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22 juni, 2011

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Acoustics revisited

How the room influences reproduction of audio is constantly present for anyone involved in the audio profession. This awareness concerns reflections, nodes and reverberation time. Recently I visited a client trying out Earos at home, “there is no bass” he said. True enough, at the listening position the low end was not present. This situation occurs in all rooms and at all frequencies, the things is that as frequency falls wavelengths become longer and the space where these nulls exist are more prominent.  With higher frequencies and decent acoustics both direct and reflected sound is more uniformly distributed and the nulls are not a noticed. The cure is not primarily to fork out for a room correction device but to actually rearrange location of speakers and listening position. There is no one single speaker in the world that can be brought to perform it´s best unless it is given a fair opportunity by proper room acoustics.

Room correction devices used may in fact make matters worse in one area whilst attempting to correct in another. For instance in our case of no bottom end, the room correction device would attempt to raise the low end. What now happens is that your speaker may be forced to operate out of its linear range increasing distortion and reducing headroom for transients.

One thing room correction cannot do is alter the reverberation time. The way all frequencies decay over time is a characteristic footprint of the rooms tonality.

Within the high end audio world there is in my opinion far too little attention on room issues, perhaps as it is held in some obscurity about how it works and what to do. The good news is that this is a well researched science why there are both services and tools available to cure most issues. Fixing room acoustics is going to the root of the issue whilst digital room correction deals with the symptom.

But what about the other side, the side where music is brought to life, how has acoustics shaped the art?

Take the acoustics of a cathedral, hard and reflective surfaces and a structural design to support this yields long reverberation times. This environment is very good for vocals without rhythm. Many say that this is “great acoustics” whilst it in fact is good only for this particular type of music.  Jazz, Rock and Orchestral works will not work there at all and recording in such rooms is very difficult. This raises an interesting point made very clear in a TED talk by Talking Heads singer David Byrne. He offers an intriguing proposal that music is created for the environment it is intended to be played in and he makes a strong case for it. See it here; http://www.ted.com/talks/david_byrne_how_architecture_helped_music_evolve.html

This subject then takes us back to our own place of musical worship. If music was made for a particular acoustic environment then how shall my listening rooms properties be to justify the musical content? For sure, you don’t want a room that alters the tonality in any way. The room should be neutral so that the acoustics of the recording can be conveyed without unknown additions.

A flat frequency response is not all, reverberation time across audio spectrum is important too as is how sound is dispersed in the room. Keep in mind when you spend all that money on esoteric devices that you may in fact be missing the most effective investment you can make by tuning your room acoustics.  As a speaker manufacturer it is part of our overall mission and also passion to bring good sound to you, we do have control over what the speaker does but not the room.

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