The Entry Level #28 Page 2
That settled, it was time to address cabling. Stidsen outlined two scenarios. First, I could run the PSB Alpha B1s full-range using the Kimber Kable 8VS speaker cables I already had, then use "ordinary" 18-gauge wire to connect the output of my NAD C316 BEE to the subwoofer's high-level input. Because the impedance of the sub's input is high, "the effect of the wire is minimal," Stidsen explained. "It only needs to have low resistance, as there is almost no current [transfer] in this mode." The second option would be to run the better cable between the amp and the sub, "the concept being that you can't put back what you have lost. This crosses over the Alpha B1s, allowing lower distortion at very high listening levels (ie, dance party). Unless your girlfriend is a metalhead, the first option is probably best."
Hello! Stidsen had me at "dance party."
I went with the second option, not because I want to disturb our neighbors, and certainly not because Ms. Little is a metalheadshe prefers booty rap. Call me lazy, but it would be far simpler, and far more convenient, to run pairs of cables behind the sub than it would be to reach behind the amplifier. And, at least in this case, simpler would be better.
Cats and cables
Armed with Stidsen's advice, the aforementioned connection diagram, and my bag of cables, I could finally get to work. Or so I thought. Ms. Little was out with Natalie and Nicole, so I figured I could safely mess around with settings and make a mess of the living room without subjecting my girlfriend to the torture of hearing the same song over and over and over until I got things right. But I soon discovered that I'd have to deal with the cats: No matter where I placed the connection diagram, Stringer, with casual determination, sat on it. I placed it on the rug, he sat on it; I placed it on the couch, he sat on it; I placed it on the desk, he sat on it. Thanks for your help, cat. And as long as Avon was around, unraveling cables would be practically impossible. I might as well have been twirling sparkly ribbons, or a slab of tuna, in her face. She absolutely lost her mindand I nearly lost a finger.
Three hours later, after I'd herded the crazy cats into the bedroom, I could really get started. Ideallybecause I, too, am slightly crazyI would have connected the sub with nothing but more Kimber 8VS. I like things to have order, uniformity, coherence. But because I have only one pair of 8VS cables, that was out of the question. My second choice was to complement that 8VS pair with a run of Kimber's less expensive 4PRat least the cables would be from the same familybut my sample of 4PR is terminated with spades at the speaker end and banana plugs at the amp end, meaning they would have to connect Alpha B1s to SubSeries 1. That, too, was out of the question: my sample of 4PR wasn't long enough to reach the left-channel speaker from the sub.
I tried several other configurations before I found one that worked. In the end, the only other speaker cable I had that was both long enough for the application and properly terminated with bananas at both ends was QED's X-Tube 400 Signature, an unsolicited sample of which had been sent to our office in 2007. At the time, the cables were distributed in the US by Lenbrook, and sold for around $525/4m pair. As far as I know, QED isn't currently represented in the US, but I understand the company has a strong reputation in the UK.
So, making sure all the gear was powered down, I used Kimber's 8VS cables to connect my NAD C316 BEE and the SubSeries 1: banana plugs at the amp's speaker terminals, spades at the sub's high-level inputs. Then, using the QEDs, I connected the subwoofer to the Alpha B1s.
Everything looked okay, but I was still kind of freaked out. Would I be somehow robbing my amplifier of much-needed power? Would I be pushing my speakers too hard? Was something going to explode?
Before powering up the system, I made one last tweak: To compensate for the additional floor space required by adding the sub to the system, I brought the speakers 2" farther into the room and adjusted their toe-in so that the tweeters aimed at my ears and I could just barely see the speakers' side panels from my listening position. The speakers wound up about 2' from the front wall, 9' from the listening position, and 7' from each otherstill far from ideal, but at least theoretically better than before. The revised placement, as Stidsen had suggested, should help with image focus, as well as diminish the effects of the room. The loss of perceived bass would be offset by the addition of the subwoofer.
With the sub's Volume and Crossover controls set to "0," I powered up the system, selected a track with lots of healthy bass"Money Trees," from Kendrick Lamar's outstanding good kid, m.A.A.d. city (CD, Top Dawg/Aftermath Entertainment 1753602)settled into the sweet spot, said a prayer, and pressed Play.
I was surprised: I heard music. Imaging had improved, but bass was still missing.
Since nothing had blown up, I was ready to mess with the SubSeries 1's controls. Stidsen had recommended starting with the Crossover control set to 100Hz and moving up and down in small increments from there. He made no mention of the Volume control, so I played it by ear, starting at the noon position. On the back of the SubSeries 1 is a Phase switch, which Stidsen recommended using to achieve "a good balance" once the crossover frequency had been determined. I began with the phase set to 0°.
I was again surprised by the results: Not only was there more basstoo much of it, in fact, sounding somewhat artificial and lagging a bit behind the rest of the musicbut the soundstage was slightly elevated and the overall sound had gained clarity and presence. Nice.
My next task was to fix the bass without disturbing the gains in soundstaging, imaging, and presence. I found that if I raised the crossover frequency, I could lower the sub's volume to achieve a smooth, well-balanced, natural-sounding bass response. Flipping the Phase toggle to 180° seemed to snap the picture into clearer focus while bringing the music a bit closer to my listening positionan effect I liked. I'd settled with the crossover frequency at around 105Hz and the Volume control at about 11 o'clock when Ms. Little walked into the apartment.
"How's it going, honey?"
"Pretty good. Nothing blew up."
"Thanks. Would you mind helping me set some levels?"
If I was going to torture my girlfriend with the hi-fi, I would have to at least play music she liked. I reached for R. Kelly's brilliant Double Up (CD, Jive 708537) and played the title track. Anchored by a big, propulsive kick-drum sound, the song features a sweet, ascending bass-guitar riff and has lots of fun backing vocals and stereo effects. Previously it had sounded threadbare and anemic, but with the SubSeries 1 in the system, "Double Up" sounded like the brash, sleazy party anthem it is, with tight, tuneful bass and surprising amounts of dynamic range and space. Well before the second verse, Ms. Little and I were on our feet, dancing, singing, laughingconclusive proof that the system was doing its job.
The work had paid off. If this bass was wrong, I didn't want it to be right.
Footnote 1: PSB Speakers, 633 Granite Court, Pickering, Ontario L1W 3K1, Canada. Tel: (905) 831-6555. Fax: (905) 837-6357. Web: www.psbspeakers.com