Audiophile Therapy

Written by Jim Smith

Do you remember that special feeling on the way home from a great concert? If you’re like me, you hardly remember the trip home. Do you remember feeling the concert’s emotional impact the next day?

You do know that special feeling should be yours when you listen to your system, right? If your music system isn’t providing at least some of that effect, you might need to make some changes. Because it should be happening.

“Make changes” in audiophile-speak usually means changing one or more components. But this Audiophile Therapy session is not about changing components – it’s about retrieving greater musical impact from your existing system.

When I’ve suggested that a listener should evaluate a sound system by how effectively he or she is impacted by the music, they are usually skeptical at first. But ask yourself, if you’re not impacted by the music, why do you have a stereo system?

EQ and your system

Nope, this EQ isn’t about equalization. It’s my abbreviation for Emotional Quotient. Every system has one. What’s yours?

Unlocking EQ

Most of my clients have unlocked this aspect from their systems. They use their music systems as “attitude adjusters.” When possible, they make it a point to come home from a stressful day at work and listen for at least 45 minutes or so. They’ve discovered that, when they get home, if they can listen to music for a bit, they can emerge with a whole new attitude.

Regardless of when or why you avail yourself of it, this emotional response is waiting for you. You only have to recognize that it’s possible and to want the experience.


Often, the way a composer or performer “plucks your emotional heart strings” is in the area of dynamic contrasts. For example, think of the times that a section of music ends with the softest pianissimo trailing to silence, or it ends with a huge fortissimo blast of power. Both are emotional punctuation marks, intended to evoke a powerful response in the listener.

By the way, if it’s not happening, the first place I’d look is whether or not the dynamic contrasts are compressed. Does the system sound effortless and alive? Is it interesting when played softly, or does it have to be cranked up? Hint—if it has to be cranked up to come alive, that’s a system that may not be as involving musically, at least from a long-term perspective.

It’s typical to blame a lack of dynamics on a component. However, it’s more likely due to poor placement – especially the listening seat, then followed by the speaker position.Other contributors can be inadequate isolation, uneven response – especially from resonances – boomy bass, missing notes, too many reflections, etc.


When you listen, do you get transported into the music venue? When the recording is a small ensemble or soloist, do you get the uncanny feel that the performer(s) are performing for you in your room?

Your system should easily differentiate these two classes of Presence as well as those that fall in between. When you become immersed in the performance, EQ will run high.

It is almost certainly NOT about buying more components. More likely, it’s related to speaker placement.


In addition to Dynamics, Tone is another major contributor. In this case, Tone is about musical timbre. You don’t have to change components to appreciate this aspect of your sound. If necessary, compromise a bit on audiophile sound effects (imaging, soundstage, etc.), and adjust your placement options to provide more Tone. It’ll pay off in a higher EQ.

The real goal

We’ve all heard that our ultimate goal should be recreating the original sound of a musical event. However, that’s a literal impossibility.

The real—and more achievable—goal should be recreating a musical event’s emotional impact. When we can reach that goal, audiophile therapy is available to each of us.

You can also read Jim’s work at his website, .

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