Quarter Notes


Dear Get Better Sound owners,

Welcome to the twelfth issue of Quarter Notes!

Quarter Notes is a quarterly newsletter for Get Better Sound readers, expanding on the Get Better Sound manual, as well as introducing new and timely subjects.  This issue definitely has a new subject!

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.

Through the Sound Barrier

I’ve waited to release this issue of Quarter Notes until my new project was ready – Through the Sound Barrier. It’s ready now, and I want to tell you how and why it came to be.

As many of you know, I never expected to be doing over 50 (!) RoomPlay™ voicing sessions in the past 4 years. In fact, when I wrote GBS, the thought never occurred to me. It was you – the Get Better Sound owners - that requested it, and after I did a few, and I saw how well they were received, that I decided to give the sessions a name – RoomPlay™.

In the same way that I originally never thought about doing voicing sessions all over North America, neither did I expect to learn something as important as the discoveries I made on these voicing sessions. These findings tugged at me as I tried to think how to apply what I had learned. Finally, I decided to offer this info in a usable format for all audiophiles who love music. The question was – what format would work best?

I knew that it couldn’t be just a book. Nor could it be just a DVD. At the very least, the project would require a book, a very special CD, and an informative DVD.

On top of that, there’d be questions, some of which might have or require a very timely application. So I decided to include podcasts, as well as the Quarter Notes newsletters – just like the ones you’ve received.

The idea is to provide the potential for achieving what my RoomPlay™ clients have received (and potentially even more). Why? Because I do not plan on doing RoomPlay™ sessions for more than another 12 months or so. 

Those who have done these sessions with me know that it is an intense time. For me personally, it’s very draining – emotionally, mentally, and physically. My boss (AKA Pam Smith) has expressed concern at the condition that I’m in when I return. Hey, all jobs are draining. Maybe I take mine too seriously, but when SWMBO (She Who Must Be Obeyed) is concerned, I need to pay attention. :)

Here’s the main thing that I have observed - over and over. It seems that the better our components are, the greater are the opportunities to encounter barriers to enjoying our music! With very few exceptions, I’ve seen it almost consistently. In fact, some of the most advanced systems I ran into were initially the least satisfying from a musical involvement standpoint!

But it’s not just the most advanced systems that can cause trouble – it’s any audio component system that an audiophile assembles in the hope of getting better sound and hopefully, greater musical enjoyment. I know that this seems counter-intuitive – how can it be?

A different kind of Sound Barrier

Thinking about how to describe what I have observed - and have known for a while (this is not a recent phenomenon; I just never recognized it for what it was), the simplest description is sound barrier. Sounds become a barrier to ultimately allowing the music to speak to us in a powerful way.

Here’s what happens – as our systems get better - and we think about getting them even better – at some point they become good enough to make some really interesting sound. In fact, we think about the sound and compare it to the sound that we have heard – or heard about – from other systems. I have no issues whatsoever with an analytical look at our systems from time to time. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I mean that listening to the cool sounds can slip in front of our goals as music lovers. Listening to “audiophile sound effects” can become a distraction from the main event. We don’t even recognize it when it happens.

In my experience, most systems that are created to reproduce this type of hyper-detailed, clinical sound generally fall well short of the musical involvement that they could easily produce.

Amazingly, at the very moment that I was typing (1-26-13) the paragraph above, an e-mail came in from a RoomPlay Reference™ client. It is exactly on point. Since my client was local in the Atlanta, GA area, I had gone to hear and evaluate his system. It was technically VERY good. It played all the things that we as audiophiles expect a great system to play. But when I heard it, I recognized its great qualities and one that wasn’t so great – it was musically boring.

In his RoomPlay Reference™ session, we had gone through the issues that he could address to lift his system to another level. His response was so pertinent that I asked him for permission to quote part of his note. He said:

Wow!!! I'm actually sitting here just about reduced to tears listening to Lucinda Williams sing "Blue." Holy crap! Think I'll stop for a while and listen to music; there is so much stuff I want to hear right now. Everything sounds different but fantastic in its own way. This is incredible Jim. Can't thank you enough.

Then, he sent this additional note last night (1-27-13). Quoted and edited for brevity with his permission:

I never would have had this happen without your help. Forty years I've been trying to find this experience. I'll be up all night.  Now it's Clannad; harmonies are stunning, rich, and pure, like being surrounded by a choir of angels.

One more on 1-28-13:

Before last night, yes it all sounded good and very technologically advanced, except that now the system is absolutely compelling to listen to. In fact, I'm taking the afternoon off to get an early start on a listening session so I don't have to stay up so late!

In case you are not a Lucinda Williams or Clannad fan (or even if you are), this is NOT about what kind of music you like. I promise you that YOUR music has another level of involvement available. You only have to want it.

The (sound) barriers to this higher level of enjoyment are not insurmountable. In fact, I took this client through what he needed to do (as a kind of test - though to be fair – he didn’t know it). With my help, HE accomplished this level.

That's the crucial point. I did not voice his system: he did. That is what Through the Sound Barrier is all about.

It’s about empowering audiophiles to reach another level of musical involvement. Once they know how, it’s eminently achievable. That is what Through the Sound Barrier is all about.


In order to produce the items I listed above (TTSB Book, DVD, CD, the Breaking Through podcasts & Quarter Notes newsletters) – all of which are necessary to make this project really work for you – it will cost me a lot of money. So I’ve decided to make it a Kickstarter project. If you don’t know what Kickstarter is, I’ll provide a link below.

There are three primary – and related - reasons that I put this on Kickstarter, rather than just doing it:

  1. As I mentioned, it’ll cost a lot to do it right.

  2. Honestly speaking, I’m not sure that enough audiophiles will embrace this concept.

  3. With Kickstarter, I can find out if there is enough interest so that I am willing to fund the balance - the major part of the expense.

One more thing

If this project appeals to you, I invite you to share it with your audiophile friends.

Let's go then!


At the top of the page, there’s a short video. I’d suggest watching that first, then reading the description of Through the Sound Barrier below it. Afterwards, check out the pledge rewards on the right side.

Also, since you are a valued Get Better Sound owner and Quarter Notes reader, I’m giving you approximately 24 hours advance access before the public is made aware of it.

Sign off

Hope you like TTSB and that you want to get involved with the project!

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

Best regards,

Dear Get Better Sound readers,

Welcome to the eleventh issue of Quarter Notes!

Quarter Notes is a quarterly newsletter for Get Better Sound readers, expanding on the Get Better Sound manual, as well as introducing new and timely subjects. This issue focuses on answering a few of the many questions I receive. I’ve chosen some of the inquiries that should have the most impact. Of course, you’re invited to send more questions. As always, I’ll try to answer them individually, but occasionally I may wish to feature a few of them as I have in this issue.

Of course, this issue is not just about answering questions. Instead of describing everything, why don’t we get started?

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 list the month of purchase (if possible), and definitely include the e-mail address I used originally along with the one that you want to use to replace it.

Half Notes, anyone?

This issue - as well as the last one – is very late. In fact, at this rate, maybe I should change the name from Quarter Notes to Half Notes! Naturally, I have several excuses – you can pick the one that you like best…

As many of you know, from late fall last year and though the spring of 2012, I was almost incapacitated as a string of four(!) separate health issues arose, one after the other. As someone who often goes several years without even catching a cold, this was something of an awakening.

But hopefully, that is all history now, as I’m back in good health, and traveling around North America performing RoomPlay Sessions, as well as hosting a number of RoomPlay Reference sessions here.

So I could blame this second late-issue-in-a-row exclusively on my health, but hey, I’ve got more!

I admit to being distracted with another project. It’s a combination of a new book and a couple of CDs. You could say it’s sort of a voicing kit, but with much more useful info as well. It’s all about taking audiophiles to the next step. When I wrote Get Better Sound four years ago, I was unaware of the need for this audiophile toolkit.

It was only after traveling around, voicing systems and answering thousands of e-mails that I noticed a consistent trend that I hadn’t known even existed. So I decided to see what I could do to strengthen the ear/heart connection when listening to music.

It consists of the info I found that audiophiles still needed, and includes a couple of CDs full of music to use as voicing tools, along with the instruction section. The primary hold up (and expense) now is licensing the various cuts.

Here is the working title for the book/cd kit. Of course, it’s subject to change… :)

Finally, I’ve been waiting for a while for an article promised by a knowledgeable reviewer, but decided not to wait any longer. Maybe next issue…

RoomPlay Update

Last fall, when I had to stop traveling, I had around twenty(!) RoomPlay sessions booked/pending. Then, during the winter and spring, I received even more applications/serious statements of interest.

As of the end of this August in 2012, I will have successfully completed nearly 75% of those sessions! So we are almost back on track. If you have interest, let me know so we can get it scheduled.

Of course, sometimes the obstacles to getting the job done satisfactorily are sufficient to preclude my taking the project. As always, we will discuss your situation and see if it makes sense to do it.

RoomPlay Reference Update

The response to this service has been stronger than I expected. I guess the notion of finally having a reference is appealing. The cost includes the session, and the reference cuts made available to the client, as well as the expense being credited in full in cases where the Reference client wishes to have a RoomPlay session.

New – StraightTalk

Some time ago, I realized that I could not take every call and answer each e-mail in detail. So far, I’ve tried to stay relatively current with communications.

At the suggestion of a trusted advisor, I’m offering a new service that is designed to offer individualized telephone assistance. Please note that, while I am biased in your favor, I cannot recommend specific brands over others. This is about making what you already have – or plan to have - perform at a higher level. It’s called StraightTalk.

Here is how it works:

Simply go to the Store page on the GBS website - http://getbettersound.com/

You can use a credit card or PayPal. You will note that the charge is USD $30 for 25 minutes. When I receive your payment, I will send you an e-mail to set up a time to talk. Unless I am out of the office on a RoomPlay session, you’ll get an e-mail within 8 hours or so. Usually much less.

If I am out, you will still get a reply within 24 hours.

I will provide you with the phone number and discuss the best time to call.

If it turns out that you want to add additional time during our discussion, you can simply add it on the website with another purchase. So we can keep talking if desired.

This service is primarily intended for those who do not have an unbiased source for reliable info. If you have a trusted source, and that actually includes a few dealers, by all means support them by continuing to refer to their expertise.

The 83% rule – NOT!

I still see comments referring to my 83% rule. Sheesh!

It’s a suggestion for a starting point, not a rule. If I wanted to create a pun, I might say that, as a rule, you should start at 83%... :)

Clever and entertaining

Recently, I found a blog that – especially if you are married – I think you will enjoy.

It’s called The Audiophiles’s Wife. Since Pam has been my Audiophile’s Wife for over 40 years, I showed it to her. We both got a big kick out of it (though for different reasons). We had to go back into the blog archives and read every post. Each one was worth it.

If you are male and married, show it to your wife if you dare.... :)


SPL meter

I often get asked, “Which one do I recommend?” Actually, the basic Radio Shack meter is good enough for casual home listening SPL measurements.

I do NOT recommend it for frequency response measurements, even if you use the so-called correction curve.

In reply to what is a better meter, here is one that is relatively affordable. I use and recommend it:

Galaxy Audio CM-140 Check-Mate SPL Meter:   http://www.galaxyaudio.com/CM140.php

Full-range speakers need subs too…

But not necessarily to achieve someone’s notion of “better bass”.

No matter how deep or authoritative the bass from a “full-range” speaker may be, no matter if it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, it’s probably not going to let you have your (audio) cake and (hear) eat it too.

For example, here are just a few of the large and/or expensive speakers that have benefited from subs: Wilson, YGA, Magico, Vandersteen, Tannoy, etc.

Are they somehow deficient in the bass? Absolutely not. It’s about having the smoothest and deepest bass speaker location coincide exactly with the other requirements for great sound. Coincide is a good word, because it would be a huge coincidence if it ever happens!

It’s really simple. When you place your speakers for the absolute best overall presentation, with maximum intimacy, presence, tone, etc., as well as a convincing spatial reproduction, there is almost no chance that the same place will be the best position for the best bass. In fact, I’ve never seen it happen. Sometimes it can be close, but I’ve never heard a system that didn’t perform at a higher level with properly matched and integrated subs. Of course, properly matched and integrated is the key…

That does not mean that you have to go out and buy a pair of subwoofers. Perhaps your budget or room couldn’t easily accommodate them.

It does mean that you do have to make YOUR best choice for the most acceptable compromise. For me, I’ll take the smoothest bass I can get and opt for the best intimacy, presence, tone, spatial performance, etc., instead of getting deeper bass.

For example my Tannoy Canterburys are relatively flat in my room to a bit below 30 Hz.

I have a pair of REL subs that are placed for their highest performance. They are rolled off at 23 Hz. They are never audible as a source of sound. But there is no disputing the system’s reproduction of the sense of the venue and the presence of seemingly live persons & instruments in the room.

In my case, I did it for a more compellingly musical sound, not for “better bass”. Maybe on 1-2% of the recordings that I play, I might notice the bass being a bit deeper or more authoritative, but the rest of the time, I’m never aware of the subs.

Well, except for the fact that the listening experience is so much more involving, and I know one of the reasons why.

Auto EQ & bass levels

Before we discuss voicing subs, I want to mention a couple of potentially relevant topics.

  1. There’s a lot of discussion regarding the merits of auto-equalization programs. In fact, I see and hear very few negative viewpoints. I don’t want to appear negative here, so perhaps cautionary would be a better term. One red flag for me is expecting that some designer in a room far away will have the final say over what sound I should have in my room. For example, the flattest response may not take into account how my room performs at various frequencies. Although I’ve had some recognized experts eq the bass for me – and they were IN the room when they did it – I still found that I didn’t actually find the music to be as compelling as I’d like. It still needed a human touch here and there. Auto eq – assuming an omnidirectional condenser mic of decent quality is used – can be a great starting point – at least potentially. Just don’t expect it to be the final word for your sound. Also, I am referring to the frequencies below 300 Hz. I do NOT recommend eq of higher frequencies unless the system is exceedingly sophisticated AND unless the eq is performed by a knowledgeable acoustic expert who can successfully apply his knowledge to musically audible improvements. I don’t use it, but if I were to do so, I’d probably look at the DEQX system.

  2. As always, bass levels should be set with the sound of acoustic instruments or voices, and NEVER set by using recordings for their bass information.

How to voice subs (2, not 1, of course) with full range speakers

First, it must be said that I am assuming that you have some flexibility in speaker placement. If you do not, you may want to skip this section as it is long and a bit detailed in areas that you cannot apply.

Obviously, you will be adjusting one sub at a time. :)

At least have some measurement tool such as the SPL meter that I recommended above – do NOT assume that the Radio Shack meter is good enough – even when using it’s “correction” curves.

Subs are not cheap. I would add the (relatively small) price of a good meter to the price of the subs, or I wouldn’t begin to consider subs.

First, measure the ambient SPL of the room. Since we will be measuring low frequencies, set the meter to C weighting, slow decay.

Once you measure your room’s ambient level, it’s a good idea to measure bass levels at about 20dB above that level to be certain ambient noises are not interfering with your measurements.

Whenever I voice systems that have subs with full-range speakers, I do not turn on the subs until I have the main speakers singing as best as I can. Essentially, I am voicing the main speakers as if I didn’t have the subs at all.

Then, when the main speakers are sounding great, I disconnect them and power up the subs.

In this case, I never use the crossovers that come with most subs. Essentially the subs are running in parallel with the main speakers.

The first thing I do is find out where the subs seem to be working best. In my case I use a RTA (real time analyzer) to save time. If you are placing them without a RTA (as I wrote in the last issue, in most cases consumers don’t need nor should they spend the money on a RTA), then try several locations until you find one that isn’t producing significantly unequal bass tones, with some frequencies too strong and some reduced. You are not likely to get dead-flat response. You’re looking for the relative difference between third or sixth octaves to be as smooth as possible.

Because I’m using a RTA, I use pink noise for my tests. For your tests, a recording with warble tones or third octave pink noise sections can work well with a SPL meter. As I mentioned earlier, you should at least have an SPL meter such as the one I mentioned, or better.

Once you find the general best location, then you need to try pointing the subs in various directions in a 360-degree circle. Don’t assume that because the subs are front-firing that it means they should be pointing straight ahead. I find that I can never predict what the best position or direction will be. Different directions are possible, if not likely, with asymmetrical rooms or placement. For example, one sub could be pointing reasonably straight ahead, and the other could be pointing in any direction. That’s because the subs may excite the room’s eigentones differently.

The image below is of my right channel REL B1, directly behind the right Tannoy main speaker. Note that it is facing backwards. Disregard the connection box on top of the REL – this was taken when I was trying out various super-tweeters.

You will note that while your subs may be near the main speakers, their performance is going to be best at a slightly (sometimes greatly) different position.

If it is a greatly different position (say a meter or more away from the mains) then you may have another compromise to consider. In my experience, assuming an average-sized room (say, roughly 5M x 4M or larger), if you position the subs too far away from the mains in a front-to-back direction, the sound may not hang together as well, especially if you are bringing the sub in above 30hz.

That’s because it doesn’t stop immediately at your chosen roll-off point, but continues to make bass at higher frequencies, even though there is progressively less of it.

These higher frequencies may have much more difficulty blending with the mains due to time/phase relationships. If you are further than a meter behind the mains and if you are crossing over in the range of 30Hz or higher, you may want to look for an alternate position a bit closer, if for no other reason than to try it as a second choice.

Now turn on the main speakers that you have already voiced. Once you have a reasonably adequate bass volume level chosen, it’s time to check phase. Pretty much all good subs have a phase/polarity switch. Play some simple music or test tones in the crossover region and see which way has the most output.

Often, I find that I can still use solo vocals that are reasonably deep. Whichever position places the vocalist or instrument more forward with more body is the best phase/polarity. Naturally, I’m referring to switching both subs, one polarity or the other.

Once you have the correct polarity, it’s time to fine-tune subwoofer level and crossover frequency. As I explained in the GBS DVD set, remember that since you are not using an electronic crossover, turning up the bass level also is effectively raising the crossover point.

Similarly, lowering the bass level effectively lowers the bass crossover point. You want to reproduce your music with the overall same bass and lower-midrange quality on most music, as if the subs are not playing. This process will take you a bit of time. When you get it right, you should never feel the need to get up and adjust it again.

Finally, you need to balance the subs. The chances are that while you now have the sound pretty well balanced - bass through midrange – that one sub may be louder than the other. Cut off the main speakers. Run pink noise on one sub, then the other. It’s important that you know that you know that one is off when the other is on. It’s very easy to make a mistake, because the subs are not producing much output. Use your SPL meter to find out how loud one sub is, then the other. If they are out 2 dB, add 1 dB on the lower one, then reduce it equivalently on the other until they are both even.

Turn the mains back on and listen again. If the bass-to-mid balance is now is out slightly, adjust both subs equally until you have it as you want it. With the subs’ output balanced left-to-right and top-to-bottom, you are done! It is time to reward yourself with MUSIC!

You may say that this is a lot of effort and expense for “the ultimate tweak”. And it is. Only you can decide if you want to have the results badly enough to do it.

Listening seat not always against or near the back wall

This is another thing that I see posted in various places. I mentioned that in some rooms that you might find the smoothest bass nearer a back wall. Not against the wall, but sometimes near it – say 16-30 inches.

But as with the 83% issue, this is a suggestion, not a rule. I’d say that about 25% of the systems I voice may end up with the speakers well into the room and the rear seat closer to the rear wall.

You need to go through the Three-Step set-up in the GBS book & DVDs to determine where it will be in YOUR room.

Effects and proper usage of Tube Traps.

I get so many questions about this topic that it seems worthwhile to clarify it a bit.

First, if you are using or plan to use Tube Traps as bass traps to even out the bass in your room, know that anything more narrow in diameter than 16” is not going to affect the fundamental bass resonances.

13- and 11-inch traps are best used as first reflection point devices as well as offering the ability to affect the spatial and even the tonal presentation in the room, because all of them have a reflective vertical strip in one area that can be rotated to give you the sound that you like. Just don’t think of the smaller diameter traps as bass traps – at least not in the mid-to-lower bass area.

In dedicated rooms – and where the budget allows – we will often have a column of 16” traps in the front corners, and when possible, in the rear corners. If the room is well above average in size, we may even have 20” traps in the rear corners.

We may also have a column of traps on the center of the front wall, usually with the reflective strip pointing at the listening seat.

Then we may have another set at the first reflection points, usually with the strip not directly in the reflection area.

The center column and reflection points may or may not be 16”, depending on budget & space.

These are the typical layouts I see and use. Depending on the budget, the system and the room, it is certainly possible to use more, but what I describe above is the basic set-up.

My Computer Audio Settings - NOT

I continue to get requests to describe how I have set up my Pure Music player with my computer and DAC.

I’ve now decided NOT to go into that for a number of reasons:

  1. My setting preferences may not be yours. There are so many more to pick from now.

  2. There are a lot more great sources for info on set-up – and more are coming. Some of these links are on sites that have products to sell. However the info is useful, whether or not you buy their products. Here are just a few: http://www.channld.com/computeraudio.html http://www.computeraudiophile.com/ http://www.thewelltemperedcomputer.com/ http://www.ayre.com/usb.htm http://www.dcsltd.co.uk/page/sitemap?p=faq#computer_audio_ You’ll need to download the dCS Guide to Computer Audio http://www.usbdacs.com/Concept/Concept.html

  3. There are more music players now that are strong competitors – in price & in performance – to the Pure Music system I have used. It’s worth checking them out. The cool thing is that things keep getting better and better. With software programs, you don’t have the huge upgrade costs – if any – that you do with hardware.

Three questions from reader T. Price:

  1. …When I just now got around to reading Tip #176, I was surprised to find you said you know of three companies that manufacturer true isolation components, but I can't find if you identified them.  Because I believe the whole resonance/vibration control/isolation concept to be a very important one, I'd like to suggest you discuss isolation a little more.  As I understand what you've written, the isolation category is one offering a neutral benefit, meaning no particular character of its own but bestowing the same type of benefit to whatever component it might be applied to/with.  Also, you have not been shy in identifying a few other brand example when that clarified a point, why not identify these three too? OK, if we are talking about isolation systems, the three I was referring to are Grand Prix Audio, Harmonic Resolution Systems, and Critical Mass Audio. If we are talking about isolation supports, then add Stillpoints and Herbie’s Audio Labs. There many be others, but I know of these.

  2. Room treatments - can plants be effective?  I read one review source (Bound For Sound) that recommended placing large house plants, preferably in big earthen urns, in corners to improve acoustics.  Also, Keith Herron told me he often uses plants in critical locations to improve room acoustics.  I may get to this myself (in a future residence, my condo floor plan is a little cramped) for trial and error but any experience you can share would be appreciated. Yes, I have mentioned plants, especially in the DVDs. They can help with some absorption and maybe even slight diffusion. I used them at shows for many years, because I didn’t want listeners seeing lots of acoustic treatments and thinking the sound was because of the room treatments. Plus, plants make a room feel nicer. However, plants cannot perform miracles such as serious absorption and they definitely cannot perform serious bass trapping.

  3. I was puzzled by the photo of your Tannoy speakers, given your strong advice against placing components between the speakers (Tips 70 and 71).  You even say if a person has no other options, place gear behind the speakers.  Yet your photo shows your components between and in front of your speakers. Since I am not likely to be the only one confused by this it might be helpful if you would address this question in your next Quarter Notes. This is a good question. The answer has several parts.

First – the image to which Mr. Price referred:

I realize now that I didn’t explain the whole “move your rack to the side” thing very well. Even though I have used the side wall for equipment placement, I have usually used the amps near the speakers most of the time, sitting on the floor between them. I have never heard any deleterious effects to the sound stage or indeed, to the sound. It occurred to me a while back, that because I was having to rotate a number of components in and out of the system for evaluations for clients, that the components-in-a-rack idea was unusually troublesome. That’s when I thought of breaking the rack down and putting the components on isolation shelves on the floor, essentially as I had been doing with my amps. But I needed to listen to it first. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it had no effect on the soundstage, but otherwise, it was slightly better! I’m not sure if the reason was the shorter interconnects or not. But now the sound was at least as good, I had more room for CDs on the side wall, and I could change out components whenever I needed to do so without the arduous task of removing something from the rack which I could not get behind due to the room’s layout. In case you are curious, the tops of the highest electronic components (the amps) in the center of my room are no more than about 15 inches above the floor. The amps are about 3’ behind the front of the speakers. The centrally placed stand in the back is 18” tall and it is 53” behind the speakers. The Tannoy drivers are centered at 37 inches. If you look closely, you can just barely see the right channel REL B1 sub behind the main speakers.

From D. Shronk:

Jim, I just wanted to follow up and confirm that my imaging problems were caused by an imbalance in my hearing due to wax buildup.  You can imagine how frustrating it was trying to solve the problem with speaker placement or adjusting room reflections, when the problem was in my head all along. I recommend keeping this tip in mind for your future clients.


I cannot believe how many times I have meant to mention this advice. I keep forgetting it, and it should be at the top of everyone’s to-do list. Thanks for reminding us!

Near-Field Listening

In reply to many questions about near-field listening, I cannot say that I am particularly knowledgeable about it. In general, I find that multi-way speakers need a little space for the sound to congeal. In my experience, that is usually 8-9’, if not further.

Interestingly, concentric drivers such as my Tannoys seem to be able to be enjoyed from a much closer distance. As I write this, I am experimenting with a distance of about 7.5’.

Electrostats and maggies can be listened to from closer distances as well, as long as you are careful with angles and distances.

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,

Dear Get Better Sound Readers,

Welcome to the tenth issue of Quarter Notes!

Quarter Notes is a quarterly newsletter for Get Better Sound readers, expanding on the Get Better Sound manual, as well as introducing new and timely subjects.

This issue discusses setting up speakers and what to listen for. But wasn’t this covered in Get Better Sound? Well, GBS does cover this topic. But this is the tale of my personal efforts and (sometimes new) revelations as I set up my new speakers in my demo room. It goes into more detail that I hope you can think about and employ for your own system.

Additionally, we’ll look at some other topics that will be of interest as well. Yes, I’m actually gonna take a break from Computer Audio this issue, except addressing a mini-breakthrough I came across recently.

Don’t forget, you are invited to e-mail me with your questions and comments.  If appropriate, and with your approval, I may include your note – or a reply to it – in an upcoming newsletter – as I have done in previous issues.

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 list the month of purchase (if possible), and definitely include the address I used originally along with the one that you want to use to replace it.

Health issues and your correspondence

Most of you remember the Interim Quarter Notes I sent out in late October 2011. In that update, I mentioned the health issues I was encountering and an upcoming surgery.

Initially, I replied to each of your notes, but it quickly got out of hand as many hundreds of notes kept coming in! I was surprised and overwhelmed (in a good way) at the sheer numbers of well-wishes, but I couldn’t possibly keep sending individual replies! So now, I want to thank all of you who sent encouraging and uplifting personal notes.

The total hip replacement surgery on Nov. 30 went very well. I have two more surgeries to go, but I am very optimistic that the outcome will be better than ever. Thanks for your support, your thoughts, and your prayers!

It’s not just babies that take nine months – the 1st comprehensive GBS DVD review is born!

We started shipping the DVD sets nine months ago. While there have been some interesting commentaries that have appeared, the first comprehensive review has just been posted in the new Positive Feedback Online – Issue 59.

Rather than quote from it in this newsletter, for those who might be interested in reading reviewer Jeff Day’s take on the DVDs, please go here:


The only significant area where I disagree with Jeff is the price. He quotes it at $39.70, the regular price. However Quarter Note Press has had it promotionally priced at US $19.95 for a while now.

Question about the Best Coupling to the Floor

Reader Al N. sent me a note wondering if I might comment on the best coupling to the floor with speakers (and I’ll add racks and amp stands as well).

Of course any “Best” statement is always going to be disputed. And in this area, I’ve probably gone against the Audiophile Establishment more often than not. :(

This answer comes from the experience of doing hundreds - if not thousands - of set-ups and from all those Show demos I did where we won Best Sound.

I know there are lots of well-respected (and famous) designers out there who recommend spikes for their loudspeakers. I’ve written and commented on this position before, but it seems as if I need to touch on it in a little more depth.

This topic comes up on a number of RoomPlay voicing sessions as well. Quite simply, using spikes as the interface between the floor and the speaker consistently produces what I call Audiophile Bass. There is no question that the bass is tighter. It even affects the overall sound in the higher registers.

I tend to prefer more of what I call a musically organic sound, whereas the spikes produce a more mechanically precise sound. So there is room for calling one or the other a simple preference.

Until you think about the sound of live bass, acoustic or amplified, I always say, “It’s not a preference when you have a reference.” :)

Over many years of concert-going, and making live recordings for various entities, including Public Radio Affiliates, not once have I EVER heard live bass (acoustic or amplified) that sounds as tight and shriveled as I hear from systems where spikes are used. Not once – never…

Yet, I can go into a show where – time-after-time – the speaker designer is on hand, proudly demo-ing his latest creation, which, more often than not, is sitting on spikes. Rather than being critical, let’s just chalk it up to a matter of opinion and experience.

We think we need to couple speakers (and racks) to the floor. I’m not sure if that is the right term. I’ve almost come down on the side of those whose viewpoint is that we need to decouple the system from the floor. Or at least do it in a more valid and musically interesting way.

I can attest to the fact that I’ve voiced dozens of systems lately where the client was using spikes under their speakers when I arrived, because that was what came with their speakers. I do not suggest removing them. I do suggest refining the interface between the spike and the floor (Doesn’t matter if the floor is hardwood, tile, carpeted, etc.). Don’t know whether to call it coupling or decoupling. I do know the results are wonderful!

And, in every case, the client did not want to give up the solution I brought along, in my case, to aid with the movement of the speakers. If you’ve ever tried to move heavy speakers on spikes, you know what I mean!

Next, we’ll look at a few elegantly simple solutions to this issue …

Speaker sliders – a better solution

In the last issue, I referred to putting speakers on furniture sliders to enable easier placement. That actually works pretty nicely, but if you have heavy speakers with sharp spikes, it doesn’t work as well, because the spikes start to protrude through the furniture sliders.

Reader Mike M. reminded me of a much more elegant solution. Why is it more elegant?

First, let’s have a look at it. I wish I owned this company because everyone who tries these gliders from Herbie’s Audio Lab has to buy them right away. They are called Cone/Spike Decoupling Gliders:

Although I initially tried the giant gliders, I ended up using the standard ones myself and on every voicing job. About the only time you’d need the giant ones would be if your speaker is maybe 175 lbs. or more.

I also like the brass inserts. So basically, the least expensive version (US $14.89 each) has consistently worked out best.

In certain cases, the Threaded Stud Glider is a great solution as well. I use them in audio furniture pieces that were threaded for a spike/cone assembly.

The icing on the cake is that – at least with the Herbie’s gliders - you can make the most minute speakers adjustment without cursing and questioning why you ever got into this weird and wonderful pastime of ours!

But just to be extra clear, everyone always prefers the sound with their spiked speakers sitting on Herbie’s gliders – not to mention the enhanced ease of movement.

Not sliders, but the best when sound is foremost (and price isn’t) - The Grand Prix Audio Apex Footers & Threaded Levelers:

I do prefer the sonic quality of Grand Prix Audio Apex footers and levelers, but they are vastly more expensive and they do not allow sliding around, because the ball coupler will come out of its socket.

However, either the GPA footers or the Herbie’s Gliders yield a far more musically interesting – and to my ears – accurate sound, especially in the bass. It’s consistent as well - carpet, hardwood, tile, whatever – they outperform any spike arrangement I have ever heard (and I’ve heard most of them).

Link to Herbie’s Audio Lab gliders:


Link to Grand Prix Audio Apex Footers & Threaded Levelers:


And One More…

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the other devices I’ve used to couple/decouple speakers from the floor and to isolate audio components. In fact I use a small one (14” x 12”) under my MacBook Pro that I use as a music server. And I use one of the standard sizes (19 x 14”) each under my REL B-1 subs. I’m talking about Symposium Acoustics Svelte Shelves. A bit pricey, but they work. They also make it easy to push a heavy speaker around on a carpeted floor.

The Symposium Acoustics website:


In a few instances, when an audiophile lived in an apartment above less-than-accommodating-neighbors, I’ve used Symposium Ultra Shelves to help to isolate the sound from the lower floor.

Finally, if you don’t see it here, I either have no experience with it or my experience wasn’t so good. All of these devices mentioned and shown here serve the music and they can make your life a bit easier when setting up (except that the GPAs don’t slide as well without the danger of the item above toppling off the ball coupler).

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

I was participating in a thread on AudioAsylum.com about Computer Audio. I received a private e-mail from someone who was apparently reading the thread, but not participating in it.

He is someone who I believe is a reliable source of information. He prefers to stay anonymous, so I won’t out him here… :)

In our discussions back and forth, he mentioned something that he thought made a nice improvement in Computer Audio. In fact the same concept can be applied to any system that also has a TV set connected to it as well.

I had all of my components connected to my new power conditioner. I mean ALL of my components. I had questioned the validity of this approach, especially when it came to digital isolation. The manufacturer was confident of his isolation. So I accepted his opinion. And really, I was thinking about isolating my DAC. It never occurred to me that the wall wart AC power supply for my MacBookPro could cause contamination.

But this gentleman was mainly concerned with isolating grunge that leaks back into systems across the computer power supply.

He suggested a fairly inexpensive item to try. Since it had a guaranteee, I thought, why not.

But it sold for about one fortieth the price of my power conditioner, so I was skeptical.

It’s a simple (but excellently engineered) power supply filter for computers. It was originally designed to prevent grunge from infecting the performance of ham radio stations.

I got it, put it on another circuit, and was amazed to hear my system improve so much. When things sound louder, even voices, that’s usually a sure sign that you just reduced background noise. Reduce background noise and you increase the effect of musical dynamics. Increase musical dynamics and increase your musical involvement.

A similar thing occurs when we remove the TV’s power cord from our main system’s AC supply. Doesn’t even have to be powered up to cause trouble. So isolate that TV power!

I understand that Array Solutions may have some more audiophile-oriented filters in the works. I have no idea just now. However, I do recommend this item from Array Solutions: http://arraysolutions.com/Products/nqnaclinefilter.htm

I chose the AC-7a, you may need a different unit. Only $106 for an effective line filter for your computer! Your system will love it.

Apology re: RTAs

I get way too many questions about Real Time Analyzers and pink noise. Somehow, I’ve made them more important than they really are in most cases.

So I owe you an apology. I am sorry to have misled some of you into thinking that a RTA is a must have. It is NOT!

For example, all of my RoomPlay clients could vouch for the fact that out of an 8-hours voicing session, I use the RTA 10 minutes at most. OK, maybe 15 minutes in really tricky sessions.

I only use the RTA to quickly determine where the room resonances from 30 Hz to 300 Hz are located in the room. Then it gets put away until another project.

There is no way that I would choose the optimum place to sit from a response curve on a RTA. Invariably it will be in the generally “best” area, but I will always need to settle on the absolute best position by listening to music, starting first with the Chieftains disc I mention in the book and DVDs.

Another request I get is to give an opinion on one of the many programs or devices that are available. Most likely, I simply have not tested them.

Anyway, the program or device could be fabulous, but if you do not have an excellent omni-directional microphone, the equipment or program is useless. There is NO electronically compensated curve that will reliably work in the bass with a cardioid microphone, period! If for no other reasons than these pick-up patterns suffer from bass roll-off and proximity effect.

I’d say that in general, if you have to climb a steep learning curve to understand a Real-Time Analyzer - its filter settings, a, c, or flat weighting, decay time, 1 octave vs. 1/3 octave vs. 16 octave settings, etc., you can make do just fine without the hassle and expense…

Balanced outputs – better or worse?

I hear this question constantly. Reader Harry K. asked me to comment on it…

I used to think they were not all that different. In fact, in some systems they really aren’t. But sometimes there can be a substantial difference.

I was working with my reference system in my listening room. Although it had balanced outputs, my line stage also had a pair of RCA unbalanced outputs. I had usually opted to use them as it was easy to mix and match unbalanced and balanced components.

This time I had someone who wanted to borrow a set of my unbalanced cables for a project he were conducting.

So I got out an old pair of Canare 4 microphone cables to use here temporarily. These are balanced, and in this case, were about 3 M long. I have used them for location recordings for years. They cost relatively little compared to almost any audiophile-approved IC.

Before I tell what happened, this might be of interest – We (I include myself here) seek out the best sounding cables. If the budget allows, sometimes they are very expensive.

And yet the recording we play almost certainly used balanced ICs such as the Carnare, or Markerteks, etc..

So we will pay hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars to play back a recording that was mastered on ICs that were infinitely less expensive (and without any sound claims).

Anyway, I listened to my system with the $49/pair balanced ICS, in place of the $10,000 unbalanced ICs that I had been using (don’t get excited – the cable manufacturer had left these with me on indefinite loan – I didn’t - and probably wouldn’t - buy them even if I could afford to do so).

Imagine my shock when the garden-variety microphone cables used as ICs easily outperformed the mega-buck audiophile unbalanced cables!

About that time, I had an opportunity to ask Charles Hansen of Ayre Acoustics about how such a thing could happen. He said that in some cases, even very high-end manufacturers will sometimes skimp on their unbalanced connectors and circuitry.

His curiosity was aroused enough to offer to send me one of his less expensive line stages (compared to the much more expensive one – from a respected competitor – that I was using). He wanted to know if I could pick out a difference between balanced and unbalanced with his components. Since I already had an Ayre QB-9 DAC with both sets of outputs, now I could do a full comparison.

Well, I still thought the balanced connections sounded better, but only slightly better. It was a matter of focus, but exceedingly marginal. It was so close that I’m not sure I could consistently pass a blind-fold test.

So my answer to Harry K. is along the lines of what I usually end up saying. You’ll need to listen. If a manufacturer offers both types of connectors, I’d want to listen before buying. I would NOT assume that they are equal (or for that matter – unequal).

And this is NOT to say that a particular unbalanced component might not be overall better than a balanced competitor – it’s only to recount actual comparisons with components that offer both on one chassis.

When do the best measurements NOT yield the best musical involvement?

I had wanted to write about how I chose my personal speakers recently, and how I voiced them, but this issue is simply too long. Maybe next time…

There are several things that I re-learned in the voicing process, however, things that I hadn’t thought about in a while. I’m hoping they might be of use to you as well.

I won’t go into all the details of voicing for best bass. Much of that is in the book or DVDs. At any rate, I was overjoyed to have found a place in my room with my new speakers that played the most perfect bass I’ve ever heard. When I measured it, the response variations were less than +/- 2 dB from below 30 Hz to almost 300 Hz!

I’ve been measuring speakers in real rooms for too many years. But I have never encountered such flat response. There’s usually at least one or two peaks or dips in the best of systems, and always greater than 2 dB.

I settled in to listen to my system that evening, unusually excited. I’ve always said and fervently believed that, until you get the bass – the very foundation of your music – right, you’ll never be satisfied with your sound. When I’ve said right, I have meant with the smoothest bass, never expecting it to be nearly a straight-line on a frequency response graph.

Yet, I now had both. I reveled in the sound and especially of the bass lines and subtle shifts in bass dynamics and pitch. After a few hours though, I realized I wasn’t completely satisfied. In fact, I was listening to great sound rather than great music.

After some frustrating times of trying to understand how something so good could end up not so good, I had an idea.

It turned out that the listening seat position that yielded the most accurate bass I’ve ever seen or heard exhibited a shallow suck-out in the region around 200-400 HZ.

Because it was shallow and it started slowly, I hadn’t noticed that the dip continued downward above 300 Hz.

This area was producing the exact coloration that I mentioned in the book & DVD. When a component or system is lean or slightly down in frequency response in this area, it gives the illusion of a mechanically precise sound, but never the compellingly musically sound that we want.

So I moved my seat back and forth a bit and listened to what happened. Ultimately, I ended up sitting back about 3-4 inches. Happily, in my room, that filled in the 200-400 Hz suck-out area. But the bass, although still very good, wasn’t quite as superlative as before.

But now the musical experience was exceptional. And I’ve never had any desire to go back to that flat uninvolving, technically superior sound. And dozens of advanced listeners who have heard it are unanimously in agreement about the powerful musical impact of the system.

Warning - this may be the beginning of addressing how we listen – with our ears connected to our brains, or connected to our hearts.

Another instance of technically correct set-up at the expense of the music.

Again, without revealing too much about my system at this time, I decided that it might benefit from having outboard super-tweeters. The first pair I tried, simply were not a good match, mostly due to efficiency.

So then I tried some really exotic super-tweeters. These had high efficiency (so that I could carefully turn them down in level to match my main speakers). They were 8 ohms, like mine. They used Alnico magnets like mine. I came up with a fairly sophisticated means of dialing them in. I was cutting them in at about 16,000 Hz, and they went up to somewhere way beyond what I can measure (spec’d to at least 50 kHz).

I managed to get them time and phase aligned. When playing music, you could not detect any change in tonal balance. And yet, they defied logic, as various instruments, including voices, seemed noticeably cleaner, especially so on leading edges of transients.

This was super exciting sound! Everyone who heard the system (including a well known industry set-up guy) said it was by far the best sound they ever heard, at any price.

This all took place after my findings about the bass in the room.

One night, maybe around 1 AM, I was up listening and reveling in my sound. I was skipping around, enjoying the sound of virtually every cut I played.

Then it dawned on me. I was listening to sounds! When I voice a system, I do it with the primary aim that it will deliver the goods in a powerfully musical way.

Certainly after my discovery with the bass, you’d think I wouldn’t fall for the same thing twice, but I did. Maybe I’ll blame it on all the meds post-surgery. Or not…

I decided to cover up the super-tweeters with a couple of thick towels. Next thing I knew it was after three o’clock as I had once again fallen into the music. Then I disconnected the super-tweets and removed them from the room. I listened to MUSIC until almost daylight.

I’ll never forget that awakening. We can have technically precise sound that may be exciting on the basis of its sound, but if it is at the expense of having each piece of music speak to us, what good is that?

So I’ve decided to see what I can do to help audiophiles to think about - and to voice their systems – to strengthen that ear-to-heart connection.

These pending topics will have to wait until another time:

  • Full range speakers need subs too.

  • How to voice subs (2, not 1, of course) with full range speakers

  • Living on the edge with Computer Audio - VM.

  • Pure Music Settings

  • Listening seat not always against or near the back wall.

  • Effects and proper usage of tube traps.

  • The 83% rule – NOT!

  • More set-up details.

  • Tone

  • The Compromise

  • Can we trust the manufacturer’s opinion?

  • OCD – is it treatable? – The speaker I chose, how it came to be, and the true trials and tribulations of achieving a reference set-up. And the rewards, as well…

Announcing RoomPlay Reference™ (http://getbettersound.com/roomplay-reference.html)

The following list comes from a powerful new reference tool for audiophiles. I call it RoomPlay Reference. The list illustrates what I personally value and listen for when voicing a system. You may notice that it goes well beyond listening for certain audiophile audio tricks. Although all the information about RoomPlay Reference is on its own page on this site, I wanted to include the basic list here, as it is directly related to the above discussion about voicing.

When I voice a system, there is an internal list of standards that I expect to achieve. It’s my reference. These are the reference standards that I carry in my head and my heart when voicing a system:

  • A powerful sense of presence. I expect to get the distinct impression that the performer(s) are performing expressly for me. If the sound stays over there by the speakers, without enveloping me in the experience, I have work to do. Nothing to buy, I just need to spend a little more attention to voicing detail. This is not an ordinary illusion. I rarely ever hear it from most systems. Yet, when the system is voiced properly, and I play the first tune in a demo, it’s quite common for the listener to make a few unplanned comments in the first 10 or 15 seconds! ☺ I’ve almost come to expect it - they simply had no reference for that illusion being possible.

  • High emotional impact. I’m not looking for a background music system. If done right, it should even be compelling at medium to low levels. Inflections and the use of vibrato in vocals should draw me deeply into the music. The sense of listening to a stereo system is gone as I follow the performer’s musical lead. After a listening session the previous night, the next day, we should still feel the music in our souls, the way we do after live concerts. This is as true today as when I started talking about it in the 90s. Why do audiophiles never think that their music playback should touch them emotionally enough to feel the effects next day? It should, it’s their right, and they should expect to receive it.

  • Tone quality. It’s hard to truly connect with the message of the music without it. I wish I could explain this phenomenon so that it’d be easy to understand. Visitors here “get it” immediately. Often it’s most noticeable in the sound of plucked strings and especially in the sound of violins, cellos, guitars, dobros, etc. It manifests as an unusually dense harmonic presentation, with a fuller and more prolonged decay time. And it will pluck your heart strings on the right music…

  • A palpable, reach-out-and-touch-it imagery. If this isn’t happening, how can I suspend my disbelief enough to fall into the music? This is not related to the sort of ‘audio spectacular’ imagery where all sorts of pin-point sizes instruments are arrayed between and behind the speakers. I’m referring to an image that seems to have a body, a palpability. In a properly voiced system, human voices are anything but emaciated caricatures of the real thing. This sort of image feels as if it is inhabiting a space in the room with you.

  • Increased energy and effortlessness. Systems that require lots of power to come alive, and shortly after that, start to sound fatiguing, are systems that will have difficulty conveying the message of the music. Careful attention to component location, as well as seating location, can significantly help to offset any drawbacks that a system that leans in this direction may normally exhibit. We want to enlarge the window of acceptable playback level to reach a level that is inviting at most settings, not just a narrow one between coming alive and becoming obnoxious. This effortlessness sometimes shows up as a sort of ‘bloom’ on the sound. It’s inviting and contagious.

  • Graceful and delicate details reproduced to their full effect. Subtle nuances show up, but only to serve the music, not to create an audiophile showpiece. The heightened expressive quality of a performer’s vocal is an example. Subtle shadings of tone and even soundstage presentation all serve to help the listener suspend his or her disbelief. Whether it’s a harp, a violin, a guitar, or any other instrument, when it’s being played softly, it invokes a sort of hushed reverence. These delicate musical sounds intertwine to portray the most gorgeous musical palette. Sadly, this wonderful illusion can be damaged through improper wave launch into the room, or inadvertently sitting in the wrong place in the room where the beauty is lost. This delicacy is often portrayed in a soundstage where lots of small musically inter-related things are happening, but together they build something very special. Since this is the revelatory part of the complete music listening experience, it’s critical to know how to preserve this delicacy in a manner that serves the music.

  • A vast difference in the presentation between ‘they are here’ and ‘we are there’ recorded perspectives. If this difference is not dramatic, then much of the potential to become immersed in the music will be lost. These cues serve to transmit the illusion of being in the presence of live music, appropriate to the recording’s inherent perspective. It’s one of the major offenders I hear when I arrive to voice a system. It’s as if the system is compromised in both arenas. It’s hard to hear the performance and its venue when recorded deep depth is fore-shortened, and recorded shallow depth sounds not all that different. This is ‘fixable’ and it is paramount to help us fall into the music as the performers intended.

  • For a ‘we are there recording’, the listener should feel virtually transported into the venue.Almost as if he or she can feel the air moving in the hall. Little remains of the sense of being in their room back home. As I mentioned above, this is big, and rarely is it at an appropriate level of resolution.

  • For a ‘they are here recording’, there should be the distinct feeling that the musicians have packed up their gear to come to my client’s house to perform a concert just for us. Very intimate and engaging. No walls, no ceilings and no speakers. Just the event. Intimacy is the key word here, but very few audiophiles have ever dealt with this aspect (at least, not from their stereo systems!). I make this observation from the reactions I see when they do finally experience it here or in their own homes.

  • Soundstage depth that extends beyond what was thought possible with the current system. Although achieved through technical set-up means, the end result is the firmly grounded creative expression of the live event. We covered this topic somewhat above, so I need not go further, except to say that, once you’ve experienced it, you’ve simply gotta have it.

  • True soundstage width, not what is often described in message boards and audio publications. This is an area that has received so much misinformation, that it’s probably not possible to correct the myths that surround it. At any rate, there is a definite standard for what is correct, and once heard, the misinformation is always exposed to the interested listener for what it is. I rarely spend much time on this aspect for clients, except to show them what it really is and explain what it can’t be, no matter how lofty and incorrect the claims get.

  • Tuneful and powerful bass, produced with authority & uncompromised dynamics, but never overwhelming (unless the recording is produced that way). Unless the bass is reproduced as accurately as possible within the framework of the system and room, listeners will never be truly satisfied with their musical listening experience. This foundation affects tone, presence, and dynamics – the cornerstones to any involving listening experience. It even affects soundstaging. At the technical level, booming or missing notes contribute to a false impression of the music and its performance. Compromising its capability means a dramatic reduction in the overall listening experience. The way it can compromise dynamics is especially concerning, and it is why I always say that until you get the bass right, you’ll never be happy.

  • All of the notes reproduced faithfully, with none emphasized, diminished, or altered. You would think this would be a given, but it has never been my experience when I have encountered any audiophile’s system. In fact, it’s most often the biggest shortcoming in systems today. It is almost never the fault of the speaker, at least within its’ published frequency extremes. It’s most always the room. In fact, it’s almost always the wrong seating position in the room. And it’s not rocket science – it just requires a bit of adjustment for it all to come together.

  • Greater focus and inner detail, but always serving the musical experience, never at its expense. Musical transitions should flow, not sound mechanical. When detail becomes a distraction, there is definitely some additional voicing to be done.

  • Storytelling prowess – the combination of dynamics, tone, presence, and emotional impact must combine to make the listener feel as if he or she is on the edge of their seat, anxiously awaiting the next part of the story/song as it unfolds. This is perhaps the trickiest effect to achieve with voicing. It helps if one of the components already has the ability to capture the listener’s rapt attention. Just having had the experience does elevate the reference level that is to be applied, even if it cannot always be fully realized.

So is it ‘science versus art’ or is it ‘science serving art’? Technical excellence vs. creative excellence? These two descriptions of system set-up are not at all separate. All too often, I hear a technically excellent component or system that sounds – well, boring – when listening to actual music.

Yes, all the audiophile sound effects are reproduced to great effect. But when the thrill of audio delights diminishes, what’s left? Most systems – if they ever get there at all - remain at the “audio delight” level. And their owners, never having experienced the next level of music reproduction are satisfied with themselves and their systems. Except, of course, needing to upgrade as finances allow.

Creative excellence accepts all of the tenets of technical excellence. But then the creative juices kick in - driving the system to an exalted level, as tone, presence, dynamics and more begin to assert themselves on the musical reproduction stage.

Well, I hope the long delay between Quarter Notes was worth the wait. Future issues should get back on schedule.

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