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Rebuilding My Music Room, Part 1

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My main design goals

When I started the planning process I had five principal goals: 1) improve the electrical power supply; 2) improve bass response by opening up the south wall; 3) minimize floor vibration by adding support to the floor; 4) eliminate the asymmetry caused by the protrusion in the room; 5) build some bass trapping into the room construction. I’ll describe how each of these design goals was incorporated into the construction plans and how they changed as planning and construction progressed.

Electrical power. Several years ago I had my electrician install an additional 100 amp panel that ran off of the main electrical panel to the house. From there I ran three dedicated circuits for my audio equipment – one 15 amp circuit for my front end components and two 20 amp circuits for my amps. The electrician took extra care in the grounding scheme, and I never had issues with ground loops.

I recognize that this is already more than most audiophiles ever do with their power. However, time and again over the course of the ensuing years I encountered products that improved the sound by improving power delivery. Various power conditioners provided more improvement than component upgrades. The in-wall wiring similarly made a difference. One example I liked to demonstrate to visitors was to plug my monoblock amps into a single 20 amp outlet, then plug them each into separate 20 amp outlets. Many audiophiles who considered themselves experts would tell me that a single 20 amp outlet would be plenty, even for very high power amps. Nonetheless, when I used two 20 amp outlets instead of one they were all forced to admit that the music sounded more powerful and open. Even products with low power requirements sounded better with more power.

Because of experiences like that I was determined to go to extremes in this rebuilding. First, I specified that my electrician would start at the incoming power to the house, retighten all the connections throughout using a special silver paste to maximize connectivity, and replace thinner cable with 8 gauge cable all the way up to our main electrical panel. Second, I told him to use 8 gauge cable to connect to the dedicated music room electrical panel and move that dedicated panel to the opposite side of the west wall of my music room for easy access. Third, I told him that I wanted to install a large capacity isolation transformer right before the dedicated music room electrical panel. Fourth, I selected audiophile in-wall power cable to use in place of the regular home electrical wiring between the dedicated music room panel and the wall outlets, and I told him I wanted to run the entire system from a single 30 amp circuit. As you will see, several of these ideas changed significantly as planning progressed

Improve Bass Response.  I used to own B&W 800D’s that created difficult room modes in my room, both boom and cancellation. I had great success in taming those problems using a Lyngdorf RP-1 room correction processor. The RP-1 created a few tonal anomalies, but those were pretty minor and were far outweighed by the huge improvements in bass response and overall imaging. I subsequently acquired the Vivid G-1’s, which are side-firing and have tremendous bass output, and which produced significantly fewer bass anomalies. The result was that the amount of correction applied by the RP-1 was reduced significantly. Nonetheless, I wanted to further minimize the need for digital room correction though I never anticipated completely eliminating it because its effects are virtually always beneficial. [I also had a conceptual issue with the fact that the RP-1 took the analog output signal of my preamp, converted it back to digital to do its processing, then converted it back to analog before sending the signal to my amps. I’m not sure I ever actually heard any degradation to the sound, but I thought that I might change to room at did its processing at the same time it performed its digital conversion functions.] I thought that the best way to attack this was to expand my room dimensions, so I was thinking about taking down the South wall of my listening room and combining it with the dining room. I also thought I could remove the suspended wooden floor and gain 18 inches in floor-to-ceiling height, while at the same time reducing vibrations by having the floor directly on the concrete pad.

Once preliminary drawings were done it was clear that removing the suspended floor would not be practical. The resulting sunken floor would require step-ups to get to adjoining rooms, and that used up an unacceptable amount of floor space. I abandoned the idea of increasing floor-to-ceiling height.

The preliminary drawings also highlighted all the undesirable effects of completely removing the existing south wall of the music room. Not only would it require that an oversized supporting steel I-beam would protrude from the ceiling, but the resulting 50′ by 30′ room would be so disproportionate in relation to the rest of the house as to negatively affect our home’s resale value. Instead of removing the entire wall we decided on an 8′ wide and 7’4″ high opening with sliding barn doors. By opening or closing the doors (either fully or partially) I would be able to allow bass frequencies to escape the room, thus minimizing any resulting bass boom.

Minimize Floor Vibrations. Once we concluded that the suspended floor would have to remain, I decide to pour a concrete floor and remove the 2″ x 8″ wooden joists. The floor would cover the entire room and would create a very rigid floor. As you will see, this idea turned out to be impractical.

Eliminate the Asymmetry Caused by the Protrusion in the Room. I was convinced that the wedge-like protrusion in the ceiling that I mentioned previously was the cause of my room acoustics being shifted slightly to the left side of the main listening position. However, there was really no way to eliminate it because it was the result of a turn in a stairway located on the other side of the west wall. I decided that the best thing I could do was create an identical wedge-like protrusion on the southeast side of the room to mirror the existing one on the southwest side of the room. As it turned out, it didn’t quite accomplish the original goal, but had a series of different beneficial effects.

Build Some Bass Trapping Into the Room Construction. This was the fuzziest of my goals when we started. I had one 48″ and three 96″ free-standing ASC bass traps in the room, but had the feeling that I could add much more and achieve better acoustics. However, I didn’t want to clutter the room with a dozen traps, so I knew I’d need to get creative. After the electrical, the room’s bass trapping turned out to be the most educational experience. I literally made it up as we went along, but certain principles drove the decisions. First, I decided I needed a front wall acoustical soffit. Second, I realized that I could incorporate a built-in bass trap into the new wedge-like protrusion I was going to build. Third, I wanted it all to match and be aesthetically pleasing, so style was critical. You be the judge of whether I succeeded.

 

Equipment and materials tested during the process

Of course, I knew that I would go into major audiophile withdrawal during the 3-month construction period, so I wanted to line up a number of products to try out as part of the construction as well as some items that I could start to review in my secondary systems while the big rig was down. Here’s a list of things that I will describe in Part 2 of this 2-part series.

  1. Legacy Audio Wavelet
  2. GIK Acoustics Corner CT Alpha Bass Traps
  3. JPS Power In Wall Bulk Cable
  4. Furutech GTX-D NCF(R) Wall outlet
  5. Acoustic Carpeting
  6. Lessloss Reference Power Cords
  7. Stealth Dream v14 biwire Speaker cables

 

Big changes right off the bat

The first thing that changed as we commenced construction was the proposed concrete floor under the listening room. I had envisioned concrete under the entire floor, but once the floor was opened up it became clear that the positioning of certain HVAC ducts under the floor made this too complicated and expensive. As an alternative, my contractor suggested that instead we pour two 2-foot wide strips of concrete under the length of the room so that the concrete would abut and directly support the underside of the 2″ x 8″ wooden joists that ran across the width of the room. The effect of this would be to prevent any “bounce” of the floor under the equipment and speakers, since the strips would be poured under the location of the amps, equipment stand and speakers. This turned out to be one of the best decisions we made, as you will see in part 2 of this article.

The second thing that changed was elimination of the proposed isolation transformer for the dedicated listening room circuits. In order to feed all my equipment without any possibility of choking the amps (I biamp with high power amps) we were talking about a 500+ pound transformer that would need a pad and take up a material portion of the unfinished portion of my basement. More than anything else, however, there was some debate among the folks I consulted about the need for an isolation transformer in my electrical system. The power has tested pretty well, and has been consistently between 116 and 118 volts with no apparent system noise. This combination of factors made me decide to abandon the isolation transformer. Besides, I already had a separate isolation transformer I used to isolate my front end. Again, this turned out to be a good decision.

 

My Handyman and additional furniture

Of course, in addition to the construction work on the home, I had a whole series of additional non-construction tasks. I decided to build 2 additional amp stands to match my existing 2 Walker Audio amp stands. I also decided to build a custom equipment rack. To make sure everything matched, I elected to make all the wood shelves out of Jatoba wood and use the same stain throughout. Moreover, though I had originally planned to eliminate the dual wall-mount shelves that had been drilled into the room studs, I decided instead to keep them, but upgrade them by substituting 2-inch thick Jatoba wood shelves for the 1/2 inch thick plywood shelves that came with the units. So all-in-all I had my handyman custom-make 10 Jatoba shelves of varying sizes which would then be used to make amp stands, the equipment rack and wall-mounted racks.

I’ve had a significant number of room treatments that I accumulated over time. Not all of them matched, and it made sense to select a custom acoustic fabric and have all of them reupholstered with that fabric. Moreover, I elected to order additional acoustic treatments from GIK Acoustics and had the custom fabric sent to them so that everything would be consistent. I also told GIK to send all wooden parts unstained so that my handyman could stain them with the same color that was applied to the Jatoba shelves. (These may not be “audiophile” considerations, but why not have it all look good too?)

 

We have a Go

I finally had everything set in motion, and demolition began in earnest. In Part 2 I will cover what worked and what didn’t and the unexpected things that changed. I’ll also discuss the various specific acoustic and audiophile products I settled on using and how they perform. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I can tell you that I’m very pleased with the results!

 

Part 2

 

Copy editor: Dan Rubin

7 Responses to Rebuilding My Music Room, Part 1


  1. dave smith says:

    great looking room..great looking system…

    • Ed Momkus says:

      Thanks! Those are the “before” pictures. Hope you like the “after” pictures better when you see them.

  2. Keith says:

    Have you considered organizing and cleaning up the ugly cabling?

    • Ed Momkus says:

      Definitely. Part 1 of the article has the preconstruction pictures. Part II will have the “after” pictures. I should note that the room had a lot of unused extra equipment and cabling when the pictures were taken, all of which were removed when construction started. Some of the pictures show the extra cables.

  3. Fred Crowder says:

    What a great introduction to set the stage for the second part. I hope that as part of the article, you will address some of the choices you made and the reasons for those choices. For instance, why GIK and not ASC tube traps? Likewise, it would be interesting what you used for fill in your bass trap and how you determined the correct amount of fill. My experience is that you can over-damp a space. Did you use any diffusion, particularly behind your speakers?

  4. Paul says:

    Would like to learn more about your project because I recently upgraded my AC panel and wiring. I’m a big fan of room treatment, and have used GIK and ASC traps. It would be helpful to see your room diagram.

  5. Robert Baumann says:

    Very interesting! As it happens, I am currently remodeling a very similar room (former two car garage) so have faced some of the same questions. (For example, I had a new panel installed, but opted not to use the JPS in wall cable but did use ten gauge wire for four dedicated circuits. Using advice from Martin Logan’s website, I’ve run a ground wire from each outlet to the next, then to the panel. I’m lucky to have a cement floor, but I had it leveled with Artex leveling cement. I’ve added skylights, but don’t know what effect the shafts will have on the sound. Currently, I’m deciding whether to simply carpet or to add a wood floor with a large area rug over it. Thanks for sharing your experience. I’ll be looking forward very much to reading your next installment!

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