The Room and the System

One well-attended seminar on Friday (presented once only) covered the listening room and its effect on the system. Chaired by Richard Bird of Rives Audio, it offered advice from four experts on room design and acoustic treatment. While much of the information will be old news to long-time audiophiles, the advice presented new listeners with a heads-up on the importance of the room.

One of the subjects discussed was acoustic isolation. This is a very different subject from room treatment per se, as the treatment applied within the listening room will have little or no effect on sound leakage to other rooms. There's no real substitute for the mass of the intervening wall and/or the distance from the sound source. When I designed my previous home in Santa Fe, I used both considerations—though imperfectly—to separate a new listening room from the rest of the house.

Speaker placement also generated many questions. The rule of thirds or fifths was mentioned several times. Take the dimension of the room down which the speakers fire, divide it by three or five, and position the speakers and listener multiples of those dimensions from the front and back wall. Richard Bird also mentioned a 38% rule, which is new to me. Presumably this positions the speakers 38% of the room length from the front wall and the listener 38% of the room length from the back wall).

Equalization was also discussed as a way to mitigate problems that can't be completely solved by placement, particularly in the bass, where acoustic treatments can be impractical in most domestic rooms.