Are tone controls worth a second look ?



Are tone controls still prohibited from ''high end''audio?

Seems to me that with all of the advances in electronic design, they starting to make sense again.

In my humble opinion, tone controls are not unlike adding, or substracting sonic flavor to music reproduction. Like switching interconnects or speaker cables that will affect the sound in X or Y manner.

I am not reffering to a technical comparison between tone controls and cables, but rather that their effect could be similar. When you think of it, cables have their own colors. And we pay dearly for this without the opportunity of a ''tone defeat'' button.

What do you think?
sonicbeauty
The McIntosh MA6900 integrated with tone controls, removes them from the signal chain when in the zero/12:00 position. That's a good implementation of tone controls.
I use them on my Adcom GPS 565 I find them useful with overly bright recordings. I think there are times when we all could use a little more help from our gear and tone controls can be a help.
Unless you want to speaker roll, tone controls are good if they are a good component. I have a DBX 14/10 EQ, Cary tube amp and pre, with Linn sources. It is mostly used for attenuation rather than boost. I hear nothing that degrades the signal, hooked up to the system or not. Good luck.
12:00, I would get evicted
All such controls as well as balance add distortion to the signal unless they are done in the digital domain and then the chips must be of excellent quality. Sometimes the distortion is not noticeable.
There are lots of mfgrs that still use tone controls.
The MC MA 6900 is one I owned with tone controls. In general to me it was one dimensional and flat with or without the tone controls.
I use the digital tone controls on my Meridian processor with good results. But I have heard digital tone controls that sound terrible. I guess, like so many things in audio, it's largely a matter of the quality of the implementation.
Yes, worth having.
The older Quad preamps include very flexible tone and downward shelving control over the treble to tame the record or CD that sounds too bright.
Many imperfect recordings are transformed to become satisfying or at least listenable with the use of such an inexpensive reliable preamp. It is not state of the art on the majority of recordings which do not require any tone control, but fine for a secondary system.
Certainly properly designed and implemented tonal controls, filters, even a loudness button and phase inversion are highly desirable. However a compromised implementation is just as undesirable. The upscale equipment presents these as enhancements, while the downscale models are probably better off without.

The knowledgable designer that catagorically denies these features in a quality product is probably only trying to target a specific design cost in order to meet a competetive selling price.

Those who call selective tuning of sonic signature via cabling changes comparable to "tone controls" are somewhat uninformed; it is not the same by any means of course, although t.c. may be a part of that it is only a part and is hardly that simplistic.
Despite thinking we are purists in this sense, I've yet to find an audiophile who isn't using tone controls.

Today's tone controls are vacuum tubes, tube buffers, cabling, isolation devices, equipment stands, cryogenic treatment, plugs/receptacles, and room treatment. You could even argue the very components folks use - cartridges, turntables, CD players, preamplifiers, amplifiers, and loudspeakers are tone controls as well, which is but one part of the equation of why so many people flip gear at the rate they do.

It's pretty ridiculous when you think about the things we try, but heaven forbid a set of tone controls show up on the preamp or integrated - that's sheer high-end audio blasphemy!
Trelja is correct. Its far more fun to complain about the room, buy bs tweeks, roll tubes, and blame the recordings.
Great post Trelja.

That is EXACTLY the point of this thread.

When you think of it, with all the settings that are possible between the proverbial bass-treble settings, you probably have 50 different types of interconnect, 20 different speaker cables, 10 power tube brands, 5 input (6922 style) tube brands, and what else??

What you don't have with tone controls is bragging rights - and you wouldn't be associated with t-controls unless you wore a paper bag over your head as not be recognized using them. Its a deal breaker for many if not most audiophiles.

food for thought
I suppose tone controls can be helpful in certain situations. But they do add distortion and phase shift that room tuning and other tweeks don't.
I have two quality systems and both have tone controls. The McIntosh C42 has an 8 band EQ. In the downstairs system the Drawmer D/A has a 4 band parametric EQ and a single band dynamic EQ. Basically the controls are set and forget, but they are engaged. What theoretical distortions they add are easily overridden by the tonal benefits they enable.
I'm impressed, Onhwy61.

Thanks for the kind words guys! I myself had a Jadis Orchestra Reference with tone controls. It was kind of a bold move on the part of Jadis, but I can tell you I greatly appreciated having them onboard. Currently, I have a DA30 and DA60, and though I respect them immensely (the DA60 is about as good a high-end audio component as I've encountered), I do miss the tone controls. Almost all of the current Orchestra and Orchestra Reference variants brought into the North American market by the Jadis importer today lacks them, as he explained to me he's not a fan. What a shame...
I think there is a place in audio for them as not everyones hearing is the same.
The trouble with tone controls is that they're too pedestrian. First, the dial: stoves, irons, thermostats, washings machines--all have dials, and none of them are high end. Second, anyone can operate them: warm, hot, permanent press; hi, medium, low; bass, treble. Strike three: any fool can hear the difference: none of that "I just noticed a roll off at 3khz--I knew I should have cryo'd those Valhallas!"
Trelja, LOL u crack me up, b'cus u speak the truth. Though I am not an advocate of tone control, I find myself using the equalizer in itunes every now and then and I say to myself that really sounds really good.
Only if you are not a genuine audiophile.
Orpheus10. What is a ''genuine'' audiophile according to you?
Before I became a "genuine" audiophile,I used an equalizer; this is the ultimate tone control.
After I discovered how beautiful the music sounded when it was reproduced by Theta, Conrad Johnson, and Audio Research; without tone controls, I became a "genuine" audiophile.
I define a "genuine" audiophile as a lover of music who wants to hear the music exactly as the artist recorded it, and not become part of the band.
Gotta agree with Joe (Trelja)'s post. Just look at the posts in the forums looking for warm cables, power cords that improve bass, tubes that have a lush midrange, etc. I don't have tone controls per se in my equipment, but the components, cables and tubes in my system have been matched to suit my taste rather than to serve sonic neutrality (and to the detriment of my wallet). I did have an equalizer years ago before I started getting too serious about this hobby, but I must admit I really only used it to jack up the volume a bit in my system rather than for any real tonal adjustment.
hear! hear! TRELJA!!
Orpheus10, artist don't record music! Recording engineers record music. Mastering engineers, record producers and even music label executives generally have more say about the final "sound" of an album than the musicians. That being the situation, a plausible case can be made that the end listener should also have some control over the sound.

BTW, EQs are very flexible. If not used properly they can make things far worst then when you started. Also, good sounding EQs are not inexpensive.
Gotta agree with Onhwy61. Now-a-days, it is common to do an album and the players are never in the same building together. Even the Beatles would step out of the studio and not really know what the song would sound like or even what the song would be. Most pop is just bits and pieces stuck together by a producer and engineer. They say when you buy an album, you are really buying a producer.
What my recent trial experience says, that goes along with what Trelja said. As a 'sort of Audiophile myself' I thought that Loudness, Bass and Treble controls are ridiculous functions and they go against the 'high-end audiophile norms'.

But when I tried a vintage Accuphase Pre-Amp borrowed from a friend switching from my Bryston Pre BP25DA, all my previous ideas got changed. My Power-Amp is Bryston 7BssT. At normal listening volume I didn't notice any change, but late in the night, when rest of the family retired to bed and I was not allowed to play LOUD any more, I had to lower the volume. I started missing the beauty of the music. (I used to think that this frustration is normal and I take it as 'name of the game' if I continue listening that late in the night). I ventured into using these hidden knobs. I pushed the loudness control and oh my God! the beauty came back and I thoroughly enjoyed the music even at much lower volume.

I think Bass and Treble controls may also be treated as convenient options for compensating the weaknesses of any of the components in the chain, IMHO.

Having Tone Controls in the system gives you the options. Use them or don't.

BTW Accuphase Pre-Amps come with these useful options as standards.
6550C, completely untrue of the Beatles! They were not around for the stereo mixes because they only valued the mono mixes, but they were certainly aware of every noise they were creating. Better read up!

On further note, I believe that at one time, even the mention of tone controls was considered sacrilegious by the audiophile community. At least, this is what I have garnered from the various threads and publications that I have read. Quite, frankly, who the heck cares what anyone has to say, if you want tone controls, go for it!!
Hi Cyclonucman, The Beatles did not even tour that much after 1966. One major reason is they were not able to play allot of the studio tracks live. George Martin was sticking things on the record that left the band scared to try.
Good tone controls are great. However, they are by no mean short-cut nor remedy to achieving a great sounding well balanced system--this basic, needs to be worked on first as priority. Better controls of today in form of equalizer/linearizer do not change the tonal balance of the system. Nor do they add any kind of detectable distortion or coloration in it. What they do is correct less than stellar recordings (at their exact deficient frequencies) rendering them to be much more enjoyable to listen to. Purist or no purist, this to me is what this hobby is all about.
Sonicbeauty, I responded to your question. There have been many responses to my answer.
For me, the equipment is a vehicle to reach my destination which is "the soul of the music".
Since the definition of "audiophile" places the emphasis on the equipment as opposed to the music; maybe I am the one who is not a "genuine" audiophile?
There is an easy way to have the best of both worlds. simply buy a seperate 8 or 16 channel mixing board like live bands use and wire it in so you can use it or completely remove it from the curcuit. By the way, when you are listening to a recording, you are not hearing the music as it was played but you are hearing what the sound engineer mixed together from many different sessions.
Firm believer in tone controls. Thinking of looking at more sophisticated frequency adjustment options. There appear to be some long standing companies out there. Has anyone had any experience with products from Klark Teknik? Would also be interested in hearing what products beyond amplifier / preamplifier tone controls that others are using.
The thing with tone controls though is that when I had them, I'd experiment with them when the receiver was new, but would eventually find a spot that I liked and leave them set where they are for every recording.

Now given that high-end equalizers that would be of sufficient quality not to wreck the signal would likely cost more than the other cables & tweaks that we buy, which have as a basic goal to protect against the unwanted filtering out of frequencies (and thus not harm the signal, but improve it), what is the need for tone controls? In either case, I'm finding what I like, then leaving it be.

I agree that cables & tweaks are the modern equivalent of tone controls. But, they do a better job than tone controls, and in the pursuit of good sound, it's all about what works better, not necessarily what works more easily.
The Luxman integrateds have tone control setting on the remote. Works wonders for small tweaks on bad recordings.
Just visiting this thread a year later - any further comments?
Ikonetic,

My thoughts exactly. The recording that is heard through the "perfect" audiophile system with no tone controls is the results of a sound engineer mixing, tweaking, equalizing, etc. to get the "best" sound. Even a live concert has sound engineers adding their touch.

Bill
Luxman with tone controls on the remote. Can't beat that. I mean, if you are like me and play music via Itunes/Pure Music into a USB DAC, no need to get up if you choose a recording that is not so good, just make the adjustment on the remote. Now, anyone have 7 grand I can borrow for a Luxman L-507u integrated. :-).
Actually, I don't think the new Luxmans have tone controls on the remote. Oh well.
After re-visited my own thread a year later, I might as well share my updated experience.

After a good decade+ of not having tone controls, I could hardly let them go now. After owning mega-dollar amps, I ''downgraded'' to an Anthem 225 with tones, and now the amazing Yamaha AS 2000 integrated with microprocessor (defeatable) tone and volume control.

My heaviest use of controls has been with FM broadcast - Internet radio from ipod to digital transport (cambridge id-100) to DacMagic. And of course the many less-than-stellar cd recordings I own. Almost no use of tone controls with analog vinyl though, except a few '70s rock albums. most Jazz albums sound fine, at least the ones I own.

Not to mention my imperfect listening room with bare flooring.

Funny, since using the tone controls again - I have stopped switching speaker cables and interconnects every other month - and probably saved a lot of money and frustration in the process - which leaves me a bit more or my increasingly rare time available to enjoy music - and that's the whole point right?
After re-visited my own thread a year later, I might as well share my updated experience.

After a good decade+ of not having tone controls, I could hardly let them go now. After owning mega-dollar amps, I ''downgraded'' to an Anthem 225 with tones, and now the amazing Yamaha AS 2000 integrated with microprocessor (defeatable) tone and volume control.

My heaviest use of controls as been with FM broadcast - Internet radio from ipod to digital transport (cambridge id-100) to DacMagic. And of course the many less-than-stellar cd recordings. Almost none with analog vinyl though.

Not to mention my imperfect listening room with bare flooring.

Funny, since using the tone controls again - I have stopped switching speaker cables and interconnects every other month - and probably save a lot of money and frustration in the process - which leaves me a bit more or my rare time available to enjoy music - and that's the whole point right?
Absolutely
Not this week.
Someone mentioned this briefly before, but it got lost in the shuffle: most of us have imperfect hearing. As I'm solidly in the middle age category now, my hearing has definitely declined in certain frequency ranges (no doubt due in part to too many insanely loud punk and rock concerts in my younger years, as well as listening to my car stereo WAY too loud in my 20s). I suspect I'm not the only one in this boat.

If someone's hearing has deteriorated in certain frequency ranges (usually the higher frequencies), then they aren't hearing the music as it was intended to be heard by the musicians, even with the "purest" audiophile system. If that can be compensated (at least in part) by boosting those frequencies, then why would this be considered "impure?" If anything, it would bring the music back closer to the way it was intended to be heard by the artist.

Ideally, the listener could get a graph of their hearing sensitivity at each frequency, and then plug that data into a sophisticated equalizer that would adjust the music to compensate and personalize it to the specific listener. Personally, I'd love this.
IMO, since there is such a wide difference in recording quality, tone controls just make sense.