The power of small

March 31, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

A small change in speaker toe in of less than an inch can snap into focus the center image.

That’s the power of small.

But, it goes deeper.

Once the center image is stabilized your emotional connection to the music changes. You relax. No longer are you working hard at wondering if what you’re hearing is right, or moving your head enough to center the singer.

You let down your guard and the music pulls you in.

An inch can make all the difference—not in the big scheme of things—but in the little scheme. The one where you are relaxed enough to forget everything else and engage with the music.

The power of small is found in helping us remove the barriers to great sound.

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42 comments on “The power of small”

  1. The stands that my .5cf monitor cabinets are set on have custom 3/4″ ply (matches the bamboo cabinet dimensions) bolted to the steel top plate, allowing quick horizontal rotation for unsurpassed ease in setting speaker toe! It took no time to achieve maximum stereo blend. This locked in perfectly placed, well defined and superbly focused centered performers, while maintaining excellent soundstage balance/spread well to the outside and deep beyond each speaker!

    It is amazing Paul that as little as 1 degree of toe can change things quickly, but with a Ribbon top end and excellent horizontal dispersion, change is more gradual but offers very precise 2-channel magic. Once set (mine are at 5 deg toe-out), the sweet spot is wide (2 listeners), the 3D presentation is astounding and the monitor’s room presence disappears! What’s left…just a question of where am I sitting inside the live venue?!! 😉

    Ted

  2. **OFF SUBJECT but still ON TOPIC**
    (The subject being what Paul has posted; the topic being home-audio)

    Some listeners (audio-folk) are obsessed with the notion of hearing
    recordings “as the artist intended”.
    This YouTube presentation explains why that idea is a load of BS.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3wr8VuJGyI

    Do yourself a favour & skip the ad that runs from 0:17 to 1:05, but persevere with the rest of it.
    It’s only 12 minutes long & it will cure you of this stupid notion…if indeed you believe in it.

    Here’s another little gem about ‘flat speakers being boring’…flat frequency response that it.
    Particularly for ‘the measurements men’ (you know who you are) take special note of the information imparted by Danny from 7:15 to 7:57 🙂

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0hXuEyNwh0

    Not everything on YT is rubbish 😀

    1. The reality is a simple single tone sweep or a THD measurement or power comparison cannot define it’s timbre, which is the character or quality of a musical sound or voice as distinct from its pitch and intensity. This is where sites like ASR run the train off the tracks.

    2. Hello FR.
      Here is a funny interview ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6h16K8zhsmo ) made by an expert in room acoustics with a famous designer of loudspeakers who once met Mr. Klipsch and Mr. Oscar Heil and who could significantly improve the Heil air-motion-transformer. At the end of this video they talk about future improvements in audio and speaker technology. Most interesting but this interview isn’t held in native English but horrible Denglish. So it’s sometimes a bit difficult to understand the intended message but you learn interesting historical facts. 🙂 Enjoy!

    3. Really? A Yamaha NS-10 is the standard monitor at studios? Maybe in the 70s or early 80s. Maybe they are there, gathering dust in a corner. Most studios these days do not use Yamahas anymore, though on occasion they may have them as sound check. Most recording engineers are well aware of the limitations of those speakers. There is a brand of monitors that even has a specific set up that you can “choose” an EQ that matches the NS10 for those that still want to know how they sound. Increasingly, studio monitors tend to have a more similar sound to each other than different. The issue is that most are designed for close to mid distance listening than “hifi” speakers that are mostly designed for further away listening (dispersion is less important in the studio but matters too). A huge number of recordings (pop and rock) are even done in at home studios that have close to the engineer monitors. Billie Eilish not even 20 years old, or Caetano Veloso at 79 make their records at home (Waters, Gabriel, etc). They don’t have Yamahas. Better musicians will sit with the mastering engineer and listen to the “final cut” (pun intended) to decide and approve the sound. They may listen to a variety of speakers. You can see in studio’s lists the monitoring speakers they use. B&W significantly invests and subsidizes studios known for classical music so they can use this in their promotion. Most mastering studios are always short of money so they will take a subsidized B&W, no doubt. But high level studios will have Neumanns, Genelecs, Focals, JBLs and other week known brands that sound perfectly well at home (check Octave for example). As long as you know the distance that they can be positioned from you.

      Pictures of studios are easily accesible online and you can check the equipment for yourself. In addition, I mentioned before Mark Ronson’s program on Apple TV discussing production. Eilish and her brother have doe this too.

      This is a very superficial article about studios from Sweetwater, seller of studio equipment:
      https://www.sweetwater.com/insync/ways-to-make-your-studio-look-as-good-as-it-sounds/

      1. ‘CtA’
        Billie Eilish “not even 20 years old”?
        She was born December 18th, 2021.
        As usual your maths is incorrect & you’ve completely missed the
        point of the presentation & fixated on the Yamaha NS-10 to try &
        show everyone that you think that you know something relevant
        about audio…(sigh)…you’re an enigma bordering on a joke 😀
        (Notice how I use quotation marks correctly)

        Btw, what do you mean by “doe”?

        1. FR, You have a typo! December 18, 2001. She just turned 20 end of last year.

          CtA, I agree with you on those NS-10’s. I mean he didn’t even mention ATC which have made studio monitors for something like 25 years for places like Abbey Road Studios.

          1. OK, she “just” turned 20. What is the point? NS-10s have been past over for 20 years too.

            As Tony mentioned, ATC, PMC, HEDD and others are used much more than NS-10s.

            You also see to miss a few other points. Even Toole mentions his “circle of confusion” of poor measuring monitors during recordings as part of the problem and why NS10s are rarely used as such anymore. In addition, “the artist” nowadays is a team. You have the musicians themselves, plus their producer and recording engineers. Sometimes musicians will get heavily involved and other times, less so. But in the end. this “team” will finalize and approve the “final cut” using very high level monitors (even if musicians use headphones during the actual recording process). Those same monitors “at home” sound very good. But you wouldn’t know this, of course.

            Erratum: Where it says week, read well. Where it says doe, read done. And I missed her 20th birthdays by a few months. Maybe Veloso turned 80 already. I don’t have him in my list of acquaintances. Does the obese marsupial know who he is?

            1. ‘CtA’,
              Yes; & I’m glad that you finally got the point of the presentation…it is a team effort & not “as the artist intended”.
              See, you know that now because you watched the presentation…you learned something today,
              good for you!

              But there you go using quotation marks needlessly
              & incorrectly again (smh)

  3. Sometimes, not so small?

    I’ve come to think, for me and my room at least, the level of toe in is related to the distance the speakers are apart – the wider apart the more toe in. Most of us with just one main space for living and listening have to make compromises, probably more than we’d like.

    So with 7ft apart the toe in ended up at 1.75in… well the stereo imaging and centre sounds good to me and with depth.

    Anyone else found this?

    Room Info:
    I have a squarish 13ft room but with a double door width walk through into another room that’s opposite the speakers, which are further apart than probably Paul would like. There’s a curtained window, mainly listen at night with them drawn, behind the speakers. One side of the wall opposite the speakers has a bookcase floor to near ceiling with random sized books while the other side has a full CD/bookcase and a few other random bits.

  4. With my Magnepans, an inch might as well be a foot. The refinement is way more precise than an inch. There are times when I just barely touch them, and the sound improves dramatically.

    The one thing that makes speaker placement adjustments difficult is carpet pikes. I usually try to remove them for macro adjustments, but once installed they make micro adjustments a challenge.

  5. Speaking of speaker alignment/toe in, one nice feature of ‘stats (at least flat panel types) is that you can use a flashlight to position the speakers. After getting them equidistant from the listening position place a flashlight on top of your head and point it at the panel. You’ll get a nice, clear reflection that determines twist along the vertical axis and tilt along the horizontal axis. When the flashlight beam is in the center left/right and at the same and suggest height top/bottom you’re dialed in.

    I also like the Isoacoustics feet because they tend to keep the speakers in a fixed location with some friction so you’re not constantly wondering if you’ve nudged the speakers out of alignment.

    1. Many years ago I become infatuated with three speakers. The Apogee, the Quad ESL-63 and the Martin Logan CSL. Neither in the end did it for me. They all had some flaws (they either didn’t play loud, no bass or huge amps were needed) but what was the final point was that to listen to them I had to sit still in one point. Either of them was a one person speaker.

      This is why, despite the good sound those speakers provided, I stayed with dynamic speakers with wide dispersion. I’m not fixed to listen in one spot. A decent amplifier drives them and they have really good bass.

      1. ‘CtA’,
        I strongly suspect that it’s your hearing that is severely flawed
        & this is why you have to have every loudspeaker ‘spinoramaed’.
        ‘One thing you can’t hide, is when you’re Klippled inside’

  6. I compare that to focusing a telephoto lens. Typically you start out someplace close to what you expect, then slowly change focus back and forth as you zero in. When it snaps into focus you know it!

  7. “The Power of the Small”

    Shucks.

    Reading the title of Paul’s post today,
    I thought it would be about the qualities of low power amplifiers like First Watt and Decware. 😉

  8. The room, the other half of the speaker, and it’s boundaries can be vital as even small (less than an inch) distances play a role in the stage. Placing the speakers equidistant to the speaker’s rear wall (what we call the front wall from our viewpoint) can also make as much difference as toe.

    Second on the list is the distance to the outer wall and it’s first reflections. Many times folks are forced into placing the speaker too close to the outer wall due to room size constraints, but the distance the sound travels from direct source and the distance traveled from the first reflection should be at least a few milliseconds apart to create the soundstage. (there are a few exceptions to this rule in design like the KlipscHorn)

      1. I use the 9 x 5 rule. If speakers are 9′ apart, 5′ from cabinet to sidewall as the desired minimum. The farther, the better. Some don’t have that luxury in narrower rooms.

        1. “The farther, the better”…agreed.
          I’m just suggesting an absolute bare minimum as a lot of contributors here talk about listening rooms anywhere from 13′ x 12′ to 18′ x 15’…generally.

  9. I keep telling myself I need to check the toe-in on my speakers, but the problem I have is my wife does not want to help. She finds it too tedious. Trying to get it right by yourself means a lot of up and down.

    1. Tony,

      You mentioned that your speakers are Magico. That manufacturer uses modern research to design speakers. They also tests them using the Klippel NFS. Most likely, they have a smooth and wide dispersion. Thereby, a few degrees in one direction or the other will make a very limited difference. It is likely that the on axis and a fee degrees away sound will be very similar, or virtually indistinguishable.

      I don’t see (or notice) a waveguide in the FR30. Which I find surprising given that Chris appears so knowledgeable about (modern speaker) design. Maybe their dispersion is not as smooth and wide as the Magicos. In another picture, the positioned them looking straight ahead and not toed in. It could be that they have a smooth dispersion. But given they have not shown a “spinorama” we will not know. By the way, the Copper magazine article on spinorama was very good.

      1. What loudspeakers have you designed?
        I’m pretty sure that Chris knows a helluvalot more than you do when it comes to loudspeakers & where or whether a wave-guide should be implemented or not.
        You are showing your ignorance yet again ‘CtA’.

        1. My hearing is quite good. I test, even it is not totally scientific, by what I can hear when a use REW.

          I have better equipment at home that you ever had yourself. The only thing you have is memory of brands. That’s it. Nothing more. You live on memories.

  10. Here’s a trick I use to establish speaker toe in symmetrical arrangements.

    Use the compass function on your phone. First take the heading of the front wall. Then take the heading of each of the speakers. The difference is the degree of toe-in for each. You can then easily make and check any adjustments.

  11. That’s great for the person sitting in the main listening chair but I hope that doesn’t mean I have to put my head in a vice. That’s hardly relaxing. Yes that’s the best way to achieve the very best sound-stage but I rather have speakers that can also sound great off axis and when I stand and sit in another location or lie down on the couch. When I have visitors I usually give them the sweet spot chair to show off my system but it still sounds very good in other locations.

  12. The power of small you describe is one of things that separate people over audio. Hearing is highly plastic, adapting unconsciously to the incoming sounds over time spans from milliseconds to a lifetime. It is capable of feats like spatially mapping a room and separating conversations by where the speaker is standing as people mill about in a cocktail party. We are highly pre-disposed by evolution to compartmentalize the decoding of sound adaptively to the current psycho-acoustic environment.

    The general public can tell the difference between live music and audio, but they are not consciously aware of what constitutes the difference – even audiophiles and audio engineers can’t say how to measure the difference between a live music soundfield and a reproduced music soundfield. Anybody have an instrument or software to do this? Even a hypothetical algorithm? Has anyone EVER called 911 to report that a band has broken into their living room and started playing because someone put on the radio or a record? So much for the “sounds just like live music” marketing hype.

    The difference to a machine is very small; and likewise it is hard to compare audio systems when the auditioning is separated in time. I can do this, but more because I have a distinct memory of how the sound made me FEEL, and focusing on the transient information. I also remember the few times I heard a credible image from an audio system – less than a dozen in a lifetime of listening, all in meticulous systems with minimalist recordings.

    All the measurement vs. auditioning arguments are based on the power of small details, too small and intricate to succomb to reductionist machine measurements, and too small to remember accurately until they accumulate to produce a quantum shift in perception.

    I subscribe to the layered veil metaphor for audio. If you have ten veils and subtract one, the clarity barely changes – but that last one can be a revelation. The last veils for me are moving from Redbook decimation to direct stream, from studio to stage, and from mixing and mastering to zero knob recordings.

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