Getting depth

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Yesterday's post got us connected and playing our system for the first time. Through the use of Stereophile's test disc we've determined that the channels are correct, the phasing is right and the balance between the two speakers the same. Then we played our first music: a simple naturally recorded voice that will help us get 80% of the setup right and achieved proper level so we can make sure the size of the voice is correct for the room and the loudspeakers. Next we need to get the voice in the right place from front to back. In an earlier post Where the music's supposed to be, which I encourage you to read, we learned that our soundstage should be behind the loudspeakers, not on the same plane and certainly not in front. I know this is going to rub some of you the wrong way as you've been enjoying your soundstage in front of your loudspeakers for years. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but that's wrong and you're going to have to get over this idea to move forward. I fully realize it is counter intuitive because intellectually we all understand the sound is projecting forward and into the room - so what's up with insisting it appears from behind the loudspeakers? Please, read the link and absorb what it is telling you. So now that we're listening for depth, where is the singer? If you're using the same track from Jane Monheit I am using she should be a little forward of halfway between the front of the loudspeaker and the rear wall. Now here's where my mention of staying away from formulaic approaches is going to bite either me or you - because only some of you will have the proper space of 1/3 the total length of the room behind the loudspeaker to play with. I am going to guess only a very few of you will enjoy this much real estate in your homes. The rest of us won't have that luxury (including me in my system at home) and will have perhaps only a few feet. Should you have less than the ideal space to play with, don't use the imaginary reference of halfway between the speaker and the rear wall. Your task is to imagine where that place would be and achieve it anyway. Close your eyes if necessary and don't let the physical reality of where your speakers are convince you there's not enough room behind them for the soundstage. It's all an illusion anyway. Making sure your blue tape marks are in place so you have a reference to return to, start playing around to see what happens in your room. I am going to give you some general guidelines and then you need to simply play and take note of what works to get this depth - and equally important what causes the depth to get worse - it's all valuable. Keep at it until you have gotten as close as you can to what I asked you to get and then mark that position with a second set of blue tape - and keep the old tape as well. The changes you make should be in inches at this point - no giant changes, please as Millimeters matter.
  • Moving the pair closer together with the fronts remaining parallel to the wall behind you will increase the focus of the voice, decrease soundstage width in the middle and push the image farther towards the back. It will also increase the lower ranges of the voice because you'll get better midbass coupling of your loudspeakers - more midbass (below 500Hz) gives the illusion of greater depth.
  • Moving the pair away from the rear wall increases depth and decreases focus of the voice but also can add to its roundness and space as an individual performer. Moving closer towards the rear wall can flatten out the voice and compress the space of the soundstage.
  • Toe in can do a lot and go either way when it comes to depth. This is because depth is partly a function of tonal balance (which is part of what we're working with here). If we have a loss of energy in the 500Hz to 1.5kHz region we'll have greater depth and when you toe in a pair of speakers not only do the tweeters get "hotter" and more direct at your listening position but this can also have the affect of changing the overall tonal balance to that of less lower energy by virtue of more higher frequency energy. It isn't the amount of total energy but the balance between the frequencies that counts.
You will have to experiment and take notes! Work with it until you maximize the singer's depth as best you can making sure she is always firmly behind the loudspeaker pair. This is a big step and one that will be different in execution for each room and loudspeaker pair.
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Paul McGowan

Founder & CEO

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