I recently overstayed my welcome at a dealer event. It was at KJ West One in the heart of London, where Jason the salesperson was busily preparing a Naim Statement versus Constellation Audio Performance demonstration (through Focal Grande Utopia EM loudspeakers). After a day or two of showing the Naim/Focal system to small groups, this was making ready for a one-on-one session with someone who was in the process of buying one of the two amplifier systems through these loudspeakers. The prospective buyer had a more rock-oriented library than befitted the first sessions, and this necessitated adjustments to the positioning of the loudspeakers in the room.
As the fine-tuning session carried on late into the night, it occurred to me that Jason and I used the same piece of music for the same task. I then realised that many people use the same piece of music for balancing bass with midrange in a room. That piece of music was ‘Just A Little Lovin’’ by Shelby Lynne, from the album of the same name. This Grammy winning album of Dusty Springfield covers from 2008 is a popular choice among audiophiles, to highlight how good a system can sound. However, the fact so many of us have this disc in our arsenal of musical tools used to set-up a system made me think of a potential series of online articles. I’m going to walk you through how I use this piece of music, either to help establish the ideal location for the loudspeakers in a room, or to evaluate those loudspeakers.
Here’s how it works. Play the opening bars (before she starts singing), and listen to how the drum kit and the Fender Rhodes interplay. That phasey Rhodes means too much drum kit sound can cause it to be less clearly defined and blur into the mix. However, too little drum kit sound and the Rhodes moves front and centre, exaggerating its performance. Perhaps most importantly, this is a subtle interplay that responds well to the loudspeakers position with respect to the rear and side walls, and their relative position to the listening position. It’s also rare in that this change does not have a strong first-reflection component, and is also a good arbiter of just how powerful the effect of bass trapping is on the overall sound quality.
This is something that demands time, care, and a lot of to-and-fro movement. Typically, the process begins with the loudspeakers and listening position in their mathematically best-guess positions in the room, and the fine-tuning can be marked out on a floor grid. It’s best to change one plane at a time, too; so change the distance between loudspeakers back and forth, then adjust the position relative to the rear wall for both speakers, then toe-in, and listener position. Then repeat, and repeat, and repeat until everything snaps into focus. And it really does snap into focus. With time and skill, you can speed this process along, but the first time you try this, you might be devoting a day or two to the task of getting things exactly right. But when you are happy there’s no more adjustment worth making, stop. It’s best to call upon friends and family for validation, just to make sure you haven’t spent days going off on a tangent and have wrecked the sound in the process, but in most cases this isn’t how it works.