The ACK Attack and Un-common Knowledge

My Turn

In English-speaking circles, the term “common knowledge” refers to a thing that everyone knows, or at least, should have known when searching for the cause of some wretched decision. As in, “I cannot imagine why she ran away with that poor excuse for a man. It’s common knowledge that he is a drunken lout!”

In audiophile-speaking circles, it’s a different thing altogether. I’ve always called the phenomenon “Audiophile Common Knowledge.” It’s the same stuff we’ve heard for years and years.

Although they may be without any basis, or the basis for their truth requires a number of unlikely concepts to line-up, these myths have become almost legendary. For the purposes of this discussion, instead of Audiophile Common Knowledge, let’s use the acronym ACK.

The Problem
The problem with ACK is that it prevents many audiophiles from attaining what is rightfully theirs. That’s because ACK keeps audiophiles from taking the basic steps that can dramatically improve their systems.

Some of the biggest sources of ACK are the various Internet audio forums/message boards. OK, maybe not the forums, but the inhabitants thereof.

By the way, it’s not those who ask legitimate questions that concern me. Although I’m still not sure why anyone would take the advice of a complete stranger on the Internet. Especially when said advice is – all too often – completely wrong, or at least, improperly presented as the first avenue of action.

Surely, ACK that is delivered with such self-assured righteousness must be true! But is it the ACKtual truth?

Self-styled experts
It’s the self-styled experts that are worrisome. They indiscriminately dispense a load of ACK, as if they actually know something. It must be said that sometimes there are pearls of wisdom to be found. But all too often, the pearls are hidden in a pile of ACK.

In their defense, they’ve heard these ACK myths for so long that they (1) believe them to be fact, and (2) they actually believe they are dispensing good advice.

Honestly speaking, I didn’t realize how pervasive – or damaging – ACK really was until I spoke to an audiophile group/society last year. I had prepared an interesting presentation. But I never got to make it, because ACK comments kept coming up.

The time flew by as cherished audiophile “facts” were challenged. Much to my surprise, debunking these myths produced a lively interactive meeting. The debate was fun! Most importantly, a few days later, I received numerous positive comments from various club members, as they tried out my Uncommon Knowledge suggestions.

A similar thing happened at a Seminar on System Optimization that I conducted recently. Veteran audiophiles just didn’t want the discussion to end, once they found out that many of their cherished beliefs had been hindering their sound. And they heard a few simple Tips to improve their systems that they hadn’t previously considered, because they didn’t line up with ACK.

ACK responsible
In my experience, ACK may be responsible for doing more harm than good. Here – in no particular order – are some ACK favorites – myths that have developed into Audiophile Common Knowledge:

  • The “rule of thirds” is a great set-up guide.
  • Cathedral ceilings provide great sound.
  • A wide sweet spot is best for great sound.
  • Full range speakers don’t need or work with subwoofers.
  • Bass is non-directional, so exact woofer placement and orientation isn’t critical.
  • Bass is non-directional, so only one sub is required.
  • The best speaker drivers must be low-mass.
  • A “fast” bass driver is superior to others.
  • The best sounding systems are dead quiet.
  • Granite makes a great isolation material.
  • Cones & spikes provide isolation.
  • Wide dispersion is desirable for consumer audio loudspeakers.
  • An equilateral triangle (speakers and listening seat) set-up yields great sound.
  • The best bi-amplification is done with transistors on bass, tubes on top.
  • Achieving the tightest bass should be your goal.
  • Speaker set-up diagrams/guides from various manufacturers will provide the best sound.
  • There are several known “good” listening room sizes/dimensions.
  • Building a new listening room with a good spread-sheet program will provide great sound.
  • If you’re past 50, you can no longer hear well enough to really care about your sound quality.
  • And others, equally as revered, and equally as questionable (once you know the facts).

If you have questions or comments, please post them for a reply in a future issue of Copper. Please understand that the ultimate goal is for greater musical involvement with your system. Of course, Get Better Sound readers already know the real insights on most of these ACKisms… 🙂

Jim Smith is one of the most respected members of the high-end audio community, and has worked in retail, wholesale, and every aspect of the industry. He is a world-famous expert on system set-up, and his Get Better Sound book and DVDs have helped thousands worldwide. www.getbettersound.com