Don't Touch That Knob!

There are a variety of reasons why some listeners can’t or don’t want to adjust the tone controls that are fixtures on most consumer receivers, integrated amps and pre-amps. The most obvious, is that while most incorporate those controls – most is not all. There are those who just won’t be bothered.

And there are “purists” who believe that altering the sound electronically, through the use of these controls is not only a breach of musical etiquette, but also the heretical sin of introducing an acoustic element not contained in the source. In fact, some electronics have a “bypass” switch that allows the user to remove the tone controls from the circuitry altogether.

So, are there “environmental” tricks that can be employed to alter the sound in the room without changing the basic electronics or settings? Of course, there are! And as you saw from our last discussion, The Best Laid Plans…, those “tricks” and room adjustments can be made to “correct” a number of different situations.

1. Giving Bass the Door

For instance, if you find that the room acoustics provide too much bass for your liking in general or on a particular track or piece of music, you can reduce the perceived bass by giving it the door – literally. Opening the door or a window, gives the energy a way to escape rather than bounce around the room generating reinforcements.

2. Get a Move On

A more permanent fix for too much bass is moving the speakers away from the wall. That decreases the coupling frequency of the wall and speaker and reduces the information where the coupling is audible. As we noted in the last post, moving the speakers away from the corners dramatically reduces the “boominess” of the room.

3. Furniture

Of course, if what you’re trying to do is to squeeze more bass into the room and not alter the controls, you can reverse this process. Move the speakers to the corners or against the wall, close the doors and windows, and remove absorbing materials such as large book cases and large overstuffed furniture. We’re not talking a little thing like a plush carpet here, folks! For those of us who don’t have the luxury of a dedicated listening room, some of these room modifications might be a no-go. But, it’s important to understand how these things will impact the sound in your room.

4. Beards Are More Than a Fashion Statement

A once common trick for increasing the bass output of a small speaker is to attach a “beard” to it. The beard is an extension put on the speaker baffle that can virtually reach the floor. The waves from a direct-firing driver can bounce off the beard’s front surface, lowering the minimum frequency perceived. In other words, the beard acts something like the disguise it is, making it seem like the speaker is putting out more bass than it actually is.

And, the reverse works here, too. If you are using a small speaker that has “artificially” re-enforced its bass output by installing a beard. Remove it and you reduce the bass you hear.

5. Shoot High Aim Low

While bass response in a room – too much AND too little – is the most common speaker/room complaint most audio folks hear, it is not the only one. The high end, a weak total range or a missing frequency is also something we hear about. And the reverse, an overemphasis of the higher frequencies, often expressed as “excess brightness” becomes a bugaboo for some.

There are, of course, room fixes for some of these complaints. And, thankfully, for most of us, the tone controls that manufacturers have thoughtfully provided also provide solutions that are often easier to achieve.

So, don’t think that the “flat” position is the “right” setting. The right setting is the one that sounds good to your ears, and in your room!

Enjoy and Good Listening!


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John Strohbeen Author

John Strohbeen was the President and Chief Engineer of Ohm Acoustics from 1978-2023.

John Strohbeen

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