In today’s world, we have sound diffusion and sound absorption technology that is applicable to both the consumer and the professional end user. Both markets present their own set of paradigms and issues that must be dealt with. Consumers are always struggling to achieve good sound in less than ideal rooms. Most consumers do not have a dedicated listening room devoted strictly to the playback of recorded music sources. There sound quality is always compromised by less than ideal room conditions. They usually have their play back sources installed in rooms that are used for other purposes than for listening to music. One must deal with couches, chairs, video screens and a phenomenon termed WAF or wife acceptance factor. This term implies that there is a difference in perception between what is except able in appearance to a wife or woman than what is except able in appearance to a man within their living environments. Men seem to be more function and performance related. Women even though they usually can hear better, prefer appearance over function. The design goal is a balance between appearance and function. Something that is not always easily accomplished.
Professionals understand performance and acoustical objectives. Appearance is a concern but performance is more critical. We are always measuring performance against the cost of that performance and the stated and understood acoustical objectives. We want to solve or minimize acoustical issues, so that they do not interfere with the recording or monitoring process. Professionals try to create a room sound that reflects their personal sonic standards of sound recording and engineering. Certain professional studios are known for their drum rooms or vocal rooms because of the individual and unique sound they achieve. Appearance is less critical with the professional markets. No WAF present here. Professional are always looking for a way to create a new and different sound, so that musicians seeking different sounds to add to their musical palette, can apply this or that studio’s sound on to their music to create a sound that is unique for their music.
We see a lot of misunderstanding of basic acoustical issues in the consumer market from equipment set up all the way through to room acoustic treatment. We continually see systems set up in ways that will never allow for a quality sound presentation, ever, no matter what the price point or sound quality level of the equipment. We see left channel speakers 2′ from the side wall. We see in the same system, the right channel speaker 4′ from its corresponding side wall. Systems are set up with a side wall for the right channel to reflect into, but no wall on the left channel side. Equipment is set up within space that is remaining in the room because no furniture needs to go there. Most hi-fi set ups do not allow for the speakers to operate in the manner the designer intended.
Our music signal generated from our loudspeaker is an electromechanical signal that travels through space with a specific time signature and is governed by physical laws. We must have consistent distances for both left and right channel signals for our side walls in our physical equipment set ups to have predictability in dealing with room acoustical issues and allow for the stereo image to properly form at the listening position. We must have consistent and predictable signal pathways from the beginning if we are to have any chance of achieving our acoustical objectives. This applies to all room boundary surfaces from the side walls to the ceilings and front and rear walls.
Speakers Too Large
Consumers usually purchase speaker systems that are too large for their room volumes and sizes. Our playback systems produce energy based on the size and number of the speakers present within the cabinet. This energy must then be interjected into our rooms. Larger speakers in smaller rooms do not produce better sound. Larger speakers in smaller spaces create more problems. Small rooms can not reproduce low frequencies because of their small volume. Every day we see photos of customer’s hi-fi set ups with 15″-18″ sub woofers in small room acoustical environments. We see 6′ tall speakers in rooms with 7′ ceilings and 12′ room lengths. A quality musical presentation has all frequencies evenly represented. Care must be taken to allow for this to occur by selecting proper speaker size within the chosen dimensions of our room, especially when low frequencies are concerned. Professionals understand this and design the room to balance with the speakers they need to use to assist them in their monitoring efforts. All variables are considered and their associated impact on the final sonic presentation.
Price vs. Quality
Along with the larger is better issue in the consumer upper end hi-fi market, there is also a trend that says that if a product costs more it sounds better. This is true only up to a point. After a certain price point, one is paying large amounts of money for smaller and smaller incremental increases in sound quality. The engineers that design these higher end products are to be commended for their ruthless pursuit of quality sound whether it is a speaker or amplifier manufacturer. We need this quality sound pursuit to further the technology and genre. However, good sound can be obtained at different price points and a quality sounding amplifier or speaker can be had today for less than 10 years ago. Quality has come a long way when it comes to speaker and amplifier technology. Remember, it is the emotional connection to the music we are seeking, not how much it costs to get there. Professional gear choices are all focused around a much smaller price point range and quality level sound can be found throughout this narrow price point domain.
Cables Do Matter
Cables in the consumer world appear to be another issue that generates schools of thought and practice that range from all cables are the same and selling different cables at different price points is all “snake oil” to cables that cost $6,000 a foot. Cables do make a difference and the manufacturers of cables chase certain design criteria for all price points of their cables. One needs to select a cable at the price point a budget allows for and how well the cable reacts with your existing amplifier and speaker. There is a synergy between electronic components that must be technically achieved before any emotional connection to the music is established. How much one can and wants to spend to achieve this is a personal choice. Cables are selected in the professional world in order of their ability to move the electronic signal around without adding any distortion to the original signal. Cables are part of a system designed to not interfere with the music in any way.
The Room Is A Component
Acoustical room treatment is almost non existent in the consumer markets. Even though the room sound contributes over 50% to the sound we are trying so desperate to create. It is a common practice to purchase a new amplifier or speaker to achieve a different and “better” sound. This will give you a different sound because each speaker and amplifier manufacturer has a set of design criteria that they feel a speaker or amplifier should exhibit and this philosophy is built into their technologies. However, the room affects the largest impact on the acoustical chain. One can take a $100,000 system and place it in a room that is not acoustically and physically correct and it will sound like a $3,000 system. One can take a $3,000 system and place it in a room that has only a few acoustical issues addressed and it will sound like a much more expensive system. Buying a new speaker or amplifier and placing them in a room where the same acoustical issues are present may even exaggerate the same room acoustic issues and raise them to a level where they interfere more with the music. One must be careful spending more to achieve less.
Consumers and professionals are different in many ways. Consumers do not place enough emphasize on the sound quality that their systems are designed and capable of producing. Sound quality appears to be a secondary consideration over appearance, component positioning and price. It is more important to have a well recognized logo on an amplifier face plate than to address the sound quality that amplifier is capable of producing in a proper acoustical environment. Consumers are more component focused instead of total system balance. This acoustic balance must include proper component positioning, quality level, and the synergy between the individual components. Professionals understand the impact of all the variables and components in the signal chain and make the effort to place these components in proper acoustical balance. Professionals understand that they are building a music system with individual components, not the other way around.