Less than obvious choices

November 27, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

Now that we’ve moved the main PS Audio reference system from Music Room Two to Music Room Three we have a new challenge at hand. Where formerly the problems in MR2 were a loss of low end (a severe suck out from 100Hz and below), now we’re noticing in MR3 a kind of lackluster presentation.

Call it a loss of musical life.

Following my own advice found in The Audiophile’s Guide: The Loudspeaker, I have spent a great deal of time getting everything in balance. Only, no matter what I do there continues to be this lack of musical aliveness.

And this means I cannot get to where we need to go by setup alone. It is time to turn to the room.

First, a little history.

Neither music rooms two nor three have great dimensions. We did our best to turn a bouncy-floor mezzanine into the best rooms possible. We then spent a goodly sum of money in MR3 hiring a sound engineer to measure and condition the room with corner traps and wall absorbers for an even frequency response. It measures correctly now and so we moved the reference system in place.

Back to the story.

Late one Sunday afternoon, after spending hours of frustration working to get some life into the system, it occurred to me I was trapped inside conventional thinking. I had taken for granted the room treatments we enacted were right. After all, I had seen the acoustic measurements of the room and they looked correct.

I had broken Paul’s rule. If you can’t get where you need to go, think outside the box.

Damn the measurements. I removed the sidewall absorbers, moved to my trusty method of a bare sidewall helped by a simple diffuser at the point of first reflection, and voila!

Life! Yes! I felt like screaming it as Gene Wilder did in Young Frankenstein.

Sometimes you have to go with the less-than-obvious choices.

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28 comments on “Less than obvious choices”

  1. Sometimes you have to go with less-is-more 😉
    But seriously Paul, that’s great news that you
    got that properly sorted…good for you! ✌

    MR3 was set-up for testing new prototype loudspeakers.
    Now you should reassess MR2 for when you shove the aspen FR20’s in there 😉

  2. It would be interesting to get the sound engineer back and measure the room now. Does it measure with the same even frequency response or not, and whatever the result, could any useful conclusion be drawn from it? Like us sometimes, perhaps the room needs a little lift to feel alive.

  3. I think that if you have the ability to do EQ you can make up for the effect of heavy damping.

    I’ve years of experience with heavily damped rooms. I know that adding more damping improves intelligabilty but at the expense of altering the frequency response at the listening position.

    It’s time to get Ted to create a new product, digital in and digital out with parametric equalisers and shelving options.

    I have parametric equalisation as part of my DEQX digital crossover and need to increase both bass and treble because of very heavy damping. I get a huge amount of detail. Ther’s no doubt about the fact that if I were to remove some damping, e.g. open curtains to increase reflections, then detail suffers – it sounds livelier but there is loss of detail.

    Until you try damping with EQ compensation you don’t realise what I’m talking about.

    1. I purchased an Anthem AVM 70 processor for my home theater last week. I watched as it calibrated the room. It shows before and after curves for each speaker. I remember thinking at the time “How could I possibly achieve this (to this degree) any other way… even for 2 channel?”. Calibration like that is a powerful tool. The audiophile community has largely discounted any type of equalization. Back in the 70s & 80s, equalizers were main stream, but have since lost favor. I heard several systems back then that seriously benefited from them.

      1. From what I recall back in the 70’s and 80’s equalisers or graphic equalisers as they were often referred to, along with tone controls were an absolute anathema to the serious audiophile. They put extra circuitry in the signal path which overall had the effect of downgrading signal quality. I don’t remember discussions about the room and how it affected the sound taking place, to me that’s a relatively new thing, today’s hot topic. We’re room treatments ever exhibited at shows back then? Obviously things have moved on and the analyzers we have today didn’t exist back then but old habits, beliefs and prejudice can be difficult to dispel.

  4. I think that if you have the ability to do EQ you can make up for the effect of heavy damping.

    I’ve years of experience with heavily damped rooms. I know that adding more damping improves intelligabilty but at the expense of altering the frequency response at the listening position.

    It’s time to get Ted to create a new product, digital in and digital out with parametric equalisers and shelving options.

    I have parametric equalisation as part of my DEQX digital crossover and need to increase both bass and treble because of very heavy damping. I get a huge amount of detail. There’s no doubt about the fact that if I were to remove some damping, e.g. open curtains to increase reflections, then detail suffers – it sounds livelier but there is loss of detail.

    Until you try damping with EQ compensation you won’t realise what I’m talking about.

  5. Thinking outside of the box – well received if you’re the thinker and like the result, or if you’re in charge and like the result. In this case of the room, not surprising to many that the ‘measurements’ did not reflect what was heard. Yet think out of the box when it comes playback, component gains, and the way they are interfaced and you’ll likely run into a stone wall. Phrases of , I don’t like it, to, I don’t do it that way because, it makes no sense, it goes against conventional wisdom. Basically no consideration to the idea. That vocalized thought is summarily dismissed. All that’s missing is out right ridicule, disdain and laughter.

    I often wonder if Paul was is the audio room design business instead of the audio equipment design / recording business if his point of view wouldn’t be skewed, thinking instead that it was the equipment that was the issue rather than the room.

    So congrats to Paul (and the others?) for stepping back and giving some reconsideration. I’m glad it worked out.

    It also goes to show that the initial by the book set-up, and the “Yea!” That was exclaimed then may not be the final best result. Living with something for a period of time has a way of pointing out shortcomings.

  6. To me the idea of absorption rather than diffraction makes the most sense provided there’s a ‘no loss’ means of compensating for the effects of the absorption. We say that ideally we’d listen to hifi without walls, i.e. we want the walls to disappear. The only way of making them disappear is with absorption. Absorption requires panels foe mid/high frequencies and large bass traps for low frequencies. I have built my own 3-way active system using a DEQX digital crossover so all the digital equalisation (frequency and phase) is done in software, as is the crossover. There’s lots of bass trapping and panels/heavy crurtains.
    Everything is digital until the three dacs with the speaker drivers directly connected to the power amps. Beat that.

  7. Glad you seem to be on the path to better sound. And yes, perhaps this time, less is more. Depending on the type of diffuser (s) you’re probably getting a phase shift which some like, some tolerate and others dislike. I have found hemispherical abfussors against the wall work well. There are very good cylindrical products accomplishing this as well.

  8. Paul, many years ago an audio pal contracted with a nationally known audio and acoustics company to create a plan for his room. He is a serious listener and at the time occasionally wrote reviews for an audio magazine. That resulted in installation of large absorption/reflection panels, tube traps, even a series of angled panels hanging from the ceiling.

    At first he was pleased because it was such a quiet environment and he felt it was easier to pick up on details in the music and sonic presentation. But fairly soon he realized he lost dynamics and a sense of “life” from his system. So he called on another friend and myself to help gradually remove the acoustic devices as he listened. He ended up with about half of what had been recommended.

    I believe the best procedure is to work slowly, adding one device at a time, evaluating each change. At some point you will find you are now degrading rather than improving, so take away that one last piece.

  9. Beware of seemingly innocuous changes. Always look at any small changes you have made

    My living room doubles as my listening room, it’s 12×16 ft with an 8 ft ceiling and a 5ft doorway to a 14 ft dinning room on one side. My components are stacked on a 42″ wide 3/4 in oak plywood record cabinet I built a few decades back, that cabinet sits on the side wall close to that 5 ft opening. The Rogue preamp, PS Audio DAC, and PS Audio transport are stacked next to my turntable. I have some tall 4″ thick absorbers kitty cornered in the front corners of that wall – my speakers sit 42″ from that wall. I have a diffuser/absorber I place in front of the window on the other side wall when listening to music on the system, there is a couch under the window and a heavy rug on the floor.

    To make the turntable easier to access I installed a small steel rack next to the record cabinet which I slid down the wall to make room on that wall. The turntable (2″ sorbothane footers) and the 3″ thick oak chopping block I use as it’s base sit on this rack which has records sitting below the TT – all in all it’s a very sturdy setup.

    Problem was I now had a glare in the upper midrange that wasn’t there before the move. It wasn’t on all tracks but some had this annoying glare. I figured it was probably a first reflection problem and after looking it all over I saw the turntable acrylic cover was now sitting where acoustic energy could well bounce off it. I played a track I knew was problematic on my headphones (speakers off) and it sounded fine so i thought I might be on the right track. After that played that same track with the speakers only and it STILL sounded good.

    WTF? I had placed the headphones on top of that turntable cover and that seemed to be enough to break up that errant bounce so I now knew what the problem was. A little diffusion/absorbtion above the turntable seemed to be the cure

  10. Great topic Paul thanks again. My understanding is as one of your friends already mentioned the playback of a recording is only a frontal reproduction. The back and side reproductions are the audiophile creation. You stopped being an engineer and became an artist. Of course that is really true for stereo reproduction.

  11. So I’m listening to solo violin today, recorded in a wonderful church that has been used by the world’s leading classical performers for almost 50 years. The music has lots of staccato and pizzicato followed by pauses. The decay/reverberation was tangible, full of warmth and life. My room is well treated, but I don’t use bass traps or panels. I must admit I got a reassuring feeling that when we built the room last year we got it right, without the need for acoustic engineers.

  12. Congratulations, Paul, on figuring this out!

    Over time, and with experience, I have come to the conclusion that solving for the traditional acoustician RT equation often results in over-damped and lifeless-sounding listening rooms.

  13. My very first thought after reading halfway through your diddy, was, does the carpet need to be removed?
    I’m glad you found a better solution.
    The second thought after you mentioning Young Frankenstein, was a scene at the very end of the movie. Someone asked “what did you get from the monster?” The response was priceless!

  14. I haven’t “worried about the room” in all my decades of audio listening – if you are comfortable talking to other people in that space, and it doesn’t feel weird being there – a number of listening setups I’ve come across are quite disturbing to be in, I don’t like them – then a capable system will have no trouble throwing up an engaging presentation. Good SQ takes over the acoustic, and if you lower the volume then it’s as if you’ve moved away from the performers. Increasing the volume means you’ve moved in closer to the action, and the intensity of the music making dominates your sound world.

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