Ask the Expert: Room Tuning

Q. For a home theater in my basement, I have a room that measures 16 feet wide by 27 feet long. I'd prefer to keep the space as a multipurpose room with the theater integrated in a way to keep the space open. If I place the theater space at the end of the room and project the image on one of the side walls, I'll end up with a wall to our left and an open space to our right. Would this open side create insurmountable problems with the audio? We'd be getting sound reflections off the one wall and essentially no reflections from the other side. We plan to use an A/V receiver with Audyssey MultEQ XT automatic audio setup to calibrate the sound field. D. Allen Romer Rock Creek, OH

A. You're right in your assessment. The imbalance created by the room reflections would be a disadvantage, but it's not insurmountable. The room you're trying to create can be thought of in two ways: a large closed theater or an open-air theater. What you're doing here is a combination of both. Cutting the room in half as you describe presents the challenge of optimizing the listening area.

The best chance you'd have to create a proper listening space would be to use a combination of sound traps and sound-absorbing material on that left side wall, essentially trying to make it acoustically disappear. You can then add some sound traps on the opposite side to try to create some symmetry and acoustically match both sides of the room. In addition, I'd recommend diffusers for the back wall, which will help to create a "longer" rear surface by reducing reflections directly back to the listening position.

You may also be able to create a "phantom" side wall with the use of a very heavy fabric curtain that could be closed when you want to go into music-listening or theater mode. Another idea would be to use a set of movable panels that can be positioned to create the enclosed space. These panels could be the type used as dividers in office cubicles. They come standard as 4 feet wide by 6 feet high and are easily purchased from office-supply stores. With the addition of a set of casters, they could serve as a movable barrier to the rest of the acoustic space. Many of these materials can be purchased from companies such as Acoustiblok (acoustiblok.com), Acoustics First (acousticsfirst.com), and Acoustical Solutions (acousticalsolutions.com).

Finally, it may be helpful to use a speaker system that's more directional than most, essentially focusing the sound within the listening area. The subwoofer should probably be placed in the front corner on the side of the room that has the existing wall. This would help the low frequencies from the sub cover the listening area evenly. The automatic audio-calibration system in your receiver is a big plus, but may fall short in optimizing the sound field. If your budget allows, I'd recommend an EQ system made by Rives Audio (rivesaudio.com) called the PARC, which stands for Parametric Adaptive Room Compensation. It does a wonderful job compensating for room anomalies.

John Tamburello is the owner of Central Media Systems (centralmediasystems.com) in New York City.

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