Leaving the room
We've written extensively about the room and how our systems interact with it. Steve Schliesman, owner of Synergy Audio and Video in Pennsylvania, wrote me with a few more thoughts that are perhaps appropriate for the last word on the subject. "It’s frustrating to see so many misguided audiophiles with great equipment, improperly placed in their rooms, deciding to upgrade their cables instead of performing a proper setup. They’ll drop $1,500, or even $30,000, on a cable upgrade, happy with a 5% improvement. That same investment often achieves a 50-75% improvement with a system calibration. I’m convinced that because setup doesn’t involve buying a “thing” that can be seen - a shiny new cable or a new pair of speakers - its perceived value is low. But those same folks wouldn’t hesitate to have an alignment done on their sports car, instead of just buying shiny new tires. There audiophile mind contains many ironies! Throwing money at these problems won’t fix them. The physics apply to every system, regardless of topology, price point, etc. The only difference between improperly setup PSB Alphas and Wilson Alexandrias is that the really expensive speakers will sound more bad, because they’re moving more air to and from the wrong places. I strongly encourage audiophiles to pay attention to their rooms, and I commend you on making them aware that this is an important part of their system that they have some control over. You have to embrace the physics and work with it, using facts, logic, and a bit of an aikido mindset. As far as do-it-yourself options go, I suggest at least getting an RTA app for an iPhone or iPad and measuring what’s arriving at the listening position. It won’t approach the quality of a proper calibration, but it will allow a DIY audiophile to see where they have a problem, and either (A) discuss that problem with a trusted vendor who sells room treatments, or (B) optimize the location of either their speakers or listening position by moving them into areas of the room that are more acoustically correct. Unfortunately the RTA only measures in the frequency domain, while the root cause of most problems is in the time domain (slap echo, comb filtering, nulls, peaks, cancellations, etc)." Thanks Steve, well thought out and insightful. My only comment is that an RTA measurement as Steve suggests is probably more mystifying than helpful to most people. It's been my experience that while they can point to issues, it's the solving of those issues without messing everything else up that's at the core of the problem we all face making our rooms fit our stereo systems.
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