Pardon me while I try to screw everyone up here with possibly a new idea about break in. If you don't want to be reading the next 400 yrs, skip this post. If you do, pack at least 2 snickers bars, you'll need them.
It's an idea first told to me by a friend of mine more than a year ago now I think and at first I didn't give it all that much credence, but lately it has been rattling around in my head and it has me wondering.
This friend has audiophile experience, is an ee, is a building biologist and has a good deal of experience with power grids, grounding schemes in residential and commercial buildings, here and in other countries as well.
Let me start by saying that for this discussion, we could think of the entire home's electrical system as one big circuit and that it could be compared to a Christmas tree in your living room (if you're not Christian, then sorry, I could not come up with a better analogy). The tree is the home's circuit, the branches are all the breaker circuits and the ornaments are everything that is plugged into the circuit: appliances, lights, clock radio, HVAC, TV, computer, each of your audio components.
Normally a home's electrical system is designed (engineered) to be used in a nominal manner and, even for demanding AV purposes (demanding in terms of sound quality, not in really terms of power demand per se, which might be a separate issue if very high power draw is a concern). But, that nominal use pattern can be counted on to deliver the kind of power that will allow even the best of systems to scale the heights in audio performance terms indeed. Assuming, for the moment, that we're listening at a time of year in which our utility co. is stable and not being stressed by excess demand, environmental conditions or whatnot.
We already know that whenever a large appliance starts up, there is an instantaneous voltage drop at the panel as the home's circuit reacts to the instantaneous increase in power demand. We know this is not exactly good for an AV system. But, soon as the voltage fluctuation passes, then it's ok again, right?? Well, technically, no. Whenever there is a sudden change in voltage in a circuit, there is a period of recovery that follows...until the electrical eventually regains its electrical homeostasis. The weird thing here is that, depending on how strong the voltage differential is, this period can take up to 3 or 4 **weeks** to fully regain homeostasis. Homeostasis here is a period of continual, steady-state, **uninterrupted** consumption (no switching on/off, no cycling, no dynamic consumption) of power that within each circuit branch of the home amounts to roughly 80-85% of each breaker's power rating. At 100%, the breaker trips, so we must scale it back a bit as a safety margin...all of which is part of ee design for nominal operation. Substantially less than that, like well under 25%, and the light load demand can invite voltage instability on that circuit over time if the circuit never sees any increase over time. Let me say that our normal routines of switching on more appliances during the day and turning some off at night is all anticipated in the overall design and completely falls under nominal use. And let me add one more thing here: when the routine on/off of a large voltage occurs (HAVAC, fridge, washer/dryer), and as the recovery period is set into motion...the disturbance travels out like waves throughout the home's electrical, from the appliance, to the breaker box and, from there, redistributed back out to all the other appliances where it is reflected back to the box and back out again, ad nauseam, losing energy with each pass, until they finally settle out and our theoretical house is back to homeostasis a couple weeks or so later. Electricity moves quickly, but the effects of the waves riding on it within the confines of a home's electrical travel much more slowly. IOW, a real-world's home is, at any given time, the sum total of all the individual on/off cyclings of power consumption for the past few weeks. All of which, under normal circumstances, represents nominal usage and would scarcely ever register, even if we knew exactly what to listen for, on even the most revealing system, normally. No worries there, usually. But all this is one slice of the environment in which our systems operate.
But, there is such a thing as using the homes electrical in a non-nominal manner...or temporarily stressing it out. Let's suppose for a moment that a home owner is an EHS type...i.e. he suffers from sensitivity to electromagnetic radiation (it can make you fatigued). So to fight this, he switches off the main breaker at night for better sleep. This is a Total voltage demand upon start up, when he wakes up in the morning. This might be considered a "shock to the system" for the home's electrical. This would definitely require the maximum recovery period. All his appliances, for the most part, will probably be ok, basically. But, if he had a hifi, it might well be a different story for a while. And he's doing this every day! This in no way could be considered nominal use. A one-time event is one thing (like when you'll be out of town for well more than a week), you can expect a single, month-long recovery period when you return and then you're good to go. But, every day?! For audio, Yikes.
Another point. Hifi gear is unique among most any other item plugged into the wall in terms of our perceived sensitivity, or our glimpse into, less than ideal electrical issues. Even TV or computer seem a bit less affected by this sort of thing, not immune altogether, but there doesn't seem to be anything more transparent, in our daily lives, to this phenomenon than high quality audio.
Yet one more line of thought: every item plugged into the wall vibrates at its own frequency. For audio, it's important to a degree as to what that frequency will be. It has a direct impact on the sound. Ever wonder how companies come up with a house sound? This is how they do it, especially in the bass. They tune the power supply to vibrate at the preferred (lower) frequency. That's why, in the bass anyway, Theta sounds different than Rotel, which sounds different than AR. Sometimes they go out on a limb in order to shake things up and go for a unique bass signature. For Krell fans, their bass sound is sledgehammer, hard-hitting and is something you can't quite get anywhere else. For the detractors, it brings out those hard-driving, backbeat rythms on All your favorites...even "mary had a little lamb".
But, in fact I'm presenting 2 different issues here: 1) electrical homeostasis and 2) resonant frequency.
But, I'm wondering if when we try out a new component, if we aren't running into both of these issues, at least partially. A new amp? Not only a new power demand, but a new resonant frequency for the electrical to get used to. I'm thinking now that resonant frequencies may behave similar to power demand in that they may have their own homeostasis cycle in a circuit as well, but I can't confirm this. I believe there is mechanical involvement (physical break in) what with dynamic drivers and all, but I mean I used to think of insulation on a wire as something of a mechanical element in the electrical break-in process of, say, a new cable. But, are we actually hearing more of the effects of the home electrical than of the actual product under evaluation and are we then perceiving that as the "break in" of the particular product? That's what my friend was telling me was happening.
But, it would mean that proper A/B testing can never be reliably done (double blind or otherwise) (I never fool with any of that anyway, I'm of the opinion that the only test that counts is living with a product longterm, actually), but even when a friend casually brings over a new wire or component to just test out in another system for a day, even if that component was fully broken in, in his own system, there might be a new break in period in the different home...however long or short a time compared to the initial break in right out of the box that might be.
@barnettk, I know this just complicates things by making a largely subjective topic even more subjective and I apologize. But I'm thinking the overall concept may be somewhat relevant.
Sorry to everyone for the stoopid long post.
Regards and carry on,