Five tips for improving acoustics in bad sounding rooms

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The KEF LSX subwoofers produce a relatively timid sound, which is ideal in small rooms as it avoids serious bass problems.

Oftentimes, the weak link in a hi-fi installation is neither the amplifier nor the speakers, but rather the listening room. The most hostile living rooms can turn music into acoustic music, no matter the cost of the sound setup. “Often the number one problem to solve for Hi-Fi enthusiasts”Judge Jordan Cope, sound engineer and co-founder of a Parisian music studio.

How do you know if the problem is on your part? A few clues should put you on the alert: a slight impression of loudness, murky and inaccurate bass, speakers that sound less at home than in the store, and a few musical instruments that are very silent compared to listening on headphones.

In most cases, these issues can be mitigated. Here are five solutions arranged in order of increasing cost.

1- elbow grease (free)

For free, these two methods are above all simple and effective. The first is moving the speakers around to solve the most common problem: fuzzy bass that mutes. Move the speakers away from the wall, and bring the chair closer to the speakers, even if it means fighting with other family members to enforce these arrangements, as they often drastically improve the balance of sound and clarity. If the problem does not go away, you can “Try to put the speakers in atypical positions”And the Jordan Kobe explains:

“The rule is that there are no rules. Asymmetric situations work sometimes, you can even try to bring the speaker closer to the wall or embed it in the library. But be careful not to get lost on the way: clarity is difficult to maintain, even for professionals. Ask a loved one to move Headphones while listening and sticking to one piece of music. »

The second improvement, it is reserved for rooms with too many tiles or windows: add carpets, curtains, furniture and bookcases, which can improve the sound fidelity. This solution can also be used “To soften an overly aggressive sound, or to dampen those unpleasant metallic ringing that one hears when one claps one’s hand.”says Jordan Kobe.

2- Measurements and corrections (150-500 euros)

If the previous step wasn’t enough to impress your ears or if you couldn’t change the layout of your living room, you can try a steeper route: Put the audio filter – in software form – at the heart of your sound system. The audio will be filtered by the computer, which will become your only music player.

This method goes as far as distorting the sound to alleviate your problems, “Good solution to reduce damage in bass sounds”, Judge Philip, better known by the pseudonym Pda0 at Forum-hi-fi.fr, is a discussion space where you meet many enthusiasts. After becoming the forum’s acoustics expert, Philip was invited to the homes of over fifty members to analyze their listening room. However, ” This method only works if you always listen to music from the same chair. Because she can do it somewhere else in the room [faire] to get worse [la qualité du] for him “Judge Jean-Pierre Lafont is a vocalist who works in movie theaters and music studios.

Above all, you need to get an accurate idea of ​​the problem by measuring it with a microphone dedicated to this purpose (about a hundred euros) and then displaying these measurements on a computer, which is not necessarily modern. You will need free software such as Rew, Rephase, Equalizer APO… These measurements, analyzing them and then creating filters is a complex process that requires, according to Philip, “A few dozen free hours spread over a month With a big trap on arrival: “A neutral voice that does not satisfy all ears.” To better match your personal tastes, you will have to customize the filters, which is more complicated.

Fortunately, we can count on the support of the three forums community, Homecinema-fr.com, AVCesar and Forum-hi-fi.fr, which provide Educational programs available. Its members are happy to advise on creating filters. You can also simplify the task simply by taking the measurements, and then sending them to a reputable professional such as Home Audio Fidelity, responsible for creating the filters for a hundred euros.

3- Fully automatic (500 to 2000 euros)

As in the previous step, this solution consists of sound filtering to alleviate room acoustic issues. Except that everything here is automatic: it is an amplifier to take care of as a replacement for your amplifier. When you use it for the first time, it makes noises in your speakers while you listen to them through its microphone, and then calculates the audio filters.

This solution has a significant advantage: you do not have to make any effort to understand it, the maneuver is simple, it takes a quarter of an hour. But this solution is more expensive and doesn’t leave much room to stick to your audio preferences. The result is often disappointing for fans of soft bass, for example, but it can be surprising for fans of fidelity and neutrality.

Which amp model to choose? Model with “self-calibration” function. The cheapest home cinema speakers, such as the Denon AVR-X1700H DAB (about 800 euros) or the AVR-X3700H (1,400 euros). However, the ideal option is to invest in one of the rare amplifiers with an automatic calibration system such as Lyngdorf or NAD, from 2000 euros.

More computer-savvy people will be interested in a cheaper solution, which does not force you to change the subwoofer: Dirac auto-calibration software, which can be installed on the computer playing music, or on the sound box To be inserted between the amp and the sound source. Count 450 euros either way. This solution is automatic, of course, but it takes about ten hours to implement.

4- Acoustic panels (from 1000 to 5000 euros).

This is the most effective solution, and one that music studios adopt as it respects the nature of sound and allows you to enjoy proper quality from different listening points. Here again, it all starts with a diagnosis that is performed from a computer connected to a microphone. The patch takes the form of acoustic panels, which can be bought ready-made from GIK or Vicoustic, for example, to add to the walls little by little, taking measurements at each stage to check progress. Dozens of hours of trial and error in perspective.

Often the first step is to mitigate the most distracting sound reflections by placing triangular panels In the corners behind the speakers, then the flat panels on the wall, primarily where the sound from the tweeter bounces back toward the ear. This region is marked with a mirror, as shown here.

Unfortunately, this solution can make matters worse: These acoustic panels suck very little bass. These can then appear as severe and disabling imperfections – and these are often the main acoustic problems in a room. In many cases, individuals are reduced to correcting this problem with an audio filter (as described in steps 2 and 3), because their treatment of acoustic panels, while superior, is very restrictive.

The ideal is the installation bass trap [pièges à basse] A membrane with a thickness of 50 cm and covering 40% of the surface of the walls “Jean-Pierre Lafont advises. But this takes up a lot of space: the room loses about 15% of its surface. and installation costs “About 100 euros per square meter of the wall, if you make it yourself.” Or 2,000 euros for a room of 25 square meters – or eight times the cost if there is a professional.

“Be careful, its design is very subtle”Christian Malcourt, an audio expert who works in music studios and concert halls, warns and recommends a simpler solution: “We stretch the rock wool into several wooden frames, each of which puts them at a different distance from the wall: 10, 20, 30 or 40 cm. » Cost: a few tens of euros per square meter of the wall. However, this solution does not absorb the deepest bass.

5- Bring in a professional (from 5,000 to 50,000 euros)

This should be the easiest and most effective solution. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to find a speaker at an affordable price. On the other hand, unqualified audio experts are far from unanimous: ‘Their work is often disappointing’Judge Philip who tested it several times. On the other hand, professional audio specialists rarely work on hi-fi installations. « In the CIDB Professionals Guide [Centre d’information et de documentation sur le bruit]which brings together all the French acoustics experts, no one mentions hi-fi as a specialty “Jean-Pierre Lafont notes. The most capable professionals in this field are, unfortunately, a few, who design the acoustics of music studios. Prices for these sizes are inaccessible to ordinary humans.

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