• If you ever spot Spam (either in the forums, or received via forum direct message) please use the Report button at the bottom of each post to make sure a Moderator can handle it quickly. Thanks for your help in keeping things running smoothly!

Tone controls?

jaxwired

Well-known member
Feb 7, 2009
283
4
18,895
Tone controls are practically a dirty word in the world of hi fi. I admit I'm guilty of this audio snobbery myself. I mean tone controls are one step away form using an equalizer, the ultimate purist sin. "Look at all them dancin lights...they're purdy...".

While it's true that a goal of hi fi is to have truly neutral music reproduction, what about the music itself? Everyone has CD's in their collection that suffer from mediocre production. So a totally neutral hi end system will simply let you enjoy the bloated bass or shrill treble recorded to the CD. Wouldn't it be great if you could correct some of those anomolies that occur during the recording process and still enjoy the music?

Well you can, it's called tone controls. I think tone controls got a bad name for 2 reasons. First, some people abused them. They would turn the bass way or the treble way up and that would be the default position. This mis-use of tone controls is worthy of contempt. Second, many tone controls are poorly designed. They simply do little to improve the sound. That's been my experience and when I've had them, I have been very reluctant to use them.

However, the NAD amps have tone controls that only adjust extreme frequencies and have no impact on mid band output. I find for the first time that I can use them to improve recordings. I still use them very sparingly, but occassionally they can really help.

Seems like more companies should include these useful controls. Can't think of a valid reason for not doing so.
 

plastic penguin

Well-known member
Apr 28, 2008
1,669
117
19,870
jaxwired:

Tone controls are practically a dirty word in the world of hi fi. I admit I'm guilty of this audio snobbery myself. I mean tone controls are one step away form using an equalizer, the ultimate purist sin. "Look at all them dancin lights...they're purdy...".

While it's true that a goal of hi fi is to have truly neutral music reproduction, what about the music itself? Everyone has CD's in their collection that suffer from mediocre production. So a totally neutral hi end system will simply let you enjoy the bloated bass or shrill treble recorded to the CD. Wouldn't it be great if you could correct some of those anomolies that occur during the recording process and still enjoy the music?

Well you can, it's called tone controls. I think tone controls got a bad name for 2 reasons. First, some people abused them. They would turn the bass way or the treble way up and that would be the default position. This mis-use of tone controls is worthy of contempt. Second, many tone controls are poorly designed. They simply do little to improve the sound. That's been my experience and when I've had them, I have been very reluctant to use them.

However, the NAD amps have tone controls that only adjust extreme frequencies and have no impact on mid band output. I find for the first time that I can use them to improve recordings. I still use them very sparingly, but occassionally they can really help.

Seems like more companies should include these useful controls. Can't think of a valid reason for not doing so.

I think your right about there is a certain 'no-no' outside of the budget/mid-range amps. We're always told by manufactuer's that sound quality is boosted by the lack of tone contols, although how one proves that is quite a different matter altogether.

I have them on my Arcam and they suit my needs. From the amps I've tested at home over the years [there's been quite a few], I've always found that the one's with tone controls produce more treble, although not always better treble, and compared to the Roksan & Cyrus's etc of this world, lack a little detail - according to my ears.

Like now (at 5am in the morning) I'm playing my hi-fi down low and I've trimmed the bass. Perfect for insomniacs like me.
 
A

Anonymous

Guest
I'm considering getting a Quad 99 pre-amp largely due to the fact that it has the tilt tone controls. My system is so neutral and revealing that some CDs are terrible to listen to. A wee tweak of the tone controls and life is much better! Sod the audiophile opinion!
 

Johnno2

New member
Feb 2, 2009
45
0
0
Nothing wrong with subtle tone adjustment if the controls are designed right IMO. The bass control on my PM7001 boosts the bass at a few db at 50Hz which can take the edge off thin recordings and make them sound enjoyable, its the contols that boost the bass too much at 100 hz that really muck up the midrange.Most of the time the are set at 0 position with the bypass switch activated. I very rarely boost the treble as poorly recorded cd's are usually to bright rather than to bassy. I think the graphic equalisers of the 80's where the real culprits for butchering the original sound, horrible things. You can always bypass tone contols
on most amps anyway,but the switch itself is another possible source of distortion
 

chebby

Well-known member
Jun 2, 2008
1,232
4
19,195
I have no particular opinion for or against tone controls so instead I will quote Doug Self (Designer of many recent successful Cambridge Audio products)...
"Tone-controls cause an audible deterioration even when set to
the flat position."

This is usually blamed on "phase-shift". At the time of
writing, tone controls on a preamp badly damage its chances of
street (or rather sitting-room) credibility, for no good reason.
Tone-controls set to 'flat' cannot possibly contribute any extra
phase-shift and must be inaudible. My view is that they are
absolutely indispensable for correcting room acoustics,
loudspeaker shortcomings, or tonal balance of the source
material, and that a lot of people are suffering sub-optimal
sound as a result of this fashion. It is now commonplace for
audio critics to suggest that frequency-response inadequacies
should be corrected by changing loudspeakers. This is an
extraordinarily expensive way of avoiding tone-controls."

I assume he must know what he is talking about.

http://www.dself.dsl.pipex.com/ampins/pseudo/subjectv.htm

And from his book.

And if you have time, an interesting post on the subject from Alan Shaw (owner and designer Harbeth Audio)...

http://www.harbeth.co.uk/usergroup/showthread.php?t=466

The essential quote from that link is....

"One of the greatest mysteries and acts of insanity in the audio
business was the deletion of tone controls from hifi amplifiers from
about the 1980s with some utterly discreditable mumbo jumbo that 'tone
controls are no part of a hifi system'. I can categorically assure you
that a properly designed and executed tone control circuit does not
degrade the signal quality and never has done; this is extremely easy
to prove under blind listening conditions*. Tone controls were deleted
from hifi amps as a marketing gimmick to attract a new 'minimalist'
consumer away from amps laden with buttons and controls."
 
A

Anonymous

Guest
Good post Chebby. I agree with Johno2 - I find PM7001's tone controls fairly effective, albeit I use them very rarely. Certain recordings certainly need a bass boost to tame the excessive brightness, but as I said they are not that common.
 

manicm

Well-known member
May 1, 2008
643
88
18,970
I don't know, I personally find them detrimental, there's not a single good hifi I've heard that's benefited from them to my ears.

If a recording is bad tone controls are not going to improve the sound but just muddle it to avoid dullness or brightness of the music. That's just been my experience.

Still I won't say who's wrong or right, one cannot simply dismiss NAD or CA, but on the other hand one cannot dismiss Cyrus, Linn or even Pioneer.

The only place I use tone controls is in my car.
 
A

Anonymous

Guest
People state that tone controls on a hifi are bad. What about those that produce the music? They do all sorts of EQ changes, probably using a parametric EQ, changing it to sound good on the radio, etc. With hifi decent tone controls let you 'reconsider' this EQ and get it right for your requirements. This is where Quad were coming from with their tilt facility.

Also, for watching DVDs I bung the treble right up to get some extra bite.
 

manicm

Well-known member
May 1, 2008
643
88
18,970
igglebert:People state that tone controls on a hifi are bad. What about those that produce the music? They do all sorts of EQ changes, probably using a parametric EQ, changing it to sound good on the radio, etc. With hifi decent tone controls let you 'reconsider' this EQ and get it right for your requirements. This is where Quad were coming from with their tilt facility. Also, for watching DVDs I bung the treble right up to get some extra bite.

Igglebert, your point here is somewhat simplified, what you're actually talking about is compression in recordings, and no I'm not talking about Flac or Winzip, but about level or dynamic range compression - a good example is Metallica's notorious new album - not musically but sonically - apparently everything sounds at one big volume with no dynamics at all, drums guitars bass are all recorded or mixed at the same level so to speak - so this tells me heavy 'compression' was applied to this recording.

So poor tone controls will never improve such a recording, only make it worse, in fact I don't see how even 'good' controls (NAD et al) can ever improve the sound of such a recording. I haven't heard the album but fans are up in arms about Met's record.

Some audio enthusiasts also identify what they call 'Pro-Tooling' in albums especially in modern pop music where everything sounds 'compressed'.

A good article on recording compression can be found here http://sound.westhost.com/compression.htm
 

idc

Well-known member
Jan 2, 2008
1,039
10
19,195
The EQ settings on itunes and ipods make a big difference to the sound. It is just a shame that personalised settings can be set on itunes, but do not transfer to the ipod. I started a post way back asking what settings people used and What hifi test with and it gained about three responses. So I figured that the 'snobbery' was still there. This thread is very refreshing and again, Chebby, excellent post.

My Yamaha KX390 cassette deck benefitted from its tone control, all it did was physically move the head up and down to get better contact with the tape.
 

manicm

Well-known member
May 1, 2008
643
88
18,970
idc:

The EQ settings on itunes and ipods make a big difference to the sound. It is just a shame that personalised settings can be set on itunes, but do not transfer to the ipod. I started a post way back asking what settings people used and What hifi test with and it gained about three responses. So I figured that the 'snobbery' was still there. This thread is very refreshing and again, Chebby, excellent post.

My Yamaha KX390 cassette deck benefitted from its tone control, all it did was physically move the head up and down to get better contact with the tape.

I don't think it's snobbery, and I agree with you on the iPod to an extent - on my old iPod Mini I stuck with Apple's supplied buds and set the eq. on Rock and the sound was very good. Can not say the same about my iPod nano 3g though - on the standard or my CX300 buds the equaliser does nothing good.

However Chebby's quote from Alan Shaw tone control circuit does not
degrade the signal quality and never has done; this is extremely easy
to prove under blind listening conditions.
Tone controls were deleted
from hifi amps as a marketing gimmick to attract a new 'minimalist'
consumer away from amps laden with buttons and controls."
is laughable at best, completely ignorant and misguided at worst. So Pioneer's much loved A400 was a gimmick then??? Cyrus amps in 1984 were a gimmick then?? And at the A400s time - late 80s - minimalist was in no-one's vocabulary, we all wanted OTT. I find the statement disingeneous - any modern amp would require no additional buttons to include tone controls - that's brilliant modern electronics for you. And whose blind listening tests? It's purely personal preference, and his statement is not based on any scientific fact.

Another UK(?) publication Hifi Plus had an interesting opinion by one columnist that he personally thought measurements were useless in evalutating hifi - but he did concede that they are absolutely needed for quality control otherwise no two pieces of the same equipment would sound the same. Again I want to ask Alan Shaw - whose blind tests? Not even CA or NAD have made such a bold claim.

Lastly while NAD et al make a big deal about tone controls they equally emphasise the ability to bypass them.

Personally I think NAD, CA et al provide tone controls because consumers demand it and not for any audiophile reasons, and there's nothing wrong with that.

All my hifi gear has had tone controls, I just ignored them. It's just horses for courses that's all. But I just find above statements outrageous.
 

clearer_audio

New member
Oct 20, 2007
2
0
0
Hello all,

Like most things I think it comes down to personal preference. If you feel the need to change the tonal balance of your system (perhaps when playing different types of music) then it should not affect anyone but the listener. Personally I have never wanted nor felt the need for tone controls so none of my systems have had them.

All the best,
Darren
 
A

Anonymous

Guest
manicm:
igglebert:People state that tone controls on a hifi are bad. What about those that produce the music? They do all sorts of EQ changes, probably using a parametric EQ, changing it to sound good on the radio, etc. With hifi decent tone controls let you 'reconsider' this EQ and get it right for your requirements. This is where Quad were coming from with their tilt facility. Also, for watching DVDs I bung the treble right up to get some extra bite.

Igglebert, your point here is somewhat simplified, what you're actually talking about is compression in recordings, and no I'm not talking about Flac or Winzip, but about level or dynamic range compression - a good example is Metallica's notorious new album - not musically but sonically - apparently everything sounds at one big volume with no dynamics at all, drums guitars bass are all recorded or mixed at the same level so to speak - so this tells me heavy 'compression' was applied to this recording.

So poor tone controls will never improve such a recording, only make it worse, in fact I don't see how even 'good' controls (NAD et al) can ever improve the sound of such a recording. I haven't heard the album but fans are up in arms about Met's record.

Some audio enthusiasts also identify what they call 'Pro-Tooling' in albums especially in modern pop music where everything sounds 'compressed'.

A good article on recording compression can be found here http://sound.westhost.com/compression.htm

Thanks for the info. I understand compression with respect to dynamic range. My point is slightly different though. Put simply, my system is incredibly neutral. Some CDs sound bright, some dark. Tone controls allow me to adjust for this. It was never a problem when I had a budget hifi as the general lack of detail and added colour would hide a lot of things.

Anyway, as pointed out, it is indeed personal taste. Fair enough!
 

ASK THE COMMUNITY

TRENDING THREADS