Polishing touches

November 15, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

It is always a conundrum whether to polish or rearrange a system.

The first time I hear a new system that has yet to be dialed in I have to decide if it is close enough for a bit of polish or so far off we need to start from scratch.

We just went through this exercise at PS Audio.

Ever since we replaced the Infinity IRSV with the aspen FR30s we've not been happy with the system's bottom end—frustrating because the FR30s have an extraordinary bottom end that rivals the IRSV (aspens extend down to about 23Hz in the room and are more than capable of rattling your pant leg and putting a smile on your face). Unfortunately, because of Music Room 2's dimensional ratios (and the fact its floor is as bouncy as a spring), the best position for imaging is the worst place for the bottom end (in the case of the IRSV we simply moved the separate bass towers to where in the room we got proper bass performance at the listening position).

Music Room 3, however, is a little longer front to back and the dimensional ratios work. Those few feet of additional length are all that we needed to enjoy the aspen's thundering bass and so they were moved.

Caleb and the guys in sales did all the heavy lifting of switching systems and rooms. When I first sat down for a listen I was duly impressed. They had done a wonderful job of setting everything up and in the right place. I whipped out the disc from The Audiophile's Guide: The Loudspeaker, and played Gabriel Mervine's tracks (where the Quartet is presented one instrument at a time). Sounded pretty close but not perfect.

Polish or rearrange?

For me, the easiest way to determine this is to begin with some obvious polishing steps like moving a little the speakers and or the seating position. If it feels like we're making sufficient progress then that's the right thing to do.

If it's just different.....then time to start from scratch.

In the case of Music Room 3 and the aspens, all we needed was a bit of a polishing touch (truth is, these are some of the easiest speaker in the world to dial in).

If you're in the neighborhood, due stop in and have a listen.

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40 comments on “Polishing touches”

  1. Now Paul, you started with the IRSVs in MR2 & the freshly built MR3 was where you first set up the aspen FR30's.
    Then one of the boys, or 'the team', told you to swap them around, which you did, & you told everyone how much better the FR30's now sounded in MR2 (which I thought had to be crap, because the room was smaller)
    Next you told us that Jim Laib said that you had to move the IRSVs out of MR3 to accommodate loudspeaker testing; hence the IRSVs collecting dust in a broom closet 🙁
    And now you tell us that the FR30s are back in MR3, where they originally were, & that they sound much better... again, I warned you about this at the time that you swapped rooms with the IRSVs & the FR30s.

    Now, there is no way in hell that eight 8" cone drivers plus eight 10" ABRs are going to equal the sheer depth of bass performance of twelve active 12" cone drivers in cabinets that are three times the size of the FR30 cabinets..."there's no substitute for cubic inches"...or in this case displacement.

    Now that the IRSVs are collecting dust 🙁 in one of your broom closets, it makes sense that the FR30s should be back in MR3 where the longer length of the room can accomodate the longer wavelengths (deeper) bottom-end bass, while you set up the new aspen FR20's in MR2, ie. smaller loudspeaker, not quite as deep bass, so smaller room...logical.
    This puts JL back between a rock & nowhere to test the next brainstorm from CB.
    So, isn't it time for a couple of REL's in MR2 & maybe even MR3?
    You can switch them out when you do an FR30/FR20 'only' demo 😉

    I'm always in a conundrum as whether to use 'Silvo' or 'Brasso' when I have to polish my home-audio rig.

  2. Choosing another room for an extra few dB of bass is not in my marriage agreement! A small subwoofer is installed and still at the contractual stage, they are ugly things and I may have to veto it myself.

    It turns out the box is too big to go through the door of our storage space. I think that's an omen. "Eye of newt, and toe of frog ... For a charm of powerful trouble ..."

    1. There is a subwoofer „Torus“ made by Wilson-Benesh which is, imho, the best technical approach and has no ugly box design. And concerning the inherent problem of annoying room modes in the bass region subwoofers following the design approach of Axel Ridtahler (RiPol) minimizes this room node problem. There is a non-boxy design from Sound Kaos.

  3. I remember when…at the time the full range capability of the FR30 main speakers was praised and the need of subs questioned…I described exactly the problem you mentioned at the beginning of today’s post (not only the controversy between best imaging and tonality position with a bass potent speaker, but especially the unprobable chance to have a quite flat very low end when aiming for at least good imaging in such a case).

    Finally a reason IMO to rather chose a little smaller speaker (plus subs) for a room, than a bigger one (except if one has all flexibility of placement plus room architecture and treatments).

    In the PS Audio rooms, the speakers certainly are not too big in relation…but the fact that you anyway have the problem you described, rather underlines the importance to be careful in even smaller rooms. It’s no fault of the speaker…it’s simply physical fact and mainly depending on its bass potential in depth and level. Especially if the speaker has no adjustment option, the option to place the sub bass region differently from the main speakers (and better EQ it) should better be preserved then.

    All this imo is most deciding about joy or frustration with a high end setup.

    1. That 's the reason why I'm currently trying a sub - and the jury is still out. The only simple way to see if it's working properly is to measure it with REW and a Umik microphone (Umik simply because REW provide the calibration data online based on the microphone's serial number).

      I do wonder about the use of FR30 as Octave monitors, because it is my understanding that a good monitor needs thunderously deep and low bass, so that 'music' in that range can be accurately engineered and will sound good on systems that do go big and low, like with arrays of REL woofers.

      1. As well as measuring and listening to low frequencies I’d suggest you listen out for the overall ambiance the REL provides across the range and the way it underpins the music. REL talk about this, perhaps unsurprisingly, but I found it to be true. I’m not sure the effect is something that could be measured. Anyway, good luck, I hope the integration is successful.

  4. Paul. I think you have a nice team here that you can hire. 🙂

    The comments so far are excellent. I hope you can come to a decision. I know it isn’t easy.

  5. I have reluctantly come to believe there are some rooms where flat bass response and imaging are just mutually exclusive no matter how much effort is expended. One such room unfortunately served as my main music room for a number of years and I cannot count the number of speakers and subwoofers that resided in the room with constant adjustment being the only result. The room was actually quite large, but just had unfavorable dimensions....
    So Paul, I empathize and hope you find just the right magic location for placement and listening.

      1. Martin, I rely on two CDs from Chesky and a number of albums that I have listened to hundreds of times in multiple rooms on multiple systems. None of these albums are audiophile approved, so no Eagles, no Jacintha or other audiophile singers subtly breathing in or out. My list includes:
        Everybody Knows this is Nowhere, NY and Crazy Horse
        Mahler Symphony 4 by Haitink and the Concertgebouw (I have the MTT and SFO full cycle, as well as several other cycles but know the Haitink best)
        Rickie Lee Jones
        Cafe Blue by Patricia Barber
        Led Zeppelin II
        Graceland (one track only, I know what I know)
        My Song by Keith Jarrett and his European Quartet
        Duet by Abdullah Ibrahim and Archie Schepp
        Universal Soldier by Sade
        Wired by Jeff Beck
        Some Girls and Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones
        Friday Night in San Francisco
        A few recordings by the Kronos Quartet
        Brahms Violin Concerto by Nigel Kennedy
        Desire by Bob Dylan
        The above albums are also on the list I use when selecting new components

        1. Ah ha...'The List', every audio-enthusiast has one.
          Not much overlap here...Ricky Lee Jones, LZ II,
          Sticky Girls & Some Fingers.
          I had 'Desire' years ago, but it always sounded
          very muffled & substandard to my hearing...
          the production, not the music.

  6. It’s always great when you have a bigger sole purpose room 😀

    Even better when you’ve got enough help to move things and they get the set-up so it just needs a little polish.

    None of that is considered ‘normal’ BTW - There’s a difference between having a reference system and reference sound from that system.

    1. Yes, for the former you just need to reference the bank account. 🙂

      And as you say none of this is normal. I’m just experimenting with power supplies and my wife was curious about the extra cables, albeit temporary, because she’s heard that one before. Anyway I was trying to explain about small differences and the subtlety of it all to which she replied, if the differences are that small it’s not worth it is it. Mmm, I guess that would be considered a normal response. My view is change course by just one degree a few times and you’re then heading in a very different direction.

      1. Never explain audio nuances to a spouse. It’s much better to act all excited about the change (no matter how small) - like a child discovering something for the 1st time. That seems to increase the tolerance factor exponentially. 😀

        Then say I could run another wire or get a small box that fits in with the other stuff. Which would you prefer? Odds are good the box wins.

  7. Paul, As Steven has said above, I have a very understanding wife when it comes to our stereo, however, if I told her I was going to I was going to alter the main room of our house ( or even worse build a new room ) it would probably be the last thing I would say because she would beat me to death with a cast iron skillet ( or some other heavy item ). 😮

    There is a limit to what one can do in a residential house.

  8. Going back over the past year it sounds like Paul has been playing musical chairs with his speakers (or should I say musical rooms?).

    Seems like a prerequisite to work for Paul is having a strong back.

  9. It is precisely this level of persnickety-ness that has dissuaded me from going more high-end in the choice of my equipment and speakers. My rooms are a compromise and always will be and I get it to be "good enough" if not the best. I violated this rule recently in the upgrade of my phono cartridge to one that is truly a high class performer and it has taken a long time to dial it in properly on the turntable, with fractions of a millimeter needed to get it all right. For me, even though the end result is now outstanding, the hassle of getting there were certainly no fun and kept me from properly enjoying the music. Others of course disagree as I find there are many who enjoy the setup and the detail of such more than listening to the music.

  10. What's great for me in this post is that while you have the luxury and, since this is your business, the wherewithal to improve sound as needed, I hear you honestly confronting the limitations of a room.

    And that confirms the decisions I had to make when moving into a smaller apartment. I bought smaller speakers to make less of a footprint in the room. I also listened to your recommendation about subwoofers. My Vandersteen 2CEs were, after a nearly three-month audition period, swapped out for Polk R500s with dual 8"subs. Then my 30-year-old amp pooped out and I auditioned a couple of amps, eventually finding the M700s to be a great fit. This is entry/mid-level hi-fi, to be sure, but it fits my new space (and budget) and looks better in my wife's eyes. And it sounds good, too.

    And that's the challenge, right? Finding the best synergy for the equipment--source to speakers or vice versa--and the room.

    1. Nice looking synergistic setup! Have family put a nice power strip on the Xmas list ha ha, that blends well with all the nice black equipment! I recently bought an AudioQuest 2 surge protector and while I submit it probably does no better than the inexpensive Home Depot version is blends well and looks nice.

      1. Thanks, Larry. Yes, I guess speaking to the title of this post, I should get a black surge protector for my own finishing touch. It's only got the tv plugged into it, so maybe I'll just spray paint it!

  11. Best bass, best imaging is always a problem with most speakers. Best solution are speakers meant to be placed close to the front wall or even corners or dual subwoofers.

  12. A chicken pie in Jamaica costs $2.00
    A chicken pie in Trinidad costs $2.40
    A chicken pie in St Kitts costs $2.20

    These are the pie rates of the Caribbean.

    A quarter wavelength in MR 1 costs bass
    A quarter wavelength in MR 2 costs bass
    A quarter wavelength in MR 3 costs bass

    These rooms are the pirates of bass response......

  13. It seems if the room isn’t optimal there’s no point in spending much on a high quality full range speaker. This appears to be an argument for physically separating the upper cabinet of the FR30 from the bass cabinet. Perhaps that’s what the FR10 Paul mentions in the FR20 video will be—just the midrange/tweeter cabinet on stands, with a matching but separate subwoofer from either the FR30 or FR20.

  14. If your floor is bouncy and you have a basement or open space below it, consider putting a pillar directly below each speaker. Using a solid vibration-absorbing material between the top of the post and the floor will be an additional benefit. 4x4 lumber and adjustable metal posts are available at Lowe's or Home Depot. Or if you've only got a crawl space, a few cinder blocks and scraps of lumber should work. This is not an expensive tweak.

    1. Lp,
      There's a recording studio somewhere in America that The Foo Fighters recorded an album or a couple of songs in that has a basement room directly below the recording room above...same size.
      However, there is an 8" gap all the way around the floor's edge allowing air to move from the basement space into the recording room; this allows for lower bass notes to occur.

      1. I thought this was a joke but apparently some recording studios do have floating floors.
        The reason I thought it might be a joke is because it’s pretty obvious that the lower notes do come from the bass-ment. Boom boom.

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