The Room

Most often we hear folks saying the treble's too etched or sharp, sound is too bright and forward and piercing the ears, sound is 2-dimensional and flat, soundstage is lacking, not enough dynamics, bass is too loose or boomy etc. and often pass down comments of the equipment based on their listening experience. I wonder how many folks have a proper listening environment to pass down their judgements on the sound signature of the gears that are being reviewed or listened to. I am still in the learning process and have found that room treatments can have a huge impact on the sound, although in most cases results will vary with different rooms and environments.

I believe that any hard or bright-sounding components(perennial favourites are B&W speakers or Krell amps) when put together in an overdamped room will produce a sound that's dull to the point of being dead. Whenever I read comments on B&W's being harsh-sounding speakers, I don't know if they are being listened in a crappy room with bad acoustics or it's just the haters. Even with very minimal absorption on the sides and diffusion on the back, there is no issue with brightness at all. More absorption would kill off the high frequencies and make it too dull.

Just wanted to share my observations and experience. In my opinion, any particular description of any component's sound, taking individual listening tastes and preferences out of the context may not be too accurate based on the room layout and acoustics itself.

And just to point out, I am in no way associated with any room treatment manufacturers. Just a curious learner and currently still trying out different treatments to improve the acoustics in my small room. Have just got rid of the pyramid foams on my side walls as I figured out I can't live with the looks of it.
Absolutely. That is why a lot of reviews and opinions are bunk. I laugh when I read of someone testing out small 3-ways and huge 3-ways in the same room! There is no possible way that they are both optimized for that room. Same goes for people's opinions in general. Most systems I have seen haven't been setup carefully enough IMHO. Not to say mine is perfect but after 7 years of tweaking my system to match my room, and helping setup 4 other systems, I have a pretty good idea of what a happy marriage sounds like. I think many people don't feel like putting forth the necessary effort to experiment and explore. But I give the benefit of the doubt since not everyone has the same hearing.

As for B&W, I had a pair of N804 and definately found them aggressive on top. I wouldn't say bright per se but definately brash compared to my JM Lab Electra 926. They both have the same specs so I allow myself to compare them directly. The new S tweeter is a much more refined one IMO. But had I decided to work with the N804, I am sure I could have made them sound better in my room. Was it worth a year of tweaking? No, not since I had already been through that with my 926s (whose soundstage would have remained larger regardless, I am pretty sure). So do I feel the N804 are bad? Not at all! Just not right for my current room and equipment. Anyone who says such-and-such is "bad" has severely underestimated or failed to understand this concept.

I have been playing with corner traps for some time. Their impact on the imaging is remarkable considering the frequency range involved. I never in a million years would have thought that corner traps could affect the 1.5kHz range as much as they do. I have also found that their measured impact is way way smaller than their audible one - another sign that we are either measuring the wrong metrics or the measuring equipment (or technique) sucks. Perhaps it is the reduced band energy that is the change rather than certain "trapped" frequencies. Regardless, I have come to love my bass traps but it hasn't been easy getting them just right. I am currently on the 4 different set and found that for my room and tastes, the reflected side towards the room and 18"x48"x4" Corning 703 works best.

50% of the sound you hear in a well designed listening room is indirect--bouncing off other surfaces. Thus the room could easily be attributed to 50% of the sound quality. A modest system in a well designed/treated room will consistently outperform an "ultra-rig" in a poor room. It never ceases to amaze me at how many people will spend huge sums of money and completely ignore the room.

If you are looking for good resources, books, articles on the web, we've established a resource page on our website to help.

Here's the link:
Rives Resource Page
It's good to know that I'm not the only one who have noted the importance of room acoustics and the subsequent influence it would have on most systems. I think the major issue regarding room treatments is that most folks do not have a dedicated room and that would have compromised on their usage. Furthermore, I share the same opinion in that most people don't really care or put effort into experimenting as they may have the notion that room treatments are not necessary or ideal for some leisure listening in living rooms or lounge areas. Moreover, aesthetics play a huge part and I admit some products just don't cut it and can look awkward when placed on walls or in any part of the room. I'm fortunate to have a dedicated room for my rig and for a more critical listening environment I believe it's necessary not to neglect the room acoustics.

Reviews would be still useful in giving a general description of any particular component, but it's almost not applicable when tested in a different listening environment even with the same equipment and speakers. Different tastes and listening preferences are another story altogether.

If you feel the N804's are aggressive on top in comparison to your JM Labs Electra 926, then I think the JM Labs would be a much warmer pair of speakers. When I had the N805's, contrary to most comments on these speakers I find them to be on the warm side of things. In fact I was looking for more transparency and dynamics and that is the sole reason I've considered other speakers. It got to be the electronics then. Since you have the luxury to do a direct comparison between the two speakers, I do not doubt your findings that the tweeter in the Electras is more refined than the B&W's.

So you've had good success with Corning 703's bass traps. Interesting to note that they affect the imaging and midrange as well. All I know is that they do bring substantial improvements to the room acoustics in controlling the bass.
Rives- thanks for the link. Your comment on the sound quality being attributed to the room coincides with my experience. 50% is quite substantial though, but I may concur if I had my room covered with 50-75% of treatments! I'll leave the ceiling bare as for now.
By the same token, one can spend a large some of money on the room, and if poorly designed, end up with a poor sounding or even unlistenable room. Then you're in the same position of essentially chasing the right gear to make up for the bad room. Hostage negotiations with a bad room can get a bit costly, not to mention frustrating. So if you're going to do it yourself, or hire someone, make sure it is done right. Up front. Primum non nocere. And since I'm in a Latin mood, caveat emptor.
I wouldn't say the 926 is a "much warmer" speaker than the N804 although it does put out noticibly more bass despite the same rated frequency extension. This reduced bass output in the N804 goes a long way to improving resolution and perceived detail but it also tends to leave the treble high and dry. I sold them to a friend who has them in a smaller room (11x12 instead of 14x13) and they work perfectly in it. The room filled in the bass for better extension which makes the entire speaker sound more balanced and coherent. Once again, a case where mating the speaker to the room is critical.

Room treatments are like everything else in the world: you can overdo it. I have a friend who had tons of room treatment and his soundstage and liveliness suffered. He ended up removing some of it and was surprised at how open the sound became. I once heard a speaker playing in an anechoic chamber and the music sounded terrible! No "live" effect at all. It was pretty much dead - as dead as the room. So in the end, you have to strike a balance.


The ceiling is actually quite important. There was a group of Dutch researchers that showed the ceiling had the single biggest effect on sound quality (this was for a typical rectangular room). It makes sense because the ceiling is almost always the largest bare flat surface. Dealing with 1st refection points and using either pre-fab (RPG skylines or other) or self made diffusion for the ceiling can have a huge effect.

And the elimination of 90 degree angles is the first place to expend funds. Tom
I would like to try something for the ceiling. Anyone know of any easy methods for application? Don't want to break my back you know.
90 angles aren't the problem. People treat corners because they are the highest pressure zones, and thus trapping in the corners becomes the most effect--it deals with 2 and often 3 of your axial room modes. We often use soffits with single layer sheetrock. 90 degree sections are still there, but you have disrupted the area of the highest pressure and distributed the pressure and thus reduced the peaks and lowered the Q factor for the peaks. That's probably what you meant--but I just wanted to clarify it a little further.

As to the ceiling, RPG skylines and hemifusors are both excellent products and easy to mount. The downside is that depending on how much surface area you are covering it can get expensive.
50% of the sound you hear in a well designed listening room is indirect--bouncing off other surfaces.

It certainly is.

This is why it is so important to select speakers with an even power response and good horizontal dispersion (with similar off axis response over the entire frequency range). This way your room is loaded correctly and the reverberant sound field remains balanced along with the primary signal directed at your ears.

A speaker with uneven power response or very narrow dispersion will have a very limted sweetspot and will be highly sensitive to placement => it will likely only sound good in one spot with one listening position. A good speaker should mean that it sounds balanced around the entire room.

Room treatments will still be essential but much easier to employ if the speaker has an even power response, as the main issues will be bass trapping and some reduction in nearby first reflections (anything that beams sound at the listening position like a wall too close to the listener or speaker)
Good point. Room treatments are still one of the greatest untapped resources and many folks with high-end gear still refuse to see them as one of the most critical components in the system synergy. For me personally, acoustic treatments have taken my Hifi to a whole new level.

Happy (acoustic treated) Listening!
WHich is more effective for the ceilng, RPG Skylines or Hemmifusors? And what is the difference between Skyline and Skyline LP? The Skylines reminds me of Jor-El's sanctuary albeit an inverted one minus the crystals. Noticed a few members here with these on the ceiling.
Skyline LP is Low Profile. It's only 4" deep and has a bandwidth of approximately 1/2 that of the HP. The LP performance and Hemifusor performance is very close, but in my opinion the Hemifusor looks better. Thus if you need a low profile option (4") then I typically use Hemifusors.

There is one exception. Skylines perform well behind acoustically transparent fabric, Hemifusors do not. The two do function on different principles, so there is that caveat to watch out for.
Great post! My feelings exactly. Also I totally agree with Mr. Rives, although I guarantee he knows way more about it than me.

What I like to tell people is that the room does more damage to the sound than a 6 year old adjusting a graphic equalizer for you. I also like to say that this is a measureable fact.

Once I saw several pictures of various reviewers rooms. I lost all respect for their reviews. Why, because I've learned that without a good acoustical environment evaluating any gear is pretty impossible, at least to do it accurately. Acoustics just play to big a role for human to guesstimate what the room is doing. I realize some say they "know" their rooms. I say bull shit. I've been in this hobby since 71 and have owned tons of gear.

No doubt in the world people pay for wire or electronics trying to resolve issues that are caused by their acoustics.

I'm just happy to see others bring this up. I've seen too many mega dollar systems in seriously bad rooms. There's no doubt a 10k system can sound better than a 100k system in a poor room.

Thank you for posting!
Amen to acoustic treatments! I couldn't get the performance I do from my L-shaped room without them, though mine are completely DIY at this time.

In an effort to squeeze even more out of my system I've been doing a lot of research on this topic lately. I believe I've learned a few of the points that have been mentioned here. It seems that most any, if not all, rooms can benefit from LF absorption. There may be no such thing as too much absorption in these frequencies. However, much like Arthur posted, the problem with many absorption products (and DIY recipes) is that they also absorb mid and high frequencies. Depending on the room this can lead to poorer imaging and HF room response. I think many people, including myself, choose to remove some or all of the absorbers after a while due to this effect. I'm not saying that these absorbers are defective, they just may not be the right kind for the given room.

Another point I've learned on this topic is that it is very easy to give up if one doesn't get maximum impact from the first treatment attempt. Most of the time it takes a combination of treatment areas to get the room right. I'm still searching for that combination in my room but the more I learn about this the more educated experiments I can make.

Thanks for adding to my acoustic education!
One acronym: DSP
How about a combination of dsp and treatment? That's where I'm at these days and the sound is much better than anything I've ever heard.
IMO, dsp is fine for HT although room treatments will still improve things.

Dsp? Never in my 2 channel room!
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Another vote for room treatments. My room (balcony) was harsh with respect to the high end & slap echo. Some optimization of the speaker setup along with five 2x4 foot panels from ATS Acoustics (two for 1st reflections & 3 for wall behind speakers) and two homemade bass traps (search A'gon for "superchunks") and things are MUCH, MUCH better. The room & treating the room does make a world of difference.
Amen to the room!

Rives is a proven name in this end of the business with a good track record. Additionally, a regular valuable voice here in the forum and a contributor to AudiogoN.

Another very good resource is Terry Montlick [] who also contributes in several audio and HT forums.

I hired Terry a while back because he is so darned affordable and he would work with me and my DIY approach [he doesn’t sell any hard acoustic products, just his consulting services]. He had me do my own impulse recordings and submit them to him via email as well as other important room information. I got back a six page detailed report as well as several long and very informative telephone calls and emails that outlined and prioritized my issues, and most importantly, how to effectively and affordably resolve them. It turns out my room isn't half bad [thank goodness!]. I simply need to remove some treatments and add some diffusion to the wall behind my seat.

Up to this point I had spent a huge amount of time [in years] researching acoustics and making my own treatments. I was planning on a pretty extensive effort to take my room to the next I thought. What Rives and Montlick bring to the table is a more quantitative approach that makes all of this less of a black-art and more of a science.

I strongly suggest that anyone who wants to make sure their room is sorted out that they hire a true expert in the field with proven track records such as Rives or Montlick. In the end, Terry saved me a lot of money and contributed much to my understanding of acoustics. But most importantly, he saved me an untold amount of valuable time and effort. Now, if I can just get off my duff and finish the few simple things he told me to do.

A note on the room’s contribution to sound. One way to easily test this is to take a radio and play it at a nice volume in any room of your home. Now, without adjusting the volume, take it outside, far from any building and play it at the very same volume setting. It is amazing how quiet it is when it's outside.