Dear Get Better Sound readers,
Welcome to the second issue of Quarter Notes!
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. From time-to-time, we may have a guest writer on a special topic.
For what it’s worth, I must say that these two audio websites seem to have a lock on interesting design, clean layout and good photography. Their articles on audio and music are always among the most informative.
We also feature answers to the many questions I receive. In fact, send me an e-mail and I may include your question or comments in an upcoming newsletter.
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 email@example.com. Be sure to list the month of purchase (if possible), and definitely include the address I used originally along with the one that you want to use to replace it.
A question about CD technology
We’ve all seen the digital progress in other technologies. The growth has been explosive.
Just think of the exponential growth in computer chip speed. A good example might be the personal computer (PC). Did you have one in 1982? Did your business have a desktop computer in 1980?
Today’s PCs are phenomenal, and that’s without comparing them to what we had in the early 80s.
In 1982, with the introduction of the CD. Sony promised us Perfect Sound Forever. The CD standard came to be known as Red Book, a book (with a red cover) that contained the specifications for the new digital audio compact disc, specifications that we still use today, almost 30 years later. These specifications were developed in the late 1970s and released in 1980.
So here’s my question. With all of the tremendous advances in digital technology, why are we still living with the CD, which has a digital audio design that predates the PC era?
Bi-wiring, part two
I’ve received more questions about bi-wiring. Frankly, I didn’t think that many people cared about it.
Very few systems take advantage of bi-wiring, and of those that offer it, the results are mixed. Some people think this may have to do with the internal grounding scheme of the loudspeaker.
The topic has been covered fairly well by others, and when that's the case, if I don't have anything significantly useful to add, I usually don't cover it.
This article (of many available) is pretty good and addresses the needs and potential benefits from bi-wiring: http://www.audioasylum.com/audio/cables/messages/4953.html
However, there are many who think that bi-wiring isn't particularly helpful. I think that this is the group who have loudspeakers that have separate terminals, but are not completely isolated (i.e., ground, etc.). It's one of those things that is interesting to try, but has some variables that make the outcome not entirely predictable.
I also do not agree with the notion of using different brands or types of cables, specialized for certain frequencies. My reasons and observations are similar to my recommendation to bi-amplify with similar amps.
From common sense to sixth sense
Srajan Ebaen is the Editor and Publisher of www.6moons.com, one of the most widely read and influential Internet audio/music webzines.
I recently asked him if he had any thoughts/suggestions that he would like to forward to Quarter Notes subscribers. He sent these four observations:
Ikea's (http://www.ikea.com/) bathroom and kitchen department is a great source for stave-fabricated solid wood stands (Molger Series) and butcher block of various sizes and profiles. Someone looking for very affordable component stands could do a lot worse than an array of Molgers side by side or stacked. Butcher block meanwhile can be turned into effective component platforms with the simple addition of various drawer pulls also sold by Ikea. As one of the largest corporations in the world, Ikea's pricing is unbeatable by any of the specialized firms catering to audiophiles.
Water fountains in the listening room (negative ion generators for the more mechanical-minded) will have a very positive effect on the listener who is surrounded and immersed in electromagnetic fields radiated by the electronics and their power cords. The entire subject of 'electro-smog' and its impact on human health relates directly to this, particularly to homes with wireless Internet routers and Bluetooth devices. Ultrasonic radiation affects the brain and immune system. Because the listening experience is only as good and as deep as the listener feels good physically and psychologically, anything that 'improves' the listener improves his or her audio experience. Wireless routers should have their wireless function disabled whenever not used to surf the web, cell phones should be switched off when not needed. (Note from Jim – Hmm, where have I seen this suggestion before?)
Tachyon, Bio Genesis and similar devices available through New Age or alternative health stores can be effective in reducing our exposure to electronic smog radiation. Because this sector ranges from the scientific to the 'touchy feely', interested parties should follow their own instincts in sorting through the offerings. The 'Schumann Resonance' is another key phrase worthwhile exploring. (Note from Jim – See Tweaks to Watch, below) The audiophile experience depends on electronic devices, hence it increases the amount of electronic smog as soon as they're turned on. Installing counter measures to these invisible but real effects is only good common sense.
The Oriental science of Feng Shui deals with environmental energetics, i.e. the flow and blockages of energies in living quarters and how to optimize living spaces for their occupants. Many audiophiles overlook this aspect of the listening room and wonder why they don't spend more time with their expensive systems.
While it's well possible that the system needs help to become more pleasing, it's equally practical to address the room (or man cave) from a Feng Shui and geopathic stress zone perspective. Optimize it to look and feel harmonious and relaxing. Address the colors, ventilation, lighting and layout to be conducive to general well-being. Anything that positively affects the listener contributes to better experiences - including audio.
Thanks Srajan. Makes sense to me!
Three common-sense tweaks
You may need to move your speakers closer together for a wider soundstage. I touched on this briefly in GBS. But I had the opportunity to prove it at a recent voicing session. Rather than recount it verbatim, here’s a link to a thread posted by a client whose system I voiced: To save you some time, start at post 190: http://www.martinloganowners.com/forum/showthread.php?t=7730&page=13
Disable (if you can’t remove) unused speakers in the room. Having returned from voicing a client’s system and showing him the effects of disabling or at least shorting unused (surround) speakers in his room, I’m prompted to underline this for you. Just remember – you don’t want the unused drivers to zag as a result of the main speakers zigging. You’ll lose dynamics, attack, and maybe even timbre. If you aren’t sure how to do it, send me an e-mail.
Move your equipment rack from the center – actual experience. I’ve recently voiced systems for several clients who – for various reasons – still had their equipment rack between their speakers. So naturally I became a bit hard-core and insisted on at least trying the rack on the side wall. Most of these folks had a significant investment in their speaker cables. They didn’t want to have to buy longer (and more expensive) versions. My position is that affecting how the sound waves travel in the room is far more dramatic than an upgrade to better cables. In fact, I suggested that we try Home Depot or even ‘garden variety’ 16 gauge lamp cord.
My point? We haven’t learned how to repeal the laws of physics yet. Even longer ‘el cheapo’ speaker cables coming from a rack on the side wall will outperform the most exotic and expensive cables coming from a rack between the speakers!
Of course, you can always get a longer version of your favorite cables…
Tweaks to Watch From time-to-time, I’ll note any ‘tweaks’ that seem interesting. I’ll always let you know if I have personal experience, or if I’m simply reporting about the ‘buzz’ a particular tweak is generating.
Acoustic Revive is a company that seems to exist in order to answer questions (providing new solutions) about audio that we didn’t know to ask. I’m not endorsing their products, not having had any here at this point. I am recommending that if you’re intellectually curious, you may profit from checking out the company and its offerings. Their Schumann Resonance product is especially intriguing to me.
Acoustic resonators – another controversial tweak – have strong adherents on both sides. No surprise there. The claims are very interesting. And maybe a bit hard to believe. There are two companies that market them. Franck Tchang’s Acoustic System International’s Acoustic Resonators were the first to market. More recently, Ted Denny’s Synergistic Research introduced his Synergistic Resonators. While similar in some ways, they differ profoundly in others. Enough folks (that I respect) have responded favorably that I recommend checking them out. I should note that some listeners that I respect have not had favorable responses to at least one of these offerings.
Tweaks to try
Shielding the IEC connector on removable power cords I first saw mention of this on AudioAsylum.com, and then on Audiogon’s message boards. It’s relatively simple to try. Essentially you obtain a copper union/sleeve with an inside diameter large enough to slide over the IEC AC power connector (component end) on a replaceable power cord. I have several brands of power cords around and I found that a 1.5” inside diameter copper union fitted over them all. I couldn’t locate any at my local Ace Hardware, Lowe’s or Home Depot. But they were in plentiful supply at a nearby plumbing supply house. About $4 each. Just remove the power cord from the component (after powering it down). Slide the copper sleeve over the IEC connector. Plug the power cord back into the component. Making sure the copper sleeve is physically against the component. The theory is that even most shielded power cords are not shielded within the IEC connector. I found that it was worthwhile for some components and power cords, not so much for others. But over all, worth trying – and cheap! Here are a couple of links relating to this simple tweak: Audiogon: http://forum.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/fr.pl?htech&1237170946 Audio Asylum: http://www.audioasylum.com/audio/tweaks/messages/16/162067.html You may need to use whatever technique works in each situation to keep the sleeve from being able to vibrate or move. Try it for yourself and see what you think.
How you may able to use your CD player’s pause feature for best sound. I remember discussion of this several years ago. But I had forgotten about it. A few weeks ago I was voicing the system of a client in another state. In the midst of listening and voicing, on occasion I had distractions that required me to put the CD player into the ‘pause’ mode. Each time, when I resumed listening, I was shocked to hear a noticeable improvement in the sound. The staging perspective, the timbre, even the apparent dynamic range, was better. This was a widely available mid-priced player. I want to try it on my Ayre CD5xe, but haven’t had time yet. I did notice that the pause had to be longer than just a few seconds, probably 45-60, to make a difference. I strongly suspect that this phenomenon may be variable by player and brand. Try it and let me know how it works for your system.
Sensitivity to sensitivity? Maybe it’s just me. But I still prefer loudspeakers that don’t require 50 watts or more just to come alive. Some would argue that of course you don’t need 50 watts with speakers that only require one watt to produce, say, over 98 dB.
But it’s not about how loud they go for a given amount of power. It’s how effortless and involving they are when played softly. While some low efficiency speakers do well at this, more often than not, the more sensitive loudspeakers are more alive and dynamic than less efficient speakers when both are played softly.
While it’s certainly not the ONLY criteria for selecting a loudspeaker, I wouldn’t ignore this facet of performance. It may affect your long-term enjoyment and have an effect on whether or not you get an adequate return on your investment.
Top 10 standards of quality for high-end audio retail specialists
What follows is a classification of audio retailers. This is not intended to be any comment on the retail dealers out there. However, it is a guideline that you can use to determine if your dealer is supplying the level of service that you deserve. If you should find any dealer that meets the last standard listed, hang on to him or her. Don’t let go!
A standard retail shop will probably help you load your purchase in your vehicle.
Of those dealers, an even better one will offer to deliver it.
Of those dealers, an even better one would offer to hook it up.
Of those dealers, an even better one would have come to your home and listened with you to your current system first, before recommending any costly new component.
Of those dealers, an even better one – upon listening to your system – can easily hear where your systems’ issues are.
Of those dealers, an even better one will actually know what to do to correct your system’s shortcomings.
Of those dealers, an even better one will suggest a “game plan” or road map to successfully overcome any issues your system may have.
Of those dealers, an even better one would then make adjustments in keeping with the road map. These adjustments may include your purchase and his installation of a new component, and simultaneous voicing of your system; or the adjustments may simply be a voicing of your existing system.
Of those dealers, an even better one would ask you to be present to observe and to listen to any differences as your system is being voiced.
Of those dealers, an even better one will stay there to get your system right, no matter how long it takes. Getting your system right is defined as when he is satisfied that he’s accomplished his goal – and when you are delighted with the improvements. If he’s good, you’ll be happy long before he is.
I know whereof I speak regarding dealers. I’m one of the guys from category 10.
Throughout the 70s, 80s, and into the 90s, that was what we did for our clients. For us, it was a logical business decision for any specialist business. Naturally our clients stayed with us (some to this day, over three decades later).
I should express the obvious here – that is to say that a dealer providing this level of service won’t be around if he has to price match non-service oriented outlets. Pay him the price he asks, assuming that he successfully works hard to make your system come alive.
My clients never asked for discounts. In fact, they thought they were getting the best deal possible – actually having their purchase deliver all of its potential. They knew that settling for anything less than maximum performance would be wasting their money.
Expressed as a percentage of total audio retailers, there never were very many of us. Today, there are even fewer. If you find one, please support him every way that you possibly can.
We’ve again received several requests to start up a Quarter Notes or Get Better Sound message board. I’ve resisted it so far because I didn’t think we had a high enough percentage of readers to make it worthwhile.
If this is something in which you’d participate, let me know and I may take another look at it.
If your Get Better Sound experience has been good, and you participate on any message boards, I’m officially asking you for a favor – to post to that effect. A few extra good vibes can’t possibly hurt.
If you’re comfortable posting, here is an example of a thread in which I’d appreciate your participation: http://forum.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/fr.pl?hbest&1237843730
Whether you do it or not, thanks for supporting this effort!
Sad, but true
You can have a big room, but somebody still has to do the voicing work. When it’s not done right, you get this:
Scroll down to the Avantgarde commentary.
Hourly rate for consulting
As many of you know from personal experience, I’m committed to being available to Quarter Notes subscribers. But with thousands of readers, the number has really grown.
You’re still invited to call or e-mail with questions. I’ll still promptly reply, just as I have to date. If I feel that your situation could benefit from a more in-depth approach, I’ll give you the option of consulting on an hourly basis.
Doing it from my office is simpler than a voicing trip or designing a room, so the time is consequently less expensive. Hourly consulting is $60/hour, in half hour increments. I simply send you an e-invoice, similar to your purchase of the GBS manual.
Upcoming in future Quarter Notes:
One client’s personal musical odyssey
Jeff Dorgay, Editor and Publisher of TONEAudio expounds on the return to vinyl
Reversed acoustic polarity effects
Trends to watch
Since headphones are more detailed sounding, why don’t I prefer to use them instead of listening to my speakers?
Different speaker wire lengths - the truth and the myth
A workable ratio of relative component value
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! Best regards,