Get Better Sound Book Review on Daily Audiophile

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Jim Smith sent us a review copy of his recent hifi set-up guide book, Get Better Sound ($44.50). The book consists of 202 tips for getting the most out of your system (without spending money on new gear). It includes typical topics such as speaker placement, room treatments, and set-up tools. It also includes less common tips on how to listen, how to compare equipment, and how to plan your system. It even has a section on troubleshooting, a glossary, and a list of reference CDs.

Jim has been involved in the business of hifi for many years. He had his own shop and worked for Audio Research and Magnepan. Most recently, he headed up U.S. distribution for Avantgarde Acoustic loudspeakers. He has experience as a recording engineer and has set up hundreds of systems in customer homes and at trade shows.

Lucky for us, Jim remembered what he learned and wrote it all down in a format that is easy to digest and fun to read. His approach is straightforward. No strong endorsements for any specific technology or design philosophy — just common-sense strategies for dealing with the problems and opportunities presented by most home audio systems. He urges the reader to resist the temptation to improve a system by spending more money on yet another new component. He claims that roughly half of any system’s potential is related to the set-up rather than the gear.

Being the cheapskate I am, I was intrigued by the many free or inexpensive techniques and tweaks outlined in the book. I’ve tried many of them over the years — either on purpose or otherwise — so there were some tips in the book that I skimmed over in order to get to new ones. With 202 included, I found plenty of both old and new. I think I even found a few that were in there more than once. Overall, I’d say about 75% of the tips were useful to me.

The tips I liked most had to do with speaker placement and listening position. In my experience, these changes make the biggest difference. I was less optimistic about some of the incremental tweaks Jim advises, such as moving a component forward or backward on its shelf and keeping cables stationary in order to prevent their sound from changing. These are where I draw the line based on my own hearing ability. I have no doubt others have better hearing and can possibly detect such things.

I have to say, I loved the detailed evaluation process Jim describes using a specific music CD he uses as his golden reference. He obviously knows how this disc should sound. Getting his track-by-track descriptions and comparing them to my own observations using the same CD in my system is something I am looking forward to doing (you’ll have to buy the book to find out which CD Jim uses).

As far as value, there is no way around it — this book is a killer deal. I agree with Jim’s assertion that half a system’s potential is related to set-up. Just think of how much some us have spent on our gear. Now compare that to the cost of this book. Don’t make another wrong component purchase until you’ve heard what your system really sounds like when it’s optimally set up. Hell, Jim will even help talk you through it over the phone (for a small fee). And if you’re reading this in the summer of 2010, you’ll get an even better deal if you order the book now. Jim currently has a 25% off summer sale going on. Normally $44.50, the book is now priced at just $33.37 per copy.

blarney88 April 18, 2011 at 4:43 am

I just received the three DVD version of Smith’s book last Friday and found it to be impressive as well—Highly recommended.

HionHiFi January 16, 2012 at 1:53 pm

Great write up of Jim’s book. I too own the book and like you find the obvious concepts such as speaker placement and setup palatable. I’ll leave the micro or voodoo tweaks to those willing to invest the time or believe in them.