Why All Hi-Fi Should Have Tone Controls, Including High-End.

NEW MUSIC

Standard Member
All my life I have read and been told that having no tone controls on high-end Hi-Fi Is the best way to listen to the music as the artist intended, rubbish it’s more like a status thing in my opinion.

So let’s work our way through the process and I will give my reasons why it’s better to have tone controls than not.

Well right at the start of the process the artist has to record the music, just imagine that your favourite artist / band went into the top 10 recording studios and recorded the same 3 tracks, what are the chances they all sound exactly the same, unlikely.

Just concentrating on vinyl for a moment (I will come to other formats later) if you have the perfect recording that is pressed using a high grade plastic it may sound fantastic, now the same press on a different batch of plastic or many pressing later may be just slightly different. I have bought records for a very long time and some of the best pressings I have are American imports but the point I wish to make is that since the actual recording and pressing can vary so much that the finished product may not always be the perfect sound and may need a slight tweak.

If you have ever been to one of these high-end Hi-Fi dealers the demonstration room has minimal furniture with a settee one end and the system facing with perfectly placed speakers and it sounds fantastic. The record they are using (for example) Beethoven’s piano concerto in B-fart minor, well first of all my front room has lots of other items in there (including the wife) that can and does effect the sound so in most cases needs a tweak to get the sound just right. Unless you are rather wealthy and have a separate listing room or if like me your system is in the living room. So as the majority of us do have furniture in the room that we listen to our music in and not every pressing / recording is to perfection then it’s a good reason to include tone controls, yet they always include a balance control as not everyone can place their speakers in the perfect listing position.

So even if you have managed to purchase the pre-amp and power amp of your dreams your turntable and cartridge might be next on your list for an upgrade but for now as the sound may not be quite what you expected. So if your pre-amp has tone controls you can make adjustments also the few pre-amps that do have these controls also have a switch that bypasses tone adjustment if desired anyway.

Briefly other formats that you may have connected to your system. For example a CD player almost certain that if you had the same album on vinyl and CD they would sound just a little different, a tuner the FM and DAB can differ. One of today’s main source of music a streamer that in itself is a minefield regarding sound quality (a separate conversation) with all the various formats, some enthusiasts would say this is not Hi-Fi due to its over compression etc. but it’s here and very much used. And if like me you have a reasonable cassette deck (what’s one of those some of you are asking) with only the best of metal tapes being used the sound is different again. And of course the last but one link in your system the speakers you have makes a massive impact on the sound so do we need tone controls, I think so.

And of course the main and last link in your system, YOU. Not everyone’s hearing is perfect and as you get older some people have a slight loss in certain sound ranges.

At the start I made two points, the way the artist intended for you to hear their music and not having tone controls being a status thing. Well if you have ever been to see a reasonable band they will have their own sound engineer / mixing desk and most groups spend a lot of time doing sound checks so you hear them as they feel you should. Often let’s just say the bass and treble at a live event are somewhat increased to what you would hear on their record, in fact I believe that if the bass was as high as some I have heard the stylus would jump straight out of the grove. I am not saying this is right or wrong but its how they wish to be heard.

Also many years ago I did executive chauffeuring and heard people bragging that their Hi-Fi separates had no tone controls as if this made it the best, and I have heard this sort of remark many times over the years this make me wonder on what their choice of units was based on, the fantastic sound or that it had no tone controls and put them in a unique group.

I know why I purchased the system that I have many years ago, as after spending around seven months in my spare time going round listing to various separates and integrated amplifiers (and fed up in the process). I finally heard what I believed to be the right system regarding excellent sound.

But as this intrigues me it’s a question I ask others whenever I get the chance especially if they purchased a separate pre-amp and power amp, why did you choose make X over the others makes and most say because they thought it sounded better.

But surely if you listened to 3 high-end systems all with no tone controls and played the same test tracks on each using the same speakers surely they should all sound the same, as the artist intended. Yet many say the sound was different, why.

Why have I written this piece well if anyone reading this knows anyone that has influence regarding the development and design of Hi-Fi please pass this onto them? Yes I do feel very strongly about it but also I believe there are new generations that have never had the pleasure of true Hi-Fi sound. The cost of such systems are beyond most ordinary people now I have read articles and they say that due to its development and components and limited sales is what makes it the price it is. But if it was at a price a lot more could afford the manufacturer would make far more and bring the cost down anyway.

There are integrated amps out there in the reign of 4/7k and separates far more, I feel you should be able to purchase good separate for around 2½ to 3k each or 4k at tops.

Also regarding the tone controls there are a few manufacturer who do include tone controls on separates (well done) but some you have to go into a menu to make any changes, come on setting the tone via a menu on a AV amp for a film is fine but when you are listing to different tracks on an album you need to make any necessary adjustments then while you are listing not five minutes later.

So please manufacturer bring back true Hi-Fi to the majority, you just might make lots of money in doing so. As for the separates that cost 12/15k or more there will always be some rich person that wishes to belong to a select club so don’t worry. Could most probably sell them a car without brakes to !

Keith

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Part 2 / Additional Comments.

First of all thank you to all those of you who have read my post and taken the time to respond with your views, it’s been very interesting. I have learned new things and been reminded of things I had heard before but forgotten, so thank you to you all.

My original piece was too long so had to trim it down somewhat but in light of what’s being said thought I would add a little more.

Referring back to when an original recording is being done in the studio it’s not who has the best studio, the engineer / producer has a massive impact on the finished recording. Yet they are only human so as you cannot guarantee a perfect recoding every time there is often a need to tweak it in some cases.

Also with reference to added circuitry there is far more effects and EQ adjustments in a studio these days than any Hi-Fi so how pure is the source, that’s without considering the quality of the plastic.

A professional electronics engineer once said to me that the amount of components already in amplifiers, then adding tone controls is so negligible to its path through the system you would not be able to tell as long as the components all used where of a decent quality, in fact the benefits would most properly be greater than any loss, if any.

My current pre-amp and power amp are sadly coming to the end of their time but on mine it does have tone controls but there is a button to bypass these and go direct if so desired I am pleased to say mine work as they should, if set at flat response and you press on / off, no difference, but the point is I have a choice. Also I have a loudness button this is very good when listing at lower volumes (more so with higher output amps), but not all systems have this so tone controls do help with this to.

As mentioned listing through headphones overcome a vast amount of sound issues, I do some times listen this way but mostly via the speakers that’s my preferred method, but yes you can overcome a lot of issues this way.

I don’t think there is the perfect source all the time and top end systems (without tone adjustment) do sound different to each other so what ones are the genuine true sound.

Yes I want my system to be clear, accurate, full and good dynamics, and fast but so that when I listen to my music regardless of what I am listing to it comes alive and has the effect it was meant to.

Thanks everyone.

Keith
 
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kit1cat

Active Member
I could not agree more, I purchased a Schiit Loki high quality tone control a while back, this allows me to adjust each album to the way I like it on the fly.
 

larkone

Distinguished Member
A Lyngdorf TDAI1120 at sub £2k has frequency adjustment in software so the user can tune exactly what frequencies and at what level to adjust.
 

John7

Well-known Member
The main reason for high end systems not having tone controls is to provide a pure and direct signal path. Tone controls can introduce distortions and degrade the purity of the source signal.
 

gibbsy

Moderator
Tone controls are often used to compensate for a poor in room performance. Bare rooms with bare walls can accentuate the treble. Poor speaker positioning can accentuate bass response. For the quality of audio reproduction an amp is probably at number three in the list after speakers and the room that they are in.
 

Milco

Active Member
Here are the reasons why I would almost certainly want any amp I own to have tone controls;

  • There is considerable tonal variation across different music I listen to on my streamer via Amazon HD.
  • I have a few CD-Rs containing recordings which aren't commercially available (don't get me started on early Prefab sprout releases). There is a very slight loss of top end on these CD-Rs which tends to require +1 on the treble control.
  • When I drink alcohol (more than 5 units) I progressively start to lose top end in my hearing
  • I am 58 years old and have been to hundreds of gigs, so I probably lack a tiny bit of top end anyway

There is no doubt, however, that if you are adjusting your bass or treble more than +/- 1 or, at the most, +/- 2, there is something wrong with the balance of your system.

I still have an open mind on the subject and would love to demo a couple of amps at home (Rega Elex, Musical Fidelity M2Si) to see if I could live without tone controls, but in the absence of that I would probably opt for them, just to be on the safe side.

I do also think that the whole 'no tone controls' thing is a sort of purist and technical rather than practical ideology. I understand the scientific argument about pure, direct signal paths but in the real world surely achieving a 'correct' and enjoyable tonal balance is more important than electronic purity.
 

gibbsy

Moderator
I do also think that the whole 'no tone controls' thing is a sort of purist and technical rather than practical ideology. I understand the scientific argument about pure, direct signal paths but in the real world surely achieving a 'correct' and enjoyable tonal balance is more important than electronic purity.
You'll not get a more pure sound than listening on quality headphones from a standalone headphone amp. The room, the biggest influence for having a negative impact on the quality of the audio, is taken completely out of the equation. You'll hear every nuance of the recording, the way that the treble and the bass has been mixed comes through as was intended. There as very few headphones amps that employ tone controls to interfere with the purity of the signal.
 

dogfonos

Well-known Member
I've not found traditional analogue tone controls to be helpful in correcting perceived tonal aberrations in the two amps I owned that had tone controls. IME, the main problem with conventional tone controls (i.e that add additional analogue circuitry into the signal path) is their inflexibility in that the center freq. is fixed. What are the chances of the tone control's fixed center freq. matching the freq. you wish to boost or cut? Pretty slim, me thinks, so one perceived tonal imbalance is merely replaced by another tonal imbalance. Too random.

I guess if the extra analogue circuitry in the signal path introduced by tone controls had no detrimental effect on sound quality then I wouldn't object to amps with tone controls. And as I've never listened to amps that have a tone control defeat facility (so I could compare sound quality between tone controls in and out of circuit), I can't comment. I do agree that some (many?) consider tone controls vulgar and there is some snobbery regarding the subject but reservations may be well-founded - I wouldn't know.

The way to go with tone controls is adjustment in the digital domain, as mentioned by Larkone in post#3. It's a flexible, precision tool that can undoubtedly adjust the systems tone to that desired by the user (though I'm sure some software is easier to manipulate than others).
 

Milco

Active Member
You'll not get a more pure sound than listening on quality headphones from a standalone headphone amp. The room, the biggest influence for having a negative impact on the quality of the audio, is taken completely out of the equation. You'll hear every nuance of the recording, the way that the treble and the bass has been mixed comes through as was intended. There as very few headphones amps that employ tone controls to interfere with the purity of the signal.
Fair enough. I have my Arcam A-18 on direct-source mode probably about 95% of the time. But then I have the odd Amazon HD moment, or just come in from the pub and the urge to +1 the treble becomes irresistible!
 

gibbsy

Moderator
I've got a Rega Elicit-R, no tone controls as is Rega's design ethos. Thankfully my room is pretty benign and I get good results. I've had amps in the past that had tone controls from Technics and Onkyo but neither could worry the Elicit but will acknowledge that the Elicit has by far the better speaker connected. A comparison between the Elicit and the others would not be on a level playing field suffice it to say the Rega is a keeper.

I've not been in a pub for 18 months and even then it was my turn to drive and my late night listening is always on headphones.
 

oscroft

Member
Interesting subject, and I have a few thoughts. As others have said, the reason for omitting tone controls is really to minimise the number of components in the signal path (and anyone who tries to tell you there's only one true sound, and that it's sacrilegious to adjust it, is talking out of their pretentious bottom).

Every component adds noise, even a humble resistor, so I can understand the thought. But in reality the question is whether it makes a noticeable difference. The approach I prefer is to have tone controls, but with a bypass switch so you can have them in or out of circuit. My main amp, an Audiolab 8000A, does it like that, and I've often compared having the tone controls bypassed against having them in circuit and set flat - and I've never been able to hear any difference.

Maybe it makes a difference on higher-end gear or to those with higher-end ears, I don't know. But I do take my hat off to the marketing folk - they succeeded in getting people to pay more for amps with less in them!

There is one thing that I wish my amp had (which a previous amp did have), and that's a loudness control. At lower volumes, our ears roll off disproportionately at the top and bottom ends, and a loudness control lifts the two ends a little to compensate. My old amp (a Technics) only had a fixed loudness setting, but it was very effective for listening late at night and not wanting to disturb anyone. I'd really like a variable loudness control (with a bypass switch, of course).
 
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Daniel 70

Active Member
Going out on another limb here .. but not for the first time. Tone controls are a 1950s solution to a real problem. The multiband graphics equilizers a 1970s /80 solution, and in sitiu room microphone and computer analysis a 2010 solution. .The greatly derided AVRs were the first to use it.
The poor mans version of the latter is in the Samsung Galaxy Mobile phones which uses a sequence of pings at different intensities and frequency to map the ear and earphone response, so as to compensate for deficiencies in both. I know it made a huge difference to a set of very sibilant ear buds I had.
 

kit1cat

Active Member
The advantage I find using my Schiit Loki tone control over DSP/Room Correction software (which I have tried) is I can adjust the tone of each album to how I like it in my room. OK, it may not be how the Artist intended, but it suits me.
 

musicphil

Active Member
There is one thing that I wish my amp had (which a previous amp did have), and that's a loudness control. At lower volumes, our ears roll off disproportionately at the top and bottom ends, and a loudness control lifts the two ends a little to compensate. My old amp (a Technics) only had a fixed loudness setting, but it was very effective for listening late at night and not wanting to disturb anyone. I'd really like a variable loudness control (with a bypass switch, of course).
Loudness switch was always great in the old amps.
The only way around the the original question is have your own dedicated music/listening room. No clutter, no unnecessary furniture and a bonus you can play your music as loud as you like.......
 

Field Marshall Eccles

Active Member
Purist audiophiles don't seem to approve of the listener tweaking the sound of the recording even though the recording engineer will have done just that in the studio before it is released. I guess it is also cheaper for manufacturers to leave them out and of course it plays to the purist mindset.

My amp has tone controls and though I don't often use them I would rather they were there than not but as Lennon sang 'whatever gets you through the night'.
 

Helix Hifi

Well-known Member
Those people who say the tone controls circuits degrade the sound is simply not true.

It all depends on how the amplifier is designed.

Some tone controls on the old Nad amplifiers, like C350 were just trash. No matter how you adjusted the tone controls you would lose headroom.

I would probably not buy an amplifier without tone controls. My room is not treated, just sofa etc. It still sound great, still sometimes it’s fun to adjust the bass 1 dB. If you need to adjust them on max then clearly something is amiss.

If I am going to buy an amplifier without tone controls I need too be sure it suits my speakers.

Tone controls are not something to worry about. Everyone one has different views.

I still believe high end, ultra high end manufacturers like Luxman, Accuphase have tone controls on them.

Those amplifiers are incredible popular if you can afford them that is.

Even so I can’t imagine people who buy those amplifiers don’t use tone controls.

Not everyone song sound like that boring song “Keith Don’t Go”.

Which everyone keeps playing to see if the speakers can handle high frequency epically.
 

gava

Active Member
Going out on another limb here .. but not for the first time. Tone controls are a 1950s solution to a real problem. The multiband graphics equilizers a 1970s /80 solution, and in sitiu room microphone and computer analysis a 2010 solution. .

Yes this is exactly right.

Tone controls are a very blunt instrument and you'd have to be quite lucky for them to solve your room issues.

My room correction has varying corrections for left and right channel and bass frequencies sometimes only separated by a few dB need to go in different directions because of the room reflections. So I have boosts at 64Hz and reductions at 72Hz. You obviously can't help with those kinds of problems with a single bass control.


You'll not get a more pure sound than listening on quality headphones from a standalone headphone amp. The room, the biggest influence for having a negative impact on the quality of the audio, is taken completely out of the equation. You'll hear every nuance of the recording, the way that the treble and the bass has been mixed comes through as was intended. There as very few headphones amps that employ tone controls to interfere with the purity of the signal.

That's what I used to think until a few days ago when I listened to this ... food for thought.

 

Helix Hifi

Well-known Member
I really don’t see any problems using tone controls. Use them, that’s why they are invented.

In the 70’s tone controls were all over place. Loudness too. Then the designers of amplifiers suddenly started not to use tone controls. “Oh, heavens the tone controls circuits degrades the sound”

If I listen to an amplifier with or without tone controls set on neutral I can’t hear any differences.
 

norliss

Well-known Member
Tone controls were originally devised for people to tweak sound to their taste. Simple 'treble' and 'bass' controls are way too blunt an instrument to counteract the decisions of the mastering engineer let alone act as a kind of prototype 'room correction'.

As has been pointed out, integrated and pre-amplifiers from the likes of Luxman and Accuphase contain tone controls so it's not necessarily a 'high-end' thing to omit them per se, although there was/is a purist mindset/ ethos toward not using them.

Thinking about my own usage - every stereo integrated amp/ pre-amp I've owned to date has contained tone controls but I've never used them as I've never seen the need. Personally I use the 'tone-direct' (or equivalent) facility but certainly don't have any snobbery toward them. Use away to your heart's content :)
 
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phil t

Well-known Member
As has been pointed out, integrated and pre-amplifiers from the likes of Luxman and Accuphase contain tone controls so it's not necessarily a 'high-end' thing to omit them per se, although there was/is a purist mindset/ ethos toward not using them.
The premise isn't that they are somehow more "pure" rather that in an analogue amp the least components that sit in the signal path, the lower the potential degradation of that signal.
 

norliss

Well-known Member
The premise isn't that they are somehow more "pure" rather that in an analogue amp the least components that sit in the signal path, the lower the potential degradation of that signal.

Sure, I understand that. It's just that it'd been suggested that the more expensive/ high-end something is, the less likely it will have tone controls - which is broadly true - albeit certain manufacturers like Accuphase and Luxman still include them despite the fact their products are expensive/ high-end. Perhpas in their case it's a tradition thing i.e. they've been making amps since it tone controls were the norm. That said they also include 'tone defeat' options for purism.
 

phil t

Well-known Member
And Quad had adjustable slope tone controls.
Indeed.

I once had a 34/306, which was one of the few amps I've owned that had tone controls.
 

Mr.D

Distinguished Member
No.

If you want to calibrate your room room correction equipment and equipment go for it . Its an interesting experience and quite cool.

However a tone control is pointless.

on the binaural debate … you often used to get crossfeed in the mix . It actualldrove me nuts until I understood what it was for .

You cam also get crossfeed units that allow you to dial it on headphones.

But tone , bass boost , treble controls …. No no place for it . Affectation more than anything . Like sharpness controls on TVs .
 

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