Quarter Notes, Volume 3, Issue #3

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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 jim@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 Place Order page on the GBS website - http://getbettersound.com/thebook.html

Click on the StraightTalk Icon – it will take you to a page where 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.

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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%... :)

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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.... :)

http://www.theaudiophileswife.com/


 

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 neccesarily 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 andhear 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 assymetrical 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 hear 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 build up.  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.

Wow.

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,

Go to Get Better Sound

 
     
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