The Well Grounded System (or How I Learned to Improve My Sound and Love the Earth)

The Well Grounded System

or

How I Learned to Improve My Sound and Love the Earth.

Significant sound system upgrades often cost thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars.  The upgrade I am about to describe costs a fraction of that and delivers a performance improvement that you never thought you could get from your existing components.

It was one of those rare things that happens when you don’t see it coming but floors you when it occurs.  It all started when Nordost introduced a new cable product: The QLINE Ground Wire.  The QLINE is designed to work with the company’s QBASE power strip and take maximum advantage of the focused star grounding feature of this power and ground distribution system by creating a secondary ground for your hifi system. But what real difference could adding a secondary ground make? If you are familiar with Nordost’s foundation theory, you will see that this product perfectly reinforces the importance of a system’s foundational elements and how crucial it is to get this right. This got me wondering just how well my system was grounded.

The QLINE utilizes Micro Mono-Filament technology, and a 10 AWG, silver-plated 99.9999% OFC stranded conductor, with FEP insulation.  It comes fitted as standard with a spade lug for the inside connection to the QB8 and a type of termination that fits into a standard ground rod connector fitting.

IMG_4933After a quick inspection, I found it would be easy to use an existing intrusion into the house from an incoming cable line that was right behind my Nordost QB8 power strip.  My house is a ranch on a slab foundation, so it was pretty simple to install a ground rod just behind my wall outside.

I went to my local big box hardware store and spent a total of only $15.00 on a copper clad, 8’ ground rod and connector.  After some precarious moments pounding it in from atop a ladder, I was ready.  I was able to use a 2 meter QLINE ground wire to connect my QBASE to the ground rod.

IMG_4972                                  IMG_4971

Let’s back up just a moment first, and explore some of the long-held axioms of a properly grounded system:

“Connect a clean ground to your system and you’ll hear an obvious drop in the noise floor with blacker backgrounds, less grain and more vibrant instrumental and tonal colors.”

“A simple and cost-effective addition to any Hi-Fi installation which leads to a significant reduction in sonic pollution.”

Or maybe:

“The purpose of a good ground is to provide a safe path for the dissipation of static charges, EMI and RFI signals and interference.”

Knowing that all of these things are true did not prepare me for what I heard.  After warming up the system for a few hours, my wife and I were ready to do an A B comparison; both with and without the ground wire connected (I often evaluate new equipment with my wife Stephanie).  After listening to some selections for a time without the ground wire connected I then attached it to the QB8.

Some of our comments from my notes after hooking up the ground wire:

Steph – “Well, that sounds different”

Me – “Better bass”

Steph – “More like live music, less like HiFi”

Steph – “You can hear her singing more easily, understand words better”

Me – “No doubt about it.  Larger soundstage, more depth to the image”

Me – Definitely better stereo separation and dynamics, especially with micro-dynamics in the bass”

Never in my life as an audiophile have I experienced such a profound improvement in system performance – in ways that I did not expect – for so few dollars!

If installing a separate ground rod isn’t practical in your situation, a copper cold water pipe (if it’s copper all the way to the meter) makes an excellent ground as well.  Just make sure you bypass the meter if you are connecting it to the house side.

The use of a dedicated, clean, low impedance connection to ground fits perfectly with the Nordost multi-outlet power distribution units, the QB8 and QB4.  The external ground post tied into the focused star ground topology with the QLINE creates a solid earth connection and minimizes noise and general sonic pollution. It’s an easy solution to achieve solid ground, and it sounds fantastic!

lg-QRT-QLINE Ground Wire

9 thoughts on “The Well Grounded System (or How I Learned to Improve My Sound and Love the Earth)

    • By “the house side” I meant that part of the water supply pipe that feeds the house plumbing. The water meter is often non conductive throughout so bypassing the meter from input side to output side utilizing another Qline Ground wire with two clamps to bypass the meter. Remember, we simply want the lowest impedance to earth ground possible for best results.

  1. This is a very interesting post. I’ve always been a proponent of correct grounding systems with regards to audio quality and noise levels.

    However, the article does not address code (in the US, at least) that specifies bonding of multiple grounding electrodes in an electrical system. According to the NEC sections 250 and 800-820, supplemental grounding rods introduced into an electrical system *must* be bonded to the existing service entrance grounding electrode by no smaller than a No. 6 copper wire to form a single reference. Not doing so can cause a differential in ground potential. In the case of a lightning strike, ground rods in different locations can be thousands of volts apart from each other. If these rods are not solidly bonded, this voltage potential may attempt to equalize in the piece of equipment where there are two grounds, or over the conductors between them. However, lightning damage is only one form of potential problems for multiple grounding electrodes not properly being bonded. Any significant difference in the impedance of the two AC grounds can induce current flow in equipment connected between the two, in this case, the QBase Power Strip.

    Now technically, if the power strip inlet’s ground is tied to the enclosure of the power strip, then it is bonded to the external ground electrode as it is also tied to the enclosure, however this does not meet the NEC’s code for bonding ground electrodes and can still cause problems where the differential is high. In any situation with multiple electrodes, they must be explicitly bonded together directly with that No.6 or greater copper wire.

    Just curious if Nordost has addressed these requirements somehow, or mentions it in their literature.

    Thanks,

    R

    • If you read our QRT brochure, in the QLINE section you will notice that we do have the following warning:
      “It is important to recognize, that while installing a designated ground for your hifi system is the most efficient and direct approach to eliminate ground loops and AC hum, there are some states and countries that prohibit the use of a second ground. Please consult a local electrician to ensure that the improvements you make on your sound system remain to code.”
      Thank you for your concern.

  2. When aiming for lowest resistance to earth the true bottleneck is not the wire from your equipment to the grounding rod – it is the resistance between the grounding rod and the surrounding soil.
    Even 150 ft of standard 12-gauge copper ground wire from your equipment outlet to the breaker box only have a resistance of appr. 0.25 Ohm. Your 8 ft copper grounding rod in average soil represents a resistance of appr. 25 Ohms – 100 times of the 150 ft 12-gauge ground wire!
    Instead of connecting a second rod directly to your system GND or system outlet GND (and thus creating a dangerous hazard like Rhiannon described above) it is more effective to simply connect a second rod to your existing main grounding rod. Spaced at least 20 ft apart and connecting the second rod with solid 6 or 4-gauge copper grounding wire will lower your resistance to earth by appr. 50 %! You can daisy chain multiple rods the same way to the main rod to further lower resistance to earth. Four additional rods daisy chained to the main rod and spaced appr. 40 ft apart from each other will lower resistance to earth to less than 25 % of the single rod resistance.
    You will be able to hear more of the improvements you described.
    P.S. A jackhammer makes installation of the rods easy

  3. Which path will the current choose in the ground plane? Naturally, the lowest-impedance path. Considering the loop formed by the U-shaped surface lead and the ground plane, and neglecting resistance, the high-frequency ac current will follow the path with the least inductance, hence the least area.

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