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Tone controls, the ear and the audiophile - curse or saviour?

Dougal

New member
Tonelux Tilt

Tonelux Tilt

http://www.tonelux.com/tilt.html

This seems to be exactly what we are talking about. It is studio gear and as I have no knowledge about that stuff I do not know if you can put it inbetween a pre and a power amp or how else to use it. There also is a microphone-pre from Tonelux with the tilt-function. Yet again I have no idea how to put that onto a regular home-listening environment.

There seems to be a software solution from Softube (made together with the Tonelux guys) as well. For that software they built a prototype which never got into production which seems to be exactly what we audio-fans would like to get:
http://www.softube.com/index.php?id=tilt
This looks like a very useful unit but it's a shame there is not a 2-channel version with RCA phono ins/outs. But then again... a reconditioned Quad pre/power combination would fit the bill nicely.
 

thurston

New member
XLR connections?

XLR connections?

http://digitalaudioservice.de/tonelux-tilt.html

Here it says that channels 1 & 2 of the above mentioned TILT have XLR in- and outputs. As I understand that would make it possible to use that machine inbetween a normal pre and a power amp. If XLR is not provided (as with my Sony pre) a adapter cable Cinch > XLR might be used. My power amp even has XLR cause it comes from the studio (Klein + Hummel).
 

Pluto

New member
No amp tone controls = a sales bonanza for gadgets

No amp tone controls = a sales bonanza for gadgets

For a long time, I lived happily without tone controls as I bought in to the misguided audiophile notion that tone controls could only 'corrupt' the sound.
Although I don't fully understand the psychology at work here, it appears that the marketing goal is to convince users of the need for the purest possible path[SUP]1[/SUP]. If that is true, and the industry hope is that you will deal with routine nuances (for which tone controls are intended) by buying additional or alternative capital kit instead of the application of a tenth of a turn on a simple control, that really does indicate that the industry has sunk to a level of moral decrepitude that, in a civilized society, ought to deny it an existence.

It's unfortunate that the standard Baxandall tone controls aren't really ideal, but a tiny bit of extra effort can yield something not unlike the Quad 44 arrangement, which is superb. These days, we probably wouldn't need the filter due to the decline of vinyl as a serious medium for high quality recordings.

So I'd be completely in favour of a relatively user-friendly DSP system, ideally one that could also be implemented as an iTunes (or other software of choice)
Have you looked at J River Media Center, a full media player package for Windows computers that works beyond reproach for audio playback? It incorporates an excellent DSP section which offers, amongst other things, a first class graphic equalizer and a parametric equalizer which, IMHO, is the best approach to tone control - offering infinite flexibility and intuitive operation.

[SUP]1[/SUP] Why convince them that no tone controls is the way to go? Why not sell 'em more expensive tone controls?
 

A.S.

Administrator
Staff member
The Michelin chef and his autocratic ways ....

The Michelin chef and his autocratic ways ....

That is exactly the sort of tone/tilt function I've been recommending for years - looks very similar indeed to the QUAD tilt control I wouldn't be without. What the audiophile needs to get a tight grip on is the idea that the recording engineer is the chef, beavering away in the kitchen creating sonic cuisine. He decides for his own palate how much seasoning to add but who is to say that my taste is the same as his? I might prefer a little more salt. I might be feeling under the weather and my body craves rather a lot more salt. To cater for individual tastes, diners are provided with salt an pepper on their tables and they can flavour as they wish. And so they should.

But not the audiophile. He spends a small fortune on his amplifier without the tone controls that were de rigeur a generation ago and is told, in effect, 'no, don't you dare ever dream of adjusting the sonic flavour to suit your ears, your room or your recordings. I'm a Michelin chef and I'll tell you what's good for you...'. Simply outrageous. I'd leave the restaurant immediately, and I left the amplifier debate 30 years ago because I was not going to be told by a mere amplifier marketeer how spicy my audio cuisine should be.

Demand tone controls or walk away. There are plenty of other Michelin grade amplifier chefs around. The circuitry is very simple and inexpensive, but this issue is not actually about a few dollars of circuitry: it's about mind control.
 

Pluto

New member
A business opportunity opens ....

A business opportunity opens ....

The audiophile... is told, in effect, 'no, don't you dare ever dream of adjusting the sonic flavour to suit your ears, your room or your recordings. I'm a Michelin chef and I'll tell you what's good for you...'.
But Alan, what I do not get is why? Surely, herein lies the scope for the industry to sell the willing punter all kinds of exotic fruit... so why the solid 'thou shalt not have tone controls' stance?
 

EricW

Active member
Clear benefits - but practicalities?

Clear benefits - but practicalities?

Have you looked at J River Media Center, a full media player package for Windows computers that works beyond reproach for audio playback? It incorporates an excellent DSP section which offers, amongst other things, a first class graphic equalizer and a parametric equalizer which, IMHO, is the best approach to tone control - offering infinite flexibility and intuitive operation.
Sounds ideal but I have over a thousand CDs ripped in the Apple Lossless format and stored on my home Mac - I see the benefit of good EQ/DSP, but the need isn't strong enough to justify the financial and time investment in changing systems. If either an iTunes-compatible or a system-neutral solution were available at a reasonable price, I'd be all over it, because the benefits are clear.
 

Pluto

New member
Sounds ideal but I have over a thousand CDs ripped in the Apple Lossless format and stored on my home Mac
In that case, take a look at the J River Mac version! It's still a bit alpha-ish but it's a very extensive program and although some of its video-related functions will probably take some time to stabilize, the audio bits appear to be working well. The ultimate aim is for it to be as indistinguishable from the Windows version as possible.

Early adopters are getting quite a good deal too - the cost increases month by month as the software matures.
 

A.S.

Administrator
Staff member
Marketing?

Marketing?

But Alan, what I do not get is why? Surely, herein lies the scope for the industry to sell the willing punter all kinds of exotic fruit... so why the solid 'thou shalt not have tone controls' stance?
Answers: 1) How many amplifier manufacturers also market cables and other tweaks to act, as you suggest, as tone adjusters? If they don't surely the beneficiaries would only be those companies that do sell tweaks 2) Do these tweaks actually work - do they actually, objectively change the sound and if they do, how small a change is that relative to turning a tone control knob? 3) Is it not more likely that the dominant alpha-male herd instinct is what drives fads and fashions and that once one or two amp makers (supported by the media) proclaimed that tone controls were anathema, the industry just fell in behind them? As we have seen here for many long years, an individual who takes a position on tone controls being the consumer's friend is completely ignored.
 
Tone controls for the 21st century

Tone controls for the 21st century

In that case, take a look at the J River Mac version! It's still a bit alpha-ish but it's a very extensive program and although some of its video-related functions will probably take some time to stabilize, the audio bits appear to be working well. The ultimate aim is for it to be as indistinguishable from the Windows version as possible.

Early adopters are getting quite a good deal too - the cost increases month by month as the software matures.
As the world moves to playing music from computer-based files, applying "tone control" becomes much easier and less expensive. Rather than use software playing the music to modify the file 'on the fly' it is as easy to play a version of the music file modified beforehand to have exactly the tonal changes required. This approach minimises the computing load when playing the file, which may affect sound quality if the computer is simultaneously being used for other purposes.

There are several free or inexpensive programs available for PC and Mac that provide shaping of the frequency response. The advantage of this approach is that a modified version of the recording can be tailored to match the characteristics of the current equipment, room, and the ears and taste of the listener. Further versions of the original file can be generated as and when any of these factors change.

Other limitations in the replay of a collection of recorded music can be solved with this approach. For example recording levels differ wildly; in general for acoustic music recorded in a natural environment there is a level (i.e. volume control setting) that gives an individual the best listening experience (instrumental balance, stereo effect etc). The 'volume control' setting for each file can be adjusted by the software to a 'normalised' level and saved for future playback.

Unfortunately it is not possible to reinstate the musical information lost in the recording by misguided 'engineers' (actually short-sighted technicians) by applying peak compression to reduce dynamic range, and by applying information compression to reduce file size by omitting sounds regarded as 'less-important'. N.B. Compression without losing information - lossless compression - is possible and perfectly acceptable (e.g. Apple lossless encoding).

Personally I find the limitations introduced by the latter two recording artefacts are far worse that any other characteristics of recordings so I do not feel the need for any tone controls. I agree with the view expressed earlier here and in other threads that if something sounds amiss first check elements in the replay chain other than the speakers (I find the SHL5s totally even-handed). In particular I would worry about the frequency response of the pickup cartridge in a turntable-based system: nearly all moving-coil cartridges have a significant peak in their treble frequency response. A very few cartridges have a flat frequency response (within 1dB): the Shure V15 and the Technics EPC 205 measured this way but neither are now available.
 
G

Gregl

Guest
The two types of listeners ...

The two types of listeners ...

Well said Mr Shaw now get the designer and audiophiles to listen. GOOD LUCK!

I think as we all know we have two kinds of people here :

PERSON 1 loves the gear changing always searching for what he thinks is better because the audiophile media which is bad as the real media tells him we have a mk2 with better capacitors the amp has 'darker backgrounds'. BS

PERSON 2 puts on a cd or a record and listens to music and spends his or her money on more music. Never a worry about the gear or the WIRE.
 

EricW

Active member
Impressive!

Impressive!

In that case, take a look at the J River Mac version! It's still a bit alpha-ish but it's a very extensive program and although some of its video-related functions will probably take some time to stabilize, the audio bits appear to be working well. The ultimate aim is for it to be as indistinguishable from the Windows version as possible.

Early adopters are getting quite a good deal too - the cost increases month by month as the software matures.
Thanks! I had a look at the website and the product does seem very impressive indeed. I may wait a couple of months as they seem still to be working some bugs out of the Mac version, and to me the extra $10 or $15 is not as important as having a fully stable product. But it does look like it could be the answer, and at a pretty reasonable price too.
 

Pluto

New member
Rendering audio files

Rendering audio files

As the world moves to playing music from computer-based files, applying "tone control" becomes much easier and less expensive. Rather than use software playing the music to modify the file 'on the fly' it is as easy to play a version of the music file modified beforehand to have exactly the tonal changes required. This approach minimises the computing load when playing the file, which may affect sound quality if the computer is simultaneously being used for other purposes.
Sorry, but I disagree with the notion of 'pre-modifying' your files

  • The CPU load of a well-written 'tone control' DSP is insignificant. Not noticeable, in fact, on my baby Asus netbook running JRiver - and modern computers don't really get less powerful than that until you dive down into Raspberry Pi territory.
  • The actual tone control requirement can easily change. Move the speakers slightly, add a new piece of furniture - all these things can require tone control adjustment.
  • I sometimes listen at 2am - very quietly so as not to cause a disturbance - but I use the DSP feature to create an old style 'loudness button' for such occasions.
  • etc. etc.
I feel your idea of pre-modifying files seems to have been been dreamed up by an audiophile fundamentally averse to the very idea of changing anything, but "let's do it sneakily when nobody's looking and we might get away with it" ;)

If the changes you need to make are immutable then, possibly, there is a case for rendering[SUP]*[/SUP] but one of the great beauties of old-style tone controls is their ability to bend with the wind. At a technical level, suppose you had added some HF boost to all your files to compensate for the shortcomings of some dodgy speakers, and then you get a pair of Harbeths and realise that the previous change was made rashly and want to restore the staus quo ante.

Unless you have access to the original, unaltered, file you are in trouble because such changes are not a free lunch. Having added, say, 3dB at 10kHz previously, there's a good chance that a subsequent -3dB at 10kHz will not produce a precisely complementary result - and that's assuming you remember exactly what you changed the first time around! While one or two such changes are unlikely to create much trouble, once you start rendering change upon change upon change.....

No, one of the great advantages we now have is the ability to change audio 'on the fly' in a huge variety of ways. Such thinking is clearly anathema to the audiophile mind, but so what?

* Rendering is the general term for permanently changing a file to incorporate changes
 
Sound adjustment

Sound adjustment

Thanks for the comments Pluto. Perhaps I should have been clearer in my writing:

1) I agree absolutely that the original file should not be altered because, as you say, one's tastes etc may change. So keep the original (with a couple of archived backups of course), make a copy each time new 'tone control' effects are required, and modify this as desired for current playback.

2) I agree that the computational power of most modern computers is huge compared with that required for the music-playback task however, because the computer operating systems commonly in use share their power between a multiplicity of tasks by doing a round-robin of processing each task in turn, there is a possibility that timing errors may be introduced in the playback task, causing hiccups in the sound, if there are other major tasks being processed. I've experienced the latter, which I cured by stopping other tasks.

3) I'm amused to be classified as an "audiophile": the object of my post was to suggest a means of reducing the need for fiddling with controls for a piece of music each time it was played, to meet the tone-control requirement identified in earlier posts. As a music lover (primarily) I wish to hit 'play' and listen. With 56000 tracks ripped and about 6000 still on CD (both largely classical) I rarely find tonal artefacts in a recording impinge significantly on my enjoyment of the music. Occasionally I initially think the surface noise on recordings transferred from 78s is too loud but the ears/brain soon compensate. Of course I may not like the recording acoustic or the effects of microphone placement but I doubt if there is much I can do about that.

David
 

fred40

New member
The Graphic Equaliser is king!

The Graphic Equaliser is king!

Why bother! With or without tone controls. If you want all the sonic control you ever dreamed off, just get a standalone graphic equalizer
 

Hipper

New member
A cost-effective equaliser

A cost-effective equaliser

Very interesting thread.

I’d like to make a few points please. I’ve used a Behringer DEQ2496 Digital Equaliser for a number of years now but I understand better then I used to both it’s possibilities and limitations.

I think the general idea has been mentioned: if you can, deal with room acoustics with passive treatment (bass traps etc.); then adjust speaker and listening position for best sound - again if you can; finally, if you wish, use an equaliser to finish the job.

For those that can’t do some or all of this, clearly tone controls can help.

My limited experience (only in the two rooms I’ve used) is that there is not a gentle problem with bass but large peaks and suck outs at particular frequencies, usually related to room size. Deal with these and you have made large progress towards good sound. That’s why some say a parametric EQ is useful as it can theoretically home in on those specific frequencies.

Another factor often overlooked is that our hearing varies from person to person. Age and injury can alter what you hear. For example, I’m 60 and I found that I need to add 4dB to 6.3kHz and 8kHz to level the response compared to the lower frequencies. For 10kHz if I add 16dB it is still not as loud as the rest, and I can’t hear 12.5kHz and above at all. Clearly I could use an EQ to adjust the frequency response to compensate for this. If I don’t do this I miss out on some useful percussion. The problem is that this can introduce harshness and it seems that too is related to deteriorating hearing.

On the subject of introducing some sort of tone controls to speakers, the maker of the VMPS speakers I have, the late Brian Cheney, developed an active crossover using the Behringer DCX 2496. He looked into using the DEQX (at ten times the price) but found the Behringer good enough. This gave him the active crossover but also some EQ possibilities. He found the ADC and DAC it contained neutral so that the characteristics of anything earlier in the chain, including other DACs, could be heard. Indeed his set up of CD -DAC - Berhringer DCX - Amps, with two digital-analogue conversions, is not the pure signal path we are supposed to have but Mr Cheney found it sounded good to him. If you gave him your room information he would install some EQ curves on the Behringer that might help.
 

Rolo46

New member
ITunes as a graphic EQ solution?

ITunes as a graphic EQ solution?

ITunes on a Mac provides an effective pre amp with graphic controls, which if used moderately, is not destructive

In additive mode, headroom is decreased and amp clipping could result, however by tweaking pre amp level subtractively this fear is reduced.

Not that I think cds need tweaking in comparison to vinyl, but it can be useful in honky rooms, however LS positioning and room treatment (plenty of drapes,carpet,upholstery) are superior imho
 

Zemlya

New member
QUAD tilt control - simple, effective

QUAD tilt control - simple, effective

Interesting thread. I have a QUAD 34/306 combo and terms of industrial design, I've never encountered a better solution to room/speaker interface as the 34's TILT/bass lift controls. I did the merry-go-round and went full circle back to the 34 preamp. I lucked out and found a pair that were literally mint, and had never been molested by any of the many QUAD "upgrade" companies out there. I had the units serviced by QUAD's service depot, and they are giving me all the pleasure (and flexibility) that I could ask for.

Most likely a parametric EQ would give someone more control, but it also more complex and may potentially be a source of tweaker anxiety (is it just right?). The TILT controls give me all the control I need in a domestic setting where playback is the only concern. Maybe the next step is digitally automated room correction?

When I sold audio a few years ago I know that the digital room correction that existed then resulted in a 'sweet spot' where the mic had been placed for feedback.
 
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