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A step-by-step speaker set up method,
based on physics that allows us to
properly place speakers for optimum performance in virtually any room.
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Sumiko Master Speaker Setup

A great deal has already been written about this process but I feel I need to add my two cents worth. I was trained at Sumiko in Berkeley about 10 years ago and have been refining the technique and educating my ears with my system ever since. At full retail price, including all cables, etc., my system is under $18,000.00 and I have had numerous 30 year audiophiles say they've never heard any hi fi at any price do what mine does, particularly in the areas of ambiance retrieval, the sense of space of the recording or performance venue, and total coherence and naturalness of sound coupled with an overall feeling of relaxation and immersion into the music.

It has recently been brought to my attention that a majority of people who are accessing this website are using my description of the Sumiko Setup process to set up their speakers on their own. While I applaud their efforts, this is not my intention. I realize my description of the Sumiko Master Set currently is the most detailed, accurate, and thorough one on the web, but I'm afraid that has to change. Initially, I wanted to simply share the information and help people get more out of their systems. However, I also wanted to have people hire me to do the sets and to generate a modest income through the process. If you want a copy of the process, please email or phone me with a request. Please include all pertinent contact information, including your preferred phone number. If you want to include what speakers you have and what sonic problems you are experiencing, that would be a big help.

The speakers should start out along the long wall, right up against the wall, (where we know they sound the worst). If there is a sub-bass system or subwoofer in the room it needs to be bypassed or disconnected. Have the left speaker toed-in so you can still see the side of the cabinet in it's entirety, but just barely.

The initial piece of music used for the set is The Ballad of the Runaway Horse - Rob Wasserman and Jennifer Warnes - Duets Album. It's also available on Famous Blue Raincoat, 24 Karat Gold CD. The song needs to be played at a loud level in order to make the bass nodes readily apparent. When listening for the bass nodes you're listening for three things, Linearity, Extension, and Output. LEO. Linearity, so you can hear all the notes being played, Extension, so when the big, low notes are hit they really go down there, and Output so there's plenty of bass.

Start the song, and slowly move the left speaker into the room until you hear the first bass nodes' arrival. It should be somewhere between 14 - 16 inches out from the wall. You'll know when you hit nodes, so keep marking about 4 or 5 of your favorites. After you find your favorite nodes, go back to them in succession and choose the best one for you and how it feels. This process is easier with a partner, but can be done alone. This aspect of this process is absolutely critical, so take your time and find the place where the music really sings.

Now, because the left speaker is well into the room and the right speaker is against the wall, Jennifer will be well left of center. Think of the left speaker as being a hinge in a gate. The next step is to "swing the gate", or bring out the right speaker so that Jennifer jumps to dead center between the speakers. She should sound as if she's directly in front of your optimum listening position.

Now we begin the truly magical part of this process - the adjustments of rake angle and toe-in. The toe-in should be more if the speakers are way far apart, and less if the speakers are close together. When adjusting toe-in, focus the vocalist with proper scale. Jennifer's mouth should be properly sized, not three feet wide or a pinpoint.

Next comes the most dramatic adjustment of all - the one that affects both image height and soundstage width and sense of space. Re-install the spikes so that the speaker is level and does not rock at all. The folks at Sumiko stay with the Jennifer Warnes cut here, but I prefer to use a song off Hootie & the Blowfishs' Fairweather Johnson album - Tootie - #13. Darius Rucker is about 5'9", and he's right in the middle.

Right now, Darius will sound as if he's on his knees singing, so the rake angle needs to go up to allow him to stand up. Adjust the spikes of the left speaker until he does just that; but enough so that his voice is the proper height for a man of 5'9" (62-63" off the floor if you have the uncontrollable need to measure something). Adjust the spikes of the right speaker until the rake angle matches the left. Double check the top of the speakers for level, and make sure both speakers are rock-solid stable. The sound should now blossom and expand out into and sometimes beyond the room.

If you feel annoyed by anything, then something isn't right. Unfortunately, the usual culprit is the bass node at the beginning, so the spikes need to come out and the whole process has to start over, unless your speakers are small and light enough to be moved easily. If they are, slightly adjust the left speaker for a better bass node, then readjust the right speaker for center image, and check again.

If you can't make this happen I can do it for a nominal fee. There are a large number of tips and things to listen for that I have not included in this version of this article. If you want the full, detailed description of the process - contact me. Always remember - all this stuff we buy and set up so critically and carefully is for our enjoyment - so have fun with it! Best of luck.

Bob Robbins
Sumiko Master Set Expert
August 2014

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