Tone Controls can be so nice.

Of all the ways to tame, tighten or tone the sound of our systems, cables are usually the first to come to mind. Preamps, amps, source and speakers are all chosen for what and how they contribute to the sound and each affect the other in ways that confound, amuse and satisfy.

Anyone who's paid even scant attention to what I like in my system knows that I've always wanted to hear further into the recording, extracting as much as possible from those shiny discs and not pay the price of loss of tone, richness or body. From sliver ICs to power conditioning and boutique fuses, each step has gotten me closer, revealing more detail, nuance, air and realism.

One day while listening I chanced to look at my Marantz PM-15S2b and it dawned on me that I hadn't tried the tone controls since the first time I tried them when new. I didn't like it then. Just switching it on without adjusting the controls it was evident there was a difference for the worse when used.

Time can do funny things. It may be due to something as simple as break in but when I engaged the tone control setting and adjusted the bass a tad (1 1/5-2db) a lot changed. Everything I liked about what I already have was fleshed out some more without a single, negative drawback. Tone improved. So did body. Percussion was easier to believe be it wood, brass, etc. Vocals had more chest and in the room presence. Piano had more weight, guitar more blues and twang (steel easier to tell from nylon). Even decay took on a different quality since the lower portion of the notes had more presence which led to a longer, more believable decay. Decay used to be the in the realm of the higher notes, the lower ones foreshortened, and now decay is across the spectrum which makes piano, upright bass, anything in that realm all the more authentic.

I dialed it back to just about a 1db boost and still had that magic. Nothing was shelved back, hidden or muted as a result. Just fuller, like a really good tube setup with great see-through ability. No bloat. No smear.

It's too bad that tone controls aren't in vogue nowadays. Blame the purists and thank those that still use them (Marantz, Luxman, Accuphase, etc.) I'm not advocating some all out assault with extensive equalization but in my case the bass boost is just at the 50Hz region and covers a small, but critical range for folk like me. My Tonians drop off at 40Hz and the drop slopes well before that. That little boost is all it took to even the frequency playing field, so to speak, making it seem all the more real. This is not to say I didn't have bass to begin with. What I did have had texture, detail, nuance but not enough force to have equal billing in the presence department.

If I had speakers that extended lower, all of this wouldn't matter. In my case it did. This is not to say that everything is better with tone controls but is some cases, certain recordings can use that little bit of boost and some systems, like mine, can benefit from it. It's been only a few days since I've done this but I've yet to tire of it and find myself loving what I'm hearing. Who knows?

All the best,
I agree completely. I don't have tone controls presently, but I wish I did, and I think that they have been demonized for many years in the name of sonic purity. I do think that there are well designed tone controls today that do the job they were meant to do without noticeable sonic degradation.
I also agree. I few years ago I discovered the digital equalizer program in iTunes. It's used sparingly when I feel a recording needs minor enhancement.
If you like them, use them.

No tone controls for me, thank you.....

Tubes,cables,phono cartridge,etc. are all tone controls in their own sort of way! Anything that you change will add some coloration to the sound so tone controls are no different!
I want to hear how the producer/engineer intended the recording to be heard. Equalizers and tone controls have no place in my system.
Every form of EQ or tone controls out there, just from a technical standpoint, have their own set of advantages and disadvantages when it comes to how they can affect sound quality. Phase or noise problems and not being able to do much for time-domain problems and all that. It all gets thrashed about a lot. But, what so often gets overlooked is that, especially for those who have actually logged some time with EQ or tone controls (I've done so with EQ for many years now), is that the advantages - even if only within the context of a particular setup - can often end up outweighing the disadvantages, despite the limitations. Hearing is believing. Their longevity as a handy and rather flexible tool to rely on, perhaps particularly as a stopgap measure, has always impressed me. And often the stopgap app is so successful at forestalling an otherwise significant purchase, that it can easily come to be thought of as permanent. But, I do agree with Shakeydeal: "If you like them, use them"!
Each of us has our own realities. If you like tone controls then there you are. It is challenging enough to optimize audio amplification components through keeping things simple, and more additions (remotes/displays/headphone facilities/etc.) complicate doing so. While some audio enthusiasts adhere to a purist approach, others place a premium on convenience, while some lie somewhere in between. Your reality is what matters.
I also agree. When it comes to tone controls, the self-aggrandizing purity of high-end audio recalls the famous Polaner All-Fruit commercial.

Our intelligence, progressive thinking, and overall utter goodness resulted in advancing so far over the heathen of yesteryear. We instead now employ phono cartridges, turntables, digital front-ends, pre / power amplifiers, loudspeakers, vacuum tubes, interconnects / loudspeaker cables, power cords, power conditioners, isolation devices, diffusion contraptions, silver bearing pastes, charlatan telephone exorcisms, etc. to salve the glare, soften the highs, flesh out threadbare lows, remove bass bloat, tame the room, and add two inches of height.

Do what you must. Spend what you can. Just don't ever permit two knobs into your system that defile the hallowed bass and treble. We must adhere to the absolute sound, you know.
There are also some interesting more advanced EQ controls available as well. For example the Dspeaker Dual Core. You get automatic DSP for low freq and then a very precise EQ that you can dial in across the freq spectrum. You can select the freqs to be boosted and the shape of the boosted curve. Very cool, with an included mic for customization and 4 EQ settings can be saved. You can use digital or analog inputs and digital or analog outputs.
Yes they have a place and to say they don't is error. Unless your room delivers a flat response curve from 20 htz to 20,000 htz , you are not hearing what your gear or recording should sound like.

A good EQ, like the one in Amarra, can get you closer to the music as intended and remove the influence your room has on the music. Trust me, your room and furnishings etc.. Are acting like tone controls and certainly reduce fidelity.

Straight forward stuff folks.
Ones room alone prohibits playback identical to that intended by producer/engineer. There is no reason to discount the use of tone controls to those who find benefit from there use. My current pre lacks tone controls, and when I had them in my system I rarely used them. A choice I made, not a declaration.
If you're messin' with it you're guessin' with it.

That said, everything else being equal (and it's not, compared to what the original "mixmaster" heard in the studio)
we have different ears and different tastes.

A little more salt? You want ketchup with that?

Still, I very rarely feel the need to tweak those knobs. When I do then, sure, I'm glad I have them.
Trying to adjust for room responses would require sophisticated equalizer - it is better to fix the room.

Poor systems apply such pronounced and complicated sound equalization curve that every record played on them will require different tone adjustments to make it sound acceptable. On very good system all records sound fine without any tone control. At least it was my experience.

Tone controls won't fix poor recordings - it is just not possible. Even adding a little weight to lower piano registers is not possible without also adding weight to upright bass, making it possibly too loud.

Tone controls affect imaging unless it is done in digital domain but then you add losses on A/D and back D/A conversions.

Of course ICs and speaker cables are tone controls, to a smaller degree, but I try to minimize it using short neutral sounding cables. Using tone controls is voluntary injecting into system devices, that screw up clarity and imaging (certainly not improve it). I guess I'm one of those bad "purists".
Sounds like a duck, walks a duck.
You certainly did make a declaration.
That's what these forums are for.
Enough with the jabs.
Very nicely done writeup, Nonoise, as are many of the responses IMO. I particularly enjoyed Trelja's witty post.

That said, as I see it there is no right or wrong when it comes to this issue, and the tradeoffs that come into play involve a great many variables that are specific to each individual. FWIW, I happen to be a "purist" when it comes to tone controls, and my outlook coincides with the one Kijanki expressed just above.

Although I do find myself intrigued by the relatively recent developments in DSP (digital signal processing)-based room correction, such as the DSPeaker Dual Core which Roscoe mentioned, and at a vastly higher price point the recently introduced Trinnov Amethyst. (Software-based approaches would be non-starters in my case, as I have no desire to undertake the time, effort, hardware expense, cartridge wear, and probable sonic compromise that would be involved in digitizing my record collection).

I would add that one point that tends to be overlooked in discussions about tone controls is that they do not come for free. Implementation of a tone control or equalizer function to a high standard will, it seems to me, significantly increase the complexity and cost of whatever component it is included in, or else necessitate compromise elsewhere in the design.

Best regards,
-- Al
I have a Luxman class A integrated with tone controls and a bypass button. I don't mess with the tone controls. I also use a Rel Stadium 3 sub. I do on occasion only use the top section of my Parsifals. This helped me understand how bass and room interaction make up 99 percent of the listening experience. Always trade-offs. If my next life involves audio I will master the room first.
Problem is even a treated room won't give a flat response all times. I know as I have a treated room. A treated room is a starting place.....
Thank you all for your civil responses, whether you agree or not with my findings, and thanks Al, for that pat on the back.

As much as I used to be a "straight wire with gain" kinda guy, this matter with the tone control helps in ways I thought not possible. Again, YMMV. :-)

All the best,
Tone controls are not designed for room correction, but are intended to offer 1)correction of problems with source material and 2)mild accommodation for listener preferences. If for some reason a recordings has excess high frequency info a tone control won't eliminate the problem, but can go a long way towards making the recording more listenable. If you like to listen at low volumes (less than 65db), then you need tone controls to correct for the Fletcher/Munson ear sensitivity effect.

Room correction EQ is far more sophisticated than tone controls. A simple application is to use a parametric EQ to correct for the primary bass mode that occurs in every listening room. Vandersteen uses such a device in their higher end loudspeakers. Getting the bass right results in major increases in clarity/definition throughout the frequency range.
I stand by my opinion regarding playback, tone control use by others, and my choice. Never intended a 'jab'. Dreadhead, water off my back.
Deeper into the rabbit hole we go.......

LIke my experience with my Marantz (forgetting about the tone controls), I remembered that my Tonian Labs Tl-D1s are a semi-open baffle design and that there are three different vent settings on the rear side. No matter which size vent slat you pick, there is always a slotted opening above and below the slat that varies from a little to a little more or so on. Each one makes quite a difference from the next.

With my bass increase via the tone control came an appreciation for a fuller sound. Remembering that I had the vent slat in place that gave the biggest bass reinforcement, I removed it and left it open with nothing to block the sound.

Someone call the guys in the white jackets

I won't go so far as to say that I blew out the back wall but I did move it back quite a distance. Everything became so distinct that the sound no longer projected into my room but floated, instead. Now I think I get it: what some folk have described that I'm now hearing.

Putting in the smallest of the slats, I still retained that incredibly open sounding effect so I kept it in. Everything is so freaking distinct but it no way etched. Guitars, piano and vocals are the most realistic I've heard to date. I'm even going to go so far as to say I've never heard more realistic guitar sound anywhere, anytime. Closing my eyes completes the process. They're right in the room. Piano and vocals don't quite match the level of effect but I'm not going to complain one bit. They've improved enough.

Another neat trick is just how clear and distinct a drummer can sound, situated backstage behind the players. Whether brushing a drum skin or tapping the drum rim with his sticks, it's all crystal clear. It's that clarity that makes the layering so realistic. If one can pick out what's going on backstage it no longer becomes a distraction since you're not mentally trying to figure it out. It's just there working in concert, in it's proper perspective.

This has all made me appreciate the genius behind Tony Manasian's design. I always thought that 'Tonian' was some kind of take on his name but I feel it rightly belongs to the 'tone' that these speakers recreate. They are, indeed, instruments that can be tuned to your room, your amp, your ancillaries.

Before anyone goes out and gets a Sawzall and attacks the back of their speakers, please keep in mind that these speakers are meant to be tuned as a final step once all other considerations are accounted for. The vast majority of speakers out there are built as is so room considerations are what you should be looking into.

Is there a bottom to this rabbit hole?

All the best,
Does anyone use balance controls anymore? A slight adjustment to compensate for speaker placement maybe? To correct what appears to be a problem in the mix? Is the less is more threary applicable here as well?
Mesch, my problem is learning to accept opinions that differ from mine. My bad.
12-02-13 Nonoise
Just switching it on without adjusting the controls it was evident there was a difference for the worse when used.
Well, there you go. That has also been my experience with every tone control I've used except the one in my Denon UDM-31 mini. Believe me, I have tried and tried. I don't use them as the distortion with them is waaayyyyy more irritating than the uneven frequency response without them, IMHO.
In my opening post I stated that the difference I heard was when new. Now when I switch it off and on with the slight bass boost, it's done on the fly while playing and the difference is in the bass. Nothing else is amiss that I can tell but it's still too soon for me to absolutely certain.

You say your Denon UDM-31 didn't negatively effect anything and I find my Marantz PM-15S2b to do the same. With the addition of using smaller vent slats in the rear of my speakers a lot is going on but so far it's one sweet ride, with a ways to go. :-)

I'll keep you all posted.

All the best,
Nonoise, nice OP and follow-up. Thanks for sharing.
Dreadhead, thanks.

Holiday cheers to all!
Okay, I must admit--in my teaching studio the 5-band EQ on my old JVC is handy for getting the most out of the JBL's.

For higher-end stuff, though I rarely (if ever) tweak the tone knobs.
I've been sans tone controls for years, but may try a pre with bass/treble knobs next time around. I gave up on using subs a while ago, even though I like a lot of bass... there are times (certain albums) where I wished I could tweak the bass a bit.
I can always use the defeat button, if I don't like it... but, I think I wil use the controls if they are there.
I'm no purist, though.
Thanks Mesch and yes, Holiday Cheers to one and all.

May the music sooth your souls,
The tubes warm your hearts,
The cables convey the thoughts,
The source be aplenty,
The speakers be truthful.

Now back to driving myself crazy.

All the best,
After being fitted for my jacket (they assured me the sleeves are that long and everyone will be wearing them and yes, they do fasten from behind) I've come down to some somewhat definitive conclusions. Chief among them are:

1) Now that I'm using the smallest vent slats on the rear of my speakers, the
tone control bass boost is so hard to tell from straight in that it's a toss up.
2) Only a few CDs benefit from the bass boost.

The question that perplexes me is how can enlarging an opening in the rear of a speaker make the bass all the more real and fuller sounding? Granted, the soundstage took a big leap closer to reality, losing the projected sound and replacing it with a floating soundscape that remains stable and yet sounds seems to project in all directions in a more natural fashion. There's so much more info doing its thing.

Maybe this is an effect of open baffle speakers and I've just now learned to appreciate it. If so, then I think I know what my next speaker's are going to be like. If this is how one loses the box sound, I'm all for it.

All the best,
I can live without them. I get my systems to sound as good as they can, and after that I just listen to the music, no need for further tweaking.
After further thought, one use for tone controls might be within a system that must be placed in a multi purpose room (family) as apposed to a dedicated audio room which can be better tuned with room treatments and where loudness may not be an issue. Provided they are defeatable, the tone controls can be set for low volume listening when needed with the defeat button used as a loudness control.
Follow-up... I bought an integrated amp with tone controls (Vincent SV-237), and I really like having them. The Loudness button gives much more of a live rock show feel, because it makes me feel like I'm in front of the guitar and bass cabinets (well, not to that extreme, but slightly). I've tried using the 'defeat' button on many albums, but find that I prefer the added bass and treble. But, I only listen to rock- maybe if I listened to classical (or something like that) I wouldn't want to alter the sound as much.
Having gone for so long with no tone controls, I'm glad I got back to my roots.
THe problem I have with tone controls is not that they do not work well, its that each recording is different. Targeting a certain ideal/absolute sound becomes a chore when listening to a wide variety of recordings since each is inherently different.

SO I have adopted the philosophy of letting recordings be recordings and just get my system as well tuned in in general as I can. Then enjoy each recording for what it is or is not. Trying to "fix" each one is just too cumbersome. I'd rather spend my time doing other things, including just listening.

FWIW, I am fortunate to be able to run multiple systems in multiple rooms in order to provide a variety of listening experiences. There are many places I can listen from in my house in different ways. That also helps keep the urge to twiddle with the sound under control, once I have each tuned in well.
Regarding tweaking... I've found that I can adjust the tone controls within the first 30 seconds, and I'm good for the whole album. Heck, I don't always sit down when listening, so I can't get too particular. My stereo sounds "good enough" (to me) without much fiddling, so I guess I'm lucky in that sense.
Tone controls are not a bad thing when used sparingly and judiciously. They can help some recordings out, imo. They certainly aren't a cure for a bad sounding room or poor speaker/equipment placement.
FM Acoustics makes an EQ, but they call it a Harmonic Linearizer. Tone controls are OK if they cost enough money.
Yeah, I bet those are excellent. McIntosh has EQ in some of their preamps, and Accuphase and Luxman has tone controls on most of their preamps and integrateds. Accuphase also makes an outboard EQ unit.
Importaantly, are there any transparent tine control.

Would the degraadatiin of signal outweigh the benefits.

On well rocorded music, i do not think the tone.control will be as useful when comparing what it does for lesser quality, bad masterings.