Does your Hi-Fi System Play the Room?

RoomPlay™ is Jim’s custom voicing service. Jim has two main goals when it comes to improving his clients’ audio systems:

  1. Move their music systems to another level of performance and involvement without replacing one single component.
  2. The system improvement should be by far the biggest they have ever experienced— well beyond that obtained by replacing any electronics or cables (regardless of expense).

So imagine that your listening room has no walls, no ceilings, and no speakers. The musicians have assembled to play a special concert just for you in that space. Here’s how Srajan Ebaen, editor and publisher at 6Moons.com, describes the experience of listening in Jim’s personal soundroom*:

"With my eyes closed, I attempted to obtain an aural signature of the room. I couldn't. Nothing. There was very tacit recording venue data, yes—but none that portrayed the room itself. It had been entirely subtracted from the listening equation!

"This 'no speaker!' sensation was uncanny. Moreover, it was exceedingly tactile. That was clearly the result of meticulous setup... In short, Jim had banished from my awareness all reminders of mechanical sound sources and actual versus virtual environs."

It can be so powerful that you even feel the emotional impact of the music the next day, as if you’d attended a live concert. Jim calls this phenomenon “playing the room.” Hence, RoomPlay™.

A $10,000 audio system properly playing the room is vastly superior to a $100,000 system that isn't. If you have made a significant investment in your system, doesn't it make sense to finally hear what you paid for?

 

*Srajan came to Jim's sound room to listen. You can too, with a RoomPlay Reference™ session! See the RoomPlay Reference™ section below for details.

 

 

Reference Standards for your System

Jim describes his objectives for his clients:

“When I voice a system, there is an internal list of standards that I expect to achieve. It’s my reference. I carry the sound in my head (and heart). That list includes:

  • A powerful sense of presence. I expect to get the distinct impression that the performer(s) are performing expressly for me. If the sound stays over there by the speakers, without enveloping me in the experience, I have work to do. Nothing to buy, I just need to spend a little more attention to voicing detail.

    This is not an ordinary illusion. I rarely ever hear it from most systems. Yet, when the system is voiced properly, and I play the first tune in a demo, it’s quite common for the listener to make a few unplanned comments in the first 10 or 15 seconds! ☺ I’ve almost come to expect it - they simply had no reference for that illusion being possible.

  • High emotional impact. I’m not looking for a background music system. If done right, it should even be compelling at medium to low levels. Inflections and the use of vibrato in vocals should draw me deeply into the music. The sense of listening to a stereo system is gone as I follow the performer’s musical lead.

    After a listening session the previous night, the next day, we should still feel the music in our souls, the way we do after live concerts.

    This is as true today as when I started talking about it in the 90s. Why do audiophiles never think that their music playback should touch them emotionally enough to feel the effects next day? It should, it’s their right, and they should expect to receive it.

  • Tone quality. It’s hard to truly connect with the message of the music without it. I wish I could explain this phenomenon so that it’d be easy to understand. Visitors here “get it” immediately. Often it’s most noticeable in the sound of plucked strings and especially in the sound of violins, cellos, guitars, dobros, etc.

    It manifests as an unusually dense harmonic presentation, with a fuller and more prolonged decay time. And it will pluck your heart strings on the right music…

  • A palpable, reach-out-and-touch-it imagery. If this isn’t happening, how can I suspend my disbelief enough to fall into the music?

    This is not related to the sort of ‘audio spectacular’ imagery where all sorts of pin-point sizes instruments are arrayed between and behind the speakers. I’m referring to an image that seems to have a body, a palpability.

    In a properly voiced system, human voices are anything but emaciated caricatures of the real thing. This sort of image feels as if it is inhabiting a space in the room with you.

  • Increased energy and effortlessness. Systems that require lots of power to come alive, and shortly after that, start to sound fatiguing, are systems that will have difficulty conveying the message of the music. Careful attention to component location, as well as seating location, can significantly help to offset any drawbacks that a system that leans in this direction may normally exhibit.

    We want to enlarge the window of acceptable playback level to reach a level that is inviting at most settings, not just a narrow one between coming alive and becoming obnoxious.

    This effortlessness sometimes shows up as a sort of ‘bloom’ on the sound. It’s inviting and contagious.

  • Graceful and delicate details reproduced to their full effect. Subtle nuances show up, but only to serve the music, not to create an audiophile showpiece. The heightened expressive quality of a performer’s vocal is an example. Subtle shadings of tone and even soundstage presentation all serve to help the listener suspend his or her disbelief.

    Whether it’s a harp, a violin, a guitar, or any other instrument, when it’s being played softly, it invokes a sort of hushed reverence. These delicate musical sounds intertwine to portray the most gorgeous musical palette. Sadly, this wonderful illusion can be damaged through improper wave launch into the room, or inadvertently sitting in the wrong place in the room where the beauty is lost.

    This delicacy is often portrayed in a soundstage where lots of small musically inter-related things are happening, but together they build something very special.

    Since this is the revelatory part of the complete music listening experience, it’s critical to know how to preserve this delicacy in a manner that serves the music.

  • A vast difference in the presentation between ‘they are here’ and ‘we are there’ recorded perspectives. If this difference is not dramatic, then much of the potential to become immersed in the music will be lost. These cues serve to transmit the illusion of being in the presence of live music, appropriate to the recording’s inherent perspective.

    It’s one of the major offenders I hear when I arrive to voice a system. It’s as if the system is compromised in both arenas. It’s hard to hear the performance and its venue when recorded deep depth is fore-shortened, and recorded shallow depth sounds not all that different.

    This is ‘fixable’ and it’s critical to help us fall into the music as the performers intended.

  • For a ‘we are there recording’, the listener should feel virtually transported into the venue. Almost as if he or she can feel the air moving in the hall. Little remains of the sense of being in their room back home.

    As I mentioned above, this is big, and rarely is it at an appropriate level of resolution.

  • For a ‘they are here recording’, there should be the distinct feeling that the musicians have packed up their gear to come to my client’s house to perform a concert just for us. Very intimate and engaging. No walls, no ceilings and no speakers. Just the event.

    Intimacy
    is the key word here, but very few audiophiles have ever dealt with this aspect (at least, not from their stereo systems!). I make this observation from the reactions I see when they do finally experience it here or in their own homes.

  • Soundstage depth that extends beyond what was thought possible with the current system. Although achieved through technical set-up means, the end result is the firmly grounded creative expression of the live event.

    We covered this topic somewhat above, so I need not go further, except to say that, once you’ve experienced it, you’ve simply gotta have it.

  • True soundstage width, not what is often described in message boards and audio publications. This is an area that has received so much misinformation, that it’s probably not possible to correct the myths that surround it. At any rate, there is a definite standard for what is correct, and once heard, the misinformation is always exposed to the interested listener for what it is.

    I rarely spend much time on this aspect for clients, except to show them what it really is and explain what it can’t be, no matter how lofty and incorrect the claims get.

  • Tuneful and powerful bass, produced with authority & uncompromised dynamics, but never overwhelming (unless the recording is produced that way). Unless the bass is reproduced as accurately as possible within the framework of the system and room, listeners will never be truly satisfied with their musical listening experience.

    This foundation affects tone, presence, and dynamics – the cornerstones to any involving listening experience. It even affects soundstaging. At the technical level, booming or missing notes contribute to a false impression of the music and its performance. Compromising its capability means a dramatic reduction in the overall listening experience.

    The way it can compromise dynamics is especially concerning, and it is why I always say that until you get the bass right, you’ll never be happy.

  • All of the notes reproduced faithfully, with none emphasized, diminished, or altered. You would think this would be a given, but it has never been my experience when I have encountered any audiophile’s system.

    In fact, it’s most often the biggest shortcoming in systems today. It is almost never the fault of the speaker, at least within its’ published frequency extremes. It’s most always the room. In fact, it’s almost always the wrong seating position in the room. And it’s not rocket science – it just requires a bit of adjustment for it all to come together.

  • Greater focus and inner detail, but always serving the musical experience, never at its expense. Musical transitions should flow, not sound mechanical.

    When detail becomes a distraction, there is definitely some additional voicing to be done.

  • Storytelling prowess – the combination of dynamics, tone, presence, and emotional impact must combine to make the listener feel as if he or she is on the edge of their seat, anxiously awaiting the next part of the story/song as it unfolds.

    This is perhaps the trickiest effect to achieve with voicing. It helps if one of the components already has the ability to capture the listener’s rapt attention. Just having had the experience does elevate the reference level that is to be applied, even if it cannot always be fully realized.

There is tremendous freedom in being released from the constant urge to upgrade. Without a reference, the question should be, “What do I hope to achieve with this upgrade, exactly?” But with a known reference, the system can serve as a source of musical satisfaction and even as a refuge from day-to-day pressures (including desires to “upgrade”).”

 

 

Who Is the Typical RoomPlay™ Client?

You might be a RoomPlay™ client if you are:

  • Someone who wants to extract far higher performance from his or her existing system.
  • Someone who has had little or no voicing assistance, and who is more often than not time-poor. While they want to move their system to the next level, preferably someone else will come in and get it done.
  • Someone who has finally realized that throwing more money at yet another highly reviewed component will be money wasted, at least until the system’s foundation is built.

 

 

What Happens During a RoomPlay™ Session?

First, you should know that a RoomPlay™ session is intensive work, not a fun time to chat. The end result will be greatly increased enjoyment and musical satisfaction, but the path to get there is serious work. For Jim, the sessions are physically, mentally, and even emotionally exhausting. It's a bit like getting a room ready for an audio show.

That's why Jim requires the client to be present during the entire session. The idea is not only to dramatically improve the client's system, but also to show the client how to do it should the occasion arise in the future.

 

 

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™ – Arrival & system evaluation the night before, voicing and departure the next day – US $1970.

  • RoomPlay™ Plus – Arrival & system evaluation the night before, voicing the next day, and departure the third day – US $2470.

Each time zone difference adds US $150. Jim is in the Eastern Time Zone. So a RoomPlay™ session in Nashville, TN would be US $1970 + 150 = $2120.

Contact Jim for Alaska & Hawaii rates.

Canada & Mexico add US $300.

For other countries, contact Jim.

Typical travel expenses may include airfare, lodging, and car rental. Systems with unusual tuning devices or requirements may require additional expense, to be discussed with the client.

And after your RoomPlay™ Session…


RoomPlay™ clients often get more excited about their systems than they have been previously. So they have questions. The price of the RoomPlay™ session includes free consultations by phone or e-mail for 12 months following the session.

 

 

 

The RoomPlay™ Satisfaction Guarantee

The whole point of a RoomPlay session is to completely transcend the performance gains that audiophiles get when they spend money on electronics or cables. As Jim puts it: “Addressing how electrons flow through circuits or wires is minor when compared to addressing the acoustic wave launch into your room and how you receive it at your listening seat.”

Therefore, Jim guarantees that you will have never experienced a similar improvement with the addition of any electronics or cables, no matter how expensive. If you disagree that the RoomPlay™ session brings you the level of musical involvement promised, then you set the price that you think is fair for Jim’s services. He wants you to be satisfied, period.

 

RoomPlay™ Testimonials

An in-depth RoomPlay system/room voicing description:

http://www.audioshark.org/general-audio-discussion-15/my-session-jim-smith-8606.html

The link below features running commentary from the highly respected AudioShark audio forum. It’s about Jim’s RoomPlay service. At the time of posting this link, it is eight pages in length. However, the most relevant posts at this time are: #1, #4, #15, #22, #26, #34, #39, #44, #47, #56, #62, #66, #72, and #73.

http://www.audioshark.org/general-audio-discussion-15/jim-smith-my-house-10781.html

Another (related) RoomPlay description:

http://www.audioshark.org/audioshark-members-systems-101/three-day-visit-mark-mdp-11189.html

Also, beginning at post #29, a more recent RoomPlay session:

http://www.audioshark.org/magico-61/suncoast-audio-magico-m3-install-today-10785-page3.html

RoomPlay Reference session:

http://www.audioshark.org/hometown-meet-greet-170/day-jim-smith-8128.html

RoomPlay Reference revisited:

http://www.audioshark.org/general-audio-discussion-15/visit-jim-smith-9923.html

Below are just two comments from recent RoomPlay clients. If you'd like to see some more of the many similar emails Jim has received, email him using the Contact link below, and he'll happily send them to you.

From a client in Bethesda, MD:

As you’ll recall, I made it a point NOT to listen to the system while you were working, preferring to hear the difference only on my own familiar music at the very end of the process. So when you were through, I hooked up my own DAC (which was cold from being “off” all day) and played bits and pieces from my own music. Ahhhh…. Where to start?

The soundstage now fills the space behind the speakers, both left to right and front to back, and I can hear clearly where the musicians are located relative to one another.

The musicians are actually “there” for the first time! The “presence” is maybe 5 times what it used to be.

The detail (dynamics, harmonics, performance artifacts,, etc.) is thrilling, and virtually every familiar track now has a bonus of previously unknown sound to offer.

The bass response, which wasn’t exactly shabby to start with, is stunning. The music has a foundation, even if it wasn’t well recorded.

I’m listening at louder levels, because there’s so much more to hear, and it doesn’t SOUND loud at all -- it just sounds alive!

If I had to sum it up in one word, that word would probably be “exciting.” And the improvement is much more than I’ve experienced from ANY equipment change (even the Durand tonearm) in all the years I’ve been doing this. Thank you, Jim!

From a client in Houston, TX:

Just wanted to drop you a note to thank you for your excellent work. The system is sounding wonderful!!

I am AMAZED at the amount of musical information that is on my favorite music that I just didn't know was there. I have smiled many times in my music room. THANK YOU!!

I especially wanted to highlight your professionalism. In today's world it is rare to find people who are honest, serious and committed to excellence in what they do. You are one of those rare people and it is a breath of fresh air to know that people like you still exist.

I am privileged to have had you voice my room and come to my home. I will always be grateful. Thank you again for all your help.

 

RoomPlay Reference™ Session at Jim's Room

Recent Comments

"Many thanks Jim for a rich and rewarding session!  I learned a lot and very much appreciated expanding my musical horizons as well.  I have a number of questions and will send them along as soon as I process a bit.

"It is certainly clear to me that there is so much more contained in my cd collection that I have never really heard before and that the quest for hi-res and multi-channel is not where most listeners should be putting their energies (and money).  There is a whole world of music on my shelves waiting for the right room conditions to emerge!!...

"...As you can tell, I was blown away by listening in your room… I have 'seen the light' (or heard it as the case may be.)"

S.K., RI.

"Hi, Jim.

"I just wanted to write and say again how much I enjoyed seeing you, and how much I learned. My brain was on overload on the way back. It seemed so surreal, going there and back in 24 hours and listening and learning so much from you. Your generosity and willingness to spend the time and share your expertise was heartwarming, and meaningful. Thanks again so much!

"BTW, you were right - I checked when I got back and the Quads are sitting with the center of the speakers ~6-9 inches down from my ears. Even with the spikes added and the weight, they’d be a minimum 4-5 inches down, and maybe still 6-7 inches down. So this is job one.

"After I raise and forward-tilt them, I’ll work with moving them closer together and play more with toe, then see what moving them forward on the toed axis reveals, to see if I can’t get more of the 'you are there' sense I felt in your room.

"Once again, thank you hardly seems adequate. Take good care and stay well. Looking forward to talking with you again…"

J.B., VA.

Find Out What You're Missing

I realized that, in order to establish a known reference for audiophiles, they needed to hear a system that addresses the common issues that audiophiles face daily. There’s only one place where I hear all of the notes reproduced correctly with all of the soundstage, presence, tone, dynamics and musical involvement presented properly. That’s on my own system, in my listening room. Industry vets and advanced audiophiles who’ve experienced this system unanimously agree.

I’ve always carried those same sounds in my head, as a reference when voicing a system (including both RoomPlay™ engagements, and setting up for shows).

And now you can carry them as well, and use them to move your system to an entirely different level, with a service designed to help you establish a rock-solid reference. I call it RoomPlay Reference™.

For what it's worth, my goal has been that my personal system not be priced in the super stratosphere, but be priced at or below other “typical” high-end systems. After all, it’s about the set-up in the room, not the components. I’ve achieved similar results (written about on the Internet) with other components in the same room.

RoomPlay Reference™ visitors to my listening room sit in the hot seat, and we listen together. But this is a no-excuse demo. No excuses for the bass, presence, soundstaging, tonality, dynamics, musical involvement, etc. No excuses.

Although I obviously have thousands of cuts I could play, during our Reference session, I’ll be focusing on "The RoomPlay 48," the selections that I choose to play depending on the outcome of our demos, and your reactions and needs for your system. Each cut will be evaluated as to its relevance and how it can be used as a reference cut in your own system. We will focus on these cuts in a way that will burn into your consciousness how they sounded and why they sound the way they do.

At seminars, I often ask attendees this question – Do you remember how a concert can affect your emotions, so that it’s not uncommon to feel its effects the next day, even at work? Most will agree that they have had that experience. Then, when I ask them how often have they experienced it the next day after a listening session at home, all I get is blank stares. I’m not sure they really believe me when I tell them they deserve that experience and that it is possible.

In fact, voicing a system with a goal to deliver that effect is what I call the Art of the Possible. You should still feel the effects of the listening session the next day. You certainly will after a RoomPlay Reference™ session. In fact, a recent visitor, not an audiophile, someone who is very musically sensitive, said, as she was leaving the demo room to go back downstairs, “I feel like I’m leaving a musical sanctuary.”

If we can escape the mechanical aspects of music listening and move into another realm, then we finally have something. Yes, there are always some technical issues to be resolved, but once they are handled, what remains is the music. I cannot think of a simpler way of saying this - it’s the audio equivalent of hard-wiring your ears to your heart.

Make Those Standards to Go

I guarantee that you will carry this sound with you when you get back home. It will serve as a reference. But it can only be a true reference if you have it to play on your system, so that you can compare what is possible with what you are hearing.

That is why you’ll receive the CD cuts we used - exactly the same source material used in your RoomPlay Reference™ demos & in my RoomPlay™ voicing sessions. These CDs are burned on the same digital system that I use for demos and voicing. The CDs are the property of Quarter Note Press, made available to you as a courtesy loan during the 90-day access period.

Having listened to and discussed what to listen for with each cut, you can play them back at home. Now you’ll have a real reference.

Keep the Conversation Going

Your RoomPlay Reference™ session also includes 90 days of phone or e-mail access to discuss what you are hearing and how to overcome certain issues that you will discover. With what you learn during the listening session, and in follow-up discussions, your system will reach a whole new level.

Pricing, and Paying It Forward

A RoomPlay Reference™ session (about 3-4 hours) is $370, including the session, the training, and 90-days access via phone or e-mail.

And get this: should you later decide to engage my services for a RoomPlay™ voicing on your own system, the $370 you've already paid for RoomPlay Reference™ will be credited toward the cost of the RoomPlay™ session, as long as it is booked (not necessarily performed) within 180 days of our RoomPlay Reference™ session.

So if you are already leaning towards a RoomPlay™ session, essentially the RoomPlay Reference™ fee is free!

 

Book a RoomPlay™ or RoomPlay Reference™ session

If the concept of a RoomPlay™ or RoomPlay Reference™session is appealing, the simplest thing is to use the Contact link at the bottom of this page to connect with Jim, so that you can both explore the possibility.

In the case of a RoomPlay™ session, after initial contact has been made, Jim will request some images of your listening area. Sometimes this is not an option for some clients, so the next step – with or without images and/or a room drawing - is a phone conversation. Jim will want to know about your system, your room, your assessment of the system’s performance in the room, and your expectations.

Some of the time, having seen the images and discussed the project, Jim advises against going further, because there are too many obstacles or a lack of flexibility in set-up. He wants to be certain that if he takes on a project, the results will be dramatic for the client.

No session is booked without a 35% deposit for the projected dates. There are numerous ways to make that deposit, and Jim will discuss the various options with you.

 

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