The Answer Man
Part 2

Written by Jim Smith

Your Questions – My Answers, continued

Continuing our look at some of the most discussed topics/questions at my audio seminars – (Example – RMAF 2010 – relevant topics begin at 10:37) –


Reader Hoytamundo selected this topic:

Why you need to have an audio system “road map”

This is a true story, and although it’s not about audio at first, it’s completely applicable… I was an assistant buyer in a (high-end) clothing shop for young men when I was in college. I came to love men’s clothing, but as time went by and I left that city, I rarely kept up with the latest trends.

When I was running my audio shop, I got to know the folks across the street at the city’s top men’s clothing store. This shop always had the coolest looking items. “Going across the street” became a constant temptation. Here’s where I made my mistake:

Twice a year, as the seasons were changing, this shop would have a sale. Their clothing was very expensive, so the sale prices held a special attraction for me. Plus, those guys were clients of mine, so I felt obligated. 🙂

Naturally, I would always go over to visit during the sale. I’d usually find one or more things that looked fabulous. The price was right, so I’d purchase them.

After about five or six years of doing this (twice per year), I had some really nice, fairly new clothing items in my closet. But then, at some point in time, I realized that I hardly ever wore most of the things I had bought on sale. 🙁

The next time I ventured across the street to the clothing shop, I looked for the fellow who always helped me. He was exceptionally gifted in his field, and I trusted him completely. But I hadn’t really taken full advantage of his expertise because I usually went in and bought the good deals.

I told him about the fact that I had so many items that I loved, but that I hardly used. Could he tell me why that happened?

He told me something that was especially impacting, because I had always insisted on doing it for all of my audio clients. Except that I had never thought of its application to ME! And he gave it a name…

He said that my problem was that I didn’t have a Road Map for my wardrobe. He said that if I would allow him, he could help me be sure not to waste any more money on great deal impulse items that were incorrect for my needs.

We set an appointment, and one night after both of our shops closed, he and his wife met Pam and me at his shop. We went through all of my clothing. He pointed out the items that were classic and were usable as a foundation for future coordinated purchases.

We identified a not-so-small stack of items that would be perfect for someone else, but made no sense at all for me. Sadly, almost all of that stack was comprised of items that I had bought “on sale” at his shop.

The Road Map that we established that evening for where I needed to go with future clothing purchases made a HUGE difference. Most items that I purchased using the Road Map are still in my closet and I wear them today, over twenty years later!

You ask, “How is this related to audio?” Here’s how:

Over the years, I’ve met countless audiophiles who had done with their audio systems what I had done with clothes. They bought something at a good price because of the “deal,” not because it was on their Road Map for where they should take their music system.  They had succumbed to a purchase impulse driven by price.  BTW – I am not saying that such an impulse is necessarily wrong.  If that “great deal” item is on your Road Map, go for it!  Even so, if it is “down the road” in your planned order of things, and will not be fully appreciated yet for what it can do, you need to consider if you want to deplete your system funds to make that purchase.

This gets us back to deciding why you’re contemplating a purchase and knowing what area needs to be improved to make your system more musically involving. I recommend that, if you can find someone whom you trust, someone who deserves your trust because of their expertise, get with them to help you come up with a reasonable Road Map.

If you don’t have someone like that available, then step back and think about your goals and aspirations for your music system. Design your own audio system Road Map.

And then, if I should ever visit you, you won’t have to hear me ask, “Did you actually plan this system?”

Reader Audiomano selected these two:

Why you should remove unused speakers from your listening room or short/cover them

I ran a successful high-end audio store throughout the ’80s. One thing we always did was to remove all the speakers from the demo room except for the pair that was being played.

I’m not sure when I first started doing this, but it had been quite a while before the Linn guys came around, touting “single-speaker demo-rooms.” But their visit encouraged my staff to continue doing demos this way, even though it was much more work.

Although I knew it was better sounding – if for no other reason than there is usually one optimum location for the speakers in a demo room, and all others will suffer by comparison. Plus, a single speaker demo is less confusing for the client.  Although I intuitively knew to do it, I had never actually listened to a comparison demo with extra, unused speakers in the room, versus only the pair being used.

The Linn guys showed us that the extra, unused speakers in the room caused a reduction of dynamics, and a loss of “tunefulness.” It was almost as if the notes from the speakers on demo were slightly out of tune (using simple acoustic recordings), compared to the same source playing with only one pair of speakers in the room.

So if you should happen to be storing some unused speakers in your listening room, get them out of there!

If your situation requires that they remain in the room, there are some steps you can take that will help:

-Hook up a jumper wire to short the + and – terminals.

-Cover them or lay them face down if possible. If they’re ported, cover up the port as well.

-If the extra speakers are hooked up to some amplifier (such as a multi-channel surround amplifier), turn that amp on, but turn the volume all the way down. The idea is to keep the driver voice coils of the speakers that you are listening to centered as best you can, in one way or another.

Believe me, you don’t want those unused drivers to zag when your main speakers zig…

 Why you shouldn’t place equipment or furniture between your speakers

I’m always amazed when I see demos at dealer showrooms or at places like CES and the dealer or exhibitor—who should know better—has his equipment rack between the speakers, even if it’s against the wall and the speakers are into the room a bit.

The most obvious issue is the compromising of a believable soundstage. Reflections off the cabinet, even if it’s a couple of feet behind the plane of the speakers, will damage some of the inherent time arrival information encoded into your recordings.

This is a major factor in producing an excellent acoustic wave launch – or not.  It has a major impact on the sense of Presence – IMO, one of the Top Three major factors in musical involvement.  It’s easily addressed, even in homes where the resident design person won’t allow the speakers to be brought forward into the room.  But this is a topic for another time, if there are any questions.

Then there’s the distraction issue. It’s hard to suspend your disbelief if you’re looking at a rack of components with their lights in your face!

Keep those questions coming!


Note, these answers are edited versions of topics from Get Better Sound and the companion Quarter Notes newsletters.

If you would like to submit a topic for discussion, you can find the list from Copper #26 here.
You can also read Jim’s work at his website,   

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