Got Bad Sound - Hint - Maybe it's the Room!!

I'm sitting at my computer looking at a picture that a Facebook friend posted of their HiFi set-up from 1994. I see a bunch of gear that, if I blew up the photo I could most likely recognize, but that's not what I noticed first about the system set-up; what I noticed originally was the room and the gear's placement within the room which seemed to show little regard for or attempt to improve the "native" acoustics of the room.

AR-the room1.jpgWhile it's hard from a single photograph to understand all the sonic intricacies and issues of a room, it does give us an inkling into what problems might exist. The first problem is sort of a toss-up between having source components in high SPL pressure zones and that fireplace. In most rooms fireplaces act like untuned bass traps. Perhaps the fireplace in this room reduced the build up in the pressure zone behind the left speaker so that two "wrongs" actually made a right? You'd have to be there, do some listening, run some sweep tests and do some measurements to know for sure. The poster noted that shortly after the photo was made some "treatments" were added to the room.

In the second picture we have stereo speakers packed closely on either side of what could even be an old CRT TV. The first problem here is that the two stereo speakers are too close together to allow for any proper triangulation at the primary listening position (the couch). Currently to get "stereo" instead of wide mono the listener would have to be perched on the edge of the coffee table. Judging by the rest of the room I'm going to assume any practical solution will not involve spending additional cash.

AR-roombad2.jpgIf I were ushered into this room I'd take those two loudspeakers on the left and put them on either side of the TV and then place the working main right and left speakers outside of them. That way the system would have enough distance between the two speakers for proper triangulation. I would also add cushion, pillow or other inexpensive sound absorbing material on the left wall to kill its early reflections and, viola, stereo!

I assume that the vast majority of folks reading my blog understand that to achieve convincing stereo you need proper triangulation so that your ears and the two speakers form basically an equilateral triangle. I think the problem is that most people don't put loudspeakers into an empty room in the best spots because the rooms that folks put loudspeakers into already have a bunch of stuff in them. Speakers aren't placed as much as then "end up" in spots left over when all the other furniture is in place (the second photo is a prime example of this).

AR-empty room.jpgIf only we could all start with empty rooms - put the loudspeakers in first (followed by whatever soundproofing and treatment the room needs and THEN put in everything else. But rarely, except in new builds, does this happen. I'll readily admit that the set-up in my living room is a compromise - it needs to serve more purposes than only listening to music. But before I moved the first stick of furniture into the room I had already figured out where optimal speaker placement would be and designed everything else to fit in after that position was established.

I've written in past blogs about how a majority of audiophile's "dedicated" listening rooms are over-crowded with stuff to the point of diminishing the possibility that the stereo in said dedicated room can ever sound optimal. In many audiophile rooms the best sonic solutions are free - removing as much gear and software as possible from the room so that it can regain the free air volume lost from years of gear accumulation. My mantra in this regard is "If it hasn't been used in three years - SELL IT!" Yes, I know, it was your first good (turntable, amp, CD player, etc) but it's merely a metal box taking up space now.

A Facebook friend recently posted, "Nostalgia is a mild form of depression." I think they have a point...

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