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

Kapkirk

Active Member
Personally I like to have tone controls in all my amps even when the whole system is well matched. I really don't understand why there are such massive variations in studio recordings, sure every artist has their own sound but some recordings have zero bass and other recordings have so much it ruins the music, likewise with treble. Sure when the mix is good we can use the tone defeat switch for a purer sound but until engineers get their act together and their hearing fixed I will not buy an amp without tone controls.
A few examples of this excess bass is Beyonce - Lemonade album and Madonna - Ray of light, Examples of other recordings with virtually no bass is James -Please to meet you, U2's Joshua tree and many David Bowie recordings which are quite frankly just terrible.
Now, if all recordings were as well produced as Habib Koite's "Afriki" and "Baro" albums I'm pretty sure we'd never need tone controls on amps.
 

Rob Sinden

Distinguished Member
AVForums Sponsor
I completely agree with the theme of this thread.

Traditional hifis add noise and distortion where tone controls are added but this is a short coming with the equipment used, not the concept.

There are a few reasons you need tone controls.
  • Every recording is different. Many are too bright or bass light and you need to adjust for this.
  • Our hearing is sensitive to different frequencies at different volume levels. So, if your system is amazing at one volume is wont be at other levels- read about the Fletcher Munson curve.
  • Personal preference
Any live event has an audio engineer setting up live system compensate for these issues.
 

lindsayt

Active Member
"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."

There's high end by sound quality and there's high end by price. You could draw a Venn diagram on this.

£7k amplifiers are a rip-off. £2.5kish is all you need to spend to get the highest of high end amplification by sound quality if you buy new. Less than that if you buy used or DIY.

Digital sources. Under £1k is plenty to get you highest end by sound quality in this category.

Vinyl sources. Depends if you can DIY. If not, you may be looking at £7kish for a highest end turntable, arm, cartridge, phono amplification combination. £2k can get you a vinyl source that's close to the highest of high end.

Speakers. DIY or sub-contract the DIY and £3k to £4k is enough to get you the highest of high end speakers by sound quality.

And digital sources, amplifiers and vinyl sources do sound similar to each other when you reach the high end by sound quality.
With speakers there tends to be easier to hear differences. But even then, high end speakers can sound close enough to each other that the differences are of the neither here nor there level.

My ear and brain can make adjustments for tonal differences between recordings.
Sometimes it's even an interesting feature, guessing which classic 1970's American recordings were mastered on Altec speakers and which on JBL's.
What my ear brain struggles to adjust for is a lack of dynamics, pitch accuracy and stability, clarity, focus. Tone controls do nothing to help these highly important areas that so many systems muck up to varying degrees.

I've been to bake-offs / comparative demos where a component costing 1% of the price of another component has been the better sounding one.
There is no direct correlation between price and sound quality in the audio world of 2021.
 

harkpabst

Active Member
Oh well (to quote Fleetwood Mac) ... this is massively absurd. It's all been said and the reasoning is absolutely flawless. Too bad people don't like to read (let alone understand and think) if they have the option to write instead.
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.
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).
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.
And Quad had adjustable slope tone controls.
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 .
"Tone controls" with arbitrary mid frequencies, levels and q-factors are absolutely pointless. Period.
 

audiolab007

Standard Member
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.




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

That is a great video, thanks, and explains why headphones sound different (apart from that lack of body shaking bass :)
 

stretcher

Active Member
My hearing isn't what is once was - I absolutely would not consider an amp without tone controls. If you've got perfect hearing with no frequency drop out/ tinnitus or whatever, then there's no reason not to go for the purist route I guess. But these days I need to be able to balance between getting the best sound from my system that I can appreciate, but also compensating for older ears! I do have the experience and good fortune of having great quality sound reproduction in the past - adjusting the tone and/or loudness at least goes some way to compensating for that.
 

NEW MUSIC

Standard Member
"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."

There's high end by sound quality and there's high end by price. You could draw a Venn diagram on this.

£7k amplifiers are a rip-off. £2.5kish is all you need to spend to get the highest of high end amplification by sound quality if you buy new. Less than that if you buy used or DIY.

Digital sources. Under £1k is plenty to get you highest end by sound quality in this category.

Vinyl sources. Depends if you can DIY. If not, you may be looking at £7kish for a highest end turntable, arm, cartridge, phono amplification combination. £2k can get you a vinyl source that's close to the highest of high end.

Speakers. DIY or sub-contract the DIY and £3k to £4k is enough to get you the highest of high end speakers by sound quality.

And digital sources, amplifiers and vinyl sources do sound similar to each other when you reach the high end by sound quality.
With speakers there tends to be easier to hear differences. But even then, high end speakers can sound close enough to each other that the differences are of the neither here nor there level.

My ear and brain can make adjustments for tonal differences between recordings.
Sometimes it's even an interesting feature, guessing which classic 1970's American recordings were mastered on Altec speakers and which on JBL's.
What my ear brain struggles to adjust for is a lack of dynamics, pitch accuracy and stability, clarity, focus. Tone controls do nothing to help these highly important areas that so many systems muck up to varying degrees.

I've been to bake-offs / comparative demos where a component costing 1% of the price of another component has been the better sounding one.
There is no direct correlation between price and sound quality in the audio world of 2021.
Hi Lindsayt

Thank you for taking the time to reply to my thread, You make some interesting points. Yes you are correct that price does not always make it better I know that for a fact when I bought the system I have, the only thing I will say is that as long as the components used are of a decent quality though. That's why I feel that a good quality pre-and power amp should not be more than 2½ to 3k at tops.

You speak of DIY systems does that mean you knowhow to make your own as I am afraid to say that's beyond me. But if you or anyone else knows for a fact good quality Hi-Fi integrated or separates at a reasonable price please list the make and model to help others (and me).

My understanding of DACs is that a poor one does more to alter the sound than tone controls and that good DACs are essential in good Hi-Fi. I am told these can be expensive and because they can alter the sound so much is why some companies are making analogue amps.

What you have said regarding of being able to tell what speakers where used when recording reminds me that I was once told that good recording engineers could tell who and where something was recorded without being told, so if that's true and they are all so different than is it pure sound. However as a friend of mine once said that's what makes a good recording one that might stand out from others and not a safe bet.

For me I still want tone controls (with a on/off button so best of both) and as an expert once said to me that as long as all the components are good then the difference is so little you would not be able to tell, well he said it a bit different to that but cant print what he said but yes he is a genuine expert.

Keith
 

Khankat

Well-known Member
In essence,the artist/engineer will lay down what they deem to be their ideal, while we the consumers seek equipment that will reproduce the sound we prefer. Don't waste time listening to your equipment, just enjoy the music.
 

NEW MUSIC

Standard Member
My hearing isn't what is once was - I absolutely would not consider an amp without tone controls. If you've got perfect hearing with no frequency drop out/ tinnitus or whatever, then there's no reason not to go for the purist route I guess. But these days I need to be able to balance between getting the best sound from my system that I can appreciate, but also compensating for older ears! I do have the experience and good fortune of having great quality sound reproduction in the past - adjusting the tone and/or loudness at least goes some way to compensating for that.
Hi Stretcher

You have made a very strong point. I did say in my first post that everyone's hearing is not the same, what I did not say was about the age side of it just in case it offended anyone, I don't know why as I am 64. But the point is you don't just wake up one day it happens over a long period of time. I have been told that I have lost just a bit off the top end of things due to age, my wife says it's down to playing my music to loud for over 50 years. But if someone develops a hearing issue and they already have tone controls, just press a button to engage them. You don't have to go out and purchase a new amp.

Keith
 

Khazul

Well-known Member
The problem I have with common tone controls is the fixed cutoff frequency which I find tends not to suit most of the modern music I listen to. It seems OK for music from late 80s and earlier.

I have an amp that has a tone control bypass, and they are bypassed most of the time. However, I also have a couple of DSP EQ curves in Roon - one for basic room correction and another for taste (a very mild loudness like contour that suits my typical listening level).

I also think that many people are addicted to having tone controls because they have simply got used to having the bass cranked all the time. To those people I would suggest turn the bass back to 0 and go cold turkey and get used to it. You might find your whole system sounds a lot more lively and detailed (more mid range and higher detail) when you get used to it.
 

pressure

Well-known Member
I am very much in the “change the sound if you want to” camp. If you want to play with the music, it just play the music, that’s fine too. Not all tracks sound quite right, depending on my system and morE than anything, my mood. Coming from a background of DJing and producing, I’m used to reaching for EQ when mixing or mastering. I wish I could access the tone controls in my nad avr more easily.

if you want to be purist and not have any eq, go for it, I like that approach a lot of the time, but sometimes I’d like to have eq. In fact sometimes I’d like some nice fat compressors on every channel I could switch in and out! Ableton’s Glue would be just lovely…
 

Khazul

Well-known Member
if you want to be purist and not have any eq, go for it, I like that approach a lot of the time, but sometimes I’d like to have eq. In fact sometimes I’d like some nice fat compressors on every channel I could switch in and out! Ableton’s Glue would be just lovely…

I do actually run my hifi through ableton sometimes for fekkin around - also easier to real time fiddle with EQ that way :)
 

NEW MUSIC

Standard Member
In essence,the artist/engineer will lay down what they deem to be their ideal, while we the consumers seek equipment that will reproduce the sound we prefer. Don't waste time listening to your equipment, just enjoy the music.

Hi Khankat

You are 100% right when you say just enjoy the music, that’s what it’s all about.

Maybe I gave the wrong impression by going on too much, I am not looking for the perfect source it does not exist.

Yes I do 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 must come alive and has the effect it was meant to have, happy, sad, want to dance (not so good at my age) but whatever it’s enjoyable.

Thanks for reminding us.
 

NEW MUSIC

Standard Member
The problem I have with common tone controls is the fixed cutoff frequency which I find tends not to suit most of the modern music I listen to. It seems OK for music from late 80s and earlier.

I have an amp that has a tone control bypass, and they are bypassed most of the time. However, I also have a couple of DSP EQ curves in Roon - one for basic room correction and another for taste (a very mild loudness like contour that suits my typical listening level).

I also think that many people are addicted to having tone controls because they have simply got used to having the bass cranked all the time. To those people I would suggest turn the bass back to 0 and go cold turkey and get used to it. You might find your whole system sounds a lot more lively and detailed (more mid range and higher detail) when you get used to it.

Hi Khazul

I am not sure what you said that all common tone controls are not suitable for modern music, as long as the equipment is of a reasonable quality it should do what’s required, music is music regardless of its type and systems work within a sound parameter/signal not type. I very much doubt that current music has anything that has not been used before (signal wise) for it not to work. Although I must say that my own tone controls the bass & treble are double pots parametric equalizes are pretty good.

You say people get addicted to tone controls as they get used to using them once again In my case not so, some of the time I have the bass just in the + range and the treble a little more due to some loss top end in my hearing.

But the source of what you are listing to can and does make such a vast difference (this I did addressed in my opening post) for example. If I play a metal cassette tape that I recorded and pre-calibrated it before recording the sound is pretty good, then if I put on a pre-recorded cassette the sound is inferior to mine, why it’s down to the tape used when it was made so yes a tweak in sound is required.

As for current downloads and I only purchases Hi-Res (Wav when possible) the sound is so compressed it loses some of its dynamic range, the bass is almost always exaggerated and the volume is so high it’s clipping distortion rather a lot so these often need a tweak (but downloads are a conversation for another time).

So my use of tone adjustment is more as its needed / source rather than I am used to it so could well be the same for many others I guess.

Keith
 

Vice

Active Member
In my experience, tone controls are not required in a well balanced system. Having said that, having them there might be a good idea so the user doesn't feel 'trapped' in a particular setting lol
 

lindsayt

Active Member
Hi Lindsayt

Thank you for taking the time to reply to my thread, You make some interesting points. Yes you are correct that price does not always make it better I know that for a fact when I bought the system I have, the only thing I will say is that as long as the components used are of a decent quality though. That's why I feel that a good quality pre-and power amp should not be more than 2½ to 3k at tops.

You speak of DIY systems does that mean you knowhow to make your own as I am afraid to say that's beyond me. But if you or anyone else knows for a fact good quality Hi-Fi integrated or separates at a reasonable price please list the make and model to help others (and me).

My understanding of DACs is that a poor one does more to alter the sound than tone controls and that good DACs are essential in good Hi-Fi. I am told these can be expensive and because they can alter the sound so much is why some companies are making analogue amps.

What you have said regarding of being able to tell what speakers where used when recording reminds me that I was once told that good recording engineers could tell who and where something was recorded without being told, so if that's true and they are all so different than is it pure sound. However as a friend of mine once said that's what makes a good recording one that might stand out from others and not a safe bet.

For me I still want tone controls (with a on/off button so best of both) and as an expert once said to me that as long as all the components are good then the difference is so little you would not be able to tell, well he said it a bit different to that but cant print what he said but yes he is a genuine expert.

Keith
Keith,

For DIY, systems, I have a long term DIY project to create a pair of Frankenstein (made from cherry picked body parts) 4 way high efficiency speakers. I'm expecting this to be a c £1500 project. If I wanted to do it in a hurry it would cost me £2000 to £3500.

Speakers are easy enough to DIY. It's not like you have to manufacture the drivers yourself. You can just buy whichever drivers you want. And then the crossovers are simple electronic items, and the cabinets you can make yourself or get someone else to make them for you.

In non Covid times there's a DIY event at Owston every summer that's highly inspirational.

For DAC's a £100 Topping is all you need to get a great sounding system. It's pointless aiming for a better DAC than a Topping if you haven't maxed out your speakers. The sonic differences between DAC's are minimal when you get to the Topping level. The sonic differences between speakers are significant. Especially if you are comparing a slimline ported low efficiency speaker with a full sized high efficiency speaker.

I'm confident I could win complete system bake-offs against systems with £10,000+ DACs if I'm allowed my choice of speakers plus a £100 DAC or £50 used CD player.

For tone controls I'd rather have an amplifier that's better at sounding as if there's nothing between the source and the speakers - and for getting such an amplifier at the lowest price I can.
It just so happens that the best amplifiers I've come across so far for sounding transparent at affordable prices have not had tone controls. And so therefore these have been the amplifiers I've stuck with and have been delighted to own and use.

The late Richard Dunn had a huge amount of knowledge and wisdom when it came to hi-fi. One of his sayings was "Don't fix a problem in one part of your hi-fi with an inverse fault elsewhere. It's better to not have the fault in the first place."
This applies to some extent to tone controls.

21st century commercially produced music is almost universally over-compressed. Check out the DR database website. Neil Young and Bob Dylan are about the only mainstream artists to release new albums in the last few years that haven't been butchered by the compression machine. I'd rather listen to an uncompressed recording on a mediocre system than a red DR rating recording on the best system in the world.
Album list - Dynamic Range Database
 

phil t

Well-known Member
Here's a novel thought.

Those who want tone controls, buy an amp with tone controls.
Those who don't want tone controls, buy an amp without.
 

Helix Hifi

Well-known Member
For DAC's a £100 Topping is all you need to get a great sounding system. It's pointless aiming for a better DAC than a Topping if you haven't maxed out your speakers. The sonic differences between DAC's are minimal...

21st century commercially produced music is almost universally over-compressed. Check out the DR database website. Neil Young and Bob Dylan are about the only mainstream artists to release new albums in the last few years that haven't been butchered by the compression machine. I'd rather listen to an uncompressed recording on a mediocre system than a red DR rating recording on the best system in the world.
Album list - Dynamic Range Database
Absolutely correct regarding DAC’s. Those who are buying Hugo Chord DAC’s are perhaps not fooling them self-
perhaps the difference is massive for them.

Dylan has one album which sounds like sh*t. Can’t remember the name of the cd. It was released in 2007.
 

Jaded1

Active Member
Totally agree. For this reason I love my Pearl Lite with bass, treble and yes a mid range control too. Haven't heard an amp to this day that sounds better in pure/source direct mode. It's whatever sounds good to your ears at the end of the day,
 

stretcher

Active Member
Hi Stretcher

You have made a very strong point. I did say in my first post that everyone's hearing is not the same, what I did not say was about the age side of it just in case it offended anyone, I don't know why as I am 64. But the point is you don't just wake up one day it happens over a long period of time. I have been told that I have lost just a bit off the top end of things due to age, my wife says it's down to playing my music to loud for over 50 years. But if someone develops a hearing issue and they already have tone controls, just press a button to engage them. You don't have to go out and purchase a new amp.

Keith
Well there you go - we're the same age then!
 

NEW MUSIC

Standard Member
Here's a novel thought.

Those who want tone controls, buy an amp with tone controls.
Those who don't want tone controls, buy an amp without.
Hi Phil T

Yes you are totally correct, only one problem very few separates have tone controls IE. this status thing that they are better without so the choice is very limited if you would rather have separates than integrated.

Keith
 

IntelliVolume

Well-known Member
In kinda keeping with the tone (a little pun intended?) of this thread...

Is there any way to add a graphic equalizer to an amp that doesn't have a tape loop/tape 2 connection?

I am running an Onkyo 8555 two-channel receiver in my hi-fi setup but it doesn't have a tape 2 monitor hookup nor a loudness button on the front; short of playing with the bass and treble knobs to emulate a loundness-esque effect (I am one of those folks who agree that rudimentary bass and treble knobs aren't really the ideal way of manipulating tone), I wanted to know if there was a way to add some equalization via a graphic EQ with spectrum analyzer to this unit.

Most people have told me it cannot be done without some kind of tape loop circuit -- my Onkyo DOES have a tape connection, but it's a standard line level TAPE IN/OUT, in which I have connected my Tascam CD recorder -- but I have also been told that it may be possible to use either the amp's preouts (which mine has) or the ZONE 2 connections somehow (to run the EQ between them). I know that I can put an EQ between one certain source -- for example, the CD player/changer -- and the amp, but this would only EQ that one source and I'm looking for every source going through the amp to be equalized...

Then, I was once told that I CAN use an EQ's TAPE IN/OUT being that my amp doesn't have a TAPE 2 loop, but I don't know how this would work; at any rate, if I wanted to use the ZONE 2 option, how would this work with an EQ?
 

[email protected]

Active Member
Lots of rooms and speakers, or combinations thereof, are not flat. Completely correcting that requires something like Dirac. But you may be able to get a significant improvement with just tone controls. I have a room wher highs are on average depressed. You’d think after a few hours I would adjust. But in fact choral music sounds muddy. A 2.5 db treble boost cleans it up. Maybe sometime I’ll pay another 1 - 2k and get real room correction, but for the moment I’m OK.
 

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