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The pecking order in checking out a test CD

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

The pecking order in checking out a test CD

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1992, The Syracuse Newspapers

Only a birdbrain would listen intently to the new compact disc I just added to my collection.

It's full of test tones. Many of them are much too high for me to hear, so I enlisted the help of Joe, my full-time audio assistant.

Joe's full name is Joker the Parrot. He's a yellow-naped Amazon, about 9 years old, and has been listening avidly to my hi-fi discs and tapes ever since I set up my main sound system near his cage.

As you would expect of a creature of his lineage, Joe has an excellent sense of pitch and a perfect ear. He's an ideal partner for audio experimentation.

He was a big help when I was trying to find the best location for a pair of loudspeakers I had just installed in the living room. I had them placed against one of the long walls, with the left loudspeaker fairly close to one corner. The right speaker looked a little lonesome, stuck against the wall far from the other corner.

This lopsided arrangement not only looked bad; it sounded horrible. I was reminded right away of the main rules of high fidelity—it's the room you listen to, not just the speakers.

So they had to move. I shunted them a few inches to one side and the other, and then shifted them a few feet in either direction. I pulled them out away from the wall and then pushed them back as far as they could go against the wall.

Each time I moved one or both of the loudspeakers, the sound changed. Sometimes it was a minor change, barely perceptible. But now and then the sound blossomed, as if someone had thrown open a curtain to let the notes shine through.

I found what seemed to be the ideal locations for the two speakers, then got out my new test CD. Here's where Joe was invaluable. After I was sure that the speakers were properly set up for the best sound in the low notes and the midrange, I put on "Test CD 2" from Stereophile, which contains some special test tracks that have tones that are far above my range of hearing.

They're not too high for Joe, of course, so I switched my CD player into "repeat" mode and began toeing each speaker in toward the listening area. I knew that I had found just the right angle for each one when my little assistant put down his piece of toast—he's a rye-bread lover, I should add—and began warbling a couple of octaves lower than the sound that was coming out of the speakers.

The speakers didn't make a peep, as far as I could tell. All I could hear were parrot songs, but I knew that if the left and right loudspeakers were aimed properly for these ultra-high notes, which are highly directional, they would have to be set up perfectly for the ones lower down that I could hear.

After we finished the tests, I was ready to let the music take over, and we went back to opera. That's what Joe likes best.

On Joe's behalf, there's probably one more thing I should point out.

Very high frequencies like the ones I used for testing can permanently damage the ears of both humans and their animal assistants, so if you try this sort of thing—using any household pet that has good hearing—don't play the test tones for more than a few seconds at a time.

Your helper may not be able to tell you that the tones are painful until it's too late.

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