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The Emperor’s and the Beatnk’s New Clothes

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Fact #3

Never underestimate the effect your room has on the sound you hear.

Years ago, I discovered it was a total waste of time for me to evaluate equipment in a room other than my own. Over the years there have been a few friends’ listening rooms that I came to know the sound as good as my own, but even then I could only get a glimpse into how something would sound in my system. In the end, all that ever matters to me is how something affects the sound of the system in my room. Just think about all the ways that rooms are different. Does the room have hardwood floors or carpeting: stucco, plaster, or sheetrock; windows on both sides or no windows at all; rectangular, square or irregularly shaped; high or low ceilings; small, medium, or large dimensions; lots of furniture and bookcases or sparsely furnished; lots of lights, lamps, computers, or other stuff on the same AC breaker, or a dedicated line. I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting, but you get the idea. Then there is the fact that the room is the thing that is hardest to work with for several reasons. For many audiophiles, the first and biggest reason is the old “wife acceptance factor,” but there is also the fact that most people have no idea how to work with their room so they just opt for putting it off to later. The only problem with this is it may cause you to waste lots of money when all you needed to do is move a chair, or hang some drapes.

The reason I’m writing about all this right now is because I’m getting ready to change some things in my own room and I’m wondering how my sound will survive the changes. One of the changes involves upgrading the AC in my house to solar-powered. I’ve done a lot of research to see how this will effect my sound system, but in the end I can’t know until it’s done. Another change is brought about by my wife’s horror that we still have the same old worn out carpet in the listening room. She wants me to get rid of the carpet for something more modern, like stained concrete, hardwood, bamboo, or maybe cork. My problem is that I can’t decide what kind of floor would change the sound of my system the least, or at least not make it worse.

Now, I bring all this up because I want us all to be more conscience of the sound of our system in our room, not because I want to write reviews that talk about how the midrange, bass, and soundstage of a cork floor sounds compared to stained concrete. I’ve got an idea: how would you enjoy a comparative review of the sound of different drapery material? I sure hope you think this is ridiculous and I have no plans of writing such reviews, but who knows, there are lots of reviews written about the furniture we sit our equipment on. I even read a review a few years ago of a product from Italy called “Audio Carpet”.

While all those things do affect the sound, and are part of putting a system together, that doesn’t mean we need people to start making audio carpet or audio drapes. It does mean we need to think about the system as a whole before we do the audiophile thing and just go out and buy a new component. I dare say that if you have been in this hobby for over twenty years you can name several pieces of equipment you should have never gotten rid of but did. The problem is while it’s expensive, it is also easy to buy new stuff. There’s also the fact that the brain almost always tricks you into liking something you’ve just spent big bucks on is good.

Before you buy a lot of expensive acoustical treatments, move things around. Move furniture, movie paintings, hang different things on the walls, open and close drapes. Yes, I have about $2,000 in acoustical treatment in my room, but moving my listening chair and hanging an alpaca rug, made just as much difference. Never forget everything in the room either vibrates, absorbs, reflects, or defuses the sound. Thus, everything affects the sound, so you have to work at it, not just throw money at it.

Fact #4

Once you get it right have enough sense to leave it along.

It take so much work to get electronics to sound like music in a room not built for sound, that when you get where you love it, don’t go and muck it all up. If there is one thing I have learned as a review, it’s that you can only change one thing at time, if you want to know how that one thing affects the sound. It has taken me ten years of work in my current listening room to get it where it is now, and I can tell you that small changes can really mess up the sound. Don’t go and sell something to buy something new until you have heard them both in your room. Sometimes it pays off, but honestly it a crap shot to whether it will make your sound better or worse.

So, I hope with a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck you’ll find yourself boppin’ to your favorite music in your own home.

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