Dear Get Better Sound readers,
Welcome to the eighth issue of Quarter Notes!
Guess I never thought about how many of these I’d do, but as long as new ideas keep surfacing, new insights into old ideas keep popping up, reviewers and/or manufacturers have something relevant to say to us, and your questions and comments keep coming, it’s worth doing. Your comments and questions are important to me, so don’t hold back!
Quarter Notes is a quarterly newsletter for Get Better Sound readers, expanding on the Get Better Sound manual, as well as introducing new and timely subjects.
For the new part, we’ll take a glance at room eq systems, with a brief story about my first experience with it, how far away from our speakers should we sit – including how far is too far, fuses as tweaks (yes, I said fuses), sliders, etc.
For the expansion part, we’ll be looking yet again at speaker separation, subwoofers, computer audio/absolute polarity, rack placement yet again(!), etc.
In the something-old-and-something-new part, I have an important DVD update, and a new product – well, at least a new name for a product - and a brief story that describes some unexpected results.
We’ll get the two shameless capitalist something-old-and-something-new announcements out of the way first.
Don’t forget, you are invited to e-mail me with your questions and comments. If appropriate, and with your approval, I may include your note – or a reply to it – in an upcoming newsletter. I get so many e-mails, it’s hard to always be prompt, but I generally respond within 24 hours and often much less, if only as an acknowledgment that I received your e-mail.
Best e-mail address
Since you’re reading this, the e-mail address that I used to notify you must have worked. However, the only e-mail address I have is the one associated with your initial Get Better Sound order.
If you have an e-mail address that you’d prefer to use to receive Quarter Notes notifications, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to list the month of purchase (if possible), and definitely include the e-mail address I used originally along with the one that you want to use to replace it.
Get Better Sound DVD ships to us next week!
What a project! As I’ve said in letters to some of the Early Adopters, this has been one of those "If I had only known..." projects. Finally, the post-production and art-work has been completed.
The major delay was the post-production work required for three DVDs with 128 chapters. As it ended up, it’s 5 ½ hours and we had to cut it back to get it down to that size.
The whole thing was sent to the manufacturing facility Monday of this week, with a promised ship date (to us or to the order fulfillment house) at the end of next week (March 31 or so). That means we’ll see them begin shipping to purchasers by the end of the following week. We had an unexpectedly large number of Advance Orders, so the shipping may take a week or so to get it done. We’ll ship them in chronological order of purchase date.
I’ll keep the Advance Order price up for another week or so, but when they are shipped, the price goes from $24.95 for Advance Orders to $39.70 for the 3 DVD set. So now is the best time to get them.
We’ll offer a special price to GBS book owners, but it won’t be as low as $24.95. If you want to know more about the DVD, click here - http://getbettersound.com/
From the GBS website homepage:
Does your system "play the room"?
Introducing RoomPlay™ custom voicing.
As Jim has traveled around North America, voicing readers' systems, three things became very obvious:
Audiophiles have standards that are simply too low. They accept much less than they deserve (and much less than they paid to get).
It's not really their fault. They simply don't have a reference for how good their system can be.
Addressing how electrons travel in wire and electronics is one thing—addressing how sound waves are launched into the room and how they are received at the listening seat is far more critical and pays far bigger dividends.
Playing the Room
RoomPlay™ is Jim's custom voicing service.
Imagine that your listening room has no walls, no ceilings, and no speakers. The musicians have assembled to play a special concert, just for you. You feel the emotional impact of the music the next day, as if it had been a live concert.
Jim calls that phenomena "playing the room." Hence, RoomPlay.
A Surprising Story about Voicing
By now, you know that, whether not you agree with me, I am totally convinced that voicing your system to your room yields infinitely more powerful results than any component purchase. It’s not even close. It’s one of the main reasons that I wrote Get Better Sound.
I am utterly convinced that I can take any $10K system and voice it properly to the room and totally obliterate the results of a $100K system that isn’t properly voiced to the room.
As the word has spread about RoomPlay, I’ve received a number of requests, and we managed to do all them, except for a couple.
The first one isn’t a surprise, although it probably was to the system owner. After looking at images of his system and his room, I had to tell him that he had too many restrictions to allow the system to really blossom. There’s no reason to take on this project if the outcome is in doubt, so I’d much rather tell the audiophile up front.
But the real surprise was what happened on a different occasion. A reader contacted me and showed strong interest in custom voicing. As requested, he sent me a number of images of his room, along with a list of his components.
I would estimate he probably had at least $75K in his room design & treatments. This was a dedicated room. I’d guess he had another $200K invested in his system (I actually think it was a lot more).
So he probably had around $300K invested in his system. From looking at his images, it was clear that he had some issues, which were relatively straightforward to address.
But he had a kind of variable tuning device built into his room. No problem, but it was going to take a while to learn how to get the best out of it.
My quote was about twice the standard for the usual 2-night stay, due to the complexity of not only getting the system to Play the Room, but to do it with the variable tuning system he had installed, but obviously never had voiced competently.
At any rate, the owner of this $300K+ system wasn’t willing to spend – in his case - $3,600 - to make the system come alive at a level far beyond what he was currently experiencing. In other words, he wouldn’t spend a little over 1 percent of its cost to improve his sound 100%!
I suppose that he still thought that his exotic electronics could somehow offset a myriad of acoustic problems. So he elected not to have me come there and voice his system. Too much money.
That one was a surprise to me. I still don’t get it that he didn’t get it. Especially with all of the testimonials around.
But that just proves again why I wrote the GBS book. It’s not about the components, no matter how expensive. It’s about making the speakers disappear, the walls, floor and ceiling are blown out, and the performers have packed up their gear to do a special concert for you – in your room.
Just follow the tips in the manual or the DVD.
If you want to know more about RoomPlay™, click here - http://getbettersound.com/rp.html
Room eq systems, and a brief story
In a previous Quarter Notes, I mentioned the DEQX system. I wanted to run a test with it, but for reasons beyond my control, that never happened. I was interested in the DEQX for several reasons:
The first was that the DEQX allowed for digital loudspeaker correction. I strongly feel that needs to be done before any digital room correction should be attempted.
The DEQX appeared to operate at a sufficiently high resolution that no digital nasties would interfere with the sound. I wanted to work with a DEQX system to see if, in fact, it WAS free of digital artifacts.
Having heard systems that incorporated digital room correction, I was skeptical. I actually think that most of my negative attitude was from demos I’d heard, supposedly done by experts, in some cases by the manufacturer!
I have still never heard a convincing demo of digital room correction, by anyone, anywhere.
So I wanted to know what was the source of my dissatisfaction. Honestly speaking, I still don’t know today.
I have long wanted to offer a similar program as a finishing touch to the voicing projects that I do. I’ve investigated a few options, but for a variety of reasons, still haven’t found the one I think would make sense for my voicing clients.
So here’s a story that is related to the concept, at least in the area of execution. Some of you may remember the San Francisco Stereophile Home Entertainment Show in 2003. If so, you may recall the response we got in our (Avantgarde-USA, BAT, Running Springs, etc.) demo room. Srajan Ebaen – 6moons.com - wrote about it, as well as Robert Harley in TAS, and others.
As always at the shows where we exhibited, I voiced that system. We had a couple of less-than-pleasant peaks in the boundary-dependent-region (below 300 Hz). Expecting some difficulties, I had brought my Rives PARC (Parametric Adaptive Room Compensation), which is designed to solely address that region.
When I mentioned to Richard Rives-Bird that I was bringing it to the show, he offered to tweak it with his computer program. True to his word, when I let him know I was ready, he was nice enough to come by and run the program.
Richard had a ton of work to do. He didn’t cut short his time, but he based his adjustments on near-perfect measurements. Satisfied with the results, he went on to other projects waiting at the show.
There was no question that the response was very flat now. Technically it was superb.
However, after listening for a while after Richard left, I began to feel that the system was missing a bit of musical involvement. The emotional hook was not quite there.
I should mention that we were only using the PARC in the line from the BAT preamp to the amps driving the BASSHORNS. The amps driving the TRIOS were direct from the preamp.
So I spent another couple of hours building on what Richard had done (LOL - Richard might have had a different description). I didn't change the frequency of the three cuts he introduced, but did slightly adjust their "q" (width) and the level of their amplitude.
When I was satisfied, I was feeling good about the sound, but privately wondered if the measurements would have been as precise. My guess was -- probably not.
We got standing applause at the end of every demo for three days - an almost-unheard-of response to a show demo! IMO - listeners weren't responding to the technical aspects of the sound, they were releasing emotions stimulated by the musical experience.
I think it might be too simple for an installer of digital room correction systems to rely on the measurements. And indeed there are systems that have remote tuning. Some even offer automated adjustments. But who determines how the system speaks to you, in your room? A technician onsite MAY have the requisite blend of science and art skills to do it, but not if he thinks the measurements are the cure. And even if he doesn’t, can he make the system come alive in a musically compelling manner?
So I have 3 primary caveats:
Room correction cannot replace getting the system/room basics right before running the program. In fact, it makes what I call "Playing the Room" even more important than ever. If the room correction program is as good as many of us are hearing, completing the system with room correction - after building on a solid voicing foundation - could yield incredible long term benefits.
Even though the outcome may measure text-book precise, I've found that a computer read-out may need a little on-site "interpretation" from the end user or voicing agent in order to fulfill the ultimate promise. This is even more noticeable in so-called "automated" eq systems.
So don’t think about room correction until you have gotten all that you can from the tips in GBS. And be sure you are satisfied that the system performance doesn’t depend on a technician, when what you really want is an artistic interpretation of the science behind the sound.
How far is too far?
It’s time to answer this one. The question is – how far away from your speakers is too far for good sound?
If you’ve followed the three-step technique in GBS, you have identified where you will sit. This is the fulcrum of the foundation of sound that you have built. In some instances, that might mean you are sitting some distance away from your speakers.
For purposes of our discussion, let’s think about a couple of distance-related issues:
First, as you get progressively further away from the plane of the speakers, there is an increasing chance of unwanted room reflections. Think of listening at one end of a long hallway. The sound would bounce from one wall to another and from floor to ceiling and back, so that the sound would be almost unrecognizable when it reaches your listening position.
Second, I think most recording engineers have in mind a certain perspective when they are recording. In my experience, that perspective is best served from about 9’ to 15’.
If a solo vocalist is recorded to be up front-and-center, then the illusion that he or she might be real, with a tremendous sense of presence, can be harmed with too great of a distance.
Of course it’s your call, but at a distance of more that 15-16’ (from your ear to the speaker’s treble driver), the sound may not be as musically compelling.
If you have determined that the best seat is too far away, then it might be time to compromise a bit.
If it means that the performers sound as if they are playing too far away, I may give up a bit of the most tuneful bass. In my experience, the optimum distance for a great sense of presence is 10-12’.
Much closer than 9’, and the sound can sometimes take on an uncohesive, raw character. Too far away, and the sound can be boring. So sometimes you may have to compromise the ultimate bass quality if the overall presentation is less than optimum.
Uneven speaker wire lengths
We’ve been told that we have to have equal speaker wire lengths. That’s why A.J. Conti’s (Basis Audio) demos at CES have been so darn troublesome.
He likes to demo a 6’ run on one channel and a 60’ run on the other! And no one can identify when they are hearing a 6’ pair and when they are hearing a hugely-mismatched-length-pair.
Of course, A.J. want to sell his cables. Run a test with mismatched lamp cord as speaker wire and see what you think.
You might be surprised!
Fuses as tweaks
Exotic fuses have been around for some time now.
My position is that they are way down on the list of available tweaks, especially if you haven’t completed the tips in GBS. But on the other hand, if you just consider price, they are relatively inexpensive as tweaks go.
I could never recommend them to anyone who hadn’t spent a similar amount of money on GBS, from which really meaningful improvements can arise. But then, could I be the least bit prejudiced? ☺
Anyway, the time came for me to get some replacement fuses as back-ups for when I’m on a RoomPlay trip. So I got a couple of the new black Hi-Fi Tuning Fuses from the Cable Company.
OK, I admit that it was the first time I tried the fuse tweak. It was a worthwhile expenditure to my ears. Not the old jaw drop thing, but nice. Just as long as you do it after you’ve done everything else you can do from GBS.
Nope, not the kind you eat!
If you’re gonna have to spend some time moving your speakers around, especially if they have spikes, get a set of inexpensive furniture sliders. If your speakers are heavy and if they have sharp spikes, you may need to glue a metal spacer in the middle. Drill a tiny center-point to keep the spike point home when you are sliding the speaker around.
Less wear and tear on the back.
However, now you’ll have no excuse to delay finishing up your voicing job!
Degrees of Separation
I’ve been amused to see that some audiophiles on various forums are quoting the 83% separation number that I mentioned in GBS as if it’s a rule.
If it is a rule, then the separation police may arrest me anytime now. That’s because the last two systems I voiced had very different separation. I think it’s due to a number of factors.
The room is important of course. I have come to believe the other two mitigating factors are toe-in and dispersion. Here’s a tale of three speakers:
I voiced a pair of ZU Essences with Method Subs. Using my normal separation yielded a rich harmonic palette, but there seemed to be some interference as I moved my head from side to side. The soundstage would shift depending on where I sat in the center seat. Not good. So I experimented, trying to shake that problem while maintaining an excellent tonal quality. Since the ZU uses a 10” driver up to 10kHz, you don’t want to use the “normal” toe-in, because you’ll lose life and air between 5 & 10kHz. You just can’t be very far off-axis without losing some high frequency info, due to the beaming effect. I find that I need to have the left speaker pretty much aimed at my left ear, or maybe very slightly off-axis. If not, then there’s a general loss of life and extension. Anyway, the Y axis (center-of-tweeter to center-of-tweeter) ended up being about 88% of the X (ear to tweeter).
I voiced a pair of Vandersteen Quattros. This is a multi-way speaker, time aligned, with special design care to avoid lobing at the crossover point. Reasonably wide dispersion, with good pattern control due to the drivers, the crossover points, and the slopes. This time, when I was done, I measured 78% on the Y axis! Toe-in was about half the distance between being aimed straight ahead and aimed directly at me. Actually, a slight bit more toed-out than that.
I voiced a pair of Avantgarde DUOs. This speaker, due to the horns, has what they call “controlled dispersion”. Instead of being slightly less than 50% of the difference between straight ahead and aimed directly at me (as with the Vandies), this time it was a little more than that 50%. In other words it had more toe-in than the Vandersteen, but not as much as the ZU. The DUOs ended up at 83%, as they usually do.
I’ve spent some time thinking about this.
Little-to-no toe-in from a speaker with poor high frequency dispersion up to 10K seemed to need about 5% more separation than the Avantgarde, which has limited dispersion, but not as limited as the ZU, therefore it could have more off-axis toe.
Less overall toe-in from a speaker with excellent high frequency dispersion seemed to need about 5% less separation than the Avantgarde, which has limited dispersion. With its good dispersion, therefore it could have more off-axis toe.
So don’t let anybody tell you about a so-called 83% rule. Ain’t necessarily so. Depends on too many other factors. About the only consistent 83% ratio is with DUOs.
More on Separation
I’ve said that too much separation – such as the audiophile-approved equilateral triangle – can yield a thinner sound. Bringing the speakers a bit closer together can warm up the sound (and by “a bit” I mean sometimes as little as an inch inward on each speaker).
There are two other benefits (at least from my viewpoint):
First, as you bring your speakers closer, it helps to project soloists forward on the soundstage. So the sound is more intimate and often more involving.
Second, too much separation can produce not only a smaller, thinner soundstage, but one that seems lower, as if everyone is sitting or crouching. The closer spacing yields a more realistic illusion of presence and height.
Just don’t get them too close as I did with the ZUs. Depends on the speaker, the room, and of course, your taste.
Subs for every system?
No matter how costly the speakers, no matter how deep they are claimed to go, they probably could benefit from a pair of good quality subs voiced to the room and to the system.
Heresy, you say?
If you put your speakers where they produce the best tone, the best soundstage and the best overall sense of life and presence, then there is an almost zero chance that it will also be the best place to play bass. I’d say that happy coincidence happens less than 1 out of 100 times.
So if you’re aren’t getting all of the bass and the sense of space from deep stereo bass, you’re missing the dynamics that the composer and performers intended for you to have. Diminished dynamics diminishes your musical involvement.
Diminished spatial cues diminish your ability to suspend disbelief, which again affects your musical involvement.
“But I’ve heard that such-and-such woofers didn’t blend with such-and-such speakers”
Every time I’ve ever heard a claim like this, if I got to hear the offending system, I agreed with the evaluation. Then, after 30 minutes-to-maybe two hours, with judicious voicing, that complaint completely disappears. And the owner is left with a far more musically involving system.
I don’t sell subwoofers. My agenda is solely to see you become even more involved with your music, so that you can hardly wait you until can get home and listen.
But I can recommend that you consider a pair of subs. If voiced to your system properly, it’s the one component that has almost universal acclaim.
Computer audio and absolute polarity
If you are sensitive to absolute polarity (because you are aware of it and your speakers are phase coherent), the Pure Music program for Macs is especially useful.
Listen to the cuts in your iTunes program. Select standard or inverted polarity for each album or cut. Once you find what you like, if it should be inverted, simply enter “invertpolarity” in the iTunes comment column, and PM automatically switches it for you in the digital domain.
Furthermore, the invert polarity option in the PM Music Server drop down box functions as a macro. In other words, if I am at one place where the system has inverted polarity (such as some C-J preamps have), and then at the next system, the polarity is standard, I can simply select from the drop down box for that system, and PM does it all, either way I need it to work.
Rack ‘em up one more time!
I wouldn’t keep talking about this is it didn’t keep coming up.
I’ve taken to being more direct about it lately.
Get your rack out from between your speakers!!!
I often hear, “But I have $3,000 speaker cables and they are only 8’ long!”
Here is my reply, usually to the person’s consternation (until they actually try it, then they thank me):
Put your $3,000 cables in the closet. Go up to your local hardware store and buy some lampcord. Put your rack on the side. Hook up your system with the lampcord as speaker wire.
Compare the sound. You will want to sell your $3,000 cables. As I say a lot these days, addressing how electrons travel in wire and electronics is one thing—addressing how sound waves are launched into the room and how they are received at the listening seat is far more critical and pays far bigger dividends.
Of course, if and when you want to buy better speaker cables for your new rack position, your system will show you the improvement more easily than ever before.
That’s about all I can fit in this Quarter Notes. Hope you found it helpful, or at least interesting.
Please write with any questions, comments, or suggestions. See you next time!