Welcome to our FAQs

This comprehensive, categorised and regularly updated set of over 100 FAQs delivers really useful information about amplifiers, speakers, turntables, general hi-fi stuff, service and repair, vintage vs modern gear and much more.

Each FAQ group contains questions I’m commonly asked, and some I figure you’ll want answers to anyway.

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


Why do you have these FAQs?!

If I answer everyone individually, often the same questions over and over, I’d never get any work done folks!

There are questions I’ve probably answered hundreds of times now. By turning the questions I’m most commonly asked into FAQs, they can benefit everyone, and save me from repeating myself.

Do customers ever fail to collect and pay for their equipment?

Almost never, it’s just a tiny fraction of one percent.

I’m very lucky in that I have great customers. This, plus the high repair success rate, sensible prices and upfront sensible conversations combine to give me probably the lowest non-payment rate in the industry.

That being said, it’s annoying when it happens because we trust people to do the right thing. Thankfully it’s so rare that I’ve had maybe two in 10+ years. One was a crooked real estate agent, another a guy called John Messina who simply vanished leaving me with his perfectly working turntable which we sold to recoup funds owed.

Does anyone know a John  Messina..?! Get in touch if you do!

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 quite a bit to understand.

Cartridge alignment is a technical process. I’m presenting you with the facts, from a specialist’s perspective, as always. Do with them what you will.

First, we need to clear something thing up: 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.

What is factory alignment? Factory alignment is a cartridge alignment done exactly as the tonearm/turntable manufacturer recommends, to the exact specification described by the manufacturer. It’s achieved using a factory alignment tool, overhang gauge, or protractor and usually involves setting the correct overhang and/or cartridge offset at one or two null points.

This is typically how I align cartridges, my thinking being that the designers probably knew what they were doing when they specified the alignment. I like to honour those design decisions, plus I get a kick out of doing things correctly when I know most don’t. In rare cases where the original set-up data is not available, I’ll select an alignment tool most appropriate for the job, based on experience.

The alignment misunderstanding occurs due to a misunderstanding of the cartridge alignment process and what alignment is. When a cartridge is factory aligned, it may appear misaligned when checked with any of the multitude of cartridge protractors and alignment gauges available. Likewise, if you align with a Shure paper alignment gauge for example, when you check with a factory tool, the alignment will often appear wrong.

How can both be right, or wrong..?! See the problem? The simple answer to this is that each tool delivers a different alignment. Generic tools don’t deliver the correct factory alignment for your deck. They deliver an alignment. These generic alignments are approximations based on a ‘standard’ tonearm and ‘type’ of alignment, not necessarily your tonearm.

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 protractors have a role in ‘quick and dirty’ alignments and work well in cases they were designed for, but they are no substitute for the correct factory alignment.

Time for a breath… If this is now starting to make sense, then you are on the right track.

Confusingly, various alignments are possible, each sounding different, and none of which are technically wrong. Baervald, Lofgren and Stevenson alignments are the three common alignments. Each yield measurably different total ‘area under the curve’ distortion. Your arm will likely use one of these alignments or a variation of it, but ultimately this doesn’t really matter. Which is correct? Perhaps we’d be better off asking which is most correct. The factory alignment is technically the correct alignment and as the designers intended.

So, there’s granularity to the conversation a lot more to understand than most realise. Certainly 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 the alignment actually is. The only way to know that is to understand and be able to measure your current alignment. A generic protractor is not the solution. Unless these conditions are met, I strongly suggest you don’t change anything.

To summarise: Your cartridge needs to be correctly aligned with the correct overhang, azimuth, offset, VTA, plus the right tracking force and anti-skate. You should only adjust your cartridge alignment if you understand and can measure the current alignment. To align a cartridge correctly, you need tools to measure and set each of the parameters mentioned.

It’s like your car’s wheel alignment. You wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) ever change things without a way to assess the validity of the current set-up, that you understand, know how to use, and a way to get back to where you started. This is why I recommend expert fitting and alignment – of your wheels AND your cartridges!

PS: Do you appreciate the time and effort I put into writing these FAQs and explaining sometimes tricky technical concepts? I hope so, this one took me over two hours!

Do cables make a difference?

They absolutely do, but not always in the way people imagine.

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

For example, thicker is not always better. There are some stupid thick cables out there, interconnects for example. Interconnects or mains cables 5cm thick aren’t better, they are literally just stupid. They damage or break connectors and can cause serious harm to really expensive gear and I’ve repaired the damage. People think thicker is better, because pseudoscience, so these silly cables sell. It’s a shame.

Construction really matters. Poorly made or incorrectly terminated cables can act as antennas and fry amplifiers and speakers. Be especially wary of gurus selling cables, just choose carefully, based on good science, not what looks the crasiest.

On that point, for some reason, in hi-fi circles, the kookier cables look and feel, the more they tend to sell. Add in a few buzz words and phrases that mean nothing like ‘super transconductance shield’ and ‘ultra conductive polymer’ and you have a guaranteed seller. Maybe I should sell cables…

So what’s better then? BETTER is better. Technically better, higher-quality cables, with higher-purity copper and silver, better solder, better insulation, better shielding, better connectors and better construction. Put all that together and you have better cables. 

Have a look at what’s used in Abbey Road or Air Studios for example. The engineers who create the recordings you enjoy probably know a thing or two about cables. They collect valve microphones worth tens of thousands of dollars, so these guys appreciate subtely. You find a ton of Canare and Mogami cable in mission-critical applications and these manufacturers make cable stock for the boutique brands people spend bug dollars on. I use Mogami cable in my system for example.

Are cables directional? No, there is no directionality in properly designed cables. If there was they’d act more as diodes and that would be harmful to sound quality, so you’d better hope your cables aren’t directional.

Nordost, one of the great cable manufacturers, states that cables do not have directionality. They aren’t just saying that their cables don’t either, they are saying none do, period. Nordost states that diode effects can appear over time and this is true, but quite a different thing from cables being directional when made.

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

No, they aren’t, they just say they are. ‘Directional’ cables sell better.

Symmetry in cables is important. Balanced signal transmission is naturally symmetrical and two-conductor balanced cable can be put to use in single-ended cables too, by using the twin internal conductors for signal and return and using the shield as an electrostatic shield, rather than signal return.

Let’s sum up what makes a good cable:

  • Premium conductor materials, either high-purity copper or silver
  • Premium insulator materials like Teflon and cotton
  • Premium connectors, where necessary, WBT or CMC for example
  • Great shielding
  • Cable symmetry
  • Silver and copper-based solders
  • Minimising cable length
  • Low resistance and capacitance
  • Technically informed, engineering-correct design

Can you just sell me a belt for my turntable?

I don’t operate a retail shopfront and therefore do not sell parts directly to the public.

I need to make clear that this is on purpose. If I retailed service parts I’d spend most of each day discussing, packing and shipping parts and writing tiny invoices for them. Apart from how painful this would be, I’d never get any real work done. I can’t think of anything worse!

“I don’t understand why you won’t just sell me a belt!”

I will gladly supply and fit any of the parts we have in stock if you book your equipment in for expert maintenance. If you’d like my assistance with that, get in touch via the contact form. Speaking from experience, just about every piece of equipment I’ve worked on received little to no prior maintenance, so it’s worth considering.

Why don’t all CD players sound the same?

They’re just not going to, any more than amplifiers, speakers or guitars 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.”

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 cheap DVD player?

That depends on what you mean by OK. Can you do it? Of course. Will it sound any good? Definitely not.

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

That’s like saying all wine tastes the same or all guitars sound the same. To a child or someone with limited experience, they do. They really don’t, but knowing and understanding this comes down to experience.

If you’ve never heard a really good CD player in a really good system, you’ll think CDs sound ‘fine’ played back on a cheap DVD player, and you’ll think that means the same. But, in a high-resolution system, the difference between a good dedicated CD player and a cheap DVD player really is night and day.

What annoys you the most in running your business?

There are a few things, most of them hinge around good, old fashioned courtesy and respect. These things are important, they should be to everyone.

The annoyances below make up perhaps less than 10% of total interactions with people. We are massively winning overall, these are a small fraction of an otherwise overwhelmingly positive experience.

  • People who bypass my process for obtaining advice and assistance

These people usually are not customers, but they want my help and will anything to try to obtain it. Circumventing processes I’ve put in place which allow me to advise and assist these people in a way that works for me is always going to put me offside. It is my business, so it does need to work for me!

  • Copycat businesses

Various people have copied me. There’s even a guy who uses a turntable in his logo, has copied the type of work I do, has borrowed heavily from my website design and aesthetic, takes the same sorts of photos and has even copied bits of my text and web content to promote his own business! It’s flattering but what about copyright? How about some originality? Self-respect here perhaps?

  • People who hassle me to book their equipment, promise they understand that I’m full, that they are happy to wait and then call every couple of weeks asking if I’ve looked at their equipment.

This one is annoying, especially having gone through the details: I’ll call you once I’ve looked at it, I’m full, this is a favour, please be patient, etc. I understand everyone wants their equipment fixed quickly but PLEASE – don’t agree to my terms if you don’t agree with my terms!

  • People who make appointments but don’t keep them

I’ve had a few of these recently, thank goodness most people keep appointments. There will always be things that come up, but time is my most precious commodity and I’d rather allocate it to people who plan on keeping appointments than waste time chatting and arranging bookings with people who don’t.

  • People who are rude, ungrateful, disrespectful

Most of us can identify with this one. Who wants to help someone who is rude, aggressive or ungrateful? I had a guy who was super rude later ask me if I wanted to look at his equipment again. You’ve gotta be joking! Thankfully this one is very rare.

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

You might be surprised to learn that in many cases I discourage this.

I’m interested in keeping equipment original, which retains value. I want to give you the best bang for your buck and save you money where I can. There are others out there who will drain your wallet unnecessarily, that doesn’t interest me.

So, my question is:

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

See, much of what people think they know about connectors is wrong and doing all this is often not the best way to spend money improving your gear. Did you know the best connections are hardwired, soldered connections? Mains cables for example are best soldered directly to the power supply. It’s the same with signal cables, though obviously less practical.

Not the answer you were looking for? I’m not interested in trends or “what’s poppin” in the hi-fi forums. I’m only interested in what’s technically correct and sonically the best way forward. That’s why people come to Liquid Audio, or they learn that along the way and it brings them back.

Now, I can clean and treat your RCA connectors with a special connector treatment product and this really makes a difference. If you insist, I’ll add a mains IEC inlet for you. I’ll certainly improve an existing IEC inlet with a hospital-grade filtered Swiss one if you’d like. I can also bypass IEC inlets and hard-wire in some really heavy-duty mains cable. Many things are possible.

I can add new speaker terminals for you, but it’s again often unnecessary. Instead, I can change connectors on your speaker cables to suit your amplifier. If your speaker connectors are broken or useless, then sure, it makes sense to change them. There are options that most aren’t aware of, just ask me if you’d like to know more.

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

Yes, replacing bad RCA connectors can be worthwhile.

No, adding a heavy-duty mains cable to a turntable will not make any difference whatsoever. It can’t.

And no, using stupid-thick RCA cables is not what that connector was designed for, they will break. I’ve repaired a super high-end amplifier damaged by ‘special’ hand-made RCA cables. There’s nothing special about that. You’ve been warned!

How do I arrange a consult?

Simply visit the Contact page, click the PayPal.me link, purchase a consult block/s and send me your questions!

It’s super easy and consult time is charged out at $60 per 30-minute block. I’m happy to chat by phone or by email for consults, though the phone is usually easier and more efficient.

What are your thoughts on buying equipment in poor condition?

Generally speaking, I suggest you avoid it.

There is no escaping the fact that equipment in poor condition tends to be less reliable than similar gear in good condition.

I’ve worked on plenty of rough pieces and warned owners about them. 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. Despite the best efforts of skilled repairers, these issues are not reversible. You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, as they say!

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 can recommend?

My goal is to help you and look after your equipment, so the answer is a very limited yes.

I’m always happy to recommend nice people doing good work. If I’m fully booked and you can’t wait, I’d rather you take your equipment to someone capable than have it ruined.

I have two suggestions. Both are colleagues, great guys, technically 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.

If you do decide to use either of these gentlemen, please let them know I referred you. That helps me in some small way, as they know where the referral came from.

“But Mike, what about ‘Buzztronics’ and many others you’ve not mentioned..?”

There’s a reason I’ve not recommended any other repairers here. Rest assured, as I learn of other good repairers, I’ll recommend them.

I’d like to get my dual cassette deck serviced or repaired – is it worth it?

That depends if it needs service or repair. In the case of repair, sadly, it’s often not worth it.

You see, dual or double cassette machines were some of the cheapest cassette machines of their time. Now, consider that cassette deck maintenance can be some of the most intensive and therefore labour intensive work we do.

How many cassette deck mechanisms are in a double cassette deck…? Two! This means doubling the already time-consuming technical workload in most cases, and that can mean quite a few hours of work in total.

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 no.

Is it worth spending much 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.

Does Liquid Audio service and repair equipment for local hi-fi stores?

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

I am very proud that some of the best hi-fi stores in Perth use Liquid Audio for service and repair work. As an independent repairer, a large portion of our work is a result of direct customer engagement. Helping local businesses with their client’s equipment is a very satisfying part of what we do, though.

Should I buy a cheap turntable belt on eBay?

You could be lucky, but how will you know if you get a good quality belt of the correct size or not? Why chance it?

To some people, rubber drive belts all look the same. It’s a bit like how all spark plugs or all tyres look the same to some people. Learn a little though and you’ll quickly realise they are not.

With belts, there are quality and sizing issues to consider. 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. Far from saving money, this just wastes it.

Belt diameter is critical, as are width and thickness. Excessive tightness from belts having too small a diameter is a common problem with eBay belts. Incorrectly sized belts place excessive force on the drive pulley and motor top bearing, causing noise and excessive wear. Poor belt quality manifests in belts that simply don’t last.

You can avoid these issues by simply taking your deck to someone who sells good quality, correctly sized parts. At the time they fit the belt, they can also give our deck a health check and perform any other service work needed. Naturally, it will cost a little more for an expert to fit correct parts of good quality. You get what you pay for as they say!

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 a deposit or payment upfront?

Because I trust my customers, they trust me and this arrangement just works.

I’m fortunate that my business brings good, honest customers. I’m also pretty good at filtering. Naturally, people also want to collect their repaired and serviced equipment, so I don’t worry about this. On the rare occasion that something is not repaired, the costs incurred in getting to that point have already been discussed.

Can you provide me with a service manual for my equipment?

Sorry, but in most cases I can’t, doing so would jeopardise my ability to receive manufacturer support in the future.

I’d love to help but this request always puts me in a difficult position. I receive official factory support in some cases and have many not publicly available service manuals. I am bound by confidentiality not to share these manuals and manufacturer-in-confidence service data.

What do you think about buying rare transistors on eBay?

Don’t do it, almost all rare types that appear on eBay are fakes, from Shenzen and similar locations.

Certain parts are no longer available and that’s a certainty. If an unavailable part suddenly is available on eBay, from China, just walk away. Trust me, there are lots of parts that I wish were still available, but they aren’t and we move on.

Sure, there might occasionally be an old guy in Poland with a box of special unavailable parts in his garage, but the listing will clarify that. Everything else, like classic Hitachi 2SJ56 and 2SK176, VFETs, rare STK modules etc listed on eBay are fakes.

Because they are no longer available, unscrupulous sellers know that buyers are willing to do almost anything to get hold of these mystical parts. So they take existing low-spec parts and have them printed with whatever the unavailable part name might be. You install the part, it fails, and how are you going to prove the new part is fake, versus there being some other reason it failed..?

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

This includes output devices, usually in TO-3 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 in that case, which worked perfectly.

Most older devices have modern replacements and I have a database of cross-references that allows me to match new devices with dead old ones. 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?

My immediate thought is that any technician advising you that cheap parts are perfectly good is not someone you want to use!

Look, some cheap parts are OK in certain places. As a general concept though, this comment indicates a lack of understanding and appreciation of the differences between parts.

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

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

Do you offer radio and tuner RF alignments?

Yes, I have precision RF alignment equipment and I suspect I’m one of only a few that still offer 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, tape head demagnetiser etc?

Yes, I have various calibration tapes, a TDK electronic tape head demagnetiser, special mirrored tape path cassette, etc.

Can you install LED lamps in my equipment?

In most cases yes, this is no problem.

I have stocks of incandescent and LED lamps, in 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 run 100V equipment here in Australia, is this an issue?

Not at all, as long as you 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 2x 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. For low powered equipment like turntables and preamps, a small transformer will be fine.

Can you provide me with a list of parts or BOM to overhaul my equipment?

No, this is not a service I provide.

Fixing or overhauling electronic equipment properly involves far more than just swapping out parts. If you need to ask for a BOM or a list of parts, this indicates to me that you probably aren’t looking at things the right way shouldn’t be working on that equipment. There are no magic kits or BOMs that will fix broken hi-fi gear. If only it were that simple!

Remember, Liquid Audio is focused squarely on keeping your equipment running as well as it possibly can run. That means not taking a shotgun approach, but instead, diagnosing what’s wrong and fixing it, with the right parts for the job.

I purchased a piece of equipment from Japan, plugged it in and it blew up! Can you help?

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

This one is moderately irritating and I get around one of these enquiries a week! If you don’t know (and if you blew up your gear, I guess you didn’t…), 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 a few weeks ago. He may have been confusing cheap modern equipment with switched-mode power supplies (SMPS), but virtually none of the gear we are interested in uses SMPS.

The minimum you need to do is 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. You need to know whether yours can be configured for local operation and have it set to run at 240V if so. This is not something you can have a hunch about. Guessing on this point is not an option!

Should I buy an AM/FM tuner from Japan?

No, you shouldn’t, not unless you like listening to a 2 MHz slice of the 20 MHz FM broadcast band!

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, hi-fi gear, general electronics and in fact everything made by humans needs periodic maintenance.

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.

I’m not saying this to drum up business. I’m busy enough as it is and often completely full. I turn work away and have a strong reputation for ethical business practices to uphold. I’m not about to jeopardise that with misinformation!

You are very welcome to take your chances. One thing is for certain though: your equipment will eventually fail if you don’t maintain it. Sometimes failure is benign, no major harm is done. Sometimes failure is catastrophic though and may take out other elements with it. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Should I spray contact cleaner into my equipment?

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, 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 per Watt.

Class-D or switching amplifiers are not new and this topology wasn’t designed to be used for hi-fi applications. What class-D does well is deliver high efficiency and power output with relatively low parts count and cost. The tradeoffs are high distortion and unwanted RF byproducts.

Don’t let anyone tell you class-D is superior to class-A or class-AB for audio, because it isn’t, in any way, except for its low cost and high efficiency. This makes class-D good for subwoofer amplifiers and non-critical home cinema amplifiers. At the high-end of audio, nothing is class-D. 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.”

Yep, I’ve heard it all before, it’s marketing BS, I promise. There are ZERO technical reasons why class-D would sound better. It’s used purely to save money and allow for small, very powerful amplifiers.

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 risky?

This is a great question. Given how long some new gear lasts, I would argue that it’s actually riskier in some cases buying new gear!

As long as you mitigate your risks, 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.

To some extent, you need to know what you are looking for and how to test it. This will involve listening and operating it. Beyond that, an inspection is a sensible idea and can potentially save a lot of money.

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

Do headshells, headshell wires and mounting hardware make a sonic difference?

Yes, they certainly do.

Speaking from considerable experience with headshells, wires and mounting hardware, I can assure readers that these things make a difference. Not only do the materials and construction improve as one spends more on these elements, but their contribution to the total mass and therefore resonant frequency of the tonearm/cartridge system is a critical consideration.

I’ve found headshell wiring to be significantly important. I currently use SME silver headshell wires and they are the best I’ve found so far.

How important is correct cartridge-tonearm matching?

Very important, so much so that it can be dangerous and potentially break a cartridge and damage vinyl when this match is incorrect.

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?

It depends on the scenario and the cartridge. Let me explain.

Properly installing and accurately 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 correct tools and test records can take anywhere from 15 minutes to 60+ minutes with a complex deck or installation.

With this in mind, it’s unfortunately not viable to fit every cartridge for free. That would be like asking a mechanic to replace everyone’s sparkplugs for free or a doctor to write free prescriptions. It’s not a reasonable expectation of a specialist.

I have a system that works well:

  • I offer free precision installation and alignment on cartridges I supply with an RRP of $375 or more, in most cases. I 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 seller.
  • With cheaper and customer-supplied cartridges, I do charge for installation. For that, you get a full, precision alignment. In these scenarios, it’s a perfect opportunity to have your deck carefully inspected and precisely adjusted, something that may never even have been done.

Either way, you come out ahead.

“Why do some stores offer free installation?”

Two reasons. One is that, like me, they absorb the cost. Keep in mind though that many folks in stores cannot correctly install and set up cartridges. This brings me to the second reason. 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?

Oh boy…! I advise you to steer clear of anyone who even so much as implies that they are a guru – of any kind!

Gurus generally deal in pseudoscience and nonsense. Seriously, there’s already enough bullsh%t in this world.

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’m definitely no guru. There’s a big difference.

There are self-proclaimed audio gurus here in Perth and everywhere. They generally propagate snake oil, nonsense and crappy hi-fi gear. If you want to buy a homemade valve amp or guru-made cables, that’s OK. Just don’t expect me or any other technically minded specialist to work on them when they don’t sound very good, don’t work properly, break or break something else!

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

You know what? GURUS are over-rated. There, stick that in your pipe!

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

How is it possible for vintage audio gear and formats to sound so good?

Let me put it this way: 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 by the way…?

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

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

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

Some of the very best recordings were made with valve microphones, direct-to-tape in the 1950s 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.

Sure, consoles and equipment 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.

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 best recordings. Again, think about what that really means.

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 to check, such as overall condition, functionality and service history.

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

This extends to service history. All equipment needs periodic maintenance and even parts replacement, eventually. 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, but 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 so often fully booked?

Whilst I can’t apologise for being busy, I understand and sincerely apologise for any frustration it may cause!

The Liquid Audio workshop is full, or nearly full, for much of each year these days. There are various reasons for this and, reading between the lines, you’ll probably have realised that we’re a little different from other businesses.

By focusing on technical excellence, being quite specific about what we take on and not obsessing about turnover, we operate on a different rhythm. We don’t advertise, people seek out our services and many seem happy to wait. Yes, I’d very much like a Hawaiian holiday and a new car and probably need both, but these things don’t drive me or my business. A camping trip in the old Prado suits me very well.

I try to help as many people as I can, and this can slow me down. Over the years I’ve accepted that other people’s equipment issues don’t necessarily have to become mine and I’m getting better at saying no, so that helps.

Whatever the causes, a full booking schedule creates issues for my customers and again I apologise for any inconvenience. I genuinely appreciate your patience and promise that just about everyone who wants to get equipment to us is eventually able to!

I’m thinking of using the cheapest repairer, is this a good idea?

Do you like cheap-looking work..?

Look, you’re here because you are interested in work done well. You know the answer to this one. Doing things cheaply is rarely compatible with doing them well. My Dad used to say:

“You get what you pay for, Mike.”

He was right. Surely a better question is:

“Do you want the work done cheaply, or do you want it done well?”

I see lots of equipment that’s been repaired cheaply and if you care about your hi-fi gear, it’s just not worth it. Cheap repairs often end up the most expensive option, because of collateral damage, poor parts and work that has to be rectified.

The overall quality of work and service is what should matter most. If the lowest price is your only concern, Liquid Audio is probably not the repairer for you, but good luck getting decent results too.

Are there any decent, affordable new turntables available?

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?

Depending on the design, cheap styli last as little as 300 hours, up to 2000+ hours for premium line-contact types.

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

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

Ask yourself this: do old watches, power tools or motorcycles eventually need to be overhauled or restored? The answer, of course, is yes and this applies to almost everything. Nothing lasts forever without maintenance.

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. This saved me buying a cheap new one. Mine is a Japanese Nippon Denso starter, and that’s what I want on my vehicle.

Older hi-fi gear is generally reliable and lasts a whole lot longer than most 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 receivers, Blu-Ray and laserdisc players etc?

For several really good reasons, the main one being that this type of equipment is often almost worthless after just a few years.

If you then 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.

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 still sought after for its performance, reliability and serviceability. The same unfortunately cannot be said for the plethora of average sounding, cheaply-made and forgettable home cinema equipment from the last 30 years or so.

Most of it is worth almost nothing after just a few years, due to useless feature creep. This kills retained value and therefore repair viability. Almost all of the cheaper stuff and much of the better stuff is 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, so whole boards are often needed
  • Repairs can easily exceed the value of even more expensive AV gear, again killing viability.

There are some notable exceptions, but sadly though, home cinema gear is just desirable in the way hi-fi stereo gear is.

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 variable positional 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, less curved, leading to lower variability 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 you’ll find new, assuming it’s 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 newer one?

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

Newer players can sound good, sometimes better, due to improvements in DAC architecture. But that’s as long as they are running and herein lies the problem: older players were just so well-built and newer players tend to be rubbish 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 and this 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 newer ones despite DAC architecture improvements – it’s not only about the DAC.

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 concerned that people use your advice to find and buy products elsewhere?

Parts sales are a small but important aspect of business, so yes this is a concern.

Parts sales are only one aspect of business, but many businesses deal with the scourge of low-service discounters and unethical shoppers who seek expert advice but take their business elsewhere.

Content I’ve produced over the past decade has helped many people find great equipment and sparked much interest in classic hi-fi and turntables. Many people read my articles, hit me up for advice and then purchase cartridges I supply for example, from other retailers.

Now, receiving advice from a specialist and then buying what you want elsewhere for a few bucks less might seem great to you, except:

a) The specialist misses out, despite having done the hard work, educated the customer and helped make the sale

b) The cartridge (for example) still needs to be expertly fitted and aligned and most end users don’t have the ability or tools to do that

I buy cartridges in small numbers so don’t receive the bulk purchase discounts big retailers do. I offer a lot more than any big retailer can though, including a complete service including system analysis, recommendation, supply, fitment and precision alignment of cartridges.

This is where the balance tips in my favour. I don’t charge for fitting and expertly aligning cartridges I supply over a certain price point. Try getting that from an online retailer!

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

Because they need to have the highest precision and lowest noise of any amplifier in your system.

It’s no mean feat taking a 0.3mV signal and amplifying 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, hard to even measure. The signal has to be amplified up to a volt or so, that’s over 1000x! This massive 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 get one of those sub-$100 phono preamps?

Definitely not, unless you don’t care about hum, noise and generally awful sound!

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.

The first one 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 have hum when playing records?

No, a good vinyl playback system, correctly set up, will be quiet, with 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 resolved. Bad earths are a common cause, ground loops are a variant of this. Cheap phono preamps and cables will always be noisy and equipment set-up, installation and arrangement can contribute.

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

Definitely not if you care about sound quality and the life of your records!

Radiograms and stereograms aren’t hi-fi equipment. They are furniture pieces that play music, this was their original design intent. They work well for that purpose, but the turntables in these units range from bad to terrible. They use ceramic cartridges that run very high tracking forces and big, fat, conical styli.

This 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 in-groove pressure will preserve your records and produce much better sound quality.

Why does vintage hi-fi gear seem to last longer?

This is a good question, it often comes down to the better mechanical design of older equipment and in many cases the use of higher quality parts.

I’ll often see equipment from 1970 for example, with a full set of electrically perfect Elna electrolytic capacitors. Fifty years of life 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 simply don’t last this long. Good modern capacitors are excellent, but you need to spend a lot to get an amplifier filled with good Nippon Chemi-Con or Panasonic capacitors.

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 get 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, even those designed for the international space station, for example, contain parts that change, wear, need cleaning and adjustment over time.

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

It’s a strange quirk of human nature that we sometimes purchase things and expect that they will just keep on running without any attention. This is not true even of a kettle with almost no moving parts. It’s certainly not true in the case of a turntable or even an amplifier. Mechanical linkages and drives 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 the best things to buy?

Yes, you are most welcome to do that.

If you’re a customer, advice is built into the service too! If not, just 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 I could remember to do that for the many dozens who ask me to, I would, so my apologies but not yet anyway.

It’s purely down to logistics. Keep in mind it’s just me running the business and 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 that I created for this purpose and either contact me or get back in touch when I’m taking bookings.

My apologies for there not yet being a better way to manage this. That being said, people who want to get work in are almost always able to do so!

Does a cartridge really affect the sound of a turntable?

Oh yes, it really does.

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?

Definitely not, if you care about your records and how they sound!

These things destroy vinyl and sound appallingly bad. They are a complete waste of money in my opinion.

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 there is something inherent in belt-drive that makes it superior. There isn’t.

Technically, direct-drive has several advantages, specifically in terms of torque and drive speed consistency. It’s much cheaper to make a belt-drive turntable though, 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’s much more expensive 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. 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? If belt-drive really was superior, it would be used where cost is no option, it’s that simple. This explains why many of the great turntables are direct-drive and why those machines are so highly sought after.

These are facts of course, not my opinions, but this is not what everyone wants to hear. People can get really angry about this, lovers of particular belt-drive brands especially. Most of these people have never even heard a really high-end machine like an L-07D or SP-10/SL-1000, but cling to these beliefs anyway.

I like what’s 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!

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

I hear this a lot but it’s like saying red is better than blue, it’s just not that simple.

Record store guys know more about records and less about turntables, trust me on this. 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 or able to understand the technical details, nor have they been exposed to the range of equipment necessary to form a valid opinion.

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 holy grail machines? A lack of experience and technical knowledge lies at the heart of so many incorrect statements, rumours and misinformation in audio and elsewhere.

Do you dislike belt-drive turntables?

No not at all, there are many amazing belt-drive turntables and my current working reference is a 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, some of which are the most famous and names you’d be familiar with!

What’s better: moving magnet or moving coil?

How much have you got to spend? If your limit is $150, moving magnet is all you’ve got baby!

There’s a bit to this but simply, almost all the best cartridges are moving coil designs. That isn’t to say there aren’t some great moving magnet cartridges, especially some 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 about this here.

Marketing departments have tried to convince people that lower-cost moving magnets are “as good” or “nearly as good” whatever that means, but 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 very high-quality electronics and 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 do you 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 the customers I deal with want accurate, informed assessments and estimates, based on what their equipment needs.

One of Liquid Audio’s foundations is working accurately and avoiding guesswork. What you may not realise is that nobody knows exactly what your particular piece of equipment needs without carefully inspecting and testing it. Some might say they do, but I can assure you they do not.

Every piece of hi-fi equipment is unique. That means a unique service history, fault presentation, condition and so on. What exactly are the faults and their causes? Does it contain work like thiscorrosive glue or strange previous repairs? Many details can only be revealed by inspection.

There are people who provide ‘quotes’ without inspecting hi-fi gear and this is to secure work. These repairers provide low-ball guesstimates they call ‘quotes’ to get your equipment in the door. What happens after that? Well, who knows.

It’s worth mentioning that none of Perth’s respected repairers provides quotes before inspecting equipment.

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

There’s misinformation and nonsense in any technical field and hi-fi is one of the worst for this, for various reasons. You are likely to get the best advice by speaking with specialists.

People often tell me:

“I read in a forum that I should buy XYZ…”

The problem is that most people writing in forums simply don’t have the technical understanding or experience to be able to contribute anything useful. Really. Even the better audio and hi-fi forums are filled with subjective and conflicting opinions, technically incorrect misinformation, pseudo-science and plenty of babbling weirdos to be honest!

Often a source of unknown validity will start a ‘rumour’ which is then spread as fact by others lacking the technical understanding to filter it. Most readers of this nonsense don’t know which bits of information are important, right, wrong or ridiculous, creating a rabbit hole of wasted time, energy and money. Life really is too short.

Note, I’m not talking about specialised private technical forums here. Some of those, like my old favourite Tektronix Yahoo group were phenomenal. But a group like this, inhabited by engineers and informed folks, is a very different thing from a general audio forum.

The best and most qualified people I know in this space aren’t involved in public hi-fi forums. When you run a successful business, website or shop, you simply don’t have time or energy to waste engaging with them. I suggest you seek out these folks.

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

If you are purchasing a consult, I’ll certainly do my best to assist you, but you need to keep the following in mind.

I don’t know if you have tried to help an elderly family member fix a computer problem over the phone, but 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 simply not sensible for owners to attempt to repair their equipment.

But, if you simply can’t 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 for my equipment?

Unfortunately not, we purposely don’t operate a retail store or sell service parts like belts, integrated circuits, capacitors individually, to consumers.

Naturally, we 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?

I have a genuine passion and love for hi-fi gear. I love working on it, with it and focussing on the tiny details necessary to have it running at its absolute best.

There aren’t many who can make that claim. 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 treating others with respect.

I own the business, 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 and this is something I take seriously. You won’t find me in the usual forums, I find them largely wasteful of time and energy, that’s part of the reason I created this website. Other repairers haven’t written or contributed anything, let alone hundreds of articles and hundreds of thousands of words on vintage hi-fi equipment.

So yeah, we’re different.

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

I generally avoid equipment in poor physical condition, that’s been destroyed by other repairers, heavily modified or equipment that isn’t designed to be serviceable.

The more challenging jobs can be very rewarding, but I’m not interested in trying to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear or charging you for it. Ultimately I want a good outcome for everyone and that means not taking on jobs where the odds are stacked against 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.

Selling with us works because we:

  • Carefully select customers and stock
  • Look after the photography, research and advertising and service, if needed
  • Have hundreds of site visitors per day
  • Provide warranty for peace of mind
  • Take away the stress and hassle of selling
  • Get great prices for buyers and sellers

Visit our Store and Sold Items Gallery pages for more!

Why should I make a donation?

You can make a donation because you recognise the value of good advice and appreciate the time and expertise needed to provide it, or because you’d like to show appreciation for the articles, reviews or anything else here you’ve found helpful.

It’s no secret that good advice is like gold. Unfortunately, a lot of what masquerades as good advice is time-wasting misinformation or nonsense. Audio forums are the worst places for this. Finding good advice and specialists willing to give their time to provide it isn’t easy, but worth it.

Don’t just take my word for it though, here’s what two people I’ve advised have to say:

Tony: “Wonderful article. 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 stuff. I encourage people to support Mike and his business with a small donation, as I have recently 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. Hard to know if that impacts their reviews or not.”

Jon: “Spend $10 or $20 to get the best real 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 for a few dollars sent his way, Mike can save you from.”

I’m genuinely happy to help those who appreciate that helping means I’m not fixing customer equipment, writing invoices, returning calls, ordering parts or looking over schematics. The hundreds of articles, reviews and FAQs that people seem to find useful don’t write themselves either.

Donations provide some compensation for time spent assisting people and:

  • Allow visitors anywhere in the world to receive the same professional service and expert advice as local customers
  • Offer high-value: good advice can save time and hundreds or even thousands of dollars
  • Benefit both parties and deliver enquirers who value the time and effort needed to provide this type of assistance

For reference, a beer ($10) covers about 5 minutes of my time. 

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 much work is in the queue.

Everyone wants their equipment back quickly but there’s only one of me! I promise I will get to your equipment as quickly as I can.

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 on your work?

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 new gear you can afford!

Nothing you can buy for sensible money now is built like old hi-fi equipment, or made in Japan. I regularly see equipment that is 40+ years old and has come in for its first repair. Do you think your BOSE or Sonos ‘thingo’ will be working in 40 years time..?!

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

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. Sales staff are generally paid a commission. This reward for selling creates a conflict of interest inescapable by all but the most ethical salespeople. They need to sell you new equipment and have you believe that new gear is better. Otherwise, everyone’s out of a job, aren’t they…?

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

A classic example of this ‘upgraditis’ is found in home cinema equipment. Remember 5.1 audio? It worked well. Then we went to 7.1, 7.2, 9.2, 11.2 etc. Ever wondered what happens to the quality of amplifiers when you cram more and more of them into a chassis? Ever wondered why your old home cinema gear is worthless after a few years?

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.

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? How is it possible then 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. Unfortunately, there is a trick being played on the average consumer and it’s a shame.