A Dedicated Listening Room

Written by Jim Smith

Even if you want and can afford a dedicated room, there’s something to consider if you don’t live alone…

Going into your own dedicated room to listen to music is a fabulous experience. In addition to your system/room’s execution being considered on a deeper level, the sheer lack of distractions will improve your experience.

However, the good news can also be the bad news. The largest issue isn’t about any of those types of audio-related things. It’s about relationships.

I remember reminding my wife how great it was that, instead of being out at night, I was always home in my music room. I felt as if I had to mention it, because frankly, I knew something was wrong.

Here’s what I learned, and what I learned about some other folks who had dedicated rooms (with doors that could be closed). I learned that being home, but being relatively unavailable to the family members, almost may have been worse than if I had been out in a bar somewhere.

So if you already have a dedicated room, or if you plan to have one, I suggest that you include your family members in the use of it from time to time. Failing that option, make sure that you provide sufficient time outside of the room in order to let your family know that you have your priorities in order.

Remember that a great music system, properly sorted out, should be a wonderful attitude adjuster. Just make sure you aren’t causing bad attitudes to develop elsewhere while you’re sequestered in your dedicated room!

I know whereof I speak, having committed that sin. Fortunately my wife is a saint and we worked it out. We celebrated our forty-eighth anniversary a few months ago!

Need to create a wider listening area?

When a wider listening area is desired, a trick the British introduced years ago may be useful. It’s called Intensity Stereophony (a big name for such a simple idea).

Basically, the idea is to crossfire the speakers in front of your seat, as opposed to a “normal installation,” where you might normally aim them at your seat or toe them in behind you. In other words, if you expected to have the speakers crossfire two feet behind your head, in this case, it might be two feet in front. This results in a left side listener hearing increasingly more of the right speaker’s direct radiation and less of the left speaker’s.

The practical effect is that images tend to be a bit more stationary for off-axis listeners (for example, the family members mentioned above). In general this technique works most effectively when the loudspeakers’ off-axis response is smoother than average. Additionally, you may need to introduce more loudspeaker separation, to avoid the image “bunching up in the center.”

The phantom center image is simply wider and more forgiving for off-center listeners. Finally, it must be noted that planar loudspeakers get progressively less loud as you get closer to them, so sometimes they will help to provide a larger listening area. However, there is no free lunch – the center location is the only one that can provide true fidelity with stereophony.

Do remember that sitting off-center still exhibits the same time/phase frequency response roughness that we discussed in Copper Issue #31 – Why you should be sour on a “wide sweet spot” for serious listening with two-channel playback.

If you have a dedicated room, sometimes it’s useful to mark the best loudspeaker location for “serious listening”, as well as the one to be used for hosting more listeners.

Could your chair or sofa be damaging your music reproduction?

You may not have this problem, but you might know someone who does! As the guy who wrote the owner’s manual for the ARC/MagnepanTympani 1Ds, I thought I pretty much knew it all when it came to installing these speakers and getting the most from them in any room.

That’s why I’ll never forget the humbling lesson I learned in my lofty role as an audio “guru.” Here’s what happened:

As a high-end dealer in the early ’80s, I had sold a pair of Magneplanar Tympani 1D loudspeakers for use in an Audio Research system. I went out to install the system (which I always insisted on—and your dealer should do it for you as well).

I always carried along a 1/3-octave real time analyzer so that I could quickly see where the bass standing wave problems were located in the listening area of the room.

In less than an hour, I had found the best place for the listening seat, as well as generally locating the speaker positions (always a bit tricky due to the negative bass wave emanating from the rear of the speaker).

Using my basic 3-step installation technique as decribed in Get Better Sound Tips #74–77, plus the information outlined in Tips #78–89, I worked to get the sound to where I’d be proud to send a prospect over to my client’s house to hear what the Maggies sounded like in a home.

When I left some time later, my client was effusively thanking me for getting him better sound than he thought was possible. I was a hero.

A week later, he called me to complain about a “thickness in the mid-bass.” I don’t know if you are old enough to remember the Tympani 1Ds, but bass definition and timbre were their best qualities (Harry Pearson, writing in The Absolute Sound, adopted the T-1D as the bass unit for his soon-to-become famous hybrid Infinity QRS/Tympani 1D system).

There was NO WAY we could have a thickness in the bass! My client must have changed some component or something…

I finally stopped by later that day, expecting to point out the offending component. But nothing was changed in the system. And boy, was the upper bass thick! I got out my trusty RTA.

Sure enough, there was at least a 6 dB peak at about 125 Hz! Where did this come from? I couldn’t figure it out, but as I moved the RTA about two or three feet in front of the listening position I’d selected (and even marked!), the bass peak gradually disappeared.

So we moved the seat forward and, just to be sure, listened to hear what the guru (me) had fixed. Oh, no, the peak was back!  Did I measure incorrectly?

I measured the response behind the listening seat in the area where we had originally determined was the best seat in the house (literally). Now the peak was reduced a bit, but not removed entirely! How could that be possible? By then, I was looking so foolish that I couldn’t help but be embarrassed.

Then I noticed it. My client had a new sofa. When I had set the system up, we had used an occasional chair for the listening/voicing sessions.

His new sofa had a tightly stretched back panel (leather/leatherette). It was stretched so tightly, it produced its own tympanic sympathetic resonances at 125 Hz. Removing the sofa solved the mystery.  We ultimately damped the back panel and were able to use it in his room.

So check out any system where the seating could cause a similar effect. I’m still surprised at how many systems can be affected.

These comments are edited & excerpted from Get Better Sound, and used with the author’s permission. 🙂
You can also read Jim’s work at his website, www.getbettersound.com .

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