Quarter Notes, Volume 4, #1

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Dear Get Better Sound owners,

Welcome to the thirteenth issue of Quarter Notes!

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



Best e-mail address

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

If you have an e-mail address that you’d prefer to use to receive Quarter Notes notifications, send it to jim@getbettersound.com. Be sure to include the e-mail address I used originally, along with the one that you want to use to replace it.



Our FIFTH Anniversary!

Dear Reader,

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

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

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


Internet message boards and a continuing invitation

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

So I’ve removed all of that.  Except…

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


System priorities

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

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

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

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

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


Organic EQ vs electronic EQ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ultimate tweak for Macs when used as computer music servers?

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

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

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

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

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


  • Enable or disable journaling

  • Repair disk permissions

  • Set disk sleep (spindown) time

  • Enable or disable Sudden Motion Sensor

  • Run periodic maintenance scripts

  • Purge inactive memory and optimize virtual memory usage

  • Enable or disable virtual memory swapping

  • Manage Spotlight indexing

  • Erase Spotlight indexes

  • Modify Time Machine settings

  • Change startup mode or set startup delay

  • Force empty the Trash

  • Disable Notification Center

  • Clear system caches

  • Clear user caches

  • Clear font caches

  • Clear virtual memory swap files

  • Clear temporary files

  • Clear Internet caches

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

  • Clear Adobe Flash Player caches and cookies

  • Search for corrupted preference files

  • Delete unnecessary localization (language resources) files

  • Delete locked or inaccessible items

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

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

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

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

  • And more…

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

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

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


Computer Audio clarification

In order to be perfectly clear about my computer audio, let me say that I use a MacBook Pro.  I run the music with digital music programs, either Pure Music or Audirvana+.

Output from the MBP is via Asynchronous USB through a Transparent Audio USB cable to my Ayre QB-9 dac.

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



Tweaksville

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

The couplers are shown below:





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







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

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

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

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



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

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


Latest developments with Through the Sound Barrier

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

New Developments!

Update #16 · July 10, 2013

Hello TTSB Backers!

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

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

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

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

We begin the big move on August 11!

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

This will delay the completion of the TTSB project.

That's the less-than-good news.

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

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

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

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



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

- The new RoomPlay Reference sessions should be even better!

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

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

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

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


Inside info about the delay

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

Maybe a brief history will be helpful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

  2. GBS was conceived and developed as a result.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I estimate mid-to-late September now.

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


An invitation

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


Sign off

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

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

Best regards,

Go to Get Better Sound

 
     
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