If you didn’t know
Some of the very best stereo recordings I love are standard resolution CD quality and the opposite is also true. Some of the worst are high resolution.
This means, of course, that it’s the recording quality that really determines if something is good or bad, great or awful. A high sample rate bad recording sounds a bit worse than a standard resolution version because the higher resolution brings us closer to what’s wrong.
How many times have I fallen into the trap of buying the higher resolution version of music new to me without first knowing if the recording’s any good?
Terri put on a new album by a group called Local Natives last night. The music’s really good and refreshing. Though it played in the background as I prepared dinner, I kept getting agitated that perhaps something’s wrong with the system. Dirt on the needle maybe? Nope. Needle’s clean. The high levels of distortion on the record were apparently intended by the musicians. Ugh. A good way to destroy great music.
High resolution recordings can make better what is already good, but you don’t want a better copy of what starts out badly.
This may work for some, but depends on type and size of the loudspeaker, as well as the listening room. The Red Norvo piece of music is great!
Tilt ‘er back
If you’re looking for a quick and easy fine-tuning technique, try tilting the speakers forward or backward relative to the listening position.
This is a time-honored tweak that not everyone’s familiar with, but it sure works great. The easiest way to do this is by using a CD jewel case under the front of your speaker for tilt back or under the rear of the speaker for tilt-forward. The half inch or so depth of a CD case is about perfect for a tilt change. You can use multiple cases to arrive at your final position.
What you’re doing is aiming the tweeter slightly above or below your ear—off-axis. Tilt back and above your ear will open the soundstage and offer a more airy presentation. Tilt forward and the opposite happens.
For this exercise, I like to start a well recorded multi-instrument piece like Reference Recording’s Red Norvo How’s your mother in law. As I tilt back the speaker the image gets deeper, wider, and more open, but it also loses a bit of upper harmonic energy. Heading in the opposite direction I increase the HF energy (depending on how your tweeters are now aimed) and gain more life.
Once that recording is dialed in I put on one of my favorite setup discs, Buddy Holly’s True Love’s Ways. Here I am listening for the immediacy of the voice and make my final tweaks to get it just right.
Nice to have an easy tweak we can try at home.