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How to Address a Listening Environment in the Real World, Part 1

  ‘I’ve listened to that song a thousand times and I’m hearing things I’ve never heard before.’ I suspect  you’ve uttered those words at one time or another, maybe at a local hi fi store, or better yet, after we installed a new system for you. The technology changes, but that “ah ha” moment you hear is likely a combination of a properly designed system, and the most important link in the chain … the room itself. Getting your speakers and your room to play nice together can make the all the difference.


 The Speakers & The Room – It’s a tango … 

Assuming you are working with a professional to design your system (hint, hint, nudge, nudge), the electronics have been specified to drive the most important link in the equipment equation … properly placed speakers, positioned in your room to deliver a seamless sound stage.  When done right, you can close your eyes and hear where the musicians are positioned in the mix, or better yet, where they are on the stage if you are listening to a live performance. Pretty cool!

Unlike a movie, there is no need for various sounds to “follow” you around the room, so rear speakers or a full surround sound system are not needed, and in fact can get in the way of your enjoyment. Good old 2 channel can deliver a listening experience that delivers goosebumps … and here’s a few pointers on how to make it happen.

The Room

The environment you are in will have a profound effect on your listening enjoyment.  In a perfect world your listening room will be free of ambient noise and other distractions like the hum of your air conditioning, the gurgle of water pipes, or, well … kids! We can work with your contractor to design a room that meets this criteria … but let’s face it … reality intrudes, and you may be working with an existing space … so here’s a few things that can help you get the best out of your system.

Try for a mix of hard & soft surfaces … the room’s furnishings and physical dimensions are essential to the experience.  A good sounding room requires some soft surfaces, carpeting, couches, ottomans, drapery, etc. These help to absorb sound, preventing it from ricocheting about, and helping the sound to stay focused. Adding in some hard surfaces can keep the music relatively live sounding … think hard wood floors, drywall, cathedral ceilings. It’s the combination of absorptive & reflective surfaces that help create the right environment for your music to shine.

Include bookcases …  bookcases ... go figure … the different height, depth, and positioning of books in a bookcase creates a perfect diffuser. Sound hits the books and scatters in different directions at a greatly reduced volume level, helping to create a better sounding ambient environment.

Speaking of environment, don’t forget lighting, you’ll want to be able to turn down any harsh overhead lighting and rely more on warm ambient light (think floor lamps or end table lighting). You want soft focus, allowing you to relax without your environment intruding. Installing a simple dimmer can help you get a handle on the lighting end of things.

Speaker positioning:

There’s a number of ways of delivering a great experience when creating a great 2 channel system. The most effective way is positioning a set of floor standing speakers, equidistant from the listening position, toed in to create an exceptional soundstage often referred to as “imaging”. Floor standers have the size to deliver full bodied, engaging sound from the highest note on the piano, to the lowest note on a string bass or oboe. Whether it’s Bach or the Beatles, floor standing speakers mated to the proper electronics will have you salivating …

If your room can’t accommodate floor standing speakers you might consider a nice set of bookshelf speakers, delivering everything but the lowest notes with the same fidelity and imaging as the big boys. Adding a subwoofer to work in tandem with the bookshelf speakers will deliver the big sounds of a floor stander, without the big foot print. What’s important to remember is that there is more than one way to achieve great sound.

How can we help?

We can look at your space and settle on the form factor that will work best in your environment. Once that’s settled we’ll help you pick from a stable of some of the best loudspeakers available, including TriadRevel, JBL, and Monitor Audio … all of which we have set up in our showroom for you to experience. If you arrange a visit we’ll fire up some music from Tidal, a CD quality web based service, or we’ll break out the vinyl to play on our Thorens turntable, or maybe introduce you to Hi Rez music files, delivering the same quality as the original master tapes. Whatever your preference, we have a fit for you.

I’ve included a couple of links to some exceptional loudspeakers, and a couple of photos of our showroom set up that will wet your whistle … and keep an eye out for our next installment where we’ll discuss the equipment end of the equation, as well as streaming music services and vinyl’s resurgence … yes … Vinyl !!!  In the immortal words of Barenaked Ladies : “ Everything old is new again, everything under the Sun “ Kinda’ true … see you next installment …