Does anybody pay a pro to dial their system in?

Bought a new system here and I’m shooting in the dark for what to expect. It sounds underwhelming to me and I feel I need a second pair of ears. My new system comprises of:

Benchmark AHB2

Benxhmark DAC3 

Totem1 bookshelf speakers

i know the system is not the problem, it’s me. All just muddy. Small room 12x8. I’ve added carpet and thick curtains on all three walls (behind speakers and both sides. On the sides I have two sets of curtains so I can open them in the middle so I don’t deaden the room too much. All in all I’m not thrilled at all at what I hear.

Over the last year Ive been listening day and night to a great “lively and exciting” set of headphones (Fostex TH900) which I love and maybe this has set a bar on what I’m looking for in a room system. I understand that a system and phones are two different experiences but for now the system doesn’t hold a candle to what the headphones are giving me.

I’m  wondering if hiring a professional to dial my system in would be a good idea as I really don’t know what to expect from the system and my small room.


I think you can get it straightened out in this forum pretty quickly. If you post pics in your virtual system it would be helpful. The first thing to dial in is your speaker positioning, ideally your speakers are at a 22 to 30 degree angle from your chair, and you can experiment moving them closer and further from the wall and toeing them in toward you:

Are you looking for acoustic treatment advice, cabling advice including power conditioner and pc, or component/source advice?

If I had to exist in a 12x8 room (audio wise) I’d look for ’perfection’ in a headphone system. I believe a good speaker based audio system needs ’breathing room’ that doesn’t exist in a room that small, whereas a high end phone system can create a full sound stage with great clarity. You might give up some sense of depth of image which IMHO is that DOI is one of the big benefit of normal speaker audio. I think you will enjoy your money spent (wisely!) on a good headphone system more so than trying to get great audio in a room that small.

Agree with @kota1 .

Do your homework reading everything you can on this forum and others and watching youtube vids. Some of the info will apply to your situation.

It takes time.

In a room that size you will definitely be doing (almost) near-field listening.

The room and the setup will give you half (or more) of what you will hear.

See my pics under virtual systems of my treated room and setup.

Don't give up!

Thanks Newbee and the rest of you.

Newbee I’ve been loving my headphones for the last year, at home and out and about and I’m leaning to agree with you - I don’t think this system can beat what I get out of those cans with portable amp. However, all is not lost on the system

as I plan to find a bigger apartment this year, one with the potential for a great listening room.

Kota1, I’ve done exactly as you said and have the triangle dialed in. More to play with here, opening those wall curtains etc a bit so as not to deaden the sound too much, moving carpet etc etc. 

i have to fly tonight or tomorrow to the US so will not be dabbling for the next week. Looking forward to picking up a pair of 15’ speaker cables while I’m there as these 6’ cables aren’t giving me much flexibility. Luckily Benchmark have reasonably priced cables to do the job.

Once you have done the quick movements, and hopefully got some benefits. I will typically listen carefully for a couple weeks. Make next steps very slowly… with long intervals of listening so you can really detect the exact change in character of the sound.

If sound still confused move speakers closer to or further away from front wall and side walls.

Think about the soundstage, depth / width and then occasionally make another small move. If you have your triangle correct already, make moves in toe in.

There is a lot of advantages to learn how to do this yourself.


 I would also like to encourage you to put photos of your system  under your userID. It is really helpful. Often someone will describe the two or three things they think is the issue and it will be something completely different that was not brought up… but is identifiable in the photos.

Thanks GHDprentice. Yes, I’m doing all you recommended. I’m sure in the coming weeks I’ll get closer but I can’t help wondering if a second pair of experienced ears would help in case I’m not being realistic in what I’m hoping for. I’m at a point of thinking “does this sound horrible” (it does to me) but then again I haven’t had the luxury of time to really sit for long analytical sessions. 
One thing that is true that nobody has mentioned is the quality of the recordings I’m listening to with regards to mastering/engineering etc. I remember over a decade ago when I bought my first system I wasn’t able to listen to the majority of music I had liked previously as the system pointed out all the recording flaws.

i haven’t got around to setting up my new Bluesound Node yet and am working off a few CDs I have laying around and unfortunately I don’t have my usual “reference” tunes to guide me that I listen to from portable (great) headphones and headphone amp, that will tell me a lot once I get the Node up and running.

Even a modest set of headphones can sound really good. If you want your system to be better than your headphones, you'll have to buy some very expensive loudspeakers. Once you get sorted out, no headphone is going to match the loudspeaker sound you get but it might take some work and some bucks.

The Benchmark gear is VERY revealing, you will be able to hear all the good, and the bad. As for room size either a nearfield setup or a desktop setup will work fine, regardless. Example:

Small Home Recording Studio Design Ideas - img-Aaralyn

Russ69….I think my speakers aren’t the problem - from all accounts the Totem 1s are great speakers and bigger speakers just won’t cut it in this small room. To counter what you say about no headphone can match speakers - if my system came close to what I’m getting from these headphones I would be a very happy guy. A bigger room and bigger speakers would be great but I’m stuck with this small room (for now). 
i think the speaker vs headphones thing is more about different experiences. I could happily live with headphones but I want a different experience, just being able to chill in a comfy room as opposed to between a set of cans is what I’m looking for, but I don’t think spending more money is going to fix the problem.

Yes, calling in an expert (for measurements and prof. advice) is a very good idea. 

You might have dampened your room a little too much in combination with a listening chair/speaker positioning that enhances the bass too much and gives a muddy sound in the mids as result.

I too recommend you to start with a very near-field positioning to find out how you like that.  

Haven't had the Totem One's but have had the Totem Sky's and they're certainly not muddy. Wouldn't use the One's below 80Hz.

Of course your room can handle bigger speakers. You just need to control them.




you have very nice components. Perfect for a small room. I have similar room size and a much cheaper system and I have two comments

yes, some recordings will sound like crap on a good system. What sounded enjoyable until now, can now sound chaos. I just sold 20 or so albums because they didn't cut it.

what does sound good, should sound incredible with the Totems. They are very musical, good highs and mids. Vocals should fill the room like the sweetest sound. Pull the speakers away from each wall as far as you can, until you may be 5-6 feet away from them, which could be just right. I have slight toe-in, crossing behind my ears. 



OP, you sound like you are reasonable. Maybe you should start questioning your gear. Benchmark is very detailed sounding… maybe you are looking for more musical gear. I think Totem is a good speaker to meet your expectation… I own a pair.

The sound quality you get is really dependent on your equipment. It can be anywhere from naked lean and detailed to enveloping warm and organic. I’m starting to think you are a warm enveloping musical guy (like me) as opposed to a lean detailed (Benchmark) guy.

Maybe it is the equipment?

@thomastrouble I have owned two pairs of Totem Model One’s, and a pair of Totem Model One Signatures, both. Along with a good friend who owned both non and signature version too. Hundreds and hundreds of hours of listening to all. Between the four pairs, heard them in five different rooms, powered by three different solid state amps and three different types of tube amplifiers. It’s not the speakers. My high current dual mono MOSFET solid state amp made the Model Ones sing, full-bodied too.

imo, I think it’s partly your room, and components some too. I’ve also owned the Benchmark DAC3B. There was something about that particular dac that never quite settled in with me. Owned three non-tube and one tube dac since, all sound better to me. All not as quiet, yet simply sounded more engaging to me. Always felt that dac was beat into submission and killed some of the musical sound in it, somehow.

Before you move, is there anyone with a different amp/dac/borrow, to try again? All of my Totem Model One speakers (non signature and signature versions) responded well to quality speaker cables and quality interconnects. Lower quality cables will not let Totem Model Ones shine. Spent a lot of time with those speakers with different amp combos in different rooms fwiw. Best of Luck.  

Half the fun is tweaking and dialing in your system. That’s what we as audiophiles do. Paying someone else to do that is like paying someone to golf for you.


It definitely wouldn’t hurt to consult a professional acoustician. Small rooms are difficult but can be made to sound great. Jeff at hdacoustics is very good with small rooms. He was recommended to me by Duke LeJeune of audio kinesis. He designed my room and I am glad I used him. Good luck !

When I purchased new subwoofers from 3ma Audio in Houston, they setup my system. They started with removing my room treatment, room analysis, moving the listening position and speakers. The final steps were dialing in the subwoofers. 

Having owned and sold a pair of Fostex TH900's and also  having a high end system I would have to say trying to replicate the same sound of the Fostex in any pair of bookshelf speakers  nearly impossible ! The Fostex in my opinion are very bright sounding headphones .  I did love transparency and the bass but overall I could not keep them on very long, my ears and brain  were very fatigued after 30 minutes of listening ! 

Listening with headphones and listening to a pair of speakers is a totally different experience unless your going to wear those speakers on your head !

The right professional to set up a room and equipment is money well spent and I think a consultation before you go any further is my recommendation .

Your Benchmark DAC is hardly larger than the a typical remote. What this means is that it relies on op-amps rather than a robust conventional output stage. Not to once again declare that the emperor has no clothes but every time I see a Benchmark DAC in a major magazine get rave measurements assessments I cringe-the measurements of digital components including DAC's completely fail to address the sonic differences between components with robust analogue output stages and those that do not. There is more to it than that-the input stages, circuit design, isolation and grounding but the largest contributor to a great sounding DAC is the all-important output stage. 

Let me give you an easy example-old fashioned cd players. Those that sound best but don't necessarily measure best are often designed by conventional amp builders-the likes of Bryston and years ago, Classe. The reason is that with their amp building background they pay attention and devote resources to the output stage. 

One other quick point: how broken-in are your components, TT, and specifically the speakers? As an audio mentor of mine often said, you gotta put current through everything, at least a couple-hundred hours, before you start to hear what they really can do. I'm thinking especially of your relatively new speakers. 'Just thought I'd ask.

Hey guys, so many great responses, same in two other posts I can’t keep up…..I’m flying today on a thirty hour trip with stop-overs so can’t respond but I will in the coming week, just wanted to let you guys know I’m. not ignoring all your great input.

Thanks again for all your effort!!

Sorry if this has been asked, but what is your source?  Any chance the signal in is the reason?  That amp and dac are solid.  

Yes and it’s the best decision that I’ve made in this hobby. I’m a music lover first and and audiophile second. Bringing in a pro doesn’t limit your opportunity to play around, change or tweak things. But they bring expertise, tools and experience that I couldn’t match. 

To that end, I worked with J. R. Bosclair of Wally Tools on turntable set up, room analysis and improvements including a distributed bass array. There is no way I could have ever gotten where I am now on my own. Not even close.

By teaching myself I can now do it anywhere and for friends, too. Paying a pro solves one problem, one time.

Just a question: is it possible that with the carpet and the drapery that you have too much sound dampening in the room, thereby deadening the sound?  

One quick suggestion is to check the tweeters in the totem speakers it's not uncommon to have bookshelf speakers with one or two bad tweeters ... One more suggestion to anyone out there avoid buying bookshelf speakers if it all possible they are so overpriced and underwhelming ... Have been in audio for 60 years you are much better off buying a small tower speaker

One more suggestion if you find that the tweeters are in working order is try wiring the speakers in reverse phase and see if that makes them sound better it's not uncommon for companies to wire speakers backwards so to speak ... Never trust that companies build speakers or anything else with top-notch quality control ... Have seen a lot in 60 years of messing with audio

Yes, I have had the best set up guy I know come in for a few hours to help dial in the system. He is a very good friend and has set up some of the best systems that I have ever heard. He has been over a few times after major system/component changes. The results are always positive and the relatively modest cost has always proven to be money and time well spent.

The speaker placement advice is what I would try first.  I also wonder if there is too much dampening in the room.  See what the system sounds like when you remove the curtain behind the system, and replace with some diffuser panels behind the speakers.  I have the Benchmark DAC3 and love it - and have been considering adding their amp

Amazing system, looking forward to hearing about your experiments!

The curtains you describe aren’t helping. They are almost useless except for damping some of your highs. Certainly could be helping create the “muddy” sound you describe. You likely have a room full of chaotic sound waves. 

Agree with "boxert""jonW" sucking the life out of the room.Room that small you need as much liveness to work with...start with no dampening and let you ears adjust to whats really happening,speakers out from the ole tight triangle is the only way that small room will work imho.Would start with them straight at you to remove any first reflections.Totems are killer imagers so it wont be them.It can be done...but as that ole blue blood said "youll have to Earn it".Small rooms are great because your hear everything.

Time to buy a puppy

, it's not rocket science, the room is too small. really low volume level Will probably work fine otherwise all the sound is confused when you turn up the volume.

New puppy will appreciate a bigger room two

Good question.  My best experience with stereo in a smallish room was to put aside visual design and practical considerations for awhile and listen near-field.  Make an equilateral triangle with your chair and the two toed-in speakers—my assumption would be five to six feet on each side of the triangle.  Just listen that way for a while, make some minor adjustments and don’t worry about the practical side.  Your Benchmark components and Totem speakers are very good.


It never hurts to bring in a professional to help you at any point, but he or she will likely try much of what has been described in responses to your question. 



You definitely are setting up a small room! While there are many great suggestions here in sharing my experience I would say that it does help to hire an experienced professional with the proper measurement gear. 
When setting up the room I currently use (10’ W x 16’ L x 8’ H) I found myself unable to overcome “room boom” regardless of what speaker placement I tried. After many adjustment attempts (between my busy work schedule) I decided to hire a well known acoustic engineer and the outcome was more than I could have hoped for. I think if I would have had more free time available I probably would have gotten there but what I learned during the process had a great value as well. If I we’re setting up a new room I would do it again- it’s faster, you learn how the room responds via measurements and you gain insight as to the strengths and weaknesses of your equipment (mainly speakers) in the process. During my setup process we were able to map out the type, size and placement of the needed treatments as well. It was money well spent!