacturer to build tiny little turntables, but the compromises are too great and I strongly suggest you avoid anything with a less than 9-inch tonearm.

Are there customers you won’t work with?

Yes, Liquid Audio, in collaboration with Perth’s best repairers, manages a short list of people who, for various reasons, will not be assisted.

Whilst we add to this list as needed (+1 from Liquid Audio in 2022), we enjoy fantastic relationships with 99.9% of our customers, so new additions are thankfully rare.

This is because businesses like ours attract sensible clients who generally have some understanding of the nature of older electronics and appreciate our efforts in looking after it, and them. It’s also because we maintain the highest standards of professionalism and courtesy, and why we are one of the most trusted names in hi-fi electronics repair in Australia.

That being said, every business owner knows that the customer isn’t always right. In truth, there exists a very small number of people so problematic and difficult to deal with that attempts to assist them are best avoided.

Whether rude, unreasonable, harassing or some combination of undesirable traits, rather than battle with people like this, my colleagues and I have a simple zero-tolerance policy: assistance is terminated, details are recorded, shared, and we move on.

Someone really has to do the wrong thing for this to happen but if/when they do, they effectively lose access to all the best repairers in Perth.

Are remastered records better than old ones?

A very good question, with no simple answer, other than often not. This varies due to many factors, but remastered records are often worse than early pressings.

Here’s what we know about analog recordings made on tape (as almost all analog recordings are): they offer the highest resolution, but deteriorate over time. The very best versions of the masters, mix-down masters, sub-masters and various analogs that make their way to the record pressing facilities are the ones made as close to when the original analog recordings were made.

What this means for records is that the early ones or those closest to the recording are often the best, all other things being equal. Better still, you want an early pressing from one of the first stampers made from the first mother – the moulds used to create the moulds used to press records. That’s because the moulds deteriorate every time they are used.

Add to this the fact that record plants, equipment, technicians and the people that operate the tape machines were all at their peak years ago, not right now, and the tendency for remasters to be produced too hot and you have a combination that renders modern remasters often disappointing. Don’t just take my word for it though, you can read more about this in many great articles online, like this good primer for example.

That being said, if you get the right album, remastered by the right engineer, in the right studio, with really good, intact analog masters as closely as possible to the originals, with good quality, clean vinyl that’s been well pressed, thick and flat, remasters can sometimes sound better than the originals, or at least as good. The problem is, there are not enough like this!

Mike – cassette decks – what’s the deal?

Cassette decks offer a ton of fun and a real blast from the past user experience, but there are a few things to consider before you go crazy.

Cassette decks are amongst the most complex of hi-fi gear and generally require the most maintenance due to their electro-mechanical nature. Think of the VCR you used to own, and you’ll not be far away.

This maintenance is regular and periodic, with some necessary every 10 hours or so. It’s also specialised, requiring special tools, lubricants, demagnetisers, calibration/test tapes and more. The work can be time-consuming and technical, and much of it is way beyond most owners. So, the catch-22 with cassette decks is that as fun as they are, they can be costly to maintain.

Whatever, I have several cassette decks and I love playing tapes. It really takes me back and a good three-head dual capstan machine like my Pioneer CT-A9X will sound excellent. Just remember compact cassette as it is correctly called is not a true hi-fi medium and was never intended to be. Better decks with good tapes can sound excellent, but it’s more about the experience: warmth, VU meters, spinning reels and tactile interaction with these wonderful whirring machines.

If you want a cassette deck, look for a better, three head, dual capstan deck, from one of the bigger players like AKAI, Kenwood, Pioneer, Revox, Sony, TEAC, Technics, Yamaha and Nakamichi. Better decks cost more and are worth more, so the inevitable maintenance doesn’t feel so painful.

Full ‘mechanism out’ services have to be done periodically and can take many hours. Many more hours can be spent on calibration. Most decks need major work at this age and the better decks are still very serviceable, but heads, pinch rollers and some other parts may be impossible to obtain, so choose carefully. If in doubt, get good advice from someone who actually works on these wonderful old machines, and consider a specialist forum like TapeHeads.

Why didn’t you repair my equipment?!

Despite focusing on malfunctioning, unsupported and sometimes ‘unrepairable’ hi-fi equipment, we fix almost all of it.

This is very significant, because:

  • Much of it is complex, older equipment requiring highly skilled remedial work
  • Many pieces have visited other repairers who could not effect repair
  • Repairing this type of equipment requires a technical, component-level approach many don’t offer

Think about it: if repairs like this were easy, there’d be no demand for businesses like ours, yet we are fully booked for much of each year with no advertising.

Naturally, there are circumstances where repairs aren’t viable/possible. We consider the condition, faults, value and work needed to properly repair a piece of equipment and we even consider the customer when making that call.

Viability

In cases where repair costs are likely to exceed equipment value, customer budget, or customer expectation, they may be deemed non-viable. Let’s look at some examples:

  • A customer doesn’t want to spend the money needed to properly repair their equipment
  • Mission-critical parts or substitutes are no longer available (rare)
  • A repair is not worth doing due to equipment condition or value (common)
  • A repair cannot be accommodated due to workflow issues
  • A repair is too painful due to equipment or customer issues

It’s important to understand that we are not responsible for equipment condition, faults, customer budget, parts availability, manufacturer technical support or overall repair viability. These elements are beyond our control.

An Example

We recently worked on a basic, old amplifier, in poor condition, with various issues. The owner had emptied what appeared to be an entire can of WD-40 into it, it had been modified without documentation, messed with by multiple people, was filthy, damaged and not well cared for. And broken. In other words: it was ‘handballed’ to us once it was truly knackered.

“Mike, why even bother looking at equipment like this?”

We generally wouldn’t, but I didn’t know about the insides or the customer when I agreed to help. Unfortunately, after several hours of working through issues with the unit, I decided that further work was not viable due to a combination of issues beyond our control.

Note: it doesn’t mean the amplifier can’t be repaired, only that it cannot be economically repaired by us, because to do so would generate a disproportionately large bill vs the equipment value.

Realistic Expectations

It’s like an 85-year-old visiting the doctor and wanting to be cured of arthritis. When the doctor examines the patient and determines that the required joint replacements and therapy are beyond viable, do those realities become the doctor’s ‘fault’ or responsibility? Should they provide their time and expertise for free? Of course not.

I mention this because this customer had this very flawed view. Yes, we affect repairs that many others cannot, but there are no miracles. Despite doing our best to help the customer and only charging our minimum, we were ‘blamed’ for not fixing this amp and not thanked for our efforts.

Plenty of affordable gear is viable to repair, especially if it’s in good condition and hasn’t been tinkered with. Equipment may also have strong sentimental value and repair cost is less of a consideration.

My rare and valuable amplifier has failed, how much will it cost to repair?

Good question and one that we cannot answer until we’ve assessed your equipment and figured out exactly what’s gone wrong with it.

This concept should make immediate sense to just about everyone, yet I’m amazed at how often people ask the question.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not at all surprised that people want to know how much their repair will cost, but asking for a ‘quote’ to repair your Sansui AU-20000 for example when we haven’t even taken the lid off is quite literally like ringing a mechanic when your Ferrari won’t start and asking:

“What’s wrong with it and what will it cost to repair..?”

Every failure is different, it’s impossible to know why or the extent of the damage until the amplifier has been inspected and the fault/s diagnosed. This is always the first step in professional failure analysis, damage assessment and repair. Be very wary of anyone telling you otherwise.

A repair cost estimate must consider:

  • Fault tracing and diagnosis
  • Failed part assessment
  • Replacement parts costs
  • Repair time
  • Testing and calibration time
  • Contingencies

Have a look at my recent Krell KSA-100S repair for example. I could never have guessed the hidden issue with that amp, despite having fixed a few of these beasts. Guessing about repair costs isn’t part of any sensible approach and professionals don’t do it.

It’s really worth processing this because the last thing you want is to deal with the wrong people and end up with something even worse than a dead but fixable amplifier – a ruined amplifier. At that point, it’s too late, even if you take it to a professional.

What’s better: a good moving magnet cartridge or a cheap moving coil?

Great question, but here’s the problem: I don’t like either very much!

With that out of the way, I’d probably go for a good moving magnet cartridge over a cheap moving coil.

If you have say around $500 to spend, and assuming you are chasing a medium compliance cartridge for a typical medium mass tonearm, there are lots of choices. Moving coil cartridges are technically better for a number of reasons, but at this low price point (yes, $500 is low priced for cartridges), moving coils are almost always high output types, of basic construction and generally don’t sound great.

Why? There are no surprises here. Cheap cartridges with aluminium cantilevers and spherical or elliptical styli don’t sound amazing, whatever the flavour. A nice moving magnet at this price probably has a better diamond, better cantilever and is going to sound warmer, punchier and probably a little easier on the ear, even if it does lack resolution.

Much beyond $500, moving magnet cartridges don’t get a lot better because they are technically limited by the moving mass or inertia of the moving elements. Low output moving coils start to come into their own at around the $750 mark. From here, the advantages of moving coils become critically important and this is why most cartridges I recommend from $750 are MC types and basically all high-end cartridges are coils.

It’s also why all of my serious carts are and have been moving coils. There’s no accident or conspiracy here, you can just listen on good systems and you’ll hear it, but it creates that hi-fi equipment problem where one wants to spend more and more money!

Keep in mind though that you need an altogether better playback chain to get the most out of a low output MC cart. A real rookie error involves listening to a nice MC cart on a cheap phono preamp. You’ll never hear all that the low output MC cart can do because of the limited resolution of the phono preamp. The best solution is a high-quality step-up transformer.

What’s the best moving coil phono preamplifier?

Easy – a good step-up transformer.

Nothing does a better job of taking the extraordinarily small signals from a moving coil cartridge and amplifying them than a step-up transformer. That’s because they are completely passive, require no power and have no electronic or moving parts to degrade sonics or add noise. Note: this is not my opinion, this is a fact.

Most people have never owned or used a really great transformer, or any transformer at all, but they were common in high-end systems in the ’70s and ’80s.

In summary, the pros:

  • Better in every way, better bass, midrange, treble
  • Lowest noise,
  • Greatest resolution and micro-dynamic detail
  • No parts to wear out

And the cons:

  • More expensive to manufacture than consumer-grade electronic phono pres
  • Require careful matching to the cartridge and thus should involve an expert third party
  • Really good transformers are expensive

The very best MC step-up transformers are seriously expensive, but once you’ve heard what one can do for a really good moving coil cartridge, it’s almost impossible to go back to an active electronic MC gain stage, whether it be tube or transistor-based.

Note that the MM and EQ parts will still be active, so you cannot get away from this completely. The first part of the chain is where the transformer sits, doing at least 30dB of heavy lifting.

Do customers ever fail to collect and pay?

Almost never.

Great customers, a high repair success rate, sensible pricing and upfront conversations, all combine to deliver a non-payment rate of almost zero. Also, because we operate ethically and with integrity, we generate goodwill that shields us from things like this.

I’ve had two non-payers in 10+ years. One was a crooked real estate agent, something I found out a little too late! We extracted payment from him eventually though, because his equipment was worth far more than he owed us and he knew that. He’s extremely lucky we didn’t sell it after one month, let alone the twelve months he left it with us 😉

I’m having trouble aligning my cartridge, why does each tool seem to give a different result?

This is a really good question, variations of which I hear a lot. Let’s look at this in a little more detail as there’s a bit to unpack.

As always, I’ll present you with the facts, from a specialist’s perspective. What you do with them is up to you!

First up, cartridge alignment is a precise, technical process. There’s not a lot of room for opinion on cartridge alignment, it’s really about understanding the process and how to do it, accurately. I’ve written more about the key parameters involved in cartridge and tonearm set-up, so check that out too.

Next, we need to clarify something: There is only one factory-correct alignment and that’s the one made to factory specifications. Note: I’m not saying there is only one possible alignment, I’m saying there is only one factory-correct alignment.

So, what is a factory or manufacturer-specified alignment? A factory cartridge alignment is:

  • Done exactly as the tonearm/turntable manufacturer recommends
  • Made to exact, recommended specifications
  • Achieved using an originally-supplied alignment tool, overhang gauge, or protractor

Factory alignment usually involves setting the correct overhang and/or cartridge offset at one or two null points. This is most often achieved by setting a stylus tip distance with respect to the headshell-arm junction, which is how Denon, Kenwood, Sony, Technics and many other manufacturers do it.

I typically use factory/manufacturer specified alignments and factory tools because the design engineers knew what they were doing when they specified their alignment and I like to honour those design decisions. Plus I get a kick out of doing things correctly when others who really should know better get it wrong, over and over again.

In rare cases where the original set-up data and/or tools are not available, I’ll select (or make) an alignment tool appropriate for the job, based on familiarity with the arm design and its specifications and on experience aligning and calibrating thousands of turntables, tonearms and cartridges.

Alignment Confusion

Alignment confusion occurs mostly when folks don’t really understand what alignment actually is. Cartridge alignment is setting a precise geometric and positional relationship of a cartridge in space as it moves across the surface of a record. It describes an arc of a precise radius as it moves, calculated at the design stage to yield the best (or a particular) total area under the curve distortion result.

In other words, the prescribed alignment is designed to generate the lowest distortion at some significant place on the record surface, often an outer track, or the inner grooves where distortion tends to be higher. Change the radius and angle of the cartridge, ie its alignment, and you will change the distortion result, and how the turntable sounds.

Generic Alignment Problems

When a cartridge is correctly factory aligned, it may appear misaligned when checked with any of the multitudes of cartridge protractors and alignment gauges available. Likewise, if you align a cartridge with a Shure paper alignment gauge for example, when you check with a factory tool, the alignment will likely appear wrong.

Why? Because those others are the wrong tools for the job. See the problem? The simple answer to this is that each tool delivers a different alignment. Don’t expect five different alignment tools and methods to get you the same alignment because they won’t. It’s actually possible that none of them may be correct for your deck.

So, which do you think is most likely to give the correct alignment for your deck: a generic paper gauge designed for “every” turntable (which is technically impossible) or the factory-specified gauge/alignment for your tonearm?

Generic tools rarely deliver correct factory alignment, they deliver an alignment. These generic alignments are approximations based on a ‘generic’ tonearm length, mounting distance and type of alignment, not necessarily suited to your tonearm/turntable.

Generic protractors have a role in ‘quick and dirty’ alignments and work well in cases they were designed for, but there is no substitute for the correct factory alignment and alignment gauge, or a custom-made gauge specified with factory alignment parameters for your deck.

Time for a break… If this is starting to make sense, great. You are on the right track.

Multiple Alignment Syndrome!

Confusingly, various alignments are possible, each sounding different, some good, some not so good and some random owner and retailer-made alignments can sound appallingly bad! Baervald, Lofgren and Stevenson alignments are the three common types, each yielding measurably different total ‘area under the curve’ distortion. Your arm will likely use one of these alignments.

Which alignment is correct in your case? The factory alignment is technically the correct alignment, as the designers intended. It is always best set with a factory gauge, protractor or tool, or a precisely calculated and printed arc type protractor. Other alignments are possible as we’ve discussed, but in my opinion, it’s always best to stick with the factory-specified alignment.

If someone suggests they know better, no problem, but perhaps ask them how many turntables and tonearms they’ve designed before taking that for gospel 😏.

Owner Alignment

So, there’s a bit to consider before taking a screwdriver to your headshell. You need to know if the current alignment is correct and what that alignment actually is. The only way to know that is to be able to measure it and interpret the result. A generic protractor is not the solution. Unless these conditions are met, I strongly suggest you don’t change anything.

Just like your car’s wheel alignment, you would never change things without a way to measure and assess the current set-up, and a way to get back to where you started. This is why I recommend expert fitting and alignment – of tyres AND cartridges!

Summary

  • Your cartridge must be correctly aligned for maximum performance, with the correct overhang, azimuth, offset, VTA, plus the right tracking force and anti-skate.
  • The best alignment is the factory/manufacturer specified alignment, made with the correct/supplied tools.
  • You should only adjust your cartridge alignment if you understand and can accurately measure the alignment.

Thanks for reading! If you appreciate the time and effort I put into FAQs like this one which took several hours from brain to page and many revisions, you are welcome to shout me a drink 🍻



Do cables make a difference?

Absolutely yes, but not always in the way people imagine.

Let’s just get this out of the way: good cables always improve system performance over crappy ones. That being said, there is more snake oil and pseudoscience in cables than just about any other aspect of hi-fi, and the hi-fi world is already filled with nonsense.

You know my thoughts on nonsense, so let’s clear some up.

Audio ‘Jewellery’

One of the problems here is that buyers often have no idea what makes a good cable and many just want what looks cool. Big mistake.

Thicker is not always better. There are some ridiculously thick interconnects out there for example. Interconnects and mains cables 5cm thick aren’t better, they are literally just silly. They damage or break connectors and can cause serious harm to really expensive gear. I’ve repaired the damage caused by some only recently.

Ask the maker of the cable if they know the loading specifications for the RCA connector they want you to attach their cable to. People imagine thicker must be better, because pseudoscience, so silly cables sell.

Likewise, prettier is not better and aesthetics have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with electrical performance. Cable construction is what actually matters. Poorly made or incorrectly terminated cables can act as antennas and fry amplifiers and speakers.

For some reason, the kookier a cable looks and feels, the more likely it is to sell. Add in a few meaningless marketing phrases like ‘super transconductance shield’ and ‘femto conductive polymer’ and combine them with the average shopper’s poor grasp of science and you have a guaranteed seller!

It’s no surprise that there are so many ’boutique’ cable manufacturers out there. There’s a TON of money to be made selling people snake oil, always has been, always will be.

The Truth

So what IS a better cable? BETTER is better. Technically better, higher-quality cable stock, with higher-purity copper and silver conductors, better solder, better insulation, better shielding, fewer metal types, better connectors, and better construction.

Have folks who understand signal transmission put all that together and you have better cables. It’s actually pretty straightforward. It’s not expensive to make very good cables, hence the proliferation of excellent DIY cables out there.

Check out what’s used in Abbey Road or Air Studios for example. You’ll find a ton of Canare and Mogami cable in mission-critical applications and these manufacturers make cable stock for the boutique brands people spend big bucks on. I use Mogami cable in my system, custom-made into balanced and single-ended RCA and speaker cables to suit.

Directionality

Are cables directional? No, there is no directionality in properly designed cables or almost any cables for that matter. If cables were directional they’d act like diodes and that would be harmful to sound, rectifying the signal and introducing massive distortion, so you’d better hope your cables aren’t directional.

Surprised that this isn’t what your favourite hi-fi equipment reviewer, retailer or guru said? Don’t be. Have a look at who advertises in their publications, on their websites and the stock they are selling. That’s called a conflict of interest. Do you see me selling any cables..?

Nordost, one of the great science-based (rather than BS-based) cable manufacturers, states that cables have no directionality. That’s not just about their cables, they’ve stuck their collective necks out to state the truth about all cables.

But Mike, my cables are directional, it says so on the jacket and the salesperson told me they were.

Great, but they aren’t. ‘Directionality’ sells, so most cables are simply labelled as directional. The average salesperson’s understanding of the science here will be limited let’s say, so choose your source of information wisely.

Conclusion

Let’s sum up what makes a good cable:

  • Premium conductor materials like high-purity copper or silver
  • Premium insulator materials like Teflon and cotton
  • Premium connectors, Amphenol, WBT or CMC for example
  • Well designed shielding
  • Cable symmetry, balanced or pseudo-balanced
  • Silver and copper-based solders
  • Minimising cable length
  • Low cable resistance and capacitance
  • Technically informed, properly engineered designs

Be especially wary of gurus selling cables. Choose carefully, from known quality manufacturers, based on good science, not what looks ‘cool’.

Can you just sell me a belt for my turntable?

Sorry but no, we don’t retail bare service parts to the general public.

“But I don’t understand why you won’t sell me a belt, are you just trying to be difficult..?!”

Someone actually asked me this, as if I don’t have better things to do with my time! It’s nothing to do with “being difficult” whatever that means. I simply don’t operate a retail shopfront, nor do I have the time or inclination to deal with parts sales.

I honestly can’t think of anything worse than discussing and selling parts all day and then dealing with the “It doesn’t fit”, “I don’t know how to install it”, “I chose the wrong part” and “My whatever still isn’t running right” follow-up conversations. My time is much better spent repairing hi-fi equipment for people. I will, however, gladly supply and fit any of the thousands of parts we have in stock when you book your equipment for maintenance.

If you are trying to save money by doing some service work yourself that’s great but be aware that most people, not necessarily you, but most people have no idea what they are doing. Many also wrongly assume that a belt, for example, is all that’s needed.

All the other adjustments, cleaning, lubrication and parts replacements that make a huge contribution to performance tend to be ignored until the equipment fails. Doing the bare minimum is a poor maintenance strategy, so if you’d like assistance with the maintenance of your equipment, get in touch via our contact form.

Why don’t all CD players sound the same?

For the same reasons all guitars and all cassette decks don’t sound the same.

There are so many elements in a CD contributing to the sound that no two CD players could ever sound the same unless they were the same model of course. It’s the same with amplifiers, speakers, TVs, whatever. None of them will sound the same because the sonic end result is the sum of many elements working together.

A common technical misunderstanding is that:

“It’s all just ones and zeros.”

But it’s not at all that simple.

If it were just ones and zeros, there’s a good chance all CD players would sound the same, or similar at least. But it isn’t. You can’t listen to those ones and zeros, a lot has to happen before we can hear them. Yet again we see technical misunderstandings, fuelled by misinformation.

The sound heard from a CD player is significantly influenced by each of the following:

  • CD mechanics and laser
  • DAC type and design – R2R/multibit delta-sigma/chip/discrete – the ones and zeros part
  • Analog and digital filter type and design – HDCD/FPGA/DSP…
  • Inter-stage analog buffers
  • Output buffer – chip/discrete/class-A/tube/transistor/transformer/balanced/singled-ended etc
  • Power supply – linear/SMPS/rails/filtering
  • Clock – frequency/PPM precision/drift
  • General parts type and quality
  • Layout, board design, wiring, shielding
  • Condition of the unit, laser power output

Every element influences what you hear. The ones and zeros part is actually a small part of the complete CD player.

Is it OK to play CDs on my DVD player?

It’s certainly OK to play CDs on your DVD player and it’s perfectly safe, except perhaps for your ears!

“But Mike, I’ve heard all CD players and DVD players sound the same?”

They really don’t sound the same, and appreciating this simply comes down to experience. If you’ve never heard a really good CD player in a really good system, you need to. CDs sound ‘OK’ played on cheap DVD players, but in a high-resolution system, the difference between a good dedicated CD player and a cheap DVD player is night and day.

Don’t believe me? Ask anyone who’s compared CD players and DACs in high-resolution hi-fi systems. Nobody who has will tell you that CD players sound the same or that DVD players are a good way to play CDs.

Even the famously over-hyped Oppo BluRay players that everyone said were the best sounding players ever don’t hold a candle to a really good dedicated CD player. How do I know..? I tested one in my system for several months.

What annoys you about running Liquid Audio?

Not much, but the things that do hinge around courtesy, respect and originality, or a lack thereof!

Note that annoyances make up a tiny fraction of an otherwise overwhelmingly positive experience, but since you asked:

  • People who try to ‘steal’ our advice and assistance

Circumventing processes we have in place for rendering advice and assistance to people is always going to put me offside. It’s just me running everything here, and I’m not ‘just’ repairing things as other repairers are. I’m doing the repairs, writing the articles and providing assistance to people who seek it out from around the world. My time is valuable and these processes exist to make my life easier!

  • Copycats

Various businesses copy mine, which is flattering, yet also irritating. Every word, every image, every technical detail you see here comes from my brain. So when I see or read things I’ve written or notice work of the same style, images shot in the same way on other people’s sites, there’s only one way that could have happened!

For example, there’s a guy who also uses a turntable in his logo, has copied the type of work I do, borrowed heavily from my website design and aesthetic and has even copied some of my text and web content to promote his business. The only thing he doesn’t do as I’ve learned from customers who bring work to me is fix the really hard repairs!

  • People who hassle me to book their equipment and then repeatedly call asking if I’ve looked at it.

I understand everyone wants their equipment fixed quickly, but if I’ve told you I’m full and that I’m squeezing your equipment in as a favour, please don’t keep calling me and asking if it’s ready!

  • People who are rude, ungrateful or disrespectful

Who wants to help someone who is rude or ungrateful? We keep a list of people we will not assist and this helps both myself and other Perth repairers.

I’d like new speaker terminals, RCA connectors and IEC mains connector – what are your thoughts?

You might be surprised to know that in many cases I discourage this. Let’s discuss why.

I’m most interested in retaining equipment originality and keeping it running optimally where possible. There is almost always lower hanging fruit that should be knocked off first in pursuit of these goals, so my question is:

“Do you want fancy connectors or the best sonic improvements for your money?”

Much of what people think they know about connectors is wrong because it’s based on marketing rather than science. Good connectors are very important, but did you know the best connections are hardwired soldered connections?

One of the best ways to improve an amplifier for example is to hard-wire in a really good power cable. Did you know that? Did your retailer explain that to you? No..? Oh, wait, they’re selling fancy-looking detachable power cables…

I’m not interested in ‘what’s poppin’ in the forums, I’m interested in what’s technically correct and the best way forward. That’s why people come to Liquid Audio or they learn that and it brings them back.

I can clean and treat connectors with a product that lowers contact resistance and you can hear the difference that makes. I can also improve an existing IEC inlet with a premium hospital-grade filtered Swiss-made inlet module if you’d like. They aren’t cheap but you can hear the difference they make too. I can also bypass IEC inlets and hard-wire in some heavy-duty mains cable.

I can replace speaker terminals, but again, it’s often unnecessary. It may be better to simply change cable connectors. If your speaker connectors are broken, then sure, it makes sense to change them. There are many possibilities that don’t make accessory manufacturers rich and that many aren’t aware of. Just ask if you’d like to learn more.

Yes, cables make a difference, more in some cases than others. That’s a topic for another FAQ!

Yes, replacing bad RCA connectors can be very worthwhile. We often upgrade RCA connectors.

No, adding a heavy-duty mains cable to a turntable will not make a difference. It simply can’t, because physics. Changing the signal cable can though.

No, using crazy-thick RCA cables is not a good idea. Want heavy-duty connectors and better sound? Go balanced. All the best gear is balanced and there are many technical reasons why it’s the better way to transmit low amplitude audio signals.

How do I arrange a consult?

Simply visit our Contact page and click the buy now button in the consults section.

Once you’ve paid for a block/s, book your consult via the contact form and let me know what you’d like to discuss. Oh, and don’t worry – if it’s something I’m not able to assist you with, I’ll issue an immediate refund.

I’m happy to chat by video call, voice call or email, though voice or video calls are usually more effective for consult purposes. If you are local, you can also visit for a consult with me in the Liquid Audio workshop.

So, for little more than the price of a record, you can pick my brains and receive personalised assistance that could save hundreds, thousands and massively improve your system. Try getting that from a retailer trying to sell you what they stock!

What are your thoughts on buying equipment in poor condition?

Generally speaking, I suggest you don’t.

I know that everyone wants a bargain and equipment in poor physical condition is often bargain-priced. Sadly, there is no escaping the fact that equipment in poor condition tends to be less reliable and less repairable than similar gear in good condition. It also doesn’t hold value as well and is less collectible down the track.

If you are thinking you’ve snagged a bargain because you’ve found the make and model you’ve been looking for in rough condition, think again. Often, poor condition outside means poor condition inside, and poor maintenance in general. Corrosion is a good example. Once corrosion goes through equipment it can cause endless problems. Likewise, poorly cared-for gear is usually poorly serviced and maintained, even poorly repaired.

Despite the best efforts of skilled repairers later, these issues are usually not reversible. You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, as they say, something to really keep in mind.

Should I clean my turntable with a soft cloth..?

Not without taking a few precautions!

If you quite enjoy your current cartridge, let me give you a little bit of advice, from one long time lover of all things vinyl to another.

Nothing ruins your day faster than an absent-minded dust down of your turntable with a soft microfibre cloth, that runs a little too close to your stylus. Please DON’T ask me how I know.

The worst thing is I know better, and I’ve lost count of how many customers have done something similar. Each time, it causes great pain and anguish, especially when something like an Ortofon MC-A90 falls victim… 🤦‍♂️

To answer your question, I only suggest cleaning your turntable with a soft cloth with the headshell and cartridge removed.

Are there any other repairers in Perth you recommend?

Yes, I’m interested in keeping classic hi-fi gear running, so I’m always happy to recommend good people doing good work and discourage ill-advised repair attempts.

It’s a limited yes though. If we’re fully booked and you’d rather not wait, I understand. Rather than having your equipment potentially ruined or not properly repaired, I have two recommendations. Both are colleagues, great people, highly skilled and care about their work:

  • Jason @ The Speaker Doctor / The Turntable Doctor, for speakers, turntables, and other things. Jason is a good friend and highly recommended.
  • John @ JW Electronics has a ton of experience and repairs a wide range of gear, including home cinema equipment and car stereo. Also highly recommended, for a slightly different type of gear than I focus on.

If you do decide to use either of these good gents, please let them know I referred you.

“Mike, aren’t you worried about giving work away to competitors?”

Not at all, I’m comfortable recommending good people because it helps you and your equipment. Customers choose to come to us for particular reasons and many are happy to wait for booking availability, but I get that the wait can be tedious, I really do. The repairers I’ve recommended send work our way too, so it all balances out.

Is it worth getting my dual cassette deck serviced or repaired?

That generally depends on whether it needs service or repair. For machines needing repair, it’s often not worth it.

You see, dual or double cassette machines were generally the cheapest cassette machines of their time. Now, consider that cassette deck maintenance can be some of the most labour intensive work we do. How many cassette deck mechanisms are in a double cassette deck? Two!

This unfortunately means doubling the already time-consuming technical workload in most cases, and that can mean a lot of work, sometimes way more than these decks are worth. If both decks work and they need cleaning and service work, then yes, it’s probably worth doing. If the deck/s need repair though in the form of idlers, belts etc, then it’s generally something to avoid, unless cost is not a concern.

Now, don’t shoot the messenger here. I’m interested in saving you money and pain, and I’m always going to give you the facts, rather than what you want to hear. Is it worth spending a lot of time and money on a deck that might be worth $100? This is a question for owners of course and there are more than just financial considerations, but the low inherent value of this sort of cassette deck makes all but standard service work often not viable.

Do you service and repair equipment for local hi-fi stores?

Yes, several of Perth’s most highly regarded hi-fi stores utilise our services.

Some of Perth’s best hi-fi stores either direct customers to us or use Liquid Audio for in-house service and repair work. As an independent repairer, a large portion of our work is a result of direct customer engagement, but helping local businesses is a very satisfying part of what we do.

Should I buy a cheap turntable drive belt on eBay?

No, if you are going to get one, at least get a good one.

You could be lucky, but how will you know if you’re getting a quality belt of the correct size or not?

To some people, all rubber drive belts look and therefore ARE the same. But really, that’s like thinking all spark plugs or all tyres are the same. Learn a little though and you’ll realise they are not. There are technical, sizing and quality aspects to consider that vary from belt to belt, even when belts are specified as being ‘correct’ for their intended purpose.

I’ve seen many eBay and Alibaba belts. Customers buy them thinking they will save a few dollars and sometimes hi-fi stores fit them, only for owners to find their turntables now run fast, slow or noisily. Owners then have to buy another belt of good quality and the correct size. This only wastes time and money rather than saving it.

Belt diameter, width and thickness are critical. Excessive tightness from belts that are too small is a common problem. Incorrectly sized belts place excessive force on the drive pulley and motor bearings, causing noise, poor running and excessive wear.

Belt material and manufacture are also important. Poorly cut belts cause excessive wow in cassette decks. Poorly joined O-ring belts also cause speed issues. Poor quality belts don’t last either, some lasting only a year, vs 10 for good quality rubber belts. Belts that are too thick or thin will cause your deck to run at the wrong speed. Did you know that?

You can avoid these issues by simply taking your deck to someone who sells premium quality, correctly sized parts that meet OEM specifications. When your belt is being fitted they can also give our deck a health check and perform any other service work or adjustments necessary to make your turntable run at its best.

Which hi-fi stores in Perth do you recommend?

There are several excellent hi-fi stores in Perth where you’ll find excellent service, sensible advice and a chance to properly listen to good hi-fi equipment.

I recommend the following stores and sales staff:

  • Addicted to Audio in Subiaco. Dan is a great guy and really knows his stuff, plus this store has some really interesting brands and loads of personal audio gear.
  • Douglas HiFi in Osborne Park. For audio, chat with my friends Simon and Tony, ethical salespeople and nice guys, with a wealth of hi-fi experience. Douglas is evolving back into what it always was – a proper hi-fi stereo store!
  • Frank Prowse Hi-Fi in Nedlands. Owner David Prowse is one of the nicest guys in audio. He is ably assisted by great staff in one of Perth’s oldest and best-regarded proper hi-fi stores.
  • Revolution Turntable in Osborne Park. My friend Pierre is the owner, the official Australian Accuphase importer, a proper vinyl enthusiast and a genuinely nice guy. He stocks a range of great hi-fi stereo gear and is ably assisted by Jim.
  • West Coast Hi-Fi in Joondalup. Speak to Kim, another lovely guy, West Coast has a huge range of hi-fi and home cinema gear and very competitive pricing.

 

Why don’t you require upfront payments?

Because we trust our customers, they trust us and this arrangement works well for everyone.

I’m fortunate that my business brings in great customers. I don’t need or ask those customers to make any upfront payments. Naturally, people also want to collect their equipment after we’ve worked on it, so I never worry about this aspect of the business.

Can you provide me with a service manual?

I’d love to help but this request always puts me in a difficult position, so generally not.

I receive official factory support in some cases and have many service manuals which are not publicly available. I am legally obliged not to share these manuals and manufacturer-supplied service data.

Should I buy rare transistors on eBay?

No!

Almost all rare types that appear on eBay are fakes. Some parts are no longer available and that’s a certainty. If unavailable parts suddenly appear on eBay, usually from Shenzen, China, just walk away, unless you like throwing money away.

Trust me, there are lots of parts that I wish were still available, but they aren’t and we move on. Sure, an old guy in Poland may appear every so often with a box of special unavailable parts, but you’ll be able to detect these legitimate listings.

Everything else, like classic Hitachi 2SJ56 and 2SK176, VFETs, rare STK modules etc listed on eBay are fakes. I don’t mean they are probably fakes, I mean they 100% definitely are.

Because mystical parts like these are no longer available, unscrupulous sellers know that inexperienced buyers are willing to do almost anything to get hold of them. So they take existing low-spec parts and have them printed with whatever the unavailable part name is. You buy a few, install them, and they fail. How will you prove the new part is fake, versus there being some other reason it failed..? Do you have the technical ability to do that? Will you even know the new part failed..?

If you took your gear to the right place, a specialist could at least test it for you and let you know if it’s a fake. But beyond that, this is why I generally avoid fitting customer supplied parts. If you aren’t buying parts from the large commercial vendors that the manufacturers use and other specialist parts suppliers, as I do, you can’t trust the parts.

In many cases, you don’t need these parts anyway. For example, I have access to parts vendors that sell NOS parts and I keep many NOS parts in stock. There are modern replacements in most cases too, so don’t pay for fake parts.

If transistors die in my vintage amplifier can they be replaced?

In most cases, yes they can, sometimes with better than original parts.

This includes output devices in TO-3 or TO-3P packages, through to tiny little TO-92 devices, and everything in between. The art lies in understanding how to substitute transistors and which parts are appropriate to use in place of the original older types. I won’t be giving too much of that away!

It gets trickier when we consider certain MOSFETs and VFETs. Some of these are no longer available, nor are there suitable replacements. That being said, I’ve just repaired an amplifier with blown TO-3 MOSFETs and I used new, replacement parts from stock which worked perfectly. I have plenty more.

Most older devices have modern replacements and I keep a database of cross-references which I regularly update as I make new matches. This allows me to replace dead old devices with new ones. I have developed replacement processes for TO-66 devices used in Accuphase amplifiers for example and I keep hundreds of transistors in stock, including high-spec modern replacements for many vintage types including TO-39 and TO-66 types that are no longer available.

My technician told me cheap Chinese parts are perfectly good, what are your thoughts?

Good for what? A clock radio or Bluetooth speaker maybe, but not valuable hi-fi gear.

Cheap parts are OK in certain places, but not in good hi-fi gear. I’d suggest that a technician advising you that cheap Chinese parts are perfectly good is probably not someone you want to use.

“But Mike, Musical Fidelity uses cheap Chinese parts!”

Yes, they do, as do many manufacturers including Cambridge Audio, NAD and Redgum

The single most important reason a manufacturer would use Chinese parts is to save money. That’s it, there is no other reason. You might want to extrapolate from there and decide what that means to you in terms of a bigger picture view, but there is no good reason to fill a board with the cheapest parts, other than because the person or entity doing that is being cheap.

Do you do radio and tuner alignments?

Yes, we have precision RF alignment equipment and I suspect we are one of only a few still offering this service.

RF alignment is a bit of a black art, but I have a strong interest in radio and still keep the test and measurement equipment, cables and connectors necessary to perform RF alignments of AM and FM broadcast band radios and tuners, and shortwave radios too, if required.

Do you have calibration tapes, head demagnetiser etc?

Yes, we work on cassette decks and these are necessary tools of the trade.

We have various calibration tapes, special tools, test and measurement equipment, a TDK electronic tape head demagnetiser, a hand-made mirrored tape path cassette, and more.

Can you install LED lamps in my equipment?

In most cases yes, no problem.

We have stocks of incandescent and LED lamps, in the most common sizes, so you can choose what suits you. For the ultimate vintage goodness, incandescent lamps are the way to go. For a more modern look, LED illumination is great.

I’d like to use 100V equipment in Australia, is this an issue?

No, as long as you understand the implications and have a quality step-down transformer of the correct power rating.

Such a transformer should be from a quality local manufacturer like Tortech. It should be rated to deliver 1.5 to 3x the rated maximum power consumption of the attached equipment.

Obviously, if you have a big powerful amplifier, you’ll need a really massive step-down transformer to power it and amplifiers are probably the least well-suited to use with step down transformers. For low powered equipment like turntables and preamps, a small step-down transformer will be fine.

Note the 100V rated equipment is not the same as 110V or 120V rated equipment. They are not interchangeable and require a dedicated step-down transformer that delivers the correct voltage. These are available, just make sure you know which one you need, indicated on the placard on the back panel of your equipment.

Can you provide me with a kit, parts list or BOM?

No, we don’t offer this type of assistance.

Repairing, overhauling or even refreshing electronic equipment involves much more than just swapping out parts. Many who seek such kits don’t possess the skills and tools needed to properly install them or the broader understanding of electronics and test and measurement processes needed to ensure their equipment runs optimally after any intervention.

For most people, attempting to overhaul a complex piece of hi-fi electronics is ill-advised and dramatically increases the chance of introducing faults and issues that were not previously present. If saving money is the goal, it’s better for most owners to do nothing than attempt to overhaul their own equipment. There are exceptions of course.

It’s well worth mentioning: there are no magic kits or BOMs that will fix broken hi-fi gear. Each repair is unique, each needs to be assessed on its own merits and each will need a unique set of parts and – the critical part – skill, experience and tools to diagnose issues, remove existing parts and install new ones without causing damage. A kit or parts list doesn’t help with any of that.

Liquid Audio is focused on keeping classic hi-fi equipment running well. That means tailoring work to best meet the needs of equipment and its owner. It also means occasionally providing advice like this, in the broader best interests of the equipment itself.

I purchased equipment from Japan, plugged it in and it blew up, can you help?

That depends on how badly you’ve blown up your equipment. Inspection is needed to determine that.

If you don’t know, Japan uses a mains supply rated at 100 Volts. The USA uses 120V. These supply voltages are 100% incompatible with Australian 240V mains. If you plug in a piece of hi-fi equipment that is set to run on 100V here in Australia for example, IT WILL FAIL, without exception.

Electronic equipment does not “automatically adjust” as one customer who blew up his gear suggested to me. He may have been thinking about cheap equipment with switching power supplies (SMPS) that accommodate a wide range of input voltages and can be used around the world, like phone chargers for example. Virtually none of the hi-fi gear we are interested in uses SMPS.

At a minimum, have new equipment checked to ensure it is configured to run on 240V. Some equipment can be configured to run on a variety of line voltages, and some cannot. Sometimes the adjustment is external, other times it requires soldering inside a chassis. This is not something you can have a hunch about. Guessing on this is not an option!

“But Mike, it will cost me money to have my equipment checked and reconfigured..!”

That’s right, and it will cost you a much greater amount of money if you plug it in and it fails. It’s really about being sensible.

If your new equipment cannot be reconfigured, then a step-down transformer will be needed. There’s an FAQ for that.

Should I buy an AM/FM tuner from Japan?

No, you should never do this.

Japan has a different FM band frequency allocation, spanning 76 – 90 MHz. The Australasian, European and North American FM broadcast band spans 88 – 108 MHz. That means that with a Japanese FM tuner, you’ll see a tiny 2 MHz overlap. You’ll be lucky if you can pick up one station in that slice and this often cannot be changed, especially in the older analog style tuners.

Does hi-fi gear really need to be serviced?

Yes, it does. Hi-fi electronics and everything made by humans needs maintenance.

Keep one thing in mind – when the gear we own and love was designed and built, nobody imagined that it would still be working, 30, 40, or even 50 years later, way past its design life. Folks are often blissfully unaware of this or the fact that electronic components degrade over time, but all equipment needs maintenance and the more mechanical it is, the more maintenance it needs.

Turntables and cassette decks are typically the two most maintenance-intensive categories and these types of equipment need more maintenance than amplifiers for example. I’ve written more about how and why electronics need periodic maintenance here and here.

You are welcome to take your chances but one thing is for certain: your equipment will eventually fail if you don’t maintain it.

I’m not saying you have to bring your gear to Liquid Audio for service, but you do need to take it somewhere good.

Should I spray contact cleaner into my equipment?

Do you know what contact cleaner to use and where to spray it?!

If it’s a premium product that won’t leave a sticky residue and you know how to pre-clean, how much to spray where and where not, sure. If not, it’s best to leave this aspect of service to someone who understands the subtleties of the process.

Some of the most problematic gear I come across has been doused in cheap contact cleaners that leave a nasty, sticky residue. This residue fouls switches and potentiometers and must be completely removed with a specialised cleaning process to restore control functionality.

I’ve even had gear delivered to me that has been soaked in WD40! Don’t EVER do this and if this sounds like even a remotely good idea to you, DO NOT remove the cover of your equipment or go anywhere near the WD-40!

Can you tell me how to clean my hi-fi gear?

For most exteriors, I recommend a damp microfibre cloth and very mild detergent/water mix as a starting point.

Be careful with older gear. Sometimes fascias are printed with water-soluble ink, or ink that has become fragile over time. Solvents other than water, and even just water, can remove fragile ink. Also, be very careful with turntables. Styluses and microfibre don’t mix well.

Wood exteriors can be cleaned with wood soap and then oiled or waxed, as needed. I like to use O’Cedar oil for many kinds of wood, beeswax for some others. How do I decide? I don’t know but one gets a feel for it.

Interiors get a little more technical. There are electronic parts, high voltages and one must be very careful not to damage anything. Compressed or high-pressure air is always a good starting point. I use a cordless blower to clear big dust from many pieces.

From there it gets more involved and I generally recommend booking your equipment in for deep cleaning. I’ve developed deep cleaning regimens for hi-fi electronics which work very well. This involves high-pressure air, chemicals, solvents, water and a drying oven.

What’s the best amplifier design if I want the highest fidelity?

Class-A, nothing else sounds as good and it is the least compromised design in terms of audio performance.

That being said, class-A amplifiers are hot, heavy and expensive. They also often lack power, because even low-powered class-A amplifiers are heavy and expensive to make.

High-powered amplifiers like my old Krell KSA-150 are crazy-heavy and expensive. But, when sound quality is priority number one and you have the free space to site a large, expensive, heat-generating amplifier, class-A is always the way.

Keep in mind that dynamics and the ability to generate realistic sound pressure levels are as important as smoothness and low distortion in hi-fi terms. By these measures, some class-A amplifiers will be wanting with less sensitive speakers, simply because they lack power. But get the power/sensitivity match right and class-A is the gold standard.

Also, keep in mind you can get nearly all the way there, and get better dynamic fidelity with high-bias class-AB designs, like my 500 Watt per channel Perreaux 5150B. It has roughly 30 Watts per channel class-A power. For most normal listening, this is a 30 Watt class-A amplifier, with the dynamic capabilities of a 500 Watt amp. Cool huh!

What are the advantages of class-B amplifiers?

Much better efficiency than class-A, that’s it.

Class-B is often used for radiofrequency broadcast amplifiers, where high power and low spurious RF emissions (sorry, no class-D in radio!) make it a great choice. On its own though, class-B suffers from relatively high (crossover) distortion and is unsuitable for audio.

When a little quiescent current is applied though, the output transistors are biased to stay on past the zero-cross point, and you then have a class AB amplifier. This dramatically reduces distortion and is what most proper consumer-grade hi-fi amplifiers use these days.

What are the advantages of class-AB amplifiers?

Class-AB amplifiers give you the lower cost and cooler operation of class-B, with some of the finesse and fidelity of class-A.

You get the best of both worlds here, up to a point. Class-B amplifiers are no good for audio because of non-linearities around the crossover point, known as crossover distortion. They cost much less to make though and, offer more power and lower weight than an equivalent power class-A design. Class-A amplifiers have no crossover distortion but are heavy and run hot, for even modest power outputs.

Class-AB amplifiers operate in class-A up to a few Watts, and then revert to class-B to fill out the rest of the power envelope. At lower levels, you’ll have the sweet sound of class-A. For dynamic swings and higher volumes, you’ll have the punch of class-B. Obviously, the more class-A power on hand, the better the sound, other things being equal.

Almost all consumer-grade amplifiers are class-AB, because of the cost-effective nature inherent in this design topology. That being said, most consumer amplifiers run very little class-A power, sometimes only a couple of Watts, or less!

 

What are the advantages of class-A amplifiers?

Fidelity. The one overriding advantage of class-A is high fidelity.

Class-A delivers the lowest distortion and smoothest sound. That’s what class-A is designed for, and that’s why ALL the very best amplifiers are class-A, where cost is no object.

It also delivers disadvantages, such as the greatest heat and weight and the largest most expensive power supplies, heatsinks and chassis. Class-A amplifiers have the highest cost per Watt, so cheap consumer designs avoid the use of class-A.

For the best sound, whether using tubes or transistors, class-A is the gold standard.

What are the advantages of class-D amplifiers?

The only advantages of class-D are high efficiency and low cost, meaning powerful amplifiers can be produced cheaply using this topology.

Class-D or switching amplifiers are not new. What class-D does extremely well is deliver very high efficiency and power output with relatively low parts count and cost. The tradeoffs are higher distortion and unwanted RF byproducts that must be filtered.

Don’t let anyone try to convince you that class-D is superior to class-A or class-AB for audio. It isn’t, by any measure, except for low cost and high efficiency. This makes class-D amplifiers great for subwoofer amplifiers and home cinema amplifiers where high power, small volume and low cost are important.

Manufacturers like NuForce and B&O have produced class-D amplifiers for the hi-fi market, with B&O’s IcePower modules finding use in concert, club and live venue environments where high sound quality is not the most important factor.

At the real high-end though, there are no advantages to using class-D for audio, where cost is no object.

“But Mike, lots of hi-fi gear is class-D now and I’ve read that it’s just fantastic.”

Class-D was the flavour of the month in the mid-2000s, but these amplifiers turned out to be unreliable due to their use of SMD components and low-cost manufacturing. The class-D flame has dwindled since then.

By every quantitative and qualitative sonic measure, class-D is inferior. Where class-D excels is in reduced cost, small, very powerful amplifiers, which certainly have significant technical merit for different reasons.

What parts wear out in hi-fi electronics?

Wearable parts come in the form of mechanical and electronic components.

Capacitors are common wearable electronic parts, specifically wet aluminium electrolytic types. Wear rates vary enormously according to type, heat soak and hours of use. I see capacitors fail in gear after 5 years and yet older parts that are still perfect at 50 years of age.

Transistors, diodes and resistors can also fail, this tends to follow certain types, fault scenarios and excessive heat exposure. Testing is the only accurate way to determine wear. Worn parts can be replaced with high-quality new ones.

Switches, potentiometers and connectors are the most common mechanically wearing parts. This includes rotary and linear controls and switches, speaker terminals, RCA connectors and so on. Many of these are serviceable and can be brought back from non-functional to working perfectly, with the correct service techniques. Other parts like connectors can be replaced with new parts.

Is buying old hi-fi gear hi-fi risky?

This is a great question. There’s risk in buying any gear, old or new, but given the lifespan of much modern gear, I would argue that, if you choose secondhand gear wisely, it’s actually riskier in many cases buying new gear.

As long as you mitigate your risk, buying older hi-fi gear should not be riskier than buying new. In some ways, there can be less risky buying well-cared-for older gear than newer stuff in terms of long-term reliability.

Much of the gear I work on from the ’70s and ’80s hasn’t even technically failed, in 40+ years. It might need cleaning, service and adjustment, but everything does. A lot of newer gear (Cambridge, Marantz, NAD etc) fails after such a short time that it’s embarrassing, for everyone.

To some extent, you need to know what you are looking for and how to test it when buying older gear of course. This will involve listening to and operating it. Beyond that, an inspection either pre or post-purchase is a very sensible idea and can potentially save a lot of money.

My attention to detail really pays off in terms of inspections. I run through every little detail of equipment you’ve bought, or are about to buy. Potential or new owners can leverage my findings to end up way in front in most cases, often saving far more than the cost of the inspection!

There are, unfortunately, people knowingly selling faulty gear, especially on GumTree. Be very careful and if in doubt, get good advice.

Do headshells, wires and mounting hardware make a difference?

Yes, speaking from experience with headshells, wires and mounting hardware, I can assure readers that these things make a very real difference, especially in a high-resolution system.

Not only do the materials and construction improve as one spends more on these elements, but their contribution to the total mass and therefore the resonant frequency of the tonearm/cartridge system is a critical consideration.

I’ve found headshell wiring to be very important. I currently use SME silver headshell wires and they are the best I’ve tried so far. There are others that work really well, like the Ortofon silver wires, Jelco (when they were available) Litz wires and some Audio Technica wires. I also supply basic sets of wires for $10 which work very well.

Certain brands of headshell, certain types of fasteners and even the rubber gaskets that one uses are important and all contribute to the final result. I always suggest getting hold of the very best headshell you can afford and making sure that it matches the mass of the tonearm and the range of cart/headshell weight that arm can support.

How important is cartridge-tonearm matching?

Cartridge-tonearm matching is very important!

In fact, the match is so critical that improperly matched elements can lead to a dangerous condition that can damage vinyl and even potentially break a cartridge.

Why are there so many new belt-drive turntables these days?

Turntables are popular again. Belt-drive turntables are much cheaper to make, so they fill the lower end of the market.

Even small manufactures can tool up to make a basic belt drive design. You could just about make your own if you were handy with the tools.

Direct-drive turntable design and manufacture is quite different and requires considerably more engineering and capital investment. The design, production and manufacturing costs are greater and this means that a decent direct-drive turntable is beyond the reach of many.

Are low-power amplifiers acceptable in hi-fi systems?

It depends on the system, sometimes yes, usually no.

The sound pressure levels achievable with a hi-fi system are down to two parameters: amplifier power output and speaker sensitivity. Low-power amplifiers can create realistic sound pressures and dynamics, but only when matched with sensitive speakers.

Do not expect a 30W per channel amplifier to offer high fidelity dynamics and sound pressures with normal sensitivity speakers though. It’s not physically possible, no matter what anyone might tell you. Hi-fi listening at low levels may be possible here, but scale and gravitas will be missing.

This FAQ covers the concept in more detail.

Do you charge to install cartridges?

That depends on the cartridge and turntable.

Properly installing and setting up a cartridge with the right hardware and precisely calibrating overhang, azimuth, tracking force, anti-skate, VTA, arm lifter position and height using the right tools and test records can take up to an hour with a complex deck/installation. It’s much quicker fitting basic cartridges to affordable decks, but you get the idea – doing this stuff properly takes time and expertise.

With this in mind, it’s obviously not a reasonable expectation that we fit every cartridge for free. We have a system that works well though:

  • We offer free precision installation and alignment on cartridges we supply with an RRP of $375 or more. In standard cases with regular decks and arms, we absorb the cost of the installation and alignment, giving customers a better deal and encouraging the correct fitment of better cartridges. Try getting that from an online discounter!
  • With cheaper or customer supplied cartridges, we charge for installation, but you get a full, precision alignment and it’s a perfect opportunity to have your deck carefully inspected and precisely adjusted, something that may never even have been done before. Either way, you come out ahead.

Be wary of general offers of free alignment. Keep in mind that many retailers/salespeople cannot correctly install and set up cartridges and lack understanding of the subtlety of really precise installation. Many stores only offer a ‘quick and dirty’ alignment’ using a generic paper or plastic protractor. This isn’t a proper alignment.

I like your approach, you seem unafraid to call things as they are.

Not really a question but I genuinely appreciate the feedback!

I honestly believe life is too short to be anything other than authentic and decent and it’s definitely too short to be afraid of what others think of us.

A long time ago, I realised that I didn’t need to worry about trying to keep everyone happy or appealing to everyone. It’s a waste of time and energy. Instead, I embrace what I’m good at, that’s likely why you are here. I’ve also learned that none of us need tolerate with rudeness, disrespect or ingratitude from people and I embrace that in dealing with people.

People seem to appreciate this ‘straight shooter’ approach and I’m glad they do. It seems to attract genuinely decent visitors and amazing customers and out of 1000+ actual customers, I’ve just a handful of doozies. I’m also pretty good at filtering people and if they sneak through, they aren’t tolerated for long. I’m really only interested in what sensible, respectful people who appreciate my approach have to say. Others, I really don’t care!

I value and act on feedback and overwhelmingly, people tell me they love the website and my approach to business. This helps me to improve the content and create things that I know people will appreciate. Running an independent business and having strong partnerships with other local businesses also means I can call out BS and nonsense where I find it, without fear or favour.

This site is an advertising, favour and marketing-free zone. Manufacturers don’t offer me products that I can keep. I deliberately don’t do any warranty work and nobody tells me what to write, what to say or who to speak to.

Are second-hand cartridges worth buying?

They most definitely are, but we need to qualify this by considering which types of second-hand cartridges are worth chasing down.

A recap, there are two main types of cartridges: moving magnet and moving coil. The better cartridges tend to be moving coil designs and these were usually more expensive and better sounding. There are some great moving magnet designs worth hunting down as well, but generally, these are less worth a hard chase if you know what I mean.

Cartridges wear out, so you need a way of establishing their current state of wear to know whether you’ve found a good deal or not. I inspect cartridges and an inspection and clean is often a good starting point.

If the cartridge is a moving magnet design, can you get a new stylus? Old styli can be retipped, but this is less common with magnets. Retipping prices start at around $300, and moving magnet cartridges are often worth much less than this, even vintage ones, so the availability of styli has always been a critical factor with moving magnet cartridges. Cartridge suspensions also age and the rubber elements can harden. When this happens, that stylus is finished.

It’s a little different with moving coil cartridges. These must be retipped to rejuvenate them, there are no removable styli. Most MC carts are worth more than $300, new or vintage though, so the retipping becomes much more viable, especially when we consider that some moving coil cartridges cost as much as a car. Because of their less disposable nature and greater purchase price, they tend to be better made and it’s less common for their suspensions to harden with age, making vintage MC carts generally more viable prospects.

As an example, I own and use moving coil cartridges from the 1980s that work perfectly and sound amazing. Vintage cartridges came from the golden era of cartridge design and manufacture, so it’s worth considering that some of the very best cartridges of all time are those really good ones from the 70s and 80s.

Are second-hand records worth buying?

You bet, there are some awesome second-hand bargains to be had, though the golden days of $1, $2 and 5 records from the smoky second-hand record store in North Perth are long gone.

Yes, you’ll still find $1 Engelbert Humperdinck records, but you’ll come across all sorts of other bargains second hand. Some will be relatively new releases, on heavy vinyl, from the record and hi-fi stores, and online sellers. Others will be older, lightweight pressings, but don’t let that put you off. Some of the best records I own are 120-gram pressings from the last 50 years.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking remasters are the only or best way to go either. Early pressings, from close to the original album release date, when all the copies in the analog chain were freshest, are often the most sought-after and best sounding of all.

What you want to do is check second-hand records carefully for scratches, flatness and clean them in most cases. Warped records can be flattened. Dirty records can be cleaned. How should you clean them? That’s the topic of another question..!

I keep hearing about local audio gurus – what are your thoughts?

This somewhat depends on your definition of the word guru, but if anyone implies possession of any magic or special powers, I advise you to steer well clear!

Gurus are generally associated with pseudoscience and nonsense but there’s already enough bullsh%t in this world. What we all need is sound, reliable, fact and experience-based help and that’s certainly what we provide here at Liquid Audio.

A customer very kindly told me that he reckons I “Work magic on turntables.” This is awesome feedback (thanks Rod), but as I told him, nothing I do is even remotely magical. The results I achieve come from a scientific foundation and an understanding of what to do and how to do it. There’s no magic, snake oil, white beard (yet) or strange cables. You might consider me competent or even an expert on certain topics, but I have no special powers, just competence. There’s a big difference!

There are self-proclaimed audio gurus here in Perth and everywhere. They generally propagate snake oil, nonsense and badly made hi-fi gear. If you want to buy a homemade valve amp or guru-made cables, that’s OK, but don’t expect any of the better repairers you should be using to work on them when they don’t sound very good, don’t work properly, break or break something else in your system!

Here are some typical audio guru/audio numpty utterings that should ring alarm bells:

  • Precision instruments, tools, soldering equipment etc are “unnecessary”
  • Technical documentation is unnecessary
  • Cables either don’t matter or must be made by a guru
  • Neatness and precision are over-rated
  • It doesn’t matter how it’s built if it works
  • Engineering, science, measurement etc are overrated (seeing a pattern here..?)
  • Properly engineered, name-brand products are no good or part of a conspiracy
  • The best cables are directional and need special supports
  • Guru-made tube amps and full-range speakers are the only way to go

Ask anyone with real expertise if quality parts, tools and neat work are overrated..!

How can vintage audio gear and formats sound so good?

We put men on the moon more than 50 years ago, in 1969.

Three key elements there:

  • Men
  • The moon
  • 1969..!

Do you reckon we could do that now? I seriously have my doubts.

I should add that Voyager space probes with their gold-plated records have left the solar system. One of these probes still works, sending signals back to Earth from nearly 20 BILLION km away. Probes also landed on Mars. In the ’70s…

Just think about all of that for a moment. Ponder the materials, science, electronics, wire, magnets, and all-around engineering genius necessary to achieve these feats. Analog audio is pretty straightforward by comparison.

You see, people often incorrectly assume that all the technological improvements we’ve made since we put people on the moon directly correlate with improvements in audio. Many do, but many, even most, don’t. We had the technology and engineering to make extraordinary equipment and recordings, way back in the 1950s.

Some of the very best recordings were made with valve microphones, direct-to-tape in the ’50s and ’60s. The audio spectrum is quite narrow and technically not that hard to reproduce. Dynamic range is where things get trickier, but magnetic tape running at 15 IPS can do it and vinyl does an admirable job of reproducing it.

Sure, consoles, equipment have continued to improve, but the formats – reel-to-reel tape and vinyl – remain as good as they always were. Arguably the hardware, ie tape machines, valve microphones, cabling etc was better then.

There have undoubtedly been some major improvements in transistors, integrated circuits, DACs and so on. But there have also been increases in wages and conditions which have seen the need to automate and simplify production and move away from expensive metal and glass construction, in favour of cheaper plastic-based materials and machine assembly. Stuff costs less but doesn’t last as long either.

I’m not for a moment saying all old gear and formats sound better, because they don’t. Compact Cassette is a good example. It’s fundamentally flawed and really only sounded good towards the end of its life. Vinyl on the other hand has always sounded great. I have a few of my Mum’s records from the ’50s and they are some of my very best recordings. Again, think about that. My system sounds unbelievable and some of the best things I hear on it are from the 1950s.

High-resolution digital is where things have really come a long way, but even good old Redbook CD can sound excellent, with the right equipment.

What’s the highest fidelity, highest resolution music source I can access at home?

Incredibly, it’s still magnetic tape running at 15 IPS, on a really good reel-to-reel tape machine.

The highest resolution source you can access is still a high-quality analog source at this point. The highest resolution analog medium is high-speed reel-to-reel tape.

Let’s not forget that most of your favourite recordings were made to tape and the very best recordings of all time were made on tape. Anyone who’s ever heard a good reel to reel tape played on a good machine will know what I’m talking about. There’s a richness, fluidity and power in tape that has to be heard to be believed.

And therein lies the problem – how do you hear this? You need a high-quality reel-to-reel tape machine and some extraordinary and very expensive Tape Project tapes, or similar. There are very few tape releases available and really, this is almost a dead end, unless you can access the tapes.

Next in line, we have good old vinyl. Vinyl is another analog medium, ie it presents a copy of the original file. Good vinyl played on a great turntable and cartridge is close to reel-to-reel, though it can’t match it. The limiting factor is the hardware and pressings in this case. With analog sources and gear, you really just get what you pay for and its a sliding scale. The resolution possible is incredible.

Some of the new high-resolution digital formats are also excellent and hard on the heels of analog, like 24 bit/192kHz, DSD, SACD and other lossless, uncompressed formats. Lossless is a misused term, because all digital methodologies involve some loss, by virtue of how they sample the original. The inherent resolution is very high though, and one could make the argument that the losses in resolution through sampling are made up for by the increased linearity in handling the data that isn’t lost.

Next, we have Redbook CD. CD still has a lot to offer and I’m amazed by how much one can get from 16 bit / 44.1kHz files. I have some superb-sounding CDs and played back on a good CD player, they can sound fantastic.

Probably last in terms of being real hi-fi would be compact cassette tapes and analog FM radio. Both offer good to excellent performance but are very hardware dependent.

What should I look for when buying second-hand hi-fi gear?

There are a few things including overall condition, control functionality and service history.

It might sound obvious, but the physical condition of a piece of gear tells us a lot about how it’s been looked after. Gear that has been well-cared-for is almost always a better bet than gear that’s been neglected, other things being equal.

This extends to service history. All equipment needs periodic maintenance and parts replacement. Can the seller show you any records or invoices for past work? Has this work been done by a reputable technician? Older gear can need extensive maintenance. Don’t let this put you off, it’s still often much better value than buying new, but the work HAS to be done.

Performance – I suggest almost never buying something you can’t see and hear running. Anyone who says they can’t show you something running should be avoided – like the plague. Are you going to just take the word of a random seller that the equipment works well..? I wouldn’t.

Does the equipment turn on and run smoothly? Does it sound good? Do all the controls and switches work as they should? These are all things that can be checked prior to purchase. How about a warranty? If buying from a business, there will be some kind of warranty against defects. This can be very helpful. Some non-business sellers will offer returns if there are problems but this is rare.

Hi-fi equipment purchases should be made with a cool head. It might be rare and collectible, but if it’s broken, it might also be the world’s most expensive doorstop, and we don’t want that!

Why are you often fully booked?

Our services are in high demand for a few reasons and, whilst I can’t apologise for being busy, I do apologise for any frustration it may cause.

Looking at what we do and the way we do it, you’ll see that we’re a little different. By focusing on technical excellence, hi-fi stereo equipment and results rather than turnover, we operate to a different rhythm, something people seem to appreciate.

We don’t advertise and we haven’t even activated Google reviews, yet customers seek out our services and are often happy to wait. We are also much copied, proof we are doing a few things right 😉

So, why are we busy and/or full?

  • We work on hi-fi stereo gear only
  • We focus on technical excellence and professionalism
  • We accept tricky repairs and major overhauls that are beyond the capabilities of some other repairers
  • We proudly display our work and actively contribute to the hi-fi community
  • We are a small, specialist business not driven by turnover
  • We love fixing classic hi-fi gear!

Yes, I’d like a holiday, a new car and a bigger house but working on equipment I love for good customers is what this business is about. I appreciate that a full booking schedule creates issues though and again I apologise for any inconvenience. I genuinely appreciate your business 🙏

I’m thinking of using the cheapest repairer, what are your thoughts?

You are probably visiting Liquid Audio because of an interest in quality hi-fi equipment, repair work and information.

That’s great and we appreciate it. That being the case, you likely also know that ‘really cheap’ rarely correlates with really good.

The overall quality of work, service, and information you receive should be much more important than chasing the lowest cost. As my Dad used to say:

“You get what you pay for, Mike.”

Surely, a better question would be: Do you want the work done cheaply, or do you want it done well?

We see lots of equipment that’s been repaired cheaply. If you care about your equipment, I guarantee you will come to regret hunting around for the cheapest repairer. Cutting corners is never worth it and the cheapest repairs often end up being the most expensive, because of collateral damage, poor parts and work that has to be rectified later.

Ironically some of the worst repairers aren’t even very cheap, so there’s a curve ball! Where do we rate in terms of cost? Considering what we deliver, I’d say we offer the best value by a mile.

Are there any decent, affordable new turntables?

It all comes down to what you call good and what you consider affordable.

Those looking for high performance for under $1000 new will find very little of interest. High performance can’t be done for that money, spend a little more on new turntable though and things look better.

  • The Pioneer PLX-1000, at around $1100 and weighing in at 15kg is one of the best value options available.
  • You might find the occasional Technics SL-1200 Mk7 reduced. For around $1600, this is the best deal for that money, BY FAR.
  • The new SL-1500 is worth considering at around $2000 AUD, discounted to $1500 at times. Solid value.
  • The MoFi StudioDeck for around $2000 is decent value. The UltraDeck is a much better deck, though a long way from what most consider affordable.
  • The Rega Planar 3 can be had for around $1500, this is reasonable value, not a high precision deck but they do sound quite nice. Don’t go lower than a Planar 3 though.
  • Cheap ProJect gear is generally rubbish, the cheap Denon and AT machines are not really worth buying either in my opinion.

What do you recommend in terms of power supplies for hi-fi gear in older premises?

Power can be a real issue in older houses, so here are a few suggestions.

The first might seem obvious, but have everything checked and tested by a qualified electrician. This can identify and rectify wiring and ground issues, broken outlets etc. Power outlet testers like this one allow end-users to identify miswired outlets, ground problems and so on and are a good starting point.

Next, assuming you have safe, correctly wired outlets, you need quality power distribution. Multiple wall outlets are best, so ask an electrician or your landlord if this is a possibility. Failing that, I suggest the best powerboard you can afford. One bigger one is better than daisy-chaining them, which should be avoided.

Amplifiers and other high current equipment should ideally be plugged into the wall directly, rather than through a power board, where possible. Older gear may have grounds/earths lifted or removed, so this must also be carefully checked for safety and performance reasons.

Mains filters are useful in some cases and can be purchased from hi-fi stores. These may reduce noise and improve system performance. Regenerators offer the best performance but are also very expensive and usually not suited to high current devices.

How long does a stylus last?

It depends on the design, but cheap styli last as little as 300 hours, and the best premium line-contact types can last 2000 hours or more.

I’ve written extensively about this elsewhere, but the increased contact area of line contact gems leads to lower contact pressure, less friction, lower wear and better sound. Line contact styli are more expensive to manufacture though, so there is a price to pay.

Other factors must be considered, including poorly designed, low-quality turntables and older types with excessive tracking force. These can experience more rapid stylus wear, and cause accelerated record wear. Even the best cartridges, tracked at lower than recommended tracking forces, can experience accelerated record and stylus wear, so there’s a bit to know here.

It’s important to replace a stylus before it becomes worn or it will destroy your records. For moving magnet cartridges, this usually fairly straightforward, as long as a quality replacement can be sourced. I often supply quality Japanese JICO styli for older cartridges.

For moving coil cartridges, stylus replacement involves bonding a new diamond to the existing cantilever or installing a new cantilever and diamond. Several vendors provide this service.

Does all older hi-fi equipment need to be overhauled or restored?

The simple answer is yes if you want to keep it running.

Ask yourself: do watches, power tools and motorcycles eventually need to be overhauled and/or restored? The answer, of course, is yes and this applies to everything built by human hands.

I don’t need more overhaul work and many people are prepared to throw old things away when they fail, but when this is rare and collectible hi-fi gear, that may not be the best idea. I overhauled my Toyota Prado starter motor last year for example, it’s a Japanese Nippon Denso starter, and that’s what I want on my vehicle. I could have bought a cheap new one, it would probably last only a year or two.

Older hi-fi gear is generally reliable and lasts a lot longer than newer gear. However, there is no escaping the fact that eventually, someone HAS to spend money to have it overhauled or restored. That should preferably be done before it fails, taking out speakers, output devices, catching fire etc. Parts get hot, change, wear out and eventually fail, even in the most expensive equipment. If you love a piece of equipment, consider giving it some TLC before it fails.

Why don’t you repair home cinema equipment?

Very simply, this type of equipment is often almost worthless after just a few years and therefore not worth repairing.

If you add in poor serviceability and poor audio performance, compared to even modest hi-fi stereo gear, you end up with very few reasons to repair this stuff and why mjuch of it is simply thrown away when it breaks. Don’t shoot the messenger, these are facts.

I always ask one critical question about equipment being considered for repair:

“Is repair economically viable?”

Even some of the cheapest hi-fi gear from the ’70s is sought after for its performance, reliability and serviceability. The same cannot be said for the plethora of average sounding, cheaply-made and obsolete home cinema equipment from the last 30 years or so.

Most of it is essentially worthless after just a few years due to useless feature creep and poor serviceability which kill retained value and therefore repair viability. Most of this gear is at best only marginally serviceable, because:

  • Much of it is so cheap or now worth so little that it’s barely worth opening, let alone repairing
  • Critical parts are often no longer available and SMD chip-based boards like HDMI controllers are not designed to be repaired

There are some notable exceptions, but generally, I’d suggest you forget about repairing home cinema gear.

Are analog AM/FM tuners still a viable hi-fi source?

They definitely are but there are four key considerations.

The most obvious one is the contingency on broadcasters continuing to use the analog 88 – 108 MHz band in Australia and elsewhere. Once these broadcasts cease, that’s it.

The secoond is less obvious and that’s source material quality. With good, uncompressed source material, the quality achievable with really good FM tuners is extraordinary. Stations like ABC classical and some of the smaller independent stations playing CDs and records can deliver excellent sound quality via a quality analog tuner, much better than the compressed, lossy streams on DAB or digital radio.

My beloved Marantz 125 tuner never ceases to amaze me with its richness and space, playing stations like these, even when they are sometimes digital streams being re-broadcast. It’s a lot to do with how they are produced. BUT, with many commercial stations, running compressed, thin-sounding streams sound bad on whatever you play them on, be that DAB or analog FM.

Thirdly, the antenna is very important with analog FM tuners, less so for AM. A proper roof-mounted FM antenna will boost signal strength, reducing distortion and noise for the cleanest reception and best sound quality.

The last consideration is tuner alignment. AM/FM tuners often have between 10 and 20 separate alignment stages that require high-performance RF alignment equipment, and a knowledge of how to use it. These alignments need to be done periodically, maybe every 10 – 20 years as components age and change. Good tuners, properly aligned often have 0.1% system distortion or less.

Can I get hi-fi sound from streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify?

Not from Spotify, but with Apple’s new Lossless services, yes you can!

Apple has finally released Apple Lossless, with at least CD quality uncompressed, lossless files, some offerred at up to 24 bit / 192kHz. You’ll need wifi and/or a hard-wired connection to access the high-resolution files, a streamer or computer/DAC combo will work well. BlueTooth won’t pass these high-resolution files due to the bandwidth limits.

Tidal High Resolution also offers true high fidelity, though it’s a bit more expensive. The standard 256kbps files you’ll find from providers like Spotify are not hi-fi. On a really good system, their limitations are obvious, sounding thin, lifeless and grainy.

Do you offer in-home auditions on equipment for sale?

Generally not.

Much of the equipment in the Store is on consignment and I look after my customer’s equipment very carefully! I occasionally loan out my own equipment on audition, and you are of course welcome to try things here before you purchase them.

In-home auditions are possible under certain circumstances though, with equipment you are seriously considering purchasing, and with payment upfront.

What’s the deal with inner groove distortion?

Without getting too technical, as a cartridge mounted to a radially tracking tonearm moves across the record, playback distortion characteristics change with changing tracking error.

Generally, the highest distortion is found playing the innermost grooves of a record. There will be two points with the lowest distortion, where the radial arc traced by the arm intersects a radius from the centre of the record. On either side of those two points, distortion will rapidly increase.

What you may not know is that certain stylus profiles and cartridge alignments minimise inner groove distortion. In fact, you can ask me to specifically align your cartridge so that it minimises inner groove distortion, though I generally recommend using the manufacturer’s specified alignment/overhang.

Note that linear tracking tonearms don’t suffer from this positionally variable distortion as they don’t trace an arc as they move across the record surface. This is a key benefit of linear tracking arms. It’s also why longer tonearms are preferable. The arc they trace has a greater radius and is therefore closer to a straight line, leading to lower variation in distortion across the record.

Can I bring my equipment to you if it’s been to other repairers?

That really depends on who it’s been to!

Unfortunately, certain repairers do such poor work that, if they’ve touched something, I’ll likely decline to look at it. I’m not alone in this.

Why? Because the damage they cause makes it often impossible or non-viable for anyone to fix. I’ve been burned by offering to help customers, only to realise that the poor quality of work I’m presented with is just not something that can be rectified.

Have a look in the Hall of Shame and you’ll see why there are certain scenarios where I won’t work on something. Sadly, equipment that’s been destroyed like this is often too far gone to save.

What’s better: a vintage turntable or a new one?

Assuming you have around $1000 to spend, this gets you a far better vintage turntable than a new one, assuming the vintage deck is in good working order.

There actually isn’t anything I can strongly recommend for $1000 new, unfortunately. But, that same amount of money would get you a decent Technics SL-23, SL-120, SL-1200, SL-1300, SL-1500, Kenwood KD-500, KD550, Sony PS-4750, maybe even a PS-6750, Sonab 85S, Yamaha YP-701, Rega Planar 3 with decent cartridge, and on it goes.

As I often tell people, the golden age of vinyl has already happened and, even though there are some great new turntables and vinyl coming out, the real value is in these classic and beautifully made vintage machines from years past. For now anyway!

What’s better: an older CD player or a new one?

In terms of build quality, serviceability, operational life, and vintage goodness, older CD players are almost always better.

Even in terms of sound quality, older players can sound superb, because CD playback technology was thoroughly mature in the naughties.

Newer players can sound good and sometimes better, due to improvements in DAC architecture. But that assumes other things are equal, like laser and power supply quality, and they rarely are. It also assumes newer players keep running and herein lies the problem: older players were generally just much better-built. Newer players tend to be very ordinary in terms of build, dollar for dollar.

I’d never thought I’d be saying this but, just as the golden age of turntables has passed and the best machines are already out there, so it is with CD players as well. Modern players are cheaply built, plasticky and the lasers don’t last long, some only a couple of years, which is unacceptable.

The sound of a CD player depends on many elements: the CD drive used, error correction, power supply, analog output buffer design, internal layout, build quality and DAC architecture all contribute to the sound. This is how some older players can sound better than newer ones despite DAC architecture improvements – it’s not only about the DAC, and I’ve written about this.

A good modern external DAC, where the focus is more on the DAC, power supply and output buffer, can really lift an older player that might have excellent build, laser and mechanics but a dated DAC architecture. And older players are just better made, with longer-lasting lasers.

I’ve recently repaired a bunch of CD players from the late ’80s and early ’90s, running their original lasers. I repair modern players too, with lasers that often last 3 years or less. This is how far we’ve come, new technology, blah blah blah.

So it really depends on what you want. Most people want something that’s going to last – is that a new Marantz CD-6006 like the one I re-lasered earlier this year after just over two years of service? Or is it the 25-year-old Sony CDP XA-20ES for example, that still plays a disc as well as it did when it was new? I know which one I’d rather own!

How important is it to match amplifier power output with speaker sensitivity?

Very important. This combination of technical parameters determines the actual sound pressure level you can attain without distortion and also tells us a lot about the dynamic capabilities of the system. As usual, the answers lie in physics rather than opinion.

For example, let’s say you have a low powered amplifier, say something up to around 30 Watts per channel. To achieve realistic dynamics and sound pressure levels, you’ll need sensitive speakers, over 90dB/Watt sensitivity, preferably a lot more, to be able to play loudly, with realistic dynamics. If that amplifier is matched up with speakers with relatively normal sensitivity, the result will be a system that sounds strained and lacking in dynamics at anything but very low levels. It can work, but only just, and in the right context, ie mellow music, small room, no desire for realistic sound pressures.

Conversely, let’s say you have a very powerful amplifier, something like 300 – 500 Watts per channel or more. This gives you a lot more room to move and means you can use speakers down to really relatively insensitive 83 to 85dB/Watt. This gives you more choice and allows crushingly high sound pressure of course with speakers of 88 – 90dB/Watt sensitivity or more. It also gives you great dynamic range and headroom.

Is one approach better than the other? Not really, they both have merit. I use a very high powered amplifier (500 Watts/channel) on the end of relatively normal sensitivity speakers. This allows for a good mix of everything, microdynamics, massive sounds pressures if needed etc. I’ve also heard amazing sounds from super low powered valve amplifiers like say 7 Watts/channel, and super sensitive horn speakers at around 100dB/Watt. What you don’t want is a low powered amp on the end of not very sensitive speakers. This is always bad!

Are you bothered that people seek advice from Liquid Audio but take their business elsewhere?

Many specialist small businesses like ours are battling online discounters, copy-cats and zero-service retailers.

I’m flattered that people seek out our help, but people visit us for a reason. We work hard to create great content, deliver the very best advice and a unique experience. If those we help take their business elsewhere, how does that help us?

Retail colleagues tell me they often advise people about equipment, even lend it out, only to have those they’ve helped purchase products from other online discounters. Honestly, this is appalling and we deal with it too:

“Mike, I used your review to help find a vintage Pioneer turntable and bought a cartridge and headshell you recommended from (someone else). Can you tell me how to set it up..?”

“Mike I read your article about repairing xyz. I don’t want to bring my equipment to you but can you tell me the parts you used and where to get them..?”

You’ve gotta be kidding?! NO!

Who in their right mind thinks this sort of behaviour is OK? People get so caught up chasing ‘bargains’ that they lose sight of the bigger picture and the people in it.

If you enjoy our website, if we’ve helped you with a purchase or taught you something, don’t be mean-spirited, support us! Much of what’s here is unique and the only place you can find such information. Do you value the great information you can find here? Well, you can say thanks by shouting me a drink.

Best of all, if you live in WA, why not ask us to service your equipment, fit a new headshell, cartridge, fasteners and wires for you and anything else that fits your budget. You’ll be building a relationship with a trusted specialist and everyone involved in the process benefits 😊

Why are phono preamplifiers so important and good ones so expensive?

Because in order to faithfully amplify the minuscule signals generated by a phono cartridge, they must have the highest precision and lowest noise of any amplifier in your system.

It’s no mean feat to take a 0.3mV signal and amplify it to the level needed by a regular line-level preamplifier. One millivolt or 1mV is one one-thousandth of a volt. Moving coil cartridges typically have outputs of less than 1mV, a tiny signal. This has to be amplified up to a volt or so, that’s a gain of over 1000x. This amplification has to be made whilst adding as little noise and distortion as possible. The phono preamp also has to EQ the signal to RIAA specs, reversing the EQ applied to the signal embedded in the record grooves.

As you can see, this job requires not only a huge gain but also ultimate precision in terms of parts, circuit design, layout and adjustment. This is why there is such a gulf between cheap op-amp based phono preamplifiers and all discrete class-A tube type phono preamplifiers and moving coil step-up transformers for example. Parts like JFETs, big film capacitors, precision resistors and premium wiring all add to the cost of these instrument-grade amplifiers.

I should mention that some of the op-amp based solutions aren’t even that cheap, but moving to a precision, discrete design always improves things. Likewise, ramping up parts quality and grading has a profound effect on performance. For example, using 1% silver mica and polystyrene film capacitors vs using 5% green caps and other cheap types has a huge bearing on the accuracy of the final result. When you are dealing with such small signals, you need accuracy.

The best phono preamplifiers use MKP (polypropylene film), silver mica, polystyrene film, discrete transistor networks and tube gain stages. The very best use transformers for the critical job of boosting moving coil signal levels.

Should I buy a super-cheap phono preamp?

Definitely not if you care about hum, noise and sound quality!

The only time you would get one of these is to add vinyl playback to a cheap system that doesn’t have it and where you don’t care too much about the results. That’s obviously not most of my customers, so the point may not be needed here, but it’s worth making.

What are the important adjustments to make when setting up a cartridge?

A number of critical adjustments must be made each time a cartridge is fitted to a tonearm.

These adjustments are vitally important in getting the most out of your records and stylus. Let’s look at them in the order I normally set them, this is a sequence I apply to all turntables that visit the workshop.

Note: most end users don’t have the necessary alignment tools or experience to correctly set up their cartridges. In fact, many suppliers of new cartridges don’t either. This is not a judgement, merely something to be considered when changing any cartridge or cartridge setup if you wish to extract the highest possible performance.

The first adjustment is overhang, which describes the location of the stylus tip with respect to the tonearm mounting point and the spindle. This specification is provided by the tonearm manufacturer and measured, on deck, with either a headshell gauge or an on-platter overhang gauge.

Next is the cartridge offset angle when viewed from above. This is usually specified as correct when the cartridge body, and/or cantilever, are parallel with the headshell’s long axis when the correct overhang has been set.

Azimuth describes the parallel alignment of the cartridge with respect to the record surface when viewed from the front. This is typically measured with a mirror under the stylus, viewed from the front.

Vertical tracking angle or VTA affects the angle of the stylus contact point with respect to the record surface. It can be thought of as approximating the angle between the cantilever and the record surface. It’s usually measured with a VTA gauge and set initially so that the headshell top surface is parallel with the record surface when viewed from the side. This is the starting point and adjustment from there is by ear.

Lateral balance is a feature offered on some tonearms and should be set at or around this point in the process.

Tracking force, which describes the downforce at the stylus tip. This is typically measured with a digital stylus ‘pressure’ gauge. Note that this isn’t technically a pressure measurement, the common name is incorrect, strictly speaking!

Lastly, anti-skate is a counterforce to the asymmetrical forces which pull the stylus tip toward the centre of the record and place added force on the inner groove wall. It is set to counteract that force as closely as possible.

There is some iteration in the set-up process and I generally go back and check everything again as some adjustments will slightly affect others.

Is it normal to hear hum when playing records?

No, a good vinyl playback system, correctly set up, will be quiet and exhibit no noticeable hum.

Hum really just indicates a problem. It can be mechanical or electrical in nature but either way, where hum appears, it needs to be tracked down to the source and eliminated.

Bad earths/grounds are a common cause of hum. Ground loops are a variant of this and can result from bad cables, incorrectly earthed equipment, power cables and mains outlets. Cheap phono preamps, cartridges and cables will always be noisy. General equipment set-up, installation and arrangement all can contribute to hum.

Mechanical hum can originate from a turntable motor or mains transformer. Motor hum can often be resolved with the right attention and some new parts. Mechanical vibration from other equipment can also be coupled through a turntable, back into speakers, creating what’s called a positive feedback loop.

Positive feedback loops can very quickly go out of control and destroy speakers and even amplifiers, so if you have a hum that appears to be coupled through your turntable, seek expert help immediately!

Should I play my records on those cool old radiograms and stereograms?

Ahh, no, not if you care about sound quality and the life of your vinyl!

Radiograms and stereograms, with a handful of exceptions, are not real hi-fi equipment. They are furniture pieces that play music, this was their original design intent and in this role, they work well, but don’t expect more of them.

The problems are varied, but generally speaking the turntables in these units range from bad to terrible. They usually use ceramic cartridges that run very high tracking forces and fat, conical stylii that don’t treat records well.

The electronics and speakers are not designed to do much more than fill the room with an ‘easy listening’ sound, typical of AM radio stations of the day. If this is your jam, cool, but you really shouldn’t play precious vinyl on a radiogram or stereogram.

Doing so is a recipe for poor sound quality and high record wear, so if you have precious vinyl, get yourself a decent hi-fi turntable with an elliptical stylus, or better. The reduced tracking force and lower groove wall pressure will extend the life of your records and produce much better sound quality when combined with a decent amplifier and speakers.

Why does vintage hi-fi gear last longer?

This is a good question with a simple answer: it was designed and built to last longer.

It generally comes down to the better mechanical design of older equipment and in many cases the use of higher quality through-hole rather than surface mount parts.

I often see equipment from 1970 with a full set of electrically perfect Elna electrolytic capacitors. Fifty years out of what are nominally 2000 hour-rated parts is extraordinary, and yet I see this all the time.

Modern capacitors found in affordable new equipment rarely last this long. Good modern capacitors are excellent, but you need to spend a lot to get an amplifier filled with good Nichicon, Nippon Chemi-Con or Panasonic capacitors. Add to this the through-hole nature of older caps and other parts, which were designed to be serviceable.

Then there is the physical build quality. Older gear tended to use less plastic, heavier grade metal, metal switches and so on. These parts tend to be serviceable. If metal bends, for example, it can often be bent back. Plastic breaks and becomes brittle with age.

The simple fact is that older gear from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s was designed with serviceability in mind. Production values and the way we view our equipment have changed. Modern gear is often designed to be thrown away rather than serviced when it fails, so it often cannot be viably kept running.

Home cinema equipment and modern TVs are classic examples of this. Ever wonder where all the old TV repairers went? It’s not that modern TVs don’t fail, they do, but try taking your 65 inch TV anywhere if it breaks! Good luck with that!

Why do electronics actually need to be serviced?

Because all electronic devices and systems contain parts that change, wear, need periodic cleaning, lubrication and adjustment.

When you add in mechanical systems like the levers, switches, belts, pulleys and connectors found in many types of hi-fi gear, you have a combination of parts and systems that wear and need periodic attention and maintenance, over time. Proper periodic maintenance prevents premature failure, improves performance and reliability and therefore enjoyment of your equipment.

It’s a strange quirk of human nature that we sometimes purchase things and expect that they will just keep running without attention. This isn’t even true even for a kettle, let alone complex equipment like turntables and amplifiers. Don’t even get me started on cassette decks!

Mechanical linkages, pulleys, gears, idlers, pinch rollers and motors need cleaning and lubrication and this is fairly easily understood. But electronic parts also change over time, most notably electrolytic capacitors, some semiconductors and resistors.

It requires a really careful eye and lots of experience to know where to look, what to look for and how to correctly service each of these types of electronic and mechanical parts and systems. One thing is for certain, your hi-fi equipment will need money spent on maintenance if it is to keep running reliably.

If I can’t bring my equipment to you, how do I choose a good local repairer?

Find someone who can provide well-documented examples of their good work, and who doesn’t make promises that seem too good to be true.

Find someone who inspires confidence and who doesn’t give you a quote without inspecting and testing your equipment for example. Be wary of ‘recappers’ who might lead you to believe that capacitors are the source of all evil – they are not. Whilst it’s true that older gear may need to be re-capped, many or perhaps even most faults, are not capacitor-related.

Work on classic and vintage hi-fi gear benefits from a conservative, informed approach. Changing capacitors or connectors for example might sound like good ideas, but electronic faults are nuanced and fixing something is rarely as simple as this.

Instead, I recommend looking for someone who is interested in finding the cause of a problem and resolving it, using the best parts available. This person should be willing and able to do all the little service measurements and adjustments needed to get a piece of equipment running really well. If they are able to recommend further work that will benefit the equipment, that’s great.

Can I pick your brains for advice, tips and recommendations?

Yes certainly, but please take a moment to consider how many people want to do the same thing, and the time and energy needed for one person to provide all that!

If you’re a customer, advice is built into the service. If not, you are welcome to buy me a drink and I’ll gladly offer you my time and expertise. There’s a donate button on my Contact page!

Can you call me back when you are accepting bookings?

If there was an easy way to arrange that for the many people who ask me, I promise I would do it.

It’s purely down to logistics. Keep in mind it’s just me doing literally everything including administering the website. I receive dozens of requests for bookings, per week sometimes! If I were to record the details of every enquiry and then try to call or email everyone back when I’m taking bookings, assuming I could even keep track of all that, I’d probably never get any work done.

Until I get someone to assist me, the most sensible way to manage these enquiries is for customers to keep an eye on the dedicated booking status indicator on my Contact page, created for this purpose and contact me or get back in touch when I’m taking bookings.

My apologies for not having a better way to manage this. That being said, almost everyone who wants to get work in is able to.

Does a cartridge really affect the sound of a turntable?

Yes, it really does.

It’s arguably the biggest contributor to the sound of a vinyl replay system – ie a turntable.

A cartridge is a transducer, just like a microphone or speaker. It’s doing incredible work, converting groove modulations into movement, and then into tiny electrical signals. This requires a staggering level of precision and materials engineering. Like anything that relies on precision and expensive materials, you really do get what you pay for.

Cartridges can cost anything from $10 to $10 000 and sound anywhere from horrible to sublime! Spend as much as you can on a cartridge, sonically it’s a big part of the sound of a turntable, and better cartridges will last anywhere from 1000 – 2000 hours, as compared with just 200 – 500 hours for a cheapy.

A good cartridge will also preserve your vinyl by causing much less record wear. The larger contact area of a Shibata or line-contact diamond exerts much lower pressure on the vinyl, at the interface between the stylus and record. This causes less heat and therefore less wear.

Should I buy a Crosley?

No!

Definitely not if you care about your records and how they sound! These things destroy vinyl due to their crude engineering and super-low quality cartridge. They also sound appallingly bad and really are a complete waste of money, even as a gift for a child.

Save up for a decent secondhand or cheap new hi-fi turntable. Almost anything is better than a Crosley!

What’s the best turntable?

There isn’t one best turntable, just the best one you can afford.

All the really good machines are heavy, for various engineering reasons. Therefore, aim for something solid, well built, preferably costing over $1000AUD new if you want a good first turntable. Alternatively, you’ll get better performance in almost all cases from a second-hand classic turntable from the 1970s and ’80s.

Remember, for many years, vinyl was the highest resolution source that most hi-fi lovers had easy access to. One could argue this still is the case. This is important because the golden age of vinyl and record players was the ’70s and ’80s, so that’s when some of the greatest machines were made.

What’s better: belt-drive or direct-drive?

There is a long-standing myth that belt-drive is inherently superior in some way, but it really isn’t and I promise I’d tell you if it was.

This notion is perpetuated by technically uninformed mainstream media, the general desire to support small local manufacturers who don’t make direct-drive turntables and a general lack of experience with high-end equipment on the part of many reviewers, equipment owners, retailers etc. In reality, even a cursory dive into this will reveal the truth.

First-off: One critical goal of any good turntable is to spin the platter as smoothly and as close to the perfect speed as possible. The best performers on these metrics are direct-drive turntables. That being said, there are exceptional belt-drive and direct-drive turntables. I’m lucky enough to own one of each and I can confirm that the drive method is actually not the most important factor to consider.

Technically, direct-drive has advantages in terms of torque and drive speed consistency, but it’s much cheaper to make a belt-drive turntable and this is why most affordable decks tend to be belt-driven. This suits small manufacturers who can build a belt-drive turntable using readily available, low-cost motors.

It costs far more to design and manufacture a really good direct-drive machine and this is the overriding reason why you don’t see many of them these days. Smaller manufacturers simply cannot afford to design and build them. The performance advantages of direct-drive systems explain why some of the best and most expensive turntables, tape machines and lathes utilise direct-drive though.

Most of your records were recorded, mastered and cut on direct-drive tape machines and cutting lathes. Ever wondered why that might be? Let this sink in for a moment…

If belt-drive really was superior, don’t you think it would be used where cost is no option? Of course, it would. Superior methods are always used where cost is no option. Direct-drive is more expensive to implement, and yet that’s what you’ll find where performance is critical. This explains why many of the great turntables are direct-drive and why those machines are so highly sought after.

Many lovers of particular belt-drive brands especially get really angry on hearing this. Most have never even heard a really high-end machine like an L-07D or SP-10/SL-1000, but repeat the rhetoric as if their lives depended on it. I’m only interested in what sounds best, so show me an excellent turntable and I’ll use it, belt-drive, direct-drive or idler-drive. My current working reference is a belt-drive Luxman (Micro) PD-350, which hopefully demonstrates my open-mindedness on this point. It’s phenomenal. My best turntable is my direct-drive Kenwood L-07D though.

But the record store guy says belt-drives are better..?

Ah yes, the record store guy, who paradoxically often knows very little about how to get the best out of records!

Record store guys know more about records and less about turntables. This isn’t a judgement, it’s just a statement of fact. You DO care about how your records sound, so we move on to more reliable sources of information.

There are excellent belt-drive and direct-drive turntables, it’s not the drive method alone that determines system performance. Unfortunately, most people aren’t interested in the technical details, nor have they been exposed to the range of equipment necessary to form a valid opinion on this, but some of us are and have.

How many record store guys do you think have listened to an SL-1000, PD-350 or L-07D for example, let alone owned one of these grail machines? Simply put, most people will never hear an end-game turntable and this lack of experience and knowledge lies at the heart of rumours and misinformation everywhere.

As we always say here at Liquid Audio: knowledge is power. You want the truth? Speak to someone who actually knows it, from personal experience owning and using these grail turntables!

Do you dislike belt-drive turntables?

No not at all, there are many amazing belt-drive turntables and my current working reference is a golden-age, end-game Luxman PD-350 belt-drive turntable!

I really enjoy the simplicity of the Rega Planar machines and I love decks like the PL-514, SL-23 and KD-2055, just to name a few. What I don’t like is bad turntables, no matter how their platters are driven. This especially extends to overpriced underperformers and unfortunately, most of those are belt driven, many from the famous brands you’d be familiar with!

What’s better: moving magnet or moving coil?

Ultimately, moving coil, but it depends on how much you have to spend. If your limit is $150, a moving magnet is all you’ve got baby!

That isn’t to say there aren’t some great moving magnet cartridges, especially vintage models. Rather, the best solution – technically – is the moving coil design, because of its reduced moving mass and therefore greater linearity and micro-dynamic accuracy.

Lower mass means lower inertia and therefore better transient response and high-frequency performance. All of that translates to better dynamics, detail, lower distortion and more of that elusive ‘air’. I’ve written quite a bit about this here.

Marketing departments everywhere have tried to convince people that lower-cost moving magnets are “as good” or “nearly as good” as moving coils, but the fact that they even need to try to convince people of this tells you something. They still have these inherent design limitations and speaking from experience, they simply aren’t as good.

Because coils are technically better, manufacturers also tend to spend more on these designs, using better diamonds, more expensive boron or even diamond cantilevers and better coil wire. This means you can spend a ton on a good MC cartridge, but remember that a really good moving magnet cartridge will be better than a cheap moving coil. You get what you pay for.

The caveat here is that because moving coil designs generally have much lower outputs, you need higher quality electronics and even a step-up transformer to get the most from them. Don’t expect a really good moving coil cartridge to sound its best using a built-in or cheap external phono preamp.

What equipment does Liquid Audio care for?

We service, repair and restore hi-fi stereo equipment, with a focus on turntables and amplifiers.

We work on: Hi-fi stereo gear including most Japanese, European and North American amplifiers, preamplifiers, turntables, CD players, cassette decks and tuners produced since 1970. We care for all major brands and most hi-fi stereo equipment produced from 1970 onwards.

Brands we commonly see include Accuphase, Akai, Kenwood, Luxman, NAD, Pioneer, Sansui, Rotel, Sony, TEAC, Technics, Quad and Yamaha. We specialise in amplifiers, preamplifiers, turntables, CD players, DACs, cassette decks and tuners.

We don’t work on: radiograms, stereograms, jukeboxes, mini-systems, midi-systems, DVD players, AV receivers, Bluetooth anything, docks, Sonos etc.

We carry out major overhaul and restoration work, as well as offer on-site work, consults and inspections. Check out the Services page for more.

Why do you need to inspect equipment before providing repair cost estimates?

Because most people expect accurate assessments based on what their equipment needs rather than guesswork.

Actually, I don’t think anyone wants guesswork, and yet that’s effectively what you are asking for if you expect a sight-unseen estimate on complex, faulty, electro-mechanical equipment. Nobody can know exactly what your equipment needs without carefully inspecting, testing and diagnosing the issues.

Every piece of hi-fi equipment is unique with unique service history, condition, fault presentation and so on. What exactly are the faults and their causes? Does it contain work like thiscorrosive glue or poor previous work? These details can only be revealed by inspection and no two pieces are the same, even two of the same model.

There are some who provide guesstimates to get your equipment in through the door, but who knows what happens after that. We operate ethically, inspecting your equipment to determine exactly what’s wrong with it, chatting with you about what it needs based on experience and what works within your budget.

Most will immediately see the sense in this approach so if we lose a few who expect sight-unseen ‘quotes’ that’s probably not a bad thing. It’s worth mentioning that none of Perth’s respected repairers provide quotes before inspecting equipment.

Everyone has a different opinion, where can I get good advice?

There’s misinformation in any technical field and hi-fi is one of the worst. You are likely to get the best advice by speaking with busy working specialists.

People often tell me:

“Mike, I read in a forum that I should buy XYZ, what do you think…?”

The overwhelming problem here is that many, or even most people writing in forums don’t have the technical understanding or experience to be able to contribute anything useful to the topic they are writing about. Even the better forums are filled with subjective and conflicting opinions, technically incorrect ‘facts’, pseudo-science and plenty of babbling weirdos to be honest!

Often a ‘rumour’ is spread as fact by others lacking the knowledge to fact-check or filter it. Most readers of this nonsense don’t know which information is important, right, wrong, ridiculous or otherwise, creating a rabbit hole of wasted time, energy and money for far too many.

BTW: I’m not talking about specialist private technical forums here. Some of those, like my old favourite Tektronix Yahoo group, were/are a literal goldmine of great people and information. But a group like this, inhabited by genuinely informed individuals is a very different thing from your general hi-fi forum for example.

The best and most qualified people I know aren’t involved in public forums at all. When you run a successful business, for example, you simply don’t have time or energy to waste arguing with people in forums.

Can you help me fix my equipment without me bringing it to you?

I’ll do my best to assist you and a video consult helps significantly.

We need to be sensible though. If you’ve ever tried to help an elderly family member fix a computer problem over the phone, you’ll know it can be one of the most challenging tasks humans are faced with!

So it is with electronics repairs. The person doing the repairs needs the right tools, parts, diagnostic techniques, test gear, service data, etc. In most cases, it’s not sensible for owners to attempt to repair their equipment, but with the right guidance, these issues can certainly be ‘eased’.

If you cannot bring equipment to me, I’m happy to discuss the problems and provide some useful advice that might get you on the right track. Simply make a donation via the Contact page for a brief chat. For a more detailed discussion, purchase a consult block, again, via the contact page.

Can you sell me service parts?

No, we don’t operate a retail store or sell service parts like belts, integrated circuits, capacitors individually to consumers.

We do stock, supply and fit thousands of electronic parts, belts, cartridges, headshells and turntable mats. We fit these parts as needed when you book your equipment in for service, repair or improvement.

How is Liquid Audio different?

There are many aspects of our approach that make us different.

I have a genuine love of hi-fi gear. I love working on it, love the history and classic designs and find it incredibly satisfying to focus on the tiny details necessary to have it running at its absolute best.

Quality is our ultimate focus and there aren’t many who can make that claim. There are a heck of a lot of pretenders and copy-cats out there, but go back to my oldest articles and you’ll see we’ve been actually doing this work for over a decade.

Everything from our premium tools and test equipment to the way we approach things is different. But it’s not just this. I’m old-fashioned, I believe in courtesy, professionalism and being straightforward with people.

I own this business and I service and repair everything, run the website and write the articles. I’ve been contributing to the hi-fi community for more than a decade. Other repairers haven’t written or contributed anything, let alone hundreds of articles and hundreds of thousands of words on vintage hi-fi equipment.

You take on some big jobs, are there any you won’t take on?

We generally avoid equipment in poor physical condition, damaged by other repairers, heavily modified or equipment that isn’t serviceable.

Don’t get me wrong, the challenging jobs can be very rewarding, but we’re not interested in trying to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear or charging you for trying to.

These days we filter equipment in poor condition because it becomes a problem for us this shouldn’t really become our problem if you think about it. We’re here to help, but ultimately we also want good outcomes for everyone and that means not taking on jobs where the odds are stacked against all of us.

Do you sell pre-owned hi-fi equipment?

Yes, we sell pre-owned hi-fi equipment from my personal collection and on consignment for our customers.

Purchasing pre-owned hi-fi equipment from us has many benefits:

  • Equipment has been professionally inspected, serviced and even repaired, where necessary
  • Equipment has been cleaned and detailed
  • Almost every piece comes with a three-month warranty

Try getting that from a fly-by-night Gumtree seller!

Selling with us works brilliantly too because we:

  • Carefully select customers and stock
  • Take care of photography and advertising
  • Add value to your equipment
  • Receive 500 – 1500 website visitors per day
  • Remove the stress and hassle of selling

Visit our Store and Sold Items Gallery pages for more!

Why should I make a donation?

You appreciate the inherent value of expert assistance and hopefully the efforts of specialists like us who provide it!

Good advice is the ultimate system improver, time and money saver. Finding it is another matter. Navigating the sea of time and money-wasting misinformation, opinion, conflicts of interest and nonsense in hi-fi can be tedious, but it doesn’t have to be. If you want expert advice and insight, find a specialist willing to provide it.

We’ve contributed hundreds of free articles and reviews to the hi-fi community, raised awareness of classic equipment, repaired thousands of pieces of cherished hi-fi gear and helped thousands of people with advice. Not bad for a one-man operation, but none of it happens by itself.

“Spend $10 or $20 to get the best advice you can find from Mike, and please, stop quoting forum posts as authorities. Only the guys who actually work, live and breathe this stuff really know what they are doing. Trust them, not random strangers, shills and very biased (sometimes blind) owners. Else you can end up with some very expensive mistakes that … Mike can save you from.”  Jon

An Expectation Problem

After answering thousands of advice enquiries from people around the world, I decided to address the expectation that we should provide our time and expertise freely to all who enquire. I don’t know of specialists in any field who do, yet an entitled minority of visitors expect our assistance, almost as though they are owed it.

For perspective, imagine contacting a doctor, lawyer or mechanic in another country, expecting them to help with something that consumes time and doesn’t generate business. Imagine this happening many times a day, day in, day out and then imagine abusing or even threatening the person you’ve asked for help if they can’t or don’t want to assist.

Nobody should have to deal with that, least of all a business actively helping the hi-fi community. We needed a filter.

“Your videos and articles are a terrific resource for people who love hi-fi, but don’t know what is good and what is over-hyped and over-priced. I encourage people to support Mike and his business with a small donation, as I have done. He is truly independent and calls it as he sees it, which is difficult to find these days. Hi-fi magazines are full of glowing reviews, from brands that also advertise with the magazine…”  Tony

The Solution

We introduced donations as a simple way for people we assist to show appreciation and create mutually satisfying interactions that account for a little of our time. It’s the filter we needed because those expecting our assistance typically view that as a one-way process, causing them to:

  • Pretend they’ve donated or that the donate button doesn’t work
  • Promise to donate after receiving help
  • Bother someone else

Filtering enquiries allows us to:

  • Provide high-quality, personalised assistance to people who appreciate it
  • Focus on customers, repairs, writing articles people enjoy, eating, sleeping…

Naturally, we continue to assist customers and the community with articles, reviews and specialist technical services 🙏

Do you sell belts, styli and cartridges?

Yes, we keep thousands of parts in stock and have speedy access to many more.

We don’t operate a retail shopfront though, so we don’t sell bare service parts for example. Instead, we supply and fit them as part of the services we offer.

How long will my repair take?

This depends on your equipment, what’s wrong with it and how many jobs are in the pipeline.

Each job will be done in turn and according to workflow considerations. All jobs are in a queue for attention and some take longer than others to process. Some jobs require parts to be ordered and some suppliers take longer than others to deliver.

Do you offer hi-fi equipment inspections?

Yes, we offer pre and post-purchase hi-fi equipment inspections, cartridge inspections and more.

A Liquid Audio report can save people hundreds or even thousands of dollars and a great deal of pain.

Imagine for example having an expensive amplifier inspected prior to purchase. I find that many hundreds of dollars of work and repairs are needed. You take my detailed report to the seller and negotiate a fair price, based on my findings, that saves you far more than the cost of the inspection. This is a great result.

Is my equipment repairable?

Probably, but this comes down to what equipment we are talking about and what’s wrong with it.

Various factors come into play here, including make and model, fault’s, general condition, your budget and so on. Most faults are repairable, but some combinations of equipment/fault/condition etc may render repairs difficult, or non-viable. Inspection is the only way to know.

Do you provide a warranty?

Yes, an industry-standard 3-month warranty applies to our work and the parts we supply.

In the rare event that you experience an issue, we will fix it, where it’s viable to do so or refund you where it’s not. Naturally, faults or issues not related to our work are not covered by warranty.

Why repair vintage equipment when I can buy new?

Because the vintage gear you already own is almost certainly better than any decent new gear you can afford!

Nothing you can buy for sensible money now is built like vintage hi-fi equipment, or made in Japan. Nor is much of it very sonically inspiring either, something those of us who don’t make a living selling new hi-fi gear are not afraid to tell you.

I regularly see 40-year-old hi-fi equipment that has come in for its first maintenance. Do you think your BOSE or Sonos ‘thingo’ will be working in 4 years time, let alone 40?! No, and I can guarantee the crappy dock, soundbar or Bluetooth whatever doesn’t sound as good as proper vintage hi-fi gear either.

Experience shows that $500 vintage amplifiers regularly crush $2000 new ones in terms of build and sound quality. If your vintage amplifier only needs some routine maintenance, why wouldn’t you get that done?!

The the hi-fi store guy promised a new turntable would kill my classic deck, is this true?

Ahh, this old chestnut. No, generally these statements are made simply to sell you new equipment.

Manufacturers, retailers and salespeople need to sell you stuff to stay in business. It makes sense right? Imagine walking into a hi-fi store, telling them what you have and the sales guy saying

“Wow, your turntable is awesome, probably better than anything here up to around $3000!”

Sales staff are generally paid a commission. This reward for selling creates a very real conflict of interest inescapable by all but the most ethical salespeople, strangely often overlooked or not even considered by consumers.

Remember, there is NOTHING new in turntables except styling. The very best turntables have mostly all been made, somewhere between 1970 and 1985. There are a few notable exceptions, but you get my point. The industry needs you to believe that new gear is better, otherwise, everyone’s out of a job.

Consider this: I don’t have a turntable to sell you. In fact, I’m not trying to sell you anything, nor do I mind whether or not you believe me, I’m just telling you the truth. But others are trying to sell you something, aren’t they? Do they have new turntables to sell by any chance..?

By the way, ethical salespeople exist, like my friends Simon and Tony @ Douglas Hi-Fi and Pierre @ Revolution Turntable. Make sure you ask your hi-fi store guy what turntable he owns. This will help ensure there’s some credibility to the advice you are being given.

But surely new technology must sound better?

What new technology? Modern analog gear uses the same classic circuits, but often with lower quality parts and construction.

There is very little ‘new technology’ in analog audio. Most analog electronic circuit designs date back to the earliest days of tubes and transistors. Even things like class-D and class-T amps are not new.

Yes, there are some superb new op-amps transistors and low distortion circuits that utilise them, but you could make a strong argument for the fact that the best analog audio engineering is all discrete component design, with as few op-amps as possible, so this point is moot in the very best gear.

High-end gear often contains tubes and… oh that’s right, all the best tubes are old ones, from the ’50s and ’60s. They certainly aren’t new. Actually, this ‘new technology’ thing is grossly overstated and misunderstood.

Digital is different, but it’s an emergent technology, so you can’t really compare them. Things have certainly improved, so newer DACs often sound better.

I bet your hi-fi system contains lots of new gear..?

It doesn’t and I get industry discounts and access to whatever I might want. Think about that for a moment…

My amplifier, preamplifier, turntable, headshell, transformer and speakers are all from the ’70s and ’80s. I also own a tuner from 1975, a cassette deck from 1983, a CD player from 2008 containing Siemens tubes from 1965 and my cartridges are from 1980 – 2009. My speaker cable is new, that’s it.

So the entire retail machine is designed to get people to ‘trade-up’ to new equipment..?

Yep. Are you really surprised..?

Ask owners of newer gear how they feel about their expensive “superior modern equipment” that often dies just outside of warranty and is then deemed non-viable to repair.

Read the reviews. Every new piece of gear sounds “significantly better” than the one preceding it, right? OK, so how then is it possible for a 40-year-old amplifier to sound better than a new one?

Seriously, try explaining that. If each year brought significant improvements, older gear would sound awful compared with gear with 40 years of continuous improvement. But it doesn’t and anyone with decent rears and experience will confirm this.

Unfortunately, there are some tricks being played on the average consumer and that’s a shame.

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