Personal Listening Environment # 2

If you spend as much time in your personal listening room as I do, you hear many different things and you become comfortable with the sound in your room because you have worked hard to get it to sound the way you want it to. I believe most of us set up our personal listening environments in a manner that allows us to hear as much of the music as we can. This attention to sonic detail helps us develop an emotional connection with the music.

One of the many things I notice is that when I enter my personal listening environment is that the outside world does not follow me into the room. It is almost like some type of force field that will not allow the energy of the existing and outside world in. This really becomes apparent when you hit the play button on the remote. If the “force field” is strong enough to keep out the outside world by just closing its door, it completes the job when music fills the room. What a joy to not think or hear anything but music; feel anything but emotion.

Sometimes on recordings that you have played over and over, you will hear a new sound. You know the recordings I mean. They are the ones that you know every pause or breath the lead singer takes and every note the guitar player uses on a fiery break. They are your comfort and go to songs when you really need to disconnect. Somehow, someway, you bend down to pick something off the floor and just as your ears move in a vertical plane down the speaker’s vertical axis, you, for a split moment hear something new. You pause, take a breath and reach for the remote. There it is again. Thank you, room !

Sometimes one can connect so well to the music that dancing and air guitar behavior occurs. Now, this is a real connection. It is a digital cable from your ears to your heart. It can be facilitated by time shifting your stream of consciousness through the use of intoxicating beverages. I don’t know why the volume is increased in direct proportion to the amount of fluids ingested. It seems to always be the case when you check the gain control the next morning. Perhaps beverages of this nature should come out with a warning label that states: Expect 10 dB increase in SPL for every 12 ounces consumed.

Hi End Stereo

Hi end stereo is a term that has been with us since the 1950s. It probably started with the Dynaco amplifiers that people used to build at home. They were tube amplifiers that produced around 50 watts of power and sounded good. Individuals expanded upon this basic technology and began to use different techniques to create a better sounding product. I think it was this passion and concern for sound quality that created hi end stereo.

Hi end stereo is composed of amplifiers, speakers, cd players, turntables and cables. Each manufacturer tries to develop their respective technologies and create the best sound out of their products they can. An amplifier manufacturer seeks to produce the best sound they can from each watt of energy their products produce. A speaker manufacturer tries to produce sound that resembles a real instrument or vocal. Cd player and turntable manufacturers try to minimize vibrations and generate a distortion free signal. Cable companies take all of this energy and try to pass it through to each component in the cleanest way possible without adding any coloration of their own.

The most important component in the hi end stereo chain is the room in which all of these components are assembled and listened to. I want to say that that room acoustic product companies exhibit the same passion in producing their products as the amplifier, speaker, cd players, turntable, and cable manufacturers, but I can not.

Most room acoustic companies create products that are cheap to manufacture, inexpensive to purchase and when they installed in a room, they sound like no effort was put into their development. I want to say that room acoustic products are viewed as an equal quality component in the hi end stereo chain because they are. Of course, I want to say that because it is more than true. I just wish more acoustic product companies had the same passion in creating their technologies as the other members of the hi end stereo chain.

Room Music

Room music is a search phrase that 368,000 people used last month in Goggle. It is an odd blend of words to search for and I really don’t know what the search objective was for those 368,000 individuals. Were they searching for a room to play music in with a sound system? Were they looking for a room to play music in with an instrument or vocal?

At Acoustic Fields, we hope all rooms are room music. Having a room that is designed to portray music in the best manner possible is a blend of both science and art. Science and the products that science creates can help deal with the two major issues of room acoustic management: room wall reflections and low frequency pressure. If one does not control reflections from all the room boundary surfaces, there is no chance of having any quality room music. Reflected energy arriving at our ears from all room surfaces, confuses our brains and any music created will go unappreciated. Without proper low frequency, energy pressure control, there will be no room music at all. It will be smothered and blurred to the point of creating interference in all frequencies in any music type presented.

Lets have room music in every room from now on. Lets use our science to create products that make every room a music room. Forget about living in the room. Lets have a room only designed for room music. It will be a room with amplifiers, speakers, and a music source to play room music from. It will have just two live beings in the room; a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment.

Hi – Fi Room

Another popular search term used in Goggle in our business is the term hi – fi room. I am going to assume people are searching for information on how to create a hi – fi room. At least, I am hoping that is the case. Now, we are talking.

If someone is considering creating a hi – fi room, they have made a decision to have a dedicated space in which to put the tools of hi – fi into. They will need a set of speakers, a stereo amplifier or better yet a pair of mono amplifiers, one for each channel. A cd player or a cd transport with an external digital to analogue converter rounds out the playback equipment chain. If someone is really analogue oriented, they could use a turntable. Don’t forget the cables to connect all the components to each other.

The last part of the search term hi – fi room is the most important. One must have a room to place the sound playback equipment in. The same care and attention as one uses in choosing their equipment must also be given to the choice of room to use. Parallel walls with an 8 degree splay, rectangular shape, 20′ wide, 30′ long and 12′ high, poured concrete construction with two external walls at least 6″ apart, a direct line from the utility companies transformer outside the room to at least a 600 amp board with computer grade isolation transformers for any power line noise suppression, dedicated, 30 amp lines for each piece of equipment, and all of one’s favorite cds or albums.

Oh yes, I almost forgot about the chair. On second thought, with all of the above, who needs it.

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.