Wait A Minute!

Written by Jim Smith

We interrupt our regularly scheduled Subwoofery series for a Special Announcement!

In the past couple of weeks, as I voiced several systems around the country and conducted set-up classes at my RoomPlay Reference listening room here in the Atlanta area, I realized that I knew something vital to this series – in fact, I have always used it and taught it – but I had not communicated it in Copper! Sheesh!!! Brain fade? Anyway, we need to correct the omission before going further with our Subwoofery series.

First, a few excerpts from the previous issue in order to illustrate the point I am about to make related to the need for seamless blending of subs with full-range speakers (which always results in a far more musically engaging experience).

From Copper – Issue 14 –

“Subs – again, properly implemented – will always enhance the sense of space and especially the sense of presence of vocalists and instruments, whether recorded up close or well back on a stage.  The result?  A more engaging musical experience.

But it’s not just the sense of space or hearing low bass instruments the few times when they are actually present.  For example, I can play a recording of a guitar solo, and when the subs are on, it’s as if you could walk over and pluck the guitar strings!  Yet, you are not aware of the subs in any way as far as making a sound.  They increase the sense of tangibility of instruments and voices.

My experience (something like 800 systems successfully voiced) has shown that even the most expensive/exotic speakers – often which claim subterranean bass – still benefit from properly implemented subs.  In fact, I have never known this outcome to be untrue, no matter what is claimed or what the main loudspeaker costs.

It’s important to recount that when I have heard reports of how a pair of subs didn’t blend properly with a pair of full-range loudspeakers, when I heard that system, the reports were nearly always correct!  Sometimes I could fix the problem in a few minutes, sometimes a few hours. But it was always solved and more musical engagement was the outcome.”

There are several reasons that very smart audiophiles often miss the benefits of this topic:

Reason #1 –

This first point isn’t actually the one I wanted to make with this injection into our series, but it is vitally important. It’s really more of a rant. (insert angry emoji here).

Without exception, I have found that audiophiles rarely experience the full capabilities of their systems because they don’t really have a reference. So, even when their systems are sounding good to them, how do they know if there is more to be had from their investment? Do they know what to consider, and how to go about it? Are they really getting the full return for which they paid?

Show sound – and dealer sound (with a few exceptions) – can almost always be significantly bettered by most serious home audio systems. Therefore, if your sound approaches (but doesn’t exceed) that of the best you have heard at a show or at a dealer, it probably means that you have more work to do (the bad news) and more musical involvement to enjoy for years to come (the great news).

Reason #2 –

If you are fortunate enough to have a custom designed room, and you have been told where the system should go, but the designer did not come to your place and evaluate/tweak the results, in my experience, it is definitely under-performing its true potential. And even if he/she did come, that is no certain assurance that you have the performance for which you have paid (more on that later in this series). Sadly, the performance shortfall is often dramatic.

Here are quotes from two recent RoomPlay clients who had relatively expensive rooms that were designed – but never checked after the system installation – by the designer:

  • “Dammit! I have lived with about 20% of the sound I could’ve had.”
  • “I cannot believe how much more alive my system sounds!” FWIW – his wife heartily agreed.

We will address the above listed issues – and more – in this series. By “address”, I mean that we will show you how to get there. Our goal is for you to reach that higher level of musical engagement.

Reason #3 –

When I have heard systems with subs that did not blend well with the main speakers, there have been a number of culprits. Sometimes it was the one we are about to address, but usually there were several.

For years I have been astonished at the lack of cohesiveness and musicality from mains/sub systems, and for a reason that seems so obvious (that I forgot to mention it).  🙁

No matter how excellent the subs, no matter how much effort went into their placement, the results will never be satisfying if the following process (which is has nothing to do with working with the subs) isn’t performed.

The main speakers need to be voiced for the smoothest bass possible! A great sub install will have little or no chance of blending with main speakers that have problems in the 25-250 Hz area. Please understand – I am NOT saying that the main speakers are problematic in the bass. Most likely they are performing well. It’s the room/listening position/speaker position that is the culprit. When attention to this vital detail has been properly applied (plus two more issues we will explore as well), only then can we begin think about working with the subs.

We’ll look at this issue in more depth in the next Copper…

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