Quarter Notes


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 js@getbettersound.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

  1. 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).

  2. 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.

Strip down

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.


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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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:


TTSB update

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.

TTSB Podcast

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:

The Breaking Through Podcast (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: js@getbettersound.com

That’s all, folks.

Keep on listening!

Dear Get Better Sound & Through the Sound Barrier owners,

Welcome to the eighteenth issue of Quarter Notes, published on November 23, 2015. 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 js@getbettersound.com. Be sure to include the e-mail address I used originally, along with the one that you want to use to replace it.

Cheap ‘n Cheerful

I have to blame some of my Cheap ‘n Cheerful impetus for this Quarter Notes issue on Jeff Day.

Although the Belden 8402 interconnect and the Western Electric 16 gauge speaker wire idea came from his Jeff’s Place blog - http://jeffsplace.me/wordpress/, when I finally got around to checking it out, I was sufficiently interested that I discovered some other affordable products as well.

You may know that the recordings you listen to were probably made with Canare, Mogami, or Belden wire for microphone cable. I have a couple of sets of Canare 4E6S. One pair is 25 feet in length. I think the pair cost me less than $35(!). I have long used them to make master recordings and in other applications – their sound is quite good. So some may ask, why do I need a better cable than was used to make the actual recordings?

That’s always been a bit of a conundrum for me. I admit to owning and using cables that cost FAR more than the cables that were employed to make the recordings that I love. But that is most likely a topic for another time…

But first, the Belden 8402 interconnect –

I read about the Belden IC and the WE speaker cables on Jeff’s site at about the same time. The Belden was available in the US relatively quickly. I got mine from Best-tronics - http://btpa.com/. I ordered a 1.75M pair, with the nickel/gold RCAs. They were $70 for the pair, about 10% of the price of the IC cables that I have been using (and enjoying) for several years!

After burning them in, I engaged in an A/B session of sorts. First, were the Beldens as detailed as my current favorite cables? Actually, no… Did the Beldens have superior dynamics? Well, not really.

But they had something. I realized that they had a certain rightness to the sound. Yazaki-san (Jeff’s mentor along this path) refers to it as Real Sound. Presence and Tone were unmatched. It felt as if I could reach out and touch the musicians. Not in the sense of being hyper-detailed, but in the sense of a believable event, thereby allowing me to suspend my disbelief. And out of that grew greater musical involvement, with virtually every recording I tried. I admit that for me at least, it was kind of hard to give up the hyper-detail. But the illusion of real music in my room won out. Once I became acclimated to the Belden, going back to my high-end audiophile cables was increasingly less desirable. I wanted more music, not more sound effects.

During this time, I had several clients come for a RoomPlay Reference session. We went though the usual routine, although I do admit to having made it more refined as to the information and musical involvement I want to convey. Both clients pronounced the sound as their best listening experience (and both had considerable experience with far more exotic/expensive systems than mine). This was with the $70/pair Belden ICs between my DAC and integrated amp!

Western Electric 16ga speaker wire -

Jeff mentioned this speaker cable in his blog months ago. Initially, I didn’t pay much attention, as I was busy with TTSB and GBS issues. But when he kept referring to it, and since it was so inexpensive, I decided to give it a try. I managed to get 23 meters of it from a trusted source in Japan. I would identify him, but he can no longer find any, and I don’t want him to be inundated with e-mails.

The WE cable goes against what we as audiophiles are often told. First, it is only 16 gauge, which is considerably smaller in diameter than what we think is acceptable for “serious” cable. Second, it is relatively inexpensive. Third, it was designed many years ago, so it is hardly representative of the latest thinking in cable design. Fourth, it employs tinned copper, and we KNOW that is unacceptable! Fifth, when possible, it works best without being attached to spade lugs or banana plugs. Just wrap the tinned copper leads around the terminal or push through a binding-post hole.

To establish if I thought this was even remotely possible, I simply made up a dual pair of 3m pair of cables (my system is bi-wired). I did burn them in on the AudioDharma (Audio Excellence) cable cooker. I removed my high-end (and high priced) speaker cables that I truly loved. Once the WE was installed, I checked to see if they were working and once they proved they were, I left the system to run on music for a couple of days. When I got around to listening to them, here’s what happened…

Basically, the things I noticed with the Belden 8402 were similar, only much greater in effect. This time, there was no interest in going back to my original high-end speaker cables. None!

So I decided to wire my outboard Duelund bi-wire crossover with the WE as well as the wires from the crossover that go directly to my Tannoy Canterburys’ concentric drivers.

Now things were really cooking! I should mention that this use of 16-gauge wire may be most applicable to higher efficiency loudspeakers, such as my Tannoys and the Altecs of the day back when Western Electric was making this wire. The main thing is, don’t be afraid to try something that might be less expensive if it has a musical raison d'etre. More musical engagement for less money – what’s not to like?

Bicycle inner tubes for innervating music reproduction –

If you look closely at the image of the WE cables going from my outboard Duelund crossover to the back of the Tannoy, you can see a black bicycle inner tube supporting the x-over (between the top of the REL sub and the bottom of the Duelund board). Before I inserted the inner tube, I had been using a set of high-end (expensive) ‘isolation’ devices. The inner tube cost me around US $7.00. It is best used when only about 50% inflated – never fully inflated. I inflate mine just enough to be able to take shape. This gives it the best opportunity for true isolation. I was exceptionally pleased with the increase in musical dynamics and overall freedom from a grunge that I didn’t know I had until it was missing! After that, I tried one under my MacBook Pro Retina as well as under my Ayre DAC. Same effect again!!!

Here are some images –

Total cost for all four from Walmart (one under each xover board and one under the MBP and the Ayre DAC – less than $30.

Curious cable – including 200MM Curious REGEN jumper

I tried out the Curious USB cable that everyone has been discussing. I found that it continued along the path of less mechanical sound and more musical involvement. While it isn’t exactly cheap, it handily outperformed the far more expensive USB cable that I had been using, in all of the ways that I value musically. I also picked up the special 200mm cable for the REGEN that I mentioned in the last QNs to replace the hard adaptor supplied by Uptone Audio. Another nice improvement! You can pick one up yourself at http://www.curiouscables.com.

Ayre Codex DAC – not exactly cheap, but when you compare it to its performance competitors…

This image shows just how small the Ayre CODEX DAC really is.

I found that it easily competed with DACs in the $5K-$10K range, at only US $1795.00. The fact that is also has a volume control makes it even more of a bargain (although I still like using it with a preamp or – in my case – an integrated amp with DAC volume control bypassed).

This image illustrates size and connections, as well as the bicycle inner tube under the support shelf.

Initially, it was the size and weight that appealed to me, IF it could be usable, as I am always aware of the weight and bulk of all of the RoomPlay equipment that I have to struggle with on voicing sessions. Imagine my delight when it played at a magnificently high musical level, while being smaller and less expensive than the competition! Yes, I bought it...

Here’s my upgraded system, before re-installing the greenery around the cables. Sorry for the soft image, I guess I need to practice more with my iPhone.

Bottom line – most decidedly Cheap And Cheerful!

The Missing Reference

I continue to be struck by the performance level of audiophiles' high audio systems. Actually I am struck at the lack of performance…

With one possible exception, I have not heard any that performed at the level they should have achieved. Interestingly, it seems that the more expensive the system, the further it seems to fall short of its potential. Yet I see countless individuals on the various audio forums discussing the next new thing in components as if the purchase of said item will transform their system. Of course it will not, and pretty soon, they’ll be back on the audio buy-&-sell merry-go-round.

Sadly, there are almost no dealer demos or audio shows where the full musical impact of a system if delivered. Usually, it is not even close.

So it is not the fault of audiophiles. No matter how bright or gifted they may be, if they do not have a reference for what is possible, how can they know what to do to improve their systems? They simply do not have a reference for what is truly possible.

This saddens me because I cannot possibly do enough RoomPlay Reference or RoomPlay voicing sessions. But now it appears that there may be another two or three folks doing voicing sessions. YAY!!! I have not heard one of their efforts yet, but hopefully they will be better than what most audiophiles have now. I do not see them in any way as competitors. It’s as if help is on the way - and that is a good thing!

Dynamics, Presence, & Tone

By now, you probably have heard me use these terms a lot. However, I continue to believe they are fundamental to satisfying, musically engaging listening experiences.

Every RoomPlay voicing session and RoomPlay Reference listening session is built on these foundational issues. Indeed, the Through the Sound Barrier project is focused on Dynamics, Tone, and Presence as well.

I thought you might want to read some links related to employing Dynamics, Presence, and Tone for musical engagement. Here are a couple of recent threads on my favorite audio forum, AudioShark. I like it because of the people, and most importantly, the increasingly rare civility that seems to be missing all too often on the other forums these days:

  1. RoomPlay Reference - http://www.audioshark.org/hometown-meet-greet-170/day-jim-smith-8128.html

  2. RoomPlay voicing - http://www.audioshark.org/general-audio-discussion-15/my-session-jim-smith-8606.html

  3. The other Internet site I visit regularly is Jeff’s Place. FWIW, Jeff Day has contributed some wonderfully informative insights to TTSB Book One. Here is a link to Jeff’s list of favorite Christmas gifts. I highly recommend # 1 in his list – Understanding the Fundamentals of Music DVD set by Dr. Robert Greenberg. I also am biased especially to his #2 pick, especially paragraphs 2 & 3 … :) http://jeffsplace.me/wordpress/?p=8445

TTSB update

All of the Through the Sound Barrier CD licensing issues are settled. The CD has finally been mastered. Book One is complete. Book Two is waiting on the next round of edits. The DVD will be produced quickly once the first three part of TTSB are completed. The entire process has been excruciatingly delayed, but it is continuing apace.

Through the Sound Barrier - Increasing the Value of your Kickstarter investment

I want to make up for the delay in some tangible manner. I have a general outline of something that will make the TTSB investment worth much more – not going to get into it now as there is enough distraction to already go around. I believe it will make the wait even more worth it for KS backers. The handful of “trusted insiders” with whom I’ve shared the plan certainly agree.

RE: my recent Quasi-leave-of-absence

Thanks to everyone for allowing me the time to spend with Pam during her recent surgeries. Turns out I had to spend the night in her hospital room for an entire week on each occasion. Her recovery has been good and the doctors have pronounced her healed. She still has a bit of rehab to do, but all is well. Thanks again for your thoughts and prayers!

The Breaking Through podcast

I haven’t had a chance to do another Podcast lately. So there have still been nine of them.

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:

The Breaking Through Podcast (iTunes)

Questions or comments?

E-mail me: js@getbettersound.com

That’s all, folks.

Keep on listening!

Dear Get Better Sound & Through the Sound Barrier owners,

Welcome to the seventeenth issue of Quarter Notes, published on July 29, 2015. Quarter Notes is a 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 QN 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 js@getbettersound.com. Be sure to include the e-mail address I used originally, along with the one that you want to use to replace it.

Better sound for your computer audio – without breaking the bank

A few months ago, several threads began on the forums at Computer Audiophile.com. They were discussing a new device, the Uptone Audio USB REGEN.

I ignored the threads at first, but they continued to grow steadily. Finally, I took a look and discovered who was behind this tiny upstart audio company. Without going into those details, let me simply say that it turned out that I personally knew and respected one of the two principals, and I knew the other by his excellent reputation.

I am not going to waste your time listing all of the reasons why this item works so well. At the end of this article, you will find a link to the Uptone Audio website and two of the CA threads about the REGEN.

However, a few observations might be useful.

First, this only applies to those systems that use a USB cable to their USB-asynchronous-capable DAC, typically from a computer. For example, I use a MacBook Pro Retina with SSD, stripped down for only audio, sending the music signal via a Light Harmonic Lightspeed split USB cable to my Ayre QB-9 DSD DAC.

The REGEN is a small device that plugs into the DAC’s USB input. It gets fed the USB signal from my computer.

The REGEN is $175.00. It makes a difference - comparable in most systems – to components costing many hundreds - if not thousands - of dollars!

Frankly, I didn’t expect much because my digital components were very good. That’s probably why I was shocked at how greatly the REGEN improved my system.

And I still don’t see how it could make such an easily audible difference. But it does.

Bass is not just more tuneful and agile, it’s more powerful. As I am sure you do, I have a number of recordings that I thought I knew how strong their bass drum or organ notes were. This was not a subtle effect. In fact, I would wager it may even be measurable.

Instruments and vocals have a greater sense of palpability. Sounds such as guitar notes have a greater harmonic density. There seems to be more presence and even more spatial cues as well. From what I can surmise, these effects may vary from system to system, depending on the computer, DAC, and USB cable.

I bought mine directly from Uptone Audio, just like everyone else. At $175, I couldn’t bring myself to ask for an industry discount. And from what I now know that it does, I’d easily consider paying 5-10 times that price.

Apart from Get Better Sound or maybe a RoomPlay session (OK, I am hopelessly biased), I cannot think of a better buy in audio just now. And Uptone has an affordable power supply upgrade in the works as well. I definitely plan to buy that - if it does anything like I suspect that it might, I’ll report back on it in a future Quarter Notes.

In these times, when audio components are sold at amazingly higher and higher prices, the reasonable price for this item makes it a best buy. REGEN sales are way ahead of production. When I ordered mine, I paid and got in line. Don’t be put off by paying and waiting a bit. The combo of performance and price may keep this item back ordered.

I hope the audiophile community will support Alex & John. My highest recommendation.

Better hearing = Better Sound

I have begun to be aware that we have a number of audiophile readers who are enduring some level of hearing loss. In fact, recently I have had two visitors here for RoomPlay Reference sessions that exhibited fairly substantial hearing loss.

Many of you have spent a not-inconsequential sum on your systems. As I write this, I know of several audiophiles around the USA who continue to search for (and purchase) the very best components, but they have noticeable hearing loss. They will spend many thousands of dollars on individual components, but to date they have done little or nothing to address the fact that they are missing so much music.

If you have any doubts about your hearing, may I suggest that your next expenditure be a good full-spectrum (details in interview below) hearing test? Why not be sure that you can hear as much of your music as possible?

The following interview took place a few days ago. My son Randall (of podcast fame) interviewed Ken Sheehan, a well-regarded audiophile who was concerned enough for others to come out and tell his story, along with details that you might find especially useful.

Please, do not take this lightly – Ken doesn’t, and now I don’t either.

Randall: Ken, you're kind of an anomaly. No one would expect an audiophile with hearing loss issues to keep going. When did you first realize that you had hearing loss? Ken: I'm currently 77 years old. I've known that I had a hearing disability since I was eight years old. My first hearing test was done in 1946; in those days, they rarely tested hearing beyond 8000 Hz, because speech typically ranges from about 200 Hz to 4000 or 5000 Hz. Most people don't realize it, but even today most hearing tests don't run up to 15,000 Hz. And with a lot of audiophiles, their hearing starts to roll off as they get older, especially in the upper spectrum.

Randall: Was there a time when you thought, “music is not for me because I have this hearing disability”? Ken: I never looked at it that way. I always said, “I have hearing and I'm going to make the best of it.” I started when I was about 12 years old. And at that time, my hearing loss in certain bands was down about 20 dB. Now, at 77, I've moved into one spectrum where it's down as much as 50 dB. But during those days I found jazz, and I started getting interested in music: 78's, tape recorders, all things audio. I had a very supportive dad who was interested in music too.

Randall: So when did you first experience high-end audio? Ken: My first real experience as an audiophile was in high school in Greenwich Village. This was in the days of mono; there was a place called The Electronic Workshop I used to walk by, and I got interested and went in. The proprietor was fairly friendly and tolerated all of my stupid questions. My first introduction to high-end audio was hearing the Klipschorn, with Marantz and McIntosh electronics, driven by Linn turntables. And my own first real high-end speaker was a Tannoy Concentric; I had a (mono) McIntosh M30 amp and one of the Marantz audio consolettes, and a Thorens record changer: but I also had a table which was fitted with a Gray Research damping tone-arm and a GE cartridge.

Randall: What about your hearing aids? Ken: Hearing aids didn't advance much until the digital age. Analog instruments simply amplified the overall sound. But most people have a hearing curve – certain frequencies are depressed in different dB levels. So you need an instrument that doesn't just amplify the sound equally across the whole audible spectrum, but instead, you need an instrument that manages the sound. Of course, that brings a dirty word into it: equalizer. Much as they are not given their due, if you have hearing loss and you want to boost certain parts of the frequency band, they're the best things to have. Today, with digital hearing aids, you can program your hearing curve based on your actual hearing loss. It does take you out of the analog world and puts you in the digital world, together with all of the pros and cons of that.

Randall: And how do you listen now? Ken: Most of my speakers have been and continue to be Proac speakers. During the last ten years I've used tube electronics. I still play vinyl records, and I'm a big tape recorder fan: I have a couple of professional tape recorders and a number of master tapes. All during my years I've had one foot in the hearing technology world; a lot of the concepts you encounter in audio have ramifications for hearing technology.

Randall: How about hearing aids? Ken: In terms of hearing aids, the brand doesn't matter so much; what matters is what the circuitry of the hearing aid should be, and how the mics are set up. I currently have two programmable hearing aids from General Hearing out of Louisiana. They use Mead Killion's Digi-K circuits. They each have two mics – a directional one for everyday use and an omni-directional one for music listening. (Jim says, “As someone who has made countless master and broadcast recordings, this is fascinating – I always preferred omnis whenever possible for their more natural sound.”) I have three programs in each ear, one of which is a program specific to listening to music. People think you need to spend $3-5k to get good hearing aids. You don't need to go there; a thousand or two will suffice. You want an in-the-ear instrument, and also one that is vented. A lot of it has to do with the fitting of the instrument and the programming of the instrument specific to your needs. It's the music that matters. In the end, that's what hearing aids will do: allow you to listen to music longer.

Randall: How supportive do you find that audiologists are toward someone who is interested in customizing their listening for music? Is that even a focus for them? Ken: Usually it isn't. So one of the first questions to ask your potential audiologist is: “How many of your clients are musicians?” That puts them on the spot, dealing with people whose professional lives are very much affected by what they hear. Musicians have good ears, and they know when things are missing or not right. One of the things that audiologists often say is that what they do will not restore normal hearing. And with that, you need to then ask “okay, what will I be missing?”

Randall: What advice do you have for audiophiles who suspect they may have hearing loss? Ken: They have to get themselves a good audiologist. Often you're going to find this in university settings. Maybe the first step is to tap into that kind of resource – where you have a bunch of people who are professionals, and interns who are more forgiving of stupid questions and will work with you. Most importantly, a university's audiology program is maybe the best way to get a broadband hearing test: one that tests your hearing all the way up to 15k. But you really have to tell them that you want a broadband test, because most people only think about testing the spectrum insofar as it affects speech. So, find a good audiologist. Then get a good full-spectrum hearing test. Until you see your hearing curve in both ears, you're going to wonder what is it that you're really hearing: unless you know what you can hear, the reality of what you are hearing is a mystery.

Thanks Ken & Randall. If even one audiophile takes us seriously and makes the next step, we will have done a good service.

If you are interested in exploring this further, I have taken the liberty of finding some hearing aid info written for musicians:


And, as I was just about to send this Quarter Notes, Ken sent me this article:


Better health

It is no secret that I have had some health issues in the past few years. Through it all, my wife Pam has served as my ever-ready - and caring - caregiver.

Now it’s my turn to serve Pam. We just returned home here in Georgia. We were at a hospital in Florida where she spent five days with a fairly serious issue. Now she is on the mend, but it is a slow process.

On August 12, she is scheduled for dual knee surgery (unrelated to the most recent hospitalization), with the surgeon’s caution of a likely 6-week recuperation. I don’t know about you, but I personally have found that the Doctor’s estimated recuperative time period has been understated every time that I have had surgery. Maybe it’s good that the surgeons are optimistic!

Anyway, I believe that it will more likely be the end of September before she is back to her old self again. And that leads me to the TTSB update and a special announcement.

TTSB update

AFAIK, all of the Through the Sound Barrier CD licensing issues are settled. I now have on hand the 3rd effort at mastering. If approved, we’ll be good to go on the CD.

Book One is in layout – all of the editing and proofing have been done.

The DVD can be done rather quickly, but not until Book Two is complete.

The smaller and more technical Book Two is still a work in progress. Frankly, I thought I would have gotten it further along, once the CD was generally ready. But that hasn’t happened. I estimated the time I’d need based on my experience from when I worked solely on Get Better Sound. However, with my current workload (massive e-mail correspondence and a large number of phone calls), I need to take some drastic action to get TTSB completed. FWIW - I can put in full workdays every day without ever touching TTSB. ☹


Therefore, I cannot be as responsive to e-mails and calls as I have been. Between serving as Pam’s caregiver and needing to wrap up TTSB, I MUST cut back the daily routine here. 

Due to the quasi-leave-of-absence that I am taking, between now and Sept. 30, 2015 (unless I announce a different end-time), try to e-mail me only if the topic is of exceptionally high importance to you. Please enter IMPORTANT (all caps) in your e-mail subject line.

The Breaking Through podcast

We have had an overwhelmingly positive response to the Breaking Through podcasts. These sessions were promised if we met our funding goal.

Of course, back then, I had no idea that we would have produced Nine(!) podcasts and still not be shipping the product yet.

These podcasts do take time and energy, but the audio tips (generally unrelated to the status of TTSB), have been widely acclaimed. A few folks have complained, saying that they do not listen to podcasts.

In defense of Randall’s and my efforts, please be reminded that the TTSB status report always comes first – if you believe that you don’t need the tips about music & sound, at least check out the updates, which have been faithfully delivered as promised. Although I must confess that I am not sure why an ardent music lover and audiophile would not want to hear and benefit from the tips contained in the podcasts.

Finally, they got better and better (with #1 being a sort of learning experience for me) as yours truly became more confident in their production.

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:

The Breaking Through Podcast (iTunes)

Questions or comments?

E-mail me: js@getbettersound.com


Due to the quasi-leave-of-absence that I am taking (announced in Quarter Notes newsletter above), between now and Sept. 30, 2015 (unless I announce a different end-time), do try to e-mail me only if the topic is of exceptionally high importance to you. Please enter IMPORTANT (all caps) in your e-mail subject line. 

If you call and get my voice mail, be sure to mention in your message that the topic is “IMPORTANT”.

As someone who receives hundreds of e-mails and many phone calls daily, I need to be available for the most important messages where possible while completing the projects mentioned above.

That’s all, folks.

Keep on listening!