How important is the speaker/room interface?

In my years in this hobby, I've come to believe the speaker/room interface is one of the most important elements we face in building a satisfying audio system. And while it seems there is a growing realization of this point (emphasis on speaker placement and room design), I don't believe it yet receives the attention it deserves. For example, some folks who have never addressed the sonics of their listening rooms may spend weeks and significant money trying out different wires when a different speaker system and/or room treatments could provide far greater sonic improvements.

I have three friends who have the same make/model speaker as I own. I've listened to each of them with the same or similar amps, yet the sonic results are significantly different. The primary difference is the rooms -- volume, shape, construction, decoration, etc. So while I've made adjustments in my own speaker/room to improve it to a reasonable extent, I know my speakers could sound better in a more optimized room based on this experience. No change of sources, electronics, wires, tweaks, etc. could effect as much difference.

I'm thinking about this now since I just read the HFN history in "Sound Bites" by Kessler and Harris. In a 1994 interview by Ken Kessler with Peter Walker, Walker is ask what he believes still needs to be addressed in audio. His first response is the relationship of the speaker and room.

So, any thoughts as to why the speaker/room interface is not more universally considered the top priority in building a system?
I think it remains last on the list because of the WAF. It's hard enough to sneak a new turntable past the wife, let alone large bass traps, L.O.L.
I also think that the speaker/room interaction is one of the most overlooked aspects of system set up. I'm certainly not sure why, but I think most people just don't realize the importance. Most dealer setups are horrendous, even at shows like the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, where some wonderful equipment will sound so bad that you'll beg to get out of the demonstration room.

See what the Sumiko Master Set method did for me at:

Like you say, it's like spending thousands of dollars on equipment, only better.

First I would say in many situations it is WAF and SAF (self acceptance factor)....some rooms are gonna indeed be a bit visually challenged if the true problems are addressed in a affordable way. But mostly I think it is the following.......but what do I know?
I mainly think it has to do with the fact that purchasing products to tame the room and optimize performance just isnt "sexy" for many who see the need to improve the system with another amp, speaker, cable and so on. The shame of it all is many times the need to "improve" the sound has a direct relationship with the ignorance of the rooms limitations and sonic the enthusiast gets on a hamster wheel he cant jump off of as the proper path is all backwards.
05-21-08: Frank_sm said:
"I think it remains last on the list because of the WAF. It's hard enough to sneak a new turntable past the wife, let alone large bass traps, L.O.L."

That's not a minor point. I've got a work-around for this so long as your speakers aren't too heavy. Once we determined the optimal position for my speakers using the Sumiko Master Set method, then I carefully measured the positions in relation to the wall. Using a laser-line, rule with 1/16" increments and level, I'm able to replicate my setup for serious listening and, when I'm done, move the back to the high-WAF positions.

So, any thoughts as to why the speaker/room interface is not more universally considered the top priority in building a system?

Studios spend a fortune in this area with bespoke speakers built into walls in custom designed and treated rooms. Perhaps sound quality isn't really such a high priority for most audiophiles. Perhaps it is more of a gear collecting, displaying and trading kind of hobby.
While I can understand how the often mentioned WAF can be a major consideration even for those of us with very accommodating significant others it can be a case of just not knowing what is the right thing to do. It is just easier to change a wire or a component and listen for the improvement (or not) while probably the most important aspect, the speakers' interaction with the room is simply put in the too hard basket. I have experimented with positioning and am probably optimized now but I believe I still am not getting the best out of my system because of anomalies in my room which is not purpose built but dedicated to my system.

I have, however taken the plunge and gone with Acustica Applicata products in an attempt to fully realize my system's potential in my room. I have taken accurate measurements of my room and provided a drawing, photographs and a commentary about my set up and they have returned with what they believe is optimized positioning of their DAAD's based on computer modeling of reflections. I will have it set up in about 3 weeks so I'll let you know how it goes. Still a bit of a leap of faith for me.

By the way, I got my wife's OK prior to making the decision. Didn't know her eyebrows could go quite that high!
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The reasons are obvious as to this trend along with actual Power delivery from the wall being last on the list.. First off you can't just get online and get the immediate satisfaction of owning something new and pretty, or that is Highly reviewed and shipped out to youÂ…

Secondly rooms are the most expensive if you break it down and need to do it right.. Not to mention this is not an end user's capability to measure, and or construct and tune such devices in a room..

Any of us can pull out the credit card and drop the thousands on cables that we know how to plug in, the components that are suppose to be the next best thing, and the Re-mastered music software we feel will correct much of the missing pieces in the system.. Bottom line in the end, we all finally learn "I wish I just dropped 10 k on the room vs. the speakers in the first place!" But in many peoples cases this is not feasable, via the WAF rule, or simply other environment restrictions.. Yes we all need and deserve dedicated rooms :-)

So yes rooms can make or break any system in my opinion, and the real issue is about it that unless its done right some may never realize they can get the same or just as enjoyable sound out of their 5000 dollar gear as they could when they were forced to go up the chain chasing the trail of smoke and reason getting into 50,000 dollar systemsÂ…
It is not one of the most important, it is THE most important. A poorly matched room can make a $100,000 system sounds like $5000 mid-fi.
The speakers and the room essentially form an acoustical circuit. Approximately 50% of the sound we hear is indirect--bouncing off other surfaces or pressurizing due to room boundaries. Their interaction is huge. Have you ever heard a speaker that is way too big in a small room? Sound boomy and completely out of balance. Likewise, a small monitor in a very large room will sound anemic.

Any type of equalization (digital or analog) should be done as the last step. The corrections have their own issues, which I won't go into, but suffice to say the best EQ is no EQ if and only if you can get a proper response without it. If you can't then EQ can be a valuable tool to fine tuning, but don't try to ignor the room thinking that EQ can solve all woes--it can't.

Simple and most important things to do is first have appropriate speakers for the room (size wise), second be able to place them and the listener in good locations for best performance, third install the appropriate acoustical treatment (it can be concealed visually), and lastly use an EQ to touch up what might not have been possible by acoustical treatment (almost always in the bass from boundary conditions that can not be changed).
I can only echo what Dave said. . . I also got my Mahler speakers professionally placed according to the Sumiko MasterSet by Rod Tomson at Soundings. . . not only the setup made a world of sonic difference, but wife comments positively about the music more frequently than before. . . besides, she likes the new placement a lot better visually as well.
You guys of course know that Vienna Mahlers may sound boomy when not placed correctly. . . well, there is no boominess, nor sense of fuzz anywhere. . . sound is simply full, tuneful, detailed, crisp, and clean. . . and yes, my room is somewhat irregular, with a 6ft lonv 45 degrees cutout just to the left of the left speakers. . . and the left wall having very different absorption characteristics from the right wall. . . the trick is simply that speaker placement is not made by looking at their visual simmetry, but by LISTENING with your EARS and moving them very minutely -- according to simple rules -- until they sound correct/optimized.
What is a Sumiko MasterSet? I looked this up once and never found anything on it....
Yes, the room is perhaps the biggest factor, along with your ears/hearing (which biases your listening experience but you have no real control over this part) and relative listening position. If you take the room and relative listening position into consideration before going full hog on buying the best or most expensive equipment, you will zero in on highly satisfying results without having to break the bank. Then, you can tweak to your hearts content with the equipment that floats your boat from there.

Take a rock group, jazz ensemble, chamber orchestra symphony orchestra or soloist and put them in three separate concert hall venues and each will sound different. Or, sit in three different locations during the same performance within the finest venue and each location will sound different.

Why would anyone expect this to be any different with a home sound system?
I forgot to mention speaker placement within a room as another key factor for optimizing sound in any particular room.

I tend to like point source speakers in moderate sized to somewhat larger rooms several feet away from rear or side walls best. I feel that something resembling this configuration is most commonly the most cost effective way to achieve outstanding results.

Line source designs or those closer to line source than point source can work well but these tend to be more expensive and also typically require larger rooms for good results.
"So, any thoughts as to why the speaker/room interface is not more universally considered the top priority in building a system?"

That's an easy one: because you can't sell people the latest and greatest "speaker/room interface". The basics laws of physics don't change. The best speaker placement in a room today is most likely the same one that existed 30 years ago.

It's a lot easier to make money selling the latest and greatest design or component innovation.

Unfortunately, like most things these days, its all about the $$$$$$s, baby!
I would like to mention that the best system I have ever heard, was one where the loudspeaker system was built into the room. This is the monitoring system at Focus Studios in Denmark. Robert E Greene described it in an Absolute Sounds article a few years ago. The experience from this room makes every high end system I have heard sound flawed. Every high end audiophile should hear this room before making a system purchase, as I believe Ole Christensen the designer, will be more than happy to make a room like that for any audiophile who desires the best.
05-21-08: Undertow asked:
"What is a Sumiko MasterSet? I looked this up once and never found anything on it...."

Hopefully before year end there'll be a DIY DVD out to help anyone do the Master Set themselves. Until then, it's a methodology for speaker placement that Sumiko teaches their dealers.

If you buy Sonus Faber or Vienna Acoustic speakers from a dealer it should be part of the deal. Otherwise, you can beg a Sumiko dealer to let you pay them to do it. In Colorado, Rod Tomson of Soundings, or one of Soundings other trained experts, will do on any speaker, for a fee.

I've done a review in the Review section of A'gon.

Sumiko also offers a free MasterSet performed by trained Sumiko personnel with the purchase of any new Sonus Faber Stradivari speakers from an authorized North American dealer.
And the 'minority' of audiophile that have not purchased Strads. . . can call their Sumiko dealers to determine if they can perform a MasterSet. All dealers have been formally trained, though not all of them have taken the time to hone their skills. As mentioned elsewhere, Soundings markets MasterSet as a service, and will perform it for any audiophile in North America. . . for less than the cost of a good power chord.
Kudos to Sumiko for providing a (standard) process/service for speaker placement. I'd be curious to hear how well it works when people try it.

Don't many speaker manufacturers provide directions for optimal placement in their manuals? For example, I recall when I owned a pair of Maggies that the manual went into great detail regarding optimal placement that worked very well. The only problem with those speakers was that achieving the optimal placement was not always very practical in my rooms, particularly from a WAF perspective. I marked the optimal location, picked the speakers up and moved them there when I could so the Maggies could sing. The problem of course was that when I did not place them optimally for whatever reason, the results were limited compared to the optimum, which bothered me as it would I expect any true audio affectionado.

Those of us fortunate enough to have a good sized dedicated listening room to do what is needed without constraint are very lucky audiophiles indeed. I have such a room, but it is only 12X12 (yes square!). It is cozy and things sound very good given the size, but is no substitute for a larger room to really let things sing. I have a larger room that I believe I've optimized speaker/room interactions in pretty well, but I must share it with the family, so it is not always available when desired.

Can't have everything, I guess!
Cool Looking Room

I want that studio for my listening room !

I'll have to check out a few CDs recorded in Blackbird studios!
I want that studio for my listening room !

Yeah but just imagine having to clean it - dusting all those surfaces...
Definitely low WAF having to clean or dust all those nooks and crannies.

I guess in my dreamworld that this could only occur in, I'd hire somebody to take of that aspect of it!