For as long as music fans have had the ability to spin vinyl, flip cassettes, or now select digital streams, one thing has always separated the experience Dave Grohl hears when playing “Something From Nothing” in his Studio 606 and the one homeowners get when they fire up “Sonic Highways” on their systems. That one thing may seem small, but in the grand scheme of audio playback it is the most important consideration for any system: acoustics.
Professionals take great care in every aspect of music creation. Historically, consumers have not been as thorough with their audio systems and the playback of their favorite recordings. Exacerbating the situation, the consumer audio industry’s high end category often emphasizes exotic cables, speaker designs and amplification concepts in lieu of any consideration of room design.
Acoustic experts say for reasonable sums of money, consumers can get the same listening experience as Grohl, Butch Vig, Alan Parsons, Jack Joseph Puig, Tony Maserati and Bob Ludwig with a little bit of thought and planning.
Identifying Home Audio Issues
First let’s address the obvious—not every home space can be transformed into a pristine audio environment. Things such as design concerns and preexisting room layouts with furniture could hamper top-tier acoustical designs.
Traditionally, putting interior design concerns aside, James Wright, business development for Primacoustic, points out that in a studio environment sound is dissected and listeners need complete control of what they are hearing. In home settings consumers need to take the same steps as the pros to recreate that experience he goes on to say.
“To accurately record and mix a project the audio engineer needs to hear precisely what is being reproduced by the speakers,” he states. “Likewise, to enjoy a recording as intended by the engineer, producer and artist, a similar level of accuracy is required. Room anomalies such as reverberation, slap echo and standing waves cloud the impression of the audio program. Acoustic treatment—specifically absorption and diffusion have been used for many years to achieve an accurate listening environment in studios.”
Unfortunately for homeowners, Wright says there are many challenges for music and home theater listeners to overcome to achieve a “pure sonic pathway.” Some of these issues he lists include overall room design and size, and surface materials within the room that reflect sound. Acting hastily, Wright adds that sometimes equalization (EQ) will be used to address sound issues within a room, but this solution often creates a new set of problems.
“EQ is used to compensate for problems with the loudspeaker and audio system, but it is not able to address concerns related to echo, reverberations or standing waves,” emphasizes Wright. “EQ can ‘personalize’ the listening experience by boosting or cutting frequencies, but it is not able to defeat anomalies created by room structure and reflective surfaces. Only absorption and diffusion can help with these issues.”
Dealer Training Helps Dealers Solve Audio Problems
Acoustics and audio are complex topics that can be intimidating to even the most seasoned dealer. For years, Gerry Lemay, director, Home Acoustics Alliance (HAA), has trained dealers and consumer audiophiles on how to diagnose, design and install acoustical solutions in home settings. Over the years the curriculum has evolved as technology has advanced. Today Lemay says the training is mostly an interactive experience for students.
“HAA is a unique training experience from two perspectives,” he says. “Our training is primarily hands-on or, better put, ears-on. 75 percent of the training involves hands-on work and each technical change to the design is reviewed not only by measurement, but by listening, particularly during our Level II training. I think it’s fair to say that few A/V pros will have an opportunity to step-by-step hear what incremental changes in the design or calibration of the system sound like. This creates a new perspective on the design and selling of home sound systems [the training works well for two-channel as well].
“Students are empowered to teach their clients about the actual effect of various design mistakes. This also gives them a new mandate to explain that the brunt of the job for creating high performance sound depends on the home theater designer and calibrator. In other words, you might be able to buy the equipment through the Internet but you can’t buy their expertise anywhere but from them.