By Anthony Chiarella
It never ceases to amaze: enter the sound room of any passionate music lover and you’ll find a rack full of costly HiFi gear—a wealth of cherished recordings lining the walls—but search for a few basic tools to tune things up and you’re met with blank stares. Or worse, you find a broken-handled screwdriver that looks as if it had been used to chisel stone.
Fact is, audiophiles happily spend princely sums on hardware and software yet bristle at the prospect of shelling out $100 for a few basic tools. And that’s a shame, because fine stereo (and Home Theater) systems require a little TLC to perform at their best, and that means you’ll need some basic tools and simple techniques for using them. For less than the cost of a single out-of-print LP, you can acquire everything you need to keep your High End rig running right! Here’s everything you need to know:
Screwdrivers: At a minimum, you’ll need three Philips drivers (#0, #1 and #2) and an assortment of flat-blade drivers. A couple of fine-blade Jeweler’s screwdrivers are essential for turntable setup and maintenance. German-made Wiha are the best we’ve found but Snap-On and Klein—made right here in the USA—are also excellent. These are the items you’ll use the most, so don’t cheap-out! (Tip: always use the largest blade that will properly fit the fastener’s head, as this will minimize the risk of damage.)
Allen (Hex) and Torx Drivers: Simply put, you can’t adjust a tone arm or remove the top cover from most electronic components without a set of Allen wrenches, though Torx drivers have become commonplace in the past few years. Compared to traditional screwdrivers, Allen and Torx allow greater tightening force with less chance of stripping the fastener. Fortunately, even the best of these are dirt-cheap. Look for “Bondhus” brand. (Tip: with Allen drivers, choose models with one “Ball-end,” as these work better in tight spaces. You’ll need both Metric and English sizes.)
Machinist’s Level: For leveling your equipment rack, Turntable, CD Player and speakers. Actually, you don’t need one: you need two, placed at right angles atop whatever surface you want leveled. (Tip: a longer level will always provide a more accurate measurement that a shorter level of equal quality, so use the longest level that will work on a given surface.)
Needle-Nose Pliers: essential for cartridge installation and useful for any sort of fine wire work, not to mention fishing small screws out of tight spaces. You’re best off with two: 1” and 2-3” jaw. Best brands are Snap-on, Channellock and Diamond.
Adjustable “Crescent” Wrench: An open-end wrench with adjustable jaws. In this case, smaller is better. A 4” or 6” wrench should master just about any task. (Snap-On and Channellock are top brands here.)
Utility knife: (Box-cutters) These are among the most useful and versatile items you can own. Need proof? How did you open your equipment boxes, anyway? (Tip: a dull blade is much more dangerous than a sharp one. Blades are cheap, so change them often!)
Tape Measure: HiFi setup is all about geometry…try that without a Tape Measure! (Tip: choose a tape at least 20’ long, with a locking feature, that is highly legible.)
High quality flashlight and Magnifying glass: Over 40? These are self-explanatory. An LED Flashlight with multiple brightness settings is worth a king’s ransom. These will come in handy when looking behind your system, adjusting phono cartridge alignment, and in infinite other instances.
Protractor and Stylus Force Gauge: For Analog Lovers Only! Brinkmann makes a gorgeous and easy-to use Protractor based upon the old Dennesen Soundtractor. As for Stylus Force Gauges, high precision digital units are available on ebay for $10.
Toolbox: Cheap insurance and guaranteed organization! (Tip: a plastic box with internal compartments offers the best protection and keeps everything at the ready.)
Parting shot: When it comes to tightening screws, bolts and other fasteners, audiophiles seem to think that “If a little is good, more is better!” Avoid the temptation and DON’T Overtighten!!!