To Doug Schneider,

I am awaiting the arrival of a new amp (NAD C 390DD) and speakers (KEF R700) and have a question about burn-in times and methods. My family and I will be traveling for a few days shortly after the equipment arrives, so I thought it might be an ideal time to burn them in while no one is home. Would there be any harm in playing a continuous loop of music for about three days straight? How loud should I play the music during the burn-in process? Does the genre of music matter? I've never gone through a burn-in process before, so any thoughts and advice would be appreciated.

Thank you!

I would never recommend leaving any equipment on and playing when you’re not home. In general, hi-fi gear is pretty safe, but you just never know what can happen when you leave something on for hours, let alone days, so you want to be home to turn it off in the event something goes awry. Plus, I’m not sure what your insurance company would say if something caught fire and you told them you decided to leave your stereo blaring for 24 hours a day for a few days.

Insofar as burn-in ("break-in" is the term I prefer) goes, I have mixed feelings on it. There’s no doubt that putting some hours on a component can make it sound better. Part of it is mechanical -- drivers’ spiders and surrounds in loudspeakers can be pretty stiff, so playing them can loosen them up. Some engineers have told me electronic components can settle in to their optimal range after they've been in use for a bit of time. But I don’t necessarily believe in the hundreds of hours that some manufacturers recommend, since that seems excessive. Frankly, I’ve never heard any improvements with speakers or electronics after about 20 or 30 hours. Also, one has to wonder when something stops breaking in and starts breaking down. We all know that age isn’t kind to audio gear, so I can’t imagine that stressing components for as long as some people recommend is a good idea if you want them to last a long time.

That said, my break-in process involves playing the component(s) for two or three days, but without listening critically. This allows the speakers to at least start working and loosen up. In fact, I’m doing that right now with some Tannoy Definition DC10As as I answer this letter and writing some reviews. In two or three days, I’ll move from my desk into my main listening seat to start to determine what they sound like. That’s all. If the pair improves after that, great; if not, so be it.

In your case, I recommend setting up the gear and playing it while you or someone else is at home, but don’t pass judgment on it until the 20- or 30-hour mark. After that, settle in and listen. If things get better after that, be thankful. But if not, simply enjoy what you have.

One more comment: great choice in gear. Colin Smith raved about the NAD C 390DD recently and I’m a huge fan of KEF’s R500, so I can only imagine the R700 is as good or better. . . . Doug Schneider