Tact demonstration at the recent HIFI show.
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Don Nigro had a room which was plaster walls, about an 8' high new sheetrock ceiling with a random pattern of joint compound as decoration and a t&g wood floor(yellow pine) with a carpet above. The effect was electric. He had drapes on the windows. In spite of doors to the back of the speakers and an open arch to the front of the speakers on one side it was very good.
I surmise that the plaster was so stable that it made up for the defects.
There was no sound isolation, nor intended absorbtion and the room was great.
I agree with you on the looks of a "treated" room. They can look pretty aweful. However, they don't have to. I sometimes think that much of the room treatement was designed to look ugly to please some audiophiles. For example, Sonex foam. It is no more effective than Owens Corning Fiber board covered with fabric. In fact the fiber board has a broader band absorption. So, if you want a great sounding room, but don't want to look at the typical treatment--you don't have to.
My home, which was built in the mid 50's, has really surprised me. I have a dedicated listening room that measures 14' x 23'-6" with an 8'-6" ceiling. There is a six foot opening into the rest of the home. The speakers are placed along the long wall, two feet into the room, and my listening position is at the opening to the rest of the home. Because of doors, etc. the entire system is somewhat off-centered in the room. The side walls are very different from each other. The only tweak I need to do when listening seriously is positioning the vertical blinds at the patio door so they act as a mini-trap/diffusor.
I'd be really happy with this except it's the only room in the home that hasn't been remodeled. Guys, this may be the ugliest room in the neighborhood but I'm too busy enjoying the music to bother with this upgrade.
Bookshelves, lots of bookshelves. Where there are no bookshelves a rough brick wall is also ideal. Normal furnishings should round things out to create a close to ideal acoustical environment. You don't want to cancel too much reflected sound or the room will sound dead. I agree with the above poster that cathedral cielings can sound great. The best room I have heard had a big stone hearth at its boundary - and the room extended all the way around it into a sort of foyer. Something magik happened as the sound travelled around that large defining element in the room.
It just so happens that my forty-two year old family room is among the best I've heard acoustically. We bought the house 4 years ago and I've had 4 completely different systems in that room ranging from about $4k to $32k retail. Each system had a special sound characteristic that in some ways are not reproduceable with the more current and expensive system upgrades, i.e. a certain mid-bass, etc..
o 18'L x 13'W x 8'H
o 3 large ceiling beams going parallel with
the front of the speakers.
o Real wormwood paneling with recessed joinery
every 6 inches or so.
o Built-in book cases behind each speaker.
o Few windows
o Thick berber carpeting with thick pad underneath.
o Large cloth pillowed sofa and large cloth ottoman
The only two things I've done in the room was install 3 dedicated circuits/lines for each component and I installed recessed lighting and dimmer (on opposing phase at the service panel) so that there'd be no floor or table lighting.
They say that room acoustics can make upwards of about 80% of the sound characteristics. I believe that to be true as some of my much cheaper systems in some ways sounded so much better than some $20k, $30k, and higher systems I've heard in dealers shops.
Luck of the draw.
My living room, I would kill for the sound I used to get in my living room. It had windows, stairs, furniture and knick nacks all over the place. I just got my system situated in my new dedicated room and it is horrible, the only way I can listen is to sit about 6ft from the speakers with them in the middle of the room. Stehno is sure right about the room contributing more to the sound than the system itself. My new room as it sits could have a million dollar system and it wouldn't matter. I guess I'm gonna have to go the ugly room treatment route.
This may sound dumb but the sound was improved in my system when I went from a sofa to a leather Lazy Boy. The Lazy Boy is the biggest they have and has a back that is 8" above my ears and is 38" wide. I had a very bright node 6" behind my head with the sofa, but with the Lazy Boy I can recline into that node area and it sounds smooth and natural. I figure it's all the over stuffing at each side of my ear and the fact that back reflections are absorbed and defused by the back side of the chair.
Also I have a number of wool rugs on a wood floor. Rug on rug, this is a very atractive way to deaden the bright floor. Wool curtains, full length even if the window is shorter. Wool curtains over a wall with Corning fiber board behind it, much like a movie theater (I have not done this in my house, but for a basement situation it would work good. I have installed this in a couple home theaters I've designed and it looks great, it's a great way to add color and texture to a room)
Streetdaddy, try looking at the Acoustic Sciences website for some basic information/theory on room acoustics. Typically, "deadening" the entire wall might be a bit much and a combination of deadening (especially in the corners) and diffusion works better. If you can try deadening the reflection points on the side and front walls as well.
Best untreated room was a friend's: 1920's house, cathedral ceilings, picture rails, record shelves on one side wall and a fireplace hearth with full-length plate shelf and built-in cabinets on the other side wall. The area behind one's head in the listening position was open to an archway and dining room. The area behind the speakers was broken up slightly by windows, sills, posts, and curtains.
To avoid getting bass traps and the like, try the Cardas speaker placement formula. It does wonders for mitigating standing waves and nodal bloats or suck-outs. That formula has saved me many hassles and perhaps many dollars in room treatments for bass problems.
Go to room setup.
I do not know if this is a re-hash of some other known acoustic formula. Don't care; it works. I think it may be mostly oriented toward cone-n-dome, dynamic speakers. Not sure. It's been a while since I read the whole thing.
It might seem that you have less bass in some frequencies at first. Those could have been bloated before. You will hopefully find that you get a more EVEN bass response and that everything integrates much better with the formula.
I am not affiliated with Cardas in any way. The only Cardas product I use is a phono interface box to convert DIN to RCA which I bought used from a friend.
I set my speakers up using the Cardas formula and it does really work. I couldn't get anything to sound good in my untreated room, until I set my speakers up using the Cardas formula. The only problem for me is that in my room that only puts me 6ft away from the speakers which for my taste is to nearfield.