I attend about five concerts a year at the Boston Symphony Orchestra. As my interest in classical music has grown, I have used these performances from the listening perspective of the eighth row, center, as a reference for how reproduced music should sound in my home. Over the last ten years I have assembled a good collection of audio gear and have strived to make that system approach what I hear at the BSO. Toward that end, I bought a copy of Jim Smith’s book, Get Better Sound.
The book is well written and easy to understand. I was particularly interested in the speaker placement and room interaction sections as I had recently purchased a new pair of speakers. By following the advice in the book, I was able to improve my system to the point where I was quite pleased but not truly satisfied. Compared to what I heard at the BSO, my system still lacked dynamics and that palpable presence of a live performance.
Jim suggests in his book that careful placement and proper integration of sub woofers can often provide dramatic improvements to a system. With this in mind, I bought a pair of high quality sub woofers and hired Jim to voice my system and to integrate my subs with my main speakers. After some communication about system details and scheduling, Jim agreed to “voice my system to my room”.
Jim arrived the night before the RoomPlay session and connected his laptop and DAC to my system. He listen to some music in order to get a general sense of how my system sounded and what we could do the following day to improve its performance. The following morning we set up Jim’s test equipment. Jim began by running test tones and measuring the room. He wants to first establish the correct seating location based on the smoothest and best bass. We then moved the speakers back and forth listening for the most balanced overall frequency response. This distance relationship between the listener and the speakers, relative to the dimensions of the room, minimizes frequency peaks and nulls and establishes the smoothest frequency curve. The next step involved establishing the proper distance between the speakers. Here Jim listened for a sense of weight and body to the voices and instruments and for appropriate inner detail and center-fill. Finally, we tried different degrees of toe-in and tilt, listening for tonal balance. All of these extremely precise adjustments required the use of laser levels and measuring devices. It was an exacting and very deliberate process.
Once the main speakers were correctly positioned, we worked on integrating the two sub woofers. We tried many different locations and orientations as well as phase angles, cut off frequencies and slopes. After a few hours and much effort, we agreed that in my system and in my room, the subs, though extending the frequency range of the system, detracted slightly from the overall sense of tonal balance and clarity. We decided the trade-offs were not worth it, so the subs were removed from the room.
It has been about six weeks since Jim’s visit. I have had some time now to reflect on the visit and the results of his work. I had read his book and worked diligently to improve my system to the point where I was not sure what further improvements Jim could bring. Nevertheless, my anticipation of and expectations for his visit were high. If he could improve the sonics even slightly, I would be happy. I can now say that I was not properly prepared for the degree of improvement Jim made to my system. Jim speaks about Tone, Presence and Dynamics. He tells his clients that he will make the musicians perform for them in their rooms. His goal is to have the client thinking about a listening session long after it is over, in a similar way that he continues to think about a great live performance days after it is heard. Jim achieved all of this and more. I simply did not realize to how high a degree my system could perform.
Jim is a very personable fellow, full of knowledge and experience. Though I learned a great deal watching him work, I also really enjoyed being in his company. The improvements he made to my system are dramatic and I consider his fee to be a bargain relative to the overall investment I have in my system. His RoomPlay service is the single best purchase I have made in this hobby. I listen more intently, enjoy the experience more completely and have a much deeper appreciation for my music. I would have thought that results from his efforts were some kind of lucky fluke were it not that he performed the same service with very similar results on a friend’s familiar system. Our two systems improved in similar ways and are similarly involving. I am now fully convinced that the speaker/listener/room relationship is the primary component to good and convincing sound and that the equipment plays a subordinate, though important role.
On Good Friday, I went to the BSO to hear Bach’s Passion according to John. It is a large choral piece with full orchestra and six solo vocalists. The performance was deeply moving. On Easter evening, two days later, with Bach fresh in my mind, I listened to an LP recording of Jesus Christ Superstar, the Passion according to Andrew Lloyd Webber. No, it did not sound quite like the real thing, nor was the scale of the music as majestic as in Symphony Hall, but the performance was just as emotionally involving. I was just as moved by the recording and as Jim predicted, I continue to think about how good it sounded. Associated gear Click to view my Virtual System