In the age of $15,000 cables, $60,000 turntables and $100,000+ speakers not to mention other expensive components to not address the most important factor that affects our sound quality outside the recording itself is to fail completely in the quest for good sound. In fact, I propose that before even considering a shiny new piece of gear at any price, that set-up and fine tuning should be the first most important consideration.
I’ve said it before several times and I will always say it, it does not matter what you spend on gear if the recording is not up to par and the system is not set up correctly. In other words, a six figure system can sound as bad as a two figure radio just as a sub $1000 system can sound like a four figure system or a $1500 can sound like a system 20 times that. Bottom line: if it gets your toe tapping or impacts you on an emotional level, you’re there and it doesn’t have to take five or six figures or $1000 interconnect cables to get you there! It’s all in the set up and recording and no cable, DAC, speaker, etc. can correct that. It is tied to the laws of physics.
As my blog’s mission statement states and the very essence of its existence, you do not need a ton of money to have a great system. What you need more than money, is smarts and that is easier to come by, thank goodness.
Those that tell you that you need to spend a lot of money on cables or any other gear or accessory to greatly improve your system’s performance are not being honest and / or greatly diluted. If your system is not set up correctly and/or you are playing bad recordings (MP3, poorly pressed records, etc) then that $500, $1000 or even $10,000 cable or anything else will not help you one bit. In fact, even if your system was set up properly and you are playing good recordings, cables for example only count towards 1% of the equation of musical impact. Speakers alone count towards at least 20%, amps another 10% to 15% or so, etc. What counts the most though is set-up and tuning.
In my opinion the two best things you can do for your system performance beyond all the money in the world is to play good recordings of course, but just as important is setting up the system correctly and fine tuning it. It may appear surprising at first, but you do not just stick a rack of gear and two speakers evenly in front of a room and call it done. You could be missing out as much as 30% of more of your system’s abilities to give you impactful performance with that.
The trick is correcting the room or more accurately as one Jim Smith put’s it, “you want to work with the room, not against it”. Jim Smith is the guy behind “Get Better Sound”. He has DVDs, books and he also does a service, but it is prohibitively expensive for all but the 1% among us. However, his advice is second to none and he is no greenhorn. He has been doing this for decades. I’m not sure of the pricing for his books or DVDs and such, but I would think they are certainly well within reach of most of us. What he does is called “voicing a system” which is a bit different from room correction. In fact, what he does really makes sense. He is not against EQ, DSP or room correction (I am not either, but I am no expert engineer), but rather incorporates it where and if needed and does it correctly.
I agree and learned by watching others both experts and rookies making mistakes, that room correction can go wrong in a hurry. I’ve seen folks go hog-wild with investing in room correction and severely overdo it ending up with a gigantic mess, a dead room and a bigger problem than they started with, not to mention a depleted bank account they won’t get back. I’ve seen folks buy expensive DSP and EQ units and then complain how they do not work or ruined the sound because they do not learn or know how to use them and their limitations. Things like room correction and such need to be metered out carefully. That is a base reason I like Mr. Smith’s approach. He starts with what you already have on hand and voices that system as is first, then goes into the weeds. His first step is to evaluate the system as is. His very next step is to establish the anchor listening position. This is far more important than many realize and it is the foundation on which you tune the system.
Mr. Smith recently did something really nice and helpful. He did a session at someone’s home and wrote up the whole thing on a forum. I chanced upon it and it is great because it gives you a very good insight into what he does and his philosophy and contains great tips so you can go on your own. Quite generous if you ask me. Of course it is not nearly as comprehensive as his books or DVDs. His book and DVDs and such are designed for you to do what he does on your own. While he is expert partly because he has tuned over 800 systems to date and counting and will hire out at great expense to those who can afford it, he made his books and such for the rest of us who want to learn and do it ourselves. In my opinion, that is the best because not only does one learn, but it is knowledge retained and at the end of the day it is what sounds good to your ears, not Jim’s or anyone else’s.
Is Jim Smith the last word in this subject? No, but he is a well seasoned pro and has made his knowledge available and accessible. I have a couple of areas myself where I don’t quite agree with him, but that’s nothing compared to what I can learn from him and know that I have learned the correct things. He knows far more than I ever will on it and he knows what he is talking about. I am considering picking up his book myself at least and learning more and applying it to my own humble systems. Don’t let the word “audiophile” in the title scare you. You, my readers would do well to do the same. It could be a big money and headache saver.
It is a wise decision to spend $30 to save $1000 or more.