I’m thrilled to introduce Bryan Pape, who has agreed to appear in a series of blog posts to help us better understand room acoustics, sound treatment and related topics that directly affect the quality of any audio you record or listen to.
Bryan is the lead acoustical designer for GIK Acoustics, a respected sound treatment manufacturer and dealer, as well as owner of Sensible Sound Solutions, through which Bryan sells sound treatment services and materials. Bryan also lends his advice to thousands of audio enthusiasts and recording engineers in several online forums, including the popular Gearslutz’ studio construction and acoustics forum.
I’ve asked him a few questions to get started. Here we go:
Q: People who listen to, mix or record music spend thousands of dollars on equipment — stereos, speakers, microphones, preamplifiers, etc., all carefully selected. Yet most don’t spend much time considering the space in which they listen to or record music. Why, in layman’s terms, is the space as important as the equipment?
A: Yes. That’s a real problem. The the things that influence what you hear more than anything else are:
– The room
– The speakers
– How you and your speakers are positioned within the room.
Your room provides gain to your speakers, impacts what frequencies build up and which ones get canceled, etc. The way the room is constructed determines how it absorbs and reflects sounds of different frequencies. For instance, two identical rooms, one with a wood floor and one with a granite floor, will sound different, even though both are ‘hard’ surfaces. They just have different resonances, flex differently, absorb differently, etc. Everything in the room works this way – walls, floors, windows, furniture, people, etc.
Q: What is the difference between sound proofing and sound treatment?
A: Sound proofing is trying to stop sound from entering or leaving a room. Treating the inside of the room for best acoustics will do nothing in terms of stopping sound getting in or out. They’re just two completely different things with very different solutions.
Q: Picture a person listening to music in a typical living room or bedroom environment: the walls are parallel, the speakers are up against a wall. What are some of the problems with this approach?
A: The biggest problem is that it’s reality. People have square and rectangular rooms. Parallel surfaces allow standing waves to build in in a space. Non-parallel walls can help minimize that depending on how much they’re out of parallel in relation to the wavelengths of the frequencies in question.
Most people don’t really have the space to splay the walls enough to really minimize bass issues. Most of the time, you’re better off having the larger space and dealing with the standing waves (modes) via treatment and careful placement to avoid sitting in the problem areas.
Q: Given those realities, what are three or four basic things people can do to improve their listening or recording environment?
A: – Experiment with your seating position to get into a good position to avoid big bass mode problems.
– Try to maintain good left to right symmetry in front of you
– Experiment with speaker positioning. You can drastically change the sound of a speaker by where it is in relation to the room boundaries and where it is in relation to you. Sometimes you can deliberately introduce a ‘problem’ in a certain frequency range which will counteract another ‘problem” based on where you’re sitting.
– Learn your room and what changes to positioning do. Download Room EQ Wizard and take some measurements and see what it’s doing, what changes in seating position do, what changes in speaker positions do.
– Don’t get completely hung up only on frequency response. Decay time is just as important.
– Be realistic with your situation. Don’t try to use speakers that are too big for the space you have to work with. In a small room, you’re going to want to sit nearfield (i.e., use smaller speakers and sit closer to them).
– Don’t put your speakers in a corner – ever.
– Don’t sit right against a wall. This is the worst place for accurate bass response. (Editor’s note: Check out GIK Acoustics very helpful guide to setting up a room here, and Ethan Winer’s setting up a room guide here.)
Thanks Bryan! In future weeks, Bryan will address sound absorption in more detail as well as room modes, room treatment options, the dead/live room quandary and much more. If you have a specific question about sound treatment and related subjects, post it here and I’ll ask Bryan to address it in a future blog post.