Reaching equilibrium

November 26, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

If I am to enjoy a morning breakfast of blueberries, yogurt, and granola there has to be a proper balance between the flavors. My preference in berries runs towards the firm and tart which means that in order to reach a perfect balance there needs to be a bit of sweetness. Too much in any one direction and the meal is less perfect.

The same idea of equilibrium—reaching for that perfect balance—applies to our stereo systems as well. Too much emphasis on the top end at the expense of the lower frequencies skews the balance towards an unwelcome brightness.

As much as we might believe that our setup work and equipment choices are focused on achieving the traditional audiophile values of transparency, effortlessness, tonal purity, slam, and musicality, a lot of those goals are really all about achieving equilibrium within the system.

We’re far more likely to notice something out of balance than we are at spotting a particular standout characteristic.

Some of the best systems I have ever heard had achieved a near-perfect balance of all the elements.

Nothing pointing to itself.

A perfect equilibrium.

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27 comments on “Reaching equilibrium”

  1. I was reminded, again, on Friday how a recording can tilt one’s synergistically balanced home-audio rig right out of kilter.
    Play George Michael’s – ‘Faith’ CD & then play Madonna’s – ‘Ray Of Light’ CD…where did all the treble go??

    Retro album of the day…Lyle Lovett – ‘Pontiac’
    Great music, great lyrics & great production!

    “She hates my mama
    She hates my daddy too,
    She loves to tell me
    She hates the things I do.
    She loves to lie beside me
    Almost every night,
    She’s no lady, she’s my wife.

    The preacher asked her & she said, “I do”
    The preacher asked me & she said, “Yes he does too”
    The preacher said, “I pronounce you 99 to life”
    Son, she’s no lady she’s your wife” 😉

  2. Returning to the audio-breakfast theme, I like the Onken Strawberry 0% Fat. I should perhaps go for the Yeo Valley organic, not because it’s organic, but because the owner of the brand is a patron of the ballet, his main dairy is on the site of a magnificent Elizabethan house where he has hosted Royal Ballet fundraising events on the grounds, and where I met the cows that contribute to the yoghurt during the interval. They are great big black and white things.

    Whatever, my choice was always going to be all-in-one.

      1. Can only have a little fun with Paul’s sense of perfection in all things edible or audible.

        I’m adding bass to taste. Have a subwoofer behind me and it’s switched on for Liszt at the moment, but gets switched off for Vivaldi. Transcendental Etudes are rather good sub set-up material for tweaking the output.

        1. If Vivaldi shows too much bass with a sub, I’d say the latter either cranked up too loud or has a too high crossover point chosen…rather both 😉 At least I never heard of Vivaldi organ works.

          1. jazz,
            When I was experimenting with subwoofers, I was told that I
            should be able to ‘set & forget’ them…tune them to the room.
            I found this impossible since different CDs (recordings) have different levels of bass.

            1. They were right. As in Steven’s case, if you have to adjust the sub to different recordings (except extremely insane recorded hip hop), you most probably have no flat FR in the sub region due to its placement and/or because it’s not EQ’able. IMO a non EQ’able sub is a source of frustration and non optimal sound from a sub anyway.

              1. Water under the bridge for me now Jazz, as I got rid of them after 14 months of futzing around with them.
                For my size listening room, the O/93’s produce a stunning amount of deep (feel it in your gut) bass, so subs are not necessary now that I have these DeVore’s.

            2. FR, If you are talking music ( forget home theater ) then once you have properly setup a subwoofer you do not need tone controls for it. You do not use tone controls for your system without the subwoofer, why should you have them for the subwoofer?

              1. Unfortunately, that was not my experience Tony, but as I said to ‘jazznut’, it’s now water under the bridge, as I don’t need them with the DeVore’s & so I sold them.

  3. If the breakfast theme of balance is the focus.
    Then a couple / 3 eggs with bacon sausage potatoes and rye toast is my idea of balanced. Substitute steak every so often.
    Mixed it up once in a while with good chorizo burrito or mix even further with cold grilled or smoked salmon , (trout or lox will do) onions, capers, cream cheese on an everything bagel. A granola mix with fruit is a great diversion also. Ever mix with fresh off the tree peaches? Yum.

    If audio equilibrium is the subject, then the 1st place that ‘equilibrium’ has to happen is in the recording studio. The rest is a function of the room, all the equipment, (Or an integrated Steven 😀 ) and set up. Some of the best set-ups I’ve heard strut their looks and say “notice me and please point” The FR30’s, the BHK 600’s, and the P20’s come to mind. The PSA front end, and digital sources, where most of the equilibrium starts, is relatively demure. The room says “I don’t care about any of your aesthetic’s- you want true equilibrium? then deal with me.”

    So yes, near perfect balance is the key. Emphasis on the word ‘near’. More emphasis on the phrase ‘how near?’

  4. I think we all know what Paul means when he talks about “near perfect balance” but it’s not so easy to define when you take into account all of our individual preferences. That, coupled with variations in sound across a range of equipment will make a generally accepted system, one that is considered accurate or even just pleasing by everyone, impossible to attain.

    As a visual aid to help us understand and appreciate this difference you only have to look at various people that have turned to plastic surgery and other procedures to ‘enhance’ their appearance. Beauty, eye, beholder.

  5. Now we have to add equilibrium with Synergy.
    This is where it gets more complicated and you need to have a bit of luck on your side making all the equipment balance and mesh together.

    It isn’t that easy, but when the stars all align we know as critical listeners when something is very very right. It is our food given…I mean god given intuition with our hearing. 😉

  6. Yes, “nothing pointing to itself”, where itself is the playback chain, is the goal – it’s not so much “equilibrium” but rather that there are no giveaways that an audio setup is doing the job of producing the sound in the space – someone walking into the room should be firmly convinced that there are real musicians, somewhere, producing what they hear … “it can’t be that hifi gear I see … it doesn’t sound like a hifi!!”

  7. One thing I observe from being around audiophiles is that their attention to details is not confined to the audio world, which I find the real topic of this post. Attention to details is part of the way audiophiles are wired, whether it is food, lawn maintenance, car care, etc.

    I wear contacts. When I was last at my eye doctor, who is an audiophile, I had gotten to the point where my short vision needs “help”. He tried putting 2 different types of contacts in each eye, one shifted a bit for long vision, one towards short. He said most like the how it averages out long and short vision. When I came back and said I didn’t like it, he said he wasn’t surprised. He said “It’s the audiophile in you. You pay detailed attention to details and want both to be perfect.”. I laughed at the time, but find that statement quite prophetic.

    1. Reed,
      You can have ‘an eye for detail’ & you can have ‘an
      ear for detail’, but also you can be aware of what’s
      going on around you…very aware, alert, in a way.
      I’ve noticed that a lot of people don’t have that gift.

  8. In regards to equilibrium…. I had a calibration guy come out to calibrate my projector. When he was doing it, I noticed he went through an iterative process of adjusting the various colors at the various levels. He said as you go through adjustments at the various levels, that one adjustment in red (as an example) can cause blue & green to be off or vice versa. He makes pass after pass adjusting colors at the various levels, until he reaches an optimal equilibrium.

    That is what I fell like I’m going through with changes to components, cables, power, room treatments, etc. You make one change, and something else is off. The issue is that the iterative process with audio is magnitudes more difficult. The consumer doesn’t have the luxury of voicing an actual component, and must make adjustments with some form of almost limitless component combinations.

  9. The people who make my preamp have a corning saying; “It just sounds right”. I think I’ll stick with that. Equilibrium, balance, synergy, etc. Too complicated for me.

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