Near-Field Listening: Acquired Taste or Proper Paradigm?

Phelonious Ponk

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Near-field listening can be a revelation provided you have properly handled those very early reflections.

IMO - Don

Not sure I understand. Near-field is a methodology for handling those very early reflections. Not that some treatment isn't still called for, but by putting the monitors so close to the listening position, early reflections are effectively masked. Overwhelmed might be a better term. I know I have to be running my near-field system awfully loudly before reflections become much of an audible issue, and my room treatments are...informal, to put it kindly. I've never quite understood the "dry" criticism, but maybe I'm getting enough reflection to mitigate that problem.

The biggest problem with near-field listening is the tiny sweet spot. When you're listening that close, toed-in, merely leaning to reach for a pen on one side of your desk can shift the imaging dramatically!

P
 

microstrip

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The biggest problem with near-field listening is the tiny sweet spot. When you're listening that close, toed-in, merely leaning to reach for a pen on one side of your desk can shift the imaging dramatically!

P
Amen to that.
PS: I own Sound Labs A1 PX and something I like about them is that if I move I do not feel as if the music has left the room . I love my ESL63 - tonal balance was more accurate then the SLs - but the sweet spot effect was terrible.
But as Tom guessed now I never buy front row tickets ...
 
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DonH50

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I'm mixing fruit here... A couple of (OK, three) points to clarify:

1. In the studio, you worry about reflections off the console, the wall 2" behind and 6" beside the monitors, the wall 3' behind the console chair, etc. Some even the speaker baffle. I refer to those as "very early reflections". While I call this situation "near field", it is not the same as when you sit in the near field of a stereo system, with speakers all on their lonesome and you right in the middle.

2. That tiny sweet spot is part of the reason some folk don't really like it, and IMO is due to part of the sound field (the reflected part) being lost. Less accurate with that extra reverberance, but a lot of folk prefer that more "spacious" sound.

3. Listening near field is not a complete panacea; reflections from the surfaces around and behind can still be an issue. The normal near-field assumption is that any "late" arrivals are late enough (and low enough in amplitude) for your ear/brain to distinguish them from the first sounds you hear from the speakers, but they can still cause frequency aberrations and such.

This is not really my area of expertise (not something I have thought about in a while) so I shall bow out while I still have room for the other foot in my mouth. ;) - Don
 

flez007

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I really enjoyed this thread, and of course ripped some benefits out of it :). I moved my listening chair .75 mts towards my speakers and recorded diffeerences every 10 cms back to the original position. Something became clear: room interactions were far less in the upfront position.

I also have a second system at office where I use a Wadia 170i for my iPhone feeding an SET amp to a pair of Loth speakers. i have the speakers at merely 80 cms from my ears. There are some nice things in that setuo that I would like to recover for my large system at home.

Thanks Tmallin!
 

Phelonious Ponk

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I'm mixing fruit here... A couple of (OK, three) points to clarify:

1. In the studio, you worry about reflections off the console, the wall 2" behind and 6" beside the monitors, the wall 3' behind the console chair, etc. Some even the speaker baffle. I refer to those as "very early reflections". While I call this situation "near field", it is not the same as when you sit in the near field of a stereo system, with speakers all on their lonesome and you right in the middle.

2. That tiny sweet spot is part of the reason some folk don't really like it, and IMO is due to part of the sound field (the reflected part) being lost. Less accurate with that extra reverberance, but a lot of folk prefer that more "spacious" sound.

3. Listening near field is not a complete panacea; reflections from the surfaces around and behind can still be an issue. The normal near-field assumption is that any "late" arrivals are late enough (and low enough in amplitude) for your ear/brain to distinguish them from the first sounds you hear from the speakers, but they can still cause frequency aberrations and such.

This is not really my area of expertise (not something I have thought about in a while) so I shall bow out while I still have room for the other foot in my mouth. ;) - Don

I don't think your foot is too close to your mouth yet, Don. All of the stuff you're talking about is real, and needs to be dealt with. I don't listen near field on stands in the middle of the room, but off a desktop, much like in a studio environment. I have the speakers pulled forward and toed in, away from the back walls (front-fireing ports help some). I have them elevated a couple of inches off of the desktop on very dense, heavy platforms and tilted back on narrow rubber wedges (it is mostly air between speaker bottoms and platform). I have them well forward of the stuff that is kept between them, and what's there is not particularly reflective. I'm sure this hasn't eliminated every reflection, but it changed the imaging dramatically, and for the better, compared to when the monitors were sitting directly on the desk. I'm sure it isn't perfect, but it's damned good. The clarity and detail is very good, and the imaging is ungodly. If much were wrong in terms of reflections, none of that could happen.

P

P
 

DonH50

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Phelonious Ponk

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Johnny Vinyl

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I need to raise my Sttafs about 8-10" in order for the tweeter to be positioned about 1" above ear level. I'm not liking the chair option (sorry Tom) and am looking for other suggestions. I could have a platform built I suppose, but was wondering if anyone had tried any other methods as well.

John
 

tmallin

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I need to raise my Sttafs about 8-10" in order for the tweeter to be positioned about 1" above ear level. I'm not liking the chair option (sorry Tom) and am looking for other suggestions. I could have a platform built I suppose, but was wondering if anyone had tried any other methods as well.

John

Custom-made is always nice. Skylan makes very good speaker stands to your specs. I use those under my Totem Dreamcatchers in my home theater system. Skylan makes stands designed to go with the Dreamcatchers so Noel might also have worked on stands for the Sttafs. I've also successfully used custom Skylan stands with my Harbeths.

You probably would not have to have something custom made. You could look for short speaker stands of that height; they certainly are available. Two basic types exist: open frame and solid. Given the floor-standing nature of the Totem speakers you might want to stick with a solid stand. Mapleshade makes very nice products of this type out of solid maple. Their Maple Gibraltar stand seems to be about the right height.

But, you never know whether an open stand might sound better. Less expensive alternatives would include some sort of solid wood footstool of about the right size and height. Two alternatives I found are here and here.

Or, I've even had success with plastic milk crates. I use a single thickness of terrycloth toweling as an interface between the speaker and the stand. The Container Store sells one model, but such things are widely available. Note, however, that most are about 11 inches tall.

With stands, you really have to try them with your particular speakers in your room. Sometimes an inexpensive stand works at least as well as something quite pricey. I really like the sound of my Harbeths on a pair of 24" bar stools I got from Target department store for about $50 the pair, with a piece of toweling as the interface and I've been using those as stands for a couple of years now.

Interfaces between the speaker and stand and stand and floor are also important. I'm convinced that a lot depends on how lively the speaker cabinets are, how hard your floor is, and whether the speakers have a lot of bass. My Harbeths put out a lot of bass energy, have very lively, bass-resonant cabinets, and my floor is concrete below the rug. In this situation I've found that "soft" interfaces work best between both the speaker and stand and the stand and floor, and that the stand itself really shouldn't be too rigid. Rigid coupling (as with spikes or cones) and high-mass rigid stands add a layer of bright grunge. But with the small, bass-limited Dreamcatchers, I get great sound with BluTac between the speakers and rigid Skylan stands, with sand-filled stand pillars, and with the stands spiked to the concrete floor beneath the rug.
 

Johnny Vinyl

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Hi Tom,

Thank you for getting back to my inquiry as quickly as you did (not that I'm in a rush or anything). Seeing as you have Totem Dreamcatchers you may be familiar with the Sttafs. For a small-profile floorstanding speaker the Sttaf produces a bigger than you would think amount of bass. My room has wood over concrete floors and a wool throw rug of significant thickness (about 3/4"). The options you provided (Skylan and Mapleshade) are beyond my budget, so a less expensive alternative will have to be found and incorporated. The thought of plastic Milk Crates actually crossed my mind and this is something I'll investigate a little further. I just need someone to help me with the height measurement once I'm positioned in my listening chair.

John
 

tmallin

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Hi Tom,

Thank you for getting back to my inquiry as quickly as you did (not that I'm in a rush or anything). Seeing as you have Totem Dreamcatchers you may be familiar with the Sttafs. For a small-profile floorstanding speaker the Sttaf produces a bigger than you would think amount of bass. My room has wood over concrete floors and a wool throw rug of significant thickness (about 3/4"). The options you provided (Skylan and Mapleshade) are beyond my budget, so a less expensive alternative will have to be found and incorporated. The thought of plastic Milk Crates actually crossed my mind and this is something I'll investigate a little further. I just need someone to help me with the height measurement once I'm positioned in my listening chair.

John

What you said about needing someone to help you with the height measurement once you're positioned in the listening chair reminded me of something I hadn't covered. It is not trivial to measure the distance from your ear canal to the floor while sitting in your listening chair, even with an assistant. Usually, your body and the chair surface will be in the way of directly measuring from your ears to the floor.

If you don't mind shooting a laser measuring device directly into your ear canal, you can have an assistant aim such a device at your ear canal while the device is positioned flat against a side wall. Then measure from the beam position to the floor at the side wall. I'm reluctant to aim lasers at my ears, however, even low-powered ones.

Another way, the way I've used for years, is to use a tape measure held vertically in front of you as you sit in your normal listening posture in your listening chair. Use a tape measure which is square with flat surfaces. Extend the tape to the floor and then sight along the top of the tape measure. Adjust the tape until you can just see the top of the tape measure. Note the measured distance, add the width of the tape measure, and you have the distance from your eyes to the floor. Do this repeatedly to see if you can get consistent measurements. Getting the tape vertical is the trick. An assistant can help you with that until you get the hang of it.

Now look in a mirror and with a ruler measure the vertical distance between the pupil of your eye and your ear canal. Your pupils should be a bit higher than your ear canal. In my case the distance is about 1.25 inches. Subtract that distance from what you measured while sitting in your listening chair and you have indirectly calculated the distance from your ear canals to the floor when you are sitting in your listening chair.
 

DonH50

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For an 8" to 10" rise I would use concrete building blocks under the stands (or speakers, whatever). A piece of color-coordinated fabric (felt, whatever, agaiin) will hide the blocks for aesthetics. A wooden (board) or paving slab on top can be used to provide a flat surface for the speaker (stand) and/or a little extra height if needed. Solid, cheap, readily available! - Don
 

Johnny Vinyl

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For an 8" to 10" rise I would use concrete building blocks under the stands (or speakers, whatever). A piece of color-coordinated fabric (felt, whatever, agaiin) will hide the blocks for aesthetics. A wooden (board) or paving slab on top can be used to provide a flat surface for the speaker (stand) and/or a little extra height if needed. Solid, cheap, readily available! - Don

Now there's an idea from my teenage years. Concrete blocks and 2x12's......made for a great cheap stand.

John
 

Jimna

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Very nice writeup! Lots of new things you have stated that I need to ponder, and some I already have and agree on. One is the height of the speaker. Below is a pic of my DIY plinths I build for mine. second are the 'second venue' effect. Ive treated my room as well as I can for this reason. i do consider myself a near field listener too, but not quite as near as you...

Thanks for the article.





 

zydeco

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A while back I had to move into a smaller room which necessitated a near-field set-up. I was, at first, rather apprehensive but now see it as offering a different, enjoyable, perspective on recordings. The reason for the post is to get some advice on the design criteria for speakers that suit this set-up. My current speakers are large MTM speakers with cross-over to (sub-)woofers are great at 10 to 12' distance but in the near-field the focus / detail seems overwhelming and the image un-naturally large in the vertical.

Now I'm thinking of either building or purchasing a set of speakers that are better suited to the near-field set-up. You mentioned, Tom, concerns about the vertical imaging of line source and point source designs in the near-field. So, my question is about the criteria for speakers that work well in the near-field? And can near-field work with separate (sub-)woofers?

Regards
Zydeco
 

tmallin

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I gave evaluations of speakers I thought worked well in near-field listening in the section of my original post titled What Speakers Work Well in Near-Field Listening. In short, Harbeths work as well or better at this than any others I've tried and I think a driver orientation with tweeter on top, midrange in the middle (if a 3-way) and woofer on the bottom works better for the vertical height illusion than something like a D'Apollito array.

As far as mains plus subs, adding subs always messes up the imaging just a bit unless you can time-align the subs to the mains with the proper crossovering and delays. A TacT RCS 2.2XP does this just fine.


 

zydeco

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Tom

Thanks for the update. The question (that I didn't articulate well in the original post) that I'm considering is the role of dispersion for near-field set-ups in small rooms. Or, put another way, where along the continuum from omnidirectional to controlled directivity speakers is the sweet spot for small room near-field set-ups. I'd been considering a controlled directional speaker but, after reading the article, think that a more traditional speaker would create a better soundstage assuming addition of sidewall treatment.

Regards
Zydeco
 

tmallin

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You may want to pose this question over on Robert E. Greene's Yahoo forum where REG has been discussing this a lot lately. Basically, he thinks that a "wide" baffle, meaning something about 14" wide or more is necessary to lower the baffle step sufficiently to allow equalization and room treatment to work properly. Narrow-baffle speakers, which are all the rage today are "wrong," he thinks. For some basic discussion and graphs on why this might be, see REG's discussion here beginning at page 16.
 

flez007

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Tom - Just to add one more fact to your original statement in this thread, which I am enjoying a lot, I am currently trying a pair of WLM speakers from Germany. The manual indicates that one should follow a 1 x 1.5 rule as for speaker placement (distance to the center of the speaker front line against speaker separation), this places them far away from each other, close to the side walls and the listening chair falls closer to the center of the room.

Still experimenting, but so far I can say that the scenario, soundstaging and attack are almost life-like, music floats everywhete and roon interactions are minimum.

My 2 centavos! :)
 

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