Tag Archives: REL Acoustics

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.

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

Tough situations

Setting up speaker systems at shows can be tough and almost always is. You start with an emptied room never designed for audio systems and within the course of one day, setup a system hundreds of knowing Audiophiles come to evaluate, often critically. Setup day is rife with sweating t-shirted manufacturers muscling large speaker systems in the hopes of great sound, which rarely meets one’s expectations.

This year in Munich we got a new and bigger room to display the BHK Signature amplifier playing the wonderful Magneplanar 20.7. It should have been a marriage made in heaven, instead it was a divorce officiated by hades himself. For starters the room is shaped like a horn, its output in the back where the speakers sit and the mouth where eager music lovers listen for great things to play. But that wasn’t the best of it. Behind the loudspeakers a solid glass wall, and above a sloping glass-enclosed bass trap, the likes of which I have never seen. The poor Maggies were stripped of both low frequencies and life as we struggled to move them into position.

Ten o’clock that evening, the day before we open the doors, the system still hadn’t any bass and sounded similar to a large clock radio. We left the room determined to hit it early the next morning. 8AM found us, and every other exhibitor, standing outside locked doors without keys. A delegation went to find someone, anyone, that could help and we rapidly discovered something about organized systems. The German people are famous for their orderly ways, their love of systems, trains that run on time, things in their places, and proper functioning. But toss a wrench, or a group of high end audio manufacturers without access to rooms, into the smooth running gears and chaos erupts. 90 minutes later we had keys, showtime in 30 minutes, and upon entering the room I realized my iPad had been stolen. That iPad was my only means of communicating with my music source, a Mac Mini. Buy another? Sorry, the entire nation was closed for Father’s Day.

I could go on about the day from hell from I curse just reading my words. We pulled the Maggies into the center of the room and got reasonable imaging, but without tonal balance or low bass of any kind. The sound was ok if we chose the right material, but nothing good was coming from the speakers and we were honoring neither the BHK or the Maggies.

At lunch that day I ran into my friend John Hunter, owner of REL Acoustics, my favorite subwoofers. And a subwoofer would save the day, but alas he only had enough for their display. After lunch and as I was leaving, John had an idea. Since he was displaying subwoofer pairs, he graciously had one of his guys wheel a monster to our room and he followed along for setup. We closed the room, much to the horror and protestations of those listening and John got to work. Subwoofer installed he asked if I would mind his ‘tweaking’ the system. ‘What, change that which I had spent nearly 12 hours of work on? Where’s the tape to mark the speaker’s place?!”

But then I relaxed and watched as a true master of the art took over. Holy crap! Who knew? John Hunter is a true magician, a craftsmen the likes of which I have rarely seen in more than four decades of setting systems up. Placing the Maggies wide apart and angled like I have never seen anyone do, except perhaps the Wilson setup guys, the system transformed into a huge and realistic soundstage with bass. Wow.

Perfect? No, but the room would never permit perfect.

Listenable and showing off both the speakers and amplifier? You bet. The REL integrates seamlessly with the lightning fast planar panels and few even notice there’s a subwoofer in, but proper bass now emanates beautifully, seemingly from the panels themselves.

Watching a true master at setup work his magic had me in awe. I would love to learn what John Hunter knows.