Acoustic treatments

August 28, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

It is ironic that the best acoustic treatment I know of is made from ordinary stuff. Books. Albums.

We go to great expense and long lengths to acoustically treat our rooms, yet when it comes right down to it, the best sounding rooms are typically filled with ordinary stuff. And lots of it.

How do you know when your room is acoustically correct? Just listen to your voice when inside the room. If it sounds natural you’re 90% the way there.

More than a few times I have recommended to people interested in damping or diffusing the point of first reflection to simply purchase a pair of tall bookshelves and fill them with either books or albums. My preference, by the way, is books. Books are uneven and that randomness helps diffuse sound in a very natural way.

Nothing I know of works better.

And, you don’t even have to have read the books. 🙂

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54 comments on “Acoustic treatments”

    1. The best morning pick me up ever! The Conga Player. As Geraldine (aka Flip Wilson) would have exclaimed
      “The Devil made me do it!”

      A Classic’s Classic! That was great!

          1. “For people of my generation, The Beatles on Ed Sullivan in the states was a pivotal point, an epiphany for a lot of people. Looking back at that early footage again, there’s Ringo sitting high up on the edge of his seat with a Ludwig Super Classic drum set. There’s this fire, this intensity and he could dance while he played.

            He had a punk energy, the fire with which he’s playing and driving that band. And when you remember they had a hard time hearing each other, he was laying down the beat and driving that band. There’s nobody like him.”

            Check out the first fifteen minutes of the drumming documentary “Count Me In” now streaming on Netflix.


            Jazz section at 27 minutes…

            You can have rhythm without music, but you can’t have music without rhythm! Ringo, Charlie, Baker, Bonham, Moon and pretty much everyone who followed drew from these two cats, Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich.

            “No other drummers played like Keith Moon. You could look into his eyes and say this man will never get to be 40 years old. You can’t party 30 hours a day, 28 days a week.”

            There are several great drummers in the history of modern big band, swing, jazz and rock n roll music. Many are considered the best, but frankly speaking they all are wonderful and different in their own unique individual ways.

  1. But how to arrange the books on the floor or fix them on the ceiling? 😉 Having placed my loudspeakers at the longer wall floor- and ceiling-reflections arrive here much earlier than sidewall reflections.

    1. Yeah, long wall is great. You give up a little bit of soundstage depth, but it moves you up a bit closer to the front of the performance. More like ‘being there’ with little or no side reflections.

    2. You just need to split the gravity well so you can arrange the books on the ceiling. Lirpa Labs used to have an accessory for that, but it’s out of production.

  2. I have many books of all sizes that I have not had the time to read in boxes and wow are they heavy. Books I bought and that people gave to me. I just don’t have a bookshelf.

  3. So how does that work with e books? 😉

    With previous talk of room treatments I felt I was missing out, my next must have accessory, but in terms of sound, one I didn’t think I really needed. I’d imagine more necessary in a dedicated listening room but in my shared living space with plenty of soft and hard furnishings to break up and absorb on every wall, not required. Which is lucky because there’s no room for them. Maybe some panels on the ceiling, but I can’t imagine they would go down well with my other half. Looking up now and trying to visualise I think they’d look ridiculous, but on second thoughts, perhaps no more ridiculous than my system and associated rituals would seem to a non enthusiast.

  4. Books is good, excellent advice.
    But with buying books you’re only halfway there.
    Underestimated by many, It’s also important that you pick the right genre(s).
    Never use horror, will result in (you guessed it) a horrible sound.
    And also forget about short story : listening fatigue within the hour is guaranteed.
    If you want to spice up your listening experience then take some thrillers, for a nerve-racking sound.
    You like a more old school sound(quality) ? Use historical novels.
    Dystopian literature is not recommended if you’re in a sombre mood already. 🙁
    See, it’s not difficult to pick the right books. Just use you imagination 🙂
    Another great audiophile asset in the room are plants.
    John Darko made a very nice video about it. In case you haven’t seen it, check it out on YT.

    1. Ha, good one, but now we need some guidance on which plants are best. Surely not cactus, this could result in a prickly or possibly a dry sound.

      There must be more but I’m no horticulturist.

      1. Richtea, you are so right with your remark on cactus, you hit the nail on the head !
        It seems to me you know a thing or two about this topic 🙂
        But, like i said, check out the YT video of John Darko (“houseplants for audiophiles”).
        The man has some really good ideas about cacti as well, although he is not a proponent of cacti, possibly for the same reasons you mention.
        And you and I know that at the end of the day it is like he says in the video : “you need to go and listen to the plants yourself to work out which one is best for you”.
        Fortunately in most cities you’ll find more than enough plant dealers (at least more than audio dealers).
        All you have to do is make an appointment for a plant-listening session. And don’t forget to bring your own books.

          1. Fat Rat,
            “April 1st next year”…
            What do you mean ? What does April 1st has to do with it ?
            C’mon man, get serious ! (like the rest of us).

            Off topic: recently I watched a very interesting documentary on BBC about “Kangaroo Dundee”.
            Very respectable man (Brolga), raising orphaned Joey’s by hand in his little shed in the middle of the bush.
            I couldn’t live like that.
            On the other hand, he has none of our problems, e.g. painstakingly positioning the speakers in the room in order to get the “best” sound. Hmm, actually the man has a very easy life compared to ours.

            1. jb4,
              “What does April 1st have to do with it ?”
              You’re kidding right??
              John Darko did that video about plants & leaves being used as room treatment on the first of April this year as an April Fool’s Day joke.
              I think that you’ve been smoking wa-a-a-ay to much weed or drinking to much alcohol; or you’re suffering from early on-set dementia.

              Yeah I saw that too.
              A man with a big heart who likes cleaning up kangaroo sh!t every day; I don’t.
              Now that my loudspeakers are correctly positioned I’d rather be doing what I’m supposed to be doing.
              My life couldn’t possibly be any easier.

      2. Rich & Jb4,

        You’re missing some the great advantages of audiophile cactus. A good pair of nail cutters and you have an endless free supply of needles for your vintage turntable, never mind and endless supply of isolation spikes.

        On top of those benefits if you use the prickly pear variety as bass traps you can pick the fruit, harvest the mid wall agave, and make some killer prickley pear margaritas to sip on (guzzle) why you listen to tunes. ✌️ 😉

      3. The cactus is a succulent, so it provides liquidity, not dryness. Victrola
        aficionados are very familiar with lucid, sweet and relaxed sound that the cactus is known for.

        1. scottsol,
          I was thinking the same thing a few hours ago.
          Cacti ain’t dry; dey is wet, wet, wet on d’ inside, fo sho!
          (Sorry, I just watched the movie ‘Shaft’ with Samuel L. ..again)

          1. They are indeed wet. Shortly after turning 18 during my first trip out west I remembered an old cowboy movie where the star cut a plug out of a saguaro cactus and sucked on it as he was out of water. And of course I tried it. Given a choice between sucking cactus juice and extreme dehydration I’d have a tough time deciding.

    2. And romance novels if you desire a sweeter sound. ‘Bodice rippers’ can also add a touch of edgy dynamics, if you’re into that sort of thing.

  5. I have one wall of shelves filled with books and albums. I keep telling my wife that all the clutter in our living room ( where the stereo system is ) is good for the sound of the system. 😉 I don’t think that idea is getting any traction.

  6. If you’re looking for books, just hit up your buddy from college who was an English Major. They’ll hook you up and you’ll be doing their spouse a favor.

  7. “We go to great expense and long lengths to acoustically treat our rooms … simply purchase a pair of tall bookshelves”. Paul obviously hasn’t met the cabinetmaker making the pair of bookshelves in our listening and reading room. rickbakerltd
    That said, it’s sound advice, what we’ve done.

  8. Books and records…. most definitely.
    When I moved down to Florida, both my sons inherited close to 400 cookbooks and I still keep180 more in my current listening room. They both live in San Diego now. I’m wondering if I should tell them that there’s going to be a second California Recall?

  9. The bookshelves are built. Just waiting for the door to door encyclopedia sales person to come by. Along with the fuller brush and Kirby sales people so I can keep things clean.

    Also found a great deal on a public library for sale…. Negotiating with them leaving the books as part of the sale 😉

    1. I also am having to relearn the Dewey Decimal System to keep things organized. The floor to ceiling catalog cupboard is on the opposite wall.

      Thanks Paul, for a serious topic today that allows for a ton of fun responses.

  10. Yeah, the secret is out I use bookcases filled with books. I get 99% room correction, I have Paul’s autobiography in an exact placement, to make that true . … .

  11. A problem with using books is when you want to retrieve one to read and it is high up in the corner with the ceiling!

    Seriously, I read this recommendation many years ago. The author even suggested going to a thrift store or library sale where they can be bought for 25 or 50 cents each, if you don’t already have a large collection.

    1. re: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

      SS Col. Ernst Vogel (Michael Byrne): “What does the diary tell you that it doesn’t tell us?”

      Dr. Henry Jones, Sr. (Sean Connery): “It tells me that goose-stepping morons like yourself should try reading books instead of burning them.”

  12. Maybe for large rooms, but for a 12-foot wide dedicated room like mine, bookcases are not an option. I can’t afford to lose an extra inch of space in width for adequate spacing of the speakers to the sidewalls. With all the fine looking thinner diffuser panels available on the market, I fail to understand why anyone would choose bookcases specifically for acoustic treatment.

  13. I’ve heard that even a narrow 8″ wide x 8″ deep x tall CD “bookcase” at each first reflection spot can help a lot.  Perhaps they reflect mids & highs towards front wall corners.

  14. All vinyl folks, if you want to hear new bass quality, place your LP‘s side by side on the floor on the walls around the speakers back to the area of the listening spot and if you want also in the corners all the way up as far as possible. They are great bass absorbers. Same would work with books for sure.

      1. Thank you my friend. Prime Acoustics is a great company based out of British Columbia, Canada. 🙂
        I have the, or what is called, “London 10 Broadway panel” set. I have them scattered about my living room and I had to negotiate with my wife that if you give me the ability to treat our living room for proper sound I will let you have and do everything else from a decorative standpoint. Luckily, the panels are stylish enough where they have grown on the misses, so she hasn’t complained. The results are awesome as well. The amount of echo flutter I would experience without them is insane. Anything you listen to past 60 DB is a nightmare and the voc-kills would sound like they would coming out of a tin can.
        I swear by them. 🙂

        1. I would’ve thought that a good way to negotiate the installation of said panels would be to offer the missus whatever ‘print(s)’ she wants on them 😉
          Anyway, moot point now.

    1. I made my own acoustical panels using recycled denim insulation in wood frame panels with plywood back and stretched acoustical cloth front of a color that complements my living room decor. I mounted them in support stands so I can move the panels to their most optimal locations.

  15. IMO, books will only get you part of the way there but with drawbacks:

    Books can’t take the place of bass traps

    Books/bookshelves will decrease the width of the room by up to 2′ which might be more detrimental than the diffusion it provides. If I build a dedicated room with the Golden Ratio specs, I wouldn’t want to decrease the width by a foot or 2

    There is no symmetry on both sides of the room. If I was going to provide diffusion, I would want the same diffusion on each wall to be the same. Same goes with panels, you wouldn’t want to use 2 different types of diffusion panels on the sidewalls nor would you want the right wall to have a 4″ which panel and the left wall have a 2″ thick panel

  16. Not only. Some people (audiophiles?) are meticulous (don’t say obsessive) and can’t help but put their books and all in “correct” order in the audiophile-authorized bookshelf.

    All Encyclopedia Britannica 24 volumes together in order.
    All paperbacks together. All A5 size.
    All vinyl lips together — all twelve-inch.
    All CDs together. In their identical cases.

    Oh dear.

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