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  • Tone controls vs wire used as tone controls

    Since discussion in general has slowed down lately...

    As previously stated, I am not a purist, requiring tone controls, balance control and if possible a loudness contour control. All defeatable of course.

    So while reading an article the other day on speaker wires. $35,000 for a ten foot pair. Then I looked around a bit more an ran across several interconnects in the $15,000 per on meter pair. In effect these wires are used as tone controls. One high end cable even has adjustable "poles of articulation" each pole covering a given frequency range and adjustable, ergo a tone control.

    So I'm thinking why not build a subtle tone control into the electronics in the first place? Perhaps a parametric with very fine adjustments.

    Devaliet has developed programmable speaker matching technology. They apparently measure the interaction of a specific speaker with their amplifiers and adjust the amplifier to match the speaker. For the more budget minded the new Technics integrated will apparently send a test signal to the attached speaker and make adjustments on it's own.

    On the interconnect side of things, equipment matching is a little more subtle given the small signals. Integrated amplifiers eliminate one interconnect and thus one potential mismatch. A pre-amp and amp from the same maker should have minimal connection issues. I've found a decent isolation transformer like a Jensen can cure a variety of ills.

    And finally, why "single ended" interconnects and not "balanced"? Although what the audio industry refers to as "single ended" is in fact a balanced connection and what is referred to as "balanced" is a differential connection. Balanced circuit electronics with "balanced" interconnects would reject virtually all noise.

    Seems to me that sometimes a lot of time, money and effort are spent on things where perhaps simpler solutions of better designs and better ideas would make more sense than essentially patching the same old thing.

    Slings and arrows at the ready. Preparing to repel borders.

  • #2
    Don't worry, I'm harmless old school - I'll neither cross that border nor come aboard. :-)

    Carefully selecting amplification, phono, linestage and power, then buying wire to change (fix?) the character of that amplification is a path I'm not on. Likewise I'll take a pass at buying equipment with tone controls. Some gear does tonality better than others and some gear synergizes with certain gear and not with others. Granted all wire has some character, may add distortion, and there is no ultimate "neutrality". Trade-offs abound. Perhaps naively the sound of live music remains my guide.

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    • Rust
      Rust commented
      Editing a comment
      I find myself with disparate requirements for a system. To provide sonic improvements for shall we say less than perfect recordings, while also able providing clear reproduction of excellent recordings. invariably presents me with a dilemma when making decisions regarding equipment choices.

  • #3
    I dont usually get invoved in these discussions anymore as I am not out to convince anyone and most people have a prefixt opinion on 35K speakercables anyway ( ergo no point in even talking about it) However Using a warmer sounding cable to attenuate highfrequencys is soundwise completely superior to using a built in tonecontroll in a amplifier. Yes, yes i know there is more then one way you can build a Tone control, but in every instance I have tryed it, the sound has suffered in one way or another, which leads to most people who do serious listening to defeat them.
    The "multipole" technology in MIT cables is NOT a tone controll as such. With the lower pole cables you could build them in a way to just articulate low frequencys but by the time you get to the midrange cables there are so many poles that they cover virtually the whole frequency range and with the Top of the line cables all the gaps in the middle aswell....
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    • #4
      I think that to get to the bottom of an issue, you have to ask the right question. Just like in science.

      And there are a lot of questions in the one post but I'm only going to address one at the moment: should or are cables used as tone controls. Do people use cables as tone controls? Sure. Is that the best way to fix things or should cables be used as tone controls? No.

      I'm with Tim on cables. If you use cables as tone controls, you heading down the path of mutually assured, self destruction. You won't know the capabilities of your system because there's no free lunch. At the same you are fixing something, you're screwing something else up. Every time you change a component, you will be switching cables. And end up not knowing what's doing what. (same can be said for using too many tweaks to improve the system; or else each and every time you change a component, you have to remove all the tweaks and start over from scratch again.

      Point is, I think the latest generation or two of three of cables have moved far past being tone controls. In fact, one might be surprised how much many of the issues one complains about in the recordings are a result of the gear, cables, AC power, room acoustic, etc and not the recordings. Good cables, like good gear, should enhance the sound of all your recordings, not as one person once said, reduce the number of recordings they like and listen to one. If that's the case, they have some real problems elsewhere.

      And if I get what Tim is saying, he like me, uses cables for among other things to decrease the noise floor of the system (and bring out greater resolution), address the articulation of notes, resolve recording space ambience, etc. And having listening to different models and versions of the MIT cables, despite the interpretation of the information, are far from a tone control. Again, when you hear MIT cables, they will lower the system's noise floor, bring out greater resolution and tone colors on recordings as well as giving the listener on the best recordings, a greater sense of the recording hall. And the best cables, rather than adding to colorations, decreases colorations. How do you tell that. It's not easy but the best way is using all the cables from a given manufacturer rather than mixing and matching colorations.

      Do you need to spend and arm and a leg to get the best? Not necessarily as there are some very good sounding cables out there for less money. One example are the MG Audio cables. But the best of breed, be they MIT, Transparent, Nordost, Audioquest, Purist Audio, or a host of other companies, should be seen and not heard. Cables should do one thing: bring one closer the music, allow more of the music to pass through unaltered and drop the noise floor/increase transparency.

      Finally, why are tone controls needed? Obviously to fix less than stellar sounding recordings. My solution. Play them in the background, rather than critically listen.
      Myles B. Astor, PhD, Administrator
      Senior Editor, Positive-Feedback.com
      ________________________________________

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      • Billy Shears
        Billy Shears commented
        Editing a comment
        See the probelm is that if you are dealing with super expensive über components they are usually so balanced that you actually WANT a dead neutral transparent sounding cable. But I have just never come across a lower or medium priced System that does everything perfectly. So why not choose a cable that emphasises what you are low on and takes the attention away from what there is too much of. Otherwise you will be in a endless circle of component changes and still not end up wit a balanced system

      • MylesBAstor
        MylesBAstor commented
        Editing a comment
        Because there is no free lunch? 😄 Rob from Peter to pay Paul. If you have to resort to these measures, perhaps you bought the wrong component? Just playing devil's advocate. If the system is bright and you are trying to cure it with a cable, then you are barking up the wrong tree. Perhaps the first thing people should do is wire their system with cable from the same company?

    • #5
      As someone who uses a SS phono pre, a tube preamp, and a SS amp, I find the impedance adjustments on my MIT cables to work very well with an easily heard difference. Yes, aren't we first using cables to hear anything at all? Has someone developed an effective way to connect the audio chain without wire? After the connection, I use cables as Myles said to best hear more music and less noise. Less noise leaves the listener with a clearer and more dynamic signal. I might add that as crazy as some cable prices might be, the more expensive ones have blacker backgrounds and allow for a better signal transmission. I try to keep a loom of one brand as well.
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      • #6
        For everyone, thank you for the well considered replies.

        Myles - I have to disagree that less than stellar recordings be relegated to background listening. Some recordings in my collection, ranging from Renata Tibaldi to Granite City are less than pristine but of such significance that they cannot be consigned to background listening. As HP posited, they are windows into other times and other places. On the other hand, superior recordings of less meaningful music is to me, background music. It's all based on context.

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        • #7
          I came up in this hobby when tone controls were disappearing from preamps because it was thought that their presence in the circuit created sonic problems. (I think the last preamp I owned with tone controls was an ARC SP 3-a-1 and it had a defeat button). Frankly, most of the tone controls I had experience with on early equipment made pretty gross adjustments, and outboard equalizers --at least those of the marketed for home audiophile variety-- didn't seem very good. (I never played with the Cello, which was expensive when new, and probably still fetches money- there are some other EQ's out there- I think Rockitman uses one for tapes that is outboard and may be a piece of "pro" kit).
          Cables- though I wouldn't want to use them as a 'tone control' there's still some issues of synergy in my experience. I certainly haven't tried every big ticket cable--in fact, I use good but not crazy money cables- but to some degree, I thought there was some "tuning" involved in the cables with active networks. I'm not raising that as a slight to those designs, nor do I think of that as a "tone control" in the negative sense, but a way of better tuning the system to work together. I'd love to have the on the fly ability to adjust the contours of sound to compensate for (perceived) deficiencies in the recording. (Of course, someone would want a "more cowbell" button, but that could probably be done by remote control).

          Comment


          • Rust
            Rust commented
            Editing a comment
            No such thing as too much cowbell.

        • #8
          Rust so true
          Chris
          ----------------------------------------------------------------
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          • #9
            For me speaker positioning is my main weapon for achieving tonal balance. It's free, plus it burns a few calories.

            That said, I am not against tone controls or eq at all. I would require however that the particular piece of equipment that has it allows the feature to be totally bypassed if I want to.

            As for cables, I look for cables that do not sacrifice overall gain (I have long runs) and are as minimally subtractive not just on gain but frequency and harmonic content as I can find, quiet (low microphonics) too. What many might call "sounds like no cable at all". Of course none of us actually knows what that sounds like but that is the idea LOL.

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            • #10
              Myles:
              ... And if I get what Tim is saying, he like me, uses cables for among other things to decrease the noise floor of the system (and bring out greater resolution), address the articulation of notes, resolve recording space ambience, etc.
              10-4, you got it. Undistorted or v. low distortion signal delivery is how I like cables. Preferably no smearing, no phase anomalies from dielectric relaxation. Minimize eddy current effect. All that stuff that messes up signal timing? Don't want it.

              And I tend to prefer the loom approach, for all the reasons Myles laid out.

              I confess the idea of correcting perceived inadequacies in source material, regardless how important is that source material, the idea of trying to do that is alien and confusing to me. (That's not the same as changing VTA for record thickness.)

              Say poor mic placement for the ambient stone cathedral surroundings yields hard upper octave brass - and I'm supposed to start dicking around with some frequency range?

              Muddled low frequency information cashes out as lack of harmonic resolution between string basses and cellos ending up as inarticulate soup - this is on the source mind you (so I imagine the claim) and not the inability of a tube amp to handle a speaker's 24Hz dip, and what is to be done? Press the Loudness button?

              Forget the prospect (for now) of screwing things up elsewhere - there is no free lunch - but I can't imaging myself playing in a booth after the fact. I suppose in a twisted way I am saying the source is sacred - it is what it is. If it is inadequate that's a shame. Maybe I'm not thinking about this properly or with limited imagination, but I don't get it. Could a cable create synergy where there is asynergy or poor synergy to the point where it affects the source?

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              • #11
                I subscribe to the single manufacturer loom premise. Most manufacturers have price tiers of wires that usually work well together. Usually.

                I've previously had looms of Monster Cable, back when it was nearly the only game in town, Audioquest, and DH Labs.

                Regarding Monster Cable. It was certainly better than any of the "included" wires or Radio Shack. Awhile later I tried the inexpensive DH labs wire when they were first hitting the market and that was significant bang for the buck. The interconnects were much more detailed and while the speaker wires were a little lighter in the deep bass they did provide more detail. Next up was Audioquest, the interconnects were a different flavor, not better or worse, just different. The speaker wires were Rocket 88s which were overall a little more detailed and a slight improvement in the bottom end.

                The current wires are Kimber, Silver Streak interconnects and 12TC speaker wires. The Silver Streaks are twice the price and more of any previous interconnect. They are better across the board, neutral and detailed across the frequency spectrum. Not twice better mind you, but better. The 12TC speaker wires are also about twice the price of preceding wires but the improvement was more significant, neutral, detailed with greater bass depth and clarity.

                Each set of wires was an improvement over the previous set. The amount in improvement from loom to loom was not commensurate with the increase in cost, but the improvements were there at every step. At this point the Kimbers are at the absolute limits of what I am willing to spend on wire. This is not to say I haven't tried different more expensive wires borrowed or loaned. In those cases the sound was different, the differences subtle at best, and not necessarily "better".

                All in all I am fairly satisfied with my system. With tone controls (defeatable of course), a balance control but unfortunately no loudness control with the preamp currently in use.

                I had previously mentioned Jensen isolation/impedance matching transformers. About ten years back I had a CD player which did not play well with others. Insertion of a transformer with leads as short as possible soldered in was an amazing improvement.

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