The sound of my new electrical service: Day 1


And I mean a completely new service. New pole!, new pole transformer!, new underground line to the house (was above ground), new meter, and new breaker box with all new breakers. House wireing remains the same. Talk about an upgrade! Or, will it be a sonic downgrade? I wouldn't be surprised. House was built in 1964, so that stuff was 50 years old.
I don't do much desk work, so typing all these subjective impressions will be quite a bit of work for me. I hope we all can find it interesting at the least. I doubt too many others will have to go through this with their systems, so maybe it's pointless, but might still be interesting. Beforehand, my system was sounding so good that I was afraid to change anything. You know what I mean don't you? If not, I'm sure you will get there eventually.
System: completely restored, vintage tube. Been through the modern stuff, this is the real thing. I will stick to digital VIA CD for the first few days to keep things simple for us.
Day 1: Eric Clapton "Unplugged", Buddy Guy and Jr. Wells "Alone and Acoustic", Ani Defranco "Living in Clip"
Right away I noticed the urge to turn the volume down. I'm usually inclined to turn it up because this system can sound so deliciously juicy with real life timbre and tone. Not sure if it now plays louder at the same volume setting, or if it is just more irritating. On Unplugged the instruments have lost that deliciously right timbre and tone. Total lack of analog like sweetness and the system could even be mistaken for solid state. It has aquired a solid state like impression of power though. Foot stomp/tapping is more audible with a bass like presence. Sibilants, S's are pronounced like they linger too long. Capton's voice is both murky and harsh at the same time. Overall, a great loss of transparency that makes this obviously a recording and not the musicians in my room.
On Buddy Guy, a lack of clarity on the voices. Also irritation when things get peaky. Jr's harmonica is dark and lacking the usual bouncy excitement. Guitar tone seems lacking in higher frequencies. Again though, I hear more intense feet to the floor sounds. Need to play something with bass to see what happens there.
On to Defranco's live disc. If you have any interest at all in this artist, just buy this one. You might not love all of it, but the good stuff is just great. On this disc, the energy is all there, but on the irritating side when things get loud. Voice comes off better than the other two discs, but not at all what I am used to. Bass? Well, it seems tighter, but not better or stronger. Her guitar rings out as usual with plenty of power, but, again the timbre is off making everything less interesting. When the music quiets down, a perception of transparency sets in that approaches what I am used to here.
Thats it for now, stay tuned for day 2, etc. to come.
hifiharv
Wow, I would be crying (really) if this happened to my system. Get your old AC back!
I should add something that occured on all these discs. It's as if the instruments and voices are stepping on each other. The focus is not as sharp. It's hard to pick out and concentrate on exactly what a musician is doing or playing because the others subjectively drown them out. This is difficult to describe and I'm not sure I understand it. I hope you understand the point I'm trying to make. There is a "confusion" enveloping the sound. The opposite of "musical" for sure.
I would give it at least two or three weeks to settle-in. I would expect the grain and semblance to subside during that time and the separation of instruments to tighten up. This is not dissimilar to buying new equipment or cables.

Did they make any changes to your Ground or internal wiring going to your music room?

Hang in there!
and new breaker box with all new breakers.

Manufacture? Style number?

Breakers, AFCI? Do the single pole 15 and 20 amp breakers have a TEST button on the front of the breaker near the off position side of the handle?
Look anything like this?
Square D Homeline AFCI
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I gotta believe .. or maybe hope ... that the new AC utility transformer is breaking in. What else could it be? JimMc ... if you pick this thread up, what are your thoughts??
I agree with waiting at least 2 or 3 weeks for things to settle. If you did not have your ground rod replaced, I'd give serious consideration to doing so. Ground rods corrode over time and if it has never been replaced your house may be effectively without any ground at this point, which would explain a lot given that you've basically upgraded everything (except perhaps the in-wall wiring) and you may be hearing your system without the benefit of any ground. But, give it a few weeks first to see if any of it levels out. BTW, what part of the country are you in?
Yes , you are going to have some new growing pains. Give it time, It will settle down. If anything , after a month or so re tighten the set screws on all the new circuit breakers also neutral and ground buss bars screws too. . Good luck
Some good comments by the others, but the first thing I would do is to get a multimeter and measure the AC line voltage. Perhaps it is significantly higher than it had been, and perhaps your vintage equipment isn't happy with that. Or perhaps for some reason it is too low.

In either case, or if the problem is somehow being caused by an increase in noise or distortion on the incoming AC, the solution might be a regenerator. Although as you are probably aware some people report that regenerators seem to compromise dynamics in their particular systems.

Good luck. Regards,
-- Al
Some good comments by the others, but the first thing I would do is to get a multimeter and measure the AC line voltage. Perhaps it is significantly higher than it had been, and perhaps your vintage equipment isn't happy with that. Or perhaps for some reason it is too low.
03-19-14: Almarg
Great suggestion Al.
I would take the voltage reading with the audio equipment turned on and playing music. That will give a true loaded voltage reading.
Jim
BEyond the multimeter, which is a logical first step, is there an affordable gadget out there that can be used to actually measure AC line noise? That would take a lot of guesswork out of the equation when attempting to determine value of adding conditioners, regenerators, etc.

I'm thinking an oscilloscope type device could certainly be used but something more affordable and easier for a lay-person to use and get a clear determination of line noise frequencies and levels just for this purpose?
Thanks for all your interest so far. The job did include a new ground rod by the way.
jea48, not sure, I will look at the box tonight when I get home.
I don't know what the voltage was beforehand, but I will check though and make sure it is at normal specs. Normal specs today are different from 1958 when the amps were built. Could be 120 or more now, was 110 or so then. It's a common problem with vintage electronics as the higher line voltage can run the tubes very hard. Also, these EL84's were run hard in the first place by design. Not a big deal when you could just go to the drug store and get a new one for $2.00. Resistor changes can address this when needed. The results so far actually don't surprise me. I didn't expect things to be great right away. No different from a new cable or component needing break-in I suspect. There is alot to break in... transformer, incomming line, breakers, etc. So, thankfully, I'm not exactly beside myself with audio depression...... yet. If things don't come around I will do whatever it takes to re-tune the system and hopefully bring the magic back.
Sorry, but no time last night to listen. I should have some more results tomorrow.
Harv ... since you mentioned it, how fresh are your tubes?? Maybe time for a new set???
I would be willing to bet that things do in fact come around over time.

In many cases, part of the process allowing any change to settle in or come around involves the listener as well.

When one is so precisely tuned into how their music sounds for so long, any change at all can be a jarring experience for many reasons and the listener himself must adjust somewhat as well before concrete and lasting conclusions can be drawn.

Note to myself: pick up an oscilloscope and learn how to use it properly someday in order to help put many of the symptoms of audiophile paranoia that we all are subject to to rest in a more objective manner.
It will get much better over time.

The new equipment must break in like any other equipment. Measure your line voltage to make sure it is correct. if it isn't the power company will correct it. once the equipment has broken in over time, you will then hear the true sound of your system. If the voltage is accuract and correct and basically an infinite bus (fixed voltage at zero phase angle with variable current over load), you will then hear true system sound. this is akin to having a nice system and upgrading a component only to find out that because of that new upgraded component, faults in your system's sound that were hidden are now out in the open. I've changed pre-amps and discovered that many of my CDs now sound like crap. Great music but bad recordings. The old pre-amp masked the sound and was forgiving, but the new pre-amp is not forgiving and does not mask. Don't get me wrong, excellent recorded music sounds wonderful. So, give it some time. That pole top power transformer and new wires will take some time to break in.
03-19-14: Mapman
Beyond the multimeter, which is a logical first step, is there an affordable gadget out there that can be used to actually measure AC line noise? That would take a lot of guesswork out of the equation when attempting to determine value of adding conditioners, regenerators, etc.

I'm thinking an oscilloscope type device could certainly be used but something more affordable and easier for a lay-person to use and get a clear determination of line noise frequencies and levels just for this purpose?
I suspect that in most cases even an oscilloscope would not provide useful information. While it would give a general idea of the overall magnitude of noise and distortion, it would say little or nothing about how the noise and distortion is distributed among what will inevitably be an enormous number of different frequencies. And there is no telling how a given component will react to a given noise or distortion spectrum. I doubt that even a sophisticated and expensive spectrum analyzer would be particularly helpful.

In any event, my bet is that the most significant contributor to the problem is a change in line voltage (even if it was and still is within spec), due to the transformer replacement and perhaps also to the change in the outside wiring.

Best regards,
-- Al
Harv, I see in some of your past posts that you are probably using a pair of vintage Fisher monoblocks. What model would they be? And perhaps a bias readjustment is in order, if the amps have adjustable bias and if my suspicion is correct that a change in AC line voltage may have affected their sonics.

Regards,
-- Al
Harv, I see in some of your past posts that you are probably using a pair of vintage Fisher monoblocks. What model would they be? And perhaps a bias readjustment is in order, if the amps have adjustable bias and if my suspicion is correct that a change in AC line voltage may have affected their sonics.
03-19-14: Almarg
Al,

Very plausible.
.
.

Hifiharv said:
Total lack of analog like sweetness and the system could even be mistaken for solid state.
Jim
Just a random thought here. Could it be that you voltage has either increased or decreased enough given the new equipment you listed, I would favor increased. So now your equipment has changed the efficiency in which it operates with a more corrected voltage. Since you had it all set up based on the previous voltage and electrical feed, and you may just need to make some readjustments to your setup, e.g. Re-aim the speakers, change any acoustic panels, etc.

Again just a thought that seemed logical, that a chain reaction of the change in power is telegraphing through the system or re alining the "synergy" so to speak.
"I suspect that in most cases even an oscilloscope would not provide useful information. While it would give a general idea of the overall magnitude of noise and distortion, it would say little or nothing about how the noise and distortion is distributed among what will inevitably be an enormous number of different frequencies."

Al, explain please why that would not be useful?

It would seem to me that if I can simply isolate the noise frequencies from the proper AC line voltage frequency, that would be sufficient to be able to measure noise levels before and after any change. Specific frequencies involved in the noise would not matter, though it might be informative in terms of helping to identify potential sources of noise perhaps, if one should care.

BEing able to measure noise levels overall on a scope, if possible, would seem to be a better alternative than merely guessing based on what one might hear. That would take a lot of teh mystery out of power conditioning benefits case by case if viable.
You all make good points. Yes, the system was tuned by ear over a long period of time. Cables, tubes, isolation, etc. All chosen for synergy and musical pleasure. Any change, be it higher or lower voltage, fresh transformer and wire, etc. will show up in stark relief. We can't expect the elecricity fed into our house to be benign any more than we can say "all cables sound the same". As audiophiles I think we are all intricately aware of how our system sounds. Others may not even notice, but any slight change will be immediately apparent. Even moving a cable can upset the balance for a few days.
Good point from Al that if power voltage has changed, then rebiasing may be in order. The Amps are the Fisher 30A's and are not adjustable. Tubes are all healthy, a mix of great old European and USA brands chosen by ear. Again, I'm not sure what voltage was before the changes and didn't take the time last night to check. I did get the time for another listen though. I will start a new thread for Day 2 to keep this discussion current. I am resisting the temptation to change anything at all until much time has passed. At least weeks, maybe even a month.
03-20-14: Mapman
Al, explain please why that would not be useful?
Hi Mapman,

I think oscilloscope measurements would be unlikely to be useful because:

(a)The noise and distortion that is present on the AC will consist of a complex and probably time-varying mix of essentially ALL frequencies extending far up into the RF region, at many different amplitudes, including broadband noise as well as noise and distortion components at discrete frequencies. Most likely the amplitudes at some of that near-infinite number of frequencies will be higher after the change than before, and some will be lower after the change than before. There's no way to predict how a specific component in a specific system will react to that complex mix of differences.

(b)An oscilloscope won't provide much if any detail about that complex mix of differences anyway. It will pretty much just give an indication of the amplitude of the overall sum of everything, and perhaps also the amplitude of SOME of the discrete frequency components. Whether that overall sum is more than or less than what was present before would tell us little or nothing, because the sensitivity of the system components to noise and distortion at different frequencies within that sum will be different.

(c)There is also no way to predict whether ANY of the differences in noise and distortion that may be measured would have any relevance at all to the sonic changes that are perceived. How can we know, for instance, whether a small change in line voltage, a small change in contact integrity somewhere, the breakin possibility some of the others have referred to, or some other effect, will or won't be more responsible for the perceived change?

I learned many times over during my EE career that from a practical standpoint some things are inherently unpredictable, and can be determined only by trial and error. A good design will have as little sensitivity as possible to unpredictable variables, but no design is perfect.

Best regards,
-- Al
Hifiharv,

Did you get a chance to look at the new electrical panel?
Manufacture, style, and series? Info should be on the inside of the hinged cover door.

Also would like to know if the AHJ, (Authority Having Jurisdiction), in this case the electrical inspection department in your area follows NEC 2011 and or NEC 2014 Code and required AFCI, (Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter) breakers for the 120V 15 and 20 amp outlet branch circuits feeding areas, rooms, as required by NEC Code.

http://www.nachi.org/arc-fault-circuit-interrupters.htm

http://www.afcisafety.org/qa.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arc-fault_circuit_interrupter
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Thanks,
Jim
Al,

All good points, but I still wonder if a scope can be useful for the sole purpose of observing any differences in AC line noise levels before and after an attempted power tweak, say like with and without a particular AC power regenerator or filtering device.

If not, how do the designers of said devices determine how well their designs work or not?

There must be a way that power treatment devices are tested. Otherwise the whole concept of systematically addressing clean power issues (beyond basic amps and volts measures) is highly suspect.
Mapman, let's take the BrickWall surge suppressor/line filter that I use as an example. Its specs that are relevant to noise filtering, which are certainly measurable as well as probably being analytically predictable to a reasonable approximation, are as follows:
EMI/RFI Filter Response (bi-directional, wave tracking): With 50 ohm Rg load: 3db at 5kHz; 26dB at 100kHz; 38dB at 300kHz.

Let-Through Slew Rate: 5,000 volt/µs disturbance reduced to 28v/µs within AC power wave envelope, and less than 10v/µs outside the power wave envelope.
As with most designs, presumably those characteristics were chosen based on what the designers considered to be a preferable set of tradeoffs between the likelihood of audible benefit; the likelihood of undesirable side-effects; development cost; manufacturing cost; parts availability; physical characteristics; target selling price; marketability; profitability; utilization of available human, equipment, and intellectual property resources; etc., etc.

But can they, or any other manufacturer of such products, predict with any confidence what sonic benefits and/or side-effects will result when a product having those kinds of specifications is used in an arbitrarily chosen system powered by AC having arbitrary and unknown characteristics? The answers to those rhetorical questions seem clear. The bottom line, IMO, being as you stated in your last sentence :-)

Best regards,
-- Al
Sorry Jim, did not get to the box last night. I'll do that tonight along with testing the voltage. Something tells me I don't want AFCI's. We'll see. Not sure what our County's requirements are but passed two inspections on the day of the work.
"But can they, or any other manufacturer of such products, predict with any confidence what sonic benefits and/or side-effects will result when a product having those kinds of specifications is used in an arbitrarily chosen system powered by AC having arbitrary and unknown characteristics? "

REferences I see indicate US AC frequency is 60 hz. Most countries are 50 or 60 hz.

So in US< in essence, isn't "clean" AC power predominately 60hz, and any variations from this "noise"?

Can an oscilloscope make this distinction?

If so I would expect it to be useful to help determine "clean" power.

The effect the AC power, signal noise or otherwise, has on sound case by case or not is another story, out of scope of what I am trying to understandl which is merely how to distinguish noise from clean signal with AC power.
So in US< in essence, isn't "clean" AC power predominately 60hz, and any variations from this "noise"?
Yes, except that I would say "noise or distortion."
Can an oscilloscope make this distinction?
Yes, mostly. It can certainly distinguish between 60 Hz and broadband noise (within the bandwidth limitations and amplitude resolution capabilities of the particular scope, which for a decent quality scope I suspect would be good enough for this kind of purpose). Relatively large amounts of distortion could probably also be quantitatively characterized in a reasonable manner with a scope. It might not be possible, though, to assess relatively small amounts of distortion (that might still be great enough to have audible consequences in some systems) without a spectrum analyzer or other comparable instrument.
If so I would expect it to be useful to help determine "clean" power.

The effect the AC power, signal noise or otherwise, has on sound case by case or not is another story, out of scope of what I am trying to understandl which is merely how to distinguish noise from clean signal with AC power.
My reference to usefulness was not with respect to determining the degree to which the power is "clean," on an overall basis. It was with respect to usefulness in resolving sonic issues, and/or making purchase decisions about power conditioners and regenerators, in response to your initial question:
03-19-14: Mapman
Beyond the multimeter, which is a logical first step, is there an affordable gadget out there that can be used to actually measure AC line noise? That would take a lot of guesswork out of the equation when attempting to determine value of adding conditioners, regenerators, etc.

I'm thinking an oscilloscope type device could certainly be used but something more affordable and easier for a lay-person to use and get a clear determination of line noise frequencies and levels just for this purpose?
Best,
-- Al
To really view the noise, riding your AC lines; a Hewlett-
Packard 3577A Spectrum Analyzer is handy. Typical line
noise will be seen from 100Hz to 1mHz(and beyond). Has
anyone mentioned conductors, randomly placed in a conduit,
will induce voltages in one another(unlike, say- romex
conductors, with a ground between them)? Just mentioned
that, because the OP said his new lines were underground.
Has anyone mentioned conductors, randomly placed in a conduit, will induce voltages in one another(unlike, say- romex conductors, with a ground between them)? Just mentioned that, because the OP said his new lines were underground.
03-20-14: Rodman99999

Just guessing the underground service feeder from the transformer to the line side of the meter socket was installed by the utility power company. Also just guessing the new underground service is a 200 amp. Usually the power company will use direct burial triplexed aluminum direct burial wire. For a 200 amp service, two insulated 4/0 hot conductors and one insulated 2/0 neutral conductor.

Example of:

https://www.platt.com/platt-electric-supply/URD-Type-Triplex/Multiple/4A22A1URDSWEX1000/product.aspx?zpid=62925

https://www.platt.com/platt-electric-supply/URD-Type-Triplex/Multiple/4A22A1URDSWEX1000/product.aspx?zpid=62925
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Jim
FWIW, the line from the pole appears to be large wires protected by a plastic shield that is bolted to the pole. It goes into a large access box under ground beneath the pole. It's like a water meter box. From there it is underground in large plastic conduit to the meter. I don't know what guage or how many leads there are. I also don't know if there are connections in that box, or does it just give them a convenient access to fish the line back and forth. I'm sure they were not gentle with those wires. Not like us and our cables. The job was a one day joint effort between the power company and our electrician. I'm not sure if the Power co. wired to the meter, or just to the underground box. Wasn't there at the time, had to work.
YEs, I suppose a spectrum analyzer as opposed to an oscilloscope would be the right tool for the job of measuring AC line noise/distortion.
I hate this... forgot to take the meter home from work yesterday. You'd think that would be at the top of my list (and it was). Alot going on right now. Couldn't test the voltage.

Jim, did check out the box though. The breakers appear to be conventional. No test switch. Box is square D HOMC42UC. Breakers are marked: HACR type. HOM type. There is a 200 amp. main breaker.
Looks like I am boreing everyone at this point. Checked the house voltage and it was 120 or so volts during PM listening time. Certainly within modern specs. In comparison, the voltage in my shop across town where I work on the electronics (for myself, I'm just a DIY'er) and voice/test them is 119 or so. That building was built in 1979. So, not a huge difference there. Not sure what voltage in the house was before the changes.
Not boring! All the same... 200amp aluminum can't sound as good as OFC and teflon!
Hi Harv. I'm hoping things have improved considerably?
Well, hoe are they??
I know there's no such thing as break-in so I apologize in advance, but might all these new additions need some "break-in"? Figure the old stuff broke-in for 50 years.