To date, in our ‘Meet Your…’ series, we’ve concentrated on dealers and makers. This time, we’re making a bit of a change. Audio Systems Optimized is a small company specialising in the set-up and installation of top-flight audio equipment. Essentially, Audio Systems Optimized is Stirling Trayle. He’ll be your resident expert for the day!
Stirling Trayle is not your ordinary audio installer. He has 30 years of experience under his belt, setting up systems for dealers like Bradford’s High Fidelity and dB Audio. He has also worked for companies like Immedia, Sumiko, and Spiral Groove, and now spends his time working for manufacturers – setting up their systems for events – or a select list of audiophile clients who use his services both for initial installation and regular resets of the system, especially for those who use turntables, which frequently require periodic maintenance.
His client list has learned that a thorough installation and set-up and occasional tune-ups works out considerably less outlay than regularly changing components in an often fruitless search for improved performance. Trayle believes most audio systems have the potential to sound good, but poor installation and bad set-ups squander that potential. So, he has devised a four-step programme in installation to make a system sound better. First, he evaluates the mechanical stability of a system, ensuring both external vibration and resonance, and self-generated noise in a system is kept to an absolute minimum. Next, he turns his attention to the electrical input to the equipment, checking everything from the circuit breakers in the fuse box to other devices on the same electrical circuit, to help reduce the ingress of noise from electromagnetic interference.
Then, Stirling Trayle addresses the room acoustics, although generally not in as heavy-handed approach as some feel important. He is more concerned with subtly placing the loudspeakers in the room and gentle treatment of room acoustics concerns, than turning every listening room into an acoustically dead studio control room through over-treatment. The loudspeaker placement issue is not a trivial one, blending the physics of placing the loudspeakers in the right place in the room, and the art of fine-tuning that placement until just right. This leads naturally to optimisation of the system. Everything up until this time could be considered ‘first fit’, as from here Trayle checks and rechecks everything, slowly balancing the system until it works perfectly.
It would be easy to dismiss this process as relatively prosaic. Get the equipment level, ‘dress’ the cables so that there are no power cords running alongside signal cables, clean the contacts, tighten the bolts, and so on. And yes, this kind of basic installation will help bring out some of the potential of a system. But Trayle has that unique combination of knowledge, experience, and something close to obsessive-compulsive disorder, which makes him uniquely qualified to not give up until he has extracted the last scintilla of performance from a system.
Many of Trayle’s clients are vinyl lovers, and it’s with turntable set-up that Trayle really makes his mark. To demonstrate this, we handed over the Editor’s VPI Prime with a Lyra Delos cartridge in order to watch him work.
His process is analytical and iterative, running through those four steps in the chain methodically and with extremely focused precision. Naturally, he gets the turntable level, but there’s level, and ‘Trayle level’. Most might make a couple of cursory nods to a spirit level on the chassis and platter; Trayle will take his time, using ball bearings to make sure the turntable is absolutely level. He will dress the power and signal cables with the kind of obsession that is normally considered ‘unhealthy’, and then he will turn his attention to the arm and cartridge.
This begins by a rough alignment using a protractor, using a SMARTractor, of course. A VPI arm is not ‘big’ on anti-skate, so one of his main pillars of turntable set-up is not an adjustment here, but the others – overhang, downforce, azimuth, and VTA, are each adjusted in sequence, slowly working down to a super-precise set of custom adjustments made for that cartridge in that arm for that turntable. This takes time. A lot of time. Set aside maybe as much as a day to get this absolutely correct. It’s an almost endless cycle of adjust – listen – tune – repeat.
And it’s here where you begin to realise why Stirling Trayle charges a healthy amount of money for his services (you might spend a couple of thousand pounds plus travel expenses for a visit) and why his repeat business is so solid. Few of us have the time to do this level of precision in our installations and set-ups, and of the lucky few that do, most of them will not have the inclination to take the process to this level of precision. About two hours into the process, on the 35th iteration of getting these elements in a perfect dynamic balance, most would have screamed something Anglo-Saxon and when the red mist lifted, there would be bits of turntable stuck in the wall opposite. Others would last longer, many would give up after about 10 minutes. Stirling doesn’t give up. It’s a relentless, obsession with getting the installation perfect.
The problem is, it is perfect, and when it is perfect it sounds damn good. It makes the VPI Prime sound a lot better than I can make a VPI Prime sound, and I can make it sound pretty good. He takes it to new levels, and the Prime is relatively low on the list of products he can transform, in part because anti-skate is off the radar. Give him a deck with a lot of adjustment and even more potential, and that’s an opportunity for Trayle to shine. He might be there for a day and a night and another day, but that turntable will sound like it was always supposed to, but never did. And he does this without suddenly trying to sell the listener some magic beans, or baffling them with science and test equipment.
Stirling Trayle is not a wizard, because what he does is not magic. It’s pure empiricism. Just pure empiricism applied to a level that only a handful of people will ever achieve. That’s what people pay for!
Audio Systems Optimised
Tel: +1 707 494 5482
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