Chapter

the room

In the preliminary planning of a hi-fi system, the need for considering the room in which it is to be placed is self-evident. The question is not whether you've thought of the room but, rather, whether you've analyzed it in such a way as to get the optimum results from both the hi-fi system and the room.

From the system you have every right to expect the best sound quality it is capable of producing, coupled with the greatest possible ease and convenience of operation. At the same time, unless you are quite affluent, you will not be in a position to set an entire room aside for listening to music. The chances are that whatever room you place your system in will be used for other purposes too, and you will want to continue these activities without interference. Thus, it's not at all surprising that from time to time conflicts of interest arise. They require a bit of careful thought to solve. Actually, you are asking quite a bit of both your hi-fi system and your room.

Even without stopping to think of the room, you can go out and get a hi-fi system, put it in a room and put the two to work together, because that is the way of it. They must work together inevitably.

By means, say, of records, you will expect this combination to sound at one moment like a half-dozen jazzmen blowing their tops in a smoke-laden cellar saloon and, at another, you may want the whole thing to sound like four dignified gentlemen in black ties and frock coats, playing string quartets in an eighteenth-century drawing room, and then you may call for the entire New York Philharmonic batting out Beethoven's Ninth in some concert hall.

In addition, you confidently expect this combination of system and room to reproduce everything from a piccolo to a contrabass double-bell euphonium with equal clarity. This is asking a good deal of a few electronic parts and an average living room, even in this age of technological miracles.

Let's see if there aren't some ways in which we can plan things so that we get out of the sound system something somewhere near what we ought to, without at the same time ruining the room for its various other uses.

Choosing the room

Realizing that you can run secondary speakers to any place in the house you may choose, the first question is to decide what room you intend to use to house the main system. We can eliminate the kitchen and the bathroom without any difficulty. Since the control center should be handy to the most commonly used listening area, we can also eliminate a separate dining room, if you have one, from consideration and likewise the bedroom. This leaves us with really only three likely possibilities—the living room, or combination living-dining area, study, and game or rumpus room.

In the largest number of instances, the living room will be the natural choice as the control center for the system and listening center for the home. For listening, it is generally the best choice of any room in the house in terms of size and acoustics. At the same time, it is also the most difficult room to deal with in terms of noninterference with other activities since it is the normal center of the various goings-on that take place in the home and family.

Depending upon the inclinations and interests of those in the household, it is quite possible that the living room might be a bad place to house the system. If there are only one or two avid listeners in the house and they continually occupy the living room, this might constitute quite a nuisance to the others. In such cases, possibly the den or study might be chosen; there the listener can be reasonably undisturbed and undisturbing to others. The problem with a den is that it is smaller in size and acoustically not as favorable to your reproducing equipment. You just have to decide what is most important to you. Perhaps the rumpus or game room will be the most logical place in your case. If so, you are back to a room size roughly comparable to that of the living room, which acoustically is a good thing. On the other hand, you probably will not have drapes or carpeting in such a room and therefore it may be a bit live acoustically and require some treatment to cut down reverberation.

Placing the speaker

Assuming that you have carefully deliberated and have chosen the most desirable room in the home for your system from the point of view of the various activities of your particular household group, it is time to consider the specific room chosen in some detail to determine the best location in that room for your speaker and other associated equipment, and the approximate size and kind of housing you want to use.

The first and, from the point of view of sound, the most important consideration is acoustical. A system can be housed in any manner ranging from lovely to loathsome in appearance without

Fig. 201. There is a rule of thumb for speaker placement in rectangular rooms: (a) corner speakers work well in any corner; (b) wall enclosures function best when centered on either short wall.

causing one iota of change in the sound quality, provided the same acoustical considerations have been followed. The first acoustical consideration has been discussed in some detail in the previous chapter—getting a happy match, acoustically, between the speaker you have chosen and the type of cabinet in which you want to put it.

Room shapes

The next thing is to determine where to place it in the room to get the best results. Probably the room you have chosen will be rectangular or possibly L-shaped. I once had a client who had built a house that was S-shaped, with the result that two walls in every room were curved, but this was rather unusual. This S-shaped house, by the way, raised some rather interesting technical problems. If you've an S-shaped house, call in an acoustical consultant—you'll need one; if you can afford the house, you can afford the consultant.

The rule of thumb for a rectangular room is that a corner enclosure can be placed in any of the four corners and work equally well, while a wall enclosure will function best if placed in the center of one of the short walls (Fig. 201).

This rule is a fine thing, except that it will leave you at a complete loss in a good many situations. It doesn't account for the fact that rooms have things like doors and windows and radiators in them. Suppose, for example, you have a perfectly good rectangular room and you intend to put in a wall speaker. The only trouble is that in your room you have a door in the middle of one of the short walls and in the middle of the other one a great big picture window with a radiator under it (Fig. 202). You obviously can't get that speaker centered against either of the short

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  1. 202. Most rooms are not just four walls. Doors and windows can be a problem.
  2. 202. Most rooms are not just four walls. Doors and windows can be a problem.
  3. If you put it in front of the window, you can't get it under the sill without taking the legs off to get it low enough and, besides, it's right in front of the radiator, which is a bad place to put any piece of furniture because the heat will damage it. Besides, the cabinet will block the heat from the radiator and make it in-
Fig. 203. When the short walls are not available corner enclosures can be used. If a wall enclosure is desired it may be placed off center on one short wall.

efficient. At the other end of the room, you obviously don't intend to put the speaker in the middle of the doorway, so what do you do?

What can you do but the next best thing? Since the speaker will operate better if it is somewhere on the short wall than if it's on a long wall, put it off center on the wall with the door as shown in Fig. 203.

Let's take another case that's even worse. Suppose you wanted to put a corner speaker in a room but you find that in one corner you have a door, in the next a radiator, in the third a curved sofa running around the corner and in the fourth a built-in china closet (Fig. 204). You haven't got a corner, so you just cannot use a corner speaker in this room. You'll have to go back and rethink your whole speaker system. In this case, you have a short wall where you could center a wall enclosure, so the best place for the speaker system will be in the center of the short wall farthest from your curved sofa (Fig. 205).

Unfortunately, no one book can give you enough examples of different arrangements of doors, windows, radiators and so on to cover all the possibilities that might be encountered, and to give you the best solutions in each case. You must rely on your own good common sense in arriving at the best possible compromise where one is possible. And also to recognize an impossibility when you see one.

In an L-shaped room, your best location for a wall speaker will generally be in the middle of the short wall forming the end of the largest part of the L (Fig. 206). If both parts of the L are of equal size, flip a coin. In the case of a corner speaker in an L-shaped room, the corner of the wall just mentioned that points diagonally toward the smaller part of the L would be the best location (Fig. 207). Another good location- would be the corner forming the junction of the two parts of the L.

  1. 204. Since the corners of this room are occupied a corner speaker cannot be used.
  2. 204. Since the corners of this room are occupied a corner speaker cannot be used.

So much for speaker placement, except for one other matter. You don't want to be too close to the speaker when you are listening. You certainly don't want to be any closer than 6 to 8 feet, preferably more. It's not invariably true that the farther you are from the speaker, the better, because there are special cases where this doesn't work, but usually you can figure that the farther away you are the better dispersion and balance will be. Also, don't sit in a location that is at a very great angle away from the direction in which the speaker itself is pointing. Try to stay within at least a 45° angle from the center line of the speaker (Fig. 208). Since high-frequency sounds are very directional, they move in straight lines, absorb easily and therefore don't diffuse well throughout the room. With most speaker systems, as you move off to the side, the highs tend to drop out.

Room acoustics

In addition to the position in which you locate the speaker in a room, other factors tend to affect the kind of sound that a given speaker will produce. For example, in a room that is too live, i.e., one where sounds will reverberate readily, a note that has just been played will still be reverberating in the room when the next one is played, with the result that the two mix and give a muddy

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