|Home Theater Accessories Acoustics, EQ & Room Tuning|
|Written by Bryan Southard|
|Wednesday, 01 August 2001|
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How do I know if room treatments will provide sonic improvements for my listening environment?
The end result of a room treatment is a room that is void of any echoing effects. It is live and ambient and displays very controlled bass, yet has no inherent deadness. If you clap your hands in this room, it will sound similar to what you’d hear if you clapped your hands outdoors, in that the quality of the clapping is live and has a snap or quickness, with no delayed resonance or decay. This is easily achieved in an outdoor setting, as there are no structures for the sound to bounce off of and return to you. The perfect room would be eminently quiet, because for each frequency of noise, there is a cancellation of music in the equal frequencies and the equal sound pressure level, or SPL. To determine the condition of your room, walk around the space and clap your hands. Do you hear resonant echo? Do you hear slap echo, a condition caused by parallel walls that are void of structure that would otherwise break up, absorb and often diffuse such bouncing waves? Slap echo can most often be identified by a quick chirp that follows the handclap. Do you have TVs and other items between your speakers that can interrupt and affect your soundstage? Are your speakers close to one wall and either not close to another, or there is another room opening to the side of the second speaker? These are all typical conditions we encounter in what I describe as normal listening environments, which describes 95 percent of the settings for home A/V systems. All of these conditions significantly degrade your sound system’s performance.
Okay, I have determined that I have some of these conditions – how much of this stuff that you’re talking about do I need, how much is this going to cost me, and what should I expect to hear?
The engineers at ASC are very good about assisting you in determining which products will best control the conditions in your room. You can also check with your retailer to see whether they can help provide you with the technical information you will need to properly treat your room.
I will share a couple of scenarios, and provide you with my recommendations for the best and most effective solutions. Please understand that these are only generic recommendations intended to give you a baseline for understanding which products you might need, what treating your room acoustically is going to cost you, and what results you should reasonably expect to achieve.
The first condition that needs to be addressed is controlling echo. There has been a trend of late to create large rooms in our homes, sometimes combining a two living rooms into one larger room, often called a "great-room." This can be particularly troublesome because these rooms are very big with very large walls, often with vaulted ceilings. If this is your situation, you will definitely want to consult with the engineers at ASC. This condition can be extremely hard to remedy sonically. Echo is the most degrading condition in any room. Before we test and treat this condition, let’s look at a package that will benefit absolutely every room. Once we understand this basic treatment package, we can assess the need for additional acoustical treatments. As a minimum, I recommend four 11-inch round TubeTraps, one at each of the first reflections on the side and front walls. These will control most troublesome early reflections, providing large improvement to your soundstage. You will be absolutely amazed at the noticeable lift in sound quality that this will provide in nearly all rooms. The price of the 11-inch diameter, four-foot-high rounds is $328 each. You could consider half-round TubeTraps at $248 if space is a concern, but you would sacrifice performance. The half rounds tend to look a little more planned and sleek in your room, but the performance of the full rounds is superior and will provide you with better control. Once you have treated the first reflections, it is time to ascertain whether you have slap echo. As you walk around your room and clap, you will likely hear echo in select areas. If that’s the case, you will want to consider wall panels. These are designed to diffuse sound waves and work very well for this application. Wall panels measure eight inches wide by four feet tall and cost $398 for a package of eight. Wall panels can also be purchased in smaller or greater quantities if you need additional treatment. To make the most effective use of the panels, I suggest that you position the panels on the walls in the specific areas you determined you were experiencing the slap echo. You’ll want to mount the panels so that they are spaced one panel width apart on each of the side walls, staggered by one panel width on the opposite walls. If you were to shine a light from a panel on one side wall to the other side, you would hit a space between the panels in the parallel pattern on the other wall. You might call this an offset pattern. This will control slap echo very well and allow for little to no cancellation in your reproduction.
There are relatively few rooms that don’t suffer from large standing waves. This is a condition that will cloud your bass, making it soft and robbing it of dramatic impact. Treating this condition is not cheap and takes up considerable room. To treat this, I would suggest 16-inch diameter, four-foot high rounds in each corner of your room. As a minimum, you can put one in each of the corners behind your speakers, but treating each of the four corners is preferred. The 16-inch rounds cost $498 each per treatment. As mentioned before, these are generic conditions, but these examples are intended to provide you with an understanding of what treating your room will cost.
With the above treatment set, you could expect to experience large improvements in every area of performance. You will likely experience a considerably more palpable midrange and greatly improved vocal timbre. Instruments will have greater depth and greater three-dimensional textures. I would expect your bass performance to improve dramatically in definition and focus. Ideally, individual room conditions will be analyzed separately and optimized for your specific environment. The above recommendation is a typical building block to an ideally-treated room.
A great-sounding, high-performing A/V system is the result of more than just great gear. It’s a combination of good components, accurate setup and, foremost, a room that performs to the caliber of your reproduction system. Poor room conditions plague just about every A/V system. It is likely responsible for more loss of sonic performance than any other aspect of your system. Too often, we seek to gain improvement through the purchase of additional gear, or upgrading to more expensive gear, and don’t realize that we are really overlooking the real problem. You room is the catalyst of your sound system. The performance of your gear is no better than your room. If your room is performing poorly, you are simply wasting your money on expensive gear. Room treatments are seemingly expensive and many may decide that they don’t want this stuff in their living rooms, which is very understandable, but for those who can tolerate the intrusion, the benefits are immense.
Many retailers will loan you ASC products to try – speak to yours and see if he or she will cooperate. If there are no convenient retailers, then I would strongly recommend the purchase of a minimum of four 11-inch tubes. I stand behind this recommendation as much or more than any recommendation that I have ever made. For myself, I couldn’t live without my ASC TubeTraps, as they provide essential improvement to my room and provide the correct foundation for evaluating A/V gear. I often invite manufacturers to my home and they are consistently staggered by the performance of their products in my room. For most home applications, TubeTraps are the difference between a good sound system and a great one.