Hot-rodding your audio system.

This term as applied to audio system will probably be new to many audiophiles. It is a term commonly used in drag racing. The cars used in these races are power monsters that do not have any gears. The only control besides a steering wheel is the clutch to engage the engine. Thus these cars only have two modes-standstill or maximum acceleration. This makes sense because the races last only seconds over a short, straight track of a few hundred meters. These races are meant to test sheer power and acceleration of these monster machines.

Thus hot-rodding as applied to an audio system means there's no volume control. The system is either off or on with a fixed volume. This is a system for the purist to the max with a touch of masochistic streak .It would also be helpful to have an understanding wife and neighbors.

I have come across only one person who has used this approach to put together a rather good sounding system. He was basically a hardcore DIY guy who built all his electronics. The premise for this approach was to put together a system that has an overall gain that was able to go loud enough for most of his listening without any attenuation-read that as no volume control. This is not really practical for most people. But for someone who wants the most out of his sound system and who wants nothing that he considers redundant to get in the way of this goal, this was the only way to go.

Most systems put together by audiophiles using commercially available equipment has too much overall gain. An indication of this is the position of the volume control during most listening sessions. If this is often at between 7 to 9 o'clock( assuming 6 o'clock is the zero position) then your system has too much gain. Ideally a regular sound system with the idea amount of total gain would allow playback of most music with the volume control setting at between 12 to 3 o'clock. This would occasionally be maxed with rock or some other head banging music. This ensures optimum use of the gain in the sound system.

Having too much gain can be like having too much of a good thing. It just messed up other aspects of the music production, which are far more important. On an objective level, more noise such as hiss and hum becomes more audible. On a subjective level, systems with excessive gain have a tendency to sound harsh, strident and downright unpleasant. And logic fails to comprehend the sensibility of designing so much unneeded gain into a sound system and then using a volume control to stifle it. It is very much like running tap water down the drain.

As mention earlier most audiophile sound systems have too much gain for hot-rodding to be practical. For those audiophiles whose sound systems has a low enough gain, and are adventurous enough to give this obscure and thoroughly gung-ho approach a chance, this it what you can do. Replace your volume control with an on/off switch. For those who have a spouse who may not be as appreciative, you can use a three-position switch. Mark the three positions as "Off", "Wife's around" and "Let it rip".

On a more serious vein, hot-rodding has a good chance of working and sounding great with the audio DIY community. These people can design and built sound systems with just the right amount of gain to allow the removal of the volume control from the amplification chain. This can save a tidy sum of money, because good volume controls do not come cheap. What is better than a good volume control is not a better volume control but no volume control.

I remember meeting a Korean gentleman many years back who had a pair of speakers that would be idea for a hotrod system. That speakers were a pair of Western Electrics meant for use for theaters. Besides its priceless rarity and collectors values, it had one very unique feature. The field coils of the drivers were powered by electromagnets. Their sensitivity and thus output level could be adjusted via the speaker's magnetic field control. According to the proud owner, the maximum sensitivity was 120db at 1-watt input. Imagine a hotrod like this. You don't need a volume control at all. The level can be controlled on the speaker end without any wastage of gain and power. This is absolutely a classic case of having your cake and eating it too.

However for the rest of us who are not as blessed by the audio gods, who are gung-ho enough to try it out. We can still do so albeit with less convenience. And thus for this small, select group- the term "Let it rip" will not be heard just in the drag-racing circles.