Quarter Notes


Dear Get Better Sound readers,

Welcome to the third issue of Quarter Notes!

Quarter Notes is a quarterly newsletter for Get Better Sound readers, expanding on the GBS manual, as well as introducing new and timely subjects.  From time-to-time, we may have a guest writer (or more) to contribute on special topics.  

For this issue’s guest writers, we have Jeff Dorgay, Editor and Publisher of TONEAudio, introducing some Vinyl tips that I call Vinyl 101 (“A few tips on the return to vinyl”), one GBS reader’s unique vision on implementing the tips in the manual (“How to eat an elephant”), and Charles Hansen of Ayre Acoustics, who has written an informative piece on digital audio, featuring the use of a computer as the hard drive (“Computers and Audio”).  

Quarter Notes also features expanded replies to the many comments and questions that I receive.  In fact, send me an e-mail, and I may include your question or comments in an upcoming newsletter.

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.

The top 3 tips I keep hearing about from readers:

  1. Location, location, location – seat location, that is… We’ve all heard the “location, location, location” quote.  It’s all about putting your business in the best physical place to be able to maximize profitability. Judging from the comments that I’ve received, many audiophiles have spent countless hours tweaking their systems, moving their speakers around, etc.  Yet, very few had realized that where you sit is the first order of priority.  I cover this in Tips #75 & 76. Whenever possible, arranging to sit in the best sounding location (where the bass is smoothest), is the audiophile equivalent to the old restaurant/retail store location maxim. In case I still haven’t said it strongly enough, all else is secondary to this foundational requirement for extracting the best sound from your system in your room!  Getting the foundation of the music – the bass - as good as it can be is probably the greatest issue that affects your musical enjoyment.. Even if aesthetic considerations preclude permanently locating your listening seat where it should go, surely you can place an occasional chair there for those special times when you want to listen and to hear your system the way it was meant to be heard!

  2. Closer together for a bigger, richer image.   I guess I wasn’t clear enough about the value of separation to affect harmonic density and soundstage.  Because I’ve now visited a number of GBS readers, and with just one exception, ALL had the speakers too far apart. What happens when your speakers are too far apart? The sound is thinner in tonal balance.   You get a center image and a hard left and hard right image.  But the image between the center and the outside positions is entirely too weak and too vague. The sound is much less involving musically.  In fact, all too often it’s simply BORING! Sometimes the adjustment required is only a matter of an inch or two.  Sometimes, much more.  Of course, you don’t want near-monaural, either.  But the rewards from getting this right are simply too great to ignore. Here’s a link to a forum where this issue was explored and adjusted:  In order to save you some time, you can just read post #190, especially the section, “CLX Positions:”  http://www.martinloganowners.com/forum/showthread.php?t=7730&page=13

  3. Move that rack from between your speakers. This simple “tweak” has elicited more ”WOW” comments than anything else in the entire GBS manual.  If you are able to try it and you haven’t, this might be the overall easiest way to take your system to another performance level. There is no way that keeping your cables short will have the effect on your sound that addressing the sound’s acoustic wave-launch into your room will provide. Not even close. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that the sound quality from longer, lesser quality cables with the equipment rack on the side wall will be significantly better than the sound from shorter, more exotic cables that you can use with the equipment rack between your speakers. Hope that’s clear enough. :)

Vinyl 101 - A few tips on the return to vinyl

By Jeff Dorgay, Editor and Publisher of TONEAudio

All things being equal, I still enjoy the sound of LP’s, but all records are not created equal and a poorly setup turntable will not give you the “analog magic” everyone is raving about.  So whether you are a new vinyl enthusiast or digging out your LP collection after a hiatus, here’s a few tips that should help you on the vinyl journey.

Nowhere in the reproduction chain is there more chance for error than with your turntable.  You are dealing with extremely small signals and a tiny diamond chip that glides over your records microscopic grooves.  Even though some people will tell you that a turntable is “plug and play”, even the most simple ones will benefit from careful setup.

Determine if you are a “wrench turner” or a “check writer.”  If you have basic mechanical abilities, the right tools and some patience, you should be able to setup and optimize a turntable.  If assembling anything sounds like a pain, get your wallet out and try to find a good analog setup person nearby.  Before you hand over the credit card to your dealer, make sure they can set your new turntable up properly and support you after the sale.

If you’ve owned your table for a while and your cartridge is more than five years old, throw it out and start over, especially if you live in a dry climate.  The suspension inside a phono cartridge is made up of little rubber donuts, much like the bushings that are in your car’s suspension.  They get stiff and crack with age in a similar way and even if your stylus doesn’t appear worn, chances are good that an old cartridge isn’t capable of reproducing music like it did when it was new.

Invest in at least an entry-level record cleaner.  You can get the base model Nitty Gritty for under $200 and this will greatly improve the sound of all your records, from the bargain treasures to even brand new audiophile pressings.  Check in with your favorite audio message board to find a heated/spirited discussion about what cleaning fluids to use, but keep that vinyl clean!  While you are at it, make sure that stylus stays clean too...

Buy a good level and use it!  The most common thing I’ve seen when asked to troubleshoot someone else’s turntable is that it is usually not level.  This can throw off channel balance at the minimum and severely upset tracking at its worst.  Before you even start fiddling with any of the other adjustments, make sure your table is level!

We’ve only barely scratched the tip of the iceberg, but hopefully these tips will help you down the path of your vinyl journey.  Enjoy.

How to Eat an Elephant

GBS reader Gordy writes:

A few years ago I was trained and certified in Lean, Six-Sigma, and other business improvement techniques.  Based on some of the tools described, my mind wandered to using them to improve and optimize areas of my own life, including my listening experience and room:

Improving your existing system during the current tough economy makes the Get Better Sound manual an even better investment.  This goes for those with refined equipment or those with less than refined equipment who aren’t ready to make the investment.  

In many cases, we struggle with a long list of changes that could improve the performance of our systems.  What to do first?  Why that and not this?  Which will be least expensive and provide the most impact?  Which will impress my audiophile friends more?  Consider the following a guide to help you on your journey to a better system and, ultimately, a more satisfying listening experience.

Do you know how to eat an elephant?  Don’t over think it, remember how you ate today - one-bite-at-a-time.  It’s the same with any problem, like how to improve your system.  The answer is, with a number of small improvements.  Figuring out where to start is easier once this is understood.

To quote Stephen Covey, “begin with the end in mind.”  This is where your systems improvement journey begins.  What are the things about your system that you don’t like or would like improved?  Grab the pen and pad the next time you’re listening and make notes.  Add anything to the list, even the crazy stuff.  We’ll figure how to sort through it later.

Next, with list in hand, or in mind, describe what your improved system will sound like, look like, and how it improves your listening experience.  Be as specific as you can:

  • how the music makes you feel

  • what kind of music are you listening to

  • how does the room look

  • how does your equipment perform and how do you use it

  • how does it sound

Once you do this, go back to that description and pick out the qualities that you used to describe this new magical system.  Now we’re sharpening the knife that will slice up that elephant!

With a list of things to improve and a list of qualities that can be used to rate those improvements, it’s time to put that list in order.  Evaluate each improvement by the impact it will have on each quality.  

If your list isn’t too big, start by using a -/0/+ ranking.  If you’ve got a long list, use a scale, say 1 to 5.  If you’ve got pages, try a weighted ranking.  Assign a percentage to each quality, so that the total of all qualities is 100%, then rank (1-5 or 1-10) each improvement and each category.  

Multiply each ranking by each percentage and add them up.  Whatever method you chose, you’ll end up with a prioritize list of your improvements.

This is still a long list, so the next step is to use the knife.  Even notice how 20% of the people get 80% of the pay?  And how 20% of the people get 80% of the work?  This is a universally accepted statistic and the foundation of the Pareto Principle.  You’ll begin your audio improvement journey with the top 20% of your prioritized list.  If you have 20 items, start with those top 4.

As the Get Better Sound manual encourages, make one change at time and note its effect.  Did it have the intended result, or better?  Keep a log of the results of the first 20% improvements.

With the first set of improvements behind your, it’s time to reevaluate.  Check off those items completed and see what’s next.  Think about how the system has improved and if you’d still rank the remaining items the same way.  Has the recent experience provided any new ideas?  Add them, rank them, and pick the next 20%.

The process of continual improvement, whether in life or business, is a structured process of imagination and application.  Achieving meaningful improvements begins with some understand of what’s wanted or needed.  A little organization and sweat.

Computers and Audio Charles Hansen, Ayre Acoustics

A revolution is brewing in the world of audio. Led by the astonishing success of Apple’s iTunes Store, downloads are becoming an important source of music. The rumor mill has it that by year’s end, the iTunes Store will be offering downloads in full 44/16 CD-quality resolution. And websites like HDTracks.com are already offering not only CD-quality downloads, but even high-resolution files. They are planning to have over a thousand high-res titles available by the end of 2009!

No less important than your computer becoming a new way to purchase music is that it also provides you with a new way to listen to your music. Once the music is on your computer (a prerequisite to putting it on your portable music player), you now have incredibly easy access to your entire digital music collection. Transferring your CD collection is a simple, if somewhat time-consuming task. Once accomplished, every single disc, and even every track on every disc, can be easily accessed.

You can sort by title, artist, composer, genre — just about anything you choose. What’s more, you can create custom playlists, similar to the old practice of making “mix tapes” with a cassette recorder but with without any length limitations. You can select “random” play to create what is, in effect, your own personal radio station. Or you can restrict the “random” play to specific artists, genres, or just about anything you desire. The possibilities are truly endless.

There are two questions most people have about computer-based audio:

  1. How do I start?

  2. How can I achieve true high-end playback quality?

First of all, plan on storing your music on an external hard drive that is separate from the computer. Second, know that sooner or later all hard drives will fail. So don’t buy one hard drive, buy two and use the second one to back up the first. I have my computer setup at my desktop where I work all day long. Therefore the entire setup has to run extremely quietly. The best bet in this situation is a external hard drive that uses a 2-1/2" notebook drive inside of it. Not only will this run quietly, but they can use the power supplied by the connecting cable, eliminating the need for extra wires and “wall warts”. If you are in a situation where the drives are far from your listening position, you can easily get double the capacity for the same price with a 3-1/2" desktop drive. The penalty is increased noise and a mandatory external power supply.

Notebook drives currently top out at 500 GB. This is enough to store about 800 uncompressed CD’s and will cost around $100 in an external enclosure. You can use lossless compression (FLAC for the Windows or ALAC for Mac) to bump this up to around 1300 CD’s, but most people notice a slight reduction in sound quality. But this is a column on how to Get Better Sound!  Presumably it’s because the computer’s processor is working harder when decompressing files on the fly instead of just loafing along playing the music.

Without a doubt, the easiest way to start is with a Mac computer running the iTunes music player. A Mac Mini will do the job quite nicely and the base model is $600. It is very compact and very quiet. Just about any keyboard and mouse will do the job, provided they are equipped with USB connectors. You will also need a display equipped with a digital DVI (or the much newer Display Port) input.

Since this column is about getting the best sound, adding memory will improve the sound quality. (Don’t ask me why!) The same is true for using a Solid-State Drive for the computer’s main drive, but these are still somewhat pricey. Currently the best ones are the new models from Intel. They have an 80 GB model for around $230 and a 160 GB model for around $450. The 80 GB is plenty to run the applications you will need for a music server. The side benefits of an SSD are dead-quiet operation and incredibly fast boot-up times.

The limitations of the Mac are that FLAC files (the most common format for high-res downloads) require conversion before they will play, the playback sample rate must be changed manually, and the music sorting options for classical music are not as flexible as some programs. Expect that in the coming years that third-party software will solve these problems.

If you don’t want to wait for these problems to be solved, you can start right away with a Windows computer. The Mac Mini is still a great choice, as for several years they have been using Intel processors that allow for dual booting. You can partition the hard drive on the Mac Mini and install a fresh copy of either XP or Vista and have a machine that will run either platform. Or just about any notebook computer will also run quietly and work well as an all-in-one solution.

Another nice thing about the Mac Mini is that it has a FireWire port. This gives more flexibility when choosing an interface for your DAC and/or external hard drive. The sound quality will be slightly improved if the DAC and the external hard drive are on different interfaces. So if you have a FIreWire DAC, then use a USB hard drive and vice-versa. (Again, I have no idea why, but this column is about getting better sound!) If you have an Ethernet DAC, then either type of hard drive will work great. If you don't have a FireWire port, adapters are available for both notebooks (PC-Card) and desktops (PCI). Finally, there is a new type of external hard drive interface called eSATA that runs separately from any DAC.

For the PC, the best two options for most people for music playing software are either J.River’s Music Jukebox or Foobar 2000. The first one is a slick all-in-one package, while the second is more of a do-it-yourself kit, with many plug-ins available. You probably already know which program is right for you.

Finally, the question is how to get the music out of your computer and into your stereo system. There are dozens of different options, but the great thing is that a computer offers another type of flexibility that virtually no other disc transport offers. Instead of sending out a steady stream of jittery audio, hoping that the D/A converter can reduce the jitter, the D/A converter can send commands to the computer telling it when it needs more audio data.

This allows for an essentially jitter-free audio interface, unlike the common S/PDIF connection found in conventional audio gear. This type of interface is called “asynchronous” because the master audio clock in the DAC is completely separate from any of the clocks in the computer. These types of DACs are available in all different price ranges and with many different interfaces. Examples include Ethernet DAC;s from Squeezebox and Linn (each requiring their own specific music player software), FireWire DAC’s from Apogee, and USB DAC’s from dCS, Wavelength, and Ayre. Each of these are capable of reaching the same low jitter levels as a one-box CD player.

Finally, don’t forget that your computer is a huge source of RFI. Spend some money on a dedicated power line filter that you can plug all of your computer equipment into. This will help keep the noise generated by the computer out of the rest of your audio system. And along the same lines, be sure to always use wired network connections. Wireless systems are miniature radio transmitting stations that broadcast RFI and make it harder to get good sound from your system.

More information can be found from a variety of sources. Here is a link to a page of links:



(note from Jim – these links on the Ayre site are informational and do not espouse buying anything from Ayre Acoustics.  So I wanted Charles to include them.  

FWIW – around here I have several CD playing systems, including the top Zanden rig.  But what I listen to primarily is my Ayre CD-5xe – which is back at the factory as I write this – it’s receiving the new MP (minimum phase) update.  So I obviously think that Charles has something to say in the digital realm, and hope this article was informative and interesting to you.)

Thanks to Jeff, Gordy, and Charles for their contributions!

Next issue

  • Audibility of reversed polarity effects and George Louis’s list of recordings.

  • Speaker wire lengths

  • More guest articles – controversial?

  • One man’s epiphany, while at the very top of the audiophile game.

  • And more…

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 second 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. From time-to-time, we may have a guest writer on a special topic.

For this issue, we have Srajan Ebaen, Editor and Publisher of the audio website 6moons.com. Jeff Dorgay, Editor and Publisher of TONEAudio, is scheduled for Issue #3.

For what it’s worth, I must say that these two audio websites seem to have a lock on interesting design, clean layout and good photography. Their articles on audio and music are always among the most informative.

We also feature answers to the many questions I receive. In fact, send me an e-mail and I may include your question or comments in an upcoming newsletter.

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.

A question about CD technology

We’ve all seen the digital progress in other technologies. The growth has been explosive.

Just think of the exponential growth in computer chip speed. A good example might be the personal computer (PC). Did you have one in 1982? Did your business have a desktop computer in 1980?

Today’s PCs are phenomenal, and that’s without comparing them to what we had in the early 80s.

In 1982, with the introduction of the CD. Sony promised us Perfect Sound Forever. The CD standard came to be known as Red Book, a book (with a red cover) that contained the specifications for the new digital audio compact disc, specifications that we still use today, almost 30 years later. These specifications were developed in the late 1970s and released in 1980.

So here’s my question. With all of the tremendous advances in digital technology, why are we still living with the CD, which has a digital audio design that predates the PC era?

Bi-wiring, part two

I’ve received more questions about bi-wiring. Frankly, I didn’t think that many people cared about it.

Very few systems take advantage of bi-wiring, and of those that offer it, the results are mixed. Some people think this may have to do with the internal grounding scheme of the loudspeaker.

The topic has been covered fairly well by others, and when that's the case, if I don't have anything significantly useful to add, I usually don't cover it.

This article (of many available) is pretty good and addresses the needs and potential benefits from bi-wiring: http://www.audioasylum.com/audio/cables/messages/4953.html

However, there are many who think that bi-wiring isn't particularly helpful. I think that this is the group who have loudspeakers that have separate terminals, but are not completely isolated (i.e., ground, etc.). It's one of those things that is interesting to try, but has some variables that make the outcome not entirely predictable.

I also do not agree with the notion of using different brands or types of cables, specialized for certain frequencies. My reasons and observations are similar to my recommendation to bi-amplify with similar amps.

From common sense to sixth sense

Srajan Ebaen is the Editor and Publisher of www.6moons.com, one of the most widely read and influential Internet audio/music webzines.

I recently asked him if he had any thoughts/suggestions that he would like to forward to Quarter Notes subscribers. He sent these four observations:

  1. Ikea's (http://www.ikea.com/) bathroom and kitchen department is a great source for stave-fabricated solid wood stands (Molger Series) and butcher block of various sizes and profiles. Someone looking for very affordable component stands could do a lot worse than an array of Molgers side by side or stacked. Butcher block meanwhile can be turned into effective component platforms with the simple addition of various drawer pulls also sold by Ikea. As one of the largest corporations in the world, Ikea's pricing is unbeatable by any of the specialized firms catering to audiophiles.

  2. Water fountains in the listening room (negative ion generators for the more mechanical-minded) will have a very positive effect on the listener who is surrounded and immersed in electromagnetic fields radiated by the electronics and their power cords. The entire subject of 'electro-smog' and its impact on human health relates directly to this, particularly to homes with wireless Internet routers and Bluetooth devices. Ultrasonic radiation affects the brain and immune system. Because the listening experience is only as good and as deep as the listener feels good physically and psychologically, anything that 'improves' the listener improves his or her audio experience. Wireless routers should have their wireless function disabled whenever not used to surf the web, cell phones should be switched off when not needed. (Note from Jim – Hmm, where have I seen this suggestion before?)

  3. Tachyon, Bio Genesis and similar devices available through New Age or alternative health stores can be effective in reducing our exposure to electronic smog radiation. Because this sector ranges from the scientific to the 'touchy feely', interested parties should follow their own instincts in sorting through the offerings. The 'Schumann Resonance' is another key phrase worthwhile exploring. (Note from Jim – See Tweaks to Watch, below) The audiophile experience depends on electronic devices, hence it increases the amount of electronic smog as soon as they're turned on. Installing counter measures to these invisible but real effects is only good common sense.

  4. The Oriental science of Feng Shui deals with environmental energetics, i.e. the flow and blockages of energies in living quarters and how to optimize living spaces for their occupants. Many audiophiles overlook this aspect of the listening room and wonder why they don't spend more time with their expensive systems.

While it's well possible that the system needs help to become more pleasing, it's equally practical to address the room (or man cave) from a Feng Shui and geopathic stress zone perspective. Optimize it to look and feel harmonious and relaxing. Address the colors, ventilation, lighting and layout to be conducive to general well-being. Anything that positively affects the listener contributes to better experiences - including audio.

Thanks Srajan. Makes sense to me!

Three common-sense tweaks

  1. You may need to move your speakers closer together for a wider soundstage. I touched on this briefly in GBS. But I had the opportunity to prove it at a recent voicing session. Rather than recount it verbatim, here’s a link to a thread posted by a client whose system I voiced: To save you some time, start at post 190: http://www.martinloganowners.com/forum/showthread.php?t=7730&page=13

  2. Disable (if you can’t remove) unused speakers in the room. Having returned from voicing a client’s system and showing him the effects of disabling or at least shorting unused (surround) speakers in his room, I’m prompted to underline this for you. Just remember – you don’t want the unused drivers to zag as a result of the main speakers zigging. You’ll lose dynamics, attack, and maybe even timbre. If you aren’t sure how to do it, send me an e-mail.

  3. Move your equipment rack from the center – actual experience. I’ve recently voiced systems for several clients who – for various reasons – still had their equipment rack between their speakers. So naturally I became a bit hard-core and insisted on at least trying the rack on the side wall. Most of these folks had a significant investment in their speaker cables. They didn’t want to have to buy longer (and more expensive) versions. My position is that affecting how the sound waves travel in the room is far more dramatic than an upgrade to better cables. In fact, I suggested that we try Home Depot or even ‘garden variety’ 16 gauge lamp cord.

My point? We haven’t learned how to repeal the laws of physics yet. Even longer ‘el cheapo’ speaker cables coming from a rack on the side wall will outperform the most exotic and expensive cables coming from a rack between the speakers!

Of course, you can always get a longer version of your favorite cables…

Tweaks to Watch From time-to-time, I’ll note any ‘tweaks’ that seem interesting. I’ll always let you know if I have personal experience, or if I’m simply reporting about the ‘buzz’ a particular tweak is generating.

  1. Acoustic Revive is a company that seems to exist in order to answer questions (providing new solutions) about audio that we didn’t know to ask. I’m not endorsing their products, not having had any here at this point. I am recommending that if you’re intellectually curious, you may profit from checking out the company and its offerings. Their Schumann Resonance product is especially intriguing to me.

  2. Acoustic resonators – another controversial tweak – have strong adherents on both sides. No surprise there. The claims are very interesting. And maybe a bit hard to believe. There are two companies that market them. Franck Tchang’s Acoustic System International’s Acoustic Resonators were the first to market. More recently, Ted Denny’s Synergistic Research introduced his Synergistic Resonators. While similar in some ways, they differ profoundly in others. Enough folks (that I respect) have responded favorably that I recommend checking them out. I should note that some listeners that I respect have not had favorable responses to at least one of these offerings.

Tweaks to try

  1. Shielding the IEC connector on removable power cords I first saw mention of this on AudioAsylum.com, and then on Audiogon’s message boards. It’s relatively simple to try. Essentially you obtain a copper union/sleeve with an inside diameter large enough to slide over the IEC AC power connector (component end) on a replaceable power cord. I have several brands of power cords around and I found that a 1.5” inside diameter copper union fitted over them all. I couldn’t locate any at my local Ace Hardware, Lowe’s or Home Depot. But they were in plentiful supply at a nearby plumbing supply house. About $4 each. Just remove the power cord from the component (after powering it down). Slide the copper sleeve over the IEC connector. Plug the power cord back into the component. Making sure the copper sleeve is physically against the component. The theory is that even most shielded power cords are not shielded within the IEC connector. I found that it was worthwhile for some components and power cords, not so much for others. But over all, worth trying – and cheap! Here are a couple of links relating to this simple tweak: Audiogon: http://forum.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/fr.pl?htech&1237170946 Audio Asylum: http://www.audioasylum.com/audio/tweaks/messages/16/162067.html You may need to use whatever technique works in each situation to keep the sleeve from being able to vibrate or move. Try it for yourself and see what you think.

  2. How you may able to use your CD player’s pause feature for best sound. I remember discussion of this several years ago. But I had forgotten about it. A few weeks ago I was voicing the system of a client in another state. In the midst of listening and voicing, on occasion I had distractions that required me to put the CD player into the ‘pause’ mode. Each time, when I resumed listening, I was shocked to hear a noticeable improvement in the sound. The staging perspective, the timbre, even the apparent dynamic range, was better. This was a widely available mid-priced player. I want to try it on my Ayre CD5xe, but haven’t had time yet. I did notice that the pause had to be longer than just a few seconds, probably 45-60, to make a difference. I strongly suspect that this phenomenon may be variable by player and brand. Try it and let me know how it works for your system.

Sensitivity to sensitivity? Maybe it’s just me. But I still prefer loudspeakers that don’t require 50 watts or more just to come alive. Some would argue that of course you don’t need 50 watts with speakers that only require one watt to produce, say, over 98 dB.

But it’s not about how loud they go for a given amount of power. It’s how effortless and involving they are when played softly. While some low efficiency speakers do well at this, more often than not, the more sensitive loudspeakers are more alive and dynamic than less efficient speakers when both are played softly.

While it’s certainly not the ONLY criteria for selecting a loudspeaker, I wouldn’t ignore this facet of performance. It may affect your long-term enjoyment and have an effect on whether or not you get an adequate return on your investment.

Top 10 standards of quality for high-end audio retail specialists

What follows is a classification of audio retailers. This is not intended to be any comment on the retail dealers out there. However, it is a guideline that you can use to determine if your dealer is supplying the level of service that you deserve. If you should find any dealer that meets the last standard listed, hang on to him or her. Don’t let go!

  1. A standard retail shop will probably help you load your purchase in your vehicle.

  2. Of those dealers, an even better one will offer to deliver it.

  3. Of those dealers, an even better one would offer to hook it up.

  4. Of those dealers, an even better one would have come to your home and listened with you to your current system first, before recommending any costly new component.

  5. Of those dealers, an even better one – upon listening to your system – can easily hear where your systems’ issues are.

  6. Of those dealers, an even better one will actually know what to do to correct your system’s shortcomings.

  7. Of those dealers, an even better one will suggest a “game plan” or road map to successfully overcome any issues your system may have.

  8. Of those dealers, an even better one would then make adjustments in keeping with the road map. These adjustments may include your purchase and his installation of a new component, and simultaneous voicing of your system; or the adjustments may simply be a voicing of your existing system.

  9. Of those dealers, an even better one would ask you to be present to observe and to listen to any differences as your system is being voiced.

  10. Of those dealers, an even better one will stay there to get your system right, no matter how long it takes. Getting your system right is defined as when he is satisfied that he’s accomplished his goal – and when you are delighted with the improvements. If he’s good, you’ll be happy long before he is.

I know whereof I speak regarding dealers. I’m one of the guys from category 10.

Throughout the 70s, 80s, and into the 90s, that was what we did for our clients. For us, it was a logical business decision for any specialist business. Naturally our clients stayed with us (some to this day, over three decades later).

I should express the obvious here – that is to say that a dealer providing this level of service won’t be around if he has to price match non-service oriented outlets. Pay him the price he asks, assuming that he successfully works hard to make your system come alive.

My clients never asked for discounts. In fact, they thought they were getting the best deal possible – actually having their purchase deliver all of its potential. They knew that settling for anything less than maximum performance would be wasting their money.

Expressed as a percentage of total audio retailers, there never were very many of us. Today, there are even fewer. If you find one, please support him every way that you possibly can.

Message board

We’ve again received several requests to start up a Quarter Notes or Get Better Sound message board. I’ve resisted it so far because I didn’t think we had a high enough percentage of readers to make it worthwhile.

If this is something in which you’d participate, let me know and I may take another look at it.

Message boards

If your Get Better Sound experience has been good, and you participate on any message boards, I’m officially asking you for a favor – to post to that effect. A few extra good vibes can’t possibly hurt.

If you’re comfortable posting, here is an example of a thread in which I’d appreciate your participation: http://forum.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/fr.pl?hbest&1237843730

Whether you do it or not, thanks for supporting this effort!

Sad, but true

You can have a big room, but somebody still has to do the voicing work. When it’s not done right, you get this:


Scroll down to the Avantgarde commentary.

Hourly rate for consulting

As many of you know from personal experience, I’m committed to being available to Quarter Notes subscribers. But with thousands of readers, the number has really grown.

You’re still invited to call or e-mail with questions. I’ll still promptly reply, just as I have to date. If I feel that your situation could benefit from a more in-depth approach, I’ll give you the option of consulting on an hourly basis.

Doing it from my office is simpler than a voicing trip or designing a room, so the time is consequently less expensive. Hourly consulting is $60/hour, in half hour increments. I simply send you an e-invoice, similar to your purchase of the GBS manual.

Upcoming in future Quarter Notes:

  • One client’s personal musical odyssey

  • Jeff Dorgay, Editor and Publisher of TONEAudio expounds on the return to vinyl

  • Reversed acoustic polarity effects

  • Trends to watch

  • Since headphones are more detailed sounding, why don’t I prefer to use them instead of listening to my speakers?

  • Different speaker wire lengths - the truth and the myth

  • A PraTfall

  • A workable ratio of relative component value

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 first issue of Quarter Notes! As I’ve written elsewhere, Quarter Notes is a quarterly newsletter for Get Better Sound readers, expanding on the manual, as well as introducing new and timely subjects. We may have a guest writer on a special topic. We may have a series of answers to the many questions I receive. In fact, send me an e-mail and I may include your question or comments in an upcoming newsletter.

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.

Tesa tape Guess I didn’t give enough info about the tesa tape that I mentioned. A few years ago, when I bought a supply of it, you could get it in a store like Lowe's or Home Depot. I wasn’t aware they’d since changed their distribution.

Since there is no model number on the roll, I recently contacted their US product manager and sent him a sample. He said that it appeared to be tesa #4651. To get it, you have to contact tesa and they’ll give you the local rep’s contact info.

Wow! Can they make it any harder to get? That’s a lot of trouble for some tape. Anyway, tesa US can be reached at 800-426-2181. The web site: http://www.tesatape.com

In other countries, tesa can be reached at http://www.tesa.com/company/worldwide

Master the mister OK, I meant this one to be in the manual, but I just ran out of time. Actually, for many years, I didn’t think of it in the context of home systems.

I first noticed it when I was making broadcast recordings for the Public Radio affiliate locally. Sometimes, between the first night’s concert and the second night’s event, the weather would change dramatically.

Even though the concert hall was closed off and supposedly free of climate differences, the reality was that if one night the air was fairly dry and the next night it was more humid (perhaps a low-pressure weather front had moved in), there was a noticeable difference in recorded sound quality.

Now, it’s important to note that my condenser microphones were hung in the same place overnight, and had not been disturbed in any way. Recording levels were untouched for each piece. The exact same program and the exact same orchestra would be on stage in the exact same place.

When the air in the concert hall was relatively dry, the sound was always a bit on the dead side. When the hall was relatively more humid, the sound was more extended and lively.

The attenuation of sound in air is affected by the relative humidity (RH). Dry air absorbs far more acoustical energy than does moist air. This is because moist air is less dense than dry air (water vapor weighs less than air)!

The velocity of air is at a minimum at a relative humidity (RH) of about 14%; then it rises. Above about 30% RH, the velocity increases linearly with increasing moisture content.

Furthermore, it’s been documented that in concert halls, low RH results in reduced high frequency reverberation time.

So what does all that mean?

It means that you may get a more lively sound with RH at or above 25-30% in your home. Because I have very dry heat, I find that the liberal use of a mister in my listening room helps a great deal. Do I actually hear the difference? I think so, but it could be that the room is simply more comfortable. So I enjoy the system more.

Whatever the reason, I use a 24-ounce handheld mister bottle in the winter in the dry heat. I even use it in the summer occasionally. I mist the plants and some other objects in the room that will absorb the mist. I spray a fine mist into the air, being careful NOT to spray in the direction of my electronics and especially my power amplifiers.

By the way, I mentioned that I hadn’t thought of it for stereo playback. George Cardas first suggested the idea to me for playback systems at a show demo.

FWIW – I used it at two big shows – one was the Stereophile HE Show in San Francisco in the fall, and another was at CES in the dead of winter at Las Vegas. Both times we won Best Sound at Show comments by many, including in print by TAS Editor Robert Harley.

I misted the room between demos (every thirty minutes). Was the mister the secret ingredient? I don’t know. I do know we had lines of folks waiting to listen. And that we got applause at the end of the demos.

Why not try it and see for yourself?

Of course, I can’t guarantee how much applause you’ll get.

Why single-ended amplifiers can sound so good It’s not because of magic dust. Or even tube sound. In fact, a single-ended amplifier can be solid state.

It’s primarily due to the fact that a single ended amp doesn’t deconstruct the musical signal and then have to reconstruct it at the outputs. This “tearing apart” of the musical info into positive and negative waveforms is very tricky. Putting it all back together again is very tricky. So it’s exponentially tricky.

A single ended amplifier keeps the waveform intact, from input to output. As usual, simpler is often better, or at least, pretty interesting.

Why single-ended amplifiers can sound so bad Most single-ended amplifiers end up having a fairly high output impedance (especially vacuum-tube SE amps). I’m not going into the technical aspects of it here. What counts is the audible result.

Loudspeakers generally have a widely varying impedance at various frequencies. An amp with a higher output impedance will deliver varying amounts of power at varying frequencies as the impedance of the speaker at those frequencies changes. Simply said, the loudspeaker you selected for its smooth frequency response no longer is so smooth.

And if you auditioned that loudspeaker with a single-ended amp, it may still be subject to significant frequency response fluctuations if the amp is different in design than the one you heard on your speakers. The same can be said if the demo used a tube amp with one set of output taps (say, 4 ohms) and you use another, (say, 16 ohms). The overall tonal balance of the system will be shifted at various frequencies in ways that almost seem to be unpredictable.

The higher output impedance of a SE tube amplifier means that its damping factor will be lower than that of other push/pull tube amps, and considerably lower than transistor amps. Lower damping factor can generally be attributed to less bass control.

However, you may find that the directness and the intimacy of a single-ended amp outweighs the colorations of its uneven frequency response and less bass control.

I confess to having been beguiled by that sound from time-to-time when the SE amplifier was paired with an appropriate loudspeaker.

Bi-wiring I’ve received a surprising number of questions about why I ignored bi-wiring in Get Better Sound. Guess I didn’t think of it so much as ignoring it as being focused on addressing issues that were a bit more predictable.

Personally, I’ve found bi-wiring to give noticeable improvements with some loudspeakers, and not so noticeable results with others. And many don’t offer the option.

I may expand on the variability a bit more in future Quarter Notes. But it’s not always a worthwhile change if you have expensive cables and you have to spend twice the money for what may be a questionable improvement (depending on how your loudspeakers react to bi-wiring).

Room temp/humidity/Rives After getting his copy of Get Better Sound, Richard Rives Bird (of Rives Audio fame) dropped me a brief note re: my views on the changing sound in my room according to seasons, some of which is reproduced below:

…One thing I wanted to offer was another opinion on the changing sound from seasons. I have experienced the same issue. It was fairly prominent when I lived in Maryland. It's hardly existent here in Iowa. I do not think it's caused by temperature (temperature swings in Iowa are very dramatic) and the contraction and expansion of the walls, but rather by air density. In your climate particularly this will change dramatically from summer to winter with large changes in relative humidity. In the summer the high humidity, denser air, will mean more molecules that will be more efficient particularly for the bass (which moves the most air). The high frequency is not affected, but the perception is that it's rolling off, but that's just our ear/brain telling us that there's not enough high frequency for the amount of bass and lower midrange energy. Things are "out of whack"…

Thanks, Richard. An interesting theory and one that’s at least as valid as mine. At any rate, it’s good to have an expert validate my experience so that I can relax in the knowledge that I’m not going crazy…

The Concert Experience There are references to this line of thought in the Get Better Sound manual. Having once presented this idea to a group, I had written it down. This is the core of the idea I ultimately came to call The Concert Experience:

Our roots Music, in all of its forms, may be the ultimate expression of mankind’s creativity. Music is man’s most reliable arts vehicle for conveying his feelings and emotions, from the glorious heights of joy to the deepest pools of peace and serenity.

Live music speaks into our inner being. It’s a feeling hard to describe, wonderful to experience. Certainly one result is often an elevated spirit, a sense of well-being.

When we concentrate on the music and its message, great music has the habit of growing on us with each subsequent exposure, rather than become boring (“been there, done that”). Few other entertainment/arts mediums can consistently make this claim.

Music has served as the primary support system for most of man’s history, including worship, romance, significant events, celebrations, parades, as well as dining, reading, conversation, recreation, travel, etc. What other art medium has occupied such a prominent place in the history of mankind?

A lost art? Sometime in the last forty-to-fifty years – and because it’s happened gradually we haven’t noticed – we’ve almost lost the key to unlock music’s magic. Perhaps it’s due to the population crush in the larger metropolitan centers, but live music has become increasingly inaccessible to the “masses.” And let’s face it, it’s so much easier to watch TV, or see a film at the local theater.

Today, we have a significant segment of the population who rarely – if ever – experiences the emotional impact of live music. And, although they don’t know it, they are impoverished…

Because they no longer remember what it feels like, they accept music solely as a background medium, elevator music for their lives. However, the people who write and perform music are driven to do so from a performance standpoint.

With some “commercial” exceptions, most performers – in their mind’s eye – don’t see themselves writing & performing for an audience that’s concentrating almost totally on some other aspect of life! They don’t write and perform their music to be an accompaniment to life’s duties.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s J.S. Bach or Chuck Berry. Can you imagine either of them performing their music to an audience that was largely distracted by other events occurring around it? And can you imagine the audience continuing to be inattentive in the presence of either?

Now, I’m not against music as a backdrop for life (although, doesn’t it bother you when “background music” emerges from the background to become objectionably distracting?). My point is simply that music is an awesome gift to mankind, and it wasn’t meant to be just elevator music…

There is some good news. The same technology that corrupted music’s message is capable of reversing the damage.

Rekindling the fire Today, we are able to reproduce music “on demand.” Traditionally, this luxury was reserved only for the wealthiest individuals, who could afford to have paid musicians on hand.

We get the benefits of having our own musicians on call, except that we can enjoy all forms of music and the necessary musicians and instruments to play them. As such, today there is no limit to repertoire.

If we choose to do so, we can allow reproduced music to speak to us the way the composer and performer(s) intended, regardless of the type of music. Here is the standard:

Music is written and performed with a message in mind. Does your music system consistently convey the message such that you can feel it? While listening to music, are your emotions touched in a way comparable to attending a live musical event?

Recreating a musical event – the Concert Experience When listening to music, we have to “suspend our disbelief” in order to become fully immersed in what’s happening. With no visual cues, perhaps it’s actually easier, since we aren’t distracted with having to watch as well as listen. Recreating a musical event and its effects on our emotions should be our ultimate goal. At the end of a musical selection, you should experience the same feelings you get at the end of a selection performed live – in concert. Now maybe this won’t happen all of the time, but it should happen often. Don’t settle for less.

Twenty minutes vs. two hours to nirvana?

The home theater experience can be a one-and-one-half-to-two-hour time commitment, or more.

A music listening session can last from three or four minutes up to several hours, more commonly from about twenty to fifty minutes.

How much time do you have for your therapeutic treatment? I confess to heading for the music 95% of the time. But then, I’m not a film buff, nor do I have two+ hours available every time I need an “attitude adjustment.”

Small, medium and large listening rooms

Never really quantified them. Guess I need to since I’ve been asked what do I mean by small, medium, or large rooms.

In my context, small is anything up to about 16’ x 13’.

Medium is probably from around 17’ x 14’ up to about 26’ x 15’.

Large is probably above 27’ x 16’, usually with higher ceilings than the standard 8’.

CES 2009 quick note

Interestingly (at least to me), this year there was a higher percentage of rooms that had decent ‘show’ sound. Unfortunately, there were very few dealers and distributors to actually hear those demos.

Everyone has their own method of gauging the size of the crowds, and I have mine. Except that there were no crowds at either the high-end demos at the Venetian or at the Alexis Park.

From a US dealer perspective, it was essentially a West Coast show. Of course there were exceptions, but many dealers who usually go to every CES opted out this year.

Many of the overseas distributors made the trip, but even that group had its share of no-shows or brief visits.

I said all that to make this point - if you have a good dealer that has treated you well, now is the time to support him/her if you can afford it.

Laser distance measurers and levels

Lots of comments and questions on this one. Since I actually dropped and broke my original Leica Disto, I was interested in what’s out there now.

Luckily, prices have come down and accuracy has gone up.

I just bought a Bosch DLR165K at Lowe’s. Much lower price than the Leica. Its resolution is higher than my Disto. The only caveat - it’s not as substantial feeling as the Leica (although that didn’t help when I dropped it).

Reader Bob Wilcox reports that he got his for less than US $125 including shipping, at http://www.coastaltool.com/bosch/dlr165k.htm.

Bob also got a good deal on levels. He says,

…The levels I bought are the RYOBI Air Grip model. These have a suction cup and air suction pump so that they will stick to the mounting surface while operating. Twenty bucks each at Home Depot. Many laser levels cost more than 2 of these...


When I wrote about these, I listed them in the Semi-Pro set-up tools section. I knew that some installers needed this info. But a number of you have asked about getting one for yourself.

Of course, I cannot recommend RTAs that I’ve never actually used. My only experience is with the professional Bruel&Kjaer, the Ivie, and the top Gold Line units. None of these are less than US $1,500.00.

I’ve never tried the newer inexpensive systems. They may be awesome. If anyone wants to send me a unit that I can compare, let me know.

But for now, I can only recommend what I know.

House calls

Having received a large number of inquiries about in-home system voicing, I thought this description of a typical job would be useful. But I wouldn't exactly call this a program. Because I never know what I may encounter. However, there are some generalities that are illustrative:

I've been doing these installations/voicings for years. In general, I like to arrive the evening before the day of the job - especially if I flew in, to give my hearing a break overnight. Depending on the time, it’s useful to check out the site and meet with the client that evening.

The next day is open, meaning that it may take as few as 8-10 hours or it may take 12 or more. For what it's worth, in the past 30 years, I've never been able to complete a complete new system voicing in less than about 10 hours. I don't stop working until I know the system would satisfy me (which will be after you are already pleased). I do this within the context of using what you have on hand.

Also, we'll create what I call a 'roadmap' in the manual. So you'll have an idea of what you may want to do later, as well as what you shouldn't...

I book a flight out the next morning.

Often I will drive, if it’s a drive of perhaps six hours or less.

So it's essentially a three-day commitment. I charge $890/day for the actual voicing and half of that for travel. In other words, about what you'd pay for a good plumber! So it would be $890 + $445 + $445 plus expenses. I'll try to keep it at that price, so long as I can limit the number of trips to a reasonable number.

Although it's not always that high, I tell people to figure from about $2000-2500, all inclusive. Of course that includes follow-up calls and e-mails as needed.

Local voicing (within a reasonable distance from my home in the North Atlanta area), would most likely incur much less travel time expense.

Voicing a turntable adds $295. Once the mechanical aspects (location, overhang, azimuth, suspension, leveling, cable dress, etc.) are out of the way, this is primarily voicing with tracking force, anti-skate - and if your system provides these options - VTA, tone-arm damping, as well as cartridge loading.

My position has always been that, even if you end up spending US $2500 or so, you’ll get a tremendous improvement to your system when compared to anything you'd get by spending huge amounts of money on new electronics, cables, etc. After all, as good as they may be, those new components cannot repeal the laws of physics…

I require my clients to commit the entire time to be with me when voicing a system. So if I came on a Wednesday, you'd have to be there all day.

Often a weekend is best for my clients, and I'm willing to do that at the same price.

If I fly, I ship in a kit of instruments/tools/recordings via FedEx Express or Ground that I'll use, and I ask you to ship it back. The shipping is not expensive, but you would have to cover transportation both ways. Having insured this kit for voicing trips, I know that it's worth (insured for) over $3,000. For you, it's like getting the use of it without paying to rent or buy it.

Rarely, but once in a while, an unusually difficult situation might call for another day. Of course, I will share with you what I think needs doing if you don't want to incur more expense at that time. If you opt to have me stay over, most of the time, it's just a portion of the next day, and if I can still make my return trip later that same day, then the price for the that second day is adjusted down accordingly.

But first and most important, we would need to have a phone conversation. From there, I can generally decide if I think it would be worth your time and expense. Occasionally, I have to tell folks that it might not be worth it based on certain restrictions they have.

I also recommend that folks get the Get Better Sound manual and go through it, both to get a feel for what I think is important, and - honestly speaking - for the feeling you get from reading how I write. If you are uncomfortable with what I say or how I say it, that should be a warning sign!

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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