Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

I’m pretty good at set up, but the guys that Paul mention in this post are really really good!

Setup vs. equipment

Equipment in skilled hands performs differently than it does for a first time user. One of the best examples of this can be found in a video on YouTube. NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon plays the role of an inexperienced bumpkin taking a fast car for a test drive. Watching the video you have to feel sorry for the salesman taken by surprise, but at the same time, impressed with Gordon’s driving skills.

Without Gordon’s level of skill, it’s just a fast car. With it, the experience is transformed.

The same can be said for our stereo systems. Even the very best equipment can be transformed by skilled setup hands.

I am pretty good at setup, though there are plenty better than I. Jim Smith of Get Better Sound, Peter McGrath of Wilson Audio, and John Hunter of REL Acoustics come to mind.

The problem with sharing our skills is scarcity and distance. While any one of us might help you get better sound, there are far more of you than us and you likely don’t live close by. Which is why one of my long-term goals has been to put together a step-by-step setup package that is based around specific recorded materials and instructions of what to do with them and what to expect when they’re right.

Not to say I’ve actually made such a package. Just to suggest it’s an idea rattling around in my head and one day I’ll do it.

Unless someone else comes along first.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

My home made, but great sounding, speakers have two holes in their cabinets, but not to extend bass response. They use a large 15″ midrange/bass driver and don’t need help from the cabinet to make bass. They are there more to let the driver do what it was designed to do, without interference from the cabinet and have the added benefit of lessening  pressure on the side walls of the speaker, making for a quieter cabinet.

Boxes with holes

Woofers are in boxes so the front wave doesn’t get canceled by the out of phase back wave. So, why do some speaker boxes have holes that let out that threatening back wave?

Those holes are called ports and to understand what’s going on let’s start with the problem of putting a woofer in a box. Pressure. The pressure resisting the movement of the woofer is greater when it is mounted in a box. The smaller the box, the greater the resistance to movement.

One way to relieve some of that pressure is by punching a hole in the box. That’s the port. But, it cannot be any sized or shaped hole. As with most things engineering the hole has specific qualities to tune what comes out of the hole and what sound the speaker produces. If done properly, the pressure exhausting the port both adds to the bass as well as enables the woofer to breathe a bit easier. The net result is lower bass with fewer watts than from a sealed box.

Many designers, including myself and my speaker mentor, Arnie Nudell, are not fans of ports. Asked why Arnie used to roll his eyes and encourage the questioner to place their ear near a port for the “farting” it produced. In all the many years of speaker designs, Arnie rarely tolerated ports. One series Infinity had them in, the SM line (officially Studio Monitors but around Infinity’s hallowed halls more properly Sado Masochist), made plenty of bass. They were most often demonstrated at shows reproducing the sound of a 747 landing and rarely music.

There are certainly well behaved ported loudspeakers on the market. Some, like Bud Fried’s famous IMF line, used a type of front port called a transmission line. The idea of the transmission line was a long, folded acoustic path for bass frequencies that delayed the port’s output by 180˚ so it was in phase. Though Arnie and Bud were lifelong friends, the two never agreed on the use of the port. Other ported schemes include the passive radiator you often see in older Polk Audios, Definitive Technology and modern Golden Ear products.