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Are we too obsessed with "Flat" tone controls?

Castle Knight 2 Speakers

Hari Iyer

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Offlate i am rediscovering my micro-TL BS speakers and am currently enjoying them to the fullest. After pairing them with my Sony Integrated amplifier, DCB1 and listening to music with some bass boost ( +4dB) and treble (flat). I am now able to get the full dynamic range of the music without any need of subwoofer and getting the lowest note with ease and am enjoying them at the best.

BTW this micro-TL BS speaker uses a small 3" full-range driver and the T.Line is tuned at around 115Hz needing the bass boost for this speaker. Given the size of the room around 180sq.ft. this seems quite okay as its able to deliver decent SPLs too. My 6 + 6 Watts tube amplifier was not able to do justice to this otherwise excellent speakers. But any amplifier capable of delivering 20 + 20 Watts and above with tone controls will be a ideal pair.

So why are we so obsessed with "Flat" tone control? Many FMs go to the extend of adding an additional sub-woofer and spend almost half a lac to match the best subwoofer for their front speakers. Ideally a simple bass-boost of around +2dB to +6dB (depending upon room & speakers) would have done the job without much effort This will actually sound much integrated and far better than adding a subwoofer but no-one want to do this because they have heard so much that tone controls are best kept "FLAT" and you should actually by-pass the tone control so that they do not interfer with the rest of the signal and alter its phase -blah - blah - blah.

So if that's so why do 95% of the amplifier have "Tone controls" in the first place if its such a bad thing. I remember in my childhood days adjusting the tone controls and also switching the loudness swith to ON if i needed some bass boost or some thump. I was never worried about the phase change but simply use to enjoy it. Have we lost to too much on technalities and stopped enjoying music as it should be by reading too much?

Will open this post to FMs to discuss their experience.
 

spirovious

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I think adding boost may damage actual tonal quality.If recordings are very good,no need to add extra boost.Secondly it depends on speakers too(you know better than me :D) .If driver size is much smaller,even if we get low ends,it may be a compromise.The overall db level of system also may matter.
Another important issue is Room.Some frequencies may suffer and we need correction here(add boost or other).So may experiments takes place with success or not.

In short final sound quality is the main concern.If FLAT or corrected,we should enjoy it finally.:)
 
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Hari Iyer

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I agree and am aware of all the points mentioned about tonal quality etc. But why not try by first increasing the bass control in your amp and listen for a few days before directly going for a sub? I am sure that this option will prove to much better than spending most of your free time tuning the sub to your front speakers, adjusting its level and phase for integration. IMO if there is a large tonal difference by increasing "Bass" or "Treble" then there is something wrong with the front speaker design and i suspect "filter Phase" issues giving rise to the tonal difference.

I am 100% sure that most FMs will not agree with me but again i am just voicing my view and experience.

Note:The discussion is based for 2 channel stereo and not movies as i have not tested yet for movies and will not like to comment on them.
 
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matbhuvi

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It depends on the genre. I can quote an example. Listen to Kattu Sirukki from Ravanan (Tamil) sung by Sangeetha (Not the Anuradha Sriram version in movie). The entire tempo and mood of the song is set by the sub. My active monitors do have a fs of less than 60hz. Still, they don't even come close the experience created by sub.

Without the sub, there will be roll off of bass. How steep the roll off varies by speakers. But, definitely there will be roll off. I do agree that a sub brings only 5% improvement on average. But in HiFi, 5% is a big number.

Boosting the gain on lower frequency is not always a good idea. Distortion can creep in very quickly at high volume.
 

soulforged

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I agree, in equal measures, to both sides of the arguments. If the song needed more bass, the artist would have taken care of it. When we fiddle with the tone controls we are essentially moving away from what the artist envisaged and what the artist wants us to hear. Lack of bass or treble or any other tonal quality from the chain of equipment cannot be compensated by altering the tone of the song.

Having said that, if the altered tone is what is pleasing to the listener's ear then so be it! Yes it is not what the original sound intended to be but it should not matter. What sound you want to hear is what counts in the end. Puritans may thumb their nose but you put down your hard earned money (in most cases) to buy the equipment, you might as well hear what you like to hear.

My $0.02
 

Hari Iyer

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Agreed on most comments, but hope the decision to plunge into a sub should be taken after careful analysis of using EQ, Bass, mid & highs etc. and not before that. It seems now-a-days more of a fashion statement to own a sub in some cases. As if all issues are completely resolved by owning a sub.

Unless the sub has variable phase control its just next to impossible to pair the sub with the front speakers, not to speak about level settings, LFE and placement.

IMO if at all you have to go for a sub, then consider a sealed or other loading and not a vented one, as this may be very booming. If you enjoy boom bass then you should for sure opt for a vented sub.
 

keith_correa

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How does the bass tone control work? Boosting a predetermined frequency by xdB or the predetermined and frequencies below it by xdB?
 

omishra

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Point here is bass boost makes speaker to go beyond its inherent capability by straining it. Sub has been for the sole purpose with own capability. Naturally capable will do better job than forced one. Natural is preferred over make up. Apply same to any frequency including treble.
 
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prem

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Agreed Omishra. Using the bass control on the amp allows you to only increase vol at a specified frequency which usually in most of the old amps is set at 100 hz. If there is a room suckout at this frequency it helps. Else it can mess up the tonality. Also the bass control is unlikely to give you any increase in bass frequency extension.

Sub on the other hand will give you bass extension into the 20s. Also because of the crossover control one can precisely dial in the sub taking into account the room nodalities. In the past i have had a REL sub and it was a breeze setting it up. And yes even a simple Lata song from the 60s benefits with the addition of a sub even though there are no low freqencies in the recording. You just get more presence in the recording when you add a sub and dial it in properly. A badly set up sub on the other hand can mess it up.
 

prepress

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What I have experienced is, there is no doubt flat (pure direct) is the best way if you want to hear everything clearly, going beyond flat mode adds frequencies (in other words we can say it suppress/overlap over other frequencies). BUT (Big BUT) it all depend on the recording of songs. Mostly Indian recorded CDs has issue, some has more vocal, some has more bass/treble and if I think anything is lacking, I play with Bass, Treble, Mid, Loudness controls to make them neutral (+ - ).

So there is no finalized rule to keep everything flat, we should play with controls to make them sound better.

Anybody tried "Shukran Allah" from Kurbaan? Too much bass.
 

Vinay2013

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I don't know much about integration of sub in a stereo system but at times I feel that some songs are better enjoyed with sub (as per my experience).

The questions that often come to my mind
1) If we have to keep the tone controls flat, why they are there in most of the amps?

2) How do we know that a particular song is intended to hear as is (without touching tone controls, when every amp and speaker has different tonal quality (Also differences in speakers footprint bookshelf, floor standers, two way, three way, full range etc.)

There is a album by Jagjit Singh -Visions; all the songs have so much enhanced treble that at times, it is unbearable to hear it without adjusting tone control.

I feel that in my Tabaq (with Tymphany 3.5" group buy drivers), when I activate loudness feature or increase bass, it gives better sound quality up to a certain volume. In very high volumes it starts distorting the sound but I don't have to go that high.

Point is, if I like the music better by adjusting tone controls then why not. In our humble set-ups there is no way to get the music as it was intended to listen. I am not saying that tone controls can be substituted by a good sub but they are there for a purpose.

Regards,
Vinay
 

Hiten

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A well recorded music deserves high levels of fidelity. which could be a revelation in itself. Please remember the core of this hobby is trying to achieve fidelity. Which is the amplification true to the original source. But this hobby is all encompassing from people who love technical stuff to vintage stuff or those who consider listening as only criteria. Electronic components generate noise, Capacitors shifts phase, regular Potentiometers are noisy. So additional components are not preferred. But since chances of having and liking a well recorded/mastered music are few; hifi system could benefit from tone controls. Tone defeat function is a good compromise. My cheap amplifier has tone defeat switch and sometimes I do use tone controls. As there are lots variable from personal liking to the room it is convenient. Don't know what are high fidelity tone circuits but they are expensive specially which are considered best. Cello

...a song about Money from movie Shallow Hal.

...just kidding I can live without Cello :)
Regards
 

keith_correa

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Offlate i am rediscovering my micro-TL BS speakers and am currently enjoying them to the fullest. After pairing them with my Sony Integrated amplifier, DCB1 and listening to music with some bass boost ( +4dB) and treble (flat). I am now able to get the full dynamic range of the music without any need of subwoofer and getting the lowest note with ease and am enjoying them at the best.
Lowest note of what? What low frequencies can you hear with +4dB of boost at 100Hz?

T.Line is tuned at around 115Hz needing the bass boost for this speaker
Assuming that this can reproduce an octave lower than the line tuning freq. - ~57Hz. What low frequencies are you missing when you listen "flat"? And how can you hear lower than this frequency with +4dB of boost at 100Hz.

Am I missing something here?
 

Vinay2013

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Sure, one should definitely go ahead then. After all, its your ears and if enhancing/suppressing frequencies floats your boat - why not!

What I was trying to understand is, how will you determine that your system (including amp, speakers, room acoustics) are perfect and require no adjustments.
 

Hari Iyer

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Lowest note of what? What low frequencies can you hear with +4dB of boost at 100Hz?

Assuming that this can reproduce an octave lower than the line tuning freq. - ~57Hz. What low frequencies are you missing when you listen "flat"? And how can you hear lower than this frequency with +4dB of boost at 100Hz.

Am I missing something here?

I heard only a couple of songs with this setup and still am discovering the correct bass boost level. Yesterday i heard with +2dB bass boost and 0dB treble and i find that quite suffficient for most numbers.

I am not able to go anything lower than 60Hz. Even at this freq its -6dB level. If i am able to boost this by say +3dB i am able to acheive double the bass too. Bass boosting will be beneficial for those speakers which has a higher -3dB roll-off level. For speakers that are capable of lower -3dB level in the range of 30Hz it will be over emphasis and masking of mids & highs due to boosted bass.


If you wish to discover more, please drop over for a listen.
 
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slash1814

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I always prefer to engage bass & treble controls..but never top it up with loudness button, unless volume is less than 8'o clock AND treble is 0 db. As someone said, it depends upon genera, I say it depends upon artist. Listen to Mark Knopfler / Dire straights (solid example), you can do with flat (flat and not source direct), listen to thin recordings say Van Halen (1984 album) or a more common (but not so thin sounding) example..michael jackson's Billie Jean, if you want to enjoy that bass-line (every one knows wat I'm talking about)..you will crank bass by few notches.Though its a jewel of a best selling album "Thriller" recorded by the A-Team (MJ, Qunicy Jones, Bruce Swedian etc.) same for Off the wall / Bad / Dangerous and other albums. I can't help cranking bass for "Wanna be starting something.." I can NEVER listen it in pure direct mode..off-course with my resources.
 
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jmascreen

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If you wish to discover more, please drop over for a listen.

Hari, Can you put up a youtube video comparing flat as well as bump up bass, as outstation FM's wont be able to come in physically to listen.
 
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