"Balance" Control Knobs on Stereo Devices...

Discussion in 'Amps, Pre-Pros & Receivers' started by PearlcorderS701, Apr 26, 2011.

  1. PearlcorderS701 Banned

    PearlcorderS701
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    In traditional configurations, stereo gear (receivers, integrated amps, some separate preamps, etc.) often boast a "balance" control knob on the front panel -- while most of the time, these are always left in the default center detent position (unless someone is running the component in some sort of Pure or Direct mode which bypasses this control), however, I am running into an issue with my setup in which the center position for balance still seems to lean towards the left speaker (in my two-channel setup) heavily, and it doesn't seem to make sense as the speakers are equidistant from each other and are both sitting on stands whose bases are nearly identical in positioning in terms of their toe in and pull-out distance...

    It's obvious, sitting in my primary listening position, that the left speaker is definitely dominating the soundstage, with all vocals, no matter the music or source I'm playing, leaning heavily from that speaker. With the balance knob in the middle, I didn't think this would occur, but I'm beginning to think that this has more to do with the way stereo music may be recorded on traditional CD media, in that there's always a bias to one side -- I've noticed this when doing recording as well, as with all meters perfectly equal, one channel always hits hotter than the other. At any rate, I'm starting to wonder if the balance even in two-channel setups must be adjusted to be perfectly spot-on for the sweet spot, as it is with multichannel surround rooms -- just as we must balance the speakers in the surround application based on the primary listening spot, perhaps the balance knob of my stereo receiver needs to be tweaked to bring things back into a center image...

    Is this normal that even at the center detent position for balance, that the stereo image would be skewed towards one speaker? Should I play with the balance knob, pushing more bias towards the right channel even though these speakers truly are equal from each other and my listening position?
  2. skizzerflake Audioholic Field Marshall

    skizzerflake
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    This is one of those forensic tasks. Imbalance (which I have had) can be due to the amp, room acoustics, the player, or (heaven forbid) your ears. You can rule out your ears by listening with your back turned...see if the imbalance comes from the other side. If everything is working right, it's frequent that the recording balance might be heavier on one side, but it won't be that way with ALL recordings and won't be always on the same side. Many of them will have a lead vocal that's dead center and that can be a reference point. If it's the amp or player and not too severe, you can just use the balance control to fix it, but it could be a sign that something's going wrong with a component.
  3. TLS Guy Audioholic Overlord

    TLS Guy
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    More likely than not you have a hardware problem.

    Does this happen with all sources? If only one source then that source is at fault.

    If it occurs with all sources, then your Onkyo has a stage in the right channel that has developed a fault.

    This in not an uncommon fault problem. I just recently serviced one of my preamps for just this problem.

    Problems are usually due to a transistor, op amp chip or other component wandering out of tolerance.

    The service procedure involves driving the device form a mono oscillator source to a pair of inputs, and comparing the outputs with a FET VOM or scope.

    In the center detent position the voltage at the outputs of the two channels should be identical. If not there is a fault.

    If there is a fault then you take your scope and probe each stage on both channels and find at which stage the output is reduced. Then you find out why, and replace the out of tolerance component.

    In my experience these types of faults are always associated with decreased headroom and clipping at a lower input voltage than specified. It is not unusual for the fault to be associated with an increase in distortion on the affected channel at all volume levels.

    So you should not just bias the balance to the affected channel, if your set up is as you state.

    Bottom line, your integrated amp requires service more likely than not.
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  4. PearlcorderS701 Banned

    PearlcorderS701
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    Thanks very much for your prompt reply, Skizzer...

    Yes, indeed, it seems like it is occuring with every source I play, so it must not be just one component acting up (i.e. CD changer); it seems to happen with FM broadcasts as well, if I recall correctly (I will recheck when I go back into that room) so perhaps it's just something with the receiver's amp...

    Should the balance knob be tweaked with, though, beyond the default middle detent? Even if the sound is skewed a bit towards one channel, shouldn't the balance always be centered as a standard? What would cause this kind of imbalance in electronics like an amp/receiver?
  5. M Code Senior Audioholic

    M Code
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    EZ to test..
    Reverse the Left and Right front loudspeakers leads..
    What happens?

    Also try reversing the left and right output cables for your CD player..
    What happens?

    Since the stereo front Left and Right channels are a duplicate system chain for source, amplifier, loudspeaker..
    By alternating each component will help isolate if one channel and/or component is louder than the other...

    Just my $0.02.. ;)
  6. PearlcorderS701 Banned

    PearlcorderS701
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    Thanks Code...

    I don't really want to rearrange my wiring because the rack is in a tight place to get to and the install was a pain to begin with; being that it seems to be from every source, not just CD for example, could it be assumed it's my amp? If that's the case, do I need to compensate with the balance knob?

    My concern is if there's a "slightly blown" channel in the amp, as I wouldn't really know how to deal with that -- I mean, in retrospect, it could be a gazillion things: The one Polk speaker that may be dying or damaged, an amp channel, a bad wire somewhere...:eek::eek:
  7. markw Audioholic Overlord

    markw
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    Under no circumstance should you ever move the balance control from it's center detent position. It'll destroy the essential feng shui of the system and the room and the magic smoke will e released into the environment. You must move your listening position to where the speakers play at the same level.
  8. WaynePflughaupt Audioholic Chief

    WaynePflughaupt
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    Well, that’s the only way you’re ever going to be able to isolate the problem. Otherwise all you can do is keep guessing which of those gazillion things is actually the problem...

    Regards,
    Wayne A. Pflughaupt
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 19, 2014
  9. Pyrrho Audioholic Ninja

    Pyrrho
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    Normally, with symmetrically placed speakers from which one is sitting equidistant, and from which one is on or off axis to the same degree, there will be very little difference in channel balance. Of course, rooms are not generally precisely symmetrical, and so some differences may occur. But if there is a great difference and the speakers are located symmetrically in the room, it is a good idea to look for a fault.

    Aside from the possibilities mentioned by skizzerflake, you could also have a bad connection somewhere in the signal path or a blown speaker. If it is all sources that exhibit the problem, look at your speaker connections, both at the speakers and at the amplifier, and switch speakers with each other to see if the problem switches sides.

    Also, when judging channel balance, you ought to only be using a mono source, as otherwise the material will be different in the different channels. If you have any mono CDs, you can use them. You can also use AM radio for judging channel balance.
  10. Nestor Senior Audioholic

    Nestor
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    Have isolated the problem from your speakers? Try swapping the speakers and see if the imbalance follows.
  11. skizzerflake Audioholic Field Marshall

    skizzerflake
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    That's what it's there for. In a perfect world, an amp should be precisely balanced, but it doesn't always come out that way. If nothing otherwise suggests that the amp is bad and sound is OK, use the balance.
  12. TLS Guy Audioholic Overlord

    TLS Guy
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    If you have to use the balance there is a significant problem and it is nearly always more than just loss of output. The loss of output in a channel is a tip to the real problem, which you soon uncover with instruments.
  13. k_lewis Junior Audioholic

    k_lewis
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    I have found this to be true on a number of systems I've set up, even in the same room. Things like room acoustics, amplifier efficiency of one channel vs another, slight differences in the actual speakers themselves, material you are listening too etc all play a factor in one speaker perceivably dominating the others from your listening position.

    As a part of 'dialing in' any system I always break out the DB meter and test tone, to ensure each speaker is putting out a reference 75db from each speaker at my given listening distance. I cannot think of one time where both left / right speaker gains were set the same, most of the time it will be a .5 to 1.5 db difference. And, that will change as speakers / amps / components break in so I find myself re-toning the system after the first 60 hours of use. In the end, your ear is the best final judge. The meter and test toning just gives you a known reference point to work from, and if you do have any hardware issues it will be very easy to tell without question.

    Picking up a pre-pro with built in calibration features, such as Integra or Onkyo's Audissey feature, makes this easy to do without needing a rat shack DB meter.

    Hope this helps-
  14. M Code Senior Audioholic

    M Code
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    In the stereo world of 2-channels..
    Loudspeaker placement, room layout and user listening position frequently may be off-center. This is when the balance control is required to bring back the center listening sweet spot, tweaking it a notch or two is very common. But if even more drastic adjustment is required then something is not rite..

    Just my $0.02... ;)
  15. PearlcorderS701 Banned

    PearlcorderS701
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    Thanks Guys,

    Sorry for the delay in getting back; I have not swapped the speakers as of yet, but the problem remains in much of the material I play -- however, I have noticed, contrary to what I initially reported, that there are certain CDs which are exhibiting the "stereo spread effect" now, where the material is coming from the right speaker a bit more than when I originally created the thread...

    Very weird...

    Should I move the Balance knob out of the center detent position to compensate for this? It just seems odd to me that this needs to be done, as the "center detent" is supposed to indicate a perfect mid balance...
  16. M Code Senior Audioholic

    M Code
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    How old are the CDs..
    Keep in mind that early 2-channel audio mixes had more separation by such as sending the drums to the left and the vocals to the right..
    Rather than the common mixing/mastering practice of vocals in the
    center-stage as used today..

    Just my $0.02.. ;)
  17. PearlcorderS701 Banned

    PearlcorderS701
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    Hmmmm...good question and points, Code...

    The CDs aren't that old; I mean, one was the Pet Shop Boys' "Discography" greatest hits package that I tested with, and that disc in particular favors the left channel predominantly and it's obvious...it's almost as if I have the balance knob all the way to the left, and I don't. More modern discs, like, say, Gwen Stefani's "The Sweet Escape," Katy Perry's "One of the Boys" and Natasha Bedingfield's "Pocketful of Sunshine" all sound, actually, better-mixed, with better presenece in the right channel (which is the one that has been muted more) and a much more balanced sound....

    I'm wondering if this right Polk R20, though, is just plain going bad, because it came out of storage from a cross-country move I made and was in 100-plus degree heat in a garage for a couple of years at least; the other equipment from this move eventually died piece by piece, probably from the heat and abuse from the move (it was shipped) but the R20 and R15 speakers seemed to survive okay...up until now.

    I also believe that this particular speaker was one that accidentally fell off the stand it was on when I was arranging them for this new system -- and I believe that it may have hit the (carpeted) floor, but I am not 100 percent certain of that. It may indeed be the speaker itself, but then why do some discs and FM broadcasts seem to localize and get centered between the two R20s at times?
  18. markw Audioholic Overlord

    markw
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    You've really never even thought of physically switching the right/left speakers, have you? :rolleyes:

    But, I guess that takes more effort than repeatedly asking the same questions over and over on this forum, doesn't it? ...or it's less fun.

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