Here is my write up on Master Set and how to go about it. This mirrors my own experiences only. It is intended only as a basic guide to anyone wishing to attempt this. Given that I have been able to achieve a very reasonable result by following the steps outlined here, you should be able to do so as well.
If you should have questions, I will attempt to answer them to the best of my ability, but I also may not know the answer.
I have been so impressed with the sound I have heard from speakers set up with Master Set at RMAF that, well, why not share this.......
There is nothing to buy really, just a CD, and you may already have it. Other than that, it only really takes your own dedication and a few hours of your time, an afternoon, evening, morning, whatever.
And if perchance that you don't like the results, you just go back to previous setup, and are out nothing.
Master Set is a step by step method of speaker setup developed by Sumiko Importers for their dealers to better show the speakers in Sumiko’s lineup. One of the few dealers to take this to the customer has been Rod Tomsen of Soundings in Denver, Colorado. Soundings has sponsored a room at RMAF promoting this method of speaker set up, and this is where I first learned of it.
I have known Rod Tomsen for 15 years, being a regular Soundings customer in the 90’s. I stopped by Rod’s room at RMAF 2007 and was soon just astounded at the sound in that room. I learned everything I could from Rod, and went home and attempted the setup. I didn’t have it quite right however. At the just concluded RMAF 2008, I spent considerable time in the Soundings room enjoying the music and learning more about Master Set. I have since been able to successfully set up my speakers according to the Master Set steps, consulted Rod on the phone, and reset everything even better. I am quite comfortable with my description of the steps of Master Set.
If I can do it, so can you.
Master Set is based on the idea of matching sound pressure between the speakers creating a single sound source. The idea is to “fix” one speaker on one side of the listening room, and then to match the other speaker’s sound pressure to the “fixed” speaker.
The goal is to have each speaker pressurize it’s own half of the room, with no center overlap of sound, cancelling and competing and fuzzing the center image.
A perfect left-right stereo music image with undistorted sound from each instrument and voice. While this may be the goal of every setup ever devised, Master Set achieves this with great success.
The Needed Tools:
The only items needed to perform Master Set are your ears, a setup recording, and a small level. Master Set can be performed by one or two persons. It’s much easier with two people, but that is not a limiting factor at all.
Master Set is judged only by your own ears, there is no other measuring of any kind.
The speakers need to be moved, often in very small increments. Spikes will need to be removed, or have something under them to allow easy movement. Furniture sliders under the spikes work very well.
The Set Up Recording:
Ballad of a Runaway Horse by Jennifer Warnes and Rob Wasserman. You can find this song on the cd Duets, by Rob Wasserman
This song works because of its simplicity and the steadiness of the voice line and the bass line. The voice is perfectly centered and solo. The bass is slow, steady, and easy to hear. Since this is the only real cost involved, the cost is minimal.
Step 1: The beginning set up
Master Set is most successfull when the speakers are set against the long wall in the room. However, if the short wall is long enough to allow enough space between the speakers and not be too close to the sidewall, then this can be used. Speakers are set against the rear wall perpendicular to it. Speakers and listener are at points of an equilateral triangle. Spacing is approximate and dependant on room size. Listening position should be at least 2 feet out from a wall behind the listener, and speakers should be as far away from side walls as practical. Listen to the recording and adjust speakers as needed to get a good solid center image of the singer. Adjust by moving speakers together or apart in small increments and listening to changes. This should only take a few minutes unless you have an irregular room, as I do, in which case this can take longer.
Step 2: Setting the first speaker
This step will set one speaker into position and is based on finding the smoothest bass response. Either speaker can be used. With the volume at a decent level, move the speaker out from wall about 6 inches, toeing in directly to listening position. Sound should still be perfectly centered. Continue to move speaker out at 1 inch increments until sound begins to move toward the speaker being moved. Move speaker in progressively smaller increments until sound is totally from the moved speaker. Mark this spot.
Now, search for the best bass by trying to find the bass nodes. Move speaker out in roughly 1/8th inchincrements listening to the bass notes. I find it easiest to use a tape measure here so that the movements are not too much. Slight accentuation of one of the bass notes is a bass node. Rod tells me there are 5 or 6 nodes. You are searching for a setting where the bass notes are somewhat even and don’t go “plonk” or something like that. I find it easiest to hear things in the first 2 verses of the song, and I tend to repeat them over and over as I go.
It may help a lot if you turn the speaker against the wall out 45 degrees towards the sidewall, but still have it playing.
Move the speaker in very small increments and mark settings. Continue to move speaker back and forth until you are comfortable with the sound. Take a long time with this! Once this speaker is set in place it is fixed and there is no more adjustment to it. Time can fly right by - an hour is about right for first time.
If you have a hard time hearing differences, as has often happened to me, well, take a break. And I also find that if differences are hard to find, just guess at what you think is best and go from there.
Set the speaker in place with spikes installed, or whatever is needed for permanent placement. Level the speaker. This speaker will not be moved again.
NOTE: Do not be tempted to turn off the other speaker while doing this. You need both speakers playing in order to properly find the setting where the sound all goes to the moved speaker as this is the point where the sound decouples from the rear wall and the other speaker and is the beginning point for finding the bass setting.
Keep the speaker as level as possible while doing all the moving, etc, and keep the speaker toed in directly at the listener.
Step 3: Setting the other speaker.
This step will move the other speaker into place and be adjusted to match the sound pressure of the already placed speaker. Move the speaker out from the wall to approach the approximate distance as the fixed speaker is out from the wall, toeing speaker directly in to listening position, and keeping speaker level. Mark this spot. Move speaker in slight increments in or out from this setting listening for a centered voice. The sound pressure of the two speakers is equal when the voice is perfectly centered with a tight sound. Listen for slight variations in the voice weighted to one side or the other or a slight pulling apart of the voice. Move in very small increments as often as necessary until you are sure that you have a perfectly centered voice and tight sound. You cannot take too long to do this, and hour can pass by quickly! Take as much time as you need to feel like you have found it!
From a seated centered listening position, the voice centers up quite easily. However, you may not have balanced sound. Try sitting directly on axis with each speaker. When the sound stays stable and centered at all three positions, then you have really close to balanced and equal sound pressure from each speaker into the room.
You can tweak the midrange setting at this point by varying the toe in from direct at listener to being able to see the inside of the speaker cabinet. That’s only about ½ inch of movement, so very small incremental movements are needed. My own experience has been that I have been unable to hear any differences while doing this.
When you are comfortable with the sound, set the speaker permanently in place and level the speaker.
Step 4: Finalizing and Listening
Play some familiar recordings and listen carefully to the left-right stereo image balance. Listen to make sure each side is equal in sound. If one side is slightly louder, move the speaker from Step 3 as follows: in to wall if this side is louder, out from wall if this side is lower in sound. Move in very small increments. Keep at it until everything is just THERE. It's a bit like fine focus on an camera lens.
Listen to music for a few days, or a week, and get familar with the sound. Redo this step as needed until everything is just perfect. You'll know it!
The final sound you obtain with Master Set should have a perfect left-right stereo image with very clean clear instrumental and vocal sounds. With close-miked recordings that can be quite stunning, and to a degree not previously heard in your audio system.
Practise makes perfect! Many of the subtleties of this setup can be hard to hear. Don’t despair, just keep at it. Keep moving the speaker until you are satisfied with the result. This can be difficult as you may not really know exactly what you are listening for. It’s a learning process, to be sure. It took me 3 tries and a tweak to properly get things good. I’ve tried to note here some of the difficulties I experienced. I also have the benefit of having listened to a near perfect setup at RMAF, so I have an idea of the goal I am trying to achieve.
Additional comments much much later:
DIY Master Set is hard to do, especially the first time. Just do the best you can and don't be afraid to make adjustments every so often. And if you just can't seem to quite get it, well, start over and do it all over again. Just be persistent and keep at it. It can be done.