Choose your color
We like to think of our stereo systems as neutral, perfect, clean, uncolored representatives of musical truth. Only, as long as we’re using loudspeakers that’s just not going to happen. Fact is, loudspeakers are the most imperfect elements in our system.
Have a look at the specs for your speakers. Even the most “accurate” among them vary by +/-3dB and many greater than that. It’s also instructive to remember that when we specify something as + and – they often add up.
The challenge with speakers is to find the ones with the colorations that best suit your equipment and your listening preferences. If you like a lean and tight sound, there’s a whole group of speaker designers that agree with you and have tailored their products to make you happy. Or, perhaps you prefer big, fat, and robust sound. Those too are available.
Most audiophiles I talk to profess to want a neutral character to their speakers but, to be honest, I am not sure exactly what that means. My guess is that neutral means the speaker’s colorations are evenly distributed without favor to any particular region.
If you’re interested in more discussion I posted a video on the subject you can watch here.
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.