How to Stack Stereo Components
By Scott Shpak
Ah, the 1970s -- muscle cars, disco, bell bottoms and component stereos. While styles come and go, many people have retained an interest in the sound and flexibility offered by mid-tier to high-end audio components. With the mix and match of receivers, amplifiers, tape, record and CD players come questions of how best to arrange components. Heat, cabling and stability will dominate stacking considerations.
Beat the Heat
Heat is both friend and foe in the pursuit of great sound. Tubes, transformers and other electronics create heat while operating, but temperatures consistently above 85 degrees may shorten component life. Airflow around components is crucial, particularly on pieces with vents. Many components have feet to assure airspace when stacked, and you can supplement this with wooden wheels from hobby stores or other spacers of similar size. The biggest heat creators are usually amplifiers and receivers. Since heat rises, stacking these components near the top may minimize heat effect on other components, though it may not be possible due to the size and weight of your amp or receiver.
Making the Connection
Stacking components helps meet another rule-of-thumb for audio connections -- short cable runs. The venerable RCA connector is most common for audio connection even on contemporary components. While 6-foot and 3-foot lengths are easy to find, these may be overkill in a stack. Cables of one and one-half feet can be found with a little digging. Avoid the cheapest cables, but don't break the bank, either. Short cables reduce signal degradation and the chance of electromagnetic interference affecting your audio, while minimizing clutter behind your components.
Miss the Interference
Along with audio cables, you are running power cables too. Bundling these cables together may improve visual appeal, however it may contribute to EM interference, even with short cable runs. When power cables and audio cables run parallel and in close contact with each other, hum may be induced into your audio. When cables must cross, try to arrange perpendicular intersections. Run audio cables up-and-down toward the center of your components, while running power cables across first, then down at either side of your stack.
Level the Field
Vinyl won't die! In fact, turntables seem to rise more often than zombies. Playing vinyl records with a turntable has unique electronic and physical challenges affecting your component stack. Many turntables have RCA cables hard-wired. This cable is the limit for distance from your stack, since the capacitance of the cable is chosen to match the needs of the stylus and cartridge on the turntable. Stacking a turntable directly on other components may not be possible due to size mismatches, but it is not a good idea even if it is, because of vibrations, resonance and EM interference. A sturdy, level base that isolates the turntable from room vibration is the best solution.
A full-time content creation freelancer for over 12 years, Scott Shpak is a writer, photographer and musician, with a past career in business with Kodak.