Improving room acoustics with on-board resources

Does your music room sound too bright or too muffled? Then improve your room acoustics in just a few steps. The following tips from Joachim Pfeiffer, editor of the renowned specialist magazine HiFi Sound & Music (formerly HiFi & Musik-Journal), will help you implement them.

Poor room acoustics not only reduce the quality of the music reproduction, but simply the quality of life.

Trendy architecture is first and foremost about pleasing the eye. Beautiful, light-flooded rooms with hard floors made of stone, wood or ceramic are the order of the day today. Carpets, classic upholstered furniture, heavy curtains and the like are a thing of the past. A feast for the senses? Yes, but not for everyone. Because our ears sometimes don't like what pleases our eyes. As "bright" as the rooms look, they also sound bright and garish. Accordingly, in many households, unfavorable room acoustics simply reduce the quality of life. Many people think you can live with that. But that is deceptive.

Because our ears are always on full reception and have to process the most complex acoustic events without filters. If the sound seems to come from everywhere in rooms that are too bright both visually and acoustically due to the many reflections, it becomes more difficult to understand the person you are talking to or to follow an exciting dialog on TV, for example. And, by the way: Even a high-quality hi-fi system with great loudspeakers plays far below its level under poor ambient conditions. But you can do something about it of course.

Analyze the room

You don't need any measuring instruments for this, or more accurately: you always have the necessary ones with you, right from birth. This is because you can easily "hear" the acoustic properties of a room using your own voice and classify them accordingly. So is your room too "bright", acoustically too "dark" or just right? Using a simple experiment, you can quickly come to a clear result. Pick up the phone and call a good friend. Speak constantly at the same volume if possible. First go to a room with stronger reflections, this can be the bathroom, in apartment buildings it is usually the stairwell. Do you and your phone partner notice anything? Of course, you are speaking to him or her much more quietly, as the reflections caused by your own voice are very distracting. Now switch to the other extreme, the over-damped room. You can also find it within your own four walls: Just open your wardrobe or linen cupboard and place your head between shirts, sweaters and pants during the phone call:

You now speak much louder to your friend. That is also unpleasant. Now go to the room where you also like to listen to music. Of course, it sounds different from the anechoic chamber or the reverberant stairwell, but is the sound really ideal? If you can go outside from the room in question, for example into your garden, you will notice it immediately. If the person on the other end of the line doesn't notice whether you're chatting to them surrounded by "Mother Nature" or at the living room table, you've achieved your acoustic goal. And, if not, you can make corrections in just a few steps without affecting the look of the room. If the room is too "bright", simply place a few beautiful plants in it, embellish glass surfaces, whether windows or tables, with chic fabrics and, where possible, high-pile carpets also guarantee acoustic comfort. However, if the room is too "dark", remove one or more of the room's accessories.

  • "You don't necessarily need to have studied physics to optimize room acoustics. Trust your ears!"

    Joachim Pfeiffer | Editor of HiFi Sound & Music
  • "You don't necessarily need to have studied physics to optimize room acoustics. Trust your ears!"

    Joachim Pfeiffer | Editor of HiFi Sound & Music

Optimum placement of loudspeakers

As a listener, you have probably already heard that you should form an imaginary isosceles triangle with the speakers placed in front of you. Today we'll tell you how to set up your speakers optimally in your room, taking into account its specific acoustics. You will need a second person, perhaps the friend you just spoke to on the phone. First determine the place in the room where you usually want to sit to relax and listen to the music. Sit right there. In rather long rooms, it is always an advantage to place the speakers in front of the long wall so that they can be heard at a short distance. Now your friend comes into play. He stands directly, i.e. with physical contact, in front of the wall where the left speaker will later stand and reads out any text in a normally loud voice. You listen to him. In ultra-small steps, your friend now moves away from the wall, reading aloud, and walks towards you. And suddenly you can only hear him and no longer the reflective wall behind him. Mark this spot with an adhesive strip. Your friend comes nearer again in very small steps 

and – exactly – you suddenly notice a reflection of the wall behind you. Mark this point with another strip of adhesive tape. Repeat the procedure for the location of the right-hand box and not only from front to back, but also laterally from left to right and from right to left. At the end of this exercise, four adhesive strips mark the so-called "neutral zone" for both speakers. Now place your boxes in this zone. This placement method is convincing because it takes the individual conditions of the room into account. If the neutral zones on the left and right are different, you haven't done anything wrong, as there may be a brick wall on the left and a large glass surface on the right. Music helps you to angle your speakers optimally. We particularly recommend recordings with a solo instrument, for example a spinet. Listen to each speaker individually and change the angle only slightly. There is a point where you can hear the individual notes very precisely. The placement method harmonizes speakers and the room in which they are playing.

Interview on the subject of room acoustics

At the in-akustik HiFi Convention we had the opportunity to interview Mr. Pfeiffer on the subject of "Improving room acoustics with on-board equipment". The following topics were addressed, among others:

  • Room acoustics – how important is knowledge of physics?
  • How can I determine whether a room is acoustically good?
  • What role does room size play?
  • Influence of the room and wall composition on the seating position
  • Combat room modes
  • Example: Concrete wall on the right, window front on the left
  • Example: Glass wall behind the system or system under a sloping roof
  • Bass problems – a lot helps a lot. 
  • Optimizing room acoustics when money is no object 
  • Choosing the right loudspeaker

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