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Improving Sound Quality

Who is this for?

This information is for you if:

  • you play tango music that was recorded in the 1920s to 1960s

  • are inquisitive about how to improve the sound quality

  • you are not sure how to go about it. 


You may play for your own enjoyment, to a class whilst teaching, at a practica, a milonga, or as a guest dj at a festival.


This is probably not for you if you are already a dedicated tango audiophile that has committed many years of learning and adaptation, and hundreds (or thousands) of pounds on source materials and audio equipment. But we would love to hear your experiences and advice.


Why improve the sound quality?

First of all, playing tango music of sub-optimal quality is better than not playing tango music. However, the best sound quality that you can manage will improve everybody’s appreciation of tango music, enjoyment of the dance, and the overall mood of the tango event. The flip-side is true – poor sound quality can ruin everybody’s tango experience.



The Sound Chain


  1. The chain starts with the source material – the music file ie the tango track. It is not enough simply to have the track (oh I heard this at a milonga, I really enjoyed it, asked the dj, and downloaded it from Spotify/iTunes/Amazon/YouTube etc). You should have the very best version (known as a ‘transfer’) that you can find, and the best you can afford. Cheap or free tango tracks are often compressed (eg mp3) and often sound thin with too much treble and insufficient bass. To compound that discomfort, they are often compressed versions of poor-quality CDs. The inadequacies of such tracks are amplified, not improved, when played through good sound systems at milongas. And so, the importance of good quality source material cannot be overstated.

  2.  searching for the best versions can become a continuous process. It is not unusual for some djs to buy an improved transfer and delete their previous one. Then find an even better one of the same track and delete the one they’ve just bought.  Only to find…etc. 

Fortunately, there are experts out there who are producing excellent, digitally enhanced tangos, vals, and milongas from the favourite orchestras of the 1920s to ‘50s. And one of them is UKATA member Paul Strudwick. You can sign up for his Newsletter here (

Another is the Austrian-based on-line shop: and the Belgian-based


For information on good CD transfers you should consult UK-based, UKATA member, Michael Lavocah’s website: Unfortunately, his shop has closed but his guide to CD purchases is unique and invaluable.


  1. Getting it out of the laptop. The headphone output will not extract the best value from your newly acquired lossless, digitally enhanced music. The best soundcard in the best laptop cannot compete with an external DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter). Which DAC to choose is a similar journey to selecting any product. Check reviews and preferences (on tango dj facebook groups and blogs etc). The prices range from less than £100 to over £1000. Many djs have accumulated several DACs as their personal preferences change over the years (and because tangoaudiophilia can become an addiction, like tango itself).


  1. Moving the improved signal from the DAC along the chain. There are choices here. The DAC signal can go directly to the speakers. This is the shortest, one might say purest, signal. Go to Step 6.


  1. The DAC signal can go to a mixer before heading off to the speakers. The advantages of a mixer include:

    1. a physical volume control knob (some prefer this to a digital control)

    2. a physical selection of EQ (equalizer) controls (adjusting treble, middle, and bass)

    3. other inputs for a back-up laptop (some djs use a separate laptop – & therefore mixer channel - for their cortinas)

A cheap mixer will degrade, and therefore waste, the improved DAC signal. Do not choose a mixer that does not maximise the DAC’s analogue signal.


  1. If you do not have powered speakers (ones that are not individually plugged in to the electricity supply) then you will need an amplifier that powers up the signal to the speakers. That signal can come either directly from the DAC or via the mixer, as above. Again, choose wisely. The final signal to the ears will be determined by the weakest link in the chain.

    The most expensive does not necessarily mean the best quality – but it is almost certain that cheap means ‘not good’.


  1. The speakers. You should go to a retailer of dj equipment, not to a home sound retailer. Take your sound chain (high quality tango tracks, laptop, DAC) and test different speakers. You should also play poor quality mp3s to hear the difference. Do not choose speakers having heard them only play non-tango music (or only having read non-tango reviews). 


Speaker stands and locations are important to ensure the dancers/audience hear the improved signal comfortably. It is useful for speakers to be high and angled down towards the dancers. In a large room it is better to have at least 4 speakers around the room so that one end is not booming out.


  1. Of course, there is more. The chain is held together by audio cables. The quality varies enormously. Buy as close to high standard professional cables as you can afford. To repeat, the end sound is formed by the weakest, not strongest, link in the chain.



This is an introduction. Seek out tango dj tips on-line & join tango dj groups on Facebook. Share your experiences and preferences here so that everyone can benefit from the joys of improved tango sound:

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