Quarter Notes #25
Dear Get Better Sound & Through the Sound Barrier owners & backers,
Welcome to the twenty-fifth issue of Quarter Notes, published on April 25, 2021. Quarter Notes is a free newsletter for Get Better Sound and Through the Sound Barrier owners, expanding on both, as well as introducing new and timely subjects.
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In this issue:
1. AV Room Service CVPs - Cable Vibration Protectors
2. RPR room redo completed for TTSB video/DVD
3. Heart of Hearing?
4. Balance issues the last two years or so
5. Cervical Spinal Stenosis surgery
6. WOAH!!! That's good news re TTSB?
7. A recent RoomPlay client review
1. AV Room Service CVPs - Cable Vibration Protectors
It was back in QNs #23 that I introduced AV Room Service EVPs. My admiration of their performance continues as solid as ever.
In fact, I started on a major re-arrangement in the RPR room months ago; replacing every expensive component with one that cost less than half of what I was using. The overall system is now about one-fifth (!) of what the other had cost.
In each case, the goal was to replace every relatively expensive high performing component with very good components at a much lesser price, to assist in showing audiophiles/music lovers, that getting a system setup to work with a room will achieve a much higher level of ME (Musical Engagement). No more slightly cynical observations that the RPR demo was one of the best sound/listening experiences (short of live music) that they had heard, but after all - it should have been - as expensive as the system's components were.
So I replaced my equipment racks that cost thousands of dollars with three $150/apiece Pangea racks. Yep, that was a step (or three) backwards.
But I had in mind a way that they could compete on the same level, or even exceed the performance of exotic racks & footers, ESPECIALLY those that are installed in a non-optimum location - which from the many FaceBook images that I've seen, appear to be approximately 75% of all systems.
To achieve my goal, I mounted every electronic component on AV Room Service EVPs – based on the needed size & weight. Now we were in the game, at a mere fraction of the prices that most audiophiles pay.
A while back, I thought that I'd give the AV Room Service CVPs (Cable Vibration Protectors) a try for my RoomPlay Reference sessions. So I called Norm Varney at AV Room Service. We worked out approximately how many that I needed and he shipped them promptly.
Above is an image of the CVPs from the AV Room Service website.
I've never been particularly impressed with the overall results from the various cable vibration protectors on the market, but have suspected that it might be somewhat due to my lightweight and unshielded Duelund ICs & Speaker Cables.
After receiving the CVPs, I slipped all of my Duelund ICs & Speaker Cables into the CVPs that were delivered that day. For this application, I used tracks from my extremely familiar RoomPlay playlist.
FWIW - although I don't think it's particularly necessary, my cables are lightly twisted - maybe 2-3 turns per foot or so - it just didn't show up in the image blow after I pulled the EVP cables out a bit for the photo below.
Here is an image of one of them supporting my Duelund speaker cables:
This time, I had no expectations. Honestly speaking, after a fairly brief listen, I thought that my system sounded pretty much the same as they did pre-CVPs. In fact, I can’t say that I initially heard any significant differences in the sound quality.
But something did happen – not sure if it was the Duelund cables or the CVPs, or some combination thereof…
Not hearing the typical “Sound Quality” differences – for better or worse – I began to focus on a TTSB topic that I had been wrestling with. So I moved over to my office in the room across the hall to work on it.
Running the RPR demo system as a music source, actually in the adjacent demo room, it was simply a source of background music to me.
Except for one anomaly – I found myself becoming engaged in the music – from sound emanating from my RPR room next door (!) – and from tracks that I’d heard thousands of times…
So I went back over to the demo room and listened some more. Except that this time, I wasn’t listening for sounds.
The effect was as if I were being immersed in the music more powerfully than before! But still no obvious difference in the sound. NO WAY!!!
So I went next door and asked my wife Pam to come over & listen for a bit. Her reaction – un-promoted by me – was almost the same as mine!
This may sound a bit ill-defined – but musically there was simply more THERE there…
It may be a lowering of the noise floor, but I cannot say for certain. If/when you try them out, let me know what you hear!
A couple of observations re the CVPS:
1 – At $24 apiece, they are not inexpensive, at least from my current room-to-system voicing viewpoint/efforts here in the RPR room. Even so, they are still less than most of the high-end audio competitors.
2 – I am unsure as to what the effects might be with heavier & more costly cables. IMO, they were most likely designed for those types of cables. I simply haven't heard such a set-up yet with CVPs.
3 – One of the primary reasons that I endorse such products from Norm Varney's AV Room Service is Norm's willingness to refund your money if – for whatever reason – you are not completely satisfied. From numerous reports that I have received, I don't think those events happen very often, but just in case…
4 – Another interesting product, which I hope to try soon:
Note: the following sections, with the exception of the last one, all have to do with the progress of the Through The Sound Barrier project.
2. RPR demo room update:
1 – After some slow-down issues related to my recent surgery, the RPR demo room is finally updated and ready to shoot the TTSB DVD/Video.
2 – The RoomPlay Reference room has always been there to help audio hobbyists understand how to take their existing systems to higher levels of ME – Musical Engagement.
And to do so without spending much - if any - additional money to get there. To my knowledge, no matter how far they may have travelled from around the world, all visitors have felt it was among the best - if not the very best by far – investment they ever made in their music systems.
3 – The TTSB DVD/video – to be shot in the RPR room, will show TTSB backers & owners how to go about unlocking their music in a much more powerful way. While it will have an initial technical basis, the subsequent steps shown are all about increasing your musical involvement well beyond merely listening to "great sounds".
Incidentally, these are not some new techniques. They are essentially the same ones used in somewhere around 1,000 highly successful system-to-room voicing projects. Also, they are the same techniques that won 7 Best of Sound awards at various CES & other shows in a period of just 5 years, when I was the North American distributor for Avantgarde Acoustic loudspeakers.
Perhaps the most recognized & memorable show report was the one in San Francisco in 2003, when Robert Harley and Srajan Ebaen each reported on the attendees standing & applauding at the end of each session!
3. Heart (?) of hearing?
As my surgery was recently approaching, a local audiophile went w-a-a-a-a-y beyond my expectations for him to help me, as he and I had discussed how I wanted to finish getting the RoomPlay Reference demo room ready for the upcoming TTSB video.
With the balance problems associated with my upcoming Cervical Spinal Stenosis neurosurgery, I was relatively useless. Even picking up small items was risky.
I had been corresponding and occasionally meeting with Michael (last name removed for privacy) about this shared hobby of ours and working towards bringing his system further forward, so as to unlock his music in a more powerful manner.
Michael lives about 45-50 minutes away from here. So a day's visit by him also included an hour-and-a half of drive time…
He was relatively insistent upon helping me out – expecting no pay, I might add…
Among other projects (some of which were a bit tricky) that were outstanding – in which he helped immensely - I needed to relocate all of the ceiling lighting in the RPR room.
This required moving each of the 5 rotating track 4-light sets exactly 14.25 inches to the right. Michael took on the job. It wasn't enough to move them exactly, he also had to repair the 5 previous holes in the ceiling so that no one could see that they were ever there. In fact, the ceiling repair took the most of his time.
Since the ceiling was double layers of sheet-rock, reinforced with substantial wood studs, with a flooring above them that I use for storage, he had to go upstairs, relocate a lot of stored items, and peel the flooring back just so that he could get at the receptacles from the top.
And now, the refurbished ceiling - after relocating the track lights - is completely void of visible damage from the prior installation. Amazing!!!
Although I have helped him obtain a few acoustic treatment items at a very good price, he continues to check on me regularly, even after having a biking accident in which he broke several ribs!
This mention of what he has done is simply to recognize his efforts, which have gone well beyond what I expected.
Thank you, Michael!!!
4. Balance issues the last two years or so
In the past two years or so, my RoomPlay clients have especially noticed my increasing instability. In fact, most of them politely commented about it. And they readily assisted in getting the heavy load of equipment out of and back into my car.
RoomPlay Reference clients noticed it as well.
I finally decided to tell my M.D. about my growing balance issues, as rarely a day passed that I didn't fall at least once.
She referred me to a neurosurgeon who ordered several MRIs.
He uncovered the root cause of my balance issues. Apparently, it's not all that uncommon, although I had never heard of it. It is called Spinal Stenosis. Vertebrae in the spine can pinch the nerves in the spinal cord, delaying vital messages back & forth between the brain & the muscles.
Hmm, would better interconnects help? 🤔
So we scheduled the surgery, without even considering substituting highly detailed ICs... 😉
Below is an edited (for brevity) description that my insurance company sent to me, pre-surgery:
Cervical Spinal Stenosis surgery:
"Fusion of spine bones with removal of disc in upper spinal column, using anterior approach (this means that to get to my spinal cord in the back of my neck, they had to enter through several incisions in the front of my throat).
Insertion of anterior spinal instrumentation for spinal stabilization, 4 to 7 vertebrae segments, and fusion of vertebrae."
It's now been about three weeks since the surgery. My wife and others have noticed that I seem to have already begun to recover from some of the most noticeable instability issues.
However, according to my neurosurgeon, it's gonna be a long road back (at least I shouldn't be falling on it anymore) – he estimates up to a year or longer…
How can the above info possibly be good news re TTSB? Can Bad News ever contain Good News?
In my case, the bad news is that at 5:30 AM Monday, April 5, I had to be at the hospital for the five-hour (!) surgery to address my Spinal Stenosis. The three surgery procedures were Laminectomy, Foraminotomy, & Spinal Fusion.
Afterwards, the medical team cautioned me not to lift anything over 10 lbs. after the surgery, and to stay away from any physical activity for at least three months, if not longer. The actual complete healing time period is projected to be about a year. Of course - my office & RoomPlay Reference demo room are located in the adjacent building…
That's Enough of the Bad News!!! Anything good?
In 2008 I was in a bad car accident. Among the many issues, my back was broken. I was confined to a lengthy healing time period after the surgery.
Some of my clients contacted me and said – in general – "Hey Jim, why don't you write the book that you've always said was needed so badly?" And so I did – Get Better Sound. There was really little else that I could do.
I am actually a bit excited about seeing Through The Sound Barrier move ahead to completion during the earlier part of this time period, as it should be enough to easily get this unbelievably delayed project completed.
A few days ago, I spent time getting my spare laptop up to speed since I can't easily work at my office desktop – can't even walk over there (the office) - without a walker for some time.
Works great! I can write/edit with little distractions.
And that is how Bad News may even be Good News in some instances, especially this one!!!
6. A recent RoomPlay review
Many of you will want to read the entire review, but it may be simply too long to be in this newsletter. I will eventually get it posted in the RoomPlay Reference section of the GBS website.
It was originally written expressly for members of an Audio Society/Club. FWIW – it's written in a very casual style, as the writer considers the members of his group to be his personal friends.
This RoomPlay session took place about two weeks before my surgery. I would never have taken the project at this late date, except for two deal-making issues:
(1) The client(s) lived about 45 minutes from our daughter's house, so Pam & I could visit with our grandson, our daughter and our son-in-law, prior to the somewhat complicated surgery.
(2) The other deal-maker was that the prospective clients promised to do the heavy lifting of all of my gear if I would agree to come.
My System/Room Setup Session with Jim Smith of
Get Better Sound
What would cause one audiophile to invite another one over - and without reserve - allow him to dismantle his valuable and expensive two channel audio system? If the audiophile invited over is Jim Smith, hey, that makes the audiophile who invited him damned smart!
Yay me! I am very danged smart because – since I invited him out to take my system apart, it sounds better than I thought it ever could in my room. I brought Jim out because I thought there was certainly more performance than I was able to find, but that I knew was almost certainly there somewhere…
My audiophile friend Bill (full name edited for privacy) and I have talked about hiring Jim for the last two years based on the testament of plenty of audiophiles who have hired him previously to voice their systems. Of course, I said I was not buying any new equipment until we got him out.
Well, that’s not exactly how it came to be… Many thousands of dollars in new equipment purchases later (!), my friend Bill and I finally decided that it was time to call Jim and bring him to town. We had pushed our systems' performance to as far as we could in order to get the best out of them. We finally realized that it was time to take action. So, we called Jim up and began discussions about what we wanted.
Interesting to note, we were asking Jim questions, and at the same time, he was interviewing us. He is in enough demand that it is as much about the fit between him and the expectations of the clients he chooses to work with.
Additionally, I believe Jim had not agreed to work on two systems during one trip since 2010, saying it was really debilitating - physically, intellectually, and even emotionally. He thought that it simply wasn't fair to the second client.
I can attest that going through one entire set up in a bit less than a day & a half is a total energy draining process. I am still trying to recuperate from the experience myself, now two days since the session.
So here is the play-by-play:
Prior to coming to see us, Jim had me take 91% rubbing alcohol and clean electrical and connector plug contacts of each unit in my rig. I did so, and it seemed to yield a less veiled, crisper sound coming from the units.
Jim scheduled to come out to us on the weekend, Bill on Friday night and me on Sunday night. He schedules about two to three hours the night before the system-to-room voicing day to simply sit and listen, in order to evaluate the system’s efficacy.
By the way, he does not travel by airline anymore since Covid 19 and carries loads of equipment to complete the sessions. His car is loaded to the gills and is unloaded on arrival.
The only instrument reading that he performed this first listening session was to check the system's acoustic polarity. He applies a polarity signal at the preamplifier, and measures it at the loudspeakers' output. My system passed - all was in correct acoustic polarity – which is the difference between the sound being clear, rather than being slightly muddy.
Jim brings his well-known-to-him RoomPlay playist music – to be reproduced via a Schitt 'YGGY' Dac - which I have to say sounded sweet to my ears.
He sat and listened to about 30 - 40 songs. He listened no more than about one to two minutes each at specific areas to certain tracks, and with over half of them – maybe only 30 seconds or so.
He sat quietly, closing his eyes and listening intently - then, as if on cue - switching to the next tune. Occasionally he would nod his head in approval as if he discovered a hidden marker in the music. Alternatively, I would notice a slight head shake from left to right as if he heard something not as good as he wanted to hear. Not once did I see any written notes about what he heard, but let me assure you he saved every nuance heard in his head, as I would learn later.
By the way, the play list he used to run this evaluation session was killer! After doing this for a couple hours, he announced that he had heard what he needed to hear and prepared to depart. In this case, his daughter lives near here and he stayed with his family there, instead of at a hotel.
Being able to get some needed rest between sessions was possible this way, and was the main reason that he agreed to do two sessions on one trip.
The next day he showed up ready to go to work. I had no idea what to expect - the man is a working and dedicated machine once he gets started!
The first task we carried out was to check AC polarity of the various electronics' internal circuits' wiring. He noted that he often finds manufacturers will inadvertently reverse the polarity of the a/c circuitry in their equipment. It was interesting that all of my ARC equipment was reverse AC polarity.
He noted that my later year model ARC gear only showed a slight variation in electrical output at either polarity connection. The early ARC Gear showed much larger differences as in 15 volts at the plug pin when reading in one direction and 95 volts at the pin when reading in another. Using a voltmeter, he read by measuring from the power cord of each piece of electronics in my system. To correct inversions, we put an adapter plug in without third wire ground and simply flipped the cable plug in from normal to reverse.
He said that this procedure might only make a small difference in the sound but accumulative small differences add up, as I would see once we got everything established and setup.
During this process, we took my system completely apart to read power-plug pins. I used the time to correct some of the wire and cable nests I had made previously. It also allowed Jim to suggest better placement and finding reflection points to place reflectors and absorbers (thank you for those of you who either provided or offered panels to me after my request to find more. They really helped).
This prep work completed, he set up his measurement equipment to detect any room nodes, peaks, suck-outs, or anomalies that would be harmful. His reading showed my room was relatively smooth in spite of some challenges, such as a huge glass mirrored wall on one side of my room. I was astonished at the relative smoothness with exception of an annoying 10 to 15 db rise in the 60 to 100 Hz bass range, which gave a bloated bass result in my sound. Jim said that in most rooms and systems he visits, he has to find ways to increase bass to yield the smoothest response. My room actually produced too much (!) and we needed to reduce the area of increased bass response.
I want to interject this part - not so much as a boast (although it did make me feel good coming from him) - he said that my room and system was relatively well set up, and many of the dimension measurements he took were very close to where they should be. He asked how I got the room set up so close. My response, it was very simple, I used his book Get Better Sound, following his directions closely. I then listened by ear to make minor adjustments on my own. I am saying this to signal to you the effectiveness of his book in helping to bring your system close to peak performance. You may find it not necessary to pay to have Jim or someone like him come voice your system to your room.
Next, he set about finding the perfect chair placement for smoothest bass. Jim calls this the Anchor Point for all future work. He actually knew many manufacturers’ preferred X/Y ratios (X being the distance from the listener’s ear to the tweeter and Y being the distance the tweeters are apart - center-to-center) of many manufacturers' suggested listening positions, and strives to achieve these ratios as a starting point, unless his experience has already found that some other ratio works better. My X/Y ratio was in the 80 to 82% range, I believe.
From there, we would adjust the speakers after plotting room dimensions by laser-based measurements. Once done, we set about getting exact speaker distances set from each other, from the walls and both sides and behind the speakers.
Remember, I said earlier that the dimensions were already set close to where he suggested they should be. You should know that "close" is not good enough for Jim; he would get measurements to several 32nds of an inch and – depending on the issues at hand – even that might not be good enough. He would get it better before he was ready to go on to the next stage.
Finally, we began to put the equipment back together and he would play his RoomPlay playlist music to listen for specifics - dynamics, presence, and tone. This process (including speaker separation, tilt, & toe) took a long time, including using some math to calculate ratios and lasers to confirm placement and finally the ear to determine overall correctness in order to deliver increased Musical Engagement. Jim calls this the ME factor.
Using all of the music that he played the night before, he would sit in my chair in the sweet spot and play a segment. Sometimes he would then tell me this particular track should have a more upfront sound stage presence, or this one should come from the back and this image should appear right, this image appears left or center and how tall the performer should appear. He would get up and make further adjustments. Damned if everything he sought from every tune he was able to find!
He had used each track from his playlist to portray a specific element that – in his opinion - a system should reveal to confirm our exacting placements. Finally, he invited me to sit in my seat and he asked to listen to a track that he was going to play. He asked me to tell him what I heard, and where was it located.
On one test track, there was a dog barking that appeared way outside of the speakers on my right side, over 90 degrees to the right, and slightly behind me. Next, a radio announcer broke in and began to speak in the opposite position on the left side of my body! It was truly 3d imaging, unlike anything I’d ever heard from a two-channel system. He said that what I heard was the final test to let him know that ear-to-loudspeaker path-lengths were equal.
By the way, we started work just after 10 AM that morning. We did not finish until nearly 10PM that night (!). Curiously, he worked throughout the day & evening without taking a drink or accepting food. He said that it was too distracting & time consuming, and he had to stay on task. I hung in there with him but it nearly killed me, I snuck in a few orange bites here and there and drank water as we went.
Conclusion: One of the first questions most people ask is "what does something like this cost"? It is time charged per hour, plus expenses to travel. In my case, that is almost two thousand dollars and my friend Bill and I split the travel expenses for Jim.
The next question I often hear is, “Your system sounded good, as it was - what more did you expect to get?” A very fair question!
My first response is that hiring Jim Smith to come set up your system is something most everyone can do, but at the same time is not for everyone! In my case, several thoughts were in my head to come to this decision…
First, I will be retiring sometime in the near future and really will not be able to spend this kind of money to buy and upgrade equipment. As a result, I have stretched to buy the best I can afford with the goal of playing my music the best it can be - as close as possible to what the artist(s) intended for me to hear/experience. It is a wonderful hobby, but one where I will not be able to replace components on a whim, in order to see how it makes a difference. I simply do not know what I do not know about high-end electronics and how it all should sound. Being in the (edited for privacy) Audio Club is a great help and experience in that regard, but there is only so much useful expertise to be gained from so many directions.
One of the many thoughts that I had while working with Jim was “Ohhh, now I get it” – now I can see reasons for - and understand - some of the terms that I've seen & heard in various audio discussions. I finally could understand from a true professional audio set-up person’s perspective exactly what my room looked and sounded like and gained a very good idea of what it should sound like.
I have spent lots of money, from my point of finances, and always had this nagging thought that my system was not giving me anywhere near what is capable! Sheesh!!! - I was right in this thought!
Did I get stronger bass response? Nope, just smoother. More agile & tuneful.
Does it play louder? Not necessarily, but when I do play it louder there is little mud to accompany it.
Music is much more engaging and full-bodied when it reaches my ears now. My speakers consistently disappear more often.
The "Air" around instruments is clear and the imaging very stable and clearly defined. The soundstage is spread out, stable and multidimensional in scope. It just sounds great now!
I am so glad that I spent the money and do not think I will ever have reason to look back and think it was a waste! I am so-o-o excited to have each of you come & have a listen.
Larry – Glad to be an (edited for privacy) Audio Club Member!
P.S. -I’ve been thinking about it, now that I’ve had Jim over. There is not even one cable purchase I’ve made recently that was close to the cost - let alone less money - than the couple thousand dollars I spent for Jim to come tweak my system!
Yet, nothing I’ve added equipment-wise has had the impact that Jim’s 1.5 day visit has had on my musical enjoyment and satisfaction with my rig!
Nothing! Think about that!