Audiogoner Op-Ed: Tone Controls


Tone Controls Can Be So Nice
 Audiogon member Nonoise; op-ed

Of all the ways to tame, tighten or tone the sound of our systems, cables are usually the first to come to mind. Preamps, amps, source and speakers are all chosen for what and how they contribute to the sound and each affect the other in ways that confound, amuse and satisfy.

Anyone who’s paid even scant attention to what I like in my system knows that I’ve always wanted to hear further into the recording, extracting as much as possible from those shiny discs and not pay the price of loss of tone, richness or body. From sliver ICs to power conditioning and boutique fuses, each step has gotten me closer, revealing more detail, nuance, air and realism.

One day while listening I chanced to look at my Marantz PM-15S2b and it dawned on me that I hadn’t tried the tone controls since the first time I tried them when new. I didn’t like it then. Just switching it on without adjusting the controls it was evident there was a difference for the worse when used.

Time can do funny things. It may be due to something as simple as break in but when I engaged the tone control setting and adjusted the bass a tad (1 1/5-2db) a lot changed. Everything I liked about what I already have was fleshed out some more without a single, negative drawback. Tone improved. So did body. Percussion was easier to believe be it wood, brass, etc. Vocals had more chest and in the room presence. Piano had more weight, guitar more blues and twang (steel easier to tell from nylon). Even decay took on a different quality since the lower portion of the notes had more presence which led to a longer, more believable decay. Decay used to be the in the realm of the higher notes, the lower ones foreshortened, and now decay is across the spectrum which makes piano, upright bass, anything in that realm all the more authentic.

I dialed it back to just about a 1db boost and still had that magic. Nothing was shelved back, hidden or muted as a result. Just fuller, like a really good tube setup with great see-through ability. No bloat. No smear.

It’s too bad that tone controls aren’t in vogue nowadays. Blame the purists and thank those that still use them (Marantz, Luxman, Accuphase, etc.) I’m not advocating some all out assault with extensive equalization but in my case the bass boost is just at the 50Hz region and covers a small, but critical range for folk like me. My Tonians drop off at 40Hz and the drop slopes well before that. That little boost is all it took to even the frequency playing field, so to speak, making it seem all the more real. This is not to say I didn’t have bass to begin with. What I did have had texture, detail, nuance but not enough force to have equal billing in the presence department.

If I had speakers that extended lower, all of this wouldn’t matter. In my case it did. This is not to say that everything is better with tone controls but is some cases, certain recordings can use that little bit of boost and some systems, like mine, can benefit from it. It’s been only a few days since I’ve done this but I’ve yet to tire of it and find myself loving what I’m hearing. Who knows?

All the best,

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