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Does your system "Play the Room?"


Introducing RoomPlay™ custom voicing (aka In-Home Consultation & System Voicing).

In a recent ad in Stereophile, Jim Smith said,

"Dear Audiophile:


As I've traveled around North America, voicing readers' systems, three things have become very obvious:

1) Audiophiles have standards that are simply too low. They accept much less than they deserve (and much less than they paid to get).

2) It's not really their fault. They simply don't have a reference for how good their system can be.

3) Addressing how electrons travel in wire and electronics is one thing—addressing how sound waves are launched into the room and how they are received at the listening seat is far more critical and pays far bigger dividends."

Playing the Room

RoomPlay™ is Jim's custom voicing service. 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. You feel the emotional impact of the music the next day, as if it had been a live concert.

Jim call it "playing the room." Hence, RoomPlay.

Srajan Ebaen, Editor & Publisher at 6Moons.com, commented on my personal system:

"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 myawareness all reminders of mechanical sound sources and actual versus virtual environs."*

Listen, a $10,000 system properly playing the room is vastly superior to a $100,000 system that isn't.

Your most important component

Your most important component will always be your room. Proper voicing yields greatly enhanced dynamics, presence, liveliness, tone, and soundstaging. Therefore, your musical involvement is enhanced as well. That's why the thing that's been most edifying—and gratifying—to me is that my voicing clients are no longer replacing components. They are off the equipment merry-go-round. These days, they shop for music.

If you have a significant investment in your system, doesn't it make sense to finally hear what you paid for?"

To learn more about RoomPlay, and why a custom voicing session can be the biggest improvement you can make in your system, read more below. If you have already read enough to know that this is something that interests you, contact Jim Smith – jim@getbettersound.com

Who is the typical RoomPlay client?

It's someone who wants to extract far higher performance from his or her existing system.

Someone who has had little or no voicing assistance.

Someone who – more often than not – is time-poor. They want to move their system to the next level. But they want someone to come in and get it done. They don't have the time to do it themselves. And they've finally realized that throwing more money at still another highly reviewed component will be money wasted, at least until the foundation for their system is built.

RoomPlay Tools

Jim’s custom voicing service includes, but isn’t limited to, the following tools:

1/3 Octave Real Time Analyzer
Calibrated Omni Condenser Microphone
15” MacBook Pro, optimized specifically for RoomPlay Applications
Bosch Laser Distance Meter
Four Laser Levels
Custom Grid System
Grid Tripods
Woodworx Acoustic Polarity Indicator
Ayre QB-9 DAC
Fluke VTVM
Mark-free Marking Tape
Marking Labels
First Reflection Point System
Selected Music from Top 185 Reference Disc List
Jim Smith’s 35 years of voicing experience and knowledge

The tools for this voicing kit are worth well over $10,000. You get the full benefits of it, but you don’t have to buy it, nor do you have to learn how to use these items (unless it interests you to so).

RoomPlay - How It Works

Caution – unless you are considering having your system voiced, this section is long and perhaps more detailed than a casual reader would enjoy reading.

In addition to serving his long-time personal clients, recently Jim has been able to help a significant number of new people – mostly readers of Get Better Sound - in their homes, working in their rooms, voicing their systems.

The results have been consistently gratifying, not just for his clients, who can best be described as ecstatic over the improvements, but perhaps to his surprise, for Jim as well.

He has especially appreciated the ongoing contact with these clients and especially the fact that they really love their sound now, that they spent far less than they would have spent to buy almost any component, and perhaps most gratifying – that since the voicing session, they haven’t spent a dime on any more components!

Having received a large number of inquiries about in-home system voicing, Jim thought this description of a typical job would be useful. But he wouldn't exactly call this a program. Because he never knows what he 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 6-8 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 new system evaluation and voicing in less than about 8-10 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.

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 $10,000. 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 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!”

The Concept

Virtually every audiophile that Jim has ever visited (many hundreds, if not thousands) has had a stereo system that was performing below – usually well below – the potential for that system in that room. This is true no matter how expensive the components are, whether or not the listening area is a dedicated room, or how knowledgeable the owner is reputed to be.

After 30+ years of installing and voicing systems that perform at a high level, Jim finally realized why this phenomenon was so depressingly true.

First, it had been apparent that he was working with many exceptionally bright people. People who were experts in their respective fields. But just as we wouldn’t recommend that you hire Jim to perform an intricate medical procedure, why would a cardiologist expect to be able to extract all of the performance from his/her music system? Reading magazines won’t impart the experience. Going to shows won’t either.

It all comes down to having a reference. The one universal comment that Jim reports hearing is that the client simply had no idea that the resulting sound was possible. He/she hadn’t heard it before, didn’t know if the room would be good enough, thought they needed “better equipment”, etc.

So not only do his voicing clients report vastly improved sound, now they have a reference for what is possible. It means that they can not only become far more involved in their music and the overall listening experience, they are now in a position to determine if a new component truly merits the expense.

If you’re unsure of what is entailed in a voicing session, perhaps reading the accounts below will be of assistance. Plus you can always Contact Jim Smith for more info.

Two additional points should be emphasized.

(1) It’s Jim’s goal to move your music system to another level of performance and involvement without replacing one single component.

(2) The improvement in your system should be by far the biggest you’ve ever experienced, well beyond that obtained by replacing any electronics or cables at any price.

The bottom line for clients

“…thought to myself that what you did was the best investment I had made for my Hi-Fi ever.”

It easily represented the best “bang for the buck” that I’ve spent on my system over the years.”

RoomPlay™ - The Concept

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.

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):

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

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

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

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”).”

Booking A RoomPlay™ Session

After initial contact has been made, Jim will request some images of the client’s 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 25% deposit for the projected dates. There are numerous ways to make that deposit, and Jim will discuss the various options with you.


RoomPlay™ Pricing

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. There are some general guidelines, however:

RoomPlay Reference - $450

This has been an unexpectedly popular service, as it establishes a reference for serious audiophiles for what is possible. Maybe fully credited against any Room Play session. Please note that Jim’s motivation is the same – as described in the RoomPlay Reference document.

Requires a $100 deposit to book a date.

Click here for more details: http://www.getbettersound.com/roomplay-reference.html

RoomPlay Level 1 – Arrival, evaluation, voicing & departure in one day – US $1470.  Almost exclusively in the Atlanta area.

RoomPlay Level 2 – Arrival & system evaluation the night before, voicing and departure the next day – US $2170.

RoomPlay Level 3 – Arrival & system evaluation the night before, voicing the next day, and departure the third day – US $2870.

Each time zone difference adds US $150. Jim is in the Eastern Time Zone. So a Level 2 session in Nashville, TN would be US $2170 + 150 = $2320.

Contact Jim for Alaska & Hawaii rates.

Canada & Mexico add US $300.

Typical travel expenses may include airfare, lodging, and car rental.

For other countries, contact Jim.

Systems with unusual tuning devices or requirements may require additional expense, to be discussed with the client.

The RoomPlay 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.

If the concept of a RoomPlay session is appealing, the simplest thing is to contact Jim so that you can both explore the possibility.

Contact him at jim@getbettersound.com

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.
 
     
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