Friday, March 29, 2013

Component break-in periods and my OPPO

It is a mystery as to why new electronic equipment does this. When you first turn it on, it sounds fine but after time, something weird happens and everything you initially heard changes, that is if you are an astute listener as we audiophiles are.

I have heard this phenomenon in many different kinds of gear. With loudspeakers, you can attribute this change to diaphragm suspensions "loosening up" but more goes on than just in the easily comprehended mechanical world.  Capacitors change their sound too and at the microscopic level, stresses between plates and insulators shift and move ever so slightly. in this process, small amounts of heat are shed and combined with the heat from other components in the cabinet everything sort of "melts" into place.  Then you turn off your gear and the components cool down shrinking back from their minutely stretched position.

Given enough time, this tiny internal sub-micrometer movement makes audible changes in how equipment sounds. The mystery about it is why this change is suddenly so spectacular.  One day, you turn on your rig and that new piece of gear just lights up as if someone had lit a pop bottle rocket underneath it.  Everything about your initial impression changes and what was once an average sounding piece of gear can become a thing of beauty.

Perceptions of the tonality and depth are revised and nuances hiding in the background become predominant in the foreground.  The effect can be likened unto moving your seat closer to a performer. Say your friend comes over to your house and starts playing her guitar.  From the kitchen, you hear one version of what is happening in the living room and as you move into the room, everything about the performance changes.  Things that were always there suddenly become louder and the tonal balance becomes acoustically familiar.  Such is the perception once a new component breaks in.

I have been listening patiently for my OPPO BDP-105 to get to this turn of events and with 200 hours on the clock with no changes I was settling into accepting that the OPPO was as good as it was going to get.  NOT TRUE.  Letting it play from PANDORA while working on a new water garden in the front yard this past week gave this unit ample time to exercise itself.  Watching everything I could kept the unit busy. Turning it off each night cooled it down.  After about 200 hours of ON time, it happened: it broke in.

When a unit breaks in, it is not something that you "think" you hear or "suspect" that this or that is different.  When a unit breaks in, suddenly it sounds very different and given even a little more time the sound can change even more so.  It may be because you become aware of what is happening and you "tune in" your refined ears to wait for even more changes right along those same lines, and sometimes you are rewarded; other times not so much. 

With about 210 hours on the OPPO now, things are sounding VERY MUCH better than before.  Explaining what I hear is like describing the birth of a child.  Sometimes you just have to be there to experience that magic since words are so limiting - but I'll give it a go.

There is roundness to the tones of instruments that once were edgy.  There is clarity to the ambience where once there was only a hint.  There is a distinction to the pluck of a string where once there was just the sound created by it.  There is a depth to the emotion of the performer where once there was only a reproduction of the sheet music.  There is a shift in the pleasure you receive as a result of these minute and subtle changes that creates awe inside of you.  You may think to yourself, "Now this is what the designer had in mind when creating this piece of gear" and then go on listening mystified to the things that were always there but hidden.  It can be an experience as if you become part of the mix-down team and sit back to admire your own work.  It's magical and you may just find yourself shaking your head in disbelief that such things were possible.

Every decade or so, something happens in the audiophile world that changes the rules of the audio reproduction game.  Things just suddenly get better, more accurate, more lifelike, more real and after a break-in period, you may notice this happen to your beloved piece of gear too.  It is at this moment you find satisfaction in your purchase and a huge reward to your ears.  When everything "clicks" it's like a live performance where the audience and the performers become one raising the level of the performance to something impossible to duplicate in a studio.  The energy you feel from live musicians is amplified by the energy exuded by the crowd and the music is taken up another notch.  You begin to experience and then appreciate genius and for some become so emotional it can bring tears to your eyes.  You appreciate your own golden ears.

I am waiting patiently still now hoping that more will change and some of that last little bit of edginess will dissipate like the memory of a paper cut.  I am hopeful for even more exciting and awe-inspiring changes to take place and be able to share that with you.  For now, know that my OPPO has passed that magic moment when things are starting to click and the magic is unfolding.

Right now, it's 6AM and I am listening to Peter Kater's "Fire" album at a very low level.  My wife is still asleep and this is my quiet time.  I am so moved by this piece that I am thankful for my ears.  Paul Simon once wrote in a song, "thanking God for my fingers" when describing how he felt when making love to a woman and now I too thank God for my ears - and my OPPO.

See also Part 3 and Part 4

Also, see the simple FRED diode modification to the BDP-105 here.

Yours for higher fidelity,

Philip Rastocny
I do not use ads in this blog to help support my efforts. If you like what you are reading, please remember to reciprocate, My newest title is called Where, oh Where did the Star of Bethlehem Go? It’s an astronomer’s look at what this celestial object may have been, who the "Wise Men" were, and where they came from. Written in an investigative journalism style, it targets one star that has never been considered before and builds a solid case for its candidacy.

My other titles include:
·      Althea: A Story of Love

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