How much difference can a single screw make? If you ask the golden-eared engineers at Air Studios, they'll tell you a fascinating story about one in particular. The component in question is to be found on the back of Pioneer's new SACD player, the PD-D9MK2, and its replacement was crucial in the D9MK2 getting its Air Studios certification.
The Pioneer-Air connection originally came about because Pioneer part-owned Air for several years -- it sold it to another studio a few years ago, but the strong relationship remains -- and used this connection to improve its audio equipment. The two companies collaborated on making audio equipment that sounded great and was tweaked to perfection by the golden ears of Air's engineers. This relationship involves Pioneer sending over every piece of hardware it wants to have the Air logo on, and having it potentially torn to bits in the quest for even better sound.
Even tiny things can make a difference, according to Air's technical manager Tim Vine-Lott. Each new piece of hardware that comes in is tested thoroughly, and if anything sounds slightly off it gets taken to pieces to find out why. In the past, bits of twisted cable have thrown the sound out of whack and had to be yanked out. In fact, talking to the audiophiles at Air can make you very self-conscious about your own audio equipment. After all, most hi-fi equipment seems to be made out of insubstantial scraps of metal and fairly unimpressive screws.
The single problem screw on the D9MK2 sat near the power supply and was apparently making the whole thing sound 'wrong'. The solution? Take the screw out and replace it with one that had a serrated washer. It might sound reasonably simple, but almost certainly wouldn't occur to most of us -- that's if we even had ears good enough to hear the problem in the first place.
Discovering the wrong screw was being used isn't something that comes cheap. Studio time at Air is pricey, and factoring in the time of Pioneer's engineers, their flights over to the UK and all the other little extras, you can see how replacing one screw becomes a seriously expensive process.
There is one obvious problem though. If the type of screw matters so much, what happens if one works its way loose over time, or if you take it in for repair and the screw gets swapped for a different one? Well, all anyone could advise was that you're very careful about who fixes your Air-tuned kit, and that you check all the screws once you get your SACD player back.