Fine Tunes #3 Page 2

Let's say you're not lucky/rich/silly enough to have your own perfectly rectangular listening room. But let's further conjecture that you do have a well-defined listening area. Try to work with the room's strengths while minimizing its weaknesses. Short-wall placement—aiming the speakers down the long wall—is commonly accepted as best. But if you've got the room, pulling the speakers well out from the long wall and listening in the nearfield might work for you. In all cases, no matter the shape of the room, try to get the speakers away from the back wall and rear corners. Bringing them well out into the room and listening in the relative nearfield will minimize the effects of the room on the sound. It's not for everyone, but try it sometime when you're tuning the system and everyone else is out enjoying themselves.

Here's a trick from Jeff Joseph of Joseph Audio. If your room is square (like many hotel rooms at hi-fi shows) and its numbers aren't good for avoiding frequency peaks and nulls, rotate the system by 45 degrees and run the speakers diagonally into the room! If doing this excites the room less harmfully, you're in business. Our own Thomas J. Norton has done this on more than one occasion.

Another tip from Jeff Joseph: If damping an acoustic hot spot on the left side wall requires you to place absorbent material at a certain height, position the opposite wall's absorbent material a few inches off of exact symmetry for a more broadband overall effect. As always, use your ears and trust your senses. (While you're at it, give yourself a pat on the back—the pursuit of beauty, meaning, and emotion in music through high-end audio is a noble one. You could do worse and grow your mind a lot less.)

You'll also need to nudge the speakers a spooge for more toe-in or toe-out. Look for a soundstage that locks in with good focus but without cardboard-cutout disease, and a treble range that sounds open, fast, and detailed, but not bright or edgy. Somewhere in there, the sense of bass articulation and detail emerges from the pressure zones that you've managed to calm. The correct amount of toe-in should yield a soundstage that's wide but maintains good palpability of image in the middle. The exact formula depends on your room and the dispersion characteristics of the speakers. Don't be afraid to experiment.

While I wouldn't ask you to obsess, do remember that one change in speaker placement affects another—much as in setting VTA. After you get the toe-in just right, you may want to move your speakers back or forth a hair to optimize their placement. Then, after all the pushing and shoving is over, would be the right time to install spikes under the speakers. (Even if you use brass spike cups or spare change to save your floor, spikes should not be considered optional.)

Another cheap trick—one I learned from the Shun Mook monks—is stuffing cardboard boxes with varying amounts of newspaper and stacking them in the corners behind the speakers. (Your long-suffering mate can even cover them in some nice material.) If you like what you hear, tuning products such as ASC's Tube and Studio Traps suggest themselves, as do many other room-tuning devices. But trying the homemade newspaper-stuffed boxes allows you to check the effect in your listening room with only modest sweat equity. If you like what you hear and live in a clean, dry climate, you might consider leaving them in place. Here in New York, the boxes pick up considerable humidity in the summer. And if you live in the country, don't make too inviting a home for varmints.

Remember, use your head, tweak safely, and always wear goggles when tripping the light fantastic.