|The Art of Tuning Your Room|
|Home Theater Feature Articles Audio Related Articles|
|Written by Jerry Del Colliano|
|Thursday, 13 December 2007|
The Art of Tuning Your Room
It is not your fault, but for years, the high end audio community has created a sense of insecurity amongst music lovers and audiophiles alike. You know the feeling: you open one of those magazines and some reviewer very unfavorably compares a component in your system to their "component of the week." It is only human to be curious to find out if this guy is right or just blowing smoke up your ear.
After swapping components over and over again and losing countless thousands of dollars in the process - and trust me, I speak from personal experience - one starts to wonder if the holy grail of AV really exists. It does. And it isn't terribly difficult or expensive to achieve.
AV equipment is built to unbelievably high standards. Even a less than perfectly matched system is capable of performing pretty close to flat from 40 or 50 Hz to 15 kHz. It is your listening room and your system's interface with your room that causes the huge performance anomalies we hear in our systems as opposed to our ideal.
The solution is - and you we have swallow our pride for this one - to call in a professional. I don't mean a shrink to persuade you out of your next upgrade. I don't mean that sleazy tweeker of a salesman who draws you away from the 1586th screening of Jurassic Park because a leak developed in his pen protector. I mean an acoustician. There is a right place and a wrong place for your speaker placement, your room treatment placement and the way your room is configured. Even if you have the most golden of ears, I guarantee you that a pro can get more resolution, deeper bass and a mastering studio quality sound in even a challenging room.
What will you need? At minimum, a few hundred dollars in room treatments. Even better would be some sort of EQ (preferably digital) and an open mind. I recently invited one of the nation's most respected room tuners, Bob Hodas, to revolutionize The Audio Revolution reference music system. The system includes Wilson Watt Puppy 5.1's, Sunfire Signature Subwoofers, Mark Levinson electronics, Transparent Reference cables and a z-systems rdq-6 digital EQ. Acoustically, my room was pretty lame. I built homemade room treatments for about $100 and hung them with filament on the walls beside my loudspeakers with great success both aesthetically and sonically, but I have a fireplace behind my right loudspeaker that sucks the life out of the bass in my room and a glass back wall with nothing more than a curtain to cut down on reflections.
Bob uses a Meyer Sound Labs SIM System II computer system to analyze the performance of both the system's performance and, more importantly, the room's effect on your sound. The first step in Bob's process is to assure your loudspeaker system is optimally placed. In my case, my WATTs and Puppies were within a few centimeters of their optimal position. However my 2 Sunfire Signature Subwoofers were being killed by poor placement. Who knew?
To fine tune my WATTs and Puppy placement, Bob used a laser alignment tool from SAS known as the Checkpoint (aprox. $200 ) and mirrors to localize the imaging of the loudspeakers in reference to my listening position. He then set up his microphone to the SIM computer and tested the delay time difference between the left and right loudspeakers. Bob's alignment got my speakers dialed in to within 20 microseconds. Your head causes enough reflections as to not need to take the imaging process farther than that. Immediately we could hear a difference in the balance of the soundstage as well as the depth. Little did I know, he was just getting started.
Next, Bob moved my subwoofers out in front of my Puppies and tested the system's performance with and without the subs. Without using any EQ settings, Bob physically moved the Sunfire Signature woofers until he had them jiving with the Puppies. He then set the crossover, phase and level on the woofers with scientific accuracy. I had only been guessing at the best crossover point. Bob had the math from the SIM computer to back up his maneuvers.
Now that the system had been setup properly, Bob started analyzing the room and setting both the left and right channel EQ settings. Most of the changes in my system were apparent in the lower frequencies. The EQ points really helped integrate the subs with the Puppies and the WATTs. One of my criticisms of the WATTs is the fact that the tweeters seems slightly bright to me. They measured relatively flat in my room, but to cater to my tastes, we ran a filter to ever so slightly roll off the top end.
When all was said and done, Bob hadn't done anything other than move my woofers, image my WATT-Puppies and set my EQ parameters. The results were awe inspiring. Never, I mean NEVER, before have I heard such an improvement. I have always had a great music playback system in my listening room and for many months I have listened to this particular system with much enjoyment. However the changes Bob made to my system resulted in easily a 20 percent improvement over a system that out of the box has to be considered to be one of the better money can buy. I was astounded.
You do not have to use Bob Hodas for your room treatments and EQ even though his resume of recording studios, music systems and home theaters is quite impressive. There are acousticians in most major cities, who work with TV studios and recording studios who can help you improve your system. All you need is to be open minded to a little professional help, perhaps a few (tasteful) room treatments and some slight changes to your system setup and you'll be on your way to a huge improvement and increased enjoyment of more of your music. New gear is great and will only improve your system but you don't always need to spend mega bucks on a new preamp or CD transport. Improving your interface between your system and your room will make a bigger difference in the long run.