November 18, 2010

Get Better Sound, By Jim Smith.

This book will benefit all audiophiles of all levels, especially for beginners, because they get to do it right first time!

We normally don't do books, but after a buddy pass me a copy of this I felt, that more people should at least know about it. If you've been a Stereophile reader, you'd probably seen this cover pictured as an advertisement. I am also very sure the magazine did a write up about Get Better Sound.

Jim Smith, the author of the book has spent more than 30 years building a career in the high end audio industry, state side. He has won many accolades over the years, including a few "Best Sound Of Show" awards at the CES trade show.

This book, often referred to as a "Set Up Manual" by Jim, consist of 202 audio tips to improve your audio system, high end or otherwise. Most of the tips are based upon Jim's many years of practical experience in the field. Most of the tips are scientifically explainable, which Jim does very well, and where a tip cannot be justified by theory, than he'll just state his opinion and one can experience on their own by trying the tip out. The book is written in an easy to digest manner and uses mostly layman's terms that most of us non engineering qualified dummies can understand easily. Also as where and when required, Jim also throws in a simple diagram or cartoon illustration to make his point easier to understand.

I've been reading the Set Up Manual for 2 months now and can say that by just implementing 5 of the 202 tips, I managed to get a major improvement in my system's audiophile sound quality. The 5 tips I've implemented are:

1) Tip #54: The big turn off! This is regarding digital displays on modern pre amps and CD player designs. Jim reckons the best is to turn all displays off or to leave them all on! Do not use the dimmer on the equipment to dim the LED intensity half way, because it sounds worst. This never really crossed my mind much as it seems to be such a small and insignificant detail, but since Jim brought it up, I tried and agree with Jim totally.

2) Tip #72: Finding the best sounding location for your electronics and sources! I've heard many sifus talked about this, about NOT having a tall rack in the centre and in between your speakers, because it can do much damages to your system's sound staging and imaging capabilities. I had previously already located my sources and electronics to the side of my room, where it does the least damages, but my mono block power amps and PLC unit were still in the way. I had those moved further back in to the rear wall, away from the speakers, and true enough, the imaging qualities of my system took on a more solid quality.

3) Tip #76: The best bass-if you don't know where to start with your seating area! This tip tells us that the best bass volume and quality can usually be found somewhere between 16 to 30 inches from the rear wall of the sweet spot. This is where you should place your throne for best bass sound. I used to have about 9 inches away from my head to the rear wall, but now I have shifted my throne further out in to the room, exactly 16 inches away from the rear wall. The result is punchier and much cleaner bass note to note transfers.

4) Tip #77: Fine tuning tonal balance and stereo imaging with stereo separation and speaker placement! Over the years of practical experience, Jim has established a theory to the distance between the X(the 2 lines measured from tweeters which connects at the tip of your nose) and the Y(the line between your 2 speakers) values of a triangle(when viewed from plan), between the sweet spot(seating area) and speaker distance. Jim recommends that the Y value is approximately 83% of X value. Jim also acknowledges that for small rooms, the ratio can sometimes work in reverse too, which is exactly what I did in my small 10 x 12ft room. Once the placement is right, one can adjust by fine tuning the final speaker position and experiment with toe in. The result is a great improvement of sound staging qualities in my room. I used to sometimes experience what some sifus called the Do-Re-Mi effect, a wide sound stage with a triangular effect, where the instruments on both sides are at the speaker plane, and the vocals is placed in the center, but behind the speaker's plane. With this tip implemented, it's Do-Re-Mi no more for my sound stage quality, which makes for a more natural and convincing listening session.

5) Tip #96: Listening with anti-skate disabled or turned off! John Grado, the cartridge designer is an early supporter of this point. I used to employ the anti-skate fine tuning to enhance my vinyl playback's center imaging. I was never really satisfied with the results, because while the vocal imaging was dead centre, the music also sounded kinda dead with paper like imaging too. I found that with the anti skate disabled, I was able to enjoy a more 3D vocal image, with greater weight and density, and without constriction of any kind. You can say it's a new kind of "musical freedom". However, the down side to this in my experience is that the cartridge mounting, tracking force, VTA setting process requires much more exacting standards, which requires the use of more accurate setting up tools, like a proper protractor, digital cartridge weight indicator and an azimuth optimizer, which I'll write about shortly.

There are numerous other tips mentioned by Jim, that I've implemented previously, mostly on the advise of visiting sifus, and friends. Some other tips I have unwittingly implemented previously by thinking of the most logical, all before reading this book. I can summarise that the implementation of just the 5 tips above, is much more than anything else I would've gained from changing equipment or adding tweaks and accessories!

More then just hifi set up tips, Jim also provides his thoughts on some of the most controversial audio debates, which is fun to read. If one is serious about improving or "Getting Better Sound" then this book is worth your small value of investment including some time and sweat. It doesn't matter if one is a beginner, old hand or high hand, virtually everyone stands to gain something from reading this "Set Up Manual"!

Jim Smith deserves our commendation and support for sharing his vast audio experiences. Lastly a special thanks goes to my buddy who passed me this book.


Drubb said...

Hi Big E,
Any idea where one can get this book locally?

Big E said...


I am afraid this is not available locally. You'd have to order it direct from Jim's Get Better Sound website.

I know it's frustrating, but trust me, it's worth it!

Drubb said...

Big E.
Many thanks.
For everyone's info, they now have a 'Fall Promotion' which gives 30 pc discount for a limited period only.
Cost me RM144.70 including shipping, for the softcover version.