Getting Back Into Hi-fi: Part IV
So where were we? Ah yes, I had just nailed loudspeaker positioning in my tiny bedroom by switching the left and right speakers placing the tweeters on the outside of my array. This change widened the soundstage and stabilized the central image but sacrificed some pinpoint high-end articulation I had with the tweeters inside the widths of the speakers. Yet, excessive bass resonances remained as evidenced through Paul McCartney’s bass runs on “Something” from my Abbey Road LP. Though a touch vaudeville, Paul is still a reserved and classy English gent, and there’s no way his bass guitar would demand such a boisterous presence. I had to get him under control.
I outlined the perimeters of my speaker stands with masking tape as a memory marker in case they were ever moved. While I initially thought moving my left speaker away from the corner would reduce the bass boom, narrowing the distance between my speakers failed to squash the over-reactive bass frequencies and also murdered the soundstage, but most importantly disrupted the visual palindrome of furniture and record crates that existed between my speaker stands. Not only was the new setup bad for sound, it was bad for my room’s feng shui. SM once told me that good speaker placement will not only improve your sound but will also stabilize your room’s energies. The Silent Master was correct.
Based on a suggestion from JA, I covered the mirror on the door behind my right speaker with a towel to eliminate reflections. This de-smeared the image on the right side of my soundstage just a touch and let the soundstage reach further back. It also made me less self-conscious about my current weight-loss plan.
In between my two loudspeakers sat a 19" flat screen Dynex television resting on a blue Ikea mini mesh wire table. Although JA advised that a flat-screen TV would most likely not cause sound reflections while in between the speakers, just looking at it sit in the middle of my system where I visualized saxophones and synthesizers while listening offended my imagination. With my eyes open, facing a blank wall or images of inspiration and history like my Grateful Dead Radio City 1980 poster or my Chilean flag relaxed the senses more than the stone-faced lament of a powered off television. Thus, the TV was relegated to the floor until a wall mount is purchased. In addition, moving the TV made me feel like my center image was more focused with better defined lines around the instruments. Audiophile nervosa slowly spread through my veins.
Since my left speaker’s backside faced a corner, I put the case for my broken Liuqin there to absorb some of the soundwaves, and this tamed my bass a bit, but still not enough.
What was missing? Larry the Cat jumped on my lap, peered innocently into my eyes, and sniffed at my face. His nose smelled like poo: “Dirty kitty! Face-digging through your litter!” Kitty Litter! A light-bulb went off.
I heard of filling speaker stands with sand and/or lead shot and on occasion, with kitty litter, but I hesitated on the litter idea worried that Larry would pee on my speaker stands. Just in case, I emailed Sam Tellig who lives with his cat Maksim to ask him his little furry kot ever releaved himself on his favorite Skylan stands. ST replied:
Not if you close up the stands real fast.This was reassuring, but I would rather go for the audiophile classic first (sand and/or leadshot) than take the chances with the litter. When purchasing sand to fill one’s speaker stands, listeners must be sure to get *moisture-free* sand, which generally means buying children’s play-sand and not just scooping buckets from Coney Island into a sack. One old trick is to take the moisture filled sand and bake it in the oven to evaporate any water inside the grains, but I wasn’t willing to go to those extremes. No children’s toy stores operated close to my home, so I searched for moisture-less sand at local hardware stores.
If you filled the stands and then left off the top plates for a while, your kitty might very well piss in them! As it is, Maksim doesn't even sniff.
Google Maps directed me to three hardware stores all close to my home in Kensington. The first did not exist. The second was closed on Sundays, and the third was actually a construction supply warehousing company. Upon arrival, bachata music blasted from a shuttered steel garage. There was no door or sign, just a poorly maintained garden to the side of this old green warehouse. I rapped quickly, loudly, and repeatedly on the metal door hoping whoever was listening to bachata would have my sand. No response.
The next Sunday, Google Maps directed me to Yossel’s 18th Avenue Hardware in Borough Park, a 20 minute walk from my home. I called up Yossel: “Hi, do you carry sand?”
“Yes, we carry sand.”
The Chasidic hardware stores are always open on Sundays. Thank Hashem.
The orthodox Jewish wives and their children stared at me as I prowled their streets for sand. I wanted to yell, “I’m one of you!” but my shoulder-length biblical mane was an anachronism, and my look more aptly filled the role of bum than King David.
I meandered into Yossel’s. Yossel approached me: “Can I help you?” he asked quickly.
“Yes, I called earlier. I am looking for some sand.”
“I’m sorry, but we do not carry sand.”
“But…but I called earlier, and you said you had sand. Why would you say that?”
“We have potting sand.”
Yossel brought me two bags of fertilizer.
With no sand in Kensington, I ended up purchasing a 25 pound bag of Tidy Cats Non-Clumping 24/7 Performance Brand kitty litter for under six dollars at Foodtown! What a steal!
I sat on my front stoop with my two speaker stands, blue plastic funnel, cup for scooping, and a 25lb. bag of kitty litter. With an Allen wrench, I removed the top plates from my Target speaker stands. The plates are supported by two hollow tubes. Covering each tube is a Waning moon shaped extension with a hole in the center to screw in the plates. I scooped a cup of Tidy Cats, poured the litter in the funnel and placed the funnel’s spout directly on top of the hole where the screw would normally tighten into. The ‘no-clumping’ litter clumped together at the bottom of my funnel and would not pass through this small hole. Slowly, I slid the funnel to the small gap, the waning moon’s shadowed surface, where the kitty litter began pouring out of the funnel profusely. I repeated this process until both speaker stands were filled and returned them to their masking tape marked positions in my room.
Next, I rolled up three little balls of blue-tack and placed them in a vertical line pointed to my listening position across the speaker stand’s top plate. I mashed my Usher S-520 onto the blue-tack balls affixing it tightly onto the stand. After that, I was ready to play some music! But first, bass test tones.
I cued Track 21 on Stereophile’s Editor’s Choice the “Bass Decade 1/3-Octave Warble Tones at -20dBFS”. With the filled speaker stand, I was happy to hear much more clarity and depth within each tone and a lack of excessive boom! The warbles were clear and un-accentuated. Instead of my room throbbing, I heard a healthy and clear bass response, and it even seemed that the low end extension of the speakers went further down. What a change! I couldn’t wait to hear what it would do with my music.
Yes, I wanted to talk about my A Farewell to Kings listening session in this insert, but that will happen in my next journal entry. Peace!