the Listening Room

Many of you may know us, we design listening rooms. While we offer fixed prices for different levels of consultation, no two listening rooms are the same and some vary wildly. I am interested in hearing what you all want to get out of your listening room. I have my own biased opinion, that the listening room is often the most important component of any system (and unfortunately frequently ignored to a large degree). Let's suppose that you could get an acoustical engineering group like ours for free, but you still had all other constraints. You could a great deal on materials to impliment the design but you still had whatever other considerations you have in your life (I don't have space for a dedicated listening room, I can't have ugly acoustical treatement in the room, I can't move walls in my house). Try to be qualitative rather than quantitative. I'm not really that interested in hearing about the specifics of rooms--I'm more interested in hearing about end result goals, such as: I need sound isolation (I like to listen loudly at night and don't want to wake up my wife), or my room sounds dead--I feel like I have a head cold when I walk into it. The other aspect that would be very helpful, at the end of the post, please put a percentage of 2 channel vs HT or multi-channel you listen to. You may even be in the camp: "the room doesn't matter much, I like buying new pieces of equipment instead" That okay too--I'd like to hear from you as well. Some people may not understand the importance of room interaction on the sound, that's okay too--if you had free consultation what would you do or ask in order to get a better listening room.
Hi Rives.
I may not be representative of the typical case, but I would go for the maximum result regardless of convenience or decoration factors. I don't have anyone here but me and my pets, so we can accomodate anything that makes better sound. Cost is a factor, because I am frequently broke from buying audio equipment, and still paying for the usual life expenses.

My specifics wants, would be to tailor the room to an appropriate level, which would not be so absorptive as to rob my low-power system of the needed SPL that I have very little of. I am using 2 watts now, with 100db Lowthers, placed 4' out into the room. And the room is large, with high vaulted ceilings, so every db of SPL output is very precious. My listening position is fixed, and doesn't require any latitude.

I think that ensuring that there is a control of the most offensive reflections, and control of any peaks in the response at my listening chair would suffice for me.
I, OTOH, have lots of power available, a reasoanbly large room and no UPstrairs neighbours (they're down). So, I would like to:
a) fix the imaging & ambience (with little aesthetic compromise) &
b) also be able to play normal-a bit loud (~90db) after-hours.

If I can't have it all, "a" is more important than "b". Cheers!

I have a dedicated listening room. I can have ugly acoustical treatments. I can't move walls in my house. My speakers only go down to 50hz and I don't have an over abundance of power feeding them so maintaining my bottom end is a must. While I don't have any major complaints I will list my ultimate goals:

1. Best imaging.
2. Best stage depth.
3. Maximize detail.
4. Maintain perceived volume.
5. I listen at night and don't want to interfere with my wife's sleep.

100% of my listening is 2 channel. I don't enjoy buying more equipment. I hope this is what your are looking for.

I live in California. The preferred architectural style in this area is the open floor plan. It is quite difficult when house hunting to find suitable audio rooms with four closed walls, and you can't change the walls around without reducing the resale value. If you can work on ways to define and treat an 'audio area' without having to build a separate room (impossible anyway with small lots), you would provide real assistance.
Just a thought, needs ingenuity.
I listen to music in a beautiful space, and my view is as important as my music. I sit in a glass and concrete study 3 floors up, in the trees, with a small grass court outside the space. I am looking at beautiful fall color right now, listening to Blood Sweat & Tears. Dispite the hard materials of the room, it is not too hot acoustically. The seasons and time of day affect what I listen to. It is nice to connect the music to nature.
I also have physical constraints: moving walls is impractical (until my wife gets the second story she wants), no ugly treatments allowed, semi-open floor plan ("wall" behind the seat is open) and the room is normally high traffic.

I'm looking for a way to isolate the room so I can listen louder more often. Heavier doors? What can I rebuild the existing walls out of? Sliding panels or folding doors to temporarily close the open "wall"?
I have a similar situation to Flex above, regarding the layout of my house (WA, not CA). Since I am at a point in my career where I move every few years, I can't afford to do anything to lower the resale potential of my house.

Therefor, I will tell you what I would like in the future, not my current listening space, which doesn't leave much flexibility.

I would look for a room design where I could listen to relatively loud music without sounding strained, and without interfering with my wife watching TV elsewhere in the house. Asthetics would be secondary, but I wouldn't want to feel like I was in a laboratory either. Additionally, I have no problem living with the same speakers for a long time, so I would not hesitate to have a room optimized for a particular pair of speakers.

My current listening is 100% 2-channel music, and if I could change my entire system today, it would still be optimized for 2-channel music, but I would add surround for watching movies.

BTW, thanks for all the excellent information that you provide in this forum.

For me it comes down to a trade-off; while I CAN afford to live with any number of aesthetic deviations, it had better be for a dramatic improvement in sound. I have beautiful wood floors that I'd hate to cover up, but if necessary I would. I collect fine art, and giving up all this great but still limited wall space for sound absorption, diffusion or refraction devices kind of sucks. If they could be incorporated together al la a gallery, that would be a good trade-off.

Not having a perfect rectangle, with only two real corners in the room, both running along the same long wall, and a variable (vaulted 8-10") ceiling, I would look for a degree of options. Thanks for listening to your potential clients.
For me it would have to be sound isolation and control without making the room look like a recording studio.
Only time I can listen to music at the volume that I enjoy ( sort of loud ) is when the house is vacant.
This room is for listening to music only
I also agree with Mburns92, your advice is always helpful
and welcome.
Thanks, Rick.
I am building a house and i purchased the house specifically because it had a gameroom upstaris taht could be truned into a dedicated room. Now for me dedicated might not be the same as the real audiphiles since i do want the room to be used for entretaining and I would like to make it into a comfortable room were you can listen to music, watch a movie OR talk with friends. The look of the room should be inviting and I would not like for it to look like a HI FI store. Having said that, I am very willing to put "nice looking" (whenever possible) room tratments to take the best of my equipment. So, in conclusion, looks do matter to me but the performance is ultimately the most important.
I have always worked it the other way. When I moved I completely rebuilt my system to sound good in the new room. Interestingly, it ended up costing less than the system that sounded great in the old room. I sank the extra cash into LPs, that's always my first priority.
Rives, if the consultation was free then I would ask how I could make my room acouticaly neutral, child,pet proof and easily maintained for as little money as possible. Cost, safety and inconvience would be concerns.
-Dedicated room, all 2 channel
-Would like to get thorough analysis of room acoustics and see some component placement recommendations.
-Would have a hard time getting the wife to allow door, window, or wall rebuilding.
-Visual asthetics be damned, I usually listen in the dark.
Thank you all for your responses thus far. Some of these response are a little bit what I expected--some are not. I would like to comment on a few. First is aesthetics. Room acoustics do not have to be ugly. If you have an existing room and you want to do it very inexpensively, the ugly treatment will get you there. But for really, very little money, acoustical treatment can virtually disappear. In new construction, there is never a good reason to show acoustical treatment, as it can be less expensive and often work better when it's built in. The second issue is functionality. This, so far, has only come up a few times but I feel like it is tremendously important. When designing (or re-designing a room) you really have to take into account total functionality. Will the room be used to entertain, do you have children or pets that like to play with those knobs and chew on the hose like stuff coming out of the back of the speaker. These are very important real world issues and any acoustical engineer that is designing a listening room for the home needs to be attentive to these things. Unfortunately, many think they are designing a room for a studio. The home environment is not a studio. The one that can be very challenging, and came up twice is the open floor plan. This can be difficult particularly if you have a situation that has a lot of "hard" surfaces and little way to cover them without harming the aesthetics. These rooms take a lot of time to figure out, but we have had some result in stellar sound that was better than some of the small rooms we've done.
Again, thank you, this is all very helpful to me and please continue with more rooms.
I am lucky to have a dedicated, 2 channel music room. For me, the goal would be to eliminate any effect the room has on the musical preformance. The primary concern and challenge is recognizing what defines a technically correct solution. For example, if the room set up is acoustically flawed, without on-site assistance by someone with golden ears, how do I recognize what I am listening for or know when I am "there"?

We have just finished remodeling our dedicated HT and music room. It will be used for about 50% HT and 50% two-channel listening.

I listen to mostly acoustic jazz so my first goal is to accomplish extremely smooth and articulate bass with no change in volume as the player moves up and down the fretboard.

I can't stand a dead room so I will be looking for a lively sound but without echo or too much reverberation. A fine line I know.

I don't mind acoustical treatments showing as long as they are artistic looking and fit into the scheme of the room's decor. Actually I think their apperance can add to the room's purpose and feel.

As this is a dedicated room we don't have to worry about children or pets creating any problems.

Hope this falls into the type of situation you are looking for.

GLASS, always a problem.
High frequency glare and fatigue.
Deep bass with good imaging.
These have tended to be my issues and solving them has taken a lot of trial and error with both room and equipment modifications. A consultant who could give me a short list of things to try would be great.
I found that just putting paintings up in the room helps a lot. My roomate paints prolifically on large canvas and in 2 minutes I covered each wall with a good size painting (it is not a dedicated room - it's the living room) and was impressed with how much better the stereo sounded - more natural bass and cleaner highs mostly - and the paintings look great to boot. Surprised few ever mention this idea. I think it is great and works great. Arthur
Like several here, I already have a dedicated room (and would require one in any future home), so the WAF is not an issue, but the overall sound levels are. 100% is 2-channel, altho there's a 27" TV for the occassional football game.

The first priority for me is basic functionality - is it comfortable for me to use - room for gear, easy access to source material, good lighting/ventilation/etc. Second comes ease for others - it's hard to listen if your significant other is always yelling for you to turn it down. Thus, good soundproofing is mandatory. After that I have to look at my wallet for what I can afford. Current environment is spacious and I still enjoy my ML SL3s, so about the only significant need is some bottom end extension.
Rives, Flat frequency response, great soundstaging & precise imaging are very important to me, but if I were planning a dedicated 2 channel listening room a would expect more from it. The space would have to take advantage of the property's natural views and light which means incorporating windows and doors into the design. I don't want to listen to music in a space isolated from my surroundings. The room should blend with the existing architecture. The listening room would be used for family & friend gatherings so this space would have to be safe,warm, very comfortable and inviting. It should be a place that could inspire the soul and relax the mind. The only audio equipment I would want visable would be the speakers and their cables. Electronically, the music's path would be as short as possible and as simple a configuration as possible (no electronic tone controls). All the room dimension ratios, acoustic treatments and tweaks would be there but seem effortless and unimportant and go unnoticed to the casual observer.
Thanks again to everyone. It's very helpful to understand the thoughts on the room from those that have not used an acoustical engineering service. Dovetail in particular--that is the room I like designing. There is so much more to the room than JUST the acoustics. The acoustics should disappear and blend with the surroundings so that it all seems effortless in achieving great sound. And of course, if it's designed right, you don't need tone controls--it's only when we are stuck in sub optimal rooms that parametric (not really tone controls) adaptation is required. Anyone that took the time to post here, I appreciate it. As such, if anyone who posted here has any specific questions about their room please e-mail me. No, I'm not going to do room design for you, but if you have a specific question about an aspect of your room, e-mail me and hopefully I will have some suggestions for you to try.
Hope its not too late to post but this is a fascinating area and one I think which limits my systems sound and probably many others. A number of very good points were made but I have a bit different perspective. We rennovated our main family room/dining room which has vaulted ceilings and opens into at least 2 other rooms. It was only afterwards that my wife, who loves music, suggested it ok that we put in a new stereo. The 2 channel system (we have no intention to go to home theater) plays music throughout the house and really removes any need for considering multiple speakers or other systems. The big issue with us is that a piano also sits in the room, and 'crowds' the stereo, limiting speaker positioning, but it can't move till we do another reno. Other issues that are important and affect the sound quality are a bay window (you comment on this in your web site), lots of hardwood (even with a rug) and proper positioning of a listening chair. I am reluctant to consider a formal consultation because I think there may not be much that can be done currently till we move the piano out (ie there may be good suggestions but they will be hard to institute because of poor WAF). I think that a dedicated listening room may not necessarily be an ideal situation because having the set up the way we do now lets us enjoy the music a much larger part of the day. By the way, the subject was very interesting and I think not enough attention is given. Thanks for doing this, I hope to be in touch when we start thinking about new renos in about a year to see what we can change with advance planning. Sorry if this seems like idiotic rambling.
Hi Rives. I have a spare room that is in the process of being converted into a 2 channel only "listening room".
The room is 10'8" X 13'4" and has a 6' closet door on 1 long wall and the short walls have a door on 1 and a double window on the other. The other long wall is all sheetrock/plaster and butts the living room. I have the speakers along the short wall with the window for now. I can't put the speakers on the closet wall or door wall, but could put them on the other long wall.
2 questions.
1. Short wall or long wall speaker placement.
2. sound isolation and control without making the room look like a recording studio. Only time I can listen to music at the volume that I enjoy ( sort of loud ) is when the house is vacant.
System is: Monitor Audio 8i's
Bryston 4b pro
VTL 2.5 with MC/MM Phono
Music Hall mmf 7 TT
Music Hall mmf cd25
Synergistic Research Master Control Center
Synergistic Research and Acoustic Zen cables
Sorry for the long email, but I thought too much was better than not enough in this case.
Thank you very much, your expertise and suggestions are greatly appreciated
Gajgmusic: While your situation is unique--it is not so unique. Everyone has certain things about the room they can not or will not change for one reason or another (WAF, kids, aesthetics, etc.) This is very normal and must be considered in any type of design. I think this is one of the main barriers to hiring an acoustical design group, and something that I really feel compelled to respond to. In any group that is worth their salt there should be several important stages in the process. The first is the "discovery" stage. That handles what we are dealing with, what is the room like, what does the client want, what things can or can not be changed. The second is a preliminary concept (or ate least understanding the boundaries and the possibilties within those boundaries), i.e. "We can do this, but you might need to move this or add a rug etc". This stage is just to see if the client is willing to do what is necessary to get a rewarding listening environment. At this point either there can not be a good compromise to get good acoustical results, or there is agreement on what needs to be done. If there is agreement in principle, then it is time to come up with a full plan including a budget, schedule and payment. If not, then nothing else is done, and no one has paid anything. What I am basically saying is that you should have nothing to lose in giving a acoustical group a design and saying "can something be done to help me?" They might say, "Yes if you move the piano"--which you aren't willing to do and thus they may not be able to help. We use an "application form" to start our design processes and the reason is so that we can understand if we really can help our client--if not we let them know. room is 14x24x8, asymmetric, with a double-door opening on the right rear, and another behind me. AND I also have a 7' Steinway B near the front wall.
The only room geometry that worked was to set up a nearfield triangle (7.5') in FRONT of the piano (which is slightly angled back), with my seat at the very rear of the room, with that opening behind me. The room is of course well-carpeted, and I use a sofa (L) and stuffed chair (R) with a pillow popped on top of each for an occasionally too-splashy sidewall mix). The chore was to find a full-range speaker with orchestral/rock peak ability (3-way) that cohered in the nearfield without taking my head off sitting on-axis...and had a generous center-fill. B&W Nautilus were quickly proved terrible; Thiel 2.3, Ariel 7b weren't bad; Revel Performa F30 worked well, but had really poor WAF.
I eventually stumbled upon Verity Parsifal Encores and heard my jaw drop upon first listening!
I continue to experience a GREAT, wider than speakers, ULTRA-deep soundstage that provides remarkable satisfaction.
Even a great acoustician engineer/friend (Tom Horrall, who's since gone over to the multi-channel crowd) was surprised at the success of my setup (though I still can't forgive him for the bellylaughs everytime he asks me what I spent for cables...). So maybe you too can try an imaginative geometry that works in your room WITH your piano.
Don't be afraid to pull your speakers FORWARD of the piano. That "back" half of the room can provide a GREAT stage.
It's not uncommon for me to "see" singers, tenors, drummers, and of course pianists sitting reight beside the piano. It's just phenomenal for acoustic jazz.
Good Luck.
Dear Reves:

I appreciate your comments greatly. It makes complete sense that you will have to know what is there, what is changable and what is not and then decide if there are options. I will have to start giving this more consideration.

Dear Subaruguru:

Thanks for the comments too. Your room sounds not dissimilar to mine. It gives me hope to consider more options. I too thought strongly of the verity, which are wonderful speakers with high waf, but ultimately went with piega p8ltd which also have very high waf and are room kind.
I'm in the same camp as G_m_c. I listen to music on a 2nd floor (which is the main level) looking out into the trees. Visuals in life are as important to me as listening. Both bring me tremendous joy & peace. The two are not mutually exclusive. There are certain speakers (very good ones) that I would never buy because I couldn't look at them. I listen in a large, open, space in excess of 10,000 cubic feet. The negative is that is that spaces such as this are a bit too reverberant, the positive is that they have a spacious feel & sound. Specifically to the original question: I would want a consultant to tell me where treatments would be effective and let me (a designer / builder) balance the design/sound equation based on the consultant's skills (data, fundamental engineering) in conjunction with visual design.

Architects & engineers, painters & musicians have worked together for centuries. Seems like sometimes we audiophiles may polarize what please our eyes & ears perhaps too much.

It not always the wife who care how it looks :) Thanks for starting this thread.