We are familiar with break-in time, has anyone noticed “break-down” time?

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It seems we are almost all familiar with what we call “break-in time” for gear, from mechanical transducers to static conductors, but never really hear about the other end of the performance curve.

I use a rule: “That which can break-in can eventually break-down.” (George Santayana once said, “The fact of having been born is a bad augury for immortality.”)

For cartridges, the weak link is stylus wear, for me. For electronics, besides tubes, capacitors seem to be the place I have found father time to be a bit of a grinch.

What things have other people noticed for this phenomenon?

With cables, people talk hundreds of hours of break-in, but after that, how long does improvement continue? Or, if there is a plateau, how long does performance stay optimal? (My hunch is that I, and maybe most of us, tend to change things around as part of the never ending search for ‘better’ long before decline begins, but I wonder about this.) Any time we handle or bend or pull, we are affecting the micro-structure of these babies…I have had two cables give up the ghost in the past.

So, anyway, after break-in, what lifespans have you noticed before entropy begins to exact its toll?

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Personally I think there is a plateau reached in terms of break-in. As to how long any given component or cable will last, I think there are too many factors at play to make predictions.

In the days before there were no speaker cables other than zip wire I remember that a little scratchy noise in the speakers told me it was time to re-terminate my speaker cables, but that was due to them getting grungy rather than wearing out.

These days I’ve had to replace a few cables, usually hdmi or toslink, but whether that is from the cable wearing out or mishandling I’m not sure. For hdmi I’ve had the cable become unable to initiate a “handshake” between components, replacing the cable solved the issue. With toslink I’m fairly sure the need to replace was due to my mishandling.



Answered question

Hello Anton,

for cartridges i feel there is more than the actual stylus wear that affects the sound performance. The suspension of the cantilever changes behavior over time as well as the cantilever itself might change it’s properties.

Besides dielectric or wrapping breaking down i have a hard time seeing cables (conductors) deteriorating over time to the point of failing (handling issues of pinching, kinking and bending aside). But said conductor will change over time and use and there is no real end to this.

Anywhere where pressure is applied via springs or screws this can weaken and thus reducing the contact pressure over time.

Magnetic build up is also an effect of time and use.

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