Does Your Hi-Fi System Play the Room?
RoomPlay™ is Jim’s custom voicing service. Jim has two main goals when it comes to improving his clients’ audio systems:
Move their music systems to another level of performance and involvement without replacing one single component.
The system improvement should be by far the biggest they have ever experienced— well beyond that obtained by replacing any electronics or cables (regardless of expense).
So imagine that your listening room has no walls, no ceilings, and no speakers. The musicians have assembled to play a special concert just for you in that space.
It can be so powerful that you even feel the emotional impact of the music the next day, as if you’d attended a live concert. Jim calls this phenomenon “playing the room.” Hence, RoomPlay™.
A $10,000 audio system properly playing the room is vastly superior to a $100,000 system that isn't. If you have made a significant investment in your system, doesn't it make sense to finally hear what you paid for?
"With my eyes closed, I attempted to obtain an aural signature of the room. I couldn't. Nothing. There was very tacit recording venue data, yes—but none that portrayed the room itself. It had been entirely subtracted from the listening equation!
"This 'no speaker!' sensation was uncanny. Moreover, it was exceedingly tactile. That was clearly the result of meticulous setup... In short, Jim had banished from my awareness all reminders of mechanical sound sources and actual versus virtual environs."
— Srajan Ebaen, 6moons.com
Reference Standards for Your System
Jim describes his objectives for his clients:
“When I voice a system, there is an internal list of standards that I expect to achieve. It’s my reference. I carry the sound in my head (and heart). That list includes:
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’s critical 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.
There is tremendous freedom in being released from the constant urge to upgrade. Without a reference, the question should be, “What do I hope to achieve with this upgrade, exactly?” But with a known reference, the system can serve as a source of musical satisfaction and even as a refuge from day-to-day pressures (including desires to “upgrade”).”
Who is the Typical RoomPlay™ Client?
You might be a RoomPlay™ client if you are:
Someone who wants to extract far higher performance from his or her existing system.
Someone who has had little or no voicing assistance, and who is more often than not time-poor. While they want to move their system to the next level, preferably someone else will come in and get it done.
Someone who has finally realized that throwing more money at yet another highly reviewed component will be money wasted, at least until the system’s foundation is built.
What Happens During a RoomPlay™ Session?
First, you should know that a RoomPlay™ session is intensive work, not a fun time to chat. The end result will be greatly increased enjoyment and musical satisfaction, but the path to get there is serious work. For Jim, the sessions are physically, mentally, and even emotionally exhausting. It's a bit like getting a room ready for an audio show.
That's why Jim requires the client to be present during the entire session. The idea is not only to dramatically improve the client's system, but also to show the client how to do it should the occasion arise in the future.
The RoomPlay™ Satisfaction Guarantee
The whole point of a RoomPlay™ session is to completely transcend the performance gains that audiophiles get when they spend money on electronics or cables. As Jim puts it: “Addressing how electrons flow through circuits or wires is minor when compared to addressing the acoustic wave launch into your room and how you receive it at your listening seat.”
Therefore, Jim guarantees that you will have never experienced a similar improvement with the addition of any electronics or cables, no matter how expensive. If you disagree that the RoomPlay™ session brings you the level of musical involvement promised, then you set the price that you think is fair for Jim’s services. He wants you to be satisfied, period.
Pricing and Booking a RoomPlay™ Session
Due to the fact that every system is different, with different requirements (for example, some may be in Jim's local area, and some may be in Hawaii or Canada) there can be no one-size-fits-all pricing. If the concept of a RoomPlay™ session is appealing, the simplest thing is to use the Contact link at the top of this page to connect with Jim, so that you can both explore the possibility.
After initial contact has been made, Jim will request some images of your listening area. Sometimes this is not an option for some clients, so the next step – with or without images and/or a room drawing - is a phone conversation. Jim will want to know about your system, your room, your assessment of the system’s performance in the room, and your expectations.
Some of the time, having seen the images and discussed the project, Jim advises against going further, because there are too many obstacles or a lack of flexibility in set-up. He wants to be certain that if he takes on a project, the results will be dramatic for the client.
No session is booked without a 35% deposit for the projected dates. There are numerous ways to make that deposit, and Jim will discuss the various options with you.
And after your RoomPlay™ Session…
RoomPlay™ clients often get more excited about their systems than they have been previously. So they have questions. The price of the RoomPlay™ session includes free consultations by phone or e-mail for 12 months following the session.
An in-depth RoomPlay™ system/room voicing description:
The link below features running commentary from the highly respected AudioShark audio forum. It’s about Jim’s RoomPlay™ service. At the time of posting this link, it is eight pages in length. However, the most relevant posts at this time are: #1, #4, #15, #22, #26, #34, #39, #44, #47, #56, #62, #66, #72, and #73.
Another (related) RoomPlay™ description:
Also, beginning at post #29, a more recent RoomPlay™ session:
Below are just two comments from recent RoomPlay™ clients. If you'd like to see some more of the many similar emails Jim has received, email him using the Contact link below, and he'll happily send them to you.
From a client in Bethesda, MD:
As you’ll recall, I made it a point NOT to listen to the system while you were working, preferring to hear the difference only on my own familiar music at the very end of the process. So when you were through, I hooked up my own DAC (which was cold from being “off” all day) and played bits and pieces from my own music. Ahhhh…. Where to start?
The soundstage now fills the space behind the speakers, both left to right and front to back, and I can hear clearly where the musicians are located relative to one another.
The musicians are actually “there” for the first time! The “presence” is maybe 5 times what it used to be.
The detail (dynamics, harmonics, performance artifacts,, etc.) is thrilling, and virtually every familiar track now has a bonus of previously unknown sound to offer.
The bass response, which wasn’t exactly shabby to start with, is stunning. The music has a foundation, even if it wasn’t well recorded.
I’m listening at louder levels, because there’s so much more to hear, and it doesn’t SOUND loud at all -- it just sounds alive!
If I had to sum it up in one word, that word would probably be “exciting.” And the improvement is much more than I’ve experienced from
ANY equipment change (even the Durand tonearm) in all the years I’ve been doing this. Thank you, Jim!
From a client in Houston, TX:
Just wanted to drop you a note to thank you for your excellent work. The system is sounding wonderful!!
I am AMAZED at the amount of musical information that is on my favorite music that I just didn't know was there. I have smiled many times in my music room. THANK YOU!!
I especially wanted to highlight your professionalism. In today's world it is rare to find people who are honest, serious and committed to excellence in what they do. You are one of those rare people and it is a breath of fresh air to know that people like you still exist.
I am privileged to have had you voice my room and come to my home. I will always be grateful. Thank you again for all your help.