Many years ago, I decided that my ear and brain were the best acoustic treatments sound could get. The thing with acoustic treatments in general is that dealing with one area often merely shifts the problem to another, hence those towering absorbing pillars that tend to sprout up around larger rooms. Sound quality is, to a large extent, a matter of personal taste, and this means that one man’s over-damped acoustic is another man’s flat room. And there’s that word ‘flat’. Place a microphone where your head is usually situated, play some tones, and you can see the room’s response with a spectrum analyser. I had an acoustician friend come to do this in my listening room and show me a picture of the room in real time. There were humps and dips everywhere.
Of course, knowing more precisely what is happening acoustically is only the start, but it does provide the means to attempt a correction. For instance, I was able to watch the effect that various devices had on my room’s response and then, by listening to music, make a judgement as to whether they actually worked and this, I think, is the crux of the whole exercise. It is completely understandable that you want your music to sound at its best. Getting there – acoustically anyway – is a very different story. Let’s face it, the sound and acoustics are never going to be perfect (whatever perfect is). For me, at least, there is little else that is as uncomfortable and atmospherically cloying as an over-damped room. I would say that a relaxed listening space is at least as important as an acoustically balanced one; achieving both can be difficult.
Acoustic consultants will design or treat spaces where music is to be played (or played-back) – be it a concert hall, recording studio control room or even a listening room – with a view to reverberation times and reflections etc. But there is no machine or set of calculations within their armoury that will guarantee that the space will actually sound any good. If there was, then concert halls and recording studio control rooms would sound a lot better than they do. The recording studio trend toward using small speakers of low quality affixed on or near the desk itself (let’s call them ‘near-field monitors’ as it sounds cooler) began as much for the unruly behaviour of mammoth cabinets with massive bass drivers traditionally employed as some sort of reference point. The problem was that these ‘near-field monitors’ provided no reference at all, but rather a cacophony of booming bass with cutting edge sizzle transplanted on top. Articulation? Forget it. Let’s listen through the little ‘uns.