Jul 022017
 

In Pursuit of the Art of Tone, Part 1, I discussed learning how to pursue a style of musicality for your hifi that lights up your heart & mind to transport you into a state of musical bliss during listening.

I mentioned that I believe that there is no absolute sound that is best for every person, but that there very well might be one that is best for you, and I recommended you pursue your own unique path of adventure in discovering the music you enjoy and the style of hifi musicality that best brings out what is important to you during your listening experiences.

In hopes that it might give you some ideas for your own adventures in music and hifi, I told you briefly about about my personal journey in searching out my own vision of ultimate musicality, how that adventure in hifi and musicality has been evolving over the decades, will likely continue to evolve over the rest of my life, and how I’ve gone about discovering what is important to me in musicality.

I discussed how as a hifi writer I’ve practiced Listening Unnaturally to Get an Understanding of the Nature of Things, so I could tell you about what I hear and feel while listening to music, and how during that process I began to discover the sorts of specific things in the reproduction of music that brought me the most pleasure in my listening.

I talked about how it is important to discover what you like, why you like it, and how that will empower you to explore greater depths in pleasure when listening to music as you pursue ‘the art of tone’ in achieving the sort of musicality that is most meaningful to you.

I love pursuing the ‘art of tone’ in my hifi’s, fooling around with hifi gear with my friends, and telling you about it all!

In closing, I promised that in the next part of this discussion I would continue to tell you more about some of the choices I have made in pursuing my own personal vision for ultimate musicality, and why, and about some of the milestones of illuminating moments along the way, and realizations about certain underlying principles that are helping me to get there.

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What I will describe applies uniquely to my personal tastes, the aspects of music reproduction that gets me excited, and that I find pleasure in for the music I love to listen to the most.

By sharing my thoughts & feelings about the discoveries of my music and audio journey with you, I hope that I can relay to you some ideas that might apply to your own adventure in music and audio, so that you might find a few things out that will help you enjoy your music & audio even more than you do now.

It’s About the Music You Love

We all enjoy certain types of music more than others, and that is part of what makes us uniquely us. The music we love depends upon what music we are exposed to over our lives, why it is meaningful to us, and how it makes us feel.

We might favor jazz, classical, rock & roll, heavy metal, blues, gospel, opera, hip hop, rap, grunge, folk, reggae, rhythm & blues, soul, country, dance music, easy listening, electronic or acoustic music, new age, popular music, or particular musical styles associated with our culture, or we might enjoy a broad cross section of musical styles, or still be exploring the world of music to discover what we enjoy.

Anyways, as you pursue this hobby of audio, it’s about having fun with your adventure and getting the most pleasure you can out of the music you listen to and love.

One of the most important things a music lover and audio enthusiast can do is get out and listen to live music. Besides just being fun and a wonderful experience, getting out and listening to live music will teach you a lot about what real instruments & music sounds & feels like, and it will greatly help you along the road of achieving your ultimate musicality for your hifi in your own life by serving as the benchmark for musicality.

I have also found it to be very rewarding in my pursuits of musicality to gain more of an understanding about the fundamentals of music, and I would like to recommend to you Dr. Robert Greenberg’s Understanding the Fundamentals of Music DVD course that is available from The Great Courses

In this highly valuable and entertaining course Dr. Greenberg will teach you about the music fundamentals that you see me refer to, like timbre, beat & tempo, meter, pitch & mode, intervals & tuning, tonality, melody, and texture & harmony.

Having a basic understanding of the fundamentals of music when you listen to recorded music is very helpful, as it allows you to have a much greater understanding of the music you are listening to, and a greater awareness of how well your hifi reproduces those fundamentals of music when you are listening.

Getting a basic understanding of the fundamentals of music, and listening to live music, are important benchmarks and milestones of illumination along my path in pursuing the ‘art of tone’ in achieving my vision for ultimate musicality from my hifi’s, and I believe that would be of great assistance to you as well.

Start Now With What You Have

As you begin to discover for yourself what is most important to you in your music listening, you don’t need to do anything but listen to music, begin to understand how it makes you feel, and why.

You don’t need to go out and buy new hifi gear to gain understanding, unless of course you don’t have any hifi gear yet!

We all live in different sorts of spaces, small or large, private or not so private, have limitations on our resources, deal with constraints of one sort or another, like how loud we can play music, or when, and so we each have uniquely different needs for a hifi to fulfill for what we enjoy about listening to music.

Start with the hifi gear you have now, listen to the music you love, and practice a little mindfulness in listening to understand what is most important for your enjoyment of the music, but don’t get so wrapped up in trying to figure things out that you don’t take time to listen to music just for the sheer visceral pleasure of it.

Your Listening Room and Equipment Setup

The room that you listen to music in, and how your equipment is setup in that room, has an enormous influence on what you hear and feel as you listen to music.

Small rooms, medium sized rooms, and large rooms all have a relatively large and different influence on what you hear from your hifi when playing music. How ‘live’ or ‘dead’ sounding the particular room is has a significant influence too.

Where I live, I have one medium-large room that is a combination of living room, dining room, kitchen, and entrance hall, in a sort of nuevo bungalow style, that serves as my primary music listening space.

It is far from an ideal space with its irregular features and reflective surfaces, but I have learned how to make it work for me.

I also have one medium sized bedroom, one small bedroom, and one small office/bedroom that I have audio or audio/visual systems setup in as well.

I am in various stages of optimizing each of those rooms for my tastes, and I have to live with the constraints that each of those rooms impose upon my listening and setup of equipment.

Sometimes we have a choice of where to position our audio equipment in a room, and sometimes we don’t.

If you do have a choice on where you can position your audio equipment in a room, I recommend you experiment with it a bit to find out how much of a difference it can make, and which sort of positioning you prefer.

Loudspeaker positioning in a room makes a big difference in what you hear musically & sonically, and depending on your tastes, you will likely prefer one positioning over another.

If you move your speakers closer together they tend to sound warmer, and if you move them further apart they tend to sound less warm.

If your speakers are sitting up flush against the front wall, they will sound vastly different than if they are sitting out into the room a bit.

If you move your loudspeakers out into your room you will tend to hear a more spacious presentation.

If you sit close to your loudspeakers in what is called a ‘near field listening’ position, you will hear more directly the sound of your loudspeakers, and lessen the influence of the room on your loudspeakers’ performance.

Try varying how far apart you place your loudspeakers, how far out into the room you place them, and how close you sit to them, and see what sort of arrangement you enjoy the most for a given room.

If you enjoy photography, you’re probably familiar with the concept of the ‘rule of thirds’ for composing the visual elements in photographs, and it turns out that there is a similar idea in audio for arranging loudspeakers and the listening position to get a nice ‘composition’ from the music you hear from your hifi.

For the rule of thirds in audio, the loudspeakers are placed one third of the distance of the rooms depth out into the room from the front wall (the wall you look at when listening to music), your listening position is placed one third of the distance out into the depth of the room from the rear wall (the wall behind you when listening), and the loudspeakers are centered on the one thirds points of the width of the room.

Then once you have everything positioned at the one third points, you move your speakers and listening position around until you achieve the tonal balance you like the best.

In practice, very few people have a listening room with dimensions that will allow you to utilize the rule of thirds in the way I described it (I don’t have a single room like that in my home), but it is still a useful idea generally, and you still can move your speakers and listening position around in any fashion that strikes your fancy until you find what positioning you like best within the constraints imposed by your room.

Don’t be afraid to try things that are far outside the rule of thirds, or normal conventions generally, as you may find that you prefer a non-traditional arrangement in your room, with speakers positioned across the corner of a room, for example, or a seating position that doesn’t form an equilateral triangle with your loudspeakers.

Try thinking a little non-linearly in your positioning of loudspeakers and listening position in you room, and see what happens.

Finding out how how positioning your loudspeakers and your listening position in your room will help you understand what you like and don’t like in the way your hifi presents the music.

You can get a lot of guidance on how to set up your equipment in your room from Jim Smith, who quite literally wrote the book on that subject, and if you don’t already have them, I encourage you to order Jim’s book and DVD set, as they will be important resources for you over the years. You can order Jim’s books & DVDs from Amazon, or directly from Jim’s Get Better Sound website.

Getting a basic understanding of how my rooms, and of the positioning of equipment and my listening seat within them, was affecting the overall musical & sonic performance of my hifi was another major milestone of illumination along my path in pursuing my vision for ultimate musicality from my hifi’s, and I believe it will be of great assistance to you as well.

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I didn’t get nearly as far as I wanted in my discussion about some of the choices I have made in pursuing my own personal vision for ultimate musicality, and why, but I was able to share with you a couple of important preliminary milestones of illumination for me along the path of my musical and audio journey.

The first milestones I mentioned were about the importance of getting a basic understanding of the fundamentals of music, and listening to live music, as important benchmarks of comparison for achieving one’s vision of a personal ultimate musicality from home audio.

The other illuminating milestone I mentioned was about getting a basic understanding of how rooms, and the positioning of equipment and listening seats within them, affects the overall musical & sonic performance you experience while listening, and how by moving things around within a room you can find positions that extract the maximum amount of musical performance from your hifi in the way that best fits your personal tastes.

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In Part 3, I will continue to describe some of my more illuminating milestones in music and audio, and I’ll go deeper into my discussion about some of the choices I have made in pursuing my own personal vision for ultimate musicality, and why.

As always, thanks for stopping by, and may the tone be with you!

 Posted by at 1:37 pm

  11 Responses to “In Pursuit of the Art of Tone! Part 2.”

  1. Chances are very high that the AR777 will surface in a later offering, but I can say that your recco for this mysterious component has had a dramatic impact on the soundstage and sound space that come through my MC30s to my Klipsch Fortes (original version) such that speaker positioning became a breeze. The instrumental setting was so solidly defined and individuated with the Schumann generator that speaker placement was easy. Thanks for this most excellent addition, Jeff. Piano and other acoustics feel “in the room” rather than from the horns and cones! Mysterious.

    • Hi Jim,

      The AR 777 is amazing, isn’t it!

      They are one of the most easily recommendable audio accessories I’ve ever come across, and I think they make a huge difference in system performance. I’ve got two of them in the main music room, and one each in my two smaller listening rooms.

      Good stuff!

      Kind regards,

      Jeff

      • Jeff, do you find the second AR777 unit in your main room has an impact on the effects of the first? Is there a limited “range” to the Schumann wave; have you found that proximity or distance are variables in your room? Mine seems to have similar impact at either end of my 40x25x11′ room but I’m curious whether your second unit makes great difference.
        Thanks and best regards,
        Jim

        • Hi Jim,

          Adding a second, or a third RR, definitely increases the effect. In my larger room I use two RR’s, which is optimum for that room, and in my smaller rooms, just one.

          I tried three RR’s in my larger room for a while but it was too much!

          In my main music room my two RR’s are positioned on the left sidewall from the listening position about 2 meters high.

          The RR’s seem more height sensitive than sensitive to where they are positioned in a room (front wall, rear wall, side walls), but it does seem that the RR’s effects diminish some with distance.

          Their effect definitely diminishes through walls, thus the extra units in my other listening rooms.

          Have fun!

          Kind regards,

          Jeff

  2. Little contribution: The rule of thirds is not the one and only. In smalls rooms is better the rule of five or seven (is the same, with more parts) so is more easy setup. Have in mind that: move the speakers back/forward the front wall change the bass reproduction.move the speakers next/far lateral wall change the midbass response

    • Hi Antonio,

      Thank you for your comment, it stimulated me to give you more of peek into what is to come in my ‘art of tone’ essays.

      There are a great many room setup strategies, including room node calculation software, using test tones combined with live measuring equipment, many of which can be read about in Jim Smith’s very thorough book (as well as a lot more setup strategies), and many of which I’ve tried in the past. I recommend Jim’s book for learning more about this aspect of the audio hobby.

      Working through these different strategies can be educational, and helpful in some rooms. Equipment positioning strategies can be helpful in particular for traditional audiophiles with dedicated listening rooms, that are trying to optimize the ‘sonic’ aspects of reproduced music in particular.

      Many music lovers and audio enthusiasts don’t have access to dedicated listening rooms, where these placement strategies are at their best in being useful, but instead they must integrate their audio systems into their normal living environment, where many of these positioning strategies can’t be used, or simply do not work.

      Interestingly enough, some of the most musical systems I have heard over the years have been setup in non-dedicated domestic rooms where these sorts of positioning strategies cannot be used successfully, so there is reason to be encouraged for both those with dedicated listening rooms, and those without. It also begs the question of how did these people with non-dedicated listening rooms in domestic environments that should not work well get such good results?

      So what does the music lover do that listens to music in a room where these positioning strategies don’t really apply? How do some of these listeners get such musical systems in rooms where all normal audio setup paradigms simply don’t apply, or don’t work well?

      I have been fortunate in that I have been able to attend live music performances all around the world, held in diverse venues, from specialty concert halls, to restaurants and bars, to homes, to clubs, to open air venues, to street musicians, to musicians playing in the subway, and on and on. My seating at these live music events (if there was any) have ranged from premium to rather terrible, yet the magic of the live music experience always came through. Why is that?

      In these ‘art of tone’ essays, while I mention the rule of thirds, my emphasis isn’t really to discuss equipment positioning strategies per se, but just to point out that moving hifi equipment and the listening position around changes the sonic & musical character of the sound, and that can be useful.

      The emphasis in these essays, which will be come more apparent as they continue to unfold, and which I think is very valuable in obtaining ultimate musicality in the long term, is learning how to train one’s ears to be familiar with what live music sounds like in terms of timbre, tone color, tempo, dynamics, rhythm, beat, presence, etc., and to use that as a major criteria for getting the most musical and emotional impact out of one’s home listening.

      There are certain traits of live music, that when one becomes aware of them and what they are about, and is able to work those traits into any listening environment, whether a ‘good’ dedicated listening room in the traditional audiophile sense, or a ‘terrible’ room, one can achieve a rather remarkable level of live-like musicality that can be very emotionally engrossing.

      This shift of paradigm from the emphasis of traditional audiophile practices to something a little different, is the theme of these essays, which I have described as the ‘art of tone’.

      Thank you for your comment, and stay tuned, there is much more to come on this topic!

      Kind regards,

      Jeff

  3. IMO, one of your best – and most timely – articles, Jeff.

    I’ve thought for a while if I had to give up a characteristic in my system, the one that would be hardest to give up would be Tone (my Must Haves are Dynamics, Presence & Tone). While there are a few steps that are required to get there, I can’t see how I could enjoy the music without Tone. For me, it’s the difference between listening to sounds and being immersed in the musical experience.

    Indeed, the efforts that many audiophiles make to get their systems to reproduce certain audio characteristics – sometimes referred to as ‘audiophile sound effects’ – will drastically impede Tone, and thus, musical involvement. For example tweaking a system to reproduce the most pin-point imaging always results in a thinner, bleached-out sound. In other words, a Tone killer.

    I could say much more, but you are presenting the topic so eloquently and in such an understandable manner, that I just want to read your next installment as soon as it appears!

    Best,

    Jim

    • Hi Jim,

      Thank you so much for the kind words, very much appreciated!

      I can’t wait to read/see your new Through the Sound Barrier, I suspect you’ll have a lot to say on this subject!

      Kind regards,

      Jeff

  4. Jeff,

    Thus far a wonderful summation of what you’ve learned about music systems, much appreciated.

    A couple of comments about the “rule of thirds”.

    If I remember correctly, it seemed that HP seemed to take credit for discovering the concept and naming it in his reviews in TAS. However, somewhere in my stash of audio literature I have an old guide published by B&W which recommended that speaker set up. I believe that was prior to HP identifying it. I suspect there were others. Back in the mid-70s I visited Havens and Hardesty, a high end dealer in Orange Co., CA. One of their demo systems was a pair of Vandersteen 2 speakers driven by ARC electronics. The speakers were placed well out into the room (itself quite large) and away from the sidewalls. The speakers disappeared sonically, replaced by a floating 3-D image of whatever music was played. Quite a magical experience.

    The other thought is the “rule of thirds” does not apply to all types of speakers. Some are designed for placement within inches of the front wall and others within a few feet. So like so many considerations in this hobby, understand the principle behind any recommendation before applying it. Experimentation is usually called for.

    • Hi Pryso,

      Thanks for the kind words, appreciated! 🙂

      I’m not really sure where – or with who – the ‘rule of thirds’ originated. The first time I remember using it was about 30 years ago.

      I’ve tried most of the loudspeaker positioning strategies over the decades, and while they’re ok to get a little experience about how positioning loudspeakers and listening positions affects sound quality & musicality, I only find them somewhat useful for maximizing musicality.

      In fact, in none of my current systems do I use any of the typical room setup strategies, probably because my systems and rooms are atypical.

      I almost regret that I mentioned the rule of thirds, because it stimulates people to think more like audiophiles than music lovers, which I’m trying to avoid, because that’s largely counterproductive, I find, at least in my own life and listening.

      What I am really intending with the ‘art of tone’ essays is to encourage listeners about the importance of getting a basic understanding of the fundamentals of music, and listening to live music, to use as benchmarks for comparison when getting a hifi up and running in their living space for maximum musicality.

      While having a dedicated listening room can be a really nice approach, I’m also a great fan of integrating the music gear into one’s normal living environment, in an effort to make the music a part of the moment-by-moment fabric of our lives rather than a dedicated focused experience. Not that it’s a bad thing to do a solo room like that, but I think it’s important to realize that’s not the only way to do things to get intense musicality.

      I mention the positioning of equipment and listening seats within rooms mostly to get across the idea that moving speakers and listening seats around changes the musicality and sonics of what you hear. Those ‘rule of x/y’ strategies are mainly to dial in sonics – those non-musical recording artifacts like soundstage & imaging – to the greatest extent possible, rather than dialing in musicality to the greatest extent possible.

      Jim Smith’s stealth comment about that all-important triad of tone, dynamics, and presence, is a peek behind the hugely important curtain of setting up a system for maximum musicality and emotional connection to the music.

      Let me use a somewhat extreme setup example I’ll refer to as ‘an out of room experience’ setup strategy, in a play on words of an ‘out of body experience’.

      A lot of people have had the experience of hearing music from a distance and recognizing it as live music. Sometimes we are fooled and it turns out to be recorded music.

      This is what happened to Yazaki-san when hearing a pair of Altec’s playing jazz in a Tokyo jazz cafe from the street-side. As he followed the sound inside to the jazz cafe he found out to his surprise that it was recorded music playing instead of live music. That experience was partly what has been responsible for his life-long adventure in ‘real sound’ in hifi.

      What magic trick is working when we mistake recorded music for live music from a distance, or another room?

      Tone, dynamics, and presence, and you don’t even have to be seated in the same room to experience TDP’s magic musicality. You can be in another room, or walking by on the street, for example.

      At the moment I’m listening to my Altec A7 VOTT’s and SPEC RSA-M3 EX amp with a very non-traditional room setup strategy, called ‘an out of room experience’ setup strategy, where my listening seat is in my living room, and the A7’s and SPEC amp are in a small office/bedroom down the hall.

      In this listening position there is no visuospatial listening information like imaging, soundstage, or the like, and yet you could be forgiven, if like Yazaki-san you thought some live music was playing in my other room.

      In fact I’ll go on to say that ‘out of room experience’ setup strategy I’m listening to at the moment provides more musicality and emotional engagement – and sounds more like live music – than many audio systems I have been listening to in the same room with over the years.

      Why? Because there’s TDP in abundance in that system, enough so that it triggers all those ‘live music’ buttons of musicality that make music emotionally engaging, and that’s with a seating position in another room.

      That ‘out of room experience’ setup strategy is quite literally an ‘out of the box’ method that provides a remarkably natural and live musical experience.

      Anyways, I mention that as a way to say that while careful room & equipment setup can be important factors and fun, a little ‘out of the box’ setup strategy that emphasizes tone, dynamics, and presence (TDP) might be even more important.

      Thanks for your comment, and all the best to you, Pryso!

      Kind regards,

      Jeff

      • Hi Jeff,

        Your expanded comments make a few points I consider very important.

        First is the importance of “refreshing” our hearing by experiencing live music. Unfortunately it becomes more difficult over time to find live “acoustic” music, untainted by electronic sound reinforcement, but still possible if you search them out. I have significant hearing loss and even with hearing aids have no perception above 8K Hz. Just the same I can continue to experience live music and evaluate my home system against what I perceive when live. It’s all relative.

        Next, soundstaging and imagining can be very nice and may add to the sensation of a live experience. But for me they are secondary to tonality, dynamics, and a basic sense of “presence” of the voices and instruments.

        In that regard a personal experience from years ago sticks with me. I was walking back to the office downtown after lunch with tall buildings all around me. Suddenly I heard a saxophone, and immediately I knew it was live, not a car radio or similar source. I didn’t even see the player until I turned a corner! So with all those echoes, competing ambient sounds, and no visual clues, my impression was “live” without further judgement. Above those obstacles I just knew from the tone and dynamics of the sounds.

        So yes, if the source is good enough, you should be able to tell even when not in the “sweet spot”, even say in another room.

        And lastly, unfortunately in spite of decades in this hobby it has taken me a long time to realize the value of efficiency in loudspeakers. Obviously you, Jim Smith, and a few others figured that out before I did. So irrespective of the math, it seems that 94 dB speakers driven by 5 watts will not be the same as 85 dB speakers driven by 40 watts.

        Regards,
        Pryso

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