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listening room

How to Build the Audiophile Listening Room, Part 2

In Part 1, we talked about the importance of the speakers and speaker placement, as well as acoustics and make-up of the space itself. Now let’s dive into what drives the sound.

Components

At the heart of your system is amplification, driving sound to each channel.  Unlike a Home Theater’s AV Receiver that houses an all-in-one pre-amp, amplifier and processor for surround sound, hi-end audio systems have dedicated amplifiers and often one per channel. A more sophisticated set-up will have 2-way or 3-way amps that support each speaker. A pre-amp serves as the input device, converting signals from all audio sources such as streaming devices, tuners and turntable to the signal that the amp wants. It’s imperative that the amplifier be matched to the specifications of the speaker to provide optimal output. All Digital can guide you through your choices.  One of our favorites is Marantz. They offer a diverse range of components and have recently launched a new line specifically for the serious music lover, the Premium 10 Series. The design and engineering of the 10 Series is extraordinary and an excellent choice for a hi-end listening environment.

Connections

We’ve learned that HDMI Cables are required to pass 4K. Audio has similar requirements and, like video, quality cables are recommended for a solid, clean connection.  That doesn’t necessarily mean the most expensive, just of good quality and appropriately sized for the application. We can calculate the appropriate gauge cable that delivers the necessary wattage to the speaker as required based on the distance. Gold connectors are preferred over silver or other metallic. Locking connectors are a good choice where equipment is not to be moved frequently.

Having clean and sufficient power is critical. Every system needs a name brand, purposely built, surge protector. Surge protection will remove artifacts from your power, filtering out spikes and dips. Insufficient power can make the amplifiers put out harmonics that will color the sound and create distortion, producing unclean sound.

Commissioning

Once the system has been designed and components selected, the next step is installation and commissioning. The system will be “tuned” to the room so that the room does not “color” the sound.  As an audio pro, we will test the room’s characteristics, reverb, etc.  We aim for a flat frequency response by adjusting equalization (EQ), gain structure and speaker placement.

The Content

“Old-School” tells us that a turntable’s needle against vinyl is the purest form of music. It can be argued that the harmonic distortion created introduces a mild distortion that is perceived as warmth. The pops and crackles evoke a “vintage” sense that some find pleasing and authentic. However, according to Mark Slee of Facebook, “In terms of fidelity and accuracy of sonic reproduction, CDs outperform vinyl in significant ways. With that said, there are sonic artifacts and emotional attachments with vinyl that many people find pleasing. This yields a preference for vinyl - which some would describe as better, but this is a subjective quality as measured by the ear of the beholder.” With turntable sales up 16%, there’s apparently some ears out there with that preference.

The higher the bit rate, the more accurate the audio. Analog is uncompressed and true to the original. Overly processed audio, on the other hand, can mask or cancel parts of the music, eliminating hearing everything as it was mastered.

All things being equal, the more information a format can transmit, the better the sound will be. For the best experience, that transmitted sound should pass through quality cabling and components and be listened to in a space that is purposefully designed to capture every nuance. Are you ready to hear what you’ve been missing? Let our team at All Digital help design or retrofit your personal listening space and experience music as it was meant to be.

 

Additional Resources:

What bitrate is needed to sound like analog FM?

Vinyl Vs CD/Mp3: Insights into Music Formats & the Metaphysics of Our Music

24/192 Music Downloads…and why they make no sense

Is the sound on vinyl records better than on CDs or DVDs?

Sony Music Goes Back to Vinyl Records

How to Build the Audiophile Listening Room, Part 1

I sat in the dark room and listened to a song I’d heard a thousand times before but heard more than I ever had. That’s the definition of a Listening Room. While our world of listening has transformed dramatically over the last several years, all that matters is what you want to hear. The science is real, as are the hi-end audio components. The rest is subject to the ear of the beholder.

The Speakers

Simply stated, loudspeakers convert electrical impulses into sound. Depending on the dimensions of your room, as well as your listening preferences, a well-designed audio system will transmit the desired range of frequencies (not necessarily the widest range). Some audiophiles swear by 2-channel, with speakers positioned at a calculated distance apart and at an optimal distance from the listener, facing the listener for a true, 2 dimensional listening experience.  The 2-channel system creates a virtual sound stage.  When professionally set-up, the listener is able to close his/her eyes and identify exactly where, on the “stage”, that musician was positioned. Unlike viewing a movie, there is no need for various sounds (music, voice, special effects) to “follow” around the room, so rear speakers or a full surround sound system are neither needed nor desired. In fact, some find it unnatural for instruments to be heard behind them. The perfect speaker system, in the perfect acoustically treated room, will reproduce the sound as authentically as possible. However, while science can measure all facets of sound, the listening experience is quite personal and our passion for particular brands is rather cult-like. We, of course, have our favorites.

Martin Logan sees audio as both real and imagined. Inspired by the art of emotion, like the Expressionist masterpieces, the Expression ESL 13A delivers a highly expressive audio experience. Its recognizable profile is more about sound, however, than inspirational art, although they are an art form all to themselves. The tall, slender “blade” of its MicroPerf stator technology allows for almost twice the exposed electrostatic diaphragm surface as a traditional panel.  Combined with the newly-designed rear-firing subwoofer and 13-inch wide XStat CLS Transducer, the result is a uniform, harmoniously blended audiophile-quality experience.  The American speaker manufacturer also receives rave reviews for its MartinLogan Motion 40 Floorstanding Speakers.  Hometheaterhifi.com concludes that it is a “luxury product for a modest price having a strong musical voice to go with a beautiful, well-made cabinet.” Learn more about this incredible line of speakers.

The Space

Equally as important to the components is the room itself.  The ideal listening room will be free of ambient noise and any other distractions. Acoustic treatments will absorb the vibrations of the HVAC and rattling of water pipes.  The space will be free of harsh lighting, filled only with soft, relaxing light and there will be no capacity for video. This combination of exceptional components producing nearly flawless sound and the distraction-free environment, will allow the listener to hear subtle artifacts in the music that were previously unnoticed.

The room’s furnishings and physical dimensions are essential to the experience.  The proper room requires some soft surfaces. Glass coffee tables and even leather couches are not suitable as they will reflect sound. Fabric seating is preferred. The height of the seat back is recommended to be below the listener’s ear level, allowing unobstructed hearing without reflection. The single seat should be positioned in what will be known as the “money seat,” as determined by the engineer’s calculations. The calculations for the room itself are also of great importance.  To determine an acoustically accurate room for optimal listening, audio engineers employ the Bonello Graph, a method of calculating the ideal room ratio of dimension and volume, explained here by AcousticFields.com.  In the audiophile world, this is also referred to as the acoustic amoeba.

Whether a lover of classical, jazz, rock…are you an audiophile that wants to experience all that the music has to offer?  Hearing is believing! Let’s set up an in-home consultation and schedule a demo – you can even bring your own music. And stay-tuned. Part 2 will cover amplification, calibration, connectivity and content.  Listen to the music! Really listen.

Additional Resources:

Ideal Room Size Dimensions and Ratios for Audiophile Listening

Ideal Room Size Ratios & How To Apply The Bonello Graph

A Room to Listen In