Cheats

April 5, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

It’s good when we can cheat death, but not so much if we cheat on our diets or cut ourselves permanently short when it comes to getting what’s best from our sound systems.

When we’re in the middle of set up, short cuts, Band-Aids, and slapped together fixes are all valid temporary solutions. Once we’ve settled on the final system it’s time to clean up those fixes and set things permanently right.

I remember the times I’ve had at the ready what seems like a bushel basket jumble of cables, tuning devices, absorbers, diffusers, and acoustic pillows as I selectively try this and that for best sound.

And then between all the cheats and experiments, you hit what sounds like Nirvana.  Bingo. You’re there.

Time to clean up, make permanent what you experimented with, and call it good.

Hopefully great.

The cheats and shortcuts we employ are exactly what we need to get it dialed in.

Then it’s time to put them in the closet for the next adventure.

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35 comments on “Cheats”

  1. The message from this music listener is that I like my audio plug-and-play. My view on the matter is that if there is a sizeable price-tag you shouldn’t have to stick bits on it. The classic case is damping feet. If the unit needs them to perform at its best, put them on. Don’t expect the customer to go out and spend more money to get your products to work properly. My power conditioner and server both come with proper damping feet as standard. Same for power cables. Design speakers that work in normal rooms that don’t have to be treated like a recording studio. I once ordered some GIK panels and they were barely out of the box before my wife told me very clearly indeed that that they were going that same day. My spares box is a MacBook box and basically has a few tools for turntable set-up and the boxes for my cartridges. Speaker set-up is done by my dealer and when I move them this summer into another room he’s coming back. My impression is that manufacturers making plug-and-play audio are doing very well, audiophiles may turn up their noses, but it really depends if you want to shift boxes or not.

    1. p.s. It occurred to me standing by the coffee machine, my posting location, that even if I had a component system I would not have the storage for all the boxes, let alone sundry spares. The USA may be different, but I have a house with no garage and my limited loft space is full of my kids’ stuff. Having a factory at my disposal would change matters. We just don’t hoard stuff. One of the things to come from Covid-19 is that charity shops are now doing collections, and we keep them busy, even with audio equipment.

      1. Steven,
        I’ve heard this before from people, mainly apartment dwellers in Europe & inner city America & it’s a fair comment.
        Luckily I have a garage that houses all of my audio component packing/packaging, which is very useful for when it comes time to re-sell my audio gear, as most customers are impressed & are more ready to believe, & pay a premium, that I have looked after the equipment that I am selling if all the original packing is also in mint condition.
        We are blessed with many square metres here in ‘Straya’…plus smaller equipment boxes fit inside larger loudspeaker boxes.
        And if the worst comes to the worst you can flatten them out & reconstitute/reconstruct them later with a roll or 2.5″ thick industrial sticky tape.
        ‘Different strokes for different folks’.

        As far as the manufacturer supplying (proper) expensive feet or supplying expensive power cables for their audio equipment at the point of sale goes, not everyone wants to go that extra financial mile.
        It is also worth mentioning that the audio die-hards/audio enthusiasts/audiophiles may have previously bought those expensive add-ons for their last amp/CD transport or whatever, so they don’t want to buy a new unit & have to pay $550 more for something that they already bought 2 amplifiers/Cd transports ago.
        ‘Different strokes…

    2. “Design speakers that work in normal rooms that don’t have to be treated like a recording studio!”

      The exception that proves the rule? Most residential rooms and interior designs are acoustic disasters. If your house came with an acoustically designed listening room, then it would have diffusion and absorption and be suitable for home concerts; and speakers could be designed for that environment. Rectangular boxes with hard walls cause all kinds of spectral, spatial and temporal problems that can’t be fixed by speaker design.

      If you go back to the origins of music as we know it, the rooms had open beams or coffers, alcoves and niches, closets were intrusive pieces of furniture, royals had large collections of books and other cultural objects, and there was sumptuous use of heavy fabrics – tapestries and heavy curtains for thermal insulation, upholstered furniture and thick, hand knotted carpets.

      Yes, sacred music evolved in stone echo chambers of chapels, churches and cathedrals – but the patrons who paid for the evolution of violins, flutes, pianos, harpsichords, lutes, recorders, trumpets, and oboes lived and listened in soft environments.

      There are three kinds of speakers that reduce the effect of bad listening room acoustics: horns, dipoles, and cardioids. But, they can only mitigate – they can’t make Champagne from lemons.

      Horns have problems, starting with losing there directionality in the bass and lower midrange. Dipoles need bass compensation, as the output is a function of wavelength; and they need to be spaced out from the front wall two to three meters and/or require absorbers or diffusers on the front wall, a factor that panel speaker owners often ignore (Magneplanar, electrostats) and defeats the purpose of satisfying the ‘clean, modern’ look that has been proselytized by “Architectural Digest” and “Modern Interiors”.

      Cardioids then become the optimum solution. They are marketed by Gradient and Kii. Contrary to your lament, Kii is marketed as studio monitors, because most control rooms have bass problems.

      I further observe that, like the most accurate speakers in general, the Kii III is disturbing for audiophiles because it reveals all the studio fakery in great detail. That is what a good monitor is supposed to do – but it creates a lot of annoyance with most of your recording collection.

  2. SntbcwS is almost every time living proof how right JOHN DARKO is !!
    We all have DIFFERENT NEEDS and PRIORITIES.
    I spent an awful lot of money (and still doing it) on audio (including “experiments”) because I wanna have the best possible sound. That is my FIRST PRIORITY in life.
    Looking at men and women in tights making strange, very unnatural moves is definitely NOT a priority for me, but for some it is.
    Spending 25 dollar on a bottle of wine is NOT a priority for me, but for some it is.
    Spending a lot of money on a car is NOT a priority for me, but for some it is.
    As a matter of fact, I don’t even have a car, so I can spend more money on audio.
    I could go on like this for hours.
    My point : telling what your priorities are (e.g. that you like your audio plug-and-play) is okay, but not when you do that for the umpteenth time, at every opportunity.
    Then it gets boring and even a bit annoying.
    Just accept people have TOTALLY DIFFERENT needs.
    Strange as it may seem to some, not everyone likes plug-and-play. I wanna experiment with cables, feet etc. etc.
    Different priorities. Darko makes that very clear in his videos.
    BTW, When it comes to audio, I decide how big my speakers are, how/where to place them etc. Not my wife.
    Another PRIORITY I have in life. And she is okay with that.
    (otherwise she wouldn’t be my wife)

    1. I second jb4’s take on priorities. My wife and I negotiate type/amount of room treatment for the best compromise. I’m very fortunate that she’s also very much into listening to great music with “best” sound. Without room treatment you will never reach the full potential of your system. This has been covered many times before, but cannot be overstated in terms of importance. A few hundred dollars on acoustic panels placed correctly = thousands (or more) in better components.

    2. Fortunately, my wife has always been willing to humor me with my audio equipment. When I had the big Sound Lab electrostats, she would blow the panels with a hair dryer to keep the humidity at bay while they played. Apparently they were only intended to be used at high, dry altitudes.

      1. Yes Fat Rat, I saw Darko’s April Fool’s video on plants.
        Well, I admit that at first I believed he was serious (after all big leaves of big plants can help a tiny little bit) , but the moment (at about 1:30) he starts about a plant “controlling” the bass in the room (haha) I realized this plant-video had probably more to do with April 1st than with bass/midrange/tweeter control.
        In my (weak) defence : the date under the video was 31 mrt, not 1 apr.
        But the video is hilarious.
        Yes, I really like the way he talks about audio.
        I’ve seen a lot of him. Always interesting.

    3. The differences in market priorities is far more than personal preference and choice. Everybody HEARS DIFFERENTLY.

      A near universal mis-conception is that DNA works like blueprints or schematics. Not at all! It contains rules for development, and the higher order behavior and perception, the more it is determined by developmental environment.

      You brain cells grow in patterns that mimic the timbral, temporal and spatial characteristics of the consistent and coherent sound patterns in your environment from birth to age 20. You are born unable to recognize any sonic object or acoustic environment. You learn to hear frequencies, phase, reverberations, the sound of a piano in an open living room, on a stage in a 2,800 seat hall or closed practice room depending on hundreds of hours’ exposure while your brain is growing, wiring, and programming.

      If your audio systems up to age 20 had soft domes and cones, sealed woofers, and time aligned low order crossovers then that is what you will like as an adult. These are also the preferences of individuals who grew up in sounds of Nature without any audio, because they are closer to acoustic reality with waveform accuracy.

      Of course, people do like going from phone and computer speakers to full bandwidth and low distortion, but if all they have listened to growing up is phase scrambled recordings (processed, mixed and mastered) through phase scrambling media (radio, internet) and phase scrambling speakers in phase scrambling rooms, they will be permanently phase deaf.

      1. acuvox,
        I believe that you’ve ‘nailed it’ with these observations.
        Even as an adult, after 38 years with the same loudspeakers, it takes a while to acclimatize my hearing to new/different ones.
        I for one didn’t have a decent ‘highish-end’ audio system until I was 21
        & I was not exposed to a lot of unamplified live music during my first two decades.
        This would explain why I am able to enjoy canned music when I’m listening to it on relatively good audio set-ups, ie. they don’t have to be exceptional or high-end audio set-ups…plus I’m willing to compromise since I am aware of the many shortcomings regarding room, equipment, cabling, etc when it comes to reproduced music.

  3. So the take away gleaned from today’s post by this individual is I have to clean up after myself. Then hope it’s a good or great sound… or Clean sound is determined by a clean and orderly set up. Hope I pass inspection this week, I’m tired of peeling potatoes.

  4. When it comes to house projects I am absolutely terrible about cleaning up. Months after the project is over I will go crazy because I cannot find my favorite hammer or a special screw driver, etc. Then my wife will say to me “when is the last time you used it”. I think for a moment and realize it was when I worked on the fan in the second bedroom bath. I go back to the second bedroom bath and there is my favorite hammer.

  5. “And then between all the cheats and experiments, you hit what sounds like Nirvana. “

    Which is very strange since you were playing King Crimson.

      1. There was copious amounts of green flower and white powder moving through the service departments of most every high-end store in the states (late 70s / early 80s) but seriously doubt Scott sampled the Owsley.

        Evelyn Sinclair was the only audio dealer who got to hang out with Steely Dan in the studio afaik. (insert smiley face)

  6. This feels like a complete 180 from what Paul was preaching just a couple of years ago. Maybe some of the new hires have softened him up a bit? 😎

    More importantly, this is the time of year he usually suggests we disconnect all our cables and clean the contacts.

  7. 180 degree as no unusual direction seems strange at first sight, but can also be rated as flexibility and self-consciousness as long as not a rule 😉

  8. My meticulously tuned listening environments have a high amount of “clutter” as a design feature. My rule is I don’t want to see bare surfaces at any first reflection points (all 12 assuming two speakers). I design and build shelving that intentionally has asymmetrical storage for irregular objects and non-orthogonal angles, typically 7° off vertical.

    My desk, workbench and musical instruments (piano, harpsichords) are in rooms full of floor to ceiling diffusion and absorption with narrow aisles in between. You don’t need to live in a fire hazard like I do, but good musical acoustics inherently resemble an earlier, more cluttered time before built-in closets and storage of items in attics, basements, and garages.

    Hard, flat, orthogonal room boundaries create a Pandora’s box full of bad acoustical side effects. To start with, you need bass leaks or bass diffusion in all three dimensions to reduce modes. Then you need absorption and diffusion to break up comb filtering and slap echo.

    The old joke in the studio building business was “if it looks good, it sounds good” – because if it “looks good” to late 20th and early 21st Century cultural standards, it sounds bad. We had to disguise the acoustic treatments as something more socially acceptable. As a form follows function fanatic, I think acoustic treatments are beautiful because they bring beautiful music to my ears.

    1. Nice post acuvox. I learned from the school of hard knocks, since I wasn’t learned in the field of room acoustics. It’s funny to me you mentioned bass leak, I stumbled across that in my room and all it took was removing a closet door. Thanks for the hints and observations you provide.

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