Fine Tunes #39

Last month I wrote about lasers of various pedigrees, so useful in marking walls to the sides and behind the listening position to ensure that your loudspeakers are toed-in, level, and equidistant from the sweet spot for best soundstage, imaging and focus. Using small Avery stick-'em labels makes this a snap. I've converged the tweeter axes of my JMlab Utopias somewhere about a foot into the wall behind the rearmost of our two listening chairs, and use two Studio Traps and a single Argent RoomLens between the speakers to cancel and damp the near-rear-wall reflections. With just a jiggle of the chair back or forward, suddenly I'm there.

It's hard for me to suggest a way to ensure that your speakers, using whatever laser you've purchased, are measured with the laser in exactly the same location on both cabinets—but make sure they are! You've got to use your imagination a little. C'mon, it didn't kill me, and I didn't get where I am today, anyone remember The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin?

The Utopias are easy. They have a large, flat, square top with a seam running down the sides where their Porsche 911 Carrera lacquer meets the Anigre side panels. Lining up the laser is a cinch on top of the Utopias at exactly the same place—I drop two of the pointy feet of the SAS laser assembly into the seam running front to back on one side where the sidepanels are attached, and slide the laser to the front leading edge on the top of the Utopia. Where and how to attach a laser to your speaker so it's in the same position on both sides thus becomes, in the classic sense, Your Problem.

In any case, you must level the speakers before lasering. Use a good level and adjustable speaker spikes. We use the older but efficient German Acoustics cones—they're easy to adjust, even with the speakers already positioned—under all four corners of the speakers. You can even kick up the rear a touch if your listening chair is a little low, as my Ribbon Chair is. Aim the laser sideways as well and dot the walls if necessary. This might be helpful if your speaker doesn't have a flat top and you have walls either side of your speakers that are perfectly squared up so measuring from the back wall will give you the exact position of your speakers out in the room and ensure they're sitting the same distance from the listening chair.

I usually tape a square of cardboard to the wall behind the rearmost listening chair and aim the laser in that general direction. That way, you can easily mark "laser fall" with a Sharpie without marring the wall itself. Move the speakers around until the spots from the laser are equidistant from your ears and at the same height on the cardboard on the back wall behind the listening chair. Of course, you'll need to mark your ear height on the cardboard before the fun and games begin.

We're not quite done yet. First off, you've got to make sure you're not kidding yourself. (Oh, the jokes I could make!) Sit in the listening chair and do a 20/20 on your speakers. Does one look as if it's sitting a bit closer to you than the other? If so, that's bad. You want both first-side arrival times to be the same. To ensure this most important of adjustments, we must invoke the Magic Twine Twick.

The Magic Twine Twick is a simple if silly-looking procedure, so be sure that whomever assists you likes you at least well enough not to talk. First, make sure the twine is thick enough that it won't s-t-r-e-t-c-h in use. (I don't know the size we use—it was ripped off the ball long ago.) Cut a length of twine that's just a bit longer than the distance from your nose to the tweeter, or wherever you've picked as a repeatable reference point on your speakers.

Then assume the position—one end of twine held to bridge of nose—and remain unmoving (K-10 says this is how I look when I'm trying to work) while your partner marches back and forth between the speakers to see if there's any slack in the line and to find out if the twine reaches exactly to each speaker. If the twine hits the same spot on both speakers, they're equidistant!

Speaking of which—once you've got your speakers where they should be, what'll you do with those one-ton speaker cables? Over the months, I've passed on some novel ideas for cable picker-uppers: glass building blocks, old power-company ceramic insulators, even plastic cups with holes drilled in 'em. And, of course, there's a slew of commercial products designed for the purpose.

Over at Tweaker's Asylum, one poster shared his cup, as it were. He was freaking out 'cause his wife puts up with his audiophile craziness and still loves him! This time, she'd even helped.

He'd already tried my idea of using disposable cups as cheap cable risers: "Not aesthetic, and a problem when she vacuums." To say the least. The Missus then bade him move his audiophile derrière and find some press-seal freezer containers and—hey, why not fill 'em with play sand? A little light goes on, he procures containers and sand, glues the plastic tops on, inverts the containers, and glues some U-shaped plastic clips to the new top. He reports that each container weighs about 12-14oz and is now much more stable.

Yep, they're both happy. Audiophile love. And when company comes over, he just moves his RoomLenses out of the room!