I've been a member of the forum here for nearly four years (and I lurked for a few years before that). There are two reasons that I don't find myself posting a lot. The first is that (obviously) much of the content here is very Polk-centric. I own a pair of LSi7s and a pair of LSi9s, but I've never had the pleasure of owning any SDA speakers, though I admire the sound of my brother's (heiney9) 1Cs. The other reason I sometimes hesitate to post is because many of us hobbyists don't tend to agree on the kind of sound we're looking for. The cable debates, the speaker debates, the amp debates are (mostly) interesting to read through, but at the end of the day these threads just show that everyone is looking for something slightly different. Inevitably these degenerate into "this is the truth and there's no room for another opinion" type statements.
Having said that, I hope there are a few things we all agree on. Within reason (keep that phrase in mind when you reply to this thread :D) we all agree that there are levels of quality when it comes to stereo equipment. Most of us would agree that an amp/preamp combination built by Parasound probably sounds better than something you'd pick up for $99 from Wal-mart that was designed to be low-fi. There is certainly a difference in the sound of speakers. Again, I think that's something we can all agree on. Different speakers sound different.
Now I'm going to inject my own opinion on a few topics. I've been into "hi-fi" audio for about 12 years now. I've owned a moderate amount of gear over those years including items by Monarchy, Polk, ADCOM, Revel, Dodd, and a slew of other brands. I've gotten to the point where I can hear subtle differences in various components (certainly in some more than others). For instance, the difference between Mirage omnipolar speakers and Revel front firing speakers is night & day. But, believe it or not, there have only been two instances in the past twelve years that I have been blown away by a change in my system.
The first was back in 2000 when I first introduced an external DAC into my system. At the time is was an ADCOM GDA-600 and the difference was jaw-dropping. It was like re-discovering my music collection all over again. The music just came alive in a way that I never knew was possible. The primary difference in the music was resolution. Things I'd never heard before in recordings suddenly came out of the woodwork. Little breaths that a singer took before singing the next line, the sound of a foot pressing a pedal on a piano, the almost imperceptible sound of a guitar pick sliding up a string before it was plucked -- these things were never apparent before I introduced a DAC into my rig.
The second time I was struck dumb by a change in my system is when I recently installed room treatments. That's what this post is all about.
I recently moved into a new house. The one requirement I would not budge on was that I wanted a dedicated 2-channel listening room (separate from the home theater). This was met with much eye rolling from my girlfriend, but she understands how much pleasure this hobby gives me, so she was relatively indifferent.
We found a house we really liked, and it looked as if I could use the living room space as a 2-channel room. It was not the perfect space for the application, but it was something I could work with.
The positives: It was big enough for a decent soundstage. It was on the main floor (not in a finished basement with carpet/cement floors). It could be all mine for music! :D
The negatives: Very large space (31' long x 13' feet wide with 10' ceilings). Wood floors (good for bass transmission, but bad for reflections). Five glass windows in the space (again, bad for reflections). It opens to a two-story foyer which is all ceramic tile (broken record here, but terrible for reflections).
The floor plan looks like this (click for larger picture):
Add to that the fact that I store my CDs in steel cabinets and you may be able to guess my main issues with the room! When we got all settled in and I first set up my system, I was expecting the room to be a little "live." After all, between the floors, the windows, the ceramic tile foyer, the steel CD cabinets and the length of the room, it was bound to sound a little off.
"A little off" doesn't begin to describe it. The sound was terrible. I've never heard so much sibilance in a system. The sound echoed all over the room causing ambiguity in vocals and a serious lack of bass. But the worst of it was definitely the sibilance. Whenever there was an 's' sound in a song, it felt like my ears were being stabbed with an icepick. And while I expected it to sound less than optimal, I was left very disappointed. I'd just spent some decent money upgrading my system (including the BAT tube monoblocks I purchased from RT1) and it sounded horrible. I actually turned the whole thing off and didn't listen to it for nearly six weeks. That's how bad it sounded!
Around this time, we has scheduled a RAS (Rockford Audio Society) meet at Rich's house (SCompRacer here on Club Polk). Rich is one of those people who has been at this game longer than many of us have been alive. I really, really respect his opinion because he not only has the real world experience of owning an ungodly amount of gear, he also has the technical knowledge to properly implement it.
Rich had often spoken about how much of a difference room treatments can make. I never really gave it much thought until I moved into the new house. A few of us gathered at Rich's house and listened to system (complete with room treatments). It was a revelation! It's hard to compare Rich's system to mine as it's like comparing apples to lawn furniture -- they're just in different realms! But as Rich started moving the treatments around, everyone could very clearly hear the difference in sound. It was like alternately throwing a blanket over the speaker and then taking it off. Everything changed! Soundstage, bass, resolution, imaging... all those words we audio people love to use changed in a snap. I was sold.
I spent some time talking with Rich about how I might attack my room problem. We both agreed that taming the reflections in the room was primary and getting some bass back was a close second. I also chatted with Duell (LessisNevermore on CP) who has experience with recording in a studio. He also gave me some very good input. Both of them helped me decide on buying some good acoustic panels.
At first I thought about building them myself, but I am not quite as handy as some of the other members here. Plus when I actually priced it all out, I could buy them pre-fabricated for about 20% more than I could build them for. It was an easy choice for me.
I decided to order from ATS Acoustics. Not only were they the most affordable, they are also headquartered in southern Illinois which is about 3.5 hours from me. I decided on the following panels:
(7) 24" x 48" x 2" panels covered in wine microsuede
(3) 24" x 48" x 4" panels covered in wine microsuede
The ten panels cost me a total of $553. I realize we all have a different view on spending that kind of money on audio, but if it could tame my room and get me interested in listening to my main system again, it was a cheap upgrade! Some of us have a total of that in our whole system, and others spend more on a turntable cartridge. Keep in mind that my room needed some serious taming, and your mileage may vary.
I invited the RAS group over to my house when the panels arrived and we spent most of the day listening to the music and moving the panels around the room to determine where they sounded best. My brother and Doug (dkg999) were both a big help in lending their ears to the cause. Rich and Duell were also there. After lots of walking around the room (and a few Coronas) we decided on the best sounding configuration. The downside? Two panels had to cover the windows that were behind the speakers. This was NOT going to make my girlfriend very happy. More on that later...
The next day my dad came over and we started hanging the panels. It was really quite easy. It took us about two and a half hours to hang eight panels. We had to get a bit creative with the panels that covered the windows. I came up with the idea of attaching a steel rod to the back of the panels, and then hanging them on small hooks that were attached to the walls. This way the panels could be easily taken off and stored in a nearby closet whenever we had guests over. This made the girlfriend very happy!
Here are the pics of the room once everything was mounted (again, click on any picture to see the larger version)...