Tag Archives: bass

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 seating position isn’t compromised, as my room was purposefully built for listening to music, but for almost all of us, what Paul is saying, is true.

The perfect spot

Your seating position is compromised.

If you’ve done your system setup homework your chair sits at a comfortable distance from the loudspeakers. With the precision of a ruler, you’ve tweaked and adjusted the speaker’s position for best imaging.

Though we call it the sweet spot, it’s certainly not the perfect spot.

Within the boundaries of most rooms, the perfect spot cannot be attained because of our old nemesis, bass.

If we could see sound we’d be rather shocked at how low frequencies bunch together like an angry sea of waves and throughs. Not far from your sweet spot bass notes boom. Move in the opposite direction and we hardly hear any low-frequency energy.

The perfect spot is where compromise negotiates a truce with boundary limitations.

Which is why we call our listening position sweet rather than perfect.

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.

Amen to this and most folks I know don’t have a lot of options when it comes to loudspeaker placement. I do and have the marks on the carpet to prove I’ve tried a bunch of different locations and it seems each speaker is different. Sometimes, changing electronics has me change things a bunch.

However, as I get older, I justs want to listen and where my Daedalus Ulysses speakers are now, works great, so I’m done…Probably…

Speaker placement

There’s perhaps nothing more important than speaker placement. Where those two boxes sit in the room vs. where you the listener sits, largely determines how your music sounds.

And here’s the sticky part. There are multiple right places, each sounding quite different.

I have watched many an expert set up speakers and each has a completely different approach that results in very different placements. If one watches Wilson Speaker setup expert Peter McGrath work, you’d notice him first walking the empty room clapping his hands and speaking into the air to find the best starting point for the setup. Contrast that with REL Subwoofer owner, John Hunter, who starts with but one channel and spends hours moving it about the room discovering the best place for bass.

At the end of each expert’s process, the sonic results are wonderful yet sonically night and day different.

Now think about your own best efforts at speaker setup. No doubt what you have achieved sounds different indeed from what they would have come up with.

I am in the middle of writing the first in a new series of books called The Audiophile’s GuideThe Stereo offers a detailed step-by-step setup guide for getting the most out of your 2-channel audio system. Following my instructions, there’s no doubt your system will take a leap forward in performance.

But, here’s the thing. My setup methods are different still than experts McGrath and Hunter. And so, yes, once set up, music and its image on the soundstage will be different yet again.

I think the point of this post is to point out just how much difference setup makes.

It’s easy to imagine otherwise.

 

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.

Palpable sound

When an illusion is real enough it feels as if we might be able to fondle it. Palpable.

That’s what we strive for in our voicings of audio products, sound so real you can imagine touching it. That’s a tough challenge from a design perspective. How do you arm an engineer with the knowledge and tools to craft sound so real it’s touchable?

I think it starts with bass. If you can clear away the phase shifts and filters to get to unfettered bass, then you begin to actually feel the kick of a bass drum in your gut. I know for me that was my first palpable connection. A good thump in the gut from a recorded kick drum.

Over time and experience, you begin ferreting out the small nuanced cues that bring life to music. They happen slowly at first: a bell rings with such veracity you might believe it’s actually in the room. Perhaps a voice so real it’s as if the singer is in the room with you.

The best designers I know have placed this one virtue over just about all others. Make the sound so real it’s as if you can reach out and touch it.

It’s what we strive for and what you likely lust for.

It seems like magic.

 

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.

This is an article written by Scot Hull from Part Time Audiophile that I totally agree with.

See www.parttimeaudiophile.com. It is always an enjoyable read.

One of my favorite hi-fi arguments involves stack-ranking your spend. That is, how should we spend our hard-earned money when assembling a high-end stereo system? What is the most important component? Is it the speaker? Is it the amplifier? Is it the turntable phono cable? In any of these debates, there will invariably be someone who says something like “the most important component in any audio system is THE ROOM.” Once this version of Goodwin’s Law plays out, there will be a lot of nodding and wise stroking of facial hair.

But what if it’s not true?

There is some sense to the notion, to be fair. We tend to build hi-fi systems in this particular “possible universe” and not others, so yes, chances are quite good that there will be a room involved. And yes, it’s true — rooms can dramatically impact the sound quality of any system. Room nodes, cancellations, reflections — all that (and a whole lot more) can contribute to a truly epic, or horrific, experience. For those keeping track, this is one of ten thousand reasons why it pays to make friends with your local area audio dealer.

But with that said, it’s pretty easy to overstate this. Common wisdom says that huge loudspeakers should never be crammed into small spaces. That low ceilings, or a narrow front-wall, or irregular side walls can “kill” the sound. That you need to “fit” your system to your space and never the other way around. That a goldilocks sprinkling of room treatments is the key “acceptable” sound.

This is all very sensible advice. It’s also a bit misleading, as anyone who has ever seen the listening room of a high-end audio reviewer will readily tell you.

Or anyone who has visited a high-end audio show.

Jeff Joseph, of Joseph Audio — for one notable example — is famous for his incredible-sounding loudspeakers AND for his off-center speaker setups. Going from room to room at an audio show, you’ll see room after room of very traditional, mathematically-plotted speaker setups — and then you’ll come to a Joseph Audio room and start scratching your head, and perhaps begin wondering if someone took their medication that morning. You then sit, your bemusement gives way to wonder, and you stop thinking about math, and “the most important component”, and start grooving to some world-class sound.

Would that system sound better in a better room? Maybe — okay, probably. But that doesn’t mean that it cannot sound amazing in your room, shitty though that room may be. Take a Vinnie Rossi demo, with some great big loudspeakers from Harbeth, the 40.2 Anniversary Edition. Big speakers, big sound, great-big-bass. And in Vinnie’s far-from-ideal-world hotel-room setup, those speakers sounded incredible. Yes, most of that has to do with Vinnie’s amazing audio electronics. But a lot has to do with the fact that the speakers have been pulled from the walls and are less than 5′ from your ears — best headphones EVER.

The point? Don’t give up because your room is suboptimal — almost all of them are — and chances are very high that you can and will still get amazing sound.

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.

The old saw, there’s no free lunch, has been both a curse and a blessing to me. A curse because I’d rather have 100% benefits without dealing with consequences. A blessing because knowing the flipside helps decide how much cake I can have and eat.

Take for example subwoofers. If you place a subwoofer in the room’s corner you’ll enjoy greater output because the corner acts as an acoustic amplifier. That’s the good news. The bad news is that’s exactly the position that will activate every unwanted room node possible. More gain, more problems.

On the flip side, placing a subwoofer in the center of the wall has the least amount of unwanted room interactions. That’s the good news. The bad news is you’ll lose output and perhaps struggle with getting solid bass at your listening position.

Everywhere else is a compromise for best performance at your listening position.

Like the game Whack a Mole, there’s pretty much nothing you can do in your system’s setup that doesn’t have a consequence elsewhere. The same is true for most things in life where we have to consider the choices and weigh the consequences.

That said, we shouldn’t let the cost of lunch stop us from sitting at the counter. We shouldn’t forego the good because we’re anxious of the bad.

What’s important is understanding the potential consequences of our actions, then making the right choices.

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.

Maybe boring, but I have several tracks I use to set stereo’s up. Some are for tone…Some are for dynamics…Some are for bass and some are for stereo imaging.

One of the biggest mistakes people at shows make, although becoming more rare, are stereo’s that use components that haven’t been used together, especially loudspeakers, audio components that are new and not broken in,  or systems that don’t use the right music for set up.

Simple and natural

There are literally millions of tracks we can use to evaluate our stereo system setups, yet most wouldn’t be of much help. Without some form of acoustic reference material, it’s nearly impossible to know when it is right or wrong. What’s the proper sound of a fuzz tone guitar? Unless you had attended a Jimmy Hendrix concert in your youth (and had a perfect memory), you’d be hard pressed to know if a modern system rendered his guitar properly.

Whenever I start to set up a system I do my best to keep my source material simple and natural: a familiar voice, an acoustic instrument I know well. The more familiar I am with the piece, the easier it is to know when I’ve nailed the tonal balance, imaging, and dynamics.

What’s wonderful is we don’t need to use the same tracks all the time. As long as we stick to the principles of simple, natural, and familiar, just about any track works equally well.

Perhaps the biggest mistake I see people making when setting up systems is the use of big, complex, unfamiliar music or, worse, electronic music without any known reference.

When setting up, always go back to basics.

 

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.

Thrill seeking

Now that PS Audio engineer Chris Brunhaver has rebuilt the Infinity IRS woofer sections in Music Room II, tracks of music that once overloaded the room or underwhelmed the listener are back on the table.

Tracks like Deeper by Pete Belasco, When the Party’s Over by Billy Eilish, or Handel’s Organ Concerto Number 3 suddenly make more sense.

Before the woofer change, there was plenty of deep bass but it was more an effect sound than a real live note. Now, the system sends chills up your spine when those notes move both you and the room.

In fact, one of the joys of an upgrade to your audio or video system is the opening of new musical opportunities. If it’s better bass, you start looking through your library for tracks that demonstrate the new prowess. If a new tweeter or speakers with airy extended highs, you search for more thrills in that music.

If you want a few thrills and chills to challenge your system, and have Qobuz, you can access what we listen to by going here.

Have fun and give my apologies to the neighbors.

 

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.

A very good explanation of bass!

Thud

Isn’t it interesting that bass slam and quality comes not from woofers but instead from above?

Here’s what I mean by that. If you take a 3-way system like the IRSV, where the middle frequency drivers reproduce frequencies down to 100Hz, what you find is that bass impact and speed is determined not by the woofer towers, but rather the midrange drivers. Which is why we can accurately evaluate the bass performance of a power amplifier without that amplifier powering the woofers.

This applies not just to big systems like the IRSV. Just about any 3 or 4-way system will work the same way. Listen only to the woofers while music is playing and what you hear on a plucked bass note is little more than a dull thud. There’s no slam or impact to that sloppy thud because the frequencies that give the feeling of speed are much higher than the lower notes.

You can also listen just to the output of a subwoofer and get the same result: whoomp, whoomp, thud, thud.

It’s the upper ranges of bass that give us the impression of a fast woofer.

 

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.

Opinions and experiences

I am not a fan of passive radiators in full-range speaker cabinets. In every instance, I was underwhelmed with the sound of their bass and blamed the common denominator, the passive radiator.

A passive radiator is a woofer without a motor. Just picture your favorite woofer cone and that’s how a passive radiator typically looks. Were you to take it out of the box you’d note its lack of magnet and its light weight. Radiators act as tuned ports, lowering the speaker’s bass frequency cutoff to below what just its active woofer can produce.

My opinion of passive radiators has been negative for years.

Our opinions are formed by our experiences. If every beet we eat makes our stomach turn just a little then we declare our dislike of beets. Likewise, if every passive radiator we hear is muddy and ill defined we reject anything resembling it.

That is until we taste a beet we like or hear a radiator done right.

Our speaker genius, Chris Brunhaver, has opened my eyes and ears to the delights of a properly designed passive radiator. And what’s fascinating to me is that it doesn’t even look like a woofer. In Chris’ design a piece of heavy material, like wood, is the cone and it’s held in place with a carefully engineered surround material. Together, they form a tuned circuit that is sonically invisible in the same way a proper subwoofer extends the apparent bass of the main speaker without pointing to itself.

Little woofers can have big, tight, low frequencies with a properly designed radiator.

The point of this post is more about how experiences form opinions and less about radiators.

When we have the opportunity to extend our knowledge and venture out into the unknown, we often return with new opinions that are to our benefit.

I just love being wrong.

 

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.

The great mystery

I write and speak a great deal about subwoofers because I believe they are the missing element in almost every audio system I encounter. And that’s always been a mystery to me.

My guess is that a good 90% of systems haven’t the advantages of greater presence, air, low extension, and life a subwoofer brings and it probably has to do with the way it’s always been presented—as an optional add on.

Imagine if tweeters were optional add ons. “Have a hankerin’ for some of them high notes? Just add yer’self one of these here tweeters and make like a bird.”

Perhaps the reasons are simpler than what I am making fun of. From the very beginnings of stereo, speakers were “full range” single-box entities. They had all they were going to have and add ons, as subwoofers have always been seen as, were about as necessary as super tweeters.

It is fascinating to me to be known as a “bass freak” because I don’t want a system that isn’t full range.

For now, I’ll just add this great mystery to the stock of others that I accumulate.

Now, perhaps someone will explain to me why frozen bread toasts up so much nicer than fresh…