Review: Jim Smith Home Consultation & Set Up Speaker

Category: Speakers

Ok, let’s get a couple caveats out of the way first…

• I couldn’t find the best place to put this review, so I’m putting it with speakers, as that seemed like perhaps the best place to help more people learn about my experience with Jim and why I recommend him so highly.
• Yes, I’m more of a lurker than active poster and contributor. I know I need to ‘pay it forward’ more often. Guilty as charged.
• I have no hidden agenda in posting this review other than to finally start trying to pay it forward, as mentioned above.

A very brief history on myself to help put this ‘review’ into context. I’m most likely similar to many of you. I’ve invested more money than I care to admit over the past 15+ years of audiophile activity. I’ve completely turned over my system several times, in several different rooms. I spent 3 years in Japan as well, and got an in depth look inside the belly of the Japanese addiction to hifi. I’ve had all types of components in and out of my system over the years, ss – class a and ab, tubes in the pre and amp, all types of cd’s/dacs, cables of almost every flavor. I do feel like I’ve got a pretty good handle of what can happen to a system when you change out various components. Obviously, this statement isn’t meant to be an absolute and could be inflammatory if taken too far – not my intention. I simply am trying to set a baseline for what follows, and that is I’ve had many opportunities to evaluate ‘system upgrades’ and the incremental improvements (or decline) that come along with a variety of changes.

My current system for frame of reference:
• Ayre AX-7e
• Ayre QB-9
• Tannoy Canterbury SE
• Audience AU24 speaker cables, Acoustic Revive XLR interconnect, Tel Wire pc on the dac and Virtual Dynamic Master Series 4.0 pc on integrated, RSAD Alethias USB cable.

I’ll start with my conclusion and work my way backward. Hiring Jim Smith to come down was BY FAR, the single best investment I’ve ever made. It’s not even close, seriously. I’ve spent thousands of dollars as mentioned above going from this amp to that amp, this speaker to that speaker, cable swaps, etc. Indeed, all of those changes certainly brought along some change in sound to the system. But as experienced and knowledgeable I think I am (again, I’m sure my experience pales in reference to many of you) I really don’t think that I was much better than 50/50 shot of an upgrade truly resulting in better or more enjoyment from my system. I do believe once you get to a certain level, the incremental improvements are tougher and tougher to achieve.

There are really 2 aspects to why I feel so passionate about writing this review. Certainly one is the major improvement to my system that Jim was able to produce. Improvements that even months after his visit, still amaze me when I sit down to listen. I don’t necessarily feel a need to go into detailed descriptions in exactly what changed, but I will just summarize that everything came together. Nothing is disjointed, bands sound live, with a great solid foundation – physical foundation that is – it makes performances sound live, within the context of their recording venue. Now, I’m not saying the Tannoy’s sounded terrible or anything like that before Jim’s visit. It’s just that emotional connection that is so strong now, I honestly struggle to stop listening and go to bed, where I never had that problem before.

So enough on the first obvious reason to why Jim is a great investment. For me, there is another equally important reason I recommend to everyone to seriously consider Jim’s services. And that is the confidence and peace of mind he can provide. Not only is he a true gentleman, and wealth of knowledge and just a blast to talk to about his history in the industry, but I can’t tell you how great it is to just brainstorm with him all our various ideas/thoughts about our systems and get his candid views and advice. I know the merry go round this hobby is for many of us. But after the session with Jim, I’m not only incredibly satisfied with what my system sounds like, but equally important, I’m not wondering any more about ‘what ifs’ – I did that or this. Jim is not afraid to tell it like it is, whether he thinks your ideas would produce an improvement or just a change, or a good/bad investment. It really is a great feeling to know that you’ve had your system set up done by probably the best in the industry, but also had the time to consult with him about all of the thoughts that were in my head and really settled on what my system should and can (now does) do. And what I should expect from my system in the future and where it could possibly go.

The memory of his time with me is not just the great sound I get daily, but the confidence I have in my system and direction. The dollar investment for his services more than paid for itself with the improvement, but the approach to my system and audio in general are truly priceless. For the price of what many cables cost, and certainly less than what most source or power components cost, his service is a serious steal – truly a bargain.

I do feel that we in this hobby have a strong common bond and unfortunately due to the proliferation of home theater and things like you tube, facebook, etc – our hobby is in danger of dying a slow (or not) death. I truly believe if more people could really experience what a night with a truly dialed in high end 2 channel system, we have a better chance of keeping this beloved hobby thriving and moving forward. Jim’s services are the best way that I’ve found in my history of getting there. My intent with this long-winded review is to encourage anyone serious about getting more enjoyment out of their system to consider contacting Jim. I just wish that I did it sooner.
Very nice.
Congrats and thank you!
If you can't afford to have Jim Smith come to your house, at least buy his book-"Get Better Sound". His quarterly newsletter, which is sent to all purchasers of his book, is alone worth the price of admission.
It would be interesting to know how much he charges and exactly what did he do to make your system sound better
I agree with Ejlif. I appreciate your reccomendation, but you didn't really tell us anything about what he did. Also, I'm sure the fee for his services would vary by the complexity of the system, but it would be nice to have a ballpark idea of the cost.
Thanks for the review.
Also, I would be interested to know where Jim resides. I would be interested in having some advice on my system set up and would be interested in someone in the Chicagoland area.
Agree with Hoff48 - Buy the book. After years of improving equipment, trying different combinations and setups, one hour of listening to Jim at a show then reading his book allowed me to improve my system more in one afternoon than I could imagine. I believe Jim lives in Georgia presently but I could be wrong.
Happy to provide some additional detail. First, the price is $1,500 for an overnight visit. In my situation, this entailed picking him up from the airport around 5pm and then coming directly to the house for some initial evaluations and measurements. Now, I'm not a techie, but he did lug alot of equipment with him, which I'm assuming was a spectral analyzer and such, determining bass nodes and the like. He probably spent about 5 hours that first night, working much later than I and I think he also, anticipated. The majority of the effort the first night was in analyzing the rooms characteristics with minimal adjustments to my system.

I then picked him up around 8:30 the next morning and brought him to the house. I would characterize his work as getting my speakers to play the room, or I should properly state that is how he characterizes the work he does, I don't want to plagiarize. Now don't get me wrong, he also spent a significant amount of time determining exact center line of the room, and when I say exact, I mean down to the 1/8 of an inch. We worked very hard on finding the best listening position. We also worked very hard on where the rest of the furniture should be in the room, including my audio rack. However, without question, the primary effort was in finding the perfect location for the speakers. This included not only exact distances from side, front and rear walls, but also exact rake angle and toe in. He has a plethora of tools that he used, so while I agree the book (which I also purchased before hiring Jim) is a great idea and good investment. Unless you have much more free time than I, are naturally talented at this kind of thing, and have all of the devices and tools that Jim has, I simply don't think it would have been possible to achieve the results I have now without hiring Jim.

As Jim mentioned to me, he won't leave until he's satisfied, and if that means he needs to stay a second night, he is willing to do that for a very very reasonable incremental increase - price goes up to $1,780. However, if my memory serves me correctly, he rarely, very rarely, has needed that 2nd night.

Not sure if I've answered everyone's question sufficiently. If not, I'll try again. My best final advice is that if you're contemplating this at all, just give him a ring. He's a really sincere guy and was very patient with me and all of my questions prior to his visit.

Good luck to everyone.
Seph, I appreciate your kind comments.

For those that are interested in system voicing, here are some more details:

Best regards,

Jim Smith

I will save a lot of time to simply say ditto to what favresi wrote above.
To add only that music and its feithfull reproduction has been my pasion since age 9 (I am 67).
Needless to say that through the years I have spent considerable time and money in the persuit of better sound.
One statement will do it. "I have never invested more wisely and with better inmediate results than aaking Jim to "voice" my system.
His dedication,experience and delivery of results are outstanding.
One additional comment is that Jim advised my contractor along the process of building my new sound room and did so at a very reasonable price and using reasonably priced approaches to the building process.
Wow I think this is more than reasonable. I would assume that 1500 plus you pay airfare? I can imagine that if you have spent a lot of money on gear and have a dedicated room where you have the run of the room for speaker placement 1500 bucks for an EXPERT to come and get it sounding right is the best possible money spent. I have talked to a guy who visited Jim's personal system at his house and he said it was the best system he ever heard.
I would like to add my thoughts here as well. I am fortunate enough to be in the same city as Jim Smith so scheduling his time was very easy.

I have had the Avantgarde Duo’s for three years now and have spent a lot of time tweaking the speakers with toe-in and subwoofer adjustments. I had learned of Jim Smith when I was purchasing my Duo’s that at one time he was the North American Dealer for Avantgarde. After reading the advertisement for his book “Get better sound” and consulting services. I thought this is the perfect time to get someone who is very familiar with the setup of the Avantgarde speakers

After contacting Jim and scheduling him for a evaluation of my system. One thing I would like to point out, Jim Smith is very professional and flexible in planning, execution and follow up. If you are wondering if his book or services are worth it I can say without reservation that his book is a must for reference and Jim’s onsite services are top notch. This guy is dictated to results and doesn’t stop until he achieves that.

Once Jim arrived he asked that we not play music right away and focused solely on better understanding my environment, room, components also my music likes. He also asked who setup the equipment and why I had it that way. These questions were for his understanding and not to criticize.

Jim bought his own selection of music. He has certain CD’s that he selects to evaluate different aspects of the system. The tracks he selects are ones he knows very well and so he knew what to listen for. After listening and asking certain questions about what I thought my system was doing, Jim's initial thoughts boiled down to:

- The sound is bit too aggressive in the upper mids, lower highs
- We'd like more depth.
- We'd like the speakers to "disappear" more.
- We'd like to get a bigger, richer, more involving sound. More density of tone.
- We'd like to get rid of a slight nasality.
- The bass is too thin - I sometimes describe that kind of bass as "shriveled up". Too dry. It lacks the form, flow and body of real bass in live venues, either electric or acoustic.

I did feel pretty good about my setup after Jim stated that this was one of the best Avantgarde setups he had seen done by the actual owner. He did say we could make it better and that is what I was really looking forward to.

Jim told me he would send me his analysis and recommendations for correcting the above issues. He did state that the changes to be made could be done by myself and if I wanted he could come back to voice the system to the room. I did schedule Jim to come back and I made the necessary changes listed below before his return:

-Relocate the tweeter and mid horns with the speaker stand as shown on his reference diagram he sent me.
-Remove the spikes from under the SUB 225 bass speakers, leaving only the three outer frame rails to support the DUO

-Change the toe-in and elevation (forward/back tilt of speaker)

Upon Jims return to voice the system first task was to ensure we had the speakers positioned correctly. We used Jims grid system from his “Get Better Sound Book”, to me is the best system I had ever heard used. These adjustments were to address:

Soundstage depth- speakers moved out from the wall and spread out
Slight nasality - Speaker rake was point down ( adjusted the rake to point the speaker up a little)
Richer, more density of tone - Subwoofer Crossover setting at 140 and volume adjustment
Speaker Toe out – Speakers to disappear more

One other note is that Jim found that lack of bass was due to room wasn’t pressurized with the bass. We corrected this by closing the double doors to the room when in a listening session.

I have skipped a bunch of details around checking polarites, AC currents and RTA readings and such but tried to list the major points Jim bought out.


At the end of the voicing session both Jim and I were very happy with the way the system sounded. Jim was the best investment I could have made to complete my system considering what I spent on my speakers and equipment. The system sounds the best it ever has and I learned a ton throughout the process.

I should also note that the items Jim listed that needed addressed were addressed. I have a life size sound stage with such depth and textures now. My speakers have disappeared with the stage extending beyond the width of the speakers.

One last thing I would like to say and that is Bravo Jim.
I have alway wondered what happened between Avantgarde and Jim Smith. His leaving seems to have been a big loss to them.
Amen to that, 7p62mm, but, thankfully, not to us, the owners, to whom he is still accessible. Well how 'bout that! A sentence with five commas in it...Harry Pearson would be proud.
There is no substitute for expertise in any endeavor involving technology, that is fir sure!

" I would characterize his work as getting my speakers to play the room"

Agree that this is the key to right sizing a system and getting the best sound. Easier said than done often though!

I bought a pair of Maggies back in the 80's at Jim's Audition shop in Birmingham, Alabama almost instantly after hearing them. He may have been the one who helped me even, not sure about that.

That was still the best sounding Maggie setup I recall ever hearing and truly delivered what those speakers were capable of. I never bought a piece of equipment that quickly after first hearing it before!

I should have hired him to help me set them up as well back then I suppose!
As a audiophile I was always searching for the next level of performance in sound in my room. I tried many equipment changes and tweaks over the years and most of the time achieved a higher level of performance but always questioned if the changes were how the sound was recorded and If I was getting the most out of my sound room. It is rather large in size at 33 feet long by 23 feet wide and has ceiling height transitioning from 8 feet to 10 feet. A friend of mine gave me Jim Smith's "Get Better Sound" book to read and I was immediately intrigued with what I read. I then purchased the DVD set from Jim and spoke to him a few times about some of the techniques and theories I read. I decided to schedule Jim to come to my house for one of his ROOM PLAY sessions and it has been the single largest impovement in sound quality that my system has ever experienced and for the first time with Jim's years and years of experience I am confident getting the most out of my room and equipment.

My equipement is as follows:

Vandersteen Model 5A speakers
Balanced Audio Technology VK 600SE amplifier
Audio Research Reference 5 preamplifier
Cary Audio SACD PRO cd player
Mac Book Pro for computer audio using Pure Music software
PS Audio Perfect Wave DAC 2
PS Audio Perfect Wave PWT transport
Audio Quest Diamond USB cable
Mogami interconnects XLR
Alpha Core Goertz speaker cables
BPT power conditioner
Shunyata Power Cords

Following are my impressions of the transformation of the system sound after Jim's visit to the house. I would be remiss first of all if I didn't speak of the experience just meeting Jim and spending 2 days with him. Very classy man and his wealth of knowledge about the audio industry is incredible. I could have spent days asking him questions and learing from his years of experience. BUT we had work to do and we spend most of the time working on the placement of the speakers in the room and getting it just right. From the beginning Jim thought we would be moving the speaker closer together, a little more into the room , and mabye changing the tow in a little. It was amazing to me how Jim could hear the differences of the small changes we made in placement of the Vandersteen's. First of all we determined where my room had the best bass response and then moved my listening seat to that spot ( which ended up being only 7 inches). Next through hours of careful listening and moving the speakers MANY, MANY times Jim suggested the system was now voiced. We ended up moving the speakers closer together, and further into the room. We also verifed toe-in and validated the speakers were still in time alignment using the process outlined in the setup manual for the Vandersteens. In the next few weeks and now months of listening to my music collection I am amazed with the differences I hear on every song I play. The impressions of what I now hear are as follow:

The music now flows with more rhythm and tempo than before. The harmony blend between the treble and bass is improved and sounds more like live music. The variations in loudness is more full range and is more emotionally engaging now. I can now see into the recording more the resolution of detail I now hear is remarkable on every song. The sound is more three dimensional and the height, depth and width seem more right. Finally the imaging is so much better the location of the instruments and singers in the soundstage have added a extra dimension of excitement to the listening experience. I find myself just listening to the music and toe tapping like never before. I truly am just enjoying the music.

I can say with total confidence that there is no bigger improvement you can make to you system than to have it voiced properly to your room. Most of us are not capable of performing this task. Jim has the vast experience and incredible ability to hear the changes and get the most our of your room and system components. Jim's Room Play sessions are worth every penny spent and you too can enjoy the music like never before. And as a added benefit you get to spend a few days with one of the nicest men you will ever come across.