|Home Theater Accessories Acoustics, EQ & Room Tuning|
|Written by Bryan Southard|
|Wednesday, 01 August 2001|
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Acoustic Sciences Corporation, more commonly known as ASC, has been manufacturing acoustic room treatment devices for the better part of 15 years. Founded in 1985, ASC has become one of the premier manufacturers of acoustic room treatments for the home and recording studios alike, with their core products centered around a patented tube-like design.
ASC’s acoustical room treatments are designed to absorb lower frequencies and diffuse and disperse higher frequency information. The company provides a variety of acoustic room treatments designed to improve nearly every sonic aspect of your A/V experience.
ASC’s TubeTraps come in a variety of sizes and shapes. They are available in full rounds, half rounds, and quarter rounds for corner applications. All configurations typically stand four feet in height and come in a variety of diameters, depending on the requirements of the room and the frequencies that are being treated. Custom lengths are available if necessary. ASC offers a variety of standard and custom fabric coverings to best match your home or studio décor. Prices range from about $200 per piece, to as much as $700 for their largest treatments.
Arriving at a good friend’s home to see and hear his newly-completed custom Victorian theater, I looked about in amazement. The basement theater has been designed to replicate an 1850s Victorian theater adorned with every period detail imaginable. My friend explained to me that he’d start off the demo session with some music. Just before he pushed play on his CD source, he gave me a long look of agitated uncertainty and said, "I’m not sure, but something seems to be not quite right." Being a good friend and not wanting to sound snobby or overly critical, I replied, "Don’t worry, I’m sure it sounds fantastic."
No sooner than he pushed play, I heard what had given him such concern. His room was clearly destroying the potential of his sound system. His stage was scattered and images were for the most part non-existent. The bass was fat and resonant and lacked any real definition. The room was interacting with the sound system so poorly that initially I wasn’t sure if there was a component connected out of phase. After a quick examination, we determined the obvious – the room was indeed the problem.
I understood my friend’s frustration well. I had great empathy with his plight, as I was plagued with a similar condition many years back as I converted my garage into a dedicated audio/video room. As I constructed the space, I looked forward to the sonic benefits of a dedicated room void of all the anomalies caused by household furnishings, appliances, asymmetry, and large reflective window surfaces. Once my room was complete and my gear was properly positioned, I embarked upon what I fully expected to be the best-sounding system I had ever heard. "Why not?" I had the same great gear that sounded very good in my living room and had just supplied it with a perfect room – right? That couldn’t have been further from the truth. My soundstage was poor – actually, for the most part, it was nonexistent. The bass was boomy and came from everywhere. "How could this have happened?"
I spent the next week hanging sleeping bags, filling bookcases and placing every absorptive item I owned in the room. Although I began to achieve a stage and some limited bass control, I also managed to kill the room and all of the natural ambience in my recordings. I reached a point of great frustration. I had become obsessed with the poor quality of my music reproduction. Reluctantly, I made my way to my local retailers, hoping that perhaps they had some magical secret that would fix my acoustical problems. The sales guy looked upon me like I was some unhappy audiophile geek, always one tweak from happiness. I asked him about room treatments and he shrugged his shoulders and walked into the back room. Moments later, he emerged with four half round TubeTraps from ASC. He looked at me and said, "I don’t think that these will fix your problems, but you are welcome to try ‘em."
I brought the TubeTraps home and positioned them at the first reflection points of both my front wall (the wall behind the speaker system) and side walls just adjacent to my loudspeakers. The "first reflection point" can be easily calculated by placing a mirror on the wall and moving it until you can see the reflection of the speaker from your listening position.
I loaded one of my favorite CDs into the player and sat back to evaluate the sound. I am told that I was discovered about four hours later stuck to my chair with my disc case open and an ear-to-ear grin on my face. TubeTraps had fixed many of my acoustic problems. My stage was exceptionally rich with detail, well defined, and laid back beautifully. Was it possible that these little tube-like things had fixed my problems this simply? Mere days earlier, I had been consumed with frustration and held little hope of realizing my dream of having a perfect dedicated room of my own.
This started my interest – which soon developed into fascination – in room acoustics and treatment, a passion that I have carried ever since. Initially, I borrowed products from most of the major manufacturers. I tried a variety of products from RPG, Argent, Room Tunes and more. I learned about the technology behind each of these products and where their individual strengths lie. Products are available in a variety of sizes and shapes designed to correct a variety of conditions. Before you treat your room, you must understand a little about what is causing your problems, so that you can better understand what you need to do remedy specific issues.
What makes ASC products unique is their ability to both absorb lower frequencies and to diffuse midrange and high frequencies. There is no other product available for your home that can provide this combination more effectively.
There are several conditions that contribute to bad sound. Among these are standing waves, a variety of echo conditions, early reflections, comb filtering and more. Short of lining your walls and ceilings with specially designed acoustical treatment panels, there is only truly one way to combat these issues, which is to combine absorption with diffusion. ASC has patented cylindrical devices that accomplish this. Simply stated, a device can only effectively absorb frequencies of a wavelength no greater than the depth of the device. In the case of the TubeTraps, the depth is the diameter of the tube. Tubes are extremely effective, as many of the other available products are panel-based and don’t provide the depth to properly absorb low frequencies effectively. This is why the panel designs focus primarily on diffusion. Diffusion will control your early reflections, which can correct many soundstaging issues, yet will do little to control standing waves that simply cancel reproduced information, making your system sound less resolute than it should.
Music and Movies
To demonstrate the effects of the ASC TubeTraps in my room, I started with "About a Girl," the opening cut from Nirvana’s 1994 release Unplugged in New York (UNI/DGC Records). When removing the 11-inch tubes from the first reflections on the front and side walls, I found the vocal images became clouded and undistinguishable in location. When I reinstalled the TubeTraps, the images again became solid and contained a much more realistic tone. Kurt Cobain’s voice had considerably greater timbre and depth with the TubeTraps installed.
The TubeTraps treatments are designed to control high-pressure waves, so I thought, "Let’s give them some waves." On Van Halen’s "Panama" on their album 1984 (Warner Bros.), I found the bass and drum tracks to be notably different. The drums, without the use of corner TubeTraps, were fat and slow. Bass performance with tube traps had a focused position rather than just filling the room. As mentioned earlier, the 16-inch round corner treatments are large and perhaps not for every room, but the benefits were unmistakably engaging.
In the original Jurassic Park (Universal - DTS), the scene where T-Rex makes his escape and quickly commences to terrorize the kids in the car, the rumble of the dinosaur’s growl was clearly improved. The low frequency effects were much better controlled and had improved definition, which made the scene more chillingly realistic. I use dual subwoofers that can easily overload a room, but here I found the information to be very solid. Without treatments, the bass could become fatiguing and somewhat overwhelming, lacking any distinguishable definition or source.