Tempting Fate?

Normally, Stirling works on each speaker individually, turning the other speaker outwards, away from the so that he can fasten on the output of the one in question. In this situation, the set up was so narrow and the speakers so close to the sidewalls that this wasn’t possible, but even so, the positional approach tackled one speaker at a time before considering them as a pair. In each case, position was considered in terms of lateral placement, fore and aft location and crucially, precise height off of the floor – first assessing the linearity and projection of each speaker in turn, then considering them as a pair. With the bottom end weight, attack and dynamic range dialled in, it’s the lateral and attitudinal adjustments that meld the output of the two speakers, creating a single, coherent musical whole. The more effectively this is achieved, the more musically powerful the results. It starts working by with the distance between the speakers, rake angle and toe-in. But by the closing stages Stirling is starting to work with azimuth (tilting the speaker into or out of the soundstage), diagonal pitch adjustments across the speaker base and equalising the loading on all four feet.

The steps that constitute this process are beyond repetitive and tedious – tiny incremental shifts, one way or another, often little more than a nudge – each requiring execution and repeated assessment. The fact that the speakers could slide on the tiled floor was a massive help in this regard. Carpeted floors are the enemy of precision set up, not only making incremental changes extremely taxing, but their compressive nature making the achievement of stable settings incredibly difficult. Tiled or wooden floors are the way to go, certainly in the area where the speakers stand and in this respect, this floor was exemplary. You often find steps between boards or tiles, which make it extremely difficult to move heavy speakers and maintain attitudinal accuracy. After all, raise one spike or foot by a millimetre or so and every setting as well as the overall stability of the speaker gets thrown out. But in this case, the floor wasn’t just level (certainly in builder’s terms) it was also extremely even, testament to the skills of whoever laid it. The result was unusually speedy progress.

After four or five hours of minute shifts, assessments and adjustments, performance started to plateau – the point where it starts to become different rather than ‘better’ or ‘worse’. In many ways, this is the hardest point to recognise in the entire process, especially if you’ve been concentrating ever more closely on making or repeating tiny adjustments. There’s an almost compelling logic to working with speakers that, if you are not careful, pulls you first into and then firmly down a bottomless rabbit hole of circular adjustments that never lock out at a solution. You need to keep an eye and both ears on the big picture – otherwise you get lost in the long grass of sonic minutiae. It takes practice and a degree of realism (in every sense) to realise just when the job is done – and just when the client will be happy. Fortunately, with the system’s owner on hand, that doesn’t need to be a guess. Stirling habitually brings the client in at regular intervals just to ensure that he’s still on course and working towards the right goal. It’s not unusual to be faced with alternative solutions, settings that lean the musical performance one way or another. This is when the owner’s input is invaluable, as it proved in this case. This wasn’t a situation of either or. It was a question of, “are we there yet?” The answer, expressed as a silly grin, was definitely a resounding yes.