Alan Parsons, the man who engineered Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ and worked on The Beatles’ and Al Stewart’s recordings among many others, has recently sounded off concerning room acoustics and his opinion that sound properties in relation to room layout are far more important than buying high-end, overpriced, brand-named audiophile equipment.
He thinks that “in the domestic environment, (the) people that have sufficient equipment don’t pay enough attention to room acoustics. The pro audio guy will prioritise room acoustics and do the necessary treatments to make the room sound right. The hi-fi world attaches less importance to room acoustics, and prioritises equipment; they are looking more at brand names and reputation” (Source)
So how to make room acoustics fit hi-fi equipment, rather than the other way around, and what can individuals do to better room acoustics in a domestic setting?
“Audiophiles don’t use their equipment to listen to your music. Audiophiles use your music to listen to their equipment.”
There is a lot of information on improving domestic room acoustics (see Room Acoustics and Practical Room Acoustics among others) but for the purpose of this article there are simple things that the reader can carry out. The best rooms for listening to music are those which are at least 5m wide, about 7m long and with a ceiling height of around 2,5m. This allows the two loudspeakers of a stereo system to be placed symmetrically and with tweeters positioned at least one metre away from side and rear walls. With the two loudspeaker tweeters about 2,5m apart the sweet spot is located on the room symmetry line and at 2,5m from left and right loudspeakers. This leaves more than 3m behind the listeners for the sound to travel before it’s reflected back. It is very important for balanced phantom image creation that the immediate vicinity around the two loudspeakers is symmetrical.
Rooms can, of course, be much larger and with loudspeakers positioned further than 1m from side and rear walls, but the optimum listening distance for phantom imaging remains equal to the loudspeaker left-right separation or up to 1.5 times that value.
Room construction can vary widely, which tends to affect low frequency reproduction and sound transmission to and from neighbours. You take what you get and try to correct one or two frequencies if necessary. But, if the room is pleasing to live in, to have a conversation or to relax, is neither a dungeon nor a stuffed pillow, then it is also suited for accurate sound playback. The room should be furnished, have irregular hard surfaces, books and shelves for sound diffusion, rugs, pillows and soft surfaces for sound absorption at higher frequencies. Just keep it lively. The best loudspeakers will make you forget the room, if the room talks back from all directions in the same familiar voice.