Quarter Notes


Dear Get Better Sound & Through the Sound Barrier owners,

Welcome to the fifteenth issue of Quarter Notes, published on April 22, 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.

Mail servers

After several issues with the outgoing mail servers on the site that we’ve always used to send the Quarter Notes and Breaking Through podcast announcements, we have decided to make a change. The announcement e-mail that you received was sent from our new mail server.

Light Harmonic Light Speed USB cable

This was an unexpected outcome, to be sure. I have been quite happy with my Transparent Audio USB cable. Never saw the need to change – music flowed beautifully. Why fix it if it ain’t broke?

When the folks at Light Harmonic offered to send me a sample (I didn’t ask – they contacted me), I said OK. Honestly speaking, I wasn’t exactly excited. But hey, I promised to give it a listen, so I did…

Lo & behold, it was better in every way. However, I have only had the original USB cable from Transparent. Their upper level models are even better, I am quite certain. I simply have not heard them.

The split USB LH Lightspeed cable is considerably more expensive. I was never a big believer in expensive USB cable differences. But anyone can hear this. It’s not subtle. For all that I know, my MBP Retina/Ayre QB-9 interface especially benefits from it.

If you can arrange a home trial, I highly recommend that you give the LH a try, and if that is more than you can spend, try one of more of the Transparent models.



Favorite audio blog

Most folks have a favorite. For a long time, mine has been Jeff’s Place. It’s not just because I know Jeff, nor is it solely because I have ALWAYS known him to a be a man of integrity, and not just because his site invites positive comments, instead of the annoying negativity that seems to appear most places these days.

I enjoy Jeff’s site because he is such an avid music lover and we share some tastes in music & equipment. His travel photography isn’t bad, either. :)

I keep forgetting to mention his site – but now that I have – check out Jeff’s Place:


Listening room dimensions

As requested:

I already told you a bit about my room issues in the latest Breaking Through podcast, as well as in the latest QNs. However, if you want still more to distract you from getting to your music, here ‘tis: 21’ x 18.5’ x 8.5’ … :)

Can't get no satisfaction?

Through the Sound Barrier is all about retrieving more of the emotional impact from your music – without changing components – and to deliver it at a consistently higher level. The goal is greater musical satisfaction.

It occurred to me some time ago that the work we (you and I) do on RoomPlay sessions has a similar ultimate goal. We want to increase your emotional involvement with your music.

But there are at least two more - somewhat unexpected - outcomes that are possible. I experienced each within the last couple of days. They can come from a RoomPlay session and they will come from TTSB. In fact, I get enough correspondence to know that GBS has delivered on these aspects as well.

Second that emotion 

Getting greater emotional impact from our music is the goal. But that’s only one thing.

Emotional impact on others is another outcome.

A RoomPlay client reported that his wife had indulged his desire for a separate listening room for many years. Occasionally, when invited to listen, she’d come in and maybe stay through one cut. But then it would be “something to do”, a “call to return”, an “errand to run”, etc… She NEVER stayed to listen.

After the recent RoomPlay session, she was again invited to listen, but this time he couldn’t get rid of her (not that he wanted to). She stayed right there, and asked to hear piece after piece. So now his man-cave is a music-cave for him and his wife.

Another report that particularly blessed me was when a former RoomPlay client went out of his way to help an audiophile friend to reach a higher level of musical engagement. He reports that he simply employed some of the techniques he’d learned.

Wow! Both of these reports are awesome – music can be such a joy in our lives, such a great therapeutic tool, that sharing it seems to be the ultimate gift. 

Can Jim voice your system when he is in the area? 

I get asked this question a lot. The answer is probably not.

FWIW - this is a working session, reasonably intense, with no time for breaks.

I cannot do two or more RoomPlay sessions on one trip, as one session is far too depleting to me - emotionally, mentally, and physically - to be fair to a second client. So each session is dedicated as a trip to that client.

If the time comes that you would like to consider a RoomPlay session, it's best for a couple of things to take place first:

  1. I'd need to see a few images of your room and the system - as it is set-up at the time. Cell-phone pics are OK.

  2. We'd then need to have a brief phone conversation to explore whether or not the RoomPlay process is appropriate for your system and room.

In the crosshairs 

On another recent RoomPlay session, a client showed me his self-leveling Skil laser rig. With a tripod mount, it has a horizontal or vertical display available, as well as a cross-hair display.

If you currently use lasers for measuring when setting up a grid, I highly recommend this gadget as well. It’s a huge timesaver, not to mention the confidence that it builds. Well, at least if you are ever-so-slightly OCD :)

And no, the second image isn’t perfectly square. That’s a camera operator issue, not a problem with the Skil laser level…

Links to Breaking Through Podcasts if you cannot use iTunes 

A few QNs subscribers cannot or do not use iTunes. However, they want to hear the podcasts. In the future, we will provide both links. But for now, here is the link to our Libsyn site - where the podcasts originate:


And the iTunes site:


How do you know if your TTSB pledge is on file?

If you backed TTSB, and if for some reason you did not receive acknowledgement of your pledge through Kickstarter, please consider the Quarter Notes e-mail that you received from the new server as confirmation that we do indeed have your pledge info on file. And any TTSB Breaking Through podcast announcements will also come from our new server. 

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 fourteenth issue of Quarter Notes, published on April 11, 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.

Finding old newsletters and receiving new notifications

A regular reader writes:

…I wanted to check what the latest issue number was - it seems to me that it has been awhile (Note, I routinely check my spam folder.). Finally, while I do save each newsletter, I was wondering if you have an archive link? It would be nice if I could just check in from time to time for each new issue rather than interrupting you with these inquires. An added benefit would be the sorting of each issue which would be vastly better than my abilities in archiving each issue.

FWIW - I am working on making the QNs more intuitively accessible - concurrent with a (badly needed) reworked website. But even now, if you look at it, the URL is predictable.

Here is a list of all QNs links. Click on each to view it.

  • Volume 1, Issue #1 Topics: Tesa tape • Master the mister • Why single-ended amplifiers can sound so good • Why single-ended amplifiers can sound so bad • Bi-wiring • Room temp/humidity/Rives • The Concert Experience • Twenty Minutes vs. Two Hours to Nirvana? • Small, medium and large listening rooms • CES 2009 quick note • Laser distance measurers and levels • RTAs • House calls

  • Volume 1, Issue #2 Topics: A question about CD technology • Bi-wiring, part two • From common sense to sixth sense – Srajan Ebaen • Three common-sense tweaks • Tweaks to watch • Tweaks to try • Sensitivity to sensitivity? • Top 10 standards of quality for high-end audio retail specialists • Message boards • Sad, but true • Hourly rate for consulting

  • Volume 1, Issue #3 Topics: The top 3 tips I keep hearing about from readers • Vinyl 101 - A few tips on the return to vinyl – Jeff Dorgay • How to Eat an Elephant • Computers and Audio – Charles Hanson

  • Volume 1, Issue #4 Topics: From recent experience • On-the-job observations • The sound of rooms • Hard drive housekeeping • Ear protectors, new basement, fluorescent lights • AC polarity tip • Questions from Italy • Music review – Geoff Poor • Absolute polarity -- controversial, but worth checking out

  • Volume 2, Issue #1 Topics: The ACK Attack and un-common Knowledge • Basics re-visited  - a little more info: subwoofer set-up, speaker separation and staging, long wall or short wall?, affordable RTA, absolute phase/polarity, sliding base for spiked speakers, rack in the middle – AGAIN!, spikes – AGAIN! • Stacking the decks with DEQX • Demystifying room acoustic treatment

  • Volume 2, Issue #2 Topics: A reader teaches me a lesson – Computer Audio • New room designs • Set-up diagrams • Stereo subs • Audio forums • Back in the saddle again

  • Volume 2, Issue #3 Topics: The new Get Better Sound DVD! • Computer audio, part two - the sound, better recordings, more involving sound, Redbook CD, Pure Music, five easy pieces, computer hardware upgrades, interview with Rob Robinson – CEO of Pure Music

  • Volume 2, Issue #4 Topics: Get Better Sound DVD • Introducing RoomPlay™ • A surprising story about voicing • Room eq systems, and a brief story • How far is too far? • Uneven speaker wire lengths • Fuses as tweaks • Sliders • Degrees of separation • Subs for every system? • Computer audio and absolute polarity • Rack ‘em up one more time!

  • Interim Volume 3, Issue #1 Topics: Nothing much to see here – just a report about some health issues that were interfering with my work.

  • Volume 3, Issue #2 Topics: Health issues and your correspondence • It’s not just babies that take nine months – the 1st comprehensive GBS DVD review is born! • Best coupling to the floor • Speaker sliders – a better solution • When sound is foremost • Mini-breakthrough in my Computer Audio system – and a tip even if you don’t use computer audio but you have a TV connected to your system • Apology re: RTAs • Balanced outputs – better or worse? • When do the best measurements NOT yield the best musical involvement? • Another instance of technically correct set-up at the expense of the music • RoomPlay Reference™

  • Volume 3, Issue #3 Topics: Half Notes, anyone? • RoomPlay™ & RoomPlay Reference™ update • New – StraightTalk • The 83% rule – NOT! • Clever and entertaining blog • SPL meter • Full-range speakers need subs too… • Auto EQ & bass levels • How to voice subs (2, not 1, of course) with full range speakers • Listening seat not always against or near the back wall • Effects and proper usage of Tube Traps • My computer audio settings – NOT • Three good questions • Effects of ear wax • Near-field listening

  • Volume 3, Issue #4 Topics: Through the Sound Barrier • A different kind of Sound Barrier • Kickstarter

  • Volume 4, Issue #1 Topics: Our FIFTH Anniversary! • Internet message boards and a continuing invitation • System priorities • Organic EQ vs electronic EQ • Ultimate tweak for Macs when used as computer music servers? • Tweaksville • Latest developments with Through the Sound Barrier • Inside info about the delay

  • Volume 4, Issue #2 Topics: Hey, you're looking at it now!

Hope this interim info will be helpful until we get the website reworked!

Also, from time to time I get e-mails from folks that haven’t received the QNs. When I check our records, they were definitely sent. So that means the newsletter link is probably going into a spam/junk filter, either on your computer or maybe at your ISP. Or maybe you need to change your QNs e-mail address. If you can adjust your incoming mail to receive ALL mailings from js@getbettersound.com, that would help.

An inexpensive RTA that works: you asked for it

In fact, many times…. ☺ Many readers have inquired about this RTA or that one. You have been especially interested in affordable units or computer programs.

For me, the primary issue is, does the microphone offer flat response in the bass? It doesn’t matter how well the program or device works if the basic input is flawed.

As I’ve written, I feel that you need a 1/3 octave device to be able to resolve differences in bass levels at various frequencies, and especially when determining the best listening position.

I have a rule for myself that I never recommend anything that I haven’t personally tested, or at least observed or heard the device in operation. So there has been little-to-no info from me in that area, as I have used the same Gold Line unit for many years, and before that, the Ivie, and before that a Bruel & Kjaer analyzer. So I have had a relatively small experience base. I did try the Radio Shack meter, along with the correction curve, but found it woefully inadequate for even my simple needs.

I use the RTA for 10-30 minutes or so, and then only to have a look at how the bass works in a given room. And by bass, I mean the boundary dependent region – say from 25-250 Hz.

Since this is the first step in voicing ANY system/room, it shouldn’t be taken lightly.

All this is to say that I recently came across and checked out an iPhone app that worked amazingly well for the info that we need when beginning the voicing process. I had heard about it, but until I actually saw what it did, I couldn’t recommend it.

I did mention this briefly on a recent Breaking Through podcast. A RoomPlay client in Vancouver, WA had it. I got to see how it measured up (pun intended) against my calibrated Gold Line DSP-30 portable 1/3 octave RTA.

This is a US $19.99 app. It’s designed to work correctly with any iPhone 5 or any iPod Touch 4G or 5G. It can work on other iPhones, iPods, & iPads, but the bass won’t be correct. The bad news - since this is the only area where we need it to be accurate, I can only unequivocally recommend those listed above. The good news - I’ve already heard from a number of TTSB backers who installed the app on their iPhone 5s - and they are thrilled.

Additionally, you need a pink noise source. The Generator function that comes with this app can provide it for you.

On the TTSB CD, I will be providing both the range from 25-250 Hz as well as 10 1/3 octave pink noise bands from 25-250 Hz. However, you can obtain pink noise sources elsewhere on various CDs. Just remember to measure the ambient sound field in your room and try to run the pink noise at approx. 20 dB above that level so as to get a reading that is not corrupted by ambient noise. As I happen to discover and verify the performance of any other apps, programs, or devices, I’ll let you know.

Here’s a link to the AudioTools website – it’s chock full of info & products. Paying attention to the explanations & functionality of this app can pay off with big rewards for very little expense:



This is a brief observation re: the effects of electronic eq and time alignment – when set to meet a measurement standard.

Do you remember how an electronic drum track sounds when you are listening? Most of the music I listen to wouldn’t have one, but when it does, I find it annoying. Maybe it’s just me…

Systems that have been set-up to measure well will generally sound very clean. Even technically precise. But from what I have heard to date, it’s not really the sort of ultimate musical involvement I’d want.

It as if all of the performers are electronically produced – sort of an electronic drum track effect for all instruments and most recordings. Listening to these systems makes me think that the system tuner had a high technical standard, but an insufficient musical standard.

Not saying that it cannot be done – in fact, I think it can. A real marriage of science & art is required. But all of the highly touted systems set up with these techniques (that I’ve heard to date) are – in a word - soulless.

Be sure to evaluate a system (especially yours) on its musical engagement, even when it measures outstandingly well. Soul music comes in many genres. ☺

The High Fidelity Report

A while back, I was reading a new audio related e-zine. I found it especially interesting. It was music-centered - the audio gear, not so much.

Uncannily, I was contacted by the publisher even as I was looking at the site! I am convinced that this wasn’t a case of Big Brother, but a simple fortuitous happening.

Chris Sommovigo had a question. Would I be interested in occasionally contributing to The High Fidelity Report?

Honestly speaking, I’ve had no interest when others asked. But this was intriguing. You may know of Chris from his importing the amazing Caliburn turntables into the USA, or maybe his cable company – Stereolab.

I expected there to be a perceived conflict of interest. Why would any manufacturer advertise on such a site whose publisher is a competitor? Who could trust the impartiality of such a site?

But that’s exactly what I saw – two acclaimed cable manufacturers advertising! Of course, having known Chris for some time, I knew the reality, not the perception – Chris is a man of integrity who loves music and the gear involved in reproducing it.

Chris explained that he had joined forces with Joey Weiss of HP Soundings. Joey has been - among many things - Harry Pearson’s set-up guy. Chris also mentioned that HP himself would join with them, as well as a number of other respected writers and observers in the audio/music field.

After meeting with Chris - who lives here in the Atlanta area - I agreed to contribute to the site. I explained that the set-back with the TTSB release would keep me away for a bit. Anyway, we agreed to go forward. I will post something in the not-so-distant future. Check out The High Fidelity Report here:


New sound room & office: dream or nightmare?

Although my building was completed in October, it’s only been about 4 weeks now that I am satisfied with the sound! Actually, I am more than satisfied – I love it! And visitors are saying the same thing, although they are a bit more animated in their descriptions than I am.

I discussed the “why” a bit on the recent TTSB Breaking Through podcast #4. Although the outcome is great now, it was touch and go for months. For starters, I made the room TOO rigid. Massively reinforced floors and ceilings, double sheetrock on all walls and ceiling, 6” studs, no windows, no intake and exhaust vents, a solid entry door (with weather stripping), etc.

This all served to make the acceptable seating area rather narrow - much more so than I could have predicted (or wanted). I knew to at least use ASC IsoDamp or a similar material, or not make the room so rigid. But NO, I figured that I could get the best of both worlds. A rather time consuming - and ultimately expensive -solution was needed. More and larger Tube Traps – and less placement versatility. My lesson learned – don’t think you can do more – or know more - than is possible. ☹

Originally, it was a sort of run down storage place for all the junk the previous owners had collected. The three garage doors as shown simply opened up into one large storage area. I wanted to redo it completely, while keeping the general look. No casual passers-by need know or guess what is inside.

In the updated image (including snow in the South!), you can see some of the exterior changes. On the inside, it’s all new. Visitors are amazed when stepping in for the first time.

I did manage to get the power company to pull a new separate line (and meter) to this building. So when Pam is running some appliances in the main house, even her glasswork kilns, it doesn’t interfere (as far as I can tell) with my music. :)

I also ran my Internet via Ethernet hardwired to the other building (our house), preserving Internet speed without the effects of being in a WiFi zone. In fact, there are six solid walls and about 150 feet between the wireless router in the house and my soundroom/office area.

The sound room and office now, from outside.

The first inside shot was taken after we got the interior mostly cleaned out. There was a second floor, but it all had to come out, as I wanted a taller ceiling and a more solidly constructed floor, walls and ceilings.

Here is an early shot as some of the construction began. That’s my office area as you look through the soundroom wall studs. Studs are 6”. One of three grounding rods at the new panel (you can see it inside - on the wall of office), which is directly mounted to a connection of to a new power cable from the power company with a short run to the transformer.

Wool carpet in listening room – no synthetics for best sound.

The room just prior to equipment load-in. The slot on the baseboard is to allow tube traps to fit flush into the corner. The lighting is adjustable, with different switches for each – no dimmers! Electrical outlets are dedicated circuits – separate from lighting and from office.

The serious work begins…

Slightly crowded office and entryway…

Just a little loving (and moving)…

As I wrote about in GBS, you start out with big movements until you can eliminate them. The image to the right doesn’t show the 12", 6", 3", or 1" positions that I ended up discarding.

These speaker positional tape marks (0.5 inch wide) - in various colors (black brown, tan & white) so that I could keep track of them, only hint at the work that was required in this room. But it was s-o-o-o-o-o worth it! ☺

A recent shot - as seen from the main listening seat.

The listening area.

Right side wall.

Left side.

Cabinet or other large item between speakers

A few readers misunderstood my comments (I wasn’t clear enough) about not having an equipment cabinet between your speakers. They thought that I was ignoring my own recommendations.

I FIRMLY stand by that opinion. As you can see in the two images below, there is no cabinet to cause reflections, and the electronics are well below and behind the speaker drivers.

Quiet, reliable, and efficient HVAC

In my travels, far and away the quietest HVAC units I have encountered have been the Mitsubishi Ductless Split Systems similar to those shown here. Nothing else even comes close – no vents required, quietest operation, dead reliable – heat and AC – energy efficient.

I used them these the last couple of years before we moved. What it came time to move, naturally they came along!

The first unit shown is painted the color of the wall to help it disappear visually. Since no one has EVER mentioned it unless I pointed it out, it must have worked! The dedicated Mitsubishi remote control is shown on top of the right channel speaker.

Another HVAC unit, in my office, but not painted to match the walls.

The Duelund outboard crossover

Rather than detail the recent crossover design & build for my Tannoy Canterburys, it seems best to simply link to an article at Jeff's Place about it for those that might be interested:

Jim Smith Checking In: The Duelund-Canterbury Crossover Project

I have included a couple of images here – at the beginning and at the completion.

Laser focused

For a while now, I have wanted a laser unit that had the tripod hole mounted centrally for even greater accuracy. The new Leica E7400x has it. Plus, although you may not think you need it, it is accurate to 1/32 inch!

The Leica is approximately the same height and depth of the Bosch I have been using, but about twice as long. I especially like the selectable timed laser measurement impulse.

More than target practice

When I bought the Leicas, I came across some lightweight and versatile laser targets. I already love mine!

Through the Sound Barrier updates

Now that the Breaking Through podcasts are up, there is no need to duplicate the updates here. FWIW - we always place the updates at the beginning of the podcasts.

Here is a link to the iTunes preview page where you can access all four episodes to date:

Breaking Through: The Through the Sound Barrier Podcast

Being syndicated by iTunes means that you can simply subscribe and any new podcast links will be sent to you automatically.

Revised website

The GBS website has not aged so gracefully over the past six years. It’s become unwieldy. We are redoing it even as I write this. It’ll make finding things easier as well as offering downloads of things that many have requested.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained

Six years ago, I was completing the final drafts of Get Better Sound. I definitely knew that I had some info to share that many audiophiles might not have.

However, it never occurred to me that I was about to enter into a new learning experience for myself. It’s not just about Computer Audio, nor even the unexpected Through the Sound Barrier CD licensing issues.

Getting & replying to thousands of e-mails, participating in thousands of phone calls as well as working personally with many of you on RoomPlay™ and RoomPlay Reference™ sessions has taught me a lot. Perhaps the most important thing is that I don’t know it all. ☺

These past few months, as Pam & I have dealt with the new house and the inevitable issues that arise, the learning curve related to sound has been unusually steep – and invaluable. Overcoming is cool!

But it took a lot of work. Don’t know about you, but I hope to always keep learning – if for no other reason than to have more to share.


Lots of folks are using this service. It turns out that a surprising number of audiophiles don’t have access to someone knowledgeable with whom they can discuss issues without either suspecting a sales agenda, or simply doubting the veracity of the information.

If you have a dealer who does right by you, StraightTalk isn’t for you. Support your dealer! But if not, check it out:


Why I can’t use the bathroom…

After mentioning sales agendas, it’s only appropriate that I mention a couple of items that I’d like to sell after our move. ☺

Here is a pic of the half bath in my new office/listening room building. Though the image doesn’t show it well, it’s full of audio equipment, mostly RPG Vari-Screens!

I need to clear these out to complete the facility. Currently, there is no room for a sink, nor a toilet. Walking out of my building over to the house solves the problem, but it takes extra time, and it isn’t exactly fun, especially on days when the weather is an issue.

This is a pic of a pair of RPG Vari-Screens in my former listening room, hinged together, acting as acoustic treatment, including bass trapping. I also used them to eliminate light and sound leakage from the dormer windows behind them.

I have 15 of these large screens (92” tall, 24” wide, 3” deep). When hinged together, they are up to 48” wide. They may be used separately or as large hinged arrays – usually with a fold at the center. I have the RPG hinge hardware.

I bought them in 2001 to create a soundroom within a very large room at CES. Each Vari-Screen has an absorptive side and an abfusive side. They worked well acoustically. We received quite a bit of sonic acclaim.

This pic shows three of them in my former room, used singly. Here they are concealing a double window and serving as an acoustic focusing element behind my speakers, as well as blocking sound from outdoors that liked to come in and spoil the fun musically. That is a pair of ASC Tube Traps in front.

These are large and I do not have packaging. So either you pick them up here, or you have a company such as Craters & Freighters pack and ship them.

Pricing (originally USD $950 each):

  • Individually – USD $299.

  • Any quantity from 2-6 – $250 each.

  • Purchase all 15 – $2625 ($175 each).

Note: These are not new, so a few have small imperfections, but nothing serious.

Also in storage are 8 ASC absorptive acoustic panels – 49” x 15” by 1”.

One is shown in front of my speaker, and one is leaning against the side of it to give you some perspective.

I have no packaging for these either.

Pricing: USD $75 each, or US $399 for all eight.

Questions or comments?

E-mail me: js@getbettersound.com

That’s all, folks.

Keep on listening!

Dear Get Better Sound owners,

Welcome to the thirteenth issue of Quarter Notes!

Quarter Notes is a newsletter for Get Better Sound and Through the Sound Barrier owners, expanding on the Get Better Sound manual & DVD set, as well as introducing new and timely subjects.

Best e-mail address

Since you’re reading this, the e-mail address that I used to notify you must have worked.  However, the only e-mail address I have is the one associated with your initial Get Better Sound order.

If you have an e-mail address that you’d prefer to use to receive Quarter Notes notifications, send it to 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.

Our FIFTH Anniversary!

Dear Reader,

It’s been a great ride.  Frankly speaking, it’s hard for me to believe that it was five (!)  years ago that Get Better Sound was first released.

Since then, tens of thousands of audiophiles have made significant improvements in their systems. How do I know?  It’s all the wonderful e-mails and calls that I get every day from satisfied owners wishing to share their experiences.

I just want to say THANK YOU and to tell you how much I’ve enjoyed working with everyone over the past five years!

Internet message boards and a continuing invitation

After writing a particularly critical piece about Internet audio message boards, my wife Pam advised me – in a positive way – not to be so negative.  :)

So I’ve removed all of that.  Except…

I often get e-mails inquiring about one thing or another that a reader has seen on one of the message boards.  By all means, please continue to inquire when the info you see is confusing.  Due to my e-mail & call volume, I can no longer reply as fully or as quickly as I once did.  But I still try to return calls & e-mails within 24 hours.  The replies may be a bit more pithy, however.  :)

System priorities

These are questions that I get a lot of the time. “What is the ratio of importance of various components?”  “What should I do next?”  “After I get xyz component, shouldn’t I get abc?” You get the idea.

Or I’ll be asked to list them in order of importance, say from 1-10.  Such as speakers – 3, source – 3, preamp – 2, amp 2, cables 1.  Oops, that’s 11, and I haven’t even mentioned the most important component!

That would be your room.  I don’t care if it’s the bedroom, the living room, or a dedicated listening room.  The listening environment is your most important component.  Then, making your system “play the room” is second.  I can make almost any decent system outperform systems with even more costly and potentially higher performance components by simply being sure that the system plays nice with the room.  And you can too.  It’s not rocket science – hey if I can do it, so can you!

Select the components that you want.  Use some common sense about matching (for example amp power vs. speaker sensitivity).  But then, don’t worry about some magic ratio. Spend a little time and enjoy the fruits of you efforts for years to come - WITHOUT succumbing to the urge to buy the next big thing.

One more thing – you may not have spent a fortune on your system.  But that doesn’t mean that you cannot have much more satisfying sound if you simply follow the basics in the GBS book, say from tips #59-89.

Organic EQ vs electronic EQ

Some of you will remember my interest in DEQX.  Although I wanted it to work, I’ve still not heard a system that was musically satisfying when overall equalization – digital or analog – was employed with 2-channel music.  In general, they can sound very correct, but not especially involving.  It reminds me a bit of the time that I managed to get the bass in my system almost ruler-flat in response.  I couldn’t wait to hear it.  Then, after hearing it, I couldn’t wait to get it back to where it had been…

That’s not to say that such digital EQ cannot possibly be musically compelling.  All I can say is that I’ve yet to hear such a system that wasn’t more precise than profound.  So I still don’t know for certain if it can be done.

I’ve come to think of physical adjustments that you can do in your room as Organic EQ. When voicing systems, I have called it RoomPlay.  Whatever the name, you can dramatically improve your sound without having to resort to electronic manipulation.

If your system is already EQ/d electronically, I am not suggesting that you undo it.  I would suggest that you first try to do everything you can to make your system sound its best without eq.  Then when you do re-introduce it, it may have to work less hard.  Use the eq to touch up small areas, but don’t use it as an overall band-aid.

Here’s an example – it’s only opinion - I am not representing it as a known fact.

If you have a mid-bass peak in your room, you could possibly reduce it with EQ.  And that may be your best choice.

But remember that the peak is almost certainly from a room resonance.  When you turn it down by eq’ing it, you are simply turning that whole frequency area down in amplitude. Actually, you haven't removed the resonance from part of the sound.  Its percentage of the fundamental will still be similar, only turned down a bit (well, it will usually be a somewhat smaller percentage to some extent because it’s not resonating as loudly).

So this correct-amplitude bass note will still contain an inordinate amount of resonance even if it is reduced electronically.  Why not find the place in the room that doesn’t contain that peak to start with?  Then the bass will be more tuneful and be more likely to be musically engaging.

Of course, bass traps can help also, though they are not inconspicuous or inexpensive solutions.  But they ARE organic.  :)…

HOWEVER, because the new DEQX addresses certain speaker issues before eq’ing the room, it’d be the one I recommend if I still felt inclined to go down the eq path.

Ultimate tweak for Macs when used as computer music servers?

I wish I knew more about using PCs for music, but I switched to Macs about thirteen years ago.  So if you have a PC that you use for your computer music source, you can ignore this – although some of the concepts would certainly be applicable in the Windows world as well.

Back in January of 2012, I was advised of a program that could make quick work of shutting down unneeded programs when playing music from my MacBook.  Disabling these programs when listening to music is a good thing.  Why slow down your computer needlessly?

My advisor knows his stuff.  But he doesn’t like notoriety.  If I told you his name, he might kill me – or something.  ☺

The product is Cocktail.  You can find it here:  http://www.maintain.se/cocktail/

I use it to do a lot of things – many automatically:

  • Enable or disable journaling

  • Repair disk permissions

  • Set disk sleep (spindown) time

  • Enable or disable Sudden Motion Sensor

  • Run periodic maintenance scripts

  • Purge inactive memory and optimize virtual memory usage

  • Enable or disable virtual memory swapping

  • Manage Spotlight indexing

  • Erase Spotlight indexes

  • Modify Time Machine settings

  • Change startup mode or set startup delay

  • Force empty the Trash

  • Disable Notification Center

  • Clear system caches

  • Clear user caches

  • Clear font caches

  • Clear virtual memory swap files

  • Clear temporary files

  • Clear Internet caches

  • Clear cookies, download lists, form values and history files

  • Clear Adobe Flash Player caches and cookies

  • Search for corrupted preference files

  • Delete unnecessary localization (language resources) files

  • Delete locked or inaccessible items

  • Customize look and features of Finder, Dock, login window and other system services

  • Modify hidden settings of Safari, Mail, iTunes and QuickTime X

  • Clean, repair and optimize your system with one click of the button

  • Schedule clearing of caches and log files, repair of disk permissions and run of periodic maintenance scripts

  • And more…

People are always amazed at the sound quality I get from my computer audio.  They are often quite sure that I must be using hi-res audio files.  But I don’t.  I use ordinary 16/44 files for voicing, because they are the kind that anyone can get.

Now I am NOT saying that Cocktail alone is the reason for the good sound.  On the other hand, it certainly didn’t hurt…

Also, I’m not affiliated in any way with the guys at Maintain (producers of Cocktail).  In fact, I have never even talked with them.  But I’ve found this utility to be invaluable.  And right now they have a special price of just $14!

Computer Audio clarification

In order to be perfectly clear about my computer audio, let me say that I use a MacBook Pro.  I run the music with digital music programs, either Pure Music or Audirvana+. Output from the MBP is via Asynchronous USB through a Transparent Audio USB cable to my Ayre QB-9 dac.

I say this because some folks have thought that when I referred to Computer Audio, they thought that I used the MBP directly to the preamp.  I don't think that technique would be very good.


Although I focus on the importance of getting your system placed so as to make the biggest improvement in sound, I’m still not above the occasional tweak now & then.

I don’t write much about most tweaks because I don’t want to give the impression that they are as important as some folks tend to think.  In the case of the one I will depict below, it is worthwhile in a few known cases – first, when you have carefully extracted the best sound from your system, especially following GBS steps #59-89.  And second, when your music listening room is carpeted.

This is a small improvement in sound.  In my opinion, it will be different in most systems, but will only come across as a noticeable improvement when all else that I mentioned has been accomplished, and when your cables are lying on a carpeted floor.  For the money spent, it’s a worthwhile improvement in my own system.

I had some Cardas blocks lying around that I had used as footers for some components in the past.  I decided to try using them as isolation footers for all of my cables.

In the past when I had tried various cable elevators, they didn’t seem to make much difference - if any.  But I realized that I had been using them on a hardwood floor at the time.

When I tried the Cardas blocks (as well as some brands of cable elevators), I was surprised to note a slight increase in clarity and focus.  When I cheated and got the Cardas blocks higher by stacking them, the sound marginally improved again.

So I decided to try a home-made rig that would cost less.  Hopefully, it’d be even better than what I’d tried.

I wanted a little more height, good floor-borne isolation, and the qualities that I liked with the Cardas blocks.

So I went up to my local Lowe’s Hardware store and hung around, looking at various options of wood blocks and such, either premade or something that I could easily make.

I won’t list all of the options that didn’t turn out so well, except maybe one.  I tried 4 x 4 wood pieces cut to various lengths.  Definitely sounded different, but not more interesting musically.

Don’t remember what made me think to try it, but I finally came up with a good combination.  Of course, that often means that it’ll be ugly to look at it.  In this case, I managed to score high on the ugly scale.  But more about that shortly…

Below is an example of how I had been using the Cardas blocks:

I ultimately settled on some rubber pipe couplers as support for the Cardas blocks.  They are about 3.5” long and 2.25” in outside diameter.  They come with two steel bands around them, to facilitate tightening the fittings over the pipe.  I removed the steel bands.

The couplers are shown below:

You can see how I used the couplers to support the blocks, first as shown below, then, below that, in actual use.

First, how did they work?  Pretty darn well.  Not only was there greater clarity & focus, the bass was even more tuneful.  Not a jaw-dropping experience, but easily worth the money.  I would assume that you could cut small blocks of wood, or have them cut, or do what I did – use the Cardas blocks.

There are a couple of downsides (and aren’t there always a few?):

  1. The rubber definitely has a strong rubber odor.  With time – a few days - it will pretty much go away, or you could spray the couplers with some kind of deodorizer.  I just waited it out.  :)

  2. As mentioned, this is an especially unattractive solution.  That’s why, in all of the images of my room, you see greenery on the floor.  It’s there to hide my ugly cables and cable risers.

Ultimately, I did reduce the amount of greenery from what you see in the image above, but it is still there to hide the cables and cable risers.  The reason I reduced it was that it slightly reduced the liveliness of the sound.  Not huge, but noticeable.

That’s all from Tweaksville.  I could write more of these, but will wait to see whether you are mostly offended or you like this kind of stuff.  :)

Latest developments with Through the Sound Barrier

This update was recently sent out through Kickstarter.  Since the majority of TTSB backers are GBS owners, I thought I’d post an edited/updated version here as well:

New Developments!

Update #16 · July 10, 2013

Hello TTSB Backers!

First, there's some not-so-good news and then there are several great developments.

Let's get to the not-so-good news first.

Pam (my lovely wife, who many of you have met) has quietly been looking for a single story house. She had a long checklist. Frankly, I never gave it much thought, as her list had a lot of requirements. Anyway, a few weeks ago she found the place she wanted, we made an offer, and the next thing I knew, we ended up purchasing it.

(If you are interested, you can get more details just below this update – see Inside info about the delay)

We begin the big move on August 11!

Now, instead of not giving it much thought, I'm having to give it a LOT of thought. Life as I've known it is completely disrupted. My office and sound-room have to be dismantled, as well as my equipment storage room.

This will delay the completion of the TTSB project.

That's the less-than-good news.

However, quite a few good things have come out of this unplanned event:

  • I have time to start the Breaking Through podcasts. In fact, the first one will be completed in less than 30 days! Additionally, I want to lead off with answering some of YOUR questions. E-mail them to me at jim@getbettersound.com, and I'll pick the questions that seem to be the most interesting. When the podcast is ready, I'll send you an update with instructions for tuning in when it's most convenient for you. Thereafter, they'll be coming every 30 days or so. Imagine this as Quarter Notes (which will continue), only the podcasts will be live and even more timely.  And they'll include interviews with some interesting folks, not only in the audio industry but also ordinary 'civilians'!

  • I have to design & build a new listening room. I'm going to include a section about it in the TTSB book, detailing the decisions that I had to make and listing the ones that you should consider if you plan to build a room or if you simply want to know some basic things about improving your listening room.

  • The new sound room and my office will be included in a building adjacent to the new house.  A photo of the building is below.  Although I want to leave the outside looking very plain (as it does now), internally it will be transformed from a large storage building to my office and a purpose-built-and-designed sound room, also on one floor as are all the rooms in the house (which is a few steps away).  This is a huge project, but it’s one that I am looking forward to getting started.

  • I have decided to shoot some of the TTSB DVD video in the new room. This will make it even more relevant. And I will include some images/info from the current (soon to be old) room.

  • The new RoomPlay Reference sessions should be even better!

  • I'll include both rooms  - and my personal notes about each - as examples/guidelines in the System Log. I cannot imagine having a musically compelling system without a system log that documents how I got there, as well as providing a record in case something inadvertently gets changed.

  • The System Log is so important that I have decided to include it at no charge for everyone who has backed the TTSB project at the Early Bird Barrier Buster level or higher!

  • If you are one of those who paid the $15 to get the System Log, you have several choices: I can send you two (you may likely want to have both at some time). Or I can send you a second 2-CD set. Or I can refund the $15. Just let me know.

  • I’ve come up with a way to get the functionality of a Real Time Analyzer (as I use it when voicing systems) without the expense of buying one like mine. I’m gonna include that with the CDs.

Inside info about the delay

When I sent Update #16 out on Kickstarter, I didn’t give any background on our upcoming move, because that’s a public site.  However, I wanted to give you a bit more insight here, in the relative privacy of Quarter Notes, vs. using a public site.

Maybe a brief history will be helpful.

Prior to my serious auto accident in early 2008, I was performing as a consultant to several high-end manufacturers and dealers, as well as continuing to serve a few loyal audiophile clients.

In addition to destroying the car, the wreck left me with a broken back that would eventually require surgery.  I was pretty much unable to move freely for a number of months.  

Those of you who have been here know that this is a two-story dwelling.  Our bedroom, my office and my sound-room are all upstairs.

Due to my inability to travel, I had to give up my consulting business. The Get Better Sound project came out of being unable to do much except to sit at my computer.

The effects of the wreck were considerably more far reaching than I would realize for several years.  My numerous health issues in 2011 & 2012 were related to that event.  At least two good things did come about as well:

I decided that I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives.  Hey, this is not a soap opera – it’s just what happened.  :)

GBS was conceived and developed as a result.

Meanwhile, Pam was functioning as my caregiver as well as to her mother.  Sadly, we lost her mother early this year.

Fortunately, I am probably in better shape than I have been since late 2007.  :)

Pam decided that she never again wanted to have to live in a two-story home.  She wanted the inhabitants to be able to get around easily on one floor.  Her theory was that it would be much better to find such a place before we actually HAD to find one under duress.

Meanwhile, the TTSB project – conceived in 2012 (but not the Kickstarter part of it) continued to evolve.  Now that I am about 80% done with the book (by far – the most time consuming aspect of the project), everything has practically come to a halt – at least for several weeks.

Originally my private TTSB delivery date had been August 15.  Because I am waiting on contracting bids, I am unsure of when the new room will be ready.

And, dismantling everything and packing up takes much more time than I thought.  :(

I estimate mid-to-late September now.

As promised, I will document some of the relevant sound-room developments pictorially, as well as provide a description.

An invitation

Interestingly, in the past few months I’ve received a large number of notes from folks who say that they missed out on the TTSB project and wonder if they could still take part. Though the Kickstarter aspect has ended and the RoomPlay and RoomPlay Reference pledges have sold out, it’s still possible to take part in the project and save a little money as a reward.  If you are interested, simply send me an e-mail at js@getbettersound.com and we can set it up.

Sign off

That’s about all I can fit in this Quarter Notes. Hope you found it helpful, or at least interesting.

Please write with any questions, comments, or suggestions. See you next time!

Best regards,

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