Natural Order

I attended a classical concert in Dunedin's town hall last year. It was quite a revelation to hear tenor's voice filling the auditorium. Singing into a microphone, I heard the product of his voice, system amplification, speakers, room acoustics, treatments & seating position etc.

Contrast this against an outdoor Rolling Stones concert with 40,000 screaming fans. If you're within 100 meters of the stage, you're going to feel the incredible surge of energy from the speaker towers pulsing right through you.

If you want to re-create either of these scenarios to any degree of accuracy at any volume level in your home, you're going to have to give serious consideration to a number of factors.

The Loudspeaker and its Placement

Your choice of loudspeaker is the single biggest factor which you will most probably have control over. I've seen it all over the years... rooms which look empty with speakers hidden within walls in an attempt to create as clean a look as possible.

To my mind the considerable effort and expense incurred, not to mention the frequently disappointing results, mean that I would never personally invest in this type of system.

I know all the temptations are there, especially when you're constructing a new home... to automate, touch-control everything, speakers and plasma screens in the walls etc. The number of people who invest heavily in these areas and then experience huge technical problems are the stuff of legend. Who wants audio in their toilet and the kitchen anyway!

I'm all for peace and quiet wherever possible and a real focused effort in one or two rooms of the house to create something special... and if I ever move, you bet, I'm going to take my system with me... speakers included!

Here is a fine example of an installation that my good Belgian friend and speaker designer/manufacturer Koen Vaessen has recently completed. Forget about hiding the speakers in a wall... time to get up front and personal with your babies! We are not all tofu gobbling, blanket hugging, thumb suckers after all... no we want to hear our music and yes the speakers need to be big and right beside us in the room because it doesn't sound any good hidden 20 feet away in a ceiling!

Listening Rooms, Speaker Placement & Treatments

Most often you are stuck with your room, so there isn't much point in going on about this... suffice to say room dimensions are very important to obtaining a great sound.

Something you usually have control over however is speaker placement. Most people fit their system within the constraints of their living room, and typically have a TV in the mix and sit at the opposite end of the room to it. Try bringing your speakers in closer approximation to your ears. Air is a poor conductor of energy. The closer you can get to your speakers the better the bond you will experience.

To give you some idea of my own personal trials and tribulations, I recently unpacked and ran up my new German made Expolinear 'T-420 L Serie 3' loudspeakers to a group of like-minded friends at home. I was expecting great things and boy was I confused when I couldn't get them to perform on the day.

I have a big lounge and we all sat on the back wall and the speakers were placed conveniently either side of the fireplace. After a few tracks I had to conceed defeat. What I should have done is taken the time to set the speakers up before calling them all over!

Later that evening I sat down in my chair in front of the fire and started to move the speakers around (no small feat as they must weigh 45kg each!) and after several hours of dragging them backwards and forwards and listening to all manner of different tracks, you couldn't wipe the grin off my face, I was so happy.

The speakers can go down to 30Hz with pressure, but this depends on the room. There is absolutely no loss of detail in the lower frequencies and after a few weeks they were producing much more bass than when new.

My best listening sessions are invariably late at night when my family are all tucked up in their beds, a raging open fire, a glass of wine to some sentimental tune in a near field listening mode... the experience is up there. The reason why I prefer listening late at night is the noise floor is always much lower than during the daytime. The lower the back ground noise, the better for capturing previously unheard details. In addition its dark and your visual cortex tends to tune out allowing your other sences to gain ascendacy.

Spare a thought for room treatments also. Your system is going to sound vastly different depending on the floor type, coverings, drapes and furnishings. If your sound is too harsh, check your room treatments, rugs, carpets, curtains, couches. Hard surfaces like wooden or concrete floors and bare windows will all do a superb job of reflecting sound creating certain harshness to your music. A couple of thick rugs and some heavy drapes can make a world of difference.

What About the Amplifier?

Think of the speaker as pistons inside an engine. They react to the explosive power given off by the fuel/air mixture when ignited. The amplifier in your system is akin to that power. To listen to dynamic music you need an amplifier that will exert maximum grip and command over your speaker drivers.

So What Else?

You will notice huge differences between high and inferior quality audio recordings. The source, cabling, power supply are also areas that should correctly compete for your attention.

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