Room acoustics without tears

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Room acoustics without tears

Of all the chronic problems endemic with the audiophile experience, the thorny subject of room acoustics is perhaps the most intractable. Traditionally, hi-fi enthusiasts have spent a disproportionately large amount of time and money focused around the components in the audio chain and a disproportionately small amount of the same on the way those products work in a room. An audiophile might spend the bulk of their budget on the system and next to nothing on room treatment, where their professional counterpart is likely to spend far more on the room and far less on the ‘toys’.

I think we have got it very wrong. Getting the room right can make the sound of a system, and getting it wrong can make even the best system sound awful. And, as we plunge ever deeper into the 21st Century, room treatment becomes ever more important.

There has been a major shift away from the loudspeaker in the home as the primary source of recorded music replay. Instead, more people are doing the bulk of their listening in car and on headphones. Both of these are controlled environments (unlike a living room, which varies in size and shape with each listener, the interior of a car or between driver and ear in a headphone is a predictable space) and both have seen significant improvements in recent years. This can make the more unpredictable response of a loudspeaker in a room sound uneven by comparison, without some form of treatment.

In addition, rooms are often getting smaller. We in the UK are blessed with some of the smallest living spaces in the developed world. Unlike most countries in Western Europe, the UK has no regulation in place to ensure homes are built to a proven acceptable size, and a 2011 study by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) found that new build three-bedroom properties were on average eight per cent smaller than those acceptable size norms. Put another way, many modern UK three-bedroom homes are smaller than the minimum recommended size for a two-bedroom home in France or Germany. And considerably smaller than our US counterparts.

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