Monday, November 21, 2005

Some cheap tweaks for your music room!

Here is some advice from Steve Hoffman Music Forum member Ron Stone. I followed some of Ron's recommendations and they made a world of difference in the sound! Bass is no longer boomy and blurred, and the sound seems more defined. Take it away Ron!

Dollar for dollar, you can do a whole lot more with cheap acoustic tiles and foam mattress covers than you can with expensive equipment upgrades. I often wonder how many audiophiles ceaselessly improve their equipment without addressing the room, or cripple their STEREOPHILE-approved purchases by planting a fifty-inch monitor right between their speakers. These tips come from observing an audiophile buddy of mine. He has methodically maximized an unlikely living room into a very good listening room, without paying through the nose for the sort of dubiously priced room treatments you see advertised in the back pages of equipment journals. FWIW, he's a professional statistician not prone to hype or fads, and I have A/B-ed almost every change to his room listed below.Once you've established where your speakers sound best, the near walls must be treated for soundstage width. Determine where the sound from each speaker reflects off both side walls and treat those hot spots with an ear-level acoustic tile. The easiest way I've seen to determine these four reflection spots is to put a candle on each speaker and move a mirror along the sidewall until you see the candle's reflection from your listening position. (Needless to say, this process is much more efficient with another audiophile in the listening seat or holding the mirror.)If you have an uncarpeted floor, you need a good rug between you and your speakers. Windows need winter-insulated drapes (not blinds), and a television screen must be covered, preferably with two acoustic tiles back-to-back; a beach towel thrown over the monitor doesn't cut it. Framed pictures and posters, etc., need to go in another room: sorry, honey, but your mother's portrait just looks better over the commode. And you already removed any variable light switches or adjustable halogen lamps from the stereo's electrical line, correct?Treating the back wall behind the speakers is crucial for soundstage depth. If the expense of professional wall treatments leaves you as shocked as I am as to how much someone will charge for articulated foam, you can treat the wall behind the speakers with the hospital mattress covers sold in discount stores, which come in a wide assortment of hideous non-neutral colors. It sounds like it would look horrible, but if you install it neatly -- keeping in mind you cannot paint acoustic treatments without greatly compromising their efficacy -- it looks almost normal when the wall's done. I said "almost." You don't need to cover the entire back wall with foam. A couple covers should do it. (One of the ironies I've observed about room treatment is that audiophiles, excited by the changes they can wring from such inexpensive tweaks, tend to overdo it and kill the room.)After these hot spots are addressed, the next step is to tame the corners of the room. Half an acoustic tile mounted diagonally across each corner, the long side of the rectangle positioned against the ceiling, has a surprising effect on the sound's vibrance or liveliness, smoothing out excitable frequencies from the midrange up (assuming you've taken care of the bigger problems above). In fact, you may end up removing one or two of these corner treatments to regain some brilliance.Buy two more hospital mattress covers, and roll them each into a big pillar-- snugly, but not so tight as to squash the articulation of the foam flat -- and move those into the corners of the back wall behind the speakers for bass control. These pillars could be covered with very light fabric, and mounted on a piece of plywood should you find their effect too pronounced by simply leaning them in the corner. Again, these could be made look almost normal, depending on your HGTV skills.

I used the rolled up mattress pads for the corners and built screens out of 1x2's and drop cloth material to hide the rolls (they looked pretty goofy!). Used the same drop cloth material to cover the acoustic tiles on the side reflection points. I played some of the Herbie Hancock Gershwin SACD, and the acoustic bass finally sounds amazing. Things just sound so much better!

For under $100, you can do the same. Give it a shot.


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