Nowhere man

AUDIOFILE - Val A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

Sign of the times. One proof that people nowadays stay much longer in their cars than in the comfort of their homes is the number of inquiries I have been receiving from harassed readers on how they can improve the sound system of their automobiles, which are usually parked along the stretch of EDSA.  With the horrendous traffic these people have to face each day, they now find comfort in playing their favorite CDs and USBs in their respective mobile sound systems to fight boredom and keep their cool.

In fact, getting the most out of a factory-installed car stereo system is a problem that not only they alone face. Even audiophiles go to great expense just to make their mobile audio system sound good. As we have previously stated in this column, the interior of your car offers the worst listening environment to enjoy great music from. You have to do some customization — drastically modifying your car interiors — to achieve the desired effect. But if you can’t afford to customize or are just interested in getting through the day without hassles on the road, listen up.

Know your music

First, you should stick to the music genre or artists you enjoy listening to the most. Don’t be swayed by the marketing gimmicks record companies employ to sell their music. I have a friend who buys just about every new album on the market only to find out later that only two or three songs are acceptable to his ears. You could cross-genre if you want, but be sure that you’re equipped with the necessary information about the album and the artists before buying the CD. Being an informed listener helps, believe me.

Invest in a moderately priced head unit. This is the equipment where you insert your CD in and which controls the sounds coming out of your speakers. You can change your speakers later if you have extra cash.

But what is a good sound system really? Let me tell you of another friend, a dead-serious music enthusiast, who can’t seem to make up his mind on what to do with his mobile audio system. Practically lost or clueless in what he really wants his system to sound like, he desperately changes his sound equipment every time he hears one that sounds (or so he thinks) better than his.

Are you also a nowhere man? This is the usual problem of someone who has not found his point of reference yet. Audiophiles usually have their respective references, a beacon to guide them on what their stereo system should sound like. For me, my reference is my home audio system. I want my car stereo to at least sound close to it. Since cars have the most hostile sound acoustics, I’m resigned to the fact that my car stereo could only do so much. What about the reference of my home audio system?  I would like my home audio system to at least sound close to a concert hall. After all, what audiophiles wish for is an almost perfect reproduction of live sound, the way we hear it inside concert halls.

Accuracy, soundstage and Ambience

For your system to reproduce high-fidelity sounds, it must have accuracy, soundstage, and ambience. Your system is accurate if it can precisely reproduce sounds so that a particular sound instrument will sound like what it is: a guitar sounds like a guitar, a sax like a sax, a piano like a piano. More importantly, you should be able to discern minute details: such as two violins, not just one, playing a harmonious line; a mallet hitting the skin of the drum, not just the boom of the drum; the sound of a guitar pick stirring the string, not just the sound of the note that was struck.

Soundstage is the ideal placement of your speakers.  In home audio, the ideal location for the two speakers is at two center points of an ellipsoid near the room walls. The best listening position is for us to sit exactly between the two speakers, at a distance of about one to three feet away from the rear wall, creating an imaginary triangle. Your position in the triangle is called the “sweet spot” or where the music is harmonized and sounds the best.  This position affords the sound from the speakers to reach our ears before it is reflected from the side walls. What we have now is better soundstaging and an unadulterated tonal balance of the speakers.

Ambience is a factor not only of the speakers, but the room in where they are located. Ambience is essentially made of reflections or aftershocks. It creates a feeling that “you are there.”  In a live concert, ambience is the outcome of the instruments’ sounds reflected from the ceiling, walls, floors, people and anything else inside the hall.

I hope that these facts will help you get through the traffic with ease. Beware though: listening to music could be highly addictive.

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For comments and suggestions, please email me at [email protected]












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