What's wrong with tailoring the sound?

Probably been addressed a bazillion times but I'm wondering why it is apparently so wrong to tailor the sound with tone controls? I read lots of posts on the various audio forums and hear things like "these speakers may be a tad shy in the bass but...." So whats so wrong about having a devise which will aleviate this problem in an otherwise wonderful speaker? Won't this increase the listeners enjoyment? I also read about certain cables being brighter or darker than others. It seems that the only way for this to be true is if certain frequencies are being altered in some way. Why spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a cable to take some brightness away when one could just tweak a knob and get the same results in a few seconds (and for free) What is to be done with recordings that aren't quite up to par? The overly bright or overly dark. Should they just be discarded in favor of audiophile quality recordings, content be dammed? What do you do when you want a little more depth in your sound when the lack of it is due to unavoidable room conditions? Are there good quality units out there that will allow me to have hi-end sound AND be able to adjust/compensate for personnal preference? The recording engineer did not mix the recording using my equipment, in my room, using my ears and with my personnel taste in what I find most pleasing.
I've also read enough posts on these forums (though not usually on Audiogon) that I will ask this favor. Don't beat me up too bad, I'm relatively new.
Say811- No beating is in order. Most folks feel like there are two issues at play here. One is that tone controls in the circuit will degrade the sound, even if set to "0". thats why some gear has a defeat switch to take the tone controls out of the circuit. Second is that the typical tone control alters a very wide range of frequencies, while a deficiency will likely cover a smaller range of frequencies. The latter can be delt with by using an equalizer, but that will not alter the former. OTOH, do what you think is best; in other words, let your ears be the judge. Happy Holidays.
There are several factors involved here. As Swampwalker mentions, tone controls affect a wide range of frequencies. Not only that, they cause phase shifts, etc... If someone is willing deal with that, i have no problems with it. That is why most of us mention "personal preference" as much as we do.

In order to get around this or minimize the influence of broadband effects that tone controls produce, some folks went to parametric EQ's. This is a more precise method of adjusting tonal balance with more control over the exact frequency range being affected. This is done by varying the "Q" of the circuit. Others use graphic equalizers, which are basically more sophisticated tone controls and suffer similar problems. While these are much easier to operate as compared to parametric's, they are not as efficient or linear in their overall performance.

There are combinations of the two designs that are sometimes called "Para-Graphic" EQ's. These have preselected center frequencies ( like a Graphic ) but offer the end user the ability to somewhat shift each of those frequencies up or down for more precise tuning of a narrow band ( like Parametric ). Some might consider this either the best or worst of both worlds, depending on ones' point of view.

As to using cables as "tone controls", this is QUITE controversial. Since many believe that cables do not affect the sound, it is considered by some to be foolish. They base their beliefs on the fact that most well designed cables do not cause major phase shifts or frequency response abberations under test conditions. Since that is the case, many consider this to be the "lesser of two evils" i.e. wires that "tonally balance" the system and measure "flat" with no phase shifts or tone controls that do introduce phase shifts and do not measure as well. Once again, we are back to personal preference and individual beliefs.

The alternative to this is equilization done in the digital domain. While i have never used one of these devices, they are said to work wonderfully. I would assume that they would work best when using a digital source. Otherwise, the analogue source would have to go through an ADC ( Analogue to Digital Converter ), have the equilization applied, and then go through a DAC ( Digital to Analogue Converter ) before being fed to a standard analogue amplification device. Those using all digital systems from source to amplifiers would not have to worry about such things though.

I would think that the REAL bottom line to your question is something along the lines of:

"What is wrong with being a music lover instead of an audiophile ?"

According to commonly accepted definitions, "audiophiles" crave the utmost in accurate reproduction i.e. "details" of whatever is on the disc, whether it be sonically pleasing or not. Music lovers are more concerned with enjoying the performance / recordings and trying to re-create a "you are there" type of listening experience. Sometimes the two types of reproduction and listening environments are / are not to be found working hand in hand.

I think that most of the people frequenting this board are a combination of the two genres of listeners, but not all. There are "sticklers" in each camp i.e. the audiophiles say that if it doesn't measure perfectly, it is not an "accurate" reproduction of what the recording contains. Music lovers will say that some components / sysems that measure well do not sound like real life instruments. My personal opinion is that one should build / listen to a system that makes them the happiest. Whatever the means that they use to achieve that goal are okay with me. Sean
Audio is a hobby and therefore ment to be enjoyed, if you enjoy the sound more "tailored" then go for it. As for me it depends what I am listening to if I want any compensation, to heck with what the extremists say on either side, its all about what sounds good to your ears. Happy holidays,
Hey Say, I agree with tireguy Tim. There are times when my ears crave the truth of no enhancement and then....There are times when I want a total body massaging foundation shaking heart pounding....(um where was I?)....Oh yeah....musical experience. This is when I tailor the gadgets to put the musicians in my listening room the way my ears perceive it best! So gather up the knowledge, suggestions,and the technical explanations and use these to gain understanding of what happens when...but most of all ENJOY,ENJOY,ENJOY!

Accuracy is always the name of the game, sometimes they are an acceptable bandaid. In dealing with vinyl/lp's the master tapes often have to have a boost of sorts at both ends of the frequency extreme's to compensate for the physical limitations of the record grooves at those top and bottom frequencies. And depending on the limitions/acoustic peculiarities of a room, they can help solve some problems. The one curious thing about them is that while they can correct the sound at the listening position, it can, not always, make things worse in other areas of the room. And if the compensation has to be too extreme, i.e. a 9db boost at X frequency, this uses up/wastes alot of the amplifier's power trying to nearly double the output at the given frequency. Which is why I'm always in favor of dealing with the room first, and resort to electronic equalization as a last resort. However, tone controls aren't really bad if done properly (and they certainly aren't expensive). It is ironic how you'll see these high-end preamps eschewing tone controls in the self-proclaimed virtuousness of accuracy and come to find its a poor tube circuit with amounts of distortion so great that any distortion imposed by some tone controls could really be considered negligable. I liked Jon Atkinsons quote on the Cary 300B SET integrated amp years ago, it went something like: "I don't regard this unit as a high-end product, its a tone control, and an unpredictable one at that." Which is exactly what happens you when the output impedence is a pathetic 3.8 ohms and the speaker load dips below that. Tone controls can be useful though and they don't degrade the signal as much as the impression some may give, at least in comparison to how poor some circuit designs are. Regarding the cables, its all basically crap and you can find a never ending slew of threads around here like the infamous "on cable nonsense" and the more recent "how much money do you want to waste." And check the link I gave at diyaudio.com
Great question Say811, and great callsign SwampWalker.

Most high-end audio enthusiasts prefer no tone controls, which I buy into up to a point. I think that that argument works exept when you talk about the very deepest bass. From 20Hz-200Hz the room and speaker placement affect the freq response +/- 25%. I have a unit that has a sound pressure mic and meter. It has an EQ that allows me to adjust the bass with 6 sliders from 22.5Hz to 125Hz. This allows me to carefully correct deficiencies in the speaker output and its interaction with the room.

Having said all that, I prefer no tonal adjustment. My tone controls are set to flat (can't be defeated unfort.). Also, I adjusted the speaker placement without using any tonal adjustment. In the end, all I have done is boost the freq at 22.5Hz and 32Hz.

As you have noted, this adjustment would offend some, but to me that small adjustment adds the extra foundation my system needs.

Now to the second question that was raised. How do we evaluate systems, by their specs or with our ears? And do cables make any difference at all?

Don't we end up using our ears in the final analysis? Our ears are very capable discerners.

I would rather have a "musical" experience rather than a technically accurate one. I have made three changes to my system in the last two months. Each one has occurred with a two week separation, so I can pick out the changes.

1) I replaced my old copper (read oxidized copper) speaker cables with inexpensive twisted pair copper cables until I figure out what speaker cable I want. The sound is much brighter. I'm not saying I'm satisfied, but the change was big enough for my wife to say, "What's wrong with the system."

2) I replaced my Adcom with a B&K. The biggest change is that percussion like tom toms sound exquisite. I would love for someone to tell me what changed electronically.

3) I replaced my MonsterCable interconnects with homemade sliver. At first, I replaced just one cable. Wow! the soundstage opened up.

Before I made these changes my stereo never had a soundstage. The question is, if it is so much better, do I stop here? I think we all know the answer to that one. :-)

Back to your original question, to adjust or not to adjust.
What happens if your sense of hearing changes? It's possible that mine has. I feel very sensitive to upper midrange. Certain speakers just sound too grainy now.

My prime directive is to recreate the experience that the musicians had in my living room. So, I adjust my gadgets and gain knowledge that allows me to set up my stereo the "way my ears perceive it best." to quote Fbi.

Merry Christmas.
I have always thought that the "accuracy" I had heard mentioned in the audio context, refered to the accuracy of not just a musical reproduction, but of a re-enactment of the performance. I honestly thought that that is what high end audio was all about and nothing else. The better the system, the more "you are there" you get. Kind of like;
Good system= nice clear acoustic guitar playing
Better system= nice clear OO size acoustic guitar playing
Best system= nice clear OO size acoustic gutar playing
right there in your room
It's only recently, as I've become involved with this hobby, that I realize that different folks want different things out of their systems. I whole heartedly agree with the sentiments you guys have posted; it's a hobby and should be enjoyed by the individual's standards and preferences, though it looks as if these may change over time as one gains more knowledge and experience.
For now though, I could care less about strickly adherring to every frequency amplitude the engineer thought sounded best. I am however, concerned about not only losing as little detail as possible but more importantly not adding any AUDIBLE noise to the recording.
Kind of looks like I'll have to add another component to my system, some type of equalizer. Also kind of looks like it will be expensive due to the quality of circuitry required to degrade the signal as little as possible.
And to think this all started about six months and thousands of dollars ago with the innocent little purchase of a $500.00 AV receiver
My approach is work with speaker placement, then fix the room, and then listen. I found my high efficiency single driver floorstanders seemed too bright (I use a sub for the bottom). At first I used some cables to calm them down some but fianally pulled out my RTA (real time analyzer) and did a third octave analysis. The speaker started rolling off at 1.6 kHz at nearly 6dB per octave. Then at 10 kHz there was an 8-9dB peak. This explained why a single 7" driver seemed to have high frequency content but also why it was hard to listen to. Out came the third octave EQ. Flattened a sag in the midrange (about 3dB) and gave the high end a nice room curve of -3dB per octave from 2kHz up (without any peaks). Bottome line: Great improvement! Suddenly my choice of cables needed to be revisited. Once that was done, I could listen to the music. Rather than scrap my inexpensive high efficiency speakers that work so nicely with tubes for much more expensive speakers, I was able to make use of equipment that was in the closet (RTA and EQ). Not everyone has this kind of equipment, but this approach is an alternative to the piece by piece looking for synergy approach. Personally, I like both and will probably take the EQ out when I can afford better speakers.
As far as I am concerned the admirable Sean has put it magnificently into a nutshell: Personally I am more of a music lover than an audiophile, besides I hate all forms of dogmatisms. So I'll play around with the timbres of my system, according to what I'm listening to, not through tone controls, not through equalisers, the drawbacks of which Sean has so admirably explained, but by twiddling the volume controls of my various preamps, which I use to control the highs-, mids-, bass- and deep basschannels of my system.
Crazy, agreed, but to them here ears the only satisfactory way I've found to change the timbres and colourings of various recordings to my liking. I tried all the other ways, but found the aural results of the unavoidable changes in phase unbearable! It took me a lot of years to end up with this solution, but I was tired to be completely at the mercy of recording engineers and wanted to come as close as possible to the sound of voices or the various instruments in the way I remembered them to sound on live occasions. Of course there are limits inherent in this method, a lousy recording will remain a stinker, but it does give you a bit more of freedom, without the usual drawbacks. Of course it was a heavy burden on the pocketbook, less felt, perhaps, because it evolved slowly through the years. But then for a true "melomane"........
Hey Say,I couldn't agree with Tireguy anymore. For me, I enjoy reading the reviewers and enjoy passing time reading what philes say on sites like Audiogon, but the bottom line is my enjoyment of my system and my music. Regardless of what anyone says! Be well, Sal
Dear SAY811,

Thanks for the great post! I started out in the mid 70's with top Marantz seperates with tone controls. I enjoyed the adjustment qualities, yet played much of my music "flat". In the early 90's the Audiophile gear bug, bit. I bought very expensive YBA gear without tone controls. Although this was a fine system with great sound there were times I did not get full enjoyment of the music due to lack of adjustments.

Last year I bought Mcintosh gear with tone controls and a loudness contour, all of which can be defeated and removed from the signal path if desired. I must admit I love the controls and find them most useful and pleasing. My sound has never been better on some of my older records. I may now be banned from the audiophile scene but I don't care, my music is sounding fabulous!
Hififile...and that's what counts for me too. I think the purists are in love with their gear, the guys like us rather love the music and gear is a means to this end! Cheers,
tone controls - did someone say tone controls?
I bought a $10000 preamp largely because it has them wonderful tone controls! They even gave me a phase switch - & I use that too sometimes!