Are tone controls evil?

November 17, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

16 comments on “Are tone controls evil?”

  1. Long ago I had a setup and added an equalizer that had a microphone to help flatten the curve in the room, or at least where the microphone was originally placed. I am not sure if it made anything better but the flat line took out some of the excitement in the 60 and 70’s music at the time. Over time I had read less is more and as my stereo system improved I removed everything from the path except cables. I don’t miss the EQ but wondered if flattening the curve back to flat got me to the recorderest’s thought on how the recording should sound.

  2. We all know the road to hell is paved with tone controls. 😉

    When I was selling home audio gear, a shopper often would come in with a cut sheet for a brand of speakers did not sell (you can’t or won’t carry them all).
    When the listener would fidget with tone/loudness controls, you could get an idea of what they had heard before.

    We used to joke about “Boom & sizzle” – most cheap speakers can do that.

  3. Good afternoon Paul!
    Perhaps I misunderstood what you said in your video.
    A lot of the recordings that were made in the 70’s and 80’s, were either very shy of bass or they were a little too bright sounding.
    Please don’t get me wrong, I am a very serious audiophile, but that strait line approach thing, doesn’t set too well with me.
    You can have the best speakers in the world.
    But if you have a lot of old records, then having the best speakers and the best room treatment in the world, isn’t gonna fix what’s wrong with the old records you have in your collection.
    You would have to have some kind of an equalizer or tone control system in order to make your records sound the way you want them to sound to you.
    So to the rest of the people that’s reading my comment, to each their own.
    Don’t let anyone tell you how a recording should sound.
    Because, after all, the people that’s telling you how music should sound, don’t have your ears.
    And they don’t have your mind either.
    You have to decide that for yourself.

  4. I often wonder what the Bose 901’s would sound like with dual HSU VTF-15H’s placed nearfield to the listener.
    I remember the days of cheap R.S. woofers equipped with “Whizzer Cones” and substandard bass and treble similar to 901s.
    I do use EQ’s on some of my cheaper casual listening systems but try to cut 1-4KHZ by 3-6 DB and boost 30-60hz perhaps a modest 3 db. No Eq’s in my audiophile system but do have a magical box called the DSpeaker anti-mode that I can attenuate or amplify the bass signal via level control. I wish they made a magic box for car audio also it would save countless hours trying to adjust a DSP while using a computer and microphone. This magic box automatically adjusts the sub for best bass response in a typical room. When it comes down to it I think I can adjust frequency for the best sound using my ears but really the machine does a much better job than I can do of flattening the peaks. Bass is the most problematic. The rest of the room can perhaps be treated with egg carton foam panels or similar and avoid use of eq.

  5. There are serious audiophiles who try to get the best sound by searching for maximum “synergy” by frequently changing preamps, DACs and cables. Why not simply insert a DSP-based equalizer? Less costly and less time-consuming than the permanent search for “better” synergy.

      1. Two concepts, indeed, but both trying to improve the resulting sound quality! 🙂 But which parameters or characteristics of the sound quality are addressed by equalization which aren’t addressed by rolling cables and components?

  6. Here are two albums from opposite ends of the recording spectrum.
    Bon Jovi – ‘Slippery When Wet’
    Jennifer Warns – ‘The Hunter’
    One has virtually no bass in the recording & the other one has
    too much & this is where a bass tone control would be handy.
    For me, with my ageing ears, a +3 to +6 dB treble control, for some
    recordings, would be handy as my ears hear less treble in the music
    simply from the ageing process.

  7. Tone controls are not evil. Even today they can be very helpful. Nobody has a perfect room for their audio. Depending on reflective walls or wall to wall carpets, these tone controls can help for a more pleasing sound. You may have vintage speakers,or wife that won’t allow your speakers 5 feet out from your front wall! You may have a vintage 78rpm record collection that has high end noise, or your own hearing is deficient, with ringing in your ears or loss of high frequency. In the end tone controls only have to please the end user. I find them a must when listening in an automobile.

  8. Why would I want bass and treble controls when I would set them at the center position and just leave it there? Moreover if you boost them too much that’s the easiest way to clip your amp and damage your speakers. Get good speakers with good tonal balance and set them up properly. I don’t need balance controls or loudness switches either. Source, speaker switch if applicable, volume control, power switch are all I need and it’s bad enough I need those. Would like to mentally make adjustments and not need those either if I could. 🙂 I agree on the EQ for recording deficiencies Paul.

  9. I would think tone controls would have less to do with the room and more to do with the recording. Some recordings would sound great with the tone controls off and some would need some adjustments.

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