It’s the time of year for saving money!
I recently happened across the “Customer Systems” page on PS Audio’s web site. This is an area where PS Audio’s Paul McGowan allows, maybe even encourages anyone who wishes to do so, upload a picture of their audio system for all to see. In looking at the variety of pictures I saw some pretty amazing systems.
Let’s face it, any of us who support this engaging hobby are, at the very least, passively curious about the systems contemporary audiophiles have and use. Curiosity pretty much rules the day. In addition to scouring through pictures, when we find ourselves talking to an audiophile we don’t know, we will sometimes try and work into the conversation one burning question – “what do you have in your system?”
Looking at the variety of systems on PS Audio’s site was really interesting. I say interesting because of the wide variety of rooms, room treatments, varying types of components and speakers, and where some of these magnificent systems were located in the home.
It hardly needs mentioning not all audiophiles have a dedicated listening room with essential proportions resembling a Fibonacci Sequence. Not all audiophiles have a gallery of room treatments to absorb, reflect and manage sonic energy. Not everyone can be devoid of extra furniture that may upset sonic reflections. A lot of people have little choice but to house their systems in the family room, much as they might like another option. Scores of enthusiasts have and use a system both in the home theater and two channel audio configurations. There is certainly nothing wrong with any of those choices.
That said, I was really surprised to see how some of these systems, many of which were extremely nice, were set up in the room. I was surprised to see how many rooms had hard wood floors with little to no area rugs anywhere. I was surprised to see how many systems were surrounded by walls of glass framed pictures. Equally surprising were the number of rooms with virtually wall to wall furniture.
While dynamic speakers were easily the most popular choice, there were a fair number of electrostatic and planar speakers as well. There were even a few with the big four box towers that comprise the Genesis and Infinity IRS V types of speakers. Planar speakers, which can be enormously large, also showed up, not only with two panel set ups, but a few with two additional panels. Most surprising was the size of the rooms in which these huge, massive speaker systems were housed. Planar speakers, because of their dipole radiation pattern, need a lot of space and do not like to be crammed up against a wall. And the sheer size of the big Genesis and IRS speakers in and of themselves requires a lot of space. Yet here they were in rooms arguably too small for the system. The term “shoehorned” comes to mind.
Few rooms had any measure of a full complement of room treatments. One or two had so many glass windows that in my mind I heard nails on chalkboards. Glass picture frames. Televisions on walls. Bare hard wood floors. Furniture throughout. There were a lot of reflective surfaces to quite literally create disastrous results on a sonic presentation.
However, and aside from the systems themselves, many of these rooms were absolutely stunning. Quite a few had gorgeous furniture – so much so I’d be proud to own most of it myself. I saw one coffee table I would buy right now if I knew what it was. Several had breathtaking views outside the windows. Clearly, it seems patently obvious that those who willingly put their room and system online are very proud of what they have. As they should be.
This brings up, I believe, several interesting questions. Is it absolutely necessary that in order to enjoy a home based audio system, it must be housed in what reasonably amounts to a recording studio? Is musical presentation so overwhelmingly important that sonic enhancement the only mitigating factor? Is it not possible enjoyment of the room itself is also a requirement to satisfied listening? Are the people who own these systems in these rooms contented by what they hear and do not feel the need to create a studio type of listening environment? Can musical and listening satisfaction be enhanced by how comfortable we are in the space?
Fortunately, at the end of it all, this is a hobby about betterment. I have to believe a single listener or couple who sits down in an audio room with, say, a glass of wine and chooses to listen to music enriches their life. In that scenario, the room and system within are all part of a complete package.
Then again, there will be those who unfailingly seek sonic perfection. They will hardly allow glass top tables, huge televisions hung on the wall and a litany of other types of massively reflective surfaces degrade their musical signal. They want the studio. They want the Fibonacci Sequence room proportions. They are all, regardless of the setup, certainly entitled to assemble the system of their choice and house it in the home as they see fit. Manifestly, this is a hobby. A hobby about enrichment.
Making our lives better through music. If that happens, however that happens, it seems to me the relevancy in the end is – are we ultimately content with what we hear when we push play?
Happy listening to everyone regardless of their system, how much it costs, where it is housed, and how it sounds. Be content in sitting, relaxing, and enjoying the simple pleasure of listening to a song. And if, like so many of us, you obsess over achieving that last full measure of sonic perfection, well, that is fine, enjoy sonic magnificence.
I agree that of course people are free to do whatever they are comfortable with in their listening rooms, but I too have seen many high dollar systems in dedicated listening rooms that are soooo poorly setup.
The thing that bothers me with high dollar audio equipment in poorly configured and poorly treated (if at all) dedicated listening rooms is that unfortunately those people are not doing the equipment any justice, they are not doing the artists and engineers etc. any justice, and they are certainly not doing their wallets any justice.
A small effort in configuring & treating a room can go a long way.
That being said, in the end it’s all about the music.
In today’s audiophile age we have 3 factors at work.
1. Because of the internet, forums, etc. it seems everyone is “expert” and few value real experts advice on room setup. All rooms have their limitations but that doesn’t mean each of us can’t get the best we can out of the room we either built or have as our listening room. That usually requires the expertise of those who actually know and not the useless hyperbole that percolates on websites.
2. Many if not most believe that “problems” with their system can always be remedied with changing speakers and/or equipment. If the same mistakes on system setup are going to be repeated all one is doing is churning their money. If you can’t reach the best your room has to offer, no new speaker, electronics or cabling etc are going to allow the enduser to achieve “nirvana” no matter how many changes to equipment one makes. Of course, when changing, different is usually interpreted as “better”
3. Little things count. I have been ridiculed on one site in particular (which I no longer participate with) when people, justifying and rationalizing their decisions, argued that tables in the listening field and high back reclining chairs make no difference. These people supposedly care about their music and rooms given the cost of their systems, YET, justify/rationalize that these things make no difference. Now if it’s their preference to have a big or little table or high back recliner as their “chair” so be it, BUT, don’t claim it makes no difference when at the same time these same people spend fortunes on cable lifters, grounding boxes and other tweaks. Just my opinion, but “the chair” is one of the most important aspects of room setup. I had one person argue that his table acted like a “diffusor” because there were some slots in the table top; hence my point #1, everyone is an expert.
There are experts out there, some of which are resellers of equipment and mine has been in business from the very beginning of the audiophile scene, that can and will provide help. There are others who, at a small fee compared to what most of us pay for our systems, who will come to one’s room and properly setup and make recommendations that will bring more bliss to the listener than most changes to their equipment, Sometimes in life, the best one can achieve is to put ego aside and admit what you don’t know instead of insisting you know it all.
The only thing I enjoy sitting with more than music is my wife. So although we have plenty of rooms, my stereo is in our sonically suboptimal living room. It sounds terrific, though I’m sure it could sound better. (And I’d love a pair of Wilsons or B&W 800s, but that’s just not happening) But it has never occurred to me that I would be happier downstairs in a dedicated man cave.
OK, just visited the PS Audio site after commenting. Yipes! Did I say my living room room was suboptimal? It’s Abbey Road compared to some of these set ups! Who did those speaker placements–Bob the Mover? Oh, the inhumanity of it all!
Seriously, to me being an audiophile is not about spending a lot (although I have). It’s about spending time trying to understand and get great sound on music you love, under whatever other constraints you might have. Not much money? NAD! No space? Astell & Kern! For many of these folks, I don’t think they are audiophiles. I think they are people who have good or great components, but have spent zero time thinking about how to get good sound under whatever their personal constraints might be.
Hey Paul! I agree about the trade-offs. We have 3 systems. The one in our living room is modest and we enjoy listening together. When I’m at the computer, an intermediate system there is a pleasure for me. When my wife has exhausted her patience with music, or if I just need some solitude, I’ll visit my system in a dedicated basement room, painstakingly assembled and set up, for music played back in some of the best sound I’ve heard.