Adjustment time

January 24, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

When evaluating a piece of audio gear there are two schools of thought. Make a quick judgment or live with the device for a while and see how it feels.

Both methods have their good and bad points.

The quick method works well for me because it's something I've trained to do over the years. Using a tried and true set of reference materials with a broad enough range of musical diversity, I can make a pretty accurate rapid assessment on a consistent basis. This method doesn't work for everybody. Without proper training, mistakes are easily made from using such a small sample. The good news with this quick method is that our ear/brains don't have time to adjust to differences…which brings me to the second method.

Spending good quality time with a new piece of equipment whether electronics, cables, or speakers has its merits. Instead of a rush to judgment that might have some folks anxious about missing important bits, the long and winding road of living with equipment has the advantage of thoroughness coupled with greater confidence in the decisions made. The bad news is the problem of maintaining impartiality. The longer we live with something more our ear/brains adjust to the quirks and mistakes to the point of sonic blindness.

We lose our reference.

Perhaps the most seasoned approach is a combination of the two: a quick evaluation noting any possible problems coupled with a longer term live-in period focused on compatibility with the noted issues.

In the end, it's of course important to know what does and doesn't work for you.

And even if you're wrong, it's fun having the luxury of trying out new gear!

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50 comments on “Adjustment time”

  1. You all know my Klipsch -'RP160M' story by now.
    The only thing that I got caught-out on was experiencing
    'listener fatigue'; as it becomes undeniably apparent the
    more time that you spend with the offending component
    or, in this instance, loudspeaker.
    Due to that one experience, that happened to me only
    three years ago, I would now err on the side of having
    at least a one month trial period, as opposed to half an
    hour with a dozen reference tracks.

    1. There is also the issue of burn-in of both the equipment and your brain. When it comes to musical instruments and audio gear, nothing sounds the same on day one as it does several weeks later after regular use. Hopefully the sound gets better rather than worse.

      1. There are certainly other options at our disposal to help evaluate a given piece of equipment, and some methods are certainly frowned upon by some, even at this site, however, considerations like the Klipsh RM-160M for example, anyone having knowledge of how to examine the measurements like the spinorama would know right away the hurdles the engineers left one when trying to use this speaker, and how poorly it performed from the factory.

        I know there are folks like Danny at GR Research, who have taken the time to evaluate and straighten out the issues from his customers on the RM-160M/RM-600M models and the poor engineering of the crossovers from Klipsh to give these models vastly improved performance. I advocate knowing what to look for long before it comes to "trial and error" methods.

        1. You don't need the Spidercharts as HiFi News explained in their review (with a chart) that Klipsch were clearly going for big bass and a slightly forward top end from a small box. So the performance, even if you don't like it, is probably what they were going for.

          GR set out to fix the big mid/upper midrange dropout, not the treble that FR found fatiguing, which GR said was forward by OK.

          Not sure how much you expect from a $600 box, although there are some really good ones from Monitor Audio. These were clearly designed with a certain type of customer in mind, and not the Spiderama type.

          As FR is heavy into Rock 'n Roll, they probably suited his musical choices fairly well.

          1. You may not understand what was done by Danny, because not only was the tweeter out of phase, (reversed) making the tweeter forward but the level was reduced by introduction of correct value resistors in both series and parallel with the tweeter, reducing it's output level. (removing the brash, fatiguing properties) The spinorama data can and does reveal issues long before you ever connect it up in your home. My recommendation is that one actually educate themselves before making such dismissive statements concerning measurement data.

            1. Barsley,
              By the time the loudspeaker reaches the shop-floor, measurements are not going to help the customer...
              it's all up to the customers ears by that stage.

              1. That makes literally no sense whatsoever, in that, if you make a major buying decision, and don't lend yourself to the available data to be found on the product, then you are not making a prudent buying decision. However, it's your money and you can spend it in manner you wish. There are poor buying decisions made everyday.

                1. Barsley,
                  I spent 22 years in home-audio retail...I know how the majority of consumers want to shop & choose.
                  You are the one that makes literally no sense because I suspect from your ignorant comments (Barsley's Law) that you have very obviously spent zero time where I have...with the customers.
                  You come here & talk a lot of theoretical BS that doesn't transfer into the real world, however you do amuse a few of us here & we thank you for that.
                  Have a great day!

                  1. It's okay FR, I forgive you for your arrogance. I'll just consider the source, and simply ignore you next time. I guess your buying awareness on the RP-160M was on par with your sales acumen. Have a great day.

                    1. Barsley,
                      Well that just makes my day 😀
                      Unfortunately I can't ignore your inane & pointless observations, as they are amusing because they completely miss the whole point of home-audio entertainment.
                      Have a great day.

            2. What you completely fail to understand is that the Klipsch was designed that way. It's a cheap little speaker that goes very loud in a big and slightly brash way. There are lots of people who want that. If you want a similarly sized speaker that is ruler flat through the midrange, there is the P3ESR (which I owned), but it won't come close on sound levels and is 4 times the price. That is exactly the comparison that Stereophile makes, also to the O/93 that FR now owns.

              You can wave your charts and diagrams in the air as much as you like, and call us all ignorant (by telling us to get educated), but you just don't get the basic point FR makes, from his 22 years more retail experience. This speaker does a specific job for a price, sod measurements because the buyers don't care. They want a small, musical speaker that goes loud. That bloke's $250 upgrade kit if manufacturer implemented would double the price and completely defeat the object.

              1. I didn't completely fail to understand anything. A couple of minutes with the spinorama data, you could have already seen if it was a candidate to be a candidate. (and a spiderchart isn't a spinorama)

                And if you want to fix the low cost speaker set, you don't have to go to GR and spend $200+, you can get an iron core inductor for the woofer and a couple of sand cast resistors of the proper value and be out less than $15. The point of the cost is mute, in context to of making an educated buying decision on a speaker. Those who don't understand how to use data from a spinorama, will discount it as irrelevant.

                1. The data is not irrelevant, reviewers that don't use spider charts measured the speaker and explained why it measured as it did and hence to whom it would appeal. It just doesn't measure as YOU would like it, which is great because you obviously won't be buying it.

                  Competent reviews of these affordable products make it quite clear what people are getting for their money. Most people don't want know-it-alls condescendingly telling them to get educated about subjects that don't interest them, valuing the time better spent drinking beer, watching football and having sex. And when not doing that, they occasionally go and listen to some hifi and may even buy it. And they seem to get lots of pleasure from it.

                  Were I ever to go to a shrink, and I've not yet had the pleasure, I wouldn't want one to tell me to go off and read the collected works of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. I'd want one to diagnose the issue and come up with practical solutions. That's what I consider a good audio dealer does. Were he to tell me to go look at spider things I'd find another dealer.

                  1. Obviously there is a failure to communicate, as spider charts are not spinoramas. Again, it only goes to prove my point, that those who don't understand the data, will dismiss it as irrelevant. If you don't want to spend the time educating yourself, that's your own choice. Good luck in life.

                    1. I own a couple of cars, a dishwasher, a pretty crazy coffee machine and a load of other gadgets. They are all consumer products and I have little if any idea how any of them work. Why should audio be any different? Do I need to study motor mechanics to evaluate what car to buy?

                      And no, since I’ve never studied anything to do with electronics in my life and not opened a science book since I was 15, over 40 years ago, I’m not going to start now. I see no reason why I should have to so that I can sit and enjoy music at home, which I’m doing now.

  2. I chose my speakers in half an hour and my all-in-one unit in about 45 minutes, taking longer because I listened to two versions of the same machine. Done in the dealer's listening room matching my system, the test tracks are more sounds than music (clapping hands, percussion, piano, violin, solo voices, etc.) and 30-60 seconds each. Any longer and I would lose track of what I was hearing and bias and confusion would set in.

    One example. A tabla solo from Nitin Sawhney's track The Conference (the version from One-Zero, not from Beyond Skin as the latter has a vocal). Because it is one of the fastest percussive instruments and the microphone is inches from the drum, with good speakers it can give a pin-point centre image with spectacular dynamics. It takes seconds to know if it works or not.

    Of course I could sit at home for a week and listen to endless drum solos and probably learn less.

    I was home loaned some power cables and a conditioner and the improvement was obvious in seconds. I was home loaned some Focal speakers and they lasted a few hours before returning them. I've been swapping internet cables for 13 years and never heard any difference at all.

    1. I pretty-much agreed with your method of selection Steven; I can tell straight away, like when I shoved the IsoAcoustics Pucks under my loudspeakers the week before last.
      But I really got caught out by those RP160M's.
      I'd never experienced that sort of listener fatigue, & now I have to take that into consideration & ignore any loudspeaker with a titanium horn tweeter in future.

      1. I too, have never been a fan of horns - especially after long exposure. Nothing can fry your inner ear hairs like a piezo!
        Think back now - Does first place get rewarded with a horn? No! (maybe in the 1400's)
        A dome? Uh-uh!
        A Heil Motion? Not here.
        No, the first place award always gets a RIBBON!
        And if you're REALLY good, a four foot ribbon.

        (Actually I have Heil Motions in my work speakers and they definitely do take the 2nd place award.)

    2. Steven, I agree with you to an extent. Every piece of gear (be it source, DAC, amp, loudspeaker or cable) that I have kept after a month of audition sounded great to my ears on first listen. I never really experienced improvement or degradation over time. But that may be partly because every piece of gear I ever purchased had rave reviews by users who did live with the piece for several days or weeks, so I got the benefit of their experience, and the chances of making a mistake were lowered. There is no doubt that some gear that impresses up front could grate on you over time. So, first impression is the primary test, confirmed over time.

      1. It is certainly easier when buying at the level of the great unwashed, or modest middle classes, as there is so much readily available information out there. A quick google would tell you if a speaker is fatiguing.

        When you get into the more serious high end, when there is little or no pool of users online, and it is a matter of how great one product is compared to another great product, then you run into trouble.

        Fortunately that is not something that is ever going to worry me.

        1. Steven, none of my gear is "middle class." It's all "serious high end." I typically stay away from high-end products that have no pool of users. Nearly every high-end product I have purchased had several thorough, independent reviews by respected reviewers who compared the product with other high-end products.

        2. My apologies, thought I was replying to FR. I'm sure you both wash thoroughly. I think down at the US$5,000 of less system level, which is most audio systems, choices are easy based on reviews and user comments. I bought my CXA81 based on HFN, Stereophile, What Hifi reviews and a mountain of awards. I was not disappointed. I've heard some amazing high end systems and I would really have trouble choosing between some of them.

          I did see a review earlier on FR's Klipsch speakers, in HiFi Choice, I got the feeling the reviewer was thinking "do I really have to listen to these", and possibly gave them an afternoon at best.

          I think time-limited demo's focus the mind. I've been to manufacturer events at dealers that go on longer and I get bored because I've made my mind up about the audio system in half an hour and the rest of the time is listening to other people's music selections or manufacturers talking stuff I don't understand or care about.

        3. As a member in good standing of the Great Unwashed, I find that that remark extremely ... accurate.

          Rene Descartes (after a strenuous workout): "I stink, therefore I am."

  3. For me, the longer listening period works.
    Yeah, somethings are obvious in 5 seconds, but usually it takes time for a solid determination. Being relaxed, having time to listen, and things will appear (or disappear).

    A good example was a Schiit Yggdrasil DAC that I tried out (because I never heard one before).
    At first, really impressive, bass slam, dynamic as hell, super detailed.
    However as time went on it started to get on my nerves. Super forward, singer was almost in my lap, aggressive, kept turning it down, down down. Very much the definition on listener fatigue.

  4. Two tests I have are:
    1. Like todd r, if I keep turning the volume down, bad sign. Conversely, if the system has me turning up the volume, now, we’re talking.
    2. The armchair conductor test. If I’m waving my arms like Leonard Bernstein and can’t sit still, I know it’s good.

  5. I am sure you have all heard this before. It took me NINE months of auditioning ( with a three month hiatus in the middle to let my brain chill ) to decide whether to buy Wilson or Magico speakers. I'm glad I took my time to get what was right for me, but it was mentally exhausting. I have taken way less time when buying an automobile.

    1. I think it took me 9 minutes to know I couldn't listen any more to the Magico M3. We bought our Nissan Leaf in 9 about minutes, about as long as it took to take it up to the the first roundabout from the dealer and back again. I'd be interested to know what went through your mind between months 8 and 9 of the process.

      I agree with Richtea, and not with Paul, I certainly don't consider it fun spending a lot of time making these decisions.

      1. tHIS MONTH i WENT THROUGH 5 AMPS BEFORE I DECIDED WHICH I LIKED. DID I REMEMBER AMP TO AMP? PROB NOT!
        WHAT MADE ME DECIDE?
        I LANDED ON A GOOD RECORDING-IT SOUNDED GOOD AND THAT CLOSED THE DEAL-SAD!
        In 1980 I decided never to go car shopping again! So my process was as follows -when our leases expired, I just called the dealer to replace both cars with the current model available! that process was in place until 2021 when my leases were up and needed a replacement and I decided to, by need not want, to obtain a "seat" that was comfy! So, after sampling 6 different autos from different manufactures, and being totally exhausted, I would up getting cars from a manufacturer I would never have considered!!!

        So I truly hate the car I'm driving because of the image it reflects even though it is super comfy, rides beautifully and is very safe! i cannot wait for the lease to expire!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I am now driving what every other senior citizen with gray hair, expanded mid section, and white shoes drives! Its horrible! Perchance there will be a factory recall and I can snap back to
        a fast ,small car I have to crawl into and need a hoist to get out of! But I will be happy riding through the streets of town with the top down listening to the roar of the mufflers! I can't wait for the $1500 oil change!

        1. Did you enjoy listening to 5 amplifiers, or was it just that on the fifth occasion it sounded good and you were in a mood to buy, if not a little fed up with the whole thing?

          There is a lot of psychology here. The audio press, funded by manufacturers, want you to believe there is always something better to be bought. Measurementalists like our dear friend Barsley will tell you it can be easily identified from oscilloscopes and Spinascope charts, and you will get change from 50 bucks. Increasing age tells me to get what I like and to hell with everyone else’s opinion.

          P.s. get the Porsche before you need a hip or knee replacement.

          1. Well # 5 f do I’d sound v good but the truth is that I was exhausted from the trips to FedEx!
            The closest Porsche dealer is 20 miles one way!!! I did try it (911) and it was fun for the test drive , but not overjoyed! The all wheel drive model was the smoothest-
            I still have second thoughts of driving a
            Small car in my area since driving here
            Makes the Indy 500 seem like kindergarten!

            1. Bear in mind the 911 is useless for schlepping any audio larger than an ethernet switch.

              Home demos here are usually delivered by the dealer. My chap travels around in a Zipvan. Very sensible.

      2. Steven, It took me so long because of the following:

        1. I was upgrading my entire system one last time ( due to my age I doubt I will do another massive upgrade ) and I wanted to be sure what I bought was what I would be satisfied with for a long time ( I hope it is a long time ).

        2. The speakers in my previous system were the weak point in that system, I wanted to be sure that the new speakers would be the strength of my system.

        3. The speakers are ridiculously expensive. They cost more than the entire system that I was completely upgrading. I don't spend that much money without being really sure of what I am buying.

        4. The two speakers seemed equal even though they used very different materials. I finally figured out what I should focus on after hearing some 'live' music in a small club where the drum kit was not amplified. The speaker that came closest to that sound when drums were played is what I bought.

        All I can say is I still love the speakers after listening to music through them for four years!

        1. Tony, I get from where you are coming from. That said, I chose my speakers between 11:30 and a 1pm lunch reservation, and we were slightly early at the restaurant. That said, it was 30 yards from the hifi store so no time wasted on travel. Those speakers will see me out, they were 3 times what I've ever spent on speakers before.

          I've heard a drum kit played through PMC BB5 SE from an uncompressed master lacquer. After 10 minutes I needed a strong coffee and a lie down. I wanted speakers that had gravitas and were polite at the same time. It's a matter of taste.

  6. This is quite a conundrum. With music for example, I’ve heard a track and thought “I don’t like that” or “I’m not keen” and yet revisiting later on or after a few more listens have grown to like it, sometimes really like it. That’s happened on more than one occasion. Is it right or wrong?

    I’m not sure about Paul’s last sentence though. That “fun” aspect is certainly a first world problem but when exactly do you discover you were wrong. Does it slowly creep up on you or is it a sudden realisation? Possibly it’s when you get that new piece of equipment and discover, “ah that’s better, it’s all right now” until it becomes wrong again. I know that’s cynical, a terrible affliction.

    BTW I understand some men can’t even say the word “wrong” especially with “I’m” in front of it 😉

    To further sow the seeds of doubt, that friend of the dealer but foe of the consumer, perhaps where hi-fi is concerned, we are always wrong 🙁

    Today’s heading made me think about songs with “time” in the title. There’s lots, but I couldn’t find an “Adjustment Time”.

    1. "Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day,
      Fritter & waste the hours in an off-hand way.
      Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home-town,
      Waiting for someone or something to show you the way" - GRW

  7. This article was much appreciated. My biggest focus when auditioning new equipment is to answer the question, "...is the new sound better or different..."

    Through lessons of experience, I've learned to use reference recordings that allow me to make quick judgements and listen to the system for 3 to 4 hours to determine if I am as happy after long-term listening.

    One of my favorite recordings for testing is a very average recording - the soundtrack from the movie "Glory". If the music doesn't take me back to big screen excitement, the test is over.

    1. I agree with you. It's not "either or." It's both. You make an initial judgment and then confirm or refute that initial judgment over a period of time. If spending time with that particular piece of gear makes you, for whatever reason, like it even more, so much the better!

  8. Just to add that it matters whether the differences are large or small. Heaven is when the improvements are so big that it’s instantly obvious. Small differences can be tough because it takes a lot of A/B time to decide which is better, maybe weeks.

  9. Like Paul, I have a couple of dozen cuts of various acoustical genre that I use for testing any component changes. This allows for quick and accurate sonic judgements that actually have proved true over the long haul of listening sessions.

    To guarantee full break-in/burn-in of components, I really put some listening/playing hours on my setup this past year. In just "listening session" activity, I roughly invested 300 hrs testing speaker cables (5 sets), 200 hrs testing a regenerator, and 100 hrs testing an SACD player. In break-in time (playing constant background or just powered on), can easily triple those listening hours!

    Revelation Statuses: Speaker cables really needed the burn-in hours to achieve their best performance (playing music day & night). The regenerator did open up a little with its constant powered-on usage and the SACD didn't change sonics at all during its break-in time (Marantz verified their Ruby SACD needs no burn-in time)!

    The sonic rewards of putting in the "analytical Listening" and "constant On" arduous time investments have paid off. Now, I just sit back and relax with the musicians in a consistent -Mind Blowing I'm There Live- in the recorded venue presentations!!

  10. Agreed!

    And also that it’s most important to have (also the live experience, but here playback, not live is meant) references aside of the own setup and at best, to know different concepts with their strengths and weaknesses, what’s possible with each concept and what’s possible to combine or not to combine at which price. If one knows that in advance, one knows his real demand and the direction to go.

  11. Paul’s post and the comments here are excellent and I identify with a lot of what is being said.
    For me, Time, Brain/equipment burn in and reference tracks have always served me well when building a system because I’m still very happy with my current one.

    Anyhow, a great read here this Monday morning for me.
    Have a wonderful day gents.

    Today’s spinning CD is The Alan Parsons Project “Gaudi.”
    Tons of dynamic range. 🙂

  12. A third method of preliminary evaluation has worked for some of us: scour the internet and read every user review you can, focusing especially on comparisons with other competing, highly praised gear. That allows you then to order with some confidence the piece that you will then personally evaluate upon receipt and setup, and then confirm your initial evaluation over time.

  13. If one knows it very well and if it has big SQ potential in frequency scope, dynamics and ambience/imaging, one track is enough to know quite everything about an evaluated gear.

    1. Try it… unless it straightaway says “you need this” I put away my credit card.

      Chord upscale. At a show it did nothing for me, $$& saved
      Fidelizer Pro $69 A blind man on a galloping horse would say “take my money!”

  14. Yesterday a mate who never considered fancy power cords, on his amplifier. Not a hint of prodding from me:
    “I hear. I believe. Where do I get
    It?”

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