Continuing with our setup series you’ve now managed to get the loudspeakers to disappear on a simple vocal and trio piece as well you’ve hopefully managed to get decent center fill, focus and image perspective. It’s at this point in the setup that I switch the music and start working on broader issues always returning to the simple vocal we started with to keep it dialed in.
It’s one thing to get a simple vocal and trio to image properly and sound reasonable – quite another to get a full orchestra or even a medium sized ensemble right. That’s what we’re going to try and do next. For this exercise I always go back to Reference Recordings. One of their most valuable CD’s they ever released is called Tutti. I also notice that Music Direct has the new SACD version of Tutti in stock as well so if you can play an SACD, get that one instead. I use a lot of these tracks but my favorite is number 14, Presque Isle: E.C.F.
Now that you’ve managed to get a good feel for how the volume level effects image scale and size you’ll no doubt quickly get the correct level on this track as well. Note down what you had for the vocal track and then how much you have to turn up the level on the Reference track. Reference recordings are always at least 6dB lower than most CD’s because they have a wider dynamic range than most. If you have a DAC like the PWD where you can get a numeric readout of the volume, use that as your reference and make sure you always go back to the exact same level each time we add a track. If you have a standard volume knob without any markings at least place some tape near the knob and make hash marks to get you close.
With this CD in play you should be able to get the soundstage behind and outside the boundaries of the loudspeakers and enjoy great space around each of the many instruments.
If the soundstage on track 14 is trapped between the inner boundaries of your loudspeaker pair you may have too much toe in. I have seen many a setup, particularly Wilson Audio loudspeakers, that place the pair too far apart with too much toe in. Doing this gives you a great image within the bounds of the pair – but less than great off axis response, a rather narrow sweet spot and it feels like the image is trapped in a soundstage “bubble”. What you’re looking for is freedom from the confines of the loudspeaker pair.
We should also be concerned with tonality of the instruments. It is in this phase that the instruments should be full bodied and not thin sounding. Remember if we need more fullness to the instruments we can achieve that by moving the loudspeaker pair closer together which gives us better midbass coupling and/or we can move the pair slightly closer to the rear wall which will also have the same impact on the midbass – but I prefer moving them closer together. Just be careful and make sure your changes at this point are small and that you measure and make sure the changes are equal and the pair remain equidistant.
Use the setup guide notes I posted a few days ago to maneuver things around until this happens as best you can. Then go back to the original setup recording and make sure you haven’t lost anything there. This is the point where you’ll have to start compromising a bit to get the best of each extreme: clear center fill with a palpable image and a large, divorced soundstage for bigger pieces.
Tomorrow we’ll carry on with the next step which will be bass and then we’re going to discuss room treatment and its effects.
By following along with this guide in a step-by-step manner you’ll be surprised how good the results will get you. If you veer too far off the mark or if you don’t keep going back over your prior accomplishments in setup with each change you’ll quickly lose focus and have to start over. Don’t do it. Just stay the course.
I promise it’ll be worth it.
Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.