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"Get better sound" - a book by Jim Smith

Reference set-up manual to get better sound from any home audio system

[Italian version]

Product: "Get better sound" - book
Author: Jim Smith - USA
Book details: ISBN 978-0-9820807-0-2 - Publ. 2008 by Quarter Note Press, 6445 Calamar Drive, Cumming, GA 30040, USA
Price: 44.50 USD
Reviewer: Lucio Cadeddu - TNT Italy
Reviewed: December, 2008

[Jim Smith - Get better sound]

Getting a reasonably good sound at home isn't an easy task: purchasing expensive components is not strictly necessary nor sufficient. Taking care of the installation and of room acoustics influences more than the 50% of the final performance. HiFi mags give advices every now and then but if one needs a complete manual that addresses all the problems one may encounter when setting up a stereo set there's little hope to find something exhaustive and professionally written. The book I'm going to review claims to be the answer to these needs.

First, two words about the author. Jim Smith is a well respected "pro" in the US high-end market hence US readers might not need an introduction. For us EU readers let me just say that Jim Smith's CV is quite long and impressive. He started in the early Seventies, working as customer service manager (and even in the sales & marketing department) at Audio Research Corporation (ARC). At that time he wrote the installation manuals for the Tympani 1D Magneplanar loudspeakers. Then he moved to Magnepan, for which he wrote the manuals for various Magneplanar models (MG1's and MG2's, for example). In 1979 he opened his own high-end shop, Audition, in Birmingham, Alabama. The shop soon became - for the high-end niche - one of the top-10 HiFi stores nationwide. In the meanwhile he got involved in producing live music recordings of excellent quality.
In 1993, unhappy of what the high-end scene was becoming, he left the audio industry. In 1999 he returned as the US distributor of Avantgarde loudspeakers. Despite the fact horns weren't much popular among high-enders, he won seven "Best Sound of the Show" awards in five years, thanks to his accurate demos of Avantgarde speakers. At that time, he also wrote a small manual for Avantgarde customers.
Thanks to the extremely positive feedback he received, he decided to write a longer version of that (free) manual and ...here it is! A book with 202 tips in almost 300 pages, with very clear and nice drawings and set-up schemes.
The book comes with a Risk-Free Guarantee: try the tips in the book for 90 days, if you aren't satisfied with the results (getting better sound for peanuts, instead of purchasing a new HiFi component) you can return the manual and get a refund, including shipping costs!

The book is very easy to read, with clear and detailed advices, aided by simple drawings. It is not of the academic kind, since it is written with a friendly approach, by a Music lover to Music lovers. It is divided into 23 chapters but it can be read without a precise sequence. You can start from the very first page and go on or even jump to a more advanced subject that might interest you, provided you've already covered the basics.
The chapters are:

  1. Toolbox
  2. Your room
  3. Home Theater or two-channel?
  4. Multichannel systems
  5. Stereo system bass and subwoofers
  6. Thinking points
  7. Effects of rooms, room acoustics and room treatments
  8. Working with your room
  9. Additional speaker/room set-up tips
  10. Panel speakers
  11. Vinyl solution
  12. Getting rid on unnecessary sonic and electrical pollution
  13. Free or inexpensive set-up tools
  14. Things to know and to do before (and during) equipment comparisons
  15. Simple system enhancement for daily listening
  16. Compression
  17. The most common types of loudspeaker compression and their unmusical effects
  18. Controversy corner
  19. Bi-amplification
  20. Basic troubleshooting
  21. Semi-pro set-up tools
  22. The value of having a true reference recording for voicing systems to rooms
  23. Jim's personal CD reference list

[Jim Smith]

Ok, where do I start? The "Controversy corner" is extremely interesting, there I've found many of my own credos. For example, it is better to use long speakers cables in order to put the stereo rack far from the speakers (so to have NOTHING between and behind them). This is exactly what I did when building my new listening room and the improvement wasn't subtle, in terms of imaging and soundstaging.
Also, he states clear that cables and other tuning components make an insignificant difference when the set-up is wrong. First you should be concerned with the set-up and the acoustics of the room, then you can decide to try different cables, isolation devices or other fancy accessories.
The chapters devoted to room acoustics are extremely useful too as audiophiles tend to forget how big the difference between a "good room" and a "bad room" might be. For example, when TNT-Audio readers ask for some advice on which component to purchase, they - too often! - forget to describe the room, its size, the way the speakers are placed and the kind of furniture. The standard scenario is as follows: "I have a very metallic and fatiguing sound, which component should I purchase to solve this problem?"
99.9% of the times the real culprit is the room, which is mostly empty of filled with highly reflecting surfaces.
"Get better sound" suggests the basic tips to get the fundamentals done right...and then investigates even a little bit further. Actually, the tips can be divided into two categories: basic stuff for beginners and advanced tips/tweaks for experts.
One of the aspects that I really enjoyed is what Jim writes about bass and subwoofers. Summarizing, when setting up a system, first of all concentrate on bass frequencies and try to get them sounding right. A system without bass produces Music without soul. In order to get the bass done right, DO NOT use tracks with lots of bass frequencies! Use some simple track with female voices, for example. Find the correct level of bass by monitoring how the voice is affected by bass frequencies: too much and it'll become chesty, not enough bass and the voice will sound thin.
Also, I appreciated his advice on installing subwoofers, which, according to Jim, must always be two and not just one!
Moreover, he is strongly against the audiophile paranoia of getting "tight" bass! Quoting Jim "This "tightness" is a drying - a shriveling - of the very foundation of Music" and then adds "Listen for realistic sounding bass, not artificially "tight" bass". How true!

The final chapter is a list of hundreds of reference discs, which can be quite useful, since many of these aren't from audiophile labels. At the end of the book a quite complete glossary of audiophile words can prove to be extremely useful for the absolute beginner.
As a bonus, customers will receive "Quarter Notes", a quarterly e-mail newsletter where Jim publishes new tips and ideas.

Would I recommend this book to any audiophile? You bet! I'd also strongly recommend it to the vast majority of professionals who can't make their demo rooms sound acceptable (manufactuers, dealers etc.). They might learn something that could prove to be useful for their success at HiFi Shows, guaranteed.


It is hard to give you an idea, in a short review, of all the audio knowledge contained into the 300 pages of this extremely interesting book. It is a must-have for any beginner but not just that! Many audiophiles, even expert ones, might get better sound from their system by reading this book and applying some of Jim's tips.
Unfortunately many audiophiles, when looking for an "upgrade", focus their attention on the next purchase. Jim Smith suggests to try focusing on system set-up instead. Revolutionary? No, just pure common sense (and vast knowledge) applied to audio.
I'm pretty sure Jim will be refuding very few "unsatisfied" customers as this book is one of the best "tweaks" you can apply to your HiFi system!

Copyright © 2008 Lucio Cadeddu - www.tnt-audio.com

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