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.

Trusting your senses

Trust is a funny thing. We’d sooner trust a restaurant recommendation from a stranger or a Yelp review before a friend we suspect has an agenda—even if that person is a food expert.

Often, we have trouble trusting ourselves. “Did I make the right decision?” “Can I trust what I am hearing with this new piece of equipment?” “I thought I was right until I read a bad review”.

I often question the accuracy of what I hear or conclusions that I make and I can’t help feeling I am not alone in that insecurity.

What I have come to recognize over the years is our innate ability for accurately sussing out complex patterns in music with little or no effort or experience at the task. In fact, the harder I try to discern differences, the worse I am at it. Relaxing and trusting my senses makes it easier.

When I first started honing my listening skills I feared I wouldn’t be able to tell two units apart, yet the opposite happened. I often became overwhelmed—like when I first started comparing the sound of tubes and solid-state electronics. They were so far apart from each other that I had more trouble identifying similarities than differences, yet because I hadn’t developed an adequate vocabulary nor trusted my senses, I often just kept my thoughts to myself.

I see this same pattern in newcomers to high-end audio. Each conversation begins with a lack of trust in their hearing. “I am certain I can’t hear any differences, but I’ll give it a go.” Inevitably they turn out to be some of the best listeners.

It’s almost as if the more we do this the less we trust our senses—the same senses that worked so well in the beginning of our high-end journey.

For me, it’s a matter of relaxing: assuring myself I am a better listener through years of experience and earning the trust I know I should have but fear I do not.


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 don’t necessarily agree with this one, but Paul is very experienced and he did manage to get his Infinity speakers to sound very good in a room I think is too small for them. Strangely counter-intuitively, the imaging in his room was the best tribute of the sound we heard while visiting  PS Audio in Boulder, the summer before last.

Big speakers in small rooms

The room housing your loudspeaker is every bit as important as the device itself. Place a tiny pair of bookshelf speakers in an auditorium and they might get lost. An oversized behemoth in a closet will be unlistenable. Yet, there are reasonable in-betweens worth considering.

Music Room One at PS Audio might be a great example of room vs. speaker. The giant IRSV make what would normally be a generously proportioned listening room into one that appears too small. The speakers easily consume 40% of the available space. Does that make them too big for the room? Not according to most people having the chance to hear them. Yet looks can deceive us.

For a system the size of the IRSV few would argue a bit more breathing room wouldn’t be a benefit, yet I would suggest not something required. The first room I heard the IRS in was even smaller than my own. HP’s much-vaunted Music Salon, home to the IRS, is still a room writers fondly reminisce about.

One of the questions I often get asked is whether or not speakers can be too big or too small for a given room and whether or not you can judge by visual measurement alone. The simple answer is it depends on a number of factors: how close the listener sits, the speaker’s type and proximity to sidewalls—dipoles don’t care, other speakers do—system bass response, ceiling height relative to the speaker box, distance from front and back walls.

In most cases, the answer is no, it does not matter the size of the box relative to the room. Most speaker boxes have a standard complement of drivers: a woofer, a tweeter, perhaps a midrange. The size of the enclosure for those drivers isn’t that important to the room, at least not as meaningful as the other parameters I have already listed.

Here’s the bottom line. Don’t let the relative size of a box fool you into believing big speakers can’t play nice in small rooms. Chances are pretty good you’ll be fine – and a short listening test will help you make a decision.