Need Help: What In My Home Electric System Killed the Sound?


Could really use some troubleshooting from you electric experts out there, of which I certainly am not one.  House is in rural western Maine.  My electrician (licensed and very experienced, but not in audiophile context) is running a dedicated line to the 2-channel rig.  He installed the new line up to the outlet, but didn't complete yet (we're waiting for delivery on the outlet), so the new line is temporarily capped off at the wall.  In the meantime, elsewhere in the house, he changed a broken recessed light socket and changed the related wiring to that light.  Those are the only two changes to the electric I am aware of.   The 2-channel system remains plugged into the same outlet we've been using for years (until the dedicated line is in).  This weekend, the life is gone fro the system.  For example, volume at "25" on the pre-amp would normally be quite loud, but now it needs to be turned up to 40 to get the same loudness.  Regardless, dynamics are gone, tempo is a tiny bit slow and has lost toe tapping, and vocals moved from near field to way back in the mix.   Nothing was changed in the system (Rega Saturn CDP; McIntosh C52; McIntosh 452; and Polk SDA 1.2 TL (heavily modded)).   Any thoughts on what might have cause these symptoms?  Electrician can't pinpoint anything.  Any input appreciated.  
whitecap
Could be an electrical issue or the issue may be somewhere else and it is just coincidental that it has occurred at the same time the electrician was there.

Have you checked your speakers to insure that all of the drivers are playing and that the interconnect cable between the speakers is attached (if your speakers use the interconnect)?
Try to use different CD player first.
Less-likely CD-player be culprit, but check first.

Other components must be checked with replacements as well.
I suspect there's nothing wrong with wiring. You can test the output voltage, but I still believe that one of your components player/preamp/amp must be checked.



Had any Trim or EQ adjustments been made on the C52? If so, they may have been reset to default if the electrician turned off power while doing his work.

This is from left field, but now that the broken light socket was fixed, did you have that light on when you listened to your system? Try shutting it off. I have dedicated lines and can still hear some nasties from various fixtures elsewhere in the house. Simple solution. I shut off those lights when I use the system (they are over a bar sink in the kitchen, so not really essential lighting). 
Sounds like a cue for my song: isolation transformers. I use isolation transformers in front of all my audio gear. Plitron makes a good one, and they sell to the general public. Cost effective and harm preventive too.
Story Time:

Here in Brampton, Ontario, Canada, we have Ontario Hydro. They have installed 'Smart' meters. These meters calculate power usage. Since this calculation uses voltage, and since highest prices are during the day and evening, they raise our voltage to 125V. This during the day and early evening.

Most audio gear is designed for 115v/230v. This allows designers to build for a larger global demographic.

Try listening to your system after midnight. Typically voltages drop back down to 120V.

Welcome to the world of corporate profits.
Billy, have you considered running your system on a big Variac? Then you could select your optimal voltage.

More likely a drop or change in voltage vs. before. 

Is the light that was changed on a dimmer? Those can introduce all sorts of fun things. :) 

Is it possible you changed a setting, such as a balanced vs. not on the back of one of the Mac's? Or did you switch from balanced to unbalanced cables? 

Ask him to double check the voltage as well as the neutral to ground and ground. 
All above are good suggestions.
I would also try running an extension cord to a different outlet controlled by a different cercit breaker for the heck of it and see if the music sounds any different.
Please post your findings.
cousinbillyl06-13-2016 9:34pm " ... we have Ontario Hydro. They have installed 'Smart' meters. These meters calculate power usage. Since this calculation uses voltage, and since highest prices are during the day and evening, they raise our voltage to 125V ...

Most audio gear is designed for 115v/230v. This allows designers to build for a larger global demographic ...

Welcome to the world of corporate profits."

Sorry, but you don't understand how electricity works. You're not billed for voltage - you're billed for consumption, measured in kilowatt-hours. For a given appliance. even if the voltage goes up, the current (load) remains the same, within limits, because the wattage will be reduced. This has nothing at all to do with smart meters.

In North America, residential electric service is nominally 123VAC and modern household appliances are designed for this service.

Most audio gear is designed for 115v/230v. This allows designers to build for a larger global demographic ...

Welcome to the world of corporate profits."
120 or 125V should not do any harm. In fact most of equipment is stable from 105V to 130V and should not affect dynamics.

I thought the issue with smart meters was that they emit all kinds of crap--some consider it to be a health risk, right? And if affects your health, what will it do to your system? :) I’ll put my tin foil hat on if I’m wrong and head back to the bunker. Shades of Saul's brother the lawyer, right? 
best,

(and interested to hear what the problem/solution ultimately turns out to be for the OP)

The OP could just as easily have a cold or is suffering from allergies.
Post removed 
Does your Rega Saturn have a level control that may have gotten bumped down?
Kenny
Something clearly changed, it's sometimes a painful process of elimination to isolate the issue.  Good feedback above.  Did anything else in the house change other than the minor electrical work?  What else is on that circuit you use for audio?  I've seen a loose ground or neutral in the elect panel cause issues.  Hope you find the culprit...

"For example, volume at "25" on the pre-amp would normally be quite loud, but now it needs to be turned up to 40 to get the same loudness".  Also, the description of the vocal midrange disappearing into a recess.

This is exactly what I have experienced with equipment where the internal power supply is vastly under-powered (i.e. not enough capacitance after the power supply regulators).  What happens here is that it starves the audio circuit and you feel like you have to keep turning up the volume to hear stuff (but you never quite get to the point where it is satisfyingly loud enough).

Obviously, something happened to your electrical circuit when the guy fixed the light.  Electricians do have a tendancy to want to chain outlet after outlet.  It could be that he tapped into your audio circuit somehow and it is now being chained after several outlets/light fixtures.  The idea of a dimmer knob on a light fixture is an excellent idea.  Dimmer switches do not turn down the actual use of electricity.  They just shunt it through a variable resistor so that it limits the amount of electricity/voltage going to the actual light bulb.  This could be playing havoc with the voltage supplying your audio equipment.  I would take a voltmeter and measure the voltage of your audio power outlet to make sure you're getting at least 115V.  More does not hurt and 125/130V is fine for audio equipment (though some preamps can sound harsher with higher voltage if the internal power supply is not filtered as well).  A higher voltage can have small benefit as the audio power supply as it allows a higher level of voltage capacitance in the main power supply before the voltage regulators step down to what's required in the audio circuit.

I believe your audio equipment is being starved by either voltage or current. 

Oh, if you're chaining 5-6 outlets/lights in a row and your audio is last in line, the resistance and connections between each outlet could cause enough of a limit to sage the voltage/current. Even though you may measure good voltage at your audio outlet, it can still starve when the audio equipment attempts to pull more current from the line.
Old homes typically are prone to all kinds of electrical noise.  I feel the some of the best advise is already given above.  My preference is to use multiple power filtering and protection mechanisms and devices.  Typical surge suppressors provide protection, but many times that protection is a fantom or occurs too late.  Isolation transformers or other good power conditioning devices provide a continuous baseline for power.   It is important to note that older electrical codes allow the use of the neutral as ground rather than a dedicated ground.  With that said everything in you house is somehow interconnected.  A simple enhancement for this is to make sure that your panels have a dedicated ground to a ground field.  Sometimes you have to install multiple rods in multiple locations to obtain a good ground field.  See IEEE guidelines or other resources for grounding advise.  Your dedicated homerun for your audio system is great idea.  If you feel power shy you could always run better gauge wire.  Use 12 gauge (20 amp) rather than 14 gauge (15 amp).  One step up is 10 gauge (30 amp).  Depending on your electrical codes you can run a heavier gauge wire on a smaller breaker in the fuse box.   
Watts (and therefore KiloWatts) are amps x's voltage. Since motors (fridge compressor and furnace fan motors as examples) work on current, this current draw remains constant, but the voltage is higher, so you use more 'watts'. Hydro company makes more money, blah blah blah.

If memory serves me correctly, over at diyaudio, Nelson Pass conducted a small experiment. Using a Variac, he adjusted voltage on numerous systems. EVERYONE in the room preferred 'lower' voltage settings. 115v was one of the preferred settings. 120v was bad, and anything above this was horrid in comparison to 115v. YMMV
If there is no obvious change to your system itself, I would suggest ruling out electrical service by temporary use ("in-home evaluation") of a power regenerator along the lines of PS Audio Power Plants or Torus Power. (Right now, PS Audio has a great deal on their large units.) This will take voltage level, noise etc out of the equation. Even if it's not the problem right now, chances are excellent that this kind of device will make a substantial positive difference, regardless.
That level of change from AC is  quite a reach for MAC stuff, it's designed well. I know as I design high-end electronics along with all my friends out this way (Paul McGowen, Jeff Rowland, etc).. AC meter - maybe but doubtful - an AC re-generator like Paul's unit (PS Audio Power Plant) is a super-quick way to rule out 99% of AC issues as well as improve your system anyway. All systems should have some form of AC power conditioning.. 

Something MUST have failed coincidentally or have gotten mis-wired.

Never ignore the majority of problems with high end audio systems - the human oops factor!
Probably not the AC Electrical supply.  Most likely a component partial failure (only guesses here but maybe in a power supply issue).  If possible try substations for components to find the culprit. If you have not changed anything in your setup from your previously "good" sound then that can be ruled-out.  Best of Luck.
cousinbillyl "Watts (and therefore KiloWatts) are amps x's voltage. Since motors (fridge compressor and furnace fan motors as examples) work on current, this current draw remains constant, but the voltage is higher, so you use more 'watts'. Hydro company makes more money, blah blah blah."

Sorry, but you don't know what you're talking about. Every compressor is specified by its manufacturer at a specific voltage and amperage rating. The voltage your utility is providing is well within the nominal 123VAC that is standard in North America. Devices such as compressors will overheat at low voltages, leading to unnecessary early failure.

Put an outlet on that new line, just borrow one from another place. But I'm betting it's in the equipment. Does the 452 have gain attenuators? Clean all connections. Switch out the source?
Put an outlet on that new line, just borrow one from another place. But I'm betting it's in the equipment. Does the 452 have gain attenuators? Clean all connections. Switch out the source?
You can get close to a dedicated line by tracing the "audio used" outlets back to the breaker box, and shutting off everything on the same electrical line. Turn off all florescent lights, the air conditioning/heating, and rheostat controlled lighting.

Try that, and see if the problem goes away
Clarification:  Go to the breaker box, and switch on and off the circuit breakers, and observe what shuts off and on, to trace the individual lines.
Thanks for all the suggestions and comments.  Alas, we are still in the process of elimination.  Since my OP, the electrician has retraced every step and assured proper connections and grounds, etc.  Importantly, he has checked the voltage with a fancy device and reports that voltage is exactly 115 with only tiny (non-material) variations.  Extension cord running off different circuits produced no improvement.  So, we have ruled out house or Maine Central Power as the cause.  (Note, however, that this home is at the foot of a mountain, gets hit hard by storms, and the locals tell me three weeks ago the thunder and lighting in the area were epic.)  Next, in the system, I replaced the CDP source, but no change.  As I see it, that leaves two candidates: (i) McIntosh C2500 pre-amp (correction from the OP, its a C2500 not C52 -- I had an early senior moment) or (ii) MC452.  It being the weekend, I wasn't able to talk to McIntosh to get guidance on which might be the target.  So I rolled the dice and am shipping the C2500 in for a check up (couldn't deal with packing up the 110 lb beast).  Fingers crossed its the pre-amp, and can be a quick fix; I am having the wife's family up for the Fourth and desperately need the rig in full throat to drown out the sister in law's non-stop mouth.

I had a very similar problem before I upgraded the homes wiring. My electric Bass rig would have low volume or cut out all together. It turned out to be an old receptacle in the garage which was used next to an old work bench that was simply trashed. Once replaced the rest of that circuit worked fine. 




Hi Whitecap, the first thing I think I would do in your situation is to simply sit tight and wait...at least a month to 6 weeks or so. Home electrical systems can be thought of as a ’single large circuit’ that, with your own typical use patterns, has reached (more or less) a state of homeostasis. Anytime you make a change to the circuit (in this case the wiring) you run a risk of disturbing that homeostasis until enough time goes by for it to recover. If 6 weeks go by and there is Z-e-r-o change, then I’d be looking for a problem with the electrical system and not with my gear that I know happened to be doing quite alright before the alteration. In the case of a continuance of the sound problem, I believe I’d start with asking the electrician if he is qualified to be able to give you a reliable verdict on the state of your home’s ground (assuming it was originally designed with a ground...your original duplexes would all show 3-prongs, not 2). If he’s not confident he can be very accurate about the test results, perhaps he may know of someone who is (the true, correct method for checking ground properly can be tricky for the novice). Also, the effectiveness of the grounding for homes in many parts of the country tends to be at or close to nil after about a decade or so. Your electrician should know all or most of how to restore good grounding, the only tricky part may be accurately measuring it. While you’re at it, ask if your electrician if he actually disturbed any part of your home’s ground system in the course of his work...I know sometimes old connections that were broken can have much higher resistance when rejoined if not cleaned properly.

p.s. sorry to hear about your sister-in-law...my advice is to just get some old earbuds to your phone and just make hand gestures like you can’t hear her... :>)
just a suggestion , but make sure you or someone else didn't accidentally adjust the input level in the pre  on one or all of the inputs . usually done per  source input.
I know i had a c47 and  I did this , then if forgot how to get back to it .
If i remember it is a little tricky to get into the settings.