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RealTraps & Rives Audio Room Acoustic Treatments Review

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It is hardly a secret that the listening room makes a significant contribution to the sound of our systems, arguably as large as that of the gear itself. And yet, while audiophiles delight in trying new (and often expensive) equipment, the room often goes neglected.

My first hands-on exposure to room treatments occurred a number of years ago, when I was living in a condominium apartment. My listening room, which was also my living room, was long and narrow, asymmetric, and had a considerable amount of bare sheetrock. All-in-all, it sounded poor. In an effort to improve the sound, I purchased some relatively inexpensive absorptive panels, which I placed near the large television which sat between my speakers, at the first reflection points, and to the side of the speakers which opened to a dining room. My advice to audiophiles who have a large TV between their speakers is this: Get rid of it. It will represent one of the more significant sonic improvements you can make in your room. The panels made a clear improvement, and opened my eyes to the importance of room treatments. I promised myself that when I finally bought a house with a dedicated listening room, I would devote the necessary time and money into the room. Last year that day finally arrived.

When I first set up my system in my new listening room, the dimensions of which are 21’ x 15’ 8’, it sounded poor. The room had considerable slap echo, and the bass was sluggish and muddy. Placing absorbent panels at the first reflection points helped a little, but certainly not sufficiently. I needed help, in a big way. Because I had read a number of positive reviews about Rives Audio, and because I had a good feeling from the few times I had spoken with Richard Bird at audio meetings, I decided to take the plunge. After reading the information available on their user-friendly website, I placed a call to Richard.

We spoke about my room and my overall goals, and we decided that a Level 2 analysis made the most sense for my situation. The main features of the Level 2 include “theoretical acoustical room design combined with actual high resolution acoustical measurements analysis and engineering,” and “Full size schematics including assembly drawings.”

From the start to the finish, working with Rives was an absolute pleasure. Richard and his staff were at all times polite, conscientious, and responsive to my many inquiries. When I encountered a problem implementing one aspect of their design, Richard had a new plan to me within two days.

One aspect of Rives’ business model that especially appealed to me was the fact that with the exception of one product – the PARC (Parametric Adaptive Room Compensation) – Rives does not sell his own products to his customers. Rather, Rives is familiar with many of the commercially available room treatment products, and recommends whichever product(s) will best suit the individual customer’s needs.

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While Rives was drawing up the plans for my room, I asked whether RealTraps™ products would be suitable. I first heard about RealTraps™ a few years ago, and met Ethan Winer, one of the proprietors, two years ago at the HE Expo in New York City. In addition to liking Ethan on a personal level, I was especially impressed with the fact that Ethan goes to the trouble – and expense – of having the absorptive properties of each of his products measured by an independent laboratory. While some of the larger companies, such as ASC and RPG, similarly show data for their products, very few smaller companies do so. I also took a favorable view of the information Ethan provides gratis on AudioAsylum, including the construction and use of do-it-yourself products, which obviously provide no revenue to his company.

As with Rives, dealing with Ethan was a pleasurable experience. Calls to RealTraps™ are answered by Ethan, who is always willing to share his experience and offer advice. Products are delivered in a timely fashion and the customer is promptly notified of the tracking numbers. In the one instance in which I requested a special type of delivery, Ethan cheerfully accommodated. As with Rives, this is customer service at its finest.

After installation of the aforementioned products, as well as RPG Skyline diffusors on my ceiling and an area rug of dimensions specified by Rives, the sound in my room was improved enormously. For the first time I felt that I was hearing my system’s actual potential. Spectral analyses conducted by Rives revealed that the design goals had been achieved: The room had a reasonably flat bass frequency response, as well as the desired RT60. While I did not have “before” measurements, I daresay that they would have paled in comparison to those obtained “after.”

As is the case for many audiophiles, the audio road I’ve traveled has been a bumpy one filled with many missteps, some quite costly. Focusing on my room, and seeking professional guidance in doing so, is one the best – and arguably the smartest – decisions I have made. I enthusiastically endorse the services provided by Rives Audio, and the products from RealTraps™ (and RPG). Both have served me well, and have brought improvements to my audio system greater than I thought possible.

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