Home Audio System

The phrase home audio system is another of those groups of words and terms people search for on the internet. I always like to try and figure out what they are trying to find and what they actually mean by the terms they use in their searches.

A home audio system could be a pair of speakers in the kitchen connected to a amplifier. It could also be a bedroom clock radio that is set next to the bed on a night stand. Maybe a home audio system is a receiver that has an integrated amplifier along with numerous other functions to manipulate the sound into many different digital fields. Hopefully, when someone uses the term home audio system, they really want an amplifier, speakers, music playback source such as a cd player or turntable and a room to put it in that is conducive to producing good sound; not an after thought to fill an empty space in the living room.

A home audio system should include all the components to produce sound along with a room and the proper set up within that room to allow the system to produce the quality sound the designer and manufacturer intended for their products. The room is the most important component of the whole home audio system. Without a proper sized room, without the proper speaker set up in your room which takes into consideration all room boundaries and room volume, without a good chair and its correct position from the room’s walls and speakers, a quality home audio system sound can not be achieved no matter what the price point.

One can take an audio system that costs $3,000 and put it in a room that is designed for good sound and have a system that sounds like a $100,000. One can take a $100,000 system and put it in a room that is not acoustically correct and it will sound like a $3,000 system. In this latter case, I would rather have a clock radio on my night stand. Well, I probably don’t need the radio.


High End Audio

High end audio is a popular searched for term in Goggle. I always wondered what high end audio really means. What do people who search for the phrase high end audio really want to see in their search results? What does high end audio mean to most people?

Is high end audio a search term that is based on price? I hope not. High end audio classification should be based on sound quality delivered by the manufacturer in their respective product line. An amplifier manufacturer would be considered high end audio if their goal is to produce the best sound possible within their targeted price point they have decided to market in. Sound quality is their primary focus. It is not the number of features an amplifier has or how many watts it can produce. It is the sound quality of each watt whether it is 5 watts or 500.

Does a hi-fi product qualify for high end audio classification if it looks expensive? One can answer that question both ways. I have owned amplifiers that look expensive but lack the necessary sound quality based on their looks and cost. I have owned speakers that look inexpensive but sound balanced and detailed. I have owned speakers that look and are expensive that are not balanced or musical at all.

The bottom line determining factor for high end audio should always be sound quality whether it is expensive or not. What determines good sound quality is a topic for another blog. It can vary from individual to individual. I think, however, that most would agree that any high end audio product should be able to provide good detail, good channel separation, and strong imaging with low distortion. After these basics, I am not sure what people are looking for when they use the search term high end audio. Your guess is as good as mine


Practice Rooms

A practice room would be an interesting room to acoustically treat. We have never treated one. I guess we would need to first ask vocal practice room or instrument practice room. I believe they would need to be treated the same for some frequencies but use a different treatment for other frequencies. I think I would have to listen to the untreated room with vocals and instruments playing. A voice is really another instrument.

A vocal practice room would have a frequency range of 150 Hz. – 300 Hz. for male vocals and 200 Hz. – 500 Hz. for female vocals. Reflection control from practice room boundary surfaces whether vocal or instrument must be dealt with. Reflection control is necessary, so the singer or player can hear themselves well enough to practice and hopefully improve. Absorption for all reflected frequencies would work for vocals especially if recording was used. Most microphones do not like numerous reflections.

An instrument practice room must control reflections, but I believe some diffusion is necessary to add a more realistic sound to the player’s ears. Diffusion would be necessary on the rear wall, so that the “front image” would appear and feel more lifelike. Certain instruments that have low frequency generating strings such as the case of acoustic bass, must have a practice room that has low frequency transient control in the proper amount with absorption rate and level properly balanced. Diffusion and absorption are two acoustical tools that are used in an instrument practice room.


Jamie Anderson SMART

In the last issue of Pro Sound, Jamie Anderson of SMART (Sound Measurement and Acoustical Analysis Real Time), Jamie tells us to trust our ears in any final sound system evaluation.

Jamie stated, “Don’t ever let me witness you pointing at a computer screen and saying, ‘Look at how good this system sounds.”

We live this thinking at Acoustic Fields. Acoustic Fields likes Jamie Anderson, even though we have never met.


Recording Studio Design

Lets assume we have all the structural issues resolved in our recording studio design and can now focus on the inside of our studio. Our goal is to take the room sound out of our mix, so we are hearing everything that we want to hear and not what the room tells us we should hear in our recordings.

Accurate playback of all recorded information is a must have. We must know what is there and then, begin to correct any “errors”. We do not want the acoustics of our room to add anything of its own to the mix. If we are recording live, we want a certain amount of “room sound”. Just the opposite happens when we play that recorded data back through our monitors. We do not want to hear the room at all. We want to: “Listen to The Music, Without Hearing the Room” Sorry, about that, but I couldn’t resist. Our reputation as engineers depends completely on getting the mix right.

In our recording studio design at the listening or monitoring position, we have the room side wall and rear wall reflections to control along with the reflections off our console. These two acoustical issues really define the impetus behind near field monitoring. If you sit close to the left and right channels, you minimize the impact of the reflections from the side and rear walls. The console bounce is another issue. I don’t think anyone has solved that one yet. If you don’t prefer near field monitoring, treat the rear wall with diffusion and the side walls with absorption. This will go along way to minimize reflected energy impact at the monitoring position for any type of recording studio design.


Building A Studio

Building a studio is a search phrase used on Goggle. I am going to assume it means building a sound studio. It is neat that people want to build their own studio. However, one must get many variables correct from the beginning. Miss one variable in the beginning and the whole studio suffers, forever. It is not an easy task even for those of us in the business.

Room size is first criteria. Rooms below a certain cubic foot volume, don’t stand a chance against low frequency energy. The laws of physics tell us that we must have a certain minimum volume in order to avoid the acoustical evils of excess low frequency pressure. This minimum room volume changes for each frequency from 20 Hz. – 50 Hz. We use 6,000 cubic feet as our starting threshold.

Room build materials must be considered in building a studio. Sound takes on the characteristics of the surfaces that it interacts with. Have a room with a lot of glass windows, get “glass sound”. If you have a room full of wood, you get “wood sound”. Wood sound is preferable to glass sound. All you have to do to test this is to sit in your car with the engine off and listen to music. The best rooms have a balance between all the natural building elements: stone, wood, cotton, etc.

Construction of these materials must be done using sound barrier technology. Sound barrier technology keeps the sound energy that is generated from outside the room outside and the sound energy generated inside the room to stay inside the room and not add to the sound level in the environment. It is already too noisy. Vibrational isolation techniques must be employed between all adjoining surfaces.

Building a studio is not easy. One must have a very good understanding of vibrational and electromechanical acoustics and be able to apply that knowledge to solid materials.


Home Theater Designs

Home theater designs must take into consideration video, audio, and the seating to see and listen. The “comfort” position affects the quality level of the video and the audio presentation.

The video presentation in any home theater design is the central focus of most home theaters. The video display must be large enough to render realism to the video presentation. Choosing the correct screen size in any type of video display unit must be given careful consideration. The proper screen size is usually determined by the room size and the distance between the chosen seating position and the screen. A large screen causes vision fatigue. A small screen does not allow for the realism of the presentation to have maximum video impact. The human eye sees through a 50 mm. focal length. Proper screen height and width must take this focal length into consideration. Imax theater screen designers seemed to have forgotten this number.

The audio presentation in home theater designs is usually given secondary priority. Speakers are usually placed where there is space available, not where they would sound the best. Multiple seating positions require that the audio designer position the audio presentation to cover a broader area. This spreading out of the sound stage and sweet spot over numerous rows and individual chairs is a delicate balancing act and usually involves some type of sonic sacrifice at different seating positions.


Car Audio Installation

Any quality car audio installation must include the electronics: amplifiers, speakers, and cd player. It must also contain damping materials for road noise control and acoustical treatment inside the car itself to minimize interior surface reflections.

The electronics in any car audio installation must include amplifiers. One can obtain amplifiers that will do stereo or multiple channel speaker systems. This arrangement will work well for the middle and high frequencies, but another separate amplifier is needed for the subwoofer. The subwoofer or subwoofers will need their own power source in order to provide the power requirements a subwoofer needs without taking any energy away from the middle and high frequencies. A subwoofer power requirements can take needed energy away from the transient coverage, so needed for quality sound in the mids and highs.

Car audio installation must include damping materials placed in the floor and door panels that can minimize road and wind noise which causes vibrations that translate to increased ambient noise levels inside the cab of our vehicle. This increased ambient noise floor is the reason we turn up our gain control when we are moving and then have to turn it down when we come to a stoplight where there is no road noise from tires and no wind noise from air rushing over the exterior vehicle surfaces. Well, some of us turn it down at stoplights.

Acoustical treatment inside the cab of our vehicle should be a part of any quality car audio installation. Energy reflections off of the glass surfaces in our cars and trucks must be minimized in order to try and create some type of quality sound. The absorptive material manufacturers put inside the vehicles is usually limited to carpet, headliner, and seats. The amount and absorptive qualities of these materials is not enough to control the reflections off of the windshield and rear and side window glass surfaces. Our company test vehicle has speakers installed by the manufacturer that are 2″ away from the windshield. With this type of installation, we need to wear sunglasses for both our eyes and ears.


Best Car Audio

Best car audio is a popular searched for term. What does the phrase” best car audio” mean? Is there such a thing. If so, what does it sound like?

Good car audio is a difficult feat in and of itself. Take your current listening environment and sit in your chair and imagine all the room boundary surfaces closing in on you. It is like the trash compactor, Princess Leha and Hans Solo found themselves in Star wars. After the room’s walls and ceiling have shrunk within about a foot of your body and chair on all 5 sides, now change the composition of your shrunken room’s surfaces to glass. Yes, glass and you can even imagine the ceiling made of glass. Now, you have the space reserved for car audio. Yea!

We are testing our foam technology on every car interior surface and find that all surfaces need to be addressed if one is to have any acoustical chance of making good car audio. Lets don’t even think of best car audio at this stage. Lets shoot for some type of audio, period. The dash holds promise for windshield reflection “control” and I use that term in the loosest sense of the word. The rear passenger windows and back ledge show promise for more control for the rear speakers. No rear passengers allowed. The roof or ceiling in our “car room” shows us that maybe diffusion could help us with presentation and air after we get the reflections tamed.

It is worth the effort to try to create the best car audio for yourself. Forget about the others. Find the emotional connection to your car audio and definitely step on the gas. Music and motion, just can’t beat it. All other drivers please pull to the right.


Hi Fi Shop

The search term hi fi shop gives me hope. The fact that people actually search for the term hi fi shop lets me know that people still think of brick and mortar hi fi shops. I certainly hope so.

Hi fi shops that I used to go to were something I looked forward to. It was great to see all the new speakers and amplifiers. It was also wonderful to be able to sit and listen to the equipment in a room that was similar to my room at home. Sitting in the listening chair and having the salespeople change out the speakers and move a new amplifier in place to listen to was a real joy.

The salespeople were all excited about the manufacturers they represented and the new technologies that they created. They had passion for the companies they represented and that excitement and passion came through when they gave you a demonstration in the hi fi shop. Most salespeople believed in their products that they sold and most of them owned the same products that they were selling.

In today’s economy, brick and mortar hi fi shops are dying. Every hi fi shop that I used to visit is gone no matter what part of the country one considers. Even the biggest shops such as Sounds By Singer in New York are gone. The internet has brought price competition to new levels and hi fi shops with overhead can not compete in this type of environment. When customers shop for price only, something in the hi – fi process has been lost. The goal becomes buying at the lowest price, not hearing the best sound quality.

There is one place that the old school, hi fi shop passion still exists. Trade shows offer individuals the opportunity to sit in a room and listen to speakers, amplifiers, and cables in a real room setting just like the dealer showrooms we used to go to. What’s even better, is that one can walk from room to room, floor to floor, and hear different gear in each room. Everyone is excited and both customers and manufacturers are glad to be there. We even have room service. What more could one ask for.