Tone controls- to use or not?


Thanks to years of playing in bands, and more recently working in a noisy environment, I've come to the sad realisation that my 40-year old ears no longer have their original upper frequency response. Adding a bit of "treble" on my amp's tone controls helps, but I'm normally loathe to use these controls.

Should I be looking at changing my setup to incorporate "brighter" sounding components, or is adding a little treble with the tone controls legitimate?

My system is a Cambridge 640C player, NAD c720 stereo receiver (based on c320 amp) and B&W DM602 speakers, Monster cable IC's and heavy guage "Kordz" (Australian) copper speaker wires.
carl109
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Use the tone control. That's what it is there for......

TIC
I'm with Ruebent. Sometimes we are our own worst enemies. If adjusting your tone control gives you greater enjoyment in your playback, by all means do so. Sounds easier than chasing other gear to accomplish the task.
It's hell to get old! I was frustrated because my system's soundstage was of center. I kept trying to tweak the left speaker placement to get a central image. What I have found is that I have some hearing loss in my right ear. When I cup my right ear the image is dead-center. I put the left speaker back in its original position and I now use the balance control to make the necessary adjustments. It only goes downhill from here....
The simple answer is if it sounds better to you, use the tone control.

Unfortunately, if hearing is nearly gone in a particular frequency, it is difficult to compensate with a simple tone control without over emphasizing the lower treble frequencies compared to the rest of the sound spectrum.

Some cables are brighter sounding and some are darker. Silver wire can often bring the upper octaves forward a bit.

When you feel it is time to upgrade your whole system - look for the tonal balance that sounds best to you. It may be time to focus on the midrange and all the wonderful nuance, timbre and tonal colors available there. That's what I am starting to do ;)
Definely use your tone control. Beyond that, if you know you have hearing loss at certain frequencies, you might want to add an equalizer to your system.
I know most audiophiles like to stay true to the signal to see what the product can really do. (meaning no tone controls) But, like others have stated, if tone controls make the sound better for you, why would you not do it?
As Reubent said..."Use the tone control. That's what it is there for".

You might find an equalizer to be more effective because you wouldn't be stuck with the "hinge" frequency that the preamp designer chose. For example, if your hearing rolls off at 14KHz a tone control which cuts in at 3KHz is not ideal.

If you visit an audioligist (person who prescribes hearing aids) you can get a precise plot of your hearing frequency response, and then you could put the appropriate correction into the equalizer.

A good inexpensive equalizer is the Behringer DEQ2496.
I have slipped a variation of this question into several discussions. With regard to digital equalization, is there a program or software plug-in available (for Windows Media Player or Foobar, for example) that is considered high quality? The Behringer route seems like a good idea, but for computer or server-based playback, I wonder if the digital signal could be processed (EQed) with software before it is sent from the computer. Clearly, audio recording software (for home studios) offers this feature, but it is a cumbersome way to listen to 2-channel audio.
Regards,
Nosnhoj
Thanks for the replies. I guess as we age we have to make the best of what hearing we have left!
For me the tone controls are a double-egded sword. If I add a little treble, the top-end opens up nicely, but when I use the tone bypass switch, the overall sound is better in terms of clarity and soundstage.

Would the component to change be the amp? I'm led to believe NAD amps are generally warmer sounding, and perhaps I should audition a Cambridge or Marantz?
Have you tried power cords, interconnects, or speaker cables with some silver content?
i have a different experience wit respect to aging. i am more sensitive to treble frequencies than i was 30 years ago. i find very often that i want to attenuate frequencies in the range 1000 to 3000 hz.

i believe, as vett93 has stated, cable, a passive compoent is a better approach than active equilization. in some cases equalizing brings with it phase shifts.
Same here. I'm more senstive to treble. I eventually bought a McIntosh (known for a more laid back nature) and a Mc preamp with tone controls. It's the only way to go IMO if you want to listen to your whole CD collection.

I tried all the other things cables, power conditioning, room acoustic changes but they made little difference. The Mc Amps sealed the deal.
I advice you not to do so

Your ears are already damaged, if you put gain on the trebble you will accelerate even more the d├ęterioration

I mean at a stage you will be deaf even when people just speak !

Stay with your system as it is
Carl, get a hearing test done first. A hearing specialist can tell you what frequencies you have problems with and what things will agitate you or cause more damage. You would do the same for your eyes if you were having trouble reading, right?

Second, make sure sure your room acoustics fit what you need. Your difficulty with high end may be because it's being buried in echo or muddied by booming lows. The effect you describe in your second post sounds similar to the problem I was having at one point (blurry/unclear high end because of excessive corner echo). Play with your positioning and ask your dealer if you can try out a handful of acoustic treatments - you may be very surprised at the results.

If you still aren't satisfied, at least you have a better idea of where the problem lies and what the compensation options are.

Good luck!
Absolutely use the tone controls. The idea of purity of signal only applies if you have hearing in the normal range. If you don't, as most people don't at some point in their lives, then you are not hearing the music as it was intended anyway. Adjusting the strength at the frequencies that are attenuated by your physiology actually restores you to a point of listening to the music the way it was written. People forget that there each set of ears is part of a given system. I have often thought that a tweak that makes sense is to get a hearing test with a graph that shows the attenuation from normal over the audio range , take your music in a digital format and apply filters to overlay that graph so as to adjust the sound for your own hearing. You would end up with a very personalized recording. ALso a complex project that could be fun.
Most of high end preamps don't even have tone controls and all amps sold in Best Buy do. This alone should suggest something.

Tone control destroys imaging, clarity, and even tone. It changes harmonic structure by improper summing of harmonics (high quality constant group delay Bessel like adjustable filters ain't cheap).

Purists would also say that capacitors shouldn't even be in the signal path.

In addition - system should restore original concert performance. So here is the question: How do you adjust treble when you are at the concert?
Get your ears checked by a specialist. About 20 years ago J. Gordon Holt thought his HF hearing was going. Turned out he just had waxy buildup, which the ear/nose/throat specialist removed.
perhaps you might replace your cables with pure silver cables, and see if you are more pleased with the treble response.
Johnnyb53 - Good advice. Practical, to the point, thought outside the techno box. It is refreshing to see common sense.
Most of high end preamps don't even have tone controls and all amps sold in Best Buy do. This alone should suggest something.

That audio purists are masochists and would rather buy several amps until they get what works in their room rather than tweak a few db with a tone control? Just kidding LOL ;-)

Tone control destroys imaging, clarity, and even tone. It changes harmonic structure by improper summing of harmonics (high quality constant group delay Bessel like adjustable filters ain't cheap).

In EXCESS absolutely - but most tone controls are used very lightly - or at least they should be.

Purists would also say that capacitors shouldn't even be in the signal path.

They should use active speakers in this case (and actively powered by amps that do not use coupling capacitors in the signal path)

In addition - system should restore original concert performance. So here is the question: How do you adjust treble when you are at the concert?

Yes but...the mix engineer and mastering engineer has already monkeyed around so much with what you hear that this "purity" goal becomes a "mute" point. (And these guys start by selecting mikes and placements that help create the sound they desire from the get go - so there is never "purity" to begin with)

Another way to apply this "purity" logic would be to say that "I want to hear as close as possible to what the recording engineer hears". In this case buy the same equipment (speakers are the most distorting) as are used to mix/master your favorite music - or get what your favorite artists likes to use. At least, then you can conclude that you are perhaps hearing things a little closer to how they were intended to be heard. Although, I'll admit even this is a weak argument and not as strong as the logic that says "I'll use _______ because if it is good enough for "- insert your favorite classical audio label -" then it will be good enough for me." Kind of a Stereophile A list approach, however, without the nagging concern that stereophile makes money from advertisements and therefore has a vested interest to have an all inclusive extensive A list.

Good discussion....tone controls have caused serious angst with audiophiles for many years and no doubt will continue to do so.
I've come to the sad realisation that my 40-year old ears no longer have their original upper frequency response.

It is not a severe problem. Treble above 12KHZ is of very little of interest anyway in music.

If you are suffering much lower down in the midrange then you must see a doctor. Use this to check to see if your hearing loudness curve is "normal" - it should look like the typical equal loudness contour - if it does not then see a doctor.

Don't be surprised if you can't hear the 16 KHz tone - most people over 40 can't.
"Yes but...the mix engineer and mastering engineer has already monkeyed around so much with what you hear that this "purity" goal becomes a "mute" point."

Final product of this Monkeying around is what performer approved and want me to hear. If I cannot change (adjust) tone at the concert then why should I be able to do this at home?

Fixing shortcomings of the system (or room) with tone controls is not a good idea.
there is an implicit assumption that that the engineer and the performer want the purchaser of a recording to hear "something". i disagree. the recording is a stement from both engineer and performer, as to what they want to hear. they don't care what you hear, because they have no idea what your stereo system is.

therefore, it is not logical to assume that altering the sound of the recording is not a good idea. it is neither good nor bad. it is just an idea.

i think it is reasonable to expect a listener to "hear" the recording any way he/she desires, without regard to accuracy of transmission.

the problem with this hobby is that there are too many prescrip[tions as to how one should listen to one's recordings and too much dogmatism as too what is good and what is not good.

it's all subjective and a matter of preference.

accuracy still has meaning. however, some audiophiles are not motivated to achieve it.
as a side note, i will purchasing a decware amplifier which is supplied with an attenuator. i intend to use it. the designer has indicated that he uses it as well.

half of the fun in this hobby is tinkering. tone controls is one way to tinker. the other half is enjoying the music.
MrTennis said : "half of the fun in this hobby is tinkering. tone controls is one way to tinker. the other half is enjoying the music."

Tinkering is fun in the domain that can possibly improve the sound

In this case modifying the tone will lead to bad result in 98% of the case

And in this will damage his hears even more

-----

By the way old orchestra's conductor don't use a tone corrector lol

Neither the old people with ear damges in the assistance

And they seems to enjoy the concert though

Go figure...
there is an implicit assumption that that the engineer and the performer want the purchaser of a recording to hear "something"

Well erm...Yes that is kinda the idea of music - generally your expected to hear something. I guess some people do use CD's as coasters and some people just collect stuff (memorabilia) but generally most people buy music so they can hear the music (which includes all its nuances of loud/soft/timbre etc.) Some people buy several versions of the same tracks - remixes and such for dance clubs are often more fun with better dynamic range. I can't see the majority of artists, producers and engineers not caring what it sounds like on consumer systems...
hi samuel33:

tinkering is fun, regardless of the outcome. humans are naturally curious. the fun of tinkering is not being able to predict the result. the process is more important than the result.

why does altering the tone produce sonic degradadtion ? here is another example of dogmatic thinking. one person's discomfort is another person's enjoyment.

one cannot generalize as to what is enjoyable for another person.
Altering tone always produces sonic degradation because it puts one more element in the chain (even if you set it 0dB/0dB). It destroys clarity imaging etc. For many people clarity/ imaging is the goal - not fun of tinkering.
MrTennis said :
tinkering is fun, regardless of the outcome. humans are naturally curious. the fun of tinkering is not being able to predict the result. the process is more important than the result.

Well yes ! i agree with you on that point (completely)
This way prevent people from audio's gourou very well

Still i have to say that we are talking about a specific subject : a guy that maybe not want to spend that amount of money on a product just for the fun knowing the extremely possible bad result

Furthermore the problem of his ears make the situation a big no no to me.

-------

But yes i rejoin you on the importance to try by ourself, the question is what will be the most intresting thing to do ?

i don't think the tone control will be the thing, i would prefer swap the crossover to redo it or even change also the drivers

But that is a long (a very funny road) and great results are possible !

(It implies knowledge that you will find on specialised website)

And THAT is FUN :)-
Altering tone always produces sonic degradation because it puts one more element in the chain (even if you set it 0dB/0dB). It destroys clarity imaging etc.

"Destroy" is a strong word.

I guess these guys have much to learn about how not to destroy sound (looks like they use EQ controls to me)
Mr C- Once upon a time the definition of, "audiophile" implied one that did as little harm to the original signal as possible. Basically- your straight wire with gain types(no tone controls, EQs, etc.). Of course, that term was coined back in the early 80's, and has been watered down to nothingness. Everyone with a system better than a Bose radio believes they're an audiophile. Who cares? If using the tone controls on your system gives a presentation that you like: What do you care what anyone else thinks about it? When I am running a sound board, setting up an acoustic venue, or recording(in my capacity as a Sound Technician): it's my job to present the music that is being created in as natural a tone, timbre and voice as possible(just louder when "plugged in"). That's providing the artists don't require something extra added, which(of course) is their artistic license. BUT: There is no "right" or "wrong" in your private listening environment. YES- Anything you add into the signal chain will degrade the sound to a degree. If you can live with the degradation, and the component utilized adds to your pleasure- DO IT!! What ever makes YOU happy!
Shadorne - all the sliders on those mixing tables are most likely level control. There are also, as far as I know, Equalizers but extremely expensive (for a reason). Typical tone controls in home amps use pots with very poor matching.

As for not caring by the artists about sound - many of them have their personal sound engineers for recording that replace one in studio wherever they're recording. Home system should replicate exactly what was recorded and not to improve it. Fixing shortcomings of the system or the room with tone control is a bad idea.
One more thing. Equalizers used in recording studio adjust each individual microphone/instrument BEFORE mix. They don't equalize mixed stereo image. Correct me if I'm wrong (any sound engineers here?).
Mr K- You are correct that each channel on a typical mixing board has it's own EQ. Used correctly, these can be adjusted to convey that instrument or vocalist with as natural a presentation as possible. There are also "pan" controls that can move the performers/vocalists around the sound stage at the technician's(or the artist's) whim. The entire mix is generally adjusted for balance, loudness and EQ'd(often distorted) during the "Mastering" process(nowdays mostly utilizing computerized digital editors). Then too- You almost never get back what you send to the people that produce and press the records or CD's(those guys love their compressors/limiters). My personal philosophy has always been, "Less is Better!" with regard to signal manipulation. To me the best results are always accomplished with a really good setup in the studio, and as little after-tweeking as possible.
hi rodman99999:

there is no definitive definition of audiophile. there are many definitions. it's all subjective. "supposed to be" is but an opinion, since it is neither true nor false.

your idea of sonic degredation may be someone's audio nirvana, which follows from the adage "one person's trash is another person's treasure".

i will admit that using tone controls by definition alters the signal and creates inaccuracy. that's another issue.

even if your hypothesis is: accuracy is the hallmark of a high quality stereo system, it is but one of many methods for assessing the merits of stereo systems.
hi kijanki:

not altering the signal is but one method of configuring a stereo system. this is not a definitive approach for listening to music in the home. it is your opinion.
i disagree. one should do to the recording whatever is pleasurable to the listener.

again, the goal of accuracy is one of many purposes of a stereo system. it is better not to dictate what others should be doing with their stereo system.

accuracy is a criterion for evaluating stereo systems. however, it is arbitrary and not the sole means of doing so.
Mrtennis - I don't dictate anything - I only expressed my opinion like everybody else here. If all is subjective, in your opinion, then terms like clarity transparency etc. have no meaning and this forum has no purpose (other than chat room)

I have only volume knob - nothing else.
Less is better - in my opinion.
each channel on a typical mixing board has it's own EQ. Used correctly, these can be adjusted to convey that instrument or vocalist with as natural a presentation as possible......My personal philosophy has always been, "Less is Better!" with regard to signal manipulation. To me the best results are always accomplished with a really good setup in the studio, and as little after-tweeking as possible.

I agree fully. I am not advocating that people use tone controls at +18 db to correct for a terrible room or system. All I am saying is that "Used correctly, tone controls can be adjusted to convey the music with as natural a presentation as possible - in a given room/setup" and "correctly" means very lightly - perhaps +/-3 db tilt at the most in a good setup (room/gear) or to suity personal taste.

Used correctly, a tone control (or even one set flat to 0 db) does not destroy, IMHO
The term 'audiophile' means 'audio lover'. So goof off with it to your heart's desire :)

A good number of tone controls, when set to flat, are not in fact flat at all- there is usually some perturbation on account of the controls. In addition, an additional stage of gain is required to drive the tone control circuit. Unless switched out (and even the switching circuit can have an audible artifact) these things will contribute to a loss of bandwidth, detail and increased distortion.

Hence, many 'purist' 'audio lovers' do without, in the quest for greater transparency/immediacy to the music. So, to refine the definition, there is a difference between an audiophile and a purist (purist being a subset of audiophile).

But I have to ask- because I don't know- if you have hearing loss (like many of us over 40/45 years) how is it that tone controls will help? Won't that make the experience of the recorded music that less real (because you could never hear it that way live)? Or is that not important?
Mr M- If you'll re-read my post, you'll note I said the definition has(since coined in the 80's) been watered down to nothingness. Your points prove mine precisely(Thank you!). Further: I offered no "hypothesis" at all about anyone's system. I only suggested he make himself happy in his listening room, and the hell with anyone else's opinions.
Shazam "and what things will agitate you or cause more damage. ".
Interesting question.
If someone has a 3dB loss at 5-7,000hz will boosting that range cause additional damage OR annoyance?
I would think that would be a matter of absolute volume level. If he listens at 75db, I can't see a boost of a few more dB causing any problem, IMHO.
Cdc - correct. The thing I find disturbing about the notion that someone with high frequency hearing loss should not use tone controls to boost the high frequencies is that it is insulting to people with a hearing handicap.
I have always thought that a good equalizer should be part of every system.The supporting reasoning is that every different artist has a different recording engineer in the studio. Correct me if I'm wrong but doesn't every recording studio have a means of altering the sound to suit that particular engineer's ears? EVERYONE'S EARS ARE DIFFERENT!!!The person or persons that say that the "best system" needs no further equalization to compensate for the absences or excesses of certain frequencies in recorded material are wrong. Plain and simple, while some material may sound better without altering the recording engineer's original settings, there are many that will sound better with some slight adjustments. If it has them, tweaking the tone controls on a particular receiver or preamp will only cut or add at certain frequencies. Don't take this the wrong way, but if I had the system that you have, I really wouldn't be all that concerned about being a "purist" and going without equalization. Buy a good equalizer!
Hibosilver - Equalization in the studio is mostly done to individual instruments before mixing. Almost everything today is recorded digitaly and equalization is done the same way (stable and easy to control digital filters) - not possible at home - unless you want to go A/D, DSP processing and D/A with possible loss of sound quality.

Musicnoise - original question was about what is better adjust treble with tone controls or using brighter system (speakers, cables, amplifiers atc). I expressed opinion that adding extra element that is known for distroying imaging and clarity is not the best idea if you can do it by proper system selection. Bringing statement "insulting to people with hearing handicap" into technical discussion is plain silly.
I think the problem here is that the term 'good equalizer' in this day and age is a bit oxymoronic. Back in the old days, Harmon Kardon had a preamp call the Citation One, which employed switched tone controls, i.e. the tone controls were built up out of rotary switches. This allowed them to be truly flat when set to the flat position. I've not seen a modern EQ unit that had that sort of attention to detail.

I've had my hands on some fairly good units, both the analog and digital Accuphase units, which are arguably amoungst the cream of the crop in equalizers. Despite serious room anomolies that the EQ units could correct (somewhat, there was a bass node that they couldn't touch), the system sounded remarkably better using no EQ at all... by 'better': more impact, greater soundstage, more detail, smoother overall sound...
Atmasphere...The Behringer DEQ2496 does its equalization in a DSP chip, and the EQ function (or any of the other functions) can be bypassed. If that isn't good enough just turn off the power and you get a hard bypass (input connected to output).
Eldartford, I have yet to hear a Behringer that I'd want to put in my system! All of them I have heard so far are easily surpassed by other manufacturers for not a lot of extra money. My impression so far is that they target the entry-level semi-pro market. Is that impression incorrect?
Atmasphere...Behringer makes many pieces of equipment. For some I agree with you, but in some cases it is sour grapes. But have you heard the DEQ2496? I hear no bad effect of having it in the loop, and it greatly improves the overall sound by compensating room effects. Furthermore, it's worth the price just for the spectrum analyser. I suggest that people buy it for that feature (to help with room treatment and speaker placement) and let them come to their own conclusion about leaving it in the loop for listening.
I recently got a deq 2496. Using it I hear after room eq better bass definition, a wider soundstage, more depth, more air. I am astoniched. When I take it out of the loop the sound collapses back into the speakers. I havent had tone controls for 25 years and here I am using and enjoying a very sophisticated one.