Tag Archives: audio

Where are the bass and treble controls?

First a disclaimer: this is aimed at the newbie to audio “hi fi” systems. Audiophiles stay away; skip this article.

Let me tell this story as my personal experience, while dipping my toes into the pond of High Fidelity to experience the sensation of near-actual live studio/concert hall musical performances.

First, I found a mentor; an audiophile as crazy a perfectionist as you would expect. Someone who won’t blink an eye to put down mega dollars for that little incremental improvement towards perfection. This was to draw my inspiration from and to establish my own realistic (that’s tough!) benchmark against. When he had got me sufficiently excited, it was time to go shopping.

I set myself a budget of RM20,000 ( it was USD 5,800 then) for a reasonably good entry-level system. I settled for the NAIM 5i integrated amp, Marantz K.I. Pearl Lite CD player and a pair of floor-standing Polk Audio RTiA7.  For the interconnects, I use the Kimber Kable PBJ  and for the speaker cables the QED Bi-Wire. Just to be sure, I plonked some dollars down for the Chord power cables. My mentor gave me a pair of UPS to stabilise/clean up the incoming juice to my amp and player. On top of that he gave me some gadgets and additional tips to improve the sound quality; but that’s for a later different story.

I hooked that all up and fired them up and… yes! For a guy used to listening to music on a portable cassete/CD player, it sounded so sweet to my ears. It seemed like every instrument came alive. Then it happened. One day the sound just does not seem “right”. It felt lifeless and flat. Even a friend commented that his Bose integrated system sounds better than my so called Hi-Fi separates system. I invited my mentor to take a look. He suggested I relocate the system and to arrange them elsewhere in the living room and helped me pick a new spot. And he was right! The music came alive again! But not for long….

I enjoyed my system for a few months and then like before, it suddenly didn’t seem as sweet as it should be. It’s like, I suddenly realise the sounds were too bright and thin and there’s just not enough oomph in the low frequencies. Should I change my speakers? Should I change my amplifier? I don’t think it’s my Marantz K.I. Pearl-Lite; that should be good enough. After researching the Internet, I came to the conclusion that a sub-woofer would probably help fill the sound voids. But hey! Isn’t a sub-woofer really just meant for the home theatre? Researching some more turned up some literature that advocated adding a (right-type) sub-woofer to the system. But since the amplifier, unlike an AV Receiver, does not have a LFE sub-woofer output, it means the correct sub-woofer has to be able take high level input, straight from the amplifier’s outputs to speakers.

It took me a while to find a right-type hi-fi sub-woofer, but I found the REL range of subs a possibilty. Off I went to the local distributor’s showroom in Sunway Pyramid and auditioned a REL T5 hooked to a NAIM 5i. And it certainly made an audible difference. Next, I asked for a home demo; if it works just as well in my home on my system, then I will buy it. And what do you know? It works well! For me the acid test will be to see if the system now passes muster with my mentor the next time he visits.

So why did I go to all this trouble? Where are the Bass and Treble controls? Shoot! Just crank up the Bass and turn down the Treble! Can’t you?

Well, the answer to that is still the same reason why the Bass and Treble (and generally the equalisers) all went out of fashion in the 80’s in Hi Fi amplifiers. Apparently the move was started by NAIM and soon all other brands came around to the same notion as well.

And what’s that notion? Well, all equalisers, bass and treble controls are actually filters and they remove portions of the sounds that went into the media (CD, records, etc). And to the purists, that’s subtractive and not true Hi Fi. The controls actually distort the sounds. OK, so what’s the difference with the sub-woofer? The (Hi Fi) sub-woofer takes the actual signal from the amplifier and further amplifies the sounds (from the very low sub-bass 30 Hz to about 120 Hz). The result is that it adds to the overall sounds, very much like suddenly a bass guitarist fires up his instrument, or he turns up his bass guitar (or bass drum) volume. The original sounds from the floor standing speakers do not diminish in any way. When tuned properly, the sub-woofer should feel like an integral part of the overall Hi Fi System.

That’s all dandy, if….and that’s a very big IF, the sound engineers have done their jobs well and IF the CDs are all made very well. Who has not listened to a badly produced CD or track? No, not even the addition of a sub-woofer can make up for the CD that’s badly produced in the first place. Perhaps we should start a rating system for the sound engineers and music producers, like we rate movie directors and producers.

Archive Your Audio Cassettes As MP3

Update:  7-Sept-2014

You hate the incessant tape hiss of your old cassette tapes, right? Well, good news! Audacity has a noise removal feature that will minimise your tape hiss to an insignificant level when you convert your tape recordings to MP3.  Here’s how to do it:

1.  Follow the setup procedure described below, in the earlier tutorial.

2.  This time, after saving your recording as an Audacity Project file ( .aup ),  scroll through the length of your recorded waveform to locate a silent passage (ie. between songs) which is essentially the background tape hiss. Highlight/select this portion of the waveform.

3.  On the Audacity top menu, select “Effect” -> “Noise Removal” -> click on “Get Noise Profile”. That’s the portion of tape hiss which you highlighted in Step 2.

4.  Next, on the Audacity top menu, select “Edit” -> “Select” -> “All”. This will highlight/select the whole recording.

5.  Finally, on the Audacity top menu, select “Effect” -> “Noise Removal” -> “Step 2 ……… stay with the default settings, Noise : remove” -> click “OK”.

6.  Audacity will now do its magic; it will scan the whole recording and remove whatever “noise” that’s comparable to the “noise profile” . Depending on how long is your recording, it may take a few minutes to complete this process.

7.  Now you can export the .aup file to MP3, minus the irritating tape hiss.  That’s it.  Enjoy!

If you are a music lover and if you are now a forty-something or more,  chances are that you will have a treasure trove of precious cassettes ( and maybe vinyl records or -gasp!- even 8-track audio cartridges) that you want to archive in your  hard disks or thumb-drives. Well, here’s a neat way to do just that.

Things you need:

1.  A cassette player with line out (or at least headphone output); preferably a stereo-player with USB output for easy connection to a PC.

IMG_5279_1038Most cassette players should be adequate. I bought a no-frills stereo-player with USB output for USD18.00 online that does the job well.


Audacity-logo-r_50pct2.  An audio capture software that converts the tracks to MP3.  There is a free software, Audacity, that will do just that.

The cassette player which I bought online came with Audacity on a CD but it was an old version. You can easily download the latest version from http://audacity.sourceforge.net/
Audacity is such an awesome software that you can easily get lost in the multitude of functions and features. Stick with me here, and I’ll walk you through the mere essentials you need to get our immediate task done.
To me, Audacity is to Audio that GIMP is to Images/Photos; you get the picture.

The Procedure

1.   Load your cassette into the player and connect the  player to the PC with the USB cable.  Do this before starting Audacity so that the software can recognise a USB device is connected.

2.  Start Audacity.
a.  Choose 2 (stereo) input.
b. Set USB device as your input. Do not select stereo mix for your input. If there is no USB option available, choose Transport > Rescan Audio Devices.
c. On the “Advanced” tab, in the “Default Format” section, make sure the drop-down menu is set to “2 channel 16 bit 44100 Hz”.
d. Enable the Meter Toolbar and select Monitor Input. Start your cassette trial playback and aim for a maximum peak of around –6 dB.
e. Stop and rewind your tape and you’re ready to go. Start the player and simply press the red Record button in Transport Toolbar to start recording from the player.
f. Save the project as a Audacity Project File ( .aup) and then export as MP3. That’s it!