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Positive Feedback ISSUE 40
november/december 2008


A Book Review: Get Better Sound, by Jim Smith
as reviewed by Jeff Day


Jim Smith has been in the audio business for over thirty-five years and has helped literally thousands of music and film enthusiasts get the maximum performance out of their home audio and video systems. I've known Jim for quite some time, both as a customer before I started writing about audio, and after by attending his demonstration rooms at the ever-popular yearly Consumer Electronics Show.

I have always been impressed that Jim was able to get such exceptional sonics and musicality in his own CES rooms, as well as those he optimized for others. In case you don't know, getting good results in the hotel rooms used at CES is extremely difficult to do. Due to the odd dimensions of the rooms, the often built-in furniture, the need to cater to show attendees, and the fact that you have a very limited amount of time to get it right, makes it all the more impressive that Jim has such a good track record of getting impressive performance during show conditions.

Many enthusiasts that write to me tell me that they are unhappy with the performance of their Hi-Fi systems. Regardless of how much money they have invested in them. That's a shame really, because after you lay down your long green you ought to be able to enjoy the results. In this situation a lot of us buy a new audio component or accessory—or even a whole new system—in an attempt to fix our unhappiness with our system's performance. That approach usually doesn't work and you end up even more frustrated because now you've spent even more money and your still unhappy with your system's performance. The good news is that Jim Smith's new book Get Better Sound "is about improving your musical enjoyment without having to buy a costly new component or accessory." That's Jim's own words right from the book.

If you were feeling sick you'd go see a Doctor to find out what's gone wrong so you could get on your way to feeling better. So why not see a Doctor about your ailing Hi-Fi system? Just think what Doctor Jim could do with your home listening room with his 35+ years of setup experience given a chance. It's not a stretch to say your home listening room is way better than a CES room. The likelihood is that 95% of you (and me) probably haven't even come close to extracting the maximum sonic or musical performance from your home system, and the end result of optimizing it would likely knock your socks off. Makes you wonder why you and I have waited so long doesn't it?

You could hire Jim as a consultant to come and do an in-home optimization of your system (he does do that), but it could turn out to be a bit pricey if you live on the other side of the US (or world!) from Jim like I do. What could possibly be a better way to spend an afternoon than with Jim getting you, your system, and your room dialed in so you can be in love with the music again? The lessons learned from Jim in an in-house optimization session would be a tremendous and invaluable education in things audio that would pay benefits for years to come. Hey, if you've got the dough to spare I say go for it.

If you're like me you probably don't have the extra cash on hand to bring Jim in-house to dial-in your Hi-Fi rig (grumble, grumble, crappy economy, etc.). So lucky for you and me, Jim has written down his 35+ years of accumulated audio wisdom in his new book Get Better Sound ($44.50 US). Get Better Sound provides nearly 300 pages of text and 202 tips that'll get you on your way to audio nirvana. Jim tosses out a couple of teasers on the back cover to lure you in:

  • How to make your system's most important component work for you.

  • The one thing your system must have to be musically satisfying.

  • Which free loudspeaker/component tweaks will yield huge dividends.

  • Over 30 detailed room/speaker set-up techniques that will improve your sound.

  • Why you need to have an audio system 'road map'.

  • How to diagnose problems when your dealer/technician isn't available.

In each tip Jim elaborates on how to implement the tip and the result you can expect. Taken together, what will working through the tips in Get Better Sound do for you? I'll use Jim's own words from The ultimate goal section in the introduction of his book to answer the question:

"Ok, let's assume that we make these changes in your system. What's our goal? Getting better sound is not actually the ultimate goal. It's simply the means to achieve it.

I've asked hundreds of audiophiles, "Do you remember that special inner feeling you got after attending a great live concert? Do you recall still feeling it the next day?"

Whenever I ask that question, I always get nods of agreement. Whether I'm speaking to a group, or if it's a one-on-one conversation, it's always a positive reply. Yes, they do remember that feeling. But what's that got to do with improving their music system?

And then I ask, "Do you ever get that same emotional experience from listening to music on your stereo system? Do you ever feel the music's emotional impact the next day?"

The looks I get are incredulous! It never occurred to them that this was possible, not to mention that it should be a desirable and achievable goal.

That's the foundation for my desire for you as the reader of this manual. With your cooperation, I'm going to help you get that deeper involvement with your music. We'll do it by addressing some fundamentals that you may have overlooked, or that may be totally new to you."

Jim's book is divided into 23 sections of focused tips:

1. Toolbox (Tips 1 - 10)

2. Your room (Tips 11 – 17)

3. Home theater or two-channel? (Tips 18 – 19)

4. Multichannel system loudspeaker requirements (Tips 20 – 30)

5. Stereo system bass and subwoofers (Tips 31 – 38)

6. Thinking points (Tips 39 – 58)

7. Effects of rooms, room acoustics, and room treatments (Tips 59 – 73)

8. Working with your room – a three-step speaker installation technique for satisfying results (Tips 74 – 77)

9. Additional speaker/room set-up tips (Tips 78 – 89)

10. Panel speakers (Tips 90 – 92)

11. Vinyl solution (Tips 93 – 96)

12. Getting rid of unnecessary sonic and electrical pollution (Tips 97 – 104)

13. Free or inexpensive set-up tools (Tips 105 – 117)

14. Things to know and to do before (and during) equipment comparisons (Tips 118 – 143)

15. Simple system enhancements for daily listening (Tips 144 – 155)

16. Compression – your biggest obstacle to musical involvement (Tips 156 – 159)

17. The most common types of loudspeaker compression and their unmusical effects (Tips 160 – 161)

18. Controversy corner (Tips 162 – 176)

19. Bi-amplification (Tips 177 – 183)

20. Basic trouble-shooting – diagnosing the problem when your dealer or technician is not available at the moment (Tips 184 – 188)

21. Semi-pro set-up tools (Tips 189 – 199)

22. The value of having a true reference recording for voicing systems to rooms (Tips 200 – 201)

23. Jim's personal CD reference list (Tip 202)

Being a proper bibliophile (book nut) I couldn't put down Jim's Get Better Sound once I had started reading it.

After reading Jim's book I have my own tip: Tip 203 - Read Jim's book! It's a really good book with lots of insights that will pay big dividends in your musical satisfaction as you work through and implement Jim's tips in your Hi-Fi system.

Remember the back cover teaser—How to make your system's most important component work for you—I mentioned above? Jim will tell you in Tip 11 what the component is. Jim faked me out. It's not you or me (the human 'component'), which is what I was expecting. Ok, so maybe a person isn't a component, but heck, I think we're at least in the running eh? Well don't fret, Jim covers us too: Tips 2 and 3 pertains directly to the human element: "Trust yourself" and "Train yourself".

Let me add Tip 3b "Know yourself" to Jim's good advice, which is covered directly in Tips 9 and 10:

Tip # 9: What to expect in looking for a music system that delivers emotion.

Tip # 10: What if I'm in this mostly for the fun of making great sound, and the music is secondary?

Whether you're a music lover who is mostly interested in the emotional wallop you get from the music (Tip # 9), or a more typical audiophile (Tip # 10), or somewhat in between, Jim gives you the tips you'll need to get your system dialed in for your tastes. In fact knowing yourself, trusting yourself, and training yourself to optimize your Hi-Fi system are the core concepts that Jim takes the reader through in Get Better Sound.

I highly recommend Get Better Sound by Jim Smith, and I think it should be in everyone's audio library. If you'll take the time to work through Jim's tips and implement them in your Hi-Fi system you'll be rewarded with a transformed system. Don't think about it, just do it. You'll be glad you did.

Thank you, Jim, for taking the time to write down your 35+ years of audio wisdom in such an accessible format.

I've got to go, I'm only on Tip # 83, and I want to get back to my Hi-Fi rig (and the music!) to finish working through Jim's tips! Man, this is way cool!

Get Better Sound web site: