LASSIE barks if your sound's no good

Room acoustics is like economics: It's vitally important but impossible to understand. But a new Bay Area company is working to simplify the complicated process of acoustic analysis so  almost anyone can do it.

Seagrave Instruments' new acoustic analyzer is called LASSIE, which stands for Large Array of Sound Sensors Indicating Excitation. LASSIE relies on 49 special sound-pressure level meters, which are something like those RadioShack things used to balance surround-sound systems. The difference is that instead of displaying the results with a wiggling needle, each of LASSIE's meters has an LED on top that gets brighter as the sound grows louder.

When you play a tone that sweeps through all the bass frequencies, the meters that illuminate the most consistently are the areas in a room that have the most even response. If the lights are fluctuating like Times Square billboards, move the speakers, the subwoofers, or the furniture and try again. (A cool video on Seagrave's home page shows LASSIE doing its tricks.)

Company founder Charles Seagrave, a former Dolby engineer, says the system can quickly find acoustic flaws that hours of traditional analysis might miss. A basic LASSIE system with 49 meters and analysis software costs $2,500, and stands are $1,000 for 25. That's probably more than enthusiasts will want to spend for something they won't use often, but Seagrave is happy to direct you to installers in your area who are using his system.