Deano, our Rapallo man of all things audiophile has a message for you. Make sure that all your precious AV and Hi-fi components are adequately cooled. We let him explain why he thinks you might need a reminder.
Hi-Fi & Audio Visual components tend to offer us joy by the truckloads. But they also tend to be heavy on the wallet (which considering the high level engineering that goes into them is understandable). This fact means that every single one of us has every intention of looking after our precious investments. But what does it mean to look after your gear?
One of the most important ways in which you want to take care of your AV gear and Hi-fi components is by making sure they don’t get over-heated. Here’s why. Traditionally it was amplifiers that were the great heat-producers. But these days Hi-fi components rarely sit on a rack or on a shelf alone. We need (not want;-)) AV receivers, pre-amplifiers, power amplifiers, network players, CD-players, Blu-ray players, etc. But also beyond that, Hi-Fi & AV systems now generally require network connections via switches, routers & matrices.
Satellite receivers provide live content and gaming systems have interactive entertainment. A power conditioner is usually added to ensure optimal signal quality from all the components.
All that equipment eats power and the majority (!) of that power coverts to…heat. Amplifiers used to be the big culprits in the heat department, but these days, all Hi-fi and AV gear relies on microprocessors (just as in computers). Exactly these delicate components are both rather heat sensitive but also heat producers. So we’re not only dealing with the heat of the amplifier any more. It’s ALL the gear.
So what’s the issue with not cooling?
When all that equipment needs housing. An open rack usually poses no problems, but many of us tend to prefer our equipment stored safely and tidily in a rack set into a wall cubicle or stored in a closet (after all, delicate components don’t like dust nor little inquisitive fingers). At the same time we need to watch our pennies and we prefer these to go towards the actual Hi-fi and AV gear, so …we get creative in how we store our equipment. And here lies the culprit. Many people forget about the importance of proper thermal management within the rack/cupboard.
Research shows that the lifespan of electronic components can be drastically compromised without adequate ventilation. When heat generated from the equipment can’t escape, it builds up in certain pockets. Subsequently fans in the equipment start running to the point where the equipment will shut down.
Without thermal protection, AV and hi-fi equipment will start to degrade in performance quite quickly. Pushed to the limit, it will fail well before its time.
The Science of cooling
To achieve optimum performance and optimum equipment life, it is recommended that you keep your system operating at a standard temperature below 29.5C. Most studies show that every 10 degree increase above this temperature leads to a whopping 40% reduction in your equipment’s life span. How fast temperature rises depends on a number of factors. The power your equipment uses (more power means more heat), how close together your equipment is stored, your room temperature and the airflow in your cabinet.
To understand the way AV equipment overheating can be avoided, we must first understand the ventilation of the equipment we are using. The vents or fins on the casing of the equipment are usually very noticeable and their design. Placement receives more consideration from the designers than we often realise.
Passive Cooling of Hi-Fi and AV components
For instance in the below photo of the AV Receiver you can clearly see the vent cut-outs on the top
This form of cooling is called “Passive Air Cooling”. It is based on the theory that the AV receiver will be placed on an open shelf or an equipment rack with an open front and back with adequate natural airflow…. Which is a lot of assuming.
What happens next is very comparable to what happens to a car. If the engine overheats, we’re in trouble. Same goes for electronic equipment.
So what’s the solution?…. Creating sufficient airflow one way or another.
Forced Cooling of Hi-Fi and AV components
This can be done by improving the conditions for passive airflow. Some AV cabinets are especially designed for this purpose with side openings, rear openings and an open front to avoid the issue of heat pocket build up. But more often than not, we need to look at forced air cooling as a solution.
Forced air cooling uses fans that create a steady inbound flow of cool air and outward bound flow of warm air. Getting this right rapidly and considerably cools down the temperature of your equipment. Ultimately you have equipment that runs smoothly and will last longer.
There are multiple ways in which this can be achieved and the best solution very much depends on your situation, your budget and your equipment.
Fanned AV cooling systems are designed to perform in different configurations, for example the cooling fan in the photo above is designed to extract the heat through the bottom and force the air through the top, other designs allow you to extract the heat and force the cool air either through the front or the back depending on how your cabinets are designed.
Options in cooling of Hi-Fi and AV components
Some designs get quite sophisticated and incorporate electronic thermostats that perfectly controls the temperature. They have alarms that warn you if the equipment is overheating. Other models are designed specifically for AV cupboards with controlled vents. It’s important for these cooling fans to be specifically designed for Hi-fi and AV use as not only do you want it to cool properly. You also want it to operate quietly and economically. (For AV and Hi-Fi cooling fans products from AC Infinity supplied by Rapallo have a look here.)
Bottomline is that there are many designs and many solutions. So next time you sit down to have a listen to your favourite music or spend a night watching a movie, afterwards go and have a feel of your equipment. See if feels hot, it should only feel warm.