SH Spotlight Reversing red/black speaker wires. Polarity vs. Phase...

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by JPartyka, Feb 17, 2002.

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  1. JPartyka

    JPartyka I Got a Home on High Thread Starter

    Reversing red/black speaker wires

    I have been a very satisfied owner of Axiom M3Ti bookshelf speakers for almost a year now. They are absolutely superb -- and not just for the great price ($275 a pair!). They're renowned giant killers. The mids and highs must be heard to be believed.

    I recently moved into a house and set up a dedicated 2-channel system in a new listening room. Previously, I had been using the M3Ti's with a Denon AVR-2801 receiver (100wpc) in a combination audio/video system.

    In my new setup, I'm using the M3Ti's in a music-only system with a vintage Marantz 2230 receiver (30wpc).

    The Axioms have still been sounding wonderful, particularly in the mids and highs. But I noticed that the bass, while certainly present, was not even as extended as I thought it should be (I know they're relatively small bookshelves, but still ...). And dynamics were a little weaker than I had thought they should be ... playing my original gold-label Elektra The Doors LP, for instance, a lot of the dynamic punch I've heard in other circumstances simply wasn't there.

    I took the dirt-cheap Wharfedale Diamond 7.2 Anniversary speakers I bought to replace the Axioms in my video system down to the audio system to compare. These are also decent speakers for their price, but the highs were so rolled off it was ridiculous! BUT ... the bass and dynamics were STRONGLY improved over the M3Ti's. When the 4-to-the-beat pounding begins in "Twentieth Century Fox" on that "Doors" LP, I could FEEL it.

    I was very reluctant to believe that this reflected a weakness in the Axioms that I would have to live with ... With all the raves I've read (pro reviews and amateur ones), I don't ever remember seeing anyone point this out as a weakness. In fact, many have praised the dynamics and bass performance of the M3Ti's.

    On the suggestion of a pal who concurred with my conclusions, I tried rewiring the speaker wire from the Marantz so that I ended up with black-to-red and red-to-black, on both speakers.

    Wow ... I'm hearing and more importantly FEELING the difference! (Thankfully, the luscious mids and highs have not been adversely affected.) Why might this be? I figure it might have something to do with the Marantz, but who knows ... Does anyone have any thoughts on this topic? Thanks.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 27, 2018
  2. cadillacjack

    cadillacjack Forum Resident

    Sutton, Ma
    Reversing the leads should not make that big a difference if any.
    Are you sure the leads were hooked up correctly before? Maybe they were reversed on one speaker and this would account for the lack of bass.
  3. JPartyka

    JPartyka I Got a Home on High Thread Starter

    No, they were hooked up properly before. I checked many times.

    No one is more surprised than me that I'm hearing a difference.
  4. Patrick M

    Patrick M Subgenius

    When you reverse the leads on both your speakers, aren't you effectively inverting the polarity of your system?

    If I'm right, it seems as though your system sounds better with the polarity "reversed." I put that in quotes because it may not be absolutely inverted. Things could get flip-flopped in the receiver, for example, so that reversing the speakers may set things back to "right." Or not.

    Also, my guess is that while some tracks sound better this way, some may have sounded better the other way. Phase and polarity are screwy issues. I'm sure Steve could elaborate on that.
  5. pigmode

    pigmode Active Member

    I think some equipment, like CJ preamps, are supposed to already be inverted. You're supposed to correct it with your wiring (shrugs).
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  6. Grant

    Grant In holiday HELL

    United States
    Reversing the polarity causes the sound to become out of phase, which may create a euphoric sense of spaciousness. But, it is inaccurate. Your stereo imaging will not sound grounded, or solid.
  7. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host

    No. Two different things: Out of Phase and Absolute Polarity. The first you don't want and it happens when you reverse just ONE speaker lead which throws your system out of whack. There is no defined middle channel and your left speaker is pushing out while your right channel speaker is pushing in. Bad news. Called being "out of phase".

    The second happens when all leads are reversed to both speakers. Both speakers breathing out when they should be breathing in. Trouble is, it VARIES, depending on if your record or CD has ITS polarity reversed or not. It could vary from SONG TO SONG. Sometimes, on a mix from multi-track, the drums are "in" and the guitars are "out" on the same damn song. It can drive you crazy.

    This topic was made famous by Clark Johnson in a book he published called "The Wood Effect". Required reading!
    Maranatha5585 likes this.
  8. JPartyka

    JPartyka I Got a Home on High Thread Starter

    Well, this whole thing just gets curiouser and curiouser ...

    After reading Patrick's post, I went downstairs and put on my Hi-Fi News & Record Review test LP. It has a track that allows you to test whether your system is out of phase.

    With the leads from the receiver to both speakers still going red-to-black and black-to-red, the test indicated my system was indeed out of phase. So I changed just the left speaker back to black-to-black and red-to-red ... and then I was in phase, according to the test LP.

    When I sat back down to listen to some music, things sounded much better than they did with both speakers wired the same way (either way). Bass was even more improved, and everything sounded as dynamic as I believe my system will allow.

    Weird. I'm going to double-check my phono cartridge pins to make sure they're all connected properly (I'd bet my house that they are), but other than that I've decided to just stop messing about at this point, and enjoy some listening.

    Thanks all for your comments, by the way. I appreciate your thoughts, as always.
    TheeGory likes this.
  9. FabFourFan

    FabFourFan Forum Resident

    Clark Johnsen and Absolute Polarity

    Hear, hear! And here is a little quote from Clark Johnsen himself (I don't think that he'll mind):

    I refer to the phenomenon of Absolute Polarity, which treats how a natural compression wave can be inverted by electronics into a rarefaction wave issuing from the loudspeaker. The two sound very different, and I refer to wrong polarity as "the muffling distortion". Any low-phase-distortion audio system will reveal the existence of polarity; in fact, I use that criterion to judge whether a system is any good at all!

    Interested? As Steve said, "The Wood Effect" is essential reading, for a start!

    BTW, there are companies that sell a test signal CD and a handheld 'meter' which will report whether your cd playback maintains or inverts absolute polarity. These will work at home and in the car, and even at the store, to make certain that everything is connected the way you expect. I use mine all the time.


    Just as a final sad note on this subject, please be aware that many, many people in audio deny that absolute polarity is audible and/or has any audible consequences. Unbelievable, eh?

    In fact, many loudspeaker systems deliberately do not connect each driver in the same polarity -- which will pretty much cause them to fail Mr Johnsen's test of whether a system is "any good at all".... Yet many people think these systems sound just great! Amazing but true! :eek:
  10. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host

    I have a "polarity" button on the mastering console. Amazing how many records are out when they should be in. How do you know what is right? When the recording improves dramatically, you are in correct polarity. Assuming of course that all of your gear is correct, from how you plug it in to the wall, to how your speakers (and releated equipment) are INTERNALLY wired.

    You could lose your mind....

    Remember that this "absolute polarity" IS NOT THE SAME as being "in phase" or "out of phase". Going in or out of phase is just ONE speaker being reversed. You can tell that by sitting between your two speakers. If the voice sounds like it is coming out of the center, you are in phase. If there is no clearly defined center image when there should be, you are out of phase. (This is how they do those Dolby Surround effects; just out of phase stuff).
    erasmus likes this.
  11. RicP

    RicP All Digital. All The Time.

    My PerpTech P-3A DAC has an absolute polarity switch which has turned out to be a Godsend on at least 3 occasions where the recording seemed to be of inverted absolute polarity.

    Remember also that some Pre-amps (tubed especially) invert absolute polarity and you must correct it by switching the leads downstream from the pre-amp.
  12. Humorem

    Humorem New Member

    Polarity and Reality

    Some thoughts on acoustical polarity and electrical polarity: Clark Johnson and SH are dead right about absolute polarity: The note that hits a microphone is a positive wavefront; the speaker driver should move forward when it plays that note. If it doesn't, it may not sound wrong, but it will certainly sound more right when it does, so changing the leads to both speakers will tell you pretty quickly what's what.

    SH points out a problem with multi-tracked and multi-miked recordings, which is that some things might get better and some things might get worse, so how does one know which is right?

    The answer is one I owe to my good friend Robert Pincus, who for close to fifteen years has been playgrading and helping me evaluate recordings as part of my record business (Better Records.) He discovered that virtually every copy of RCA LSO 6006 "Belafonte at Carnagie Hall" is in reverse absolute phase. I would guess that 90+% of all audiophiles playing the record don't know that, but they could certainly learn a thing or two by reversing their speaker leads next time they play it, because the difference is quite extraordinary.

    The album -- which every record collecting audiophile on the planet can easily obtain a copy of as they are common as dirt -- starts out with loud applause, a brass fanfare, a drum roll, and then Belafonte starts to sing. When you play the record back on an acoustically polarized system, meaning correct polarity, the applause is a little thin and bright, the brass is a bit thin and bright and fairly forward, and when Belafonte starts to sing he's a bit oversize, and the orchestra does not sound nearly as far behind him as the picture on the album jacket would lead you to believe. Well, there's no reason that the album shouldn't actually sound that way. It may simply be the result of how it was miked, mixed, mastered and pressed. And people seem to love it this way, as it has been on the TAS Superdisc List for as long as I can remember (probably from the very beginning), with no mention of polarity problems that I can recall. Practically every stereo store in the world has one on hand for demonstration purposes, so how wrong can it be?

    Maybe not wrong, more like "less right". When you reverse polarity, a number of extraordinary changes take place. The applause now sounds less like a recording of applause -- we used to say poor reproduction of applause has the sound of sizzling bacon in a frying pan -- and more like lots of people clapping their hands. The brass instruments become much more full bodied, while still maintaining their leading edges, the "bite" so to speak. And most amazing of all, when Belafonte steps up to the mike, his head is now human sized. His voice sounds smoother and fuller, with less annoying zip at the top. And the orchestra is twenty feet behind him, just like the picture.

    That's the first minute or so of the record. Everything from that point on is better too of course, but you only have to do the test for one minute to know whether you are in or out, and there's no mistaking which is which. If the album gets worse when you switch the polarity, you were reversed to begin with. Correct the problem and play some records with massed strings or close-miked brass; you'll realize that the glare and distortion and brightness -- the kind of sound that SH hates more than anything -- was a playback problem, not a software problem.

    For those of you who are CD only, I know of only one disc that is mastered out of polarity, another "find" of Robert Pincus. In fact he even was responsible for having it produced. Cisco, the company he works for, took my recommendation for a Three Blind Mice title to do on gold CD: TBM 8010 Shoji Yokouchi Trio "Greensleeves", a wonderful guitar - organ recording somewhat in the style of Wes Montgomery. I heard the version they did, and it sounded just fine to me. Then one day Robert told me that it sounded even better reversed (he has two sets of headphones, one correct, one reversed, so that he can check the polarity of a recording almost instantaneously), and sure enough the guitar sounded sweeter, with less emphasis on the picking of the string and more of the trailing harmonics, and the organ sound now was wider and deeper and just bigger, filling up the whole studio, and the low notes went lower and were even more solid. It wasn't night and day, but it was noticeably better. Since it's such a good album, and gets very little exposure, I can recommend it to anyone who likes jazz and thinks Japanese players can't swing. Not many do, I'll admit, but Yokouchi sure does. And you can check your polarity with it too.

    Clark Johnson likes to promote the idea that much of what's wrong with audio reproduction is polarity related. I feel this is nonsense. It's a factor, one of too many to count. To imply otherwise is the worst kind of reductionism. It is true that some speakers reverse phase from driver to driver, as some crossovers reverse phase as part of their design. All things being equal this is not a good thing.

    Now a quick word about electrical polarity. This is crucial to good sound. Every piece of electronics sounds better plugged into the wall one way rather than another. Get some cheaters at the hardware store so that the "polarized" plug can be reversed into the wall and start switching one component at a time, unplugging anything that is not required to make the system work.

    Wrong electrical polarity most often results in a more diffuse, spacious, leaner sound. Many audiophiles confuse this with good sound, especially those that listen exclusively to classical music, where is can make the soundstage wider and taller and more vague, which is not necessarily a bad thing on some recordings. But if you put on a nice vocal and you don't get a rock solid, correctly sized singer with a chest, then try reversing the plugs in the wall one at a time until you do.

    And the cheater can also be used to determine if the three prong plug (hot, neutral and ground) is itself causing a problem. Most systems don't like that ground plug connected. It's all equipment dependent of course, but I have heard some amazing improvements brought about by simply cheating the grounds in a system. Like everything else to do with audio, only experimenting will provide clues to the answers. And I use "clues" advisedly. As things change over time -- your equipment, your hearing, your environment -- you may find that the results of earlier experiments are no longer valid. Steve would say "that way lies madness". And he's right. This whole hobby can be the most infuriating and frustrating thing in the world. (It may not be an excuse for my occasional bad disposition, but it sure doesn't help!)

    Unfortunately there is no alternative to dealing with these issues, and hundreds more like them. Reality is reality. Your ears can be fooled, of course, but most of the time they're conveying accurate information. If the brain doesn't understand why some thing or another should make a difference in the sound, the ear cannot be bullied into not hearing it. The brain has to reconcile itself to the ear, not the other way around. Most audiophiles are in denial about at least some issues in audio. Who can blame them? But if you want your stereo to improve, the best tool you have at your disposal is an open mind.
  13. Humorem

    Humorem New Member

    Forgot one thing

    A certain famous equipment designer once sent me a phono stage that inverted polarity, but almost hid the fact in small print in the back of the manual.

    When I asked him about this he gave me a song and dance about how it can vary so much from recording to recording, and speakers have phase problems, and on and on.

    In doing a shootout with his phono stage and some other equipment, whatever piece of equipment was in correct phase, regardless of what it was, always won the shootout. Only later did we find out that some things were inverting and some weren't, and the combination that had correct polarity sounded best in every case, even though the individual components might have been of poorer quality.

    The field representative for this company didn't know about the polarity issue, and the owner of stereo didn't know about the polarity issue, but it affected the results more than any other factor, every time.

    So take it seriously, even if the designer of the equipment does or not.
  14. Dave

    Dave Esoteric Audio Research Specialistâ„¢

    Hi Tom,

    Long time no see. Welcome to the old/new forum.;)

    I can share your opinion on the slipping of the ground as it made a huge difference in my system.

    You guys here are the best especially you Steve. With your valuable info. today I figured out that one of my speakers was out of phase, now corrected and holy cow what an improvement. Mainly the huge difference is like you said that there is absolutely no confusion as to where the lead vocalist is.

    Awesome and many thanks:D :D
  15. JPartyka

    JPartyka I Got a Home on High Thread Starter

    Again, thanks to all. Especially Tom ... I found your posts extremely helpful and informative.

    I know I said I was done experimenting, but I just went downstairs and did the following ...

    I rewired both speakers traditionally (red to red, black to black). I unplugged my receiver and re-plugged it in "upside down" from the way it was.

    I pulled out the test LP again and made sure everything was in phase. I've been in critical-listening mode all day ... and this is by far the best the system has sounded.

    The improvements I've heard just since this morning are incredible! Thanks Tom, Steve and everyone else. This has been most worthwhile.
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  16. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host

    Good, Jeff. I'm glad that this forum can help people get the best sound out of their system that they can.
    TheeGory likes this.
  17. Paul L.

    Paul L. New Member

    Doesn't phase change everywhere in a room?
  18. Paul L.

    Paul L. New Member


    I can't understand what's going on with your set-up. It seemed like one of your speakers was internally incorrect, because things sounded better when you wired one of them "wrong."

    But now you've gone back to wiring both "right" and just by flipping the plug you've gotten good sound.

    Did you try keeping one speaker "wrong" and flipping the plug?
  19. JPartyka

    JPartyka I Got a Home on High Thread Starter

    I don't understand either, Paul ... All I can say is I must have been wrong at some point about the way I thought I was wiring the speakers.

    At one point, I thought, I had one speaker wired properly and one wired in reverse. I tested phase with my test LP, which indicated everything was in phase.

    Later I did the same test, with the speakers wired the same way (I thought). This time the test LP test came back ... out of phase.

    I think I was doing so much messing around that I confused the heck out of myself. I ended up taking a long break ...

    The bottom line is ... When I came back, disconnected the speaker wires from the receiver AND the speakers completely, and then wired the speakers properly and changed the plug position, I got a more profound improvement than I'd heard before just fiddling with reversing the wires.

    Just for kicks I'll try an A/B test with one speaker wired in reverse (just once more!), but it's sounding dang fine now ... I played the Led Zeppelin II LP, and I could really follow John Paul Jones' bass lines better than I could before, and the crack of John Bonham's snare during "What Is and What Should Never Be" gave me a really physical sensation right out of a Maxell ad ... There's dynamics for you.

    Also: I did test each of my speakers with a 9-volt battery, touching it (just for a second) to the connectors on the back of each speaker, + to + and - to -. Both speakers' woofers moved in the right direction (out), so I think they're OK.
  20. Tony Caldwell

    Tony Caldwell Forum Resident

    All this talk reminds me of a time that a friend of mine upgraded his preamp. The two of us thought we were being very careful to hook up everything correctly.

    When we finished and sat down to listen, we played Nat Cole "The Very Thought of You" DCC gold CD. Man, it sounded aweful. The vocals were not well defined and the bass was absolutely gone. We had both recently "discovered" this amazing CD and had listened to it frequently, so we knew that it should sound awesome. After all that was the reason we chose it for the first disc to play...

    We agonized for about an hour and played several different styles of music and got varying degrees of BAD SOUND. We had pretty much decided that the preamp was faulty!! We put the Nat CD back on and again it sounded terrible. Then we finally decided to check our connections... As we headed toward the speakers to move them out of the way, we realised that the bass reappeared when we were close to the speakers. When we backed away and sat down, NO BASS.

    When we checked everything, we had the right channel speaker connected red to black and black to red!! Boy did we feel stupid!! But we both learned a great lesson in being "out of phase"!!:o

  21. Metralla

    Metralla Joined Jan 13, 2002

    San Jose, CA
    Good discussion. It's essential to get these concepts clarified. I think I've understood phase and polarity for some time, but I'm happy to go over these again to make sure I've got it all straight. Thanks to all.

    Like Ric's preamp, my BAT VK-50SE has a "Polarity" button. The BAT also has a "Mono" button. I think both of these are very useful.

  22. Humorem

    Humorem New Member

    Chesky Test CD and wrong polarity digital

    Speaking of test discs, I had one from Chesky years ago where the polarity test was wrong on the disc. I checked it until I was blue in the face before a friend told me he had the same experience, meaning the disc was wrong.

    Chesky is one of the audiophile labels least deserving of the name in my opinion, with some of the most unnatural sound to be found anywhere.

    That test CD was an early clue that they don't have one.

    Also, I have it on good authority from a friend of mine, an audio guru to be truthful, George Louis down in San Diego, that it's impossible for a CD to have its acoustical polarity changed in mastering, something that was supposed to have happened to a batch of SACDs.

    The tape can be transferred wrong, that we know. But that's an individual situation. There is no way to wire the machine in such a way that it produces consistently out of polarity discs, as was reported in one of the audiophile rags.

    Don't ask me to explain it, because it was a bit technical for my poor brain. Hey, I'm a record guy. That's a technology I can understand.
  23. Humorem

    Humorem New Member

    polarity switches on preamps

    By the way, normally those switches add another gain stage in order to invert the polarity, and should audibly degrade the sound relative to a comparison with the speaker leads switched. Further evidence that there's no such thing as a free lunch.
  24. Holy Zoo

    Holy Zoo Gort (Retired) :-)

    Santa Cruz
    Re: Chesky Test CD and wrong polarity digital

    Hey, I think I have this one. Is the polarity test you're referring to done using a solo trumpet?
  25. Humorem

    Humorem New Member


    That's it! Don't trust it.
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