Rules need to be broken

October 15, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

There’s an old chestnut that goes “rules are meant to be broken”.

The original quote was made by a man who should know: American General, Douglas MacArthur (who famously broke a lot of rules).

His actual quote is: “Rules are mostly made to be broken and are too often for the lazy to hide behind.”

I couldn’t agree more.

How often have you made a rule based on an observation only to later have to break that rule when circumstances change? Mine are too numerous to count.

I remember preaching the Toe In Rule for years. Toe the speakers in until the center image reaches perfection and you’re good! Only, that rule is incomplete at best.

A better rule is to do the opposite. Start with no toe-in and adjust the distance between the left and right speakers until tonality in the midbass is perfect and images seem palpable. Then, and only then, toe-in slightly to get the center image to pop.

And as we each learn more over time, these rules change again and again.

The takeaway should be to always make rules that are malleable and open to change.

That’s one good rule to stick with.

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34 comments on “Rules need to be broken”

  1. As every generalization made by a Paul today’s topic is only recommendable for non-logical, false rules. However there are many and some most important rules – called taboos- which never should be broken. These taboos in old natural religions were most important for the preservation of the environment and creation and for the survival of the tribe/clan. A rule in hifi – when striving for perfection – which shouldn’t be broken is to design loudspeakers as a point-source or line source. Both haven’t yet been realized. Thus there are countless parameters characterizing the sound of a hifi system which are in reality far from perfect. And thus there are countless ways for bringing these parameter nearer to the unreachable perfection. No rules here, only empirical trial & error approaches.

  2. There is rather a lot of obfuscation between physical laws (made by the almighty), rules (made by man) and recommendations (made by anyone or anything with a keyboard).

    There is some crossover. I was reminded last night that nothing red is allowed in our house because that is the colour of the dress my mother wore to our wedding. That is not a recommendation, but an inviolate rule made in the presence of the Almighty.

  3. I discovered a long time ago that there are no such things as ironclad rules. There are, at best, relatively reliable rules of thumb. ( I’ve never been really sure who’s thumb is referred to by that phrase. )

  4. Invariably rules are not so much broken, but rather remodelled & refined.

    Different loudspeakers, depending on design & room acoustics, require varying amounts of toe-in.
    And some loudspeakers require no toe-in at all to create the illusion of a sonic 3D soundstage & pinpoint imaging.

        1. CtA, you need some perspective.
          The human brain can only operate as fast as the slowest brain cells. Drugs and alcohol, as we know, kills brain cells. But naturally they attack the slowest and weakest brain cells first. In this way, regular consumption of drugs and beer eliminates the weaker brain cells, making the brain a faster and more efficient machine.
          FR is ahead of the game here, we need to keep up!

            1. CtA,
              I suspect that you’ve always been an arrogant, hateful moron.
              I feel sorry for you & the fact that you can not recognise humour.
              You are just an extremely sad little man who has to insult people to feel good about himself.
              You are turning into quite the troll, you little ‘key-board warrior’ you 🙁

              1. CtA,
                You sad, sad little man.
                I’m laughing at you every time you take the bait.
                Do you seriously believe that an insignificant little troll like you can upset me?
                Surely you couldn’t be *that* stupid, could you?
                Your superiority complex, your insults, your lack of home audio knowledge, but mostly that enormous chip on your shoulder, makes you a constant subject of ridicule here.
                ‘CtA you’re very nearly a laugh, but you’re really a cry’ …a cry for help 🙁

          1. Streamin’ Steven,
            Thanks for your support, but ‘CtA’ is relentless in his insults & disdain for anyone who is not in complete lock-step with his way of thinking.

      1. Something needs to be done about the Fentanyl coming in across our USA border being supplied by China. A very dangerous drug killing many of our youth who are unaware that what they are taking is laced with Fentanyl. Is this as big a problem in Australia as it is here FR?

  5. I’ve always thought of rules as guideposts, pay careful attention and break them if conditions require it. That mindset got me in some hot water when I was in the army but I still did what i thought was best a lot of the times when conditions warranted it.

    Another guidepost is it’s sometimes best to beg for forgiveness rather than ask for permission.

  6. Paul, you did it again!
    Hat’s off to you man!
    Most people i knew in my mid to late teenage years, didn’t get me.
    If I didn’t agree with the rules, I always broke them.
    For instance, you weren’t suppose to bring musical cassettes to school.
    And in some cases, you weren’t allowed to listen to them in class either.
    But what was slightly different for me, is most of my school work, was on cassettes.
    And so, ya.
    I had to have a tape recorder on me, all the time.
    Because that was the way, I had to take notes from my teachers.
    But that didn’t mean that I didn’t sneak in some music tapes either.
    Because I sure did!
    I also had me a good pare of headphones too.
    They didn’t know what I was listening to most of the time.
    I was setting there, listening to music.
    I believe, that was one of the only times, that my love for music got me in trouble, but not all the time or every time either.
    But right now, I’m getting ready to brake one more rule.
    And I truly believe, that this rule, is an unwritten one.
    I would much rather own a really grate in your face sounding pare of high end speakers.
    I mean speakers like a pare of Legacy Audio Whisper Series speakers.
    But sense I cant yet, the closes as I’m gonna get to that, is a pare of 3-way PA speakers.
    They say that, “an Audiophile, shouldn’t be caught with PA speakers on his home referenced gear.”
    Well, sorry everybody, this kid, isn’t listening.
    That was what I was telling my teachers in my own shy little way.
    It was only certain ones that I would really pay attention to.
    But the ones that didn’t make any sense to me, those were the ones that got tuned out.
    But if I’m to have a mixing and mastering audio center in my living room, then I have no choice, but to brake the rules here.
    My speakers, needs to tell me the truth.
    But when it comes to mixing and mastering, my currant speakers aren’t really telling me the truth.
    They’re trying to hold some of the sonic truth back.
    And so, I’m thinking about getting myself a pare of JBL SRX-835 passive PA speakers.
    But before anyone on here criticize me for the choice I’m making, please remember that I started out in the show business, as a DJ first.
    And later on, a record producer.
    And I done that, starting at the nice tender age, of 7.
    The speakers that I mentioned, are speakers that I had to do just about all of my mixes and masters on.
    And just as it was in the late seventies and all threw both the 80’s and nineties in threw the mid two thousands, it will be the same way, today.
    But right now, I’m taking my own advice.
    I’ve always, told other people to take baby steps in upgrading their hifi systems.
    What I preached to other people, will now, be put in to practice.
    But some of you, can decide for yourself.
    Which one is more practical?
    Spending $2830.00 on a pare of passive PA speakers, or spending $100000.00 on a pare of high end speakers?
    Just think about it!

  7. I once worked for someone who would often say “it is easier to ask for forgiveness ( I’m sorry ) than it is to get permission when you ask in advance ( may I please do something ). So much for rules!

    1. When I first started work I worked with someone who would on occasion use that approach. Providing the situation was chosen thoughtfully, and it didn’t involve an arrestable offence, it could be a very effective strategy 😉

  8. Rules without context are not only useless, they are dangerous.

    Like a 40 mph speed limit on a four-lane road, through the empty Nevada desert. Without added context, this rule will be ignored.

    But add the context “construction ahead, prepare to stop”, the purpose of the rule is understood, and in most cases obeyed.

    A decade ago, my company’s new engineering VP decreed we needed to draft “Best Practices” (rules without context) to insure our products were designed properly. We already had excellent engineering design handbooks, that just needed updating after years of being ignored. However our new VP felt design handbooks were obsolete in today’s computer aided design environment.

    So today we are left with a bunch of Best Practices that are for the most part part ignored, and a week does not go by without a young engineer coming by my office to borrow one of my design handbooks.

  9. Too many people break the Golden Rule.

    On the other hand, even the Golden Rule may not always be appropriate. Sometimes you might do to someone what you wish they would do to you, but they might not want it done to them. LOL

    Instead of “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” maybe it should read: “Do to others as they would like done to them and you would like done to you.”

  10. Wise words at the end I’d say.
    Today folks break the toe in rule, tomorrow they break the toe out rule. Simply depending on their listening situation.

    Better not to start to make rules too quickly, even when flexible to throw them away again. Audio folks are too sensible for following without own consideration or trial anyway already, they even wait for it dearly. Better to educate to try and listen.

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