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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:

https://generalhearing.com/professional/hearing-aids/musician-aids/

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

http://www.hearingreview.com/2015/07/back-basics-heads-finally-water-hearing-aid-processing-moves-new-era/



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. ☹



Quasi-leave-of-absence

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


Reminder

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!


Dear Get Better Sound & Through the Sound Barrier owners,

Welcome to the sixteenth issue of Quarter Notes, published on October 29, 2014. 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.



Audiophile Angst

Although this article is about some issues I ran into with my own system, I am including it here as it may very well assist you with your own system – now, or perhaps in the future.


I don’t know about you, but every few years, I always seem to encounter this issue. Just when I have my sound system doing its thing, providing huge musical satisfaction, eventually some change seems to come along and it upsets my musical applecart. 


Things were really nice for several years. Then, due to some health issues that I’d had, Pam wanted to move to a one-level home. And so we did, about a year ago. We love our home.

 

But getting the sound right in my new room has been tougher than I expected. Then, when all was right with the world, and not long after we (the system and me) were singing, it came time to end my LARS distributorship.

 

Why was it time to call it to a halt? Honestly speaking, I just didn’t want to have to go out and call on dealers and do distributor stuff. I had done it for Avantgarde-Acoustic from 2000-2005 - I knew what was involved to do it right.

 

Engstrom & Ensgtrom’s THE LARS are great amplifiers. The best I ever heard. E&E deserved an active distributor. So I resigned. I sold the remaining amps back to them and arranged to ship out the demo amp I had used recently.

 

Time to find another amp.

And so the angst began.

 

Lots of folks have claimed that Tannoys benefit from a powerful amp. However, I wasn’t knocked out with the more powerful amps that I’d heard with my Tannoys. THE Lars were 36 watts/channel, and so were my Viva Auroras. My Audiopax Model 88s were 30 watts/channel. They all worked nicely with my 96 dB-sensitive Canterburys and provided musical bliss. 


Searching for more power, it didn’t matter as to the amp’s configuration – be they solid-state or vacuum tube amps. For me, it isn’t so much how they work – it’s how they reproduce music. A number of them were very good, but they didn’t have the immediacy, the connection with the music that I found with the LARS. 


During this time, I read Jeff Day’s review of the ASR Emitter II Exclusive amplifier, plus some other reviews. Jeff’s review (click here to open) was instrumental in helping me to focus my research. I’ve known Jeff since my Avantgarde days. Jeff is often in synch with what I value musically. Maybe more importantly, I know him to be a man of integrity.

 

Subsequently, after much research & listening, I finally settled on the ASR Emitter II, Exclusive version. Since this is an innovative high-power amplifier that acts like an integrated, (no need for a preamp, and it uses a special technique for ultra-transparent volume control), I could do without a preamp and the requisite IC & power cabling. Even so, with one amp section and three power supplies, The Emitter II Exclusive occupies a huge amount of real estate in any listening room  


Simple goal -- not so simple solution

Actually, I wasn’t looking to improve on what I had been enjoying. However, I WAS hoping not to slide too far backwards. After all, THE LARS with a great preamp and associated cabling was at least 3-4 times the price of the (admittedly expensive) ASR. 


Some components seem to settle in nicely after a brief period of use. But not my ASR – the “break-in” seemed to take forever. Finally, by the first week in October (2014) I felt that I had done all I knew to do for my sound with the new ASR amp. 


Admittedly, I was amazed at how tuneful the bass was. None of that over-damped quality you can get from some high-power solid-state amps. The upper mids and treble were wonderful as well. But even so, I wasn’t connecting to the music in the manner that I had enjoyed with THE LARS Type II amps. 


The range from about 250 HZ to 750 Hz just wasn’t providing the Presence & Tone that can connect you to your music. It was fine (maybe even great) by “audiophile standards”, but the musical engagement wasn’t as powerful as I’d hoped. 


I eventually did four primary things to make it happen (OK, I admit it – in the last few days, I have had the most powerful listening experiences that I can ever remember). Probably the biggest contributor to the increased musical engagement that I sought was the one thing that I never thought about until about three weeks ago!* 

  1. Slight repositioning of speakers

  2. Checked (and corrected) AC polarity

  3. Applied bamboo to the mix...

  4. Used the Ayre IBE disc, cut 7

Details

  1. Slight repositioning of speakers One thing that was particularly unsatisfying was my inability to experience the illusion of the performer being almost tangibly present in the room - as if you could walk over and physically touch the singer or their instrument. This is a powerful effect and can be transformative in your musical engagement. In Through the Sound Barrier, I emphasize the critical aspects of Dynamics, Presence, & Tone. In the particular case that I am describing here, Dynamics were good. However, Presence and Tone – as I was hearing them in late September, after the break-in process was complete - weren’t what I wanted, especially after hearing them in a musically compelling manner for several years. In TTSB, I discuss and demonstrate three types of Presence. Of course, there are not just three, but if you can get your system to differentiate between the three basic categories, you are on the way to getting the Presence issue resolved in a powerfully & musically effective manner. After some experimentation, I ended up slightly reducing the separation between the speakers. Now you might not think that bringing the speakers closer together less than an inch (in other words a half-inch or less from the centerline for each speaker) would be audible, but let me assure you that it is. I’ve been doing this for years, in hundreds, maybe thousands of systems. It’s part of the overall system voicing. In my case, I had voiced the system for this effect with THE Lars Type II amps. But it was off a bit with the ASR. This technique can affect Presence and Tone. When you have everything seemingly right with your seating and speaker locations, if you want to see if you can increase Presence and Tone, there are several techniques that can reveal the answer to you, but slightly changing the stereo speakers’ separation (more or less) is probably the most efficient (and certainly the least expensive) technique to employ. Here’s my analogy – by bringing the speakers slightly closer together, it is as if you are squeezing the performers (that were recorded to be up front) further forward into your room. At the same time, it’s as if the performers that were recorded further away appear to be squeezed a bit further back. What you have to decide is whether or not this change can improve the illusion of performers in your room (or your being transported to the performance venue). I am NOT talking about pinpoint imagery here. Real voices & instruments are not pin-point. They occupy space. Finally, as you reduce the separation slightly, your sound becomes slightly warmer. So this aspect of Tone, along with Presence, will be available for you to decide upon. Conversely, separating the speakers slightly usually results in a bit cooler sound with a bit less Presence. Note – changing separation can result in a change in toe-in, so be sure that if you have toe-in the way you like, that you make the slight adjustment in toe as well. Note 2 – when the resultant separation difference is an inch or less, I doubt that toe-in would really need adjustment.  

  2. Checked (and corrected) AC polarity I mentioned AC polarity in the GBS manual and showed the technique for changing it in the GBS DVD. If one or more of your components is connected in the opposite AC polarity from the others in your system, the result is usually a slight grunge added to the sound and a slightly artificial center fill. You probably don’t know it’s there. But once you address it, and the amusical artifacts are removed from the sonic landscape, the results are more musical involvement… Although I had checked my components long ago, it turned out that one of mine had somehow been connected in reverse AC polarity! I have no idea how or when it happened, but I sure liked the effect when I “fixed” it yesterday. Another no-charge improvement. Interestingly, the ASR-centered system benefitted from both “tweaks”.

  3. *Applied bamboo to the mix...(picture below) I had noticed the Internet message board references to bamboo shelves for a while. Of course, this wasn’t for me – I wanted a neutral and isolated mounting technique for my components. But the search for more Presence & Tone with the ASR in the system was still driving me. After some research, I decided to try a few of the IKEA APTITLIG 17 ¾” x 14 ¼” x 1 ¼” bamboo cutting boards to place on my finely adjusted Grand Prix Audio Formula carbon fiber shelves. These bamboo boards are the opposite of what I have espoused once the Grand Prix Audio systems became available, so I only tried it out of simple curiosity, driven by the search for more musically engaging sound. FWIW - I’ve always had all of my components sitting on Cardas myrtle blocks, instead of the feet. Unexpectedly, I loved the results! All of my components were now mounted on the IKEA shelves which were flush-mounted on the GPA shelves. As always, I continued to use Cardas Myrtle blocks to replace the component feet. They are under the chassis and are slightly taller than the components feet. Finally, I tried placing one IKEA bamboo cutting cutting board on top of my ASR amplifier, placing it over the thick ASR acrylic top plate. Voila!

  4. Used the Ayre Irrational but Efficacious disc, cut 7 (picture below) I mentioned IBE in GBS. I still use this cut from time-to-time. When you want to sit down and fall into your music, do yourself a favor and play cut 7 first. Doesn’t have to be loud – play it at a maximum of perhaps 50-60% of your normal listening volume. I still do not know why or how it works, but it does. Since I use computer audio, I simply select that cut in my “IBE” playlist.

  5. Emotional engagement Yesterday, I had a visitor to my listening room. This is a woman who loves music and whose opinion I respect highly. She’s always had a “no nonsense” viewpoint – she’s never been afraid to speak her mind about the sound and the impact of the music. Of course, I’m speaking of my wife. Pam has heard all of my systems over the years, including CES Shows. But something occurred yesterday that has never happened before. She started crying (!) when I played certain songs. The music had touched her so deeply. I should note that Pam had previously heard these musical selections dozens of times, but she had never experienced them so powerfully.

  6. Dynamics, Presence, & Tone Much of what I emphasize in Through the Sound Barrier is based on Dynamics, Presence, & Tone. My recent experience with my system in my room simply underlines its importance. 


What is the lesson here?

Old audiophile dogs can indeed learn a few new tricks. In my case, I applied some proven techniques along with some about which I was frankly skeptical. Then I added some that I should have had correct to begin with (it doesn’t hurt to go behind yourself, even if you have a TTSB system log).


If any of this saga makes you wonder, I urge you to try out some of these tips/tweaks. When you can crank your musical enjoyment level up to “11” with little or no expense, what are you waiting for? :) ☺ 



Greater isolation for RoomPlay Reference sessions – additional construction 


The new building/room is finally singing.

When we moved here, I did not realize that my neighbors would run very loud equipment (saws, mulchers, large lawn mowers, weed blowers, etc.) and at the most unexpected (and sometimes inopportune) times. 


I was worried that a RoomPlay Reference client would arrive, only to have our session be partially truncated due to external noises. But we’ve been lucky so far. 


Even so, it would have certainly happened in the near future, as I have a number of these sessions booked. So I set about to isolate the listening room.  


The building was originally a not-too-sturdy storage shed.  


We literally built my office and the listening room inside of the former shed. The idea was to have a very good space that didn’t hint at what was inside. This space did not lend itself to adopting advanced building/isolation techniques unless I was willing to tear it down & start over. 


With the exception of ultimate acoustic isolation from outside noise, it turned out very nicely. 


To further isolate it, some outside layers were required. This was accomplished about 6 weeks ago. 


The extra cladding is only around and above the listening room. The new window is fake. There are still no windows in my room – the fake window was included to match the windows on the house, to give it a more unified look. 



Invitation

You are hereby invited to book your own RoomPlay Reference session! According to quite a number of clients, it could be the best money you will ever spend on your audio hobby.


To read more, go here: http://getbettersound.com/roomplayreference.html



Breaking Through podcast #7 is available now

Breaking Through #7 has some interesting info about the TTSB CDs, as well as an update on the TTSB project.


Here is a link to #7:

Episode Seven: Dynamics, Presence, and Tone


Here is a link to all of the Breaking Though podcasts on iTunes:

The Breaking Through Podcast (iTunes)

Questions or comments?

E-mail me: js@getbettersound.com


That’s all, folks.

Keep on listening!


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