We give up perspective to avoid tone controls

Hi Everyone,

While most of my thread starters are meant to be fun, I realize this one is downright provocative, so I'm going to try extra hard to be civil. 

One thing that is implicit in the culture of "high end audio" is the disdain for any sort of electronic equalization. The culture disdains the use of anything other than a volume control. Instead we attempt to change everything to avoid this. Speakers, speaker cables, amplifiers, and power cords. We'll shovel tens of thousands of dollars of gear in and out of our listening room to avoid them. 

Some audiophiles even disdain any room acoustic treatments. I heard one brag, after saying he would never buy room treatments: "I will buy a house or not based on how good the living room is going to sound." 

What's weird to me, is how much equalization is done in the mastering studio, how different pro speakers may sound from what you have in your listening room, and how much EQ happens within the speakers themselves. The RIAA circuits in all phono preamps IS a complicated three state EQ, we're OK with that, but not tone controls? 

What attracts us to this mind set? Why must we hold ourselves to this kind of standard? 


Most rooms would benefit from some equalization to compensate for dimension and decor effects, especially if no room treatments are used.
Don't know many people who listen in an anechoic chamber at home.
I guess one reason to eschew at-home equalization is to avoid adding more circuitry into the signal path, as it might dilute the micro detail of the music.  But using tone controls to boost or cut signals at different frequencies is itself a form of distortion.
But some might prefer such personalized distortion effects.
When working as a recording engineer, I tried to use as little EQ as possible, preferring to change/move microphones, cables and musicians.

Most consumer tone control circuits are poorly implemented with corners in the wrong place and less than stellar tracking. Futzing with a balance control and EQ is a royal PITA.

Fully parametric EQ would be a nice addition, but it gets very expensive for accurate tracking between channels. The additional wire and circuitry is audible in bypass and I'd prefer not to color the many for the few.

Most problem discs have far more egregious faults than can be fixed with EQ.

If I really want to hear the music and it's really bad, I'll rip it and fix it if possible. Sometimes it's just too far gone.

EQ may regain some favor as digital devices add features.
Tone controls is what drew me to McIntosh.  I am much happier now that I am able to make some of the unlistenable Rock CD's listenable again by using a light hand on the tone controls.  For those that do not have them, you are seriously missing out.
I asked about using the tone controls on my Marantz integrated a while back and for the most part, the consensus was to not use them. Being me, I used them anyway until I got my system dialed in and it is definitely better without them.

The controls that come on my JBL 4319 speakers are a different beast. Using just slight adjustments can result in noticeable results, altering the sound in a way that’s different and better than from the integrated.

Until I settled on my preferred speaker cables, they were most useful in tailoring the sound to my tastes without upsetting the audio applecart, so to speak. I’m now at a general setting that works for most recordings but if need be, a slight tweaking of the control rights things without adverse effects. I’m still slowly experimenting.
I’d like to add that although there is a considerable range to work with, I’m talking about very slight adjustments that make a difference in my room.

Can anyone chime in if they know that tone controls at the speaker end of the equation are of benefit for room interactions?

All the best,
It totally depends on the location of the control in circuit. It could simply pad a driver to reduce level, change the xo frequency or a combination of both.

That being said whether they would be of any particular use in a given room totally depends on the romm
Thanks @ieales. 
I just want to do the least amount of damage to the signal before it gets to the speaker. 

And this is kind of the problem. I mean, we give up any alleged "damage" for the sake of purity. Aren't we a little obsessed, to the detriment of our actual enjoyment and experience? 



Definitely. It was when I used the tone controls on my integrated and then asked about it, thinking I’d solved my problems and liking the results, that "they pulled me back in," like Pacino said in Godfather III.

All the best,
My pre-has electronic tone controls but I've not used them.  Yet, my computer based music server playback software has an EQ and I have used it on a few albums that have great music but were poorly engineered/mix.   

I look at the subject this way.  It's my music, I paid for it and I'll listen to it anyway I want.  
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Tone controls are like ketchup. Great on fries, not so much on most everything else. I became hooked on tone-less preamps by db and Dayton-Wright.

Only a miniscule number of discs require any EQ surgery and degrading the many for the few does not make sense. Adjusting level a db or two can often as not change adjust the tonal balance to make listenable enough and usually not much worse than tone controls that have their inflection points too far removed from the problem area.

As far as "seriously missing out", it's true. Without tone controls we're missing:
 - detail loss and masking
 - frequency dependent channel balance
 - non-linear frequency response
 - phase shift

Like most everything, there's no free lunch and we all have to choose our poison.

Kind of related to this, was the old Theta Casanova. Like the Casablanca, the Casanova was really an all-digital preamp. All analog signals were converted to digital first. Then DSP was used to do bass management. And honestly, that was a great little pre/DAC. Way ahead of it's time and still available for around ~$300. 

I believe there may have even been an EQ card available  (not sure if it was planned, but not implemented). 

It's a shame in many ways that this approach hasn't taken off, and that Theta is still chasing the installer only markets. << sigh >> 

Then we could be living in pure digital EQ world all our lives. :) 



"As far as "seriously missing out", it's true. Without tone controls we're missing:
 - detail loss and masking
 - frequency dependent channel balance
 - non-linear frequency response
 - phase shift"

If the tone controls are designed properly, you will miss nothing.
An interesting phenomenon I’ve found is that improving the time coherence of a speaker via well implemented DSP (digital signal processing), "time coherence" automatically implying "phase coherence" as well, can eliminate or at least greatly lessen the need to utilize tone controls or equalization to make poor recordings more listenable.

For example, while I’ve always preferred to listen to good sounding recordings via my Daedalus Ulysses speakers rather than via my Stax Lambda Pro electrostatic headphones, prior to a couple of years ago I often preferred to listen to poorly engineered classical symphonic recordings, typically having excessively bright sounding massed strings, as well as many strident sounding 1960s pop recordings, via the headphones. Even though I would have to say that the headphones provide more emphasis of the treble region compared to my speakers, not less emphasis.

It seemed in the case of those poor recordings that the time coherence of the headphones resulted in the upper midrange and lower treble sounding less homogenized, with increased detail and improved definition. Which in turn resulted in the brightness and stridency being less objectionable. That belief was pretty much confirmed a couple of years ago when I purchased a DEQX HDP-5, which among its many DSP-based functions can bring any speaker that is not time coherent (which means the great majority of speakers, including all multi-way speakers having a crossover that is not 6 db/octave) closer to being time coherent.

That feature of the DEQX has improved the listenability of the kinds of poorly engineered recordings I described to such an extent that I find myself almost never using its powerful and extremely flexible equalization capabilities.

The only multi-way dynamic speakers I am aware of that are intrinsically time coherent are those made by Vandersteen, Green Mountain Audio, and (at least formerly) by Thiel. A member here, @Bombaywalla, has been a strong advocate of time coherent speakers, and a few years ago suggested in either the long-running DEQX thread or the Sloped Baffle thread that time coherence provides benefits along the lines I’ve described. My experience with the DEQX has convinced me he was right.

-- Al

I’m not a fan of the broad ‘bass’ and ‘treble’ knobs because they’re too imprecise, like trying to perform eye surgery with a sawzall.  

On the other hand, I’m a big proponent of digital room and speaker correction.  I use a Dirac-enabled MiniDSP DDRC-22D in my home system and it’s a solid improvement over the uncorrected signal.  It corrects for phase, timing, frequency response, impulse response, undesired room reflections, and more.  

The biggest improvement is in the bass, making everything tighter, clearer, more detailed, and more ‘nimble’, but it also helps with imaging, soundstage, and removes some harsh room reflections.  

I do do plan on adding some physical room treatments in the future to take things to the next level as well. 
Hi Erik

I'm going to go back and read through the posts here, but first wanted to give you my first impressions. This is potentially the most important thread that could have possibly been started on any forum anywhere in the HEA world. The timing of this is just as important.

The paradigm shift that is taking place as we speak in this hobby is completely based on what happened to HEA when we went to audio systems with only a volume control.

Sir, I totally and full heartedly applaud you for starting this!

Michael Green
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The biggest things HEA is ignoring right now are subwoofers, real bass management (I.e. a true active crossover built into the preamp or integrated amp to high pass the mains, low pass the sub, and correct for distance and phase) and room correction.  

I’ve hear Lyngdorf’s Roomperfect is great, but their units fail on other counts by refusing to integrate a sub out and bass management.   Anthem is doing it right with their STR series, and DEQX has room correction and bass management, but from what I’ve read their units aren’t capable of handling automatic distance and phase correction for subwoofers, which seems like a major oversight.  

These are are all basic things that have been in $500 AV Receivers for years, how hard are they to integrate into 2-channel gear?

 This is potentially the most important thread that could have possibly been started on any forum anywhere in the HEA world.

Thanks for your kind words, Michael, but I feel like this is probably just covering old ground. :) 


I find it hard to believe that if one had a high-end system that sounded like it needed some equalization of frequency response, and they put a Manley Massive Passive EQ in their system(as an example), that said EQ would 'hurt' the sound. Note: I'm not talking about a system that does not need equalization, but one that does.
The room correction used by Lyngdorf is something that has helped take my room out of the equation.  I would never be without now that it has spoiled me. I suppose the use of this unit is on topic.  I also use Roon’s DSP EQ some at times to compensate for recordings that need a little tuning.  
Almarg  gotta toss im OHM Walsh to the list of time coherent designs and their sound definitely reflects what you described.    
@almarg and @mapman

Interesting! Maybe this is the year I finally figure out how to do this for free. :)

I think about this project from time to time, and then I remember that I am just not a big fan of old Thiel or any Vandersteen speakers. Wish I was, so many seem to love them, so then I just sort of give up.


You are right sometimes I wish I had some sort of tone control, as mentioned they have to be made right or you get muddy sound, would an eq be better? Maybe but I can put up with a bad recording rather than having to adjust constantly.I am sure there are systems worth a lot of money that make those bad(dull or bright) recordings sound even worse.I have a small amount of room treatment and it does help in my bright room.I guess the thought is its going to add or subtract from your system and add distortion, but if you  like tone control's and what they do for your system why not?
I am of the opinion and although this may seem bullish , we pay for our music and if we want to use tone controls then why not if it makes listening to them more pleasurable. Also some people of a certain age have quite a loss at the treble frequencies and a few decibels of eq. can make all the difference. I now only listen to music through very high quality headphones and a DAW that has lots of jitter busting software on it so is a very resolving system. The worst thing I find especially in solo piano recordings is that some notes are very much louder than others and it can be infuiating to listen to as when you hear the same work in concert this regulation anomaly is usualy absent. As an example I recently purchased a hi rez download of Murray Perahia playing Bach Paritias and two notes on the piano were really shouting at me and it was really annoying to the point that had I not the means to save it , it would have been wasted money.
As I am really into recording now and then I use on some recordings my Digital recording program Sequoia and using some very juditious Eq. on the file renders it a completely different experience it's as if Mr Perahia said to the piano tuner to sort out the loud notes and soften them.
Now I came from an era where tone controls were completely normal and one of the best ones was from Quad Electroacoustics and their method was gentle slopes which could make a great difference to a recording and this was many years before room tuning. I am not saying every pre amp should be issued with them but I am saying it is not an offence for some of them to have them.

When you really think about it everyone's hearing is different and can change from day to day or hour to hour depending on a huge variety of conditions both internal and external. I'm not so sure one needs to be a purist, maybe tone controles have there place?
It’s certainly a question worth revisiting; the assumption that tone controls in the signal path were not ’purist" has held since the early ’70s (as I remember it). As another poster noted, I was stunned at how much a box shop HT pre-pro with DSP cleaned up the subwoofer on a small system and now use an inexpensive DSP unit on the subs supplementing my main system. And agree that a lot of audiophile choices about gear are probably influenced by the house sound or voicing of specific pieces of gear, wire, etc.
What is out there in the market that is reasonably available? The Cello unit was well thought of at its time, but pricey. Pro gear? Parametric multi band eq?
I guess one assumption that continues to hold is that the system should be properly set up, "voiced" and left alone-- not messing with the choices (however questionable) that might have been made in the recording or mastering of a work. But, in that context, EQ could be used to set up the system, even if it isn’t user adjustable thereafter.
Is this easier to do in the digital domain? I know "all analog" buffs are wary of anything with the "D" word, but those who have embraced digital have already made the leap (or sold their souls).
Me- I am increasingly ambivalent about the purist approach, knowing how much gimmickry already goes into to most commercial recordings and how difficult it is to reproduce the illusion.
Many years ago, i had set up a half-assed rear channel system (long before surround sound) that relied on out of phase information (Hafler) and delay lines from a small processor. I used it with a pair of modest bookshelf speakers to supplement my Quad ESLs. When a very knowledgeable friend visited, he said "what is this? Turn it off." Then, after a few moments, ’ah, turn that on again." It worked on some material better than others.
Good topic, worth thinking about, since "we" haven’t changed or questioned our assumptions about this in decades.....
@erik_squires .. a timely post indeed.

One thing that is implicit in the culture of "high end audio" is the disdain for any sort of electronic equalization. The culture disdains the use of anything other than a volume control. Instead we attempt to change everything to avoid this. Speakers, speaker cables, amplifiers, and power cords. We'll shovel tens of thousands of dollars of gear in and out of our listening room to avoid them.

With so many good software DSP/EQ options these days I can't imagine why some folks wouldn't at least have a listen for themselves. I know quite a few audiophiles (including myself) who decided it was time to move past the disdain and give it a spin. I think Schiit, with the release their Loki tone control, also inspired many to move away from the old way of thinking about EQ. 

Many years ago, i had set up a half-assed rear channel system (long before surround sound) that relied on out of phase information (Hafler) and delay lines from a small processor. I used it with a pair of modest bookshelf speakers to supplement my Quad ESLs.

Interesting. I worked for a theater equipment company competing with Dolby. We were also a major buyer of Hafler amplifier modules and probably kept them in business.

We used a similar feature for non-surround encoded films. I wonder who licensed from whom?

Tone controls are for those type of people who prefer shocks on their motorcycles.  Real riders ride hard-tails.  You should feel the road and not cushion anything.  If it's a bad road, then your backside should know about it.  If it's a bad record your room should boom and your ears bleed.  That's if you're a real a-phile.

Btw, my bike's have multiway adjustable shocks.
@onhwy61 - have a British friend who loves endurance rallies. Did the Cannonball Baker (not the car one, the bike one) on a pre-war Harley. He was in his mid-'70s at the time. Stiff upper lip and all the rest...
I do get some of the anti-tone control arguments. I never thought about channel to channel tracking for instance. Cheap stereo pots may vary widely. I’ve also used cheap pro EQ’s and they were not up to par.

I use a Parasound P7 for my pre, which has tone controls as well as bass management. Honestly I feel they are veiling. I wish I knew more about the circuits to see if they could be improved. On the other hand, the DSP unit I use for my subwoofer and center (sometimes) is as transparent as I could wish for. It is also far too cumbersome to use for basic album to album tweaking. It’s a measure, calibrate, and forget type of unit.

What I wish I had today is closer to the Theta Casanova. Convert everything to digital, and EQ in the digital domain. And I’d like that not to cost $10,000. Also, it has to sound GREAT, which the Casanova did, and was the only affordable processor I ever liked the sound of. Affordable only because it was used. :)


It is possible to find an amp/speaker combo that is tonally perfect (to the owner), but it is difficult and potentially expensive.  

I have two systems, one with no controls (and I have no desire to add them), and one with tone controls (and I wouldn't want to be without them).  

Some tone controls are well implemented and some just sound like band-aids.  My favorite tone control is a Decware ZROCK2 for bass EQ.  Fully adjustable, you can dial in as much kick down low as your speakers will give you, and IMO improves the sound across the rest of the frequency range (it does add gain).  So much easier than trying to integrate a sub, especially if you're like me and you only need bass down to 30-35hz.


There's the MiniDSP DDRC series that does that.  They have a version with digital inputs/outputs (which I use since I don't have any analog components and don't plan to purchase any) and one with analog inputs/outputs (balanced XLR).  

I like the digital version as it keeps everything in the digital realm - my streaming box ouputs via digital optical to the DDRC-22D, which does all of its magic and outputs via optical digital to my preamp without having to go through an additional AD/DA conversion. 

If you have analog sources the DDRC-22A works the same but it has to convert from analog to digital to do what it does then convert back to analog for output.  
My Jadis Orchestra Reference integrated is one of the few high-end audio components you’ll find with tone controls. I’ve owned and been around a lot of amplifiers, and this one moves me in a way few others can. I happen to love the tone controls.
I know as purists, we avoid tone controls. We’re just smarter, more evolved, and just plain better than that. We use phono cartridges, CD players / DACs, pre / power amplifiers, cables, power conditioners, tubes, coupling capacitors, room treatment, isolation devices, contact enhancers, fuses, and all manner of other tweaks to dial in the sound to produce more bass, tone down the bass, liven things up, calm things down, etc., but PLEASE don’t ever calls these things tone controls
There's the MiniDSP DDRC series that does that. They have a version with digital inputs/outputs (which I use since I don't have any analog components and don't plan to purchase any) and one with analog inputs/outputs (balanced XLR).  

Yep, I am aware. My problems with that solution are

A) I don't want to pay for Dirac just to play with it
B) I like USB sources
C) I'm using Squeezelite as my virtual Squeezebox touch. 
D) My music server is Linux

So ideally, I'd like to have any EQ/time altering to happen in real time on my Linux box. There are many threads about using EQ in general with Squeezelite, but they are old and many of those links don't even work anymore. 


 To me it is simple. The best we can do is try and put the band in the room with us. Whether you live in a closet or Carnegie Hall, To try and make your closet not sound like a closet I suppose is reasonable enough but intentionally adding color to the signal when you have spent all that money to keep it pure is a contradiction to the purist in me. And yes I am that guy who thinks opinion has nothing to do with it. Whatever the component the one that best replicates the band standing there wins, like it or not.
 To color the sound in a way that for the moment is pleasing but not accurate will over time give you less pleasure as your brain knows better than you what is real and those beautiful moments when you are sitting in front of your speakers and your jaw drops will begin to diminish. Stay away from the signal path. There should be a law!
 My first post! Hello all!

You could try RoomEQ Wizard, it’s free software and there’s a Linux version.  It’s not automatic like Dirac, but it will let you do a lot of tweaking.  
I'm new to this forum and to digital music. I'm not a purist, I just like listening to what sounds like good music (to me).  I've been buying and selling analog 2-channel equipment since 1968.  My first "quality" equalizer, which I still use is a Soundcraftsman SP4001 equalizer/pre-amp paired with a Pioneer SPEC-4 and a pair of original Bose 901s. I know many folks on this forum scoff at equipment like this, but I've had it since the mid 80's and it sounds good to me. 

Fast forward to the early 2000's, I got an incredible deal on a McIntosh 31V ( has an equalizer), MC2600, MCD7008 CDP, and Tuner paired with a pair of DCM TimeWindow 3 speakers.  I love being able to tweak music, especially some vinyl albums using the Mac equalizer.  

I decided to jump into digital music and recently purchased a NAD M12 w/ BluOS module and M22 v2, paired with a pair of Tannoy 8 dcti speakers for my new listening room.  The sound is quite different than my analog gear.  Some differences are good and some are not so good.  When streaming Tidal, sometimes the highs are too bright and transitions too loud.  I don't get quite that same dramatic effect out of the Pioneer or Mac amps.  The NAD gear is less than a month old - I'm hoping the sounds smooths out a bit more in time.

Overall, I'm satisfied with my purchase.  Of course, the music is much more detailed with a wider sound stage.  And most Tidal jazz masters sound awesome.  Old school vocal masters sound good, but not as good as the jazz.   

The M12 has treble and bass tone controls, which I don't use - yet, but I sure miss my Mac equalizer - especially, when listing to old school vinyl albums and streaming them from Tidal or my NAS.
Room EQ Wizard is just measurement software. :) 

I have OmniMic, which does a fabulous job of creating FIR filters for miniDSP. I just don't want to futz like that.



Hmm, I was under the impression that REW allowed you to apply filters, I thought the guy running noaudiophile used it.  Reading up it looks like he uses it to measure and export correction files that can then be imported into other programs that do the EQ.

Here's the one he says works for Linux:

REW has a function that develops a recommended Eq program based on your measurements or you can do it yourself. You then download it directly into a MiniDSP. It works amazingly well - measuring afterwards it chopped off the bass peaks to give a much smoother response. The trouble is I didn’t like a ruler flat room curve.

Floyd Toole is on record as an advocate of tone controls to help manage speaker/ room interface. I have no issue with tone controls and use them on a second system.

I’ve gone with the advice you gave me last year to work on room acoustics first then add Eq. I’m very satisfied with the room diffusor that I put at the FRP - not so much with the miniDSP Eq part.
If the tone controls are designed properly, you will miss nothing.
Every cap, resistor, pot, switch, wire, PCB, layout, ground scheme, connector, dielectric etc. has a 'sound.' Some deteriorate over time. Add a bunch of them together to create a filter and you not only get the filter but you also get the combination of all the 'sounds'. 

Only nothing sounds the same as nothing.

Don't forget Spica. I heartily agree that time trumps frequency six ways to Sunday. Tone controls alter the frequency and eff up the time. If the time is messed up as in most speakers, tone controls may be less objectionable.

I guess one assumption that continues to hold is that the system should be properly set up, "voiced" and left alone
As a former recording engineer, I have this perspective, but I was there long before I started recording. If some program requires EQ, it's a bad job and I can't be bothered to fix it. There's just too much well recorded great music to waste time on the bad stuff. That being said, I do sometimes 'fix' digital files but I gotta really LOVE the music.

I am increasingly ambivalent about the purist approach, knowing how much gimmickry already goes into to most commercial recordings and how difficult it is to reproduce the illusion
I had that attitude about 30 years ago when I quit recording. In the past 3 years, I've focused back on purist improvements. The close I get to the music without the masking, the better I enjoy it.

Isn't  Audyssey a tone control ? I'm purchasing a Marantz 8805 mainly for the adjustability on the new Audyssey app so I can get away from that default "flat" setting that they have as a standard. Sounds like most of you like that flat setting . I think it inhibits the maximum punch, warmth, dynamics, crispness, and personality that my ears prefer. Frankly to me, flat sounds boring, and dead, kind of lifeless. I mean, it sounds ok,... till you start messing with it, and then everybody in the room says wow, that's MUCH better.!!   But each to his own.  
@ nitrobob
Isn't Audyssey a tone control ?
Audyssey is both time and tone. I use it for radio with pictures aka HDTV, but would never play music through it.

I tried to play music through it once and the missus said "You're joking, right?"

One day when someone plays me a DVD music performance to show off their system I'm gonna pluck up the courage to tell them the sound it just awful...
Let's put Audyssey in a different category! :) 

I agree it sounds horrible. 

But this isn't a condemnation of all DSP or room correction. Just this particular implementation. 


Audyssey has a lot of settings, some more intrusive than others.  It seems to be a love-it-or-hate-it thing, though it does get more praise as an HT solution than a 2-channel solution.  

With the new Audyssey curve editor app you can limit the frequencies that it corrects for though, so you could set it to just EQ below the Schroeder frequency for your room and leave everything above untouched.

Yep, but how many want to do this? 

I mean, I do, but I'm a geek. :) I think when it comes to auto-room correction, the default curves matter a great deal. That's why I like to recommend JL Audio despite their absurd prices, and Dirac. I think they have the best default, out of the box settings.