Setup recording

March 24, 2019
 by Paul McGowan

I have a lot of long term projects in my head and one that comes up often is the creation of a setup CD (or LP).

There have been attempts at just such a product in the past. Stereophile’s setup CD remains one of my favorites. When I set up a new system I always check for left and right plus phase on tracks 1 and 2. But, that’s pretty basic and not really what I had in mind.

The problems of setup I see have more to do with dialing in the fine details of tonal balance, spatial cues, room modes, image size, etc. I don’t know of a setup product that really addresses these challenges with specific goals to achieve accompanied by easy steps to dial the sound in.

We’d like to change that.

Would it be possible to have tracks on a recording accompanied by step-by-step directions like:

  • Listen to the voice and adjust the level until the singer sounds proportionally correct.
  • With the help of the included measurement scale on the floor determine where the image is placed behind the imaginary line of the speakers
    • If too far back do this
    • If too trapped in the speaker do that

I am just spitballing here but it seems to me a step-by-step instruction set with specific examples would be invaluable if one could figure out how to pull it off.

What do you think?

What would be critical to be included?

Would you find a tool like this valuable?

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48 comments on “Setup recording”

  1. I’m not sure if you wouldn’t have to include all the room and distance measures of the individual placements, which could make it a nightmare, I wonder if any of those proportional suggestions and rules you think of have a common validity for different room and placement situations. I think you’d first have to find out if your rules are easily transferable. I suspect that you can’t make valid standard suggestions as in the one room e.g. it’s better to shorten the distance of speakers to back wall, while in the other it’s better to vary the listening distance etc. for the same purpose and all again behaves differently for different room widths.

    It seems like trying to find a common formula to create perfect interior room design where this is always a very individual consulting job.

    A great basic idea but I guess you’d be limited to suggestions that could help rather than fixed and working rules.

  2. The crux of common set-up CDs lies in the unmentioned prerequisites as goal symmetry of the speakers and listening room and a decent treatment of room acoustics. Sometime even the hearing abilities of the maker is relevant to be “copied” as I learnt from some test CDs. Maybe also the listening distance is relevant in some cases. The LEDR Test only works with a decent treatment of the ceiling’s acoustic properties. The in-phase and out-of-phase tests require absolute symmetry otherwise you get only one of both test right by moving the speakers. What would be your additional prerequisites, Paul? Dipole speaker’s? A specific basic speaker set-up (Cardas rules)? A tough goal, Paul. Good luck!

  3. Sounds like a good plan Paul. The (classical) solo voice is a good idea. All my CDs have the correct levels for my room marked on them. Yes it does make a difference!

  4. Here’s a link to a good speaker set up. (Mine happens to be in DSD format). Lots of good well remastered music by 2xHD label also. One of the most interesting parts are the illustrations in the back …. of soundstage presence for given tracks. Give it a perusal…

    If Paul was to take the speaker set up project on… my vote would to be include as much info and hints as possible. Even if it means charging a few bucks extra to download the booklet as a pdf. Anyone who has a clue may be able to get away with just the setup tracks and can ignore the booklet. For lots of other people this idea could help and guide in an immensely positive wave.

  5. Hell yeah Paul. It’s definitely something I would be interested in. I have all of the Stereophile test CD’s one of which has burn in and demagnetizing tones and a Cardas LP test and demagnetizing record. What you’re describing goes even further. I would buy them both in CD and LP formats. Thanks.

    What would be critical to be included? Besides burn in and demagnetizing tones and the things you mentioned I would like it to have pink noise with the option to purchase a PS audio built spectrum analyzer with microphone so I can actually see what frequencies are being excited or depressed in my room. Maybe a sound pressure component built into the unit too.

  6. Great idea. However, there are so many variables – or system differences – that a set-up CD for all systems, rooms, and environments seems an impossible task.

  7. Terrific idea. Check out the SoundDoctor test CD and set up white paper. It is focused on subwoofer set up but offers some very effective advice. I would love an offering that takes this to the next level.

  8. I would love a tool like that, but not if it required adjustment for every individual recording every time you “play” . I think it’s a software problem that may require storing setup information with each recording the first time you play it if it’s stored into something like iTunes. Or have your player recognize each CD if that’s how you listen to music, which for most would require some kind of “preDAC” or “anteDAC”. Some programs offer a general level adjustment for each stored recording, but don’t seem to work for me.

  9. Well, it’s already being done — kind of.
    Jim Smith, famous setup guy has already prepared “Get Better Sound” book and DVDs.

    Then in 2013 he set up a crowd funding project, “Through the Sound Barrier” [TTSB].
    A book, music tracks, a DVD.
    The selected music tracks are good examples of Dynamics, Presence, Tone (The holy trinity of good sound).
    Getting clearance of copyright holders, health issues, moving house… Things Take Time.

  10. Hey Paul… Happy Sunday,

    Great idea… we’d all like to give your set up instruction a spin and see what we learn about our current arrangements. Whether or not they work in my situation 100%, I always learn something from these CDs. Sign me up.

    To ease the complexity, suggest you offer the program in two parts. Something for a basic, good quality speaker installation to get folks going and a Part two for a continuation and more comprehensive version when the customer has more time. And, be sure to include the set up disc, maybe in a customized version, as an added benefit of buying your new speaker line. But maybe that’s how this thought originated.


  11. Absolutely. I have an older cd setup disk (i think isotek) that helps but it is cumbersome. The experience, knowledge and credibilty coming from PS Audio would be a home run, IMO. I guess it depends on your target audience to sell it. Maybe it is a value add that will lead folks to upgrade products. Items to include; Keep it situational so each user can go where they need to based on level of support. Some of us are down to every detail and others are not even in the ball park. Music lovers appreciate it when music sounds better and willing to work for it (somewhat). Start with simple component and speaker placement…:). For the rest of us include deeper sections for true audiophile focus, room correction, component variables, etc. Some very basic principles will get newcomers excited when they hear a vocal track or snare drum coming from a decent sound stage. Maybe start with a question that leads to a flow the keeps things individually engaging. “What music do you love”. While i can listen to a kick drum or vocal track for hours crawling around a room during setup most will opt out….:). Maybe a download or app based approach. Fun to think about. Thanks.


    This CD does not tell you how to fix things but I use it all the time as a base reference when evaluating changes to my system. In other words that way “The song remains the same”. It is also is a great way to introduce non-audiophiles to the sport. Something like this that also had suggestions and tips on how to fix things could be helpful to many. That said there is already a lot of information out on the internet if one searches. In the end though after all the setup it comes down to listening.

  13. Paul: I think this is a fantastic idea and I welcome it with open arms. Realistically i’d Expect it to have some limitations in achieving the universal application goal, but it would at least help guide along the path of true system optimization much much more than existing discs that go to channel balance, phase, maybe depth of image, but if you focus on all aspects of soundstage and image definition, timbre, etc and at least try to guide audiophiles in how to make changes to better optimize overall system performance, the community will be in your debt. Your vision is spot on— if anyone can figure out how to make it a reality, you and your team can. Tailwinds!

  14. Hi Paul,
    Since the IRS5 & the prototype are the references that PS Audio is using for benchmarking the new AN line of loudspeakers, would it be possible to play frequency sweeps or other appropriate sounds on the reference loudspeakers and record the signals of various frequencies at the best possible sitting position.
    With the tools available with the AN loud speakers we could then , play the same sound signal at the users home, measure it and if there is a difference – make adjustments and retest till it equates to the reference signal pattern /frequencies at the similar distance.

    Based on this, algorithms could be programmed to help the end user in adjusting the placement. Some adjustments could be automatically by the system assuming the speakers were placed appropriately.

    Yes, this would be a great tool, starting tool with final settings being the listeners ears. We would all have different levels of hearing I assume.

  15. What is described in general lines by the moderator, already exist in products on the market, such as the 30 tracks of Chesky’s Audiophile Test, of which only 10 of them contain music specially chosen to accompany the remaining 20 test tracks, which in The practice covers all aspects of a proper stereo installation, including the LEDR (TM) system developed by EAS, to test the system’s interaction with the sound room, and all other parameters that are of interest to audiophiles, such as: the L- R image, and the soundstage depth, Low level Lenearity test, distortions in the attack & decay. The last three tests contain square waves to be used by instruments such as oscilloscopes and wave analyzers.

    I think this CD is very useful when installing an audio equipment for the first time, in a sound room.

    It would be worthwhile to examine in detail Chesky’s test disc, to see that something else that is not there, it would be convenient to incorporate, but for my modest criteria, it contains everything one needs to correctly install a complete sound system under the parameters of the stereophonic concept, which according to some, this concept is already obsolete.

    I think this CD is the most complete of those that exist since the times of the LP test that was used with the Soundcraftsmen equalizers.

    Another CD: the Denon Digital Audio Check, which is the one that is used daily to do basic checks but also has white noise sweeps to make more complicated tests, depending on the skills of the practitioner, is the one that I personally use more than the Chesky , and is a basic tool, to realize if everything is working correctly, even one becomes familiar with all the musical tracks, that when you put a new device in the system, note instantly any difference that new member brings to the chain .

    Now that, if it is a matter of incorporating a DSP as part of the design of the speakers, to make readings in real time in the room where they are installed, that is something else, and it is the modern tendency that has been adopted by some of the North American manufacturers like Legacy, in some of their products.

  16. Great idea, and agree with much of what folks have already said. I’d further suggest at least two subsections, one for your average middle class living room and one for those of us with very tiny spaces, ie bedroom apartments, 80 -100 sq ft living/listening rooms etc.

  17. Hey Paul,
    Anyone who has invested as much time and money into audio equipment as a typical “audiophile” is always looking for ways to ensure they are getting the optimal sound from that system, so any “tool” to help achieve that is very desirable. I have used the Barry Ober SoundDoctor disc and setup guide for my subwoofer setup, and it contains a lot of other useful info, but I still felt my system had a “balance” issue and was awesome but just not perfect. I thought it had to be room effects, but I had heard and read good things about Master Set Speaker Placement methodology which seemed to optimize soundstage regardless of room acoustics. I’m probably overstating that but I had a local dealer who specializes in Master Set do my system and I will tell you the results were amazing. The only “setup disc” they use in the process is a the Jennifer Warnes “Ballad Of A Runaway Horse” from the Famous Blue Raincoat, 20th anniversary edition. The key to the method is that the tune is very simple vocal and standup bass where the artists recording position is verywell understood. The trick is, and I’m super simplifying here, to move the speakers until the soundstage has them exactly where they should be located.

    I will say my room is a bit complex and definitely left me with imaging issues all of which were removed by Master Set.

    Bottom Line: IMO / experience a test disc can only do so much and it seems that speaker placement, specific to the room, with or without acoustic treatment, is the key, and that’s the idea and impact behind Master Set.

    Here is a link to the process:

    1. Excellent Paul, a tool like that would be greatly welcomed. An additional thought would be some tracks demonstrating dynamic range from low to perhaps one (with a warning) of an orchestra at full tilt 120dB (to take advantage of DSD 🙂
      A great pursuit, have fun doing it…

  18. I found the Stereophile test discs particularly effective because they tell you what you should hear. What you propose goes much further and would be invaluable to audiophiles . If you can pull this off, PLEASE produce it in dual layer so we can play it on our SACD transports. The hi-rez version would be so much more revealing.

  19. I would assert that nothing can replace RTA with fixed source compared to the output. This also requires proper information of the speakers dynamics derived from polar response and off-axis from the spinorama.

    1. RTA is based on FFT (Fast Fourier Transform) which invariably throws out all of the phase information. This is erroneous. Frequency domain test signals and analysis reveal very little about musical consonants – how notes start, stop and transition. Musical consonants, as in speech, comprise less than 5% of the energy and time, but over 50% of the MEANING.

      This explains how two “flat” systems can sound so different. Most “flat” systems use some form of equalization – at minimum a crossover – which of mathematical necessity introduces temporal distortion.

        1. Humans hear WAVEFORMS with a resolution of 3 microseconds. I have not seen any RTA software with this resolution. Further, available RTA acts on scalars and humans hear vectors. Sound travels down the Ear Canal, through the Ossicles and projects onto the Basilar Membrane as an encoded two dimensional wave which is transduced by an array of hundreds of active cilia. You would need a 3D SEMS array with a hundred times as many sensors, a 20dB better signal to noise ratio and more computing speed than fits on a desktop to duplicate the information content of this capture.

          Further, RTA is currently limited to linear computation which means it can’t exceed the Fourier Uncertainty Principle – but humans are non-linear and have up to thirteen times the theoretical resolution in combined time and frequency of a linear system. This is according to peer reviewed research that asks the right question, which is measuring the hearing of people who listen to music professionally instead of speakers:

          1. Human consciousness experiences sensory input, it doesn’t measure it. Those are different domains. This is why we use measurement equipment in the audio industry. Hearing is always subjective to the person.

            1. Subjective to me means that the perception is internal rather than external. All my life I have heard things that audio and audiology textbooks say humans CAN’T hear. However, I share those consistent perceptions variously with my musician friends & family; audio engineer friends and colleagues; and audiophile friends – although these groups diverge. This shared experience tells me these perceptions are external and therefore not subjective.

              My current working theory, which explains all of the discrepancies between human perception and measurements of the hearing mechanism by machine transduction and analysis, is that audiological experiments since the 1930s utilize audio gear and test subjects who listen to consumer grade audio content and gear for substantially all of their musical experience. This eliminates from the data all those areas where human hearing surpasses audio gear – the test signals do not contain it, and the ears tested have ZERO training in real acoustic music. This is a profound selection bias that invalidates many “scientifically proven” assertions about what humans can’t hear.

              I an early example, Thomas Edison performed an experiment where he pulled people off 57th Street and asked them to listen to a soprano and a cylinder recording. These people, who had no experience listening to an operatic singer in a symphonic hall, could not identify the recording.

              OTOH, I attend roughly a hundred acoustic concerts a year and hear acoustic music every day in my living room, so there is no audio source which sounds like music to me.

              My own experiments have gotten closer to reality than any prior art by testing on conservatory trained musicians. Most audiophiles can’t hear a significant improvement or prefer their home systems, i.e. the sound their ears are “broken in” to. Breaking in your ears to the objective reality of live acoustic music is a valid reference not provided by comparing speakers to other speakers

  20. Back about 15 years ago when I decided to reinvent the world I gave the problem some real thought. Having the ability to create any sound field I wanted to from a recording and the ability (only on paper) to fully and accurately measure it, I decided it was time to create an entirely different kind of sound system. At that time the recording companies were furious and very worried because you could record just about anything you wanted from Napster for free. Eventually it wound up in court but even today you can get a lot of what you want from YouTube and others for free also.

    The idea went far beyond using a test setup of the type audiophiles would use today. As the concept would use the listening room as an integral part of the system it would be configured for a particular room by a computer. The installation would have to be done by a trained technician who would use test instruments to adjust EVERY parameter of the system’s performance in the room it was to be installed in to meet a fixed performance standard. It would of course take into account reflections which are a critical part of the mathematical model. The system could perform at least 3 kinds of functions, a conventional two channel stereo system, the surround system I invented, and a home theater type system.

    Each recording would be mastered or if already existing remastered in a room with a sound system that performed the same way the sound systems they would be listened to on by the customer performed. They would all sound exactly the same and so what you heard was what the recording engineer wanted you to. Adjustable deviations would be possible by the user but he could always return to the default settings.

    Each recording would include encryption instructions on how to decode that particular recording. These would be both in the form of software on the disc, holograms embedded in the disc, and a chip embedded in the disc. The player would use this information to authenticate the disc and program the DSP for that particular recording. The disc encryption could be scrambled in such a way that even different copies of the same recording would be encrypted differently. The player would use proprietary chips. The recordings could not be copied and the player could not be reverse engineered.

    I started preparing nearly a dozen new patent applications and hired a patent attorney. And then suddenly I stopped. There were several reasons. One was seeing the vast amounts of money being spent on lawsuits back and forth between Apple and Samsung. The patent system no longer works for anything of real value for a small individual inventor. The idea was impractical and would have required too much of my effort and a vast amount of high risk venture capital. It might never have been able to be made to work. Any company with the resources to develop such a system would want most of the profits. They’d probably steal it. In the end the patent attorney came up with an offer from venture capitalists for $5 million to build a factory to manufacture the measurement system that had never even been tried. I turned it down.

    I contacted the one company most capable of developing this idea, Sony. I wrote to their CEO at the time, Harold Stringer having seen him interviewed on Charlie Rose’s program. Sony was in big trouble having lost its monopoly on high end television sets due to obsolescence of the unique Trinitron picture tube to flat panel displays. The company suffered the management problem called stovepiping and was bleeding money very badly. So I wrote to Stringer and about three months later I got a reply from his attorney saying that because my patent had run out they weren’t interested. And my reaction was “screw the whole damned thing, I’ve got better things to do with the rest of my life.”

  21. I believe a setup recording like you describe, would be an invaluable tool to get things going in the right direction in our listening
    rooms. Sign me up Paul!

  22. Certainly a good idea. But can I suggest you will need to define your terms? As just one example, I have no idea what it means for a vocalist’s voice to be “proportionally correct” or how to judge whether it is or not.

  23. Youtube would be great place to put it. Accessible and updatable.
    People around the world could post thoughts/suggestions. Let
    it morph from there.

  24. A wonderful idea. It will go a long way in getting things just right. The final touch will still require tuning by ear. Once dialed in a good system can sound so realistic that going to a live performance can take second place specially without the distractions of human presence next to you, sounds made when so many people are in the same place etc. Having been involved with speaker building as a hobby for many years one thing is a must for realistic sound production. The speaker must move a lot of air. Anything short of this can sound very good but never realistic in size and impact. Based on experience with both digital and vinyl your setup record will benefit vinyl more than digital on a really good system because vinyl has more delicate shadings and inner detail and when properly setup is more musically satisfying. Regards.

  25. So what’s the difference between a set up CD and a set of tests tracks that I presume people have when they demo equipment? Presumably do the same job. Collections of reference recordings have been around for ages, I’ve got an LP set from the 70s.

    Please note that the CD is now redundant. I’ve not had a CD player in use for 10 years. Don’t see them in many system pictures these days.

  26. Sign me up !! I can’t believe they are getting $35 for that test CD ?? I think number 1 is better .
    My sister just dropped off a couple of hundred CDs at Goodwill my bad for not checking them out first $$ !

  27. Two Suggestions:

    1. Have a setup for trying to capture a Live performance, a second one for Studio Recorded Music.

    2. What about using a scanner type product similar to that they used to scan cars for whole car vinyl applications. This or something like it could be used to capture the room which is critical. Maybe this could be uploaded to a computer where it is analysed and then the results used as part of the setup recommendations

    Oh well my $.02 worth

  28. I forgot that some speakers manufacturers have written speaker set-up guide like Wilson Audio and Nudell on Genesis One. They may be the alternative to a set-up disc?

  29. I would be able to provide tracks with the maximum amount of 2 channel scalar information (commercial “stereo”), which comes from a near coincident pair of microphones in a room; BUT, this will not help align systems for commercial recordings which are made by mixing and mastering multi-channel mono recordings, nor recordings which have any processing including but not limited to equalization, compression and artificial reverb.

    One of the best room setups I have heard used the Stereophile stage track, where John Atkinson walks around a stage talking. This is more effective than tones, chirps, noise and even music because everyone of a certain age grew up with hours a day of acoustic human speech in a relatively quiet background during classroom instruction. Because of this coherent and consistent stimulus over thousands of hours in the formative years, we learned how to hear transient and spatial detail using PHASE components of human speech, enabling mapping of acoustic spaces and separating direct signal from reverberations and even separating multiple simultaneous conversations in a reverberant environment (cocktail party effect). This is tremendously more information than is present in frequency domain representations of auditory scenes or two channel recordings.

    Dr. Manfred Schroeder demonstrated the phase sensitivity of human hearing by building a phase synthesizer. This was a bank of 500 constant level oscillators with closely spaced frequencies within the “speech band ” and phase modulation. He extracted the phase information of speech and then reconstructed intelligible speech by controlling the phase of the frequency components. This proves that the human auditory acoustico-neural transduction and low level processing can render consciously cognized phase affects, in contradiction to all the audiological research that “proves” humans are phase insensitive.

    Let me repeat, this is proof that all the textbooks are WRONG about what humans can and can’t hear. Phase is critical to receiving auditory messages whether speech or music, and also for full perception of auditory space and auditory perception of solid objects. In fact, it is a hundred times as much spatial information as can be captured by two microphones and a thousand times as much spatial information as pan pots. This breaks down for music when ears are trained to hear music through audio systems, which do not contain the stimulation to grow, wire and program the phase discriminating neurons.

    Reports of “pinpoint imaging” almost always come from speakers and rooms that obviously have scrambling of real tempero-spatial cues, and so are artifactual. This artifact will vary with the recording, room placement, toe-in, color of draperies, first, favorite and most recent speaker models and what the listener had for breakfast, so there is no universal or repeatable test signal and perception of “soundstaging” . I defy anyone to get a roomful of audiophiles to agree on speaker preference and perception of imaging playback variables’ affect on perception.

  30. Great idea Paul.

    Can I suggest you try the following, to get an idea:
    I seem to remember you don’t watch much TV, but if you (or the kids) have one of those modern UltraHD televisions, have a TV calibration expert come to the house, and calibrate it for you.
    Not only will you be amazed how much better your favorite movie now looks in your familiar setting, but you’ll also see what these guys measure for, and how they do it.
    You’d have immediate clues you could “translate” to audio calibration.

    I think the main thing you’d want to get in there, is a microphone. Pair it with an “app” on the smartphone, and you have an immediate objective feedback. Present question to the listener, and based on the answer he/she selects, give new instructions.
    Yes, it’s more involved than producing a CD (which you can use your new studio for), but placing a microphone where the listener would sit, is a good way to do some measuring. Lots of home theater systems have a microphone with a long cable to do just that.

    Of course there’s more to music than just objective results, but the questions can still be “simple” (“Does this sound too warm, too cold or just right?”, for example).

    Just spitballing, but hope it helps!

  31. Sounds like a good idea Paul! IMO, a CD as you describe has long been needed.

    The much-delayed Through The Sound Barrier project that Peter Allen mentioned above is more complex, therefore it will definitely be more expensive. It is two books, three CDs – two with 22 fully licensed (and absolute polarity corrected) music tracks from my RoomPlay system/room voicing playlist, plus a mechanical CD – pink noise, polarity check, reference level signal, etc. Additionally, a DVD is included that shows how to work with each track.

    The TTSB project is about optimizing Dynamics, Presence & Tone.

    Book One is WHAT they are and WHY they are critical. Book Two – plus the three CDs and the DVD – is HOW to get them.

    As such, TTSB is not focused so much on precise imaging and other sonic artifacts. Instead, it is focused on the importance of Dynamics, Presence, & Tone, with greater musical engagement – and thus – music’s emotional effects in full array.

    SORRY for the ad, but I wanted to explain it more fully after Peter mentioned it above.

    Back to your CD idea – go for it!!! It’s surely needed, and it will be a great help to audiophiles worldwide.

  32. A good idea but it seems like these tools would work better as an app or web site where someone can interact with the tools in real (or almost real) time. I don’t think a CD (or SA-CD) would do all the the things you propose.
    Best, J

  33. No one has taken the initiative to produce such a recording. I would be willing to create both a CD and DSD 5.6MHz files which could be used for audio setup. After creating such a project I will come up with a reasonable price. It is not only direct sound but 60% indirect. Phasing must be obtained from all directions and sustained long enough to do corrections. Multiple frequency response tones are also needed from all directions. Low frequencies tend to be omni directional while mids and to an extent some highs are more directional, but only in context of the direction in which the musician is facing. Highs are again, are more omni directional. When you hear an orchestra most all the sound is reflective unless the instrument(s) are facing you in the face. If you consider most if not all of Infinity System speakers have rear facing speakers whether a line source or multiple angle construction. Infinity Systems Holosonics where utilizing 4 phased tweeters in 4 directions. The Infinity IRSV speakers utilize a rear line source tweeters. Think of Binaural. You have 2 ears separated by a certain distance, each ear is separated by a dense mass. (no pun intended). The object is to get that same sense of direction through speakers which are not the same distance as your ears. Phase and directionality play an important role in recreating the ambiance of where the performance is heard. Side walls, ceiling, any reflective surface is critical in reproduction of the performance. Length of tone and harmonics is critical in determining the quality of sound not just sine waves.

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