The Sweet Spot — Getting More Out of Your System

Carl Tatz designs award-winning studios and home screening rooms all over the world. He's known for delivering that "I can see God” sweet spot. And in this interview, he shares tips on how you can boost your speaker's performance.

Written BY

Mike Dias

I founded Domo Audio because I love music. I love audio. And I believe in building relationships, not transactions.

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April 2, 2019

As audiophiles, we want the raw essence of sound. We crave to be as close to the original studio experience as possible. That’s why we’re always looking for new and better gear. 

At Domo Audio, we take this sonic obsession a step further. We go right to the source and talk to the recording engineers who made your favorite albums.

Carl Tatz is a GRAMMY-nominated engineer/producer and an award-winning studio designer. He’s also the creator of the acclaimed PhantomFocus System monitor tuning protocol that has revolutionized the control rooms of engineer/producers across the country. His techniques render unprecedented performance and imaging with full frequency accuracy using any brand of monitors. This makes Carl the perfect guest to talk about how to get better sound & even more enjoyment from your current hi-fi system.

Carl — you’re famous for saying that great speakers in a great room do not equal great monitoring. How does that relate to listening to our home systems?

It’s virtually impossible, and at the very least impractical — without perhaps hiring NASA — to create a take-your-breath-away sweet spot relying on acoustic treatment alone. To create the sweet spot, you have to consider the relationship between the speaker, the listener and the room. I call that the Acoustic Trinity™. And that relationship must be addressed as a single entity as if it were a new speaker on a lab test bench.

How can we as listeners begin to apply the Acoustic Trinity™? What steps can we take to get even more enjoyment out of our existing set ups - without adding any additional cost or components?

To create a sweet spot listening position in a near-field to mid-field  setup (typically no more that 9’ from tweeter-to-tweeter), you can use the Null Positioning Ensemble (NPE) along with the Axial Mode Calculator. The effects can be profound. 

Same question but with adding additional gear. What’s the critical piece of equipment that will give the biggest boost in terms of overall performance?

The acclaimed PhantomFocus™ System incorporates a very powerful high-resolution DSP processor along with the inclusion of a pair of 20Hz 12” subwoofers and the PhantomFocus speaker stands, depending on the speakers or monitors used. Installation is a two-day process for me and my assistant culminating with the commissioning of the owner’s “I can see God” sweet spot.

Is there a parallel when listening with headphones or is that a different animal all together?

Headphones can never begin to equal the PhantomFocus experience of listening to a pair of correctly tuned speakers in a room. Notably, with headphones the sound seems to be coming from inside your head, with the PFS the listener is enveloped in a very natural environment where the speakers and room seem to disappear. 

That said, of course headphones have their place and can deliver an impressive listening experience that is pleasing and far less expensive than an actual speaker/room setup. Most notably, the new high-end in-ear offerings seem to perform leaps and bounds above traditional headphones for a few reasons that I won’t get into here.

Say, as audiophiles, we’re always trying to get as close to the original studio recordings as possible. As a former owner of Recording Arts — one of the most recognized studios in the world — what are your thoughts on that?

Truth be known, getting as close to the original studio recording is not so hard to do and the reality is that an avid audiophile’s system can easily surpass the listening experience of virtually any non-PFS enhanced studio control room on the planet with what we have learned over the last 30 years or so. 

Remember, we are talking about a sweet spot that can be finely tuned and that’s an important distinction to make because the laws of physics mandate that it is only possible to truly maximize one position in a room. That does not mean that your speakers won’t be pleasing in other listening positions in the room relative of course to the room modes, it just means that there can only be one “God” spot.

What should we be paying attention to? What details should we be listening for?

Pinpoint imaging, enveloping sonically holographic sound, pitch definition in the low-end, detailed high end.

What essence do you try and capture?

Emotion - if it’s not there, you don’t have it.

How critical to the total overall picture is the gear used in the recording process?

It’s critical, but more importantly knowing how to use it. There’s tons of new gear out there now and very little of it isn’t at least good.

And how does that all tie back with how we started — how critical is the gear that we as listeners are using when we enjoy your records? 

It’s kind of the same answer. There are many great monitors and HiFi speakers available that don’t cost tens of thousands of dollars. As I tell potential PFS studio clients, it is far better to have a modest pair of monitors with a PFS than any super expensive pair without, - hands down. 

If you could design the ultimate listening system, what would that be? Please give us a few options at different price points. Something on a budget, something moderately priced, and something with no constraints. 

That’s a tough question. I think there is a fairly early point of diminishing returns especially today since there are so many reasonably priced speakers and front-end hardware available that perform very well. 

Of course it depends on the application. A large system can offer an exciting experience properly installed in a room but frankly that is rare and expensive. A near-field system in a PFS can be much more useful to a mix engineer because he will have the best of both worlds by having the intimacy of near-fields while at the same time the bass response of mains, ie large monitors. 

Our PFM HD-1000 and UHD-1000 near-field monitors have been heralded by some top engineers as the best monitors in the world and depending on a couple of options, they're well under 20K. On the other hand, a well healed audiophile may well appreciate a pair of high-end towers in his or her living room properly positioned and accounted for acoustically within one of our systems so in that case sky's the limit.

Carl Tatz sold his Recording Arts studio in 2003 to Sheryl Crow and now designs listening rooms and studios for others. His studio designs win countless awards and grace the covers of Mix Magazine. 

Some of the services Carl offers are Acoustic Design, Home Screening Rooms, Recording Studios Monitor Systems, Discrete 5.1 Listening Rooms, Room Analysis, and Tuning Sound Isolation.

Carl shares his unique acoustic approach in lectures and on panels at Berklee College of Music, SAE, the Art Institutes, Summer & Winter NAMM, Mix Nashville and AES events. 

To learn more about Carl, his body of work, or his PhantomFocus System, please visit any of the links below:

Carl Tatz Design

Produce Like A Pro

Recording Studio Rockstars

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