I recently yielded to the irrepressible itch to go see what the thrift stores had waiting for me. I hadn’t been for a while and felt guilty about having neglected them. So, I got on the computer, dialed up Satan Maps, planned a 14 mile-9 store excursion, unpacked my panniers, aired up the tires, set out on the only reasonable chance to increase my net worth.
The day produced very little. Until, store number 7. It had been re-organized since I had last visited. I should probably say it had been de-organized. Things were scattered all over, and were not well grouped in any manner of using that word. So, I walked every aisle of the store.
As I passed through a collection of shoes and garden utensils, sprinkled with a smattering of cake pans, I was suddenly confronted with 20 slider rheostats, 5 push buttons, and two rotating rheostats, all packaged in a neat, brushed aluminum housing, and proudly proclaiming its identity, the BSR EQ-110X Stereo Frequency Equalizer! Although my Denon 5.1 home theater amplifier already had equalizers for each speaker in the 7 speaker setup, I had recently abandoned its use in favor of a more respectable, mellow sounding, HiFi Adcom 2 channel amplifier. I no longer had an equalizer in my sound chain. My heart quickened.
My initial delirium soon subsided, though, when the thought struck me that I do no like to spend large sums of money. So, I searched all 6 surfaces for a price tag. In crayon, on the top aluminum surface was the figure of $20.00. I was bummed; this was going to be a tough decision. But, the silence of my internal debate came to a screaching halt when over the intercom came the voice of the cashier, reminding all patrons that today was 50% off day. My decision was made. I figured I could emotionally recover from the expenditure of $10 within a couple of weeks or so. I boldly and proudly flashed a 10 to the cashier and strutted out the door to my bike.
Although I still had two stores to go, I tuned and went home instead. I was not going to leave my new treasure in jeopardy in my panniers while the bike was chained to a post in some unsecured parking lot while I shopped the remaining stores. I turned for home and didn’t look back.
After many discomforting thoughts about how this thing couldn’t possibly work, I arrived home and immediately connected it. It worked perfectly! I am not accustomed to good fortune such as this.
So, now I had to figure out how to make this thing improve my piano sound. One thing I felt like I had never achieved with my Denon, and now, Adcom amplification systems was an accurate stereo image of the piano at the piano bench. I had tried many different span lengths between the stereo speakers with only modest satisfaction. And, I had not overcome the tendency of my VSTs to mix the sounds of the two distinct recording microphones into both output channels in a manner that blurred the stereo sensation.
So, correcting this became my mission.
Rather than using VST settings to fight the mixing/cross pollinating of the signals, I used the equalizer to reduce the higher frequencies coming out of the left channel, and to reduce the lower frequencies coming out of the right channel. This had a tremendous effect. More than ever, the high notes seemed to be coming from the right side of the piano, and the low notes seemed to be coming from the left side. It wasn’t perfect, but it was much improved.
Next, I started to re-adjust the distance between the speakers. They currently sit atop a simple wood plank laying horizontally across the tops of a pair of floor standing tower speakers that are not in use. They are just furniture, at the present. The plank is 60 inches long, providing the opportunity to set the speakers slightly wider than the width of my VPC1. Of course, knowing well that ‘more is better”, I set the speakers at the outer ends of the plank and played and listened. The sound was nice, The stereo separation was, more than ever, clearly and unmistakably present.
But, I never leave well enough alone. Out of curiosity, I started creeping the speakers inward, closer to each other. I was surprised as the sound kept improving, not getting worse. I finally settled on a very unanticipated short span of only 20 inches between the inner edges of the speaker cabinets. I lack the words to describe how much more piano-like the setup sounds with the speakers at such a short distance from each other. I almost giggle with delight as the image of each note moves from left to right as I play a scale form the deep bass to the upper registers. It is just the way I remember the acoustic pianos I have played. When I hit a bass note, I hear it coming from the left, When I hit a high note, I hear it coming from the right. As I play up the scale the image moves along with my hands from left to right. I was, and am amazed.
After coming down from my initial high, and after some thought and deliberation, I came to the conclusion that the seemingly narrow speaker placement more accurately modeled the sensation of being at the piano bench than did the wide placement. When playing the piano, the sound comes from directly in front of the player, from within a narrow angle of about a 30 degrees. It does not come from the direction of the two nearest corners of the soundboard, as would be modeled by placing the speakers out at the ends of the keyboard.
So, the loss of “absolute” stereo separation is well overcome by the gain in more “realistic” separation resulting from the sound direction being more realistic, and with the truer directionality of the distinct piano notes after having been ‘equalized’ into their most accurate geographical location in relation to the pianist.
Of all my tinkering with VST piano sounds, this has provided one of the most effective improvements I have yet experienced.