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59mga
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Tone Controls (or the lack there of)

A topic I don't recall seeing discussed here...
Over the years I have heard so many reasons as to why "audiophile" pre-amps/integrated amps lack tone controls. (Yes, I know there are a few [MacIntosh] that have them.)
I'm sure there are a variety of reasons as to why. I have my own thoughts on the subject but would like to hear from those more informed, than myself.

I would really like to know!

bobedaone
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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)

Tone controls can be very useful in taming poor recordings (or poor amplification). Also, if you want to play the system more quietly (at night in an apartment, for instance), they can help you retain some dynamics that might otherwise be lost. Some people just have different sonic preferences. My mom has very sensitive hearing and dislikes high-pitched sounds. She also doesn't care for a great deal of bass. Consequently, she often turns down treble and bass, tuning the system to her liking. My new Brio has no tone controls at all, which can sometimes be a point of contention. Since tone controls do nothing to improve the accuracy of music reproduction, many audiophiles don't respect them. They are, however, invaluable tools for many people who must have that flexibility.

ohfourohnine
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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)

I don't know that the reasoning behind leaving out tone controls is all that complicated, Mike. Given that accuracy is a design goal, short signal paths are one good way to achieve that goal. Some of the rare "better" components which do offer tone controls demonstrate that by allowing you to "switch out" the tone controls rather than simply setting them at the null point. The switch-out uses a shorter path.

mikecole
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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)

Personally, I like tone controls. I listen to a lot of hard rock and classic rock. A lot of this stuff needs some kind of help when playing it back - at least for my aging ears. I have been using a Fisher 400-X for about 3 years and use the tone controls quite often. I can't see why they can't be implemented well if you use quality parts and good design practices (not that I know sh*t about designing a circuit). Maybe there are not enough people speaking up about it ... or maybe there really is no demand for them in specialist audio.

tejas
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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)

It seems that "high end" gear usually lacks a loudness switch as well.

My vintage Pioneer SX-1050 has one and I enjoy it...use it all the time at low volume.

Peace,

Brian

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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)

Strange to say, my current two pre amps have tone controls.

What is even stranger, Is I never use them and actually have the bi pass switch on. Tone Defeat.

Yet in my music obsessed years from 17 -26, I used the Loudness Switch and Bass Boost. Those were my predominately Rock years.

Now I have both Defeated all the time. But these are my listening to mainly vocals and soloists. Perhaps my 'old fart' years.

Personally I think I 'over obsessed' at times over the tone controls, now just listen to the CD as it comes out the speakers.

ohfourohnine
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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)

You're not unique, Colin. I think many of us followed a similar path - anyway I sure did. Can't argue with it - the best reproduced sound is what you like the best - right? Listening skills, tastes in music, gear, and how to use the gear just change over time. Sorta be a shame if it didn't work that way, wouldn't it?

cyclebrain
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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)

The problem with tone controls is that they most likely won't provide the correct center frequency and/or level vs frequency rate that one will need.
A loudness control would work well if matched to a speakers loudness level.

jackfish
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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)

Ah, I remember well when a 10 band EQ was a must for one's stereo. Now I just want it flat.

59mga
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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)

Yes, as do I. These were great for "fine tuning" one's acousticaly imperfect listening room.

One of the most often explanations that I heard, for a device not having tone controls, was that a properly designed device will produce a signal that is acoustically even across the frequency band.

A lot of good point here...being able to adjust the tone to match the style of music is an advantage. Maybe I'll pull that old EQ out of the garage.

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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)

It's always been my understanding that adding tone controls just adds distortion and yet another "thing" for the signal to pass through. I have to agree- if you don't like what you're hearing it's probably either a bad recording or maybe you need to look at the overall system matching. It's tempting to think tone controls help with bad recordings (and I guess they can) but then they also add junk to all the GOOD recordings too. The only exception (for me) is that I do appreciate at least a Balance control, as many recordings, or just room acoustics tend to push the image around a bit.

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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)

Cheapskate Yes I think so. I also used to have my pre amp close enough to actually reach by hand also and ran long speak leads.

Now I use a remote which has mute and volume only basically and source input and I use short speaker cables. I also find the tone controls don't give anything like the fine adjustments that would be needed for 'my ears' to make any real different to the music I listen to, that would even want me to get up from my chair and fiddle with the tone controls.

I did change an output Tube in my CDP and get an amazingly beneficial change to my system recently,(It was due to be replaced due to age and wear)and am changing 3 tubes in my pre amp this week. I think changes like this, moving my listening chair, speakers, changing cables, etc can give me far more clarity of musical reproduction than playing with the Tone Controls.

absolutepitch
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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)

I have a pre-amp without tone controls, except for a switchable low end roll-off for phono and a switchable high cut for tape hiss, plus a volume and balance control, and tape monitor switch.

The tone controls are in a separate box. A cable takes the output of the pre-amp box to the tone control box. The signal fed to the power amp can be taken from either the main pre-amp box or the tone control box.

I have performed capacitor and wire upgrades to both boxes and interconnects. The output from the pre-amp box sounds cleaner than from the tone box, even with the tone control bypass switch set to "Out" instead of "In". My conclusion is that every extra bit of circuit adds coloration.

However, this is a subjective evaluation. No measurements were done. The output impedance of the two boxes are different. The bottom line is that it sounds better with the tone control box out of the picture, in my system.

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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)

Considering the damage to linearity of the frequency response the room does to the sound a tone control can help more than any damage it may do. I use a DEQ2496 and it appears very transparent through my system. The improvements I'm able to take advantage of with this device compared to the damage done by the room makes it a very worthwhile improvement.

Btw my dedicated listening room is fully treated with large bass traps in each corner, ALL first reflections damped as well as damping behind and beside the system. Adding a digital equalizer was like icing on the cake. I think alot of people still don't understand the improvement that you can HEAR is far more important than any extra signal path. In the digital domain it certainly has to be miniscule at most.

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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)

www.rane.com Great stuff, great "tone" controls. The room ain't flat, nothing is, adj is the solution. Audiophile nonsense no tone controls is absurd. Good preamps have a tone ckt in/out button, at least ones made based on good design and electronics, not voodo.

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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)

Hi WTL,

I agree. Here is an article that might shed some light on the subject. Page 8. There are delay times, which can either sound like an echo, or merely cause the focus to smear, lose focus. He does'nt cover this per se, that is for future articles.

The article is devoted to equalizers rather than simple bass, midrange, and treble tone controls. Also, as the author mentions, there are exceptions and he doesn't condemn equalizers per se.

(Of course, it is appropriate to equalize for microphones when recording as the mics fr can have problems.)

http://www.audioperfectionist.com/PDF%20files/journal1rl.pdf

59mga
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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)

Many good points, pro and con. Over the years as I've gradually upgraded my equipment the need for tone controls have become less and less. Besides more sophisticated gear, advances in recording techniques, becoming more familiar with room acoustics (you're correct, DUP, "The room ain't flat"), changes in music tastes and my becoming tone deaf (with age) has led me to need those tone controls less and less.

Besides, I like the clean look of fewer knobs and buttons.

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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)

I have always thought it interesting that purists will not use any EQ, however the engineer uses EQ when recording, the guy mixing it down uses EQ, then the producer comes in, well all bets are off then. I agree with Mike, about better equipment needing less help, but I find that after listening to new recordings, older recordings sound so flat I sometimes get up to see if anyone has tinkered with my stuff.
I also agree with Mike 'cause he has an gorgeous MGA. Maybe a 1600 twin cam?

59mga
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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)


Quote:
I agree with Mike, about better equipment needing less help, but I find that after listening to new recordings, older recordings sound so flat I sometimes get up to see if anyone has tinkered with my stuff.

I find this, too. And it seems, also, that some vinyl recordings are better than others. The same goes for CDs.


Quote:
I also agree with Mike 'cause he has an gorgeous MGA. Maybe a 1600 twin cam?

Oh, how I wish. Actually that picture was taken over 30 years ago, after the first "cosmetic" restoration. Now after many years and many mile it is due for a frame-off restore. I'm hoping to find a roadster so to have a matching pair.

absolutepitch
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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)

Your treated room should make the sound really good after it leaves the speakers. The tone controls I found muddy the sound before it comes out of the speakers (or headphones if you want to get around the room problem), so in my experience is what tweaking the equipment does to help.

I once had a large rug behind the older speakers that extended between the left and right sides; it dramatically improved the imaging due to the reduced rear reflections. I currently do not have that, as the newer speakers block or attneuate the rear anyway. Yet absorptive material between the speakers on the wall about 2-3 feet back of the speaker plane still improves the sound.

Absolutely, the room is more affecting the linearity than the tone controls. But I think the signal from the system should be good first, and then the room should be improved/fixed, next. Most people do nothing to their listening room, from I can gather. I too have not done enough, an currently have little time to do so, sadly. It's on the list of things to do.

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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)

Personally, I've never heard the distortion tone controls are supposed to cause. At least not that I know of. Where as on the other hand, anybody can hear the difference pro or con, that adjusting the tone controls makes. I think as long as they can be switched out of the signal path, there is no reason not to include well-designed tone controls in todays equipment. I'd rather have a tool and not need it than to need it and not have it!

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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)

Yupper, just anotehr audiophile nonsense. It also let's some that cater to it, leave out ckts and charge more. Good pre amps have a switch, tone in or out. My pre amp does. Now of course some magic ears will try and convince ya the switch causes audible abnormalitys...Damn, they better get rid of all them switches in a studio or live event, mixing consoles, equalizers, on off switches.....If ya tell a lie long enough people think it's true...works in politics and audio. In audio i think they just call it, your system is not good enough to hear it...or you ain't a trained listener. Audio is like religion for sure, always an excuse why something didn't happen that shoudla', or why you can't see or hear some magical voodo. Never the simple answer, it ain't happening or it ain't audible or even a fact

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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)

"they better get rid of all them switches in a studio or live event, mixing consoles, equalizers, on off switches....."

Not a bad idea, maybe the music and recordings would sound better. Nice thinking dup, for a change.

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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)

Thanks 301 for the article. I'm always short on time, so will have to read it later. Many years ago, there was a soundcraftsman equalizer. I think SAE made one too. Any thoughts on those units? Never got one to try out.

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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)

Good point! A good tool is very useful. I prefer not using tone controls at all and get it "right" in the playback, and then try to get the room "right" too. I never got to the room, yet.

However, if there is an anomaly that the tone controls can fix, it'll be a choice between better sound quality (without tone controls) or a slight loss of quality to equalize the frequency response (tone controls connected in).

A few years ago, I was using the tone control box output for surround channels, as the early surround channels was band-limited. The tone controls allowed me to adjust the roll off amount at the low and high ends as well as the turnover frequency, to approximate the surround specs from extracted rear channel information from two-channel source.

tandy
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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)


Quote:
Thanks 301 for the article. I'm always short on time, so will have to read it later. Many years ago, there was a soundcraftsman equalizer. I think SAE made one too. Any thoughts on those units? Never got one to try out.

Imo, wouldn't touch either one of them.

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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)

I had a Soundcraftsman years ago and was listening to Dahlquist DQ-10's. When set up well the sound was improved. It was a lot of work and easy to make it sound worse however.

They were nice units at the time (mid-high quality), but I have no idea how they would compare to modern equivalents. Some "historical" equipment is superb and more than competitve with oder units - others are dreadful. I don't know where these fall.

59mga
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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)


Quote:
Yupper, just anotehr audiophile nonsense... Good pre amps have a switch, tone in or out...some magic ears will try and convince ya the switch causes audible abnormalitys...Damn, they better get rid of all them switches in a studio or live event, mixing consoles, equalizers, on off switches...

I agree with you...a good engineer should be able to design an amp with tone controls that won't distort the signal. I prefer not to have to use them...but it is nice to have them if needed.

Kal Rubinson
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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)

http://www.stereophile.com/amplificationreviews/278/index.html

Tone control done right.

Kal

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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)

Kal, do you still find the RDP-1 as transparent now after ten years as you did originally?

59mga
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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)


Quote:
http://www.stereophile.com/amplificationreviews/278/index.html

Tone control done right.

Kal

Kal, these were most interesting articles. It is amazing how 2 so different devices can perform the same function - although the NAD did seem slightly more "consumer" oriented.

I am sure, though, that the anti-tone control folks would be opposed to such devices - after all, what comes out of the recording studio should be sonically perfect. But then there are room acoustics that have to be accounted for.

Now, here I am scaling down my system making it less complicated and you show me these 2 toys...Do you have any info on such devices that are on the market these days?
Hey, does wanting such a device make me a non-audiophile?

Kal Rubinson
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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)

I do not know of anything contemporary except for the Behringer and similar studio devices or the software modules that require passing the signals through a PC. Would seem practical to do but, I guess, there are too many complications these days such as the need for multichannel codecs.

Kal

59mga
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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)

Thanks, Kal, for the heads-up on the Behringer, etc. Being computer illiterate, however, I'll have to pass.

Maybe if I can pick-up, second hand, one of the other devices, though...

Jim Tavegia
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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)

Behringer DSP 8024

I have read where a number of audiophiles have used this piece. I am a purest myself, but if it floats your boat...do it.

59mga
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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)

Thanks for the info, Jim.
Not as expensive as I expected. It was a thought for a fleeting moment...staying simplistic is my plan. Besides, I can purchase quite a bit of music for the cost of this toy.

Jim Tavegia
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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)

Maybe this is what WP needed in his room with the Wilson Watt/Puppies? LOL Hardly!

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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)

The reason audiophiles generally avoid tone controls (equalization or E.Q.) is that they inevitably have at least some adverse impact on the sound quality. On the other hand, the benefit of a well-designed E.Q. might outweigh the detriment if a recording has big problems with brightness, boominess, etc. It used to be popular to use multiband graphic E.Q.s in an effort to correct for the frequency distortions of a room. (Which are often VERY significant.) The problem is that room acoustics cause frequency distortions that vary over time, so a static E.Q. can't completely correct for that. Acoustic room treatments are a much better solution. I've also seen reviews in Stereophile of newer, digital room correcting software that deals with frequency and time, and apparently sounds good. I've never tried it.

All that said, there's nothing wrong with having a tone control if there's a way to switch it completely out of the circuit. Wish my Creek integrated had one.

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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)


Quote:
http://www.stereophile.com/amplificationreviews/278/index.html

Tone control done right.

Kal

I remember meeting Kal at a demo of the Z-Systems rdp-1 digital preamplifier at Sound By Singer. I was horrified that anyone would want to alter recordings to sound better, believing that it's better to be true to the source and have as transparent a system that will allow you to hear "warts and all" for better or worse. I raised a question about home listeners altering history. As I recall, Kal expressed that enjoying a recording was more important and if EQing it a little made that possible without gross damage, why not? My friend, Chinh, ended up buying an rdp-1 after that demo and I became familiar with its lack of sound in his system. It's an impressive piece of gear, but, I've still got mixed feelings about it, being something of a purist: the artist released a record a certain way, and that's how it should be experienced. I do sometimes wonder if I should've bought one to have flexibility...

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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)


Quote:
I have always thought it interesting that purists will not use any EQ, however the engineer uses EQ when recording, the guy mixing it down uses EQ, then the producer comes in, well all bets are off then.

That's true of almost all popular music. You're right that it's silly to get all worried about "ruining" the sound with tone controls or other processing when the sound is so thoroughly processed to begin with.

But most classical recordings, and some folk, jazz, and even rock recordings are engineered in a more purist way, and it can be a shame to mess up the transparency of a really well-engineered recording. John Atkinson's recordings are a good example. He hasn't been afraid to admit that he's sometimes used E.Q. or even artificial reverb, but even then he's doing it very subtly, and with equipment that's light years better than any tone control you might have on your preamp.

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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)


Quote:
But most classical recordings, and some folk, jazz, and even rock recordings are engineered in a more purist way, and it can be a shame to mess up the transparency of a really well-engineered recording.


Well, there are 2 issues here. First, the transparency of the added device is testable independent of the effects of EQ and the Z-systems boxes prove that they, and others, can pass that test. Second, there are very few classical recordings that have not been subjected to some EQ and there are many that should have! How and how much to EQ, however, is a snakepit. That's what takes skill and experience. I was fortunate to hear some of the prep work for a few of the RCA Living Stereo SACDs at SoundMirror and can vouch for the substantial effect of 1/4 to 1/2dB, low Q adjustments.

Kal

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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)


Quote:
I was fortunate to hear some of the prep work for a few of the RCA Living Stereo SACDs at SoundMirror and can vouch for the substantial effect of 1/4 to 1/2dB, low Q adjustments.

Kal


Very thought provoking topic!
Kal, have you or can you do an article on these "listening sessions"? Tell us what it was like & what was done.

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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)


Quote:

Quote:
I was fortunate to hear some of the prep work for a few of the RCA Living Stereo SACDs at SoundMirror and can vouch for the substantial effect of 1/4 to 1/2dB, low Q adjustments.

Kal

I believe you. But it makes me wonder how much of that is lost on listeners who don't have studio-quality listening rooms. In my untreated living room, I'd be surprised if my speakers are even within plus or minus 5 db of flat. Maybe we all need to spend more on acoustic design and treatments and less on the audio components.

ohfourohnine
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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)

I agree with you, Mike. Perhaps I'm too simplistic, but experience tells us that recordings are going to vary in quality both musically and sonically. If they are good enough musically we're less likely to care about any but the most aggregeous sonic shortcomings and if they're musically uninteresting, we're not going to play them anyway. Set your system/room up for the "down the middle" sonics and the good productions will be treats. The not-so-good will either get along on musical quality alone or go unplayed.

Messing with tone controls won't make that silk purse out of a sow's ear, and spending time trying deprives you of the listening pleasure you put the system together for in the first place.

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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)


Quote:

Messing with tone controls won't make that silk purse out of a sow's ear, and spending time trying deprives you of the listening pleasure you put the system together for in the first place.

I see what you're saying, but none of us have a perfect room , and possibly it is cheaper to use tone controls, equalization, phase adjustments,etc.?

Kal Rubinson
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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)


Quote:
Messing with tone controls won't make that silk purse out of a sow's ear, and spending time trying deprives you of the listening pleasure you put the system together for in the first place.

Tone controls and typical EQ will not correct room acoustics. They are effective for tweaking the sound of subjectively poorly balanced recordings (and that's what I though this thread was about).

Kal

59mga
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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)


Quote:
...experience tells us that recordings are going to vary in quality both musically and sonically.

Without a doubt. And while we cannot alter the vinyl/cd/tape
themselves we can alter what comes out of our equipment.


Quote:
Set your system/room up for the "down the middle" sonics and the good productions will be treats.

This is what I do and, yes, the "good productions" sound as they should. But, unfortunately, sometimes it would be nice to be able to control the tone.


Quote:
Messing with tone controls won't make that silk purse out of a sow's ear...

As the saying goes; Crap in, crap out.

59mga
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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)


Quote:
Tone controls and typical EQ will not correct room acoustics. They are effective for tweaking the sound of subjectively poorly balanced recordings (and that's what I though this thread was about).
Kal

Correct you are, Kal. I have discovered, over the years, that it is easier to alter room acoustics and make things sound good (assuming the source is decent) than it is to try and alter the source itself. The fewer circuits there are for the signal to pass through the less the signal will be diminished.

As has already been stated, all the tweeking has been done in the studio...or something to that effect. But, as we all know, the final product (from the studio) aren't always...perfect. This is where (to me) having those last couple tone controls can sometimes come in handy.

I must admit, though, that with the equipment I purchased last year (the first new gear in over twenty years) I yet to find a need for tone controls...which my new equipment doesn't have. And I'm still happy as can be!

cyclebrain
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Re: Tone Controls (or the lack there of)


Quote:

I have discovered, over the years, that it is easier to alter room acoustics and make things sound good (assuming the source is decent) than it is to try and alter the source itself.

I think that it is far easier to alter the source electronically to correct for room modes and their spacing than it would be to change my rooms dimensions, though still it will be just a band-aid and not correct the real problem.
Using electronic frequency correction can produce a nice flat room response with a steady state signal. It will not help with all of the other problems that are mainly based on dynamic/time effects. I don't listen to steady state pink noise, I listen to dynamic impulse signals.
Ones best bet is to get the room setup as good as possible and then cover up the rest with EQ.

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