Dear Get Better Sound & Through the Sound Barrier owners,
Welcome to the nineteenth issue of Quarter Notes, published on June 21, 2016. 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.
Best email address
Since you’re reading this, the e-mail address with which I sent this QNs must have worked. However, the only e-mail address I have is the one associated with your initial Get Better Sound or Through the Sound Barrier 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 include the e-mail address I used originally, along with the one that you want to use to replace it.
The silence between the notes
“The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.” – Claude Debussy, composer
"The silence between the notes is as important as the notes themselves." – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, composer
“The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes – ah, that is where the art resides.” — Artur Schnabel, pianist
"Music is the space between the notes. It’s not the notes you play; it’s the notes you don’t play." – Miles Davis
"It's the silence between the notes that makes the music" – Zen proverb
There are other quotes referencing this topic as well, but these are the most commonly referenced.
The “silence between the notes” occasionally gets mentioned in various musically oriented communities, but I have recently realized that its importance has largely been ignored in our “audiophile” circles.
In fact, the only one that comes to mind is by Myles Astor – recently in his forum http://www.audionirvana.org: “For me, one of the biggest effects of the silence between the notes is feeling the pulse of the music.”
Author, neuroscientist, & musician Daniel Levitin does an excellent job of explaining musical concepts like pitch, timbre, tempo and harmony. He makes the point that the art in music can be just as easily found in the absence of things as in the presence of the aforementioned properties. The moment between each note being just as much a part of the music as the actual notes themselves.
I agree somewhat with Myles Astor’s comments above, although for me, this intended silence between the notes serves to highlight - even embellish - the emotional intensity that was intended for a given piece of music. It can be dynamic contrast, and even tone, as we await the next note.
As such, it behooves us to reduce the likelihood of obscuring this key to the music. Since this aspect of reproduced music can have a profound effect on our musical involvement, we need to take a look at how we might best preserve it. Actually the topics that follow are directly related, so let’s go there…
Two not-so-politically-correct techniques to gain even more musically engaging results from your listening sessions
Absorption vs. dispersion I know that many “acoustic experts” call for dispersion in rooms. In earlier times, I have done so myself. But as I have become more conscious of musical involvement as the main thing I want to achieve, there have been some revelations that I’d like to share. The first topic relates to the original recording. As a location recording engineer myself, I made the recording to include the applicable reverberant space. If my choral recording included the reverberant space of the recording venue, the last thing I want to hear is that listeners injected the sound of their rooms into the playback of my recording! Here is an example – With choral recordings, when the sound of a chorus falls to silence, it’s expected to hear some of the recorded hall reverberation. Since audiophiles often add dispersion to create a more live sound, the natural decay of the recorded sound will now have a new and even longer delay. And musical information will be obscured. Audiophiles who are used to adding dispersed speaker/room reverberations to their sound are always amazed to hear the natural sound from the same recording when it is revealed. It’s almost as if the emotional content of the music had been hidden. And the system sounds more realistic, and surprisingly, even more live. When we consider the import of the silence between the notes, why should we wish to diminish what the composers and performers intended? In other words, do we want our system to continue to reverberate and change the impact that was intended? Speaker manufacturers of yore presented “live vs recorded” demos. One of the most successful in their demos was Acoustic Research. AR discovered that even a recording of solo voice could be changed unacceptably when room effects were added to the recording. The solution? Record the soloist in an acoustically dead space. Then the playback room sound being added would work better for the comparison when compared to the same live voice in the same room. Otherwise, allowing the room sound to add to the natural acoustic of the voice recording fundamentally changed the sound, on many levels. Why disperse ugly sound? Seriously, you ask! What I mean by “ugly sound” is the sound of a loudspeaker off-axis. When measured off-axis, the response of any loudspeaker isn’t very pretty. In fact, it is seriously compromised. This is due to beaming at crossover points as well as the natural roll-off of certain frequencies off-axis. The overall frequency response is far removed from smooth or flat. So why would we wish to disperse an admittedly poor sound – a sound that will introduce unnatural acoustic colorations into our playback listening experience? When I wrote Get Better Sound, I mentioned that I thought the best audio playback listening environment was probably slightly “live”. In the past eight years or so, that opinion has evolved a bit. Now I would prefer neutral and even slightly to the “less live” side of neutral. Amazingly, “live” concert recordings sound even more live (because we aren’t hearing the room interacting which provides a somewhat false sounding reverberant field). I sometimes describe this live recorded sound as atmospheric – it’s almost uncanny how the audience reacts to the performers. The same occurs with acoustical recordings of all types. The performance simply sounds more real, more believable and this more musically involving. After having discovered this aspect of musical involvement, I modified my listening room to be slightly less acoustically live than neutral. FWIW - I had always received outstanding comments about it, even before the most recent changes. However, since this was done, RoomPlay Reference visitors have consistently raved more strongly about the listening experience. Comments have ranged from “Didn’t know this was possible” to “Best (or “One of the best”) I ever heard”, to “Most Natural”, “…the whole system was absolutely incredible!”, etc. If you can, you should book a RoomPlay Reference session to hear what optimum Dynamics, Presence & Tone can do for your musical engagement. This preference is generally better served with so-called "dedicated" listening rooms. Of course the majority of rooms are not dedicated. So how might we make our listening rooms reveal more music, while keeping them as rooms that are enjoyable to live in? For living areas, the solution may lie in portability. For music listening while entertaining, or as a wonderful background music system, leave things as they are. When you want to hear what you paid for, with enhanced musical engagement/emotional response as the goal, there are several inexpensive/portable options to consider. Due to the time restraints in producing this newsletter, they will have to be presented in the next issue. If you want to get started before then, or if you simply have specific questions, we can do individual 25-minute StraightTalk sessions - http://getbettersound.com/straighttalk.html. This would apply to those who have dedicated rooms as well. The goal is to be able to adjust your living area room for optimum dedicated listening in about five minutes (which means that another five will be required at the end of the session to restore your home to its former look and feel).
Quasi-near field (NF) listening This one is not so popular either, if it is considered at all. But it too is based on the goal of preventing room sounds from contributing to the recording, which will not only affect the space between the notes, but the musical presence as well. If you are unable to address first reflections from the front and side walls, this is even more dramatic in its efficiency, as it minimizes late arrival reflections when compared to direct sound arriving at your listening position. It might require you to mark the standard positions and use sliders or some technique to set the speakers up in the NF position - when you want to truly experience what you have paid for and enjoy an elevated musical experience. And, as always, you’ll need to put the speakers back in their “normal” everyday use position when you are done. :) In case you think that sliders will harm your sound, or you need longer speaker wire, rest assured that they are not remotely the biggest problem. The biggest obstacle to be addressed is the acoustic wave-launch into the room and how it is received at your listening position. On voicing sessions, I will often use 16 or even 18-gauge wire from Home Depot to determine if we will ultimately need a longer speaker cable. In fact, I have often voiced systems with that wire, because the client’s expensive speaker wire is too short. It’s always a revelation when they hear better sound with vastly less expensive (and less audio performance) speaker cable, but optimized acoustic wave-launch and reception at the listening seat. When I refer to quasi-near field set-up, I am referring to a speaker whose treble driver or diaphragm is maybe 7-9 feet away from your ears. Before going any further, there are some brands and types of loudspeakers that will not play well with this concept. The main one that I am thinking of is Vandersteen. They employ individual phase-and-time aligned drivers. I have never ended up voicing them closer than about 10 feet or so from my ears. I have thought that Richard Vandersteen optimized them for time arrival beginning at maybe 9 feet from the listener. I don’t know this for certain, but it has been my general experience. But any speaker with separate drivers will be problematic as you get closer. Getting closer means getting the seat height or front-to-back speaker tilt exactly right. Even then, if the drivers are spaced too far apart, the sound will not be cohesive. My dual-concentric-driver Tannoys work well in this regard as do Quads, Magneplanars and other full range or two way speakers. When I wrote about the optimum distance for most speakers being from 9’-13’, I was thinking that side wall first reflections and the front and rear walls might need some absorption. When we have our speakers at 15’-20’ (or more) from the listening position, it becomes very difficult to enjoy a musically involving sound as too many reflections arrive at various times after the main signal, therefore blurring the information contained in the music. And you definitely will NOT be experiencing the composer or musician’s intended “silence between the notes” as discussed above. Don’t forget - it’s the timing... the beat... the pauses... that assist musical dynamics, presence and tone in plucking our emotional heartstrings. Try to get as much of it as you can. One last point – no recording engineer who wanted to capture a realistic sound would allow live instruments to be played close to a wall. Why do we think that our stereos – when listening seriously– could overcome the same issue?
4 on the floor
Okay, that’s an old automobile term from the 60’s & 70’s :)... Actually, depending on how you look at the image above – it might be three and it might be 6. :)
I am talking about the three line level components on the floor - well out of the acoustic sound-field - as well as any pressure zones that could negatively affect the performance of the MacBook Pro computer, Schiit Yggy DAC, or the ASR Control Center. The two black boxes in the front of the room are the ASR integrated amp power supplies, one for each channel. The battery power supply for its line-stage is behind the ASR Control Center.
The greenery is not acoustic treatment. It’s there to hide the wires. :)
This set-up works exceedingly well to remove interference with the acoustic wave-launch while keeping cables short as well. If you get a chance to try it or a variant, I think you will be pleased with the results.
Relative importance of components – a subjective ranking
I keep seeing so-called experts on audio message boards raving about the sound of a new DAC, amp, cable, etc. I often agree that they make a worthwhile improvement. But establishing the acoustic wave-launch into your room as well as possible and insuring that it arrives intact at your seat literally swamps the importance of such components. That’s not to say that they cannot be fabulous and rewarding. But on a relative scale, it’s the set-up and how it works with your room (rather than fighting it) that is the elephant in the audio room.
I find most of these rankings questionable at best, and mine should be too. Anyway, here is my relative ranking as another so-called expert... It’s simply another opinion. The percentages are approximate from voicing hundreds of systems, and may vary with your room and system. Use it as you will:
50% - Proper system/room loudspeaker set-up (which ALWAYS requires finding the best listening position for the smoothest bass first, then adjusting speaker location – and sometimes, component location)
25% - Loudspeakers
20% - Source
15% - Amplification (includes preamps)
3% - AC power (may or may not include power conditioning)
2% - Cables and other tweaks
Note – After you have accomplished proper room/loudspeaker system set-up, then the relative importance of the others seems much more important.
If you are using a computer to drive your DAC, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of stripping away the computer’s background operations. This is audible.
For my MacBook Pro, I want to get other processes down to below 60, if possible, but always below 70. With a Mac, you can monitor the number of processes with Activity Monitor.
With Windows, monitor with Task Manager.
There are Windows and Mac programs to optimize your computer for the best music reproduction. One that I use for my Mac is Cocktail. For Windows, there is Audiophile Optimizer.
Since I use Audirvana+ to run the music library instead of iTunes, I can also remove some programs with Audirvana. Don’t know about Windows, but I would think that playback programs would offer similar assistance.
Once you make it easier on your computer to process the music files, you’ll appreciate the improvement in clarity, ease and sheer musicality when listening.
EQ & DSP
Umm, that’s Equalization & Digital Sound Processing… :)
Some readers have come to the conclusion that I am against any form of EQ or Digital acoustic correction. Well, not exactly…
I have two main concerns with EQ and DSP:
It’s not a panacea. Some people think that if they get the response relatively flat, or “fix” time arrival and such, that is all it takes. If you wish to use these programs (as I have), don’t even think about it until you have first done all of the basic set-up as mentioned in GBS. I refer to this as the organic process rather than the electronic.
Sadly, I’ve heard too many systems that sound technically correct, but were utterly boring musically because the owner or system tuner felt that once the measurement goals were achieved, they were done. Not so!
Facebook & Friends
Most of you know that we had a Facebook page for Get Better Sound. The only problem with it was that I rarely ever paid any attention to it! So I took it down recently.
However, there are times that there may be news that I might want to send sooner than the next Quarter Notes newsletter. So I have combined my Facebook page to include occasional audio info as well as the personal that you would expect. If you have a Facebook account and you are interested, go here:
Ask to make friends, and include Following. If for any reason you change your mind, it’s easy to un-friend someone.
Mono & Stereo rant
A recent post on Mono and Stereo commenting on the state of the audio industry hit several chords with me. Especially of interest is the section about the audio industry’s attitudes towards its customers. Thought you might find it of interest as well. It’s written by their Editor-in-Chief, Matej Isak:
The CD has been fully licensed and has been mastered. It is ready.
Book One is complete.
I have made more progress on the DVD production, but I am still not ready, as Book Two needs to be completed. Given my poor track record at meeting ETAs, I am no longer going to provide them. Actually, I have found that I cannot predict progress, as I still get hundreds of e-mails daily, I have ongoing projects (such as room designs), and therefore I simply cannot predict my schedule.
Additionally, we didn’t have much progress the past six months due to some health issues in the family, but work is continuing, including the free upgrade I mentioned in a recent Quarter Notes newsletter.
There is more detail in the linked TTSB podcast #10.
Randall & I just completed the Breaking Through podcast #10. As usual, the latest updates to the project are the first topic discussed. Afterwards, we cover several topics on audio. I hope you will find the audio topics interesting and informative.
If you haven’t heard them yet, I suggest you give them a try – you might pick up a useful tip or three.
Here is a link to all of the Breaking Though podcast episodes on iTunes:
If you are not an iTunes subscriber or user, go here for the latest podcast:
Go here to access all 10:
Questions or comments?
E-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org
That’s all, folks.
Keep on listening!