Passion of the Hi-Fi: Part I - Unlistenable

Photo by Lalupa, Wikimedia Commons

There sat the hi-fi. Untouched. Unplayed. Unlistenable. Bass resonances continued to torment my sound. Geddy Lee, Paul McCartney, and Sting all produced loose and exaggerated bass energies in unnatural ways. I was constantly perplexed with the unevenness in my bass response. Despite hours of tinkering with speaker placement hindered by random obstructions, namely a queen-size bed, a poorly positioned radiator, and stacks of guitar amps, the bass resonances remained.

There sat my hi-fi, mocking me.

Rather than be subjected to my woofers taunts, I focused my energies on headphones: simple, compact, and fun. They are listening at its least complicated. All you need is one plug, one source, and two ears.

But I couldn’t ignore the hi-fi forever.

Upon my return from a record shopping binge in Santiago, Chile, I decided to confront my system again. To stare down my speakers and listen to some god-damn records.

First up was Mercedes Sosa’s Homenaje a Violeta Parra, a simple recording consisting primarily of nylon-string guitar and vocals. There was less sonic information to create those dreaded bass resonances to distract me, but then, I noticed something awfully strange: my soundstage seemed imbalanced, with the majority of the image coming from my left side. I thought I had heard this before while listening to the piano recordings on Stereophile’s Editor’s Choice test disc months prior. I was already distracted by the problem of bass resonances. I wasn’t ready to tackle the imbalance anomaly yet.

But now it was unavoidable. I wished to listen to records again through speakers but without worrying about the sound. This would only be possible if I took the time to fix my system's problems.

I came into work the next day and spoke to JA. He hypothesized that because my left speaker was so close to the adjacent wall reflections may be arriving earlier on the left side causing an imbalance in the soundstage. Since I was limited by room dimensions and other obstacles, it was time to change listening rooms. I feared bringing my hi-fi into the living room and placing it into the clutches of my messy four-person home, but maybe it was worth it.

Go on: Passion of the Hi-Fi: Part II

remlab's picture

 Welcome to the club! Relax, have a cigar, make yourself at home.

volvic's picture

See if you can find some second hand speakers that work well when placed close to the in NYC with space at a premium, I have a pair of Linn Kan speakers that are specially designed for small rooms.  I have them right up against the wall and they sound just fine.  I am sure there are others as well...Naim, etc.  


dalethorn's picture

Now if I could just find those Ofra Haza recordings she made in her final days that weren't released (or not released right away).

Et Quelle's picture

My hi-fi works in my apt. But that is because, it is only 2 persons here and one is usually gone. Mulitple oxygen-intake bodies might suck the life out that prime audio. But, be cool as the (Linn Roundtree) jazz that I play right now!!

Bill B's picture

a major imbalance would probably be more than just a speaker placement thing.  If you have listened equidistant between the speakers, and up close too, then a significant imbalance towards one side is probably something else - amp, turntable, etc.

remlab's picture


remlab's picture

....the younger crowd prefers headphones, I guess. Roommates and semi dedicated living/listening rooms don't mix very well.

TriodeDave's picture

Seems to me I've heard speakers at one of those hifi shows that get stuck up against the wall. The name will come to me eventually . . .

John Atkinson's picture

TriodeDave wrote:
Seems to me I've heard speakers at one of those hifi shows that get stuck up against the wall. The name will come to me eventually . . .

When you remember the name of that audio brand, Dave, I will be sure to make a note of it.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile