Recent RoomPlay Comments
I attend about five concerts a year at the Boston Symphony Orchestra. As my interest in classical music has grown, I have used these performances from the listening perspective of the eighth row, center, as a reference for how reproduced music should sound in my home. Over the last ten years I have assembled a good collection of audio gear and have strived to make that system approach what I hear at the BSO. Toward that end, I bought a copy of Jim Smith’s book, Get Better Sound.
The book is well written and easy to understand. I was particularly interested in the speaker placement and room interaction sections as I had recently purchased a new pair of speakers. By following the advice in the book, I was able to improve my system to the point where I was quite pleased but not truly satisfied. Compared to what I heard at the BSO, my system still lacked dynamics and that palpable presence of a live performance.
Jim suggests in his book that careful placement and proper integration can provide dramatic improvements to a system. After some communication about system details and scheduling, Jim agreed to “voice my system to my room”.
Jim arrived the night before the RoomPlay session and connected his laptop and DAC to my system. He listen to some music in order to get a general sense of how my system sounded and what we could do the following day to improve its performance. The following morning we set up Jim’s test equipment. Jim began by running polarity pulses tones and measuring the room’s bass response. He wants to first establish the correct seating location based on the smoothest and best bass. This measurement part took maybe twenty minutes out 10 hours or more.
We then moved the speakers back and forth listening with his sourtce material for the most balanced overall frequency response. This distance relationship between the listener and the speakers, relative to the dimensions of the room, minimizes frequency peaks and nulls and establishes the smoothest frequency curve.
The next step involved establishing the proper distance between the speakers. Here Jim listened for a sense of weight and body to the voices and instruments and for appropriate inner detail and center-fill. Finally, we tried different degrees of toe-in and tilt, listening for tonal balance. All of these extremely precise adjustments required the use of laser levels and measuring devices. It was an exacting and very deliberate process.
It has been about six weeks since Jim’s visit. I have had some time now to reflect on the visit and the results of his work. I had read his book and worked diligently to improve my system to the point where I was not sure what further improvements Jim could bring. Nevertheless, my anticipation of and expectations for his visit were high. If he could improve the sonics even slightly, I would be happy. I can now say that I was not properly prepared for the degree of improvement Jim made to my system.
Jim speaks about Tone, Presence and Dynamics. He tells his clients that he will make the musicians perform for them in their rooms. His goal is to have the client thinking about a listening session long after it is over, in a similar way that he continues to think about a great live performance days after it is heard. Jim achieved all of this and more. I simply did not realize to how high a degree my system could perform.
Jim is a very personable fellow, full of knowledge and experience. Though I learned a great deal watching him work, I also really enjoyed being in his company. The improvements he made to my system are dramatic and I consider his fee to be a bargain relative to the overall investment I have in my system. His RoomPlay service is the single best purchase I have made in this hobby. I listen more intently, enjoy the experience more completely and have a much deeper appreciation for my music.
I would have thought that results from his efforts were some kind of lucky fluke were it not that he performed the same service with very similar results on a friend’s familiar system. Our two systems improved in similar ways and are similarly involving. I am now fully convinced that the speaker/listener/room relationship is the primary component to good and convincing sound and that the equipment plays a subordinate, though important role.
On Good Friday, I went to the BSO to hear Bach’s Passion according to John. It is a large choral piece with full orchestra and six solo vocalists. The performance was deeply moving. On Easter evening, two days later, with Bach fresh in my mind, I listened to an LP recording of Jesus Christ Superstar, the Passion according to Andrew Lloyd Webber. No, it did not sound quite like the real thing, nor was the scale of the music as majestic as in Symphony Hall, but the performance was just as emotionally involving. I was just as moved by the recording and as Jim predicted, I continue to think about how good it sounded.
Peter A., Marblehead, MA
For more than two years I have owned a High End audio system, working with some diligence to 'dial it in'. My near neighbor and audio buddy is fortunately very intelligent, being both technically and practically minded. We spent many, many hours working to voice our own and each other's systems.
Our first and most significant breakthroughs came from the book Get Better Sound by Jim Smith. It was the basis for our first solid improvements, and the foundation for understanding what would result from the changes we made. This latter detail was particularly helpful: in setting up audio gear, there are inevitably mis-steps. Getting back to where you were before a mis-adjustment avoids one discouragement that can plague listeners.
My goal was to maximize listening pleasure from my current gear, and so avoid the gear-swapping merry-go-round. Still, after two years, both my friend's system and mine, despite sounding much better than before, were not fulfilling in what I call a Musical way.
Given the amount we had invested, inviting Jim Smith to tune our systems made solid sense. This even in the light of both systems sounding their best just before Jim's arrival. There was a great deal of anticipation as the date approached: Would there really be an improvement, as Jim had promised in both his book and his advertisement? Could the subs be made to integrate seamlessly, as claimed? Was my gear truly capable of delivering a reference level listening experience, and, honestly, could Jim deliver on his word?
Jim came to voice my system, listening the night he arrived and adjusting the system to 'play the room' the next day. This included an RTA evaluation of the room's bass performance – something I had known intuitively affected my system's sound – and, using his tools and source material, repositioning room treatment, the speakers and the subwoofers. Seeing and participating in the process of system voicing was revelatory and empowering.
Everything Jim promised came true: the results are exceptional. I've been listening for more than 20 years. In that time I heard three systems that defined my idea of 'Musical' audio playback (by which I mean presentation that puts equipment out of mind, so the path to the heart is clear). There was always something standing between me and a 'Musical' experience; all that now remains is my willingness to open to the music. In its present configuration, my system sounds better than anything I have ever heard. I didn't buy another component, Jim simply gave my gear the opportunity to 'work the room' to best advantage.
As a grown man I admit freely that the first selection played after Jim's voicing took me immediately to tears. Since Jim's tuning of my room-system interface, I have the same level of involvement every time I listen. Now, I find myself singing or humming the music from that listening session the next day. It always comes back to me, just like the recollection of a fine live performance.
My listening now consistently recreates that deep sense of connection that I experienced when performing with the choral group Musica Viva in New York City. Several paid singers anchored our group, Renee Fleming among them. At that level, even our rehearsals gave me the physical sensation of being palpably lifted from beneath my sternum by the music. The past result from performing, and now from listening, is direct emotional involvement.
Having that experience in my home --rivaled only three times in twenty plus years of audio pursuit-- means to me that my system now not only fulfills its potential, but takes me close to the musical experience itself. I receive pleasure from listening, and am also becoming a better musician as a direct result.
Were you to wonder, as I did, whether Jim could work the same magic on your system, consider this. Jim subsequently worked on my friend's listening room. Although his system is solid state and mind is hybrid, his more conventional by being components while mine is an integrated proprietary system, both systems now "sing the room". Each room provided different challenges, yet in both instances my friend and I feel our sound now outstrips the best we were able to obtain on our own, by far. Each of us would do it again -- in a heartbeat.
Members of Audiogon who used Jim say it was their best investment yet in audio. I ask myself why I waited so long to give myself continual access to the 'Musical' experience that previously only came from live performance. Jim is a very engaging person in his own right, with a large heart and a gift for generosity; that spending time with him in transforming my music system was a true pleasure is what qualifies, to me, as value added.
All the Very Best,
David K, Marblehead, MA
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There have been some unsolicited posts on Internet Forums that describe Jim’s in-home voicing procedure.
The following is excerpted from one such account:
First off, Jim Smith is a class act all the way and is a walking encyclopedia of audio information. He was very professional and flexible from planning, execution and follow up. He did not know me at all until I gave him a phone call. If you have not bought his book yet then I would seriously recommend buying it and if you have the ability to pay for his on site services then I would highly recommend that as well. Jim was able to take my system to the next level with components I already had.
Keep in mind I am new to higher end audio so for me I needed to better understand what "good" is supposed to sound like. I had my own perception and felt my system was sounding great before Jim arrived.
This was Jim's first exposure to Martin Logan CLX's. He had read most of the reviews and talked with a few other people so he had a general idea of what to expect. Jim spent about 2.5 days with me and my system. Outside of phone conversations and a few photos and diagrams Jim was coming into an environment he had no experience with.
Upon arrival Jim focused solely on better understanding my environment. He asked pertinent questions and there was no music played until he understood the room, the components and the reasoning for certain positions and configurations. While I had always considered my room less than ideal, Jim thought it was just fine and not a real issue.
Jim then listened to a few tracks to determine what challenges he might have for the next 2 days. The tracks he selects are ones he knows very well and so he knew what to listen for. Now I was hoping I had them setup pretty good (they sounded damn good to me and anyone else to date I put in front of them) but the look on Jim's face and body language told me otherwise. Jim's initial thoughts boiled down to:
- Lack of body
- Lack of tone
- Lack of depth
- Lack of emotion
- Flat sound staging
- Thin presentation
- Lack of sound staging "Wall"
- Overwhelming bass (but controlled)
- Both male and female vocals lacked warmth, texture and realism
While I did not take offense to his comments I was a bit surprised that I was that far off. At the same time I was now excited at the prospects of making it sound better than it already had.
Once we discussed the game plan to "fix" the system then we addressed the bass first.
I am very happy with the process and results of working with Jim. The system sounds great and I learned a ton throughout the process. It is good to know that I have the system sounding its best within its current environment.
I should note that my general preference was for a bit too much bass in my system which was destroying the details and tonality of most music. I can now appreciate a seamless bass and additional details in the music. I cannot even pinpoint where the bass is coming from now.
I should also note that I thought having the speakers further apart was the solution for a wider sound stage, which is not the case. I now get a much wider sound stage by having the speakers closer together. I now have a continuous "Wall" of music across the soundstage.
To read more detail, you should go to the original website. To save time, we suggest starting at Post #190.
Here is the link:
Contact Jim Smith to schedule or to make any inquiries
The following is another excerpt. The first part is from the evaluation of the system:
As I promised in an earlier post, below are the results from Jim Smith’s observations concerning my listening room and setup. Jim really is a class act and all of the critiques he offered were professional and honest. My wife and I enjoyed his visit to our house immensely and felt very comfortable talking with him.
We are confident in his ability to take our system to the next level and to do so without buying anything new. While Jim has a lot of accolades to his name along with a list of references from many professionals in the business, he was very humble and patient with our questions.
I’m sure our setup does not even come close in cost to the systems he normally works with, but he was extremely kind in his compliments and treated my wife and me as if we were millionaires looking to spend a fortune.(Which we are not!)
The intent for his coming out was by design to be an evaluation of approximately 2 hrs.with some discussion of a future time to have him back out if his services were needed. The only negative about this approach was not being able to solve the issues immediately, but rather me having to display some patience on my part and wait for our next meeting.
Jim graciously gave me permission to post some of his critiques of my setup on this forum.
However let me add that there would have been much more work to be done if I had not read his book. It truly is a great value and a valuable reference to getting better sound. Even if I could not afford Jim’s services I would still enjoy a much more musical system due to the advice in his manual. I’m sure others that are more careful in their reading of his book, and follow his tips thoroughly concerning speaker placement, can be confident they will have a much more musical sounding system. So without further ado…..
1. Overall sound too soft, ill defined.
2. A bit muddy - bass "wooly".
3. No deep fundamentals - no authority in the bass. Piano sounds emasculated.
4. Need to re-evaluate bass performance, based on seating, speaker position, and - to a minor extent - separation.
5. One reason the sound is lacking may be that the bass drivers are in opposite acoustic polarity to the screens. We'll need to simply reverse it and see.
6. Speakers too close together (BTW - this is very rare - they are usually too far apart).
7. Too many absorptive wall treatments, sound is dead, lacking life.
8. 50-60Hz and down too low in amplitude.
9. Mid-bass peaks around 80-100 Hz.
10. Another peak around 200 Hz.
11. Another peak around 2-2.5 kHz, causing unwanted signature to string sound, and making loud female vocals a bit "shouty".
12. Extreme top end a bit down. May need to toe in speakers very slightly to restore it.
13. Slight but pervasive "awk" coloration, probably related to the 200 Hz peak.
14. Speaker tilt may need to be addressed.
My biggest concern was with #5. I wonder if others have noticed this issue with your Logan's. Is this by design from Martin Logan or are both my speakers unique in this regard? Just curious. The next visit with Jim will be in late August, and once we are finished I will post again about the differences he made along with some new photos. This will be a long wait for me, but I know it will be worth the wait.
The next section is excerpted from the actual voicing process:
On August 20th Jim paid me a visit and spent nearly 6 hrs. voicing my system to the room. He already had a good idea of what to expect from a previous visit which entailed a brief listening session several weeks prior. There were several areas of concern that he noted in which my setup was deficient. He addressed these areas this past Thursday and provided me with an excellent reference point when listening to music. Anyway on to the good stuff:
First off Jim is highly focused and goal oriented when he is working. He does not stop to eat or drink anything until he is completely satisfied with the sound. I tried my hardest to get him to take even a glass of water, but to no avail, he was relentless in his goal and continued to work straight through to the end! When he first arrived he sat down and listened for a couple of minutes to familiarize himself with his previous visit and compared this to his notes.
Upon Jim's exit I sat down and listened to multiple cd's and quickly realized the changes that were made were much more pronounced than I had first thought. The improvement in the bass was absolutely huge. Never did I imagine that the Vantages' were capable of such deep bass with well-defined definition.
I am not saying that the bass was louder, but there were now lower registers being played in the music that I had never noticed before. This added a new dimension to the music that was sorely missing. Jim had mentioned on his previous visit that there were notes missing and this contributed to the instruments sounding emasculated. I did not disagree with him, but since I had no reference I was not entirely sure what he meant by this at that time. Now I know!!! It's amazing that when the bass is right how much this adds to ones listening pleasure.
As for the soundstage, I wish I had the vocabulary to describe the difference. There is just a certain rightness to it that you can't help but wonder at how two speakers can do this. Of course I know there are many others out there that have even more magic in their systems than I do, but just to experience this in music you know backwards and forwards is extremely satisfying. The Vantages really do just get out of the way and play music.
Musical detail has increased along with a much livelier presentation. My theory is that because I had the panels leaning too far forward then this attributed to some of the details being lost or masked. I was probably realistically listening to only the top 1/3 of the panel and this was squashing some of the nuances that are so important to the music. Why I had decided on that rake a few months ago is beyond me, but it definitely opened back up when Jim used his method.
I could not be more satisfied with hiring Jim and his many years of experience. The enjoyment that I have gotten just these past few days has been more than worth the effort and cost. I don't know if I will try to get that last 1% or not, but the difference he has made already makes me a satisfied customer!!!!
To read more detail, and there is a lot of it, you should go to the original website. To save time, we suggest starting at Post #79 and go to at least Post #97.
Here is the link, beginning at Post #79:
Here is an example of unsolicited correspondence that Jim has received, this time from Glen – the poster above:
Jim, I can't tell you how much more involving my system is now. (My wife) listened to one of her favorite records last night and she was astonished with the changes. She even sent a text message explaining to me how she now feels more part of the music. Thanks again and keep up the good work.
I wanted to follow up with you since it's been about three months when you last visited to voice my system. This morning, like many other mornings, I was enjoying some vinyl and thought to myself that what you did was the best investment I had made for my Hi-Fi ever. Thank you again for your help and providing me with many wonderful listening sessions.
Contact Jim Smith to schedule or to make any inquiries
Below is a report on another voicing session:
My Experience with System Voicing by Jim Smith of Get Better Sound
I won’t dwell on the mechanics and logistics of the experience, since those are well documented elsewhere, both online in various forums and on Jim’s own site. And the overall structure stays pretty consistent, as I understand it, even though each situation is unique and may call for changes in one way or another.
I think it is fair to assume that the “general” structure involves Jim arriving the day or evening before the primary working day in order to spend some time getting familiar with the existing setup—first impressions of how it sounds and lots of questions about what the client’s goals and priorities are with the system and why choices were made to arrive at the current equipment and configuration and layout in the room (audio preferences, financial restrictions, “bargain” purchases, etc.). In other words, to what extent is the current configuration the result of a conscious, strategic series of selective purchases and articulated audio (or aesthetic or practical) decisions, as opposed to a discrete set of haphazard or fairly random purchases over a period of time.
The goal of the initial discussion is not to pass judgment or encourage changes in equipment—Jim just wants to understand the client’s goals and how the current setup seems to reflect those audio objectives.
One of Jim’s great strengths as an independent consultant is that he is NOT pushing equipment changes or additional purchases on the client. The task he sets for himself is to understand the audio priorities of the client and then, within the scope of the current equipment and practical considerations of room (size, acoustical environment, etc.) and aesthetics (e.g. SAF), voice the system to best effect.
The second fairly unique characteristic and strength of Jim’s approach lies in his own superb ability to listen to known recordings, know what they should sound like, and then translate that knowledge into practical suggestions regarding setup. While that sounds fairly straight forward, I know from experience that it is FAR from as easy as it sounds. Otherwise we could all attend a few stereo shows, listen to a few great-sounding rooms listening to our own favorite test tracks, and return home knowing what it should sound like and tweak till we achieved that sound. Wish it were so.
Part of Jim’s magic lies no doubt in his year’s of experience as a recording engineer, dealer, and audiophile, of course. Developing a core set of source materials with which one is intimately familiar is part of the experience; knowing what it actually should sound like is a step beyond just being “familiar,” and I think that’s where Jim surpasses many others in the field.
So I’d say that’s the first big step in system voicing—getting the lay of the land, as it were, using KNOWN source materials—much of which might be accomplished on the day or evening before the hands-on day of active voicing.
Of course it is an iterative process, but knowing what one is hearing and what one should be hearing is the essential prerequisite to everything else. Having the extensive experience with a wide variety of equipment and environments and configurations is a prerequisite to the next step: deciding where to begin making changes in layout or positioning or environment or any one of many other factors (in my case, we spent much of our time on adjusting crossover parameters on my tri-amped, multi-speaker configuration).
There’s an efficiency of approach that’s really critical and usually undervalued, I believe, to making improvements in a reasonably logical, systematic, and therefore productive manner—as opposed to the more usual process of making individual changes, often seemingly random, over long periods of time, as I suspect most of us do on our own, with no time constraints.
I actually think there’s a qualitative benefit to systematically tackling the overall voicing process in a compressed time period. Try this, move that, listen, evaluate. Get this right first—or at least moving in the right direction—so that a) we confirm that we’re thinking correctly about cause and effect and b) we’ve corrected enough in one area to begin judging a dependent area meaningfully. Adjust the upper bass spike so we can *hear* the lower mid-range and know what it’s doing right or wrong. This is a system voicing PROCESS.
Never fear, I’m confident that it won’t replace the inevitable long-term tweaking and equipment changes to which we’re all willing slaves. I consider it a substantially different process, to be honest.
So the process is not just iterative but iterative with a plan, a strategy, and a known (to Jim, at least, since it’s his source material being used) result—so you know when you get there! Perhaps more than any other single feature, this is what separates Jim’s approach from the pretenders: he goes in with a game plan, determines a baseline (current sound) and a goal (what it should sound like, referenced to a client’s priorities), and then systematically works through an iterative process to get there in as efficient a manner as possible.
In my case, we spent maybe 4 or 5 hours in preliminary work (without changing anything) the evening before, and then another 5 or so hours actually voicing the following day. Your mileage may vary—I know Jim has spent longer and I suspect shorter time on other systems. But I also suspect that my experience was fairly typical.
It easily represented the best “bang for the buck” that I’ve spent on my system over the years. That’s as glowing an endorsement as I could make and I make it willingly.
Jerry P., Wimington, DE, Dec. 5, 2009
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