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Room treatment and its value in sound quality

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I know most people dislike the (lack of) aesthetics when it comes to most acoustic panels and diffusers. However, if your budget permits, or if you're willing to DIY, things can be made quite pretty.

Since the time of getting familiar with the basic science behind room acoustics after being advised by a studio engineer to look into it, I've always been a proponent of taking room treatment just as serious as choosing speakers and front end gear. Until I decided to do a thorough cleaning of my listening room a few days ago and for the time being  removed all acoustic treatment from it. Of course my curiosity kicked in and I powered up the Quatros to hear how they sound in a "naked" room. That changed my opinion, Now I think that, unless your listening room is actually just a small concert hall in its spare time, room treatment is more important than speakers and front end gear when it comes to sound quality. It really is that big of a deal, there is absolutely no comparison with or without it. It enables Vandersteens to show us what they're really capable of.

The great thing about room acoustics is that it can easily be measured. Applying the scientific method takes the guessing game out of the equation, we never have to doubt our own perception and no salesman is able to sell us ineffective products when we can objectively measure their effect.

All you need is a calibrated omnidirectional microphone (can be bought for less than $100) plugged into a computer's USB port, some quality software such as Room EQ Wizard is actually freeware. Even if you don't plan on treating your room, this is a great tool to objectively measure the frequency response of your speakers in different positions or toe in. I've also used Room EQ Wizard to go a little further with dialing in the Quatro's bass EQ, you can be more precise in tuning it when you see the whole bass response curve on your computer screen.

For seeing how this looks like in practice, watch this and put your headphones on for the listening test part that starts at 6:22:



If you're interested in trying it in your own listening room, here's a standard route for setup and treatment:

1. Try  having speakers placed symmetrically when it comes to side wall distances.

2. If you can, try not having windows in the proximity of your speakers. If you can't, very thick curtains can alleviate some of the "damage" glass does to the sound.

3. Avoid having larger objects in the triangle between you and the speakers, if your coffee table is an absolute must there then try covering it with a thick carpet and see if it improves the sound.

4. Add as much bass traps as you can, the lower in frequency your speakers go, the more bass trapping is desirable. Thick and high density traps are preferable, if you have a large budget look into ones made from activated charcoal. Yes, you've read that correctly. 

5. Put acoustic absorber panels on the side walls where your first reflection points are. 4" thick ones are usually good enough, make sure the absorbing material you're using is high enough in density and if you decide for fiberglass or rockwool, make absolutely sure that those fibers cannot escape from the panel since inhaling those isn't good for your health.

6. Experiment with quadratic diffusers, the ones you choose should be dependent on your ears' distance from them. Usually we  first try them on the wall behind the listener and then try add some more to the front wall. When placing them, it helps to think of diffusers as just passive wall speakers.

Bass traps are best positioned in room corners closest to the speakers, absorber panels and diffusers on the walls are usually most effective if their height centers match the level of the listener's ears.




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  • 3 weeks later...

Very interesting.  Thanks for sharing.  I"m going to check this out.  I have a decent sounding room. Don't have any slap echo either which is awesome.   Very few dealers even push room treatment .  I don't think many know how to use it properly.  They also feel strange selling it for some reason.  I have spoken to many about this and these are their words.  They want folks to spend their money on the gear.

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