Acoustic Geometry Curve System room treatments
For a few weeks each year in the high summer of Minnesota, the corn sold from rickety roadside stands is so sweet and tender it is best eaten unadorned. For the wise and lucky nibbler willing to forgo condiments, the rewards of eating these naked kernels are the pure taste of Midwestern soil and sun transformed into a juicy, golden confection. I've begun to wonder if the yearly encounter with this magnificent and ephemeral sweet corn reminds Midwesterners of the joys of simplicity and plainness. Though my hypothesis is a stretch, it sure would explain a great deal about the Midwestern mentality. Perhaps Midwesterners subtly learn from this corn that if we get too fancy or try too hard, we can often screw up what nature has already made perfect. Conversely, we learn that no amount of fancy accoutrements will make a bad ear of bland, mealy corn come alive in the mouth.
What I've learned from room acoustics, room treatments, and room corrections are very like the lessons I've learned from eating the sweet corn of summer. Like drenching in butter a starchy ear of corn, there's just no way you can make a bad room sound great. If your listening room's floor vibrates like a kettle drum, your walls are glass, and your ceiling only 6' high, all I can say is: Good luck. Every attempt I've heard to treat a fundamentally bad-sounding room with panels and equalization at best trades off one sonic problem for another. On the other hand, when a decent-sounding room is turned over to a company selling panels or corrective components, often the natural goodness of the room's sound is destroyed in a quixotic quest to even out the bass response or null every standing wave. Though such rooms might end up measuring better, they don't always sound better. Adding too many acoustic panels to an okay-sounding room is akin to ruining the perfect ear of corn with too much salt.
So it was with a sense of hope that I encountered Acoustic Geometry's new Curve System of room treatments. Unlike most products designed to treat rooms by absorbing sounds, the Curve System treats room acoustics predominantly through diffusion. I was intrigued by the approach, and as Acoustic Geometry products are made close to where I live, in Chaska, Minnesota, I thought it might be convenient and fun to see if I could get my room to sound a little better. I called John Calder of Acoustic Geometry, told him about my room's size and materials and what it's made of, and he sent a pallet of products to my door.
John Calder came to designing room-treatment products by way of the recording studio. "I started recording in the 'deaden-everything-with-fiberglass' acoustics of the '70s, which was a sonic nightmare," he says. "In the late '70s, I was a recording engineer [Neil Diamond, Joe Cocker, The Band] at Kendun Recorders, a legendary studio in Burbank, where Tom Hidley had built one of his signature octagonally symmetrical, lava-rockdiffusion control rooms. I learned through long experience that properly diffuse rooms sound far more natural than nondiffuse rooms. This exposure to leading-edge acoustics gave me a real underpinning of acoustical experience. I later used that experience to design and build control-room and studio treatments for myself and others. That's what led me to start Acoustic Geometry in 2010."
While diffusion is rarely used in the smaller space of a listening roomI know a number of manufacturers and audiophiles who believe diffusion can have no meaningful effect in a listening room of average sizeCalder hears it differently. To that end he has designed the Curve System to primarily diffuse sound in a phase-coherent way: "Listening in flat-wall, overly dead rooms is unfun. We don't live in anechoic chambers! For millennia, we've existed in naturally diffuse spaces, from forests to caves to baroque churches. As a species, we're extraordinarily sensitive to phase-based directional cuesif you couldn't accurately locate a twig snap, you were a saber-toothed tiger's lunch. The importance of acoustic phase, along with a lot of experimentation, brought me to cylindrical Diffusors, which are a tried-and-true design from the '30s. They're beautifully phase-coherent (unlike quadratic-residue diffusion), relatively affordable, and can be implemented with predictable results."
Behind the Curve
The Curve System comprises a number of models, each 42" tall, and samples of all of which I had on hand for review. There are three sizes of DiffusorSmall (14" wide), Medium (21" wide), and Large (31" wide)and three sizes of Absorber (each the same width as the corresponding Diffusor). There's also a 21"-wide Corner Trap whose front face is a Medium Diffusor. The front baffle of each Curve model is, well, curved, the arc of each model size based on a radius of different length. According to Calder, having Diffusors of different sizes in your room is very important, as repeating the same size of arc over and over along the same wall would result in audible comb filtering. Many fabric choices are available for the front panels, and custom fabric covers can be ordered.
Each Curve System model is built on a wooden frame with, on the back, a wedge-shaped cleat for hanging the product from a matching piece attached to the wall. I liked this method of installation: The user can run a horizontal piece of wood along the length of a wall, then adjust each Curve unit's placement with great ease and flexibility. As I'll show later, dialing these babies in will amply reward the listener.
Panels can be mounted vertically or horizontally. The front curved surfaces of the Diffusors are made of a "bio-degradable material that will keep its shape and diffusive properties for a very long time," says Acoustic Geometry. When I pressed for more information, Calder wouldn't say what the material actually is. It looked to me like a cross between body armor and egg cartons. Heck if I know what it is. Behind it is a thick sheet of recycled cotton (denim, from the looks of it), with metal screens on the units' ends covering the holes to the space behind each arc. Each unit's rear panel is covered with a sheet of thick vinyl, which Calder calls his Mass-Loaded-Vinyl (MLV) membrane. According to him, "MLV is highly efficient compared to fiberglass for absorbing bass; combined with their diaphragmatic absorption, Curve Diffusors help control low- and midbass frequencies and diffuse everything else. In fact, that's my basic acoustic philosophycontrol the bass and diffuse the rest, with the right balance of absorption."
The Absorbers are essentially the same design as the Diffusors, but have an acoustically transparent rather than a solid diffusing front and don't include the MLV membrane; instead, they give the cotton open access to the room. The Corner Trap is a triangular wooden frame filled with recycled cotton; a Medium Diffusor serves as the faceplate. It's among the lightest corner traps I have encountered.
My listening room is 11' 8" wide by 18' long, with 8' ceilings at the front and 7' ceilings behind the listening position. The floor is concrete, with a very thick pad and shagI mean friezecarpeting. When I remodeled and renovated the room a little over a year ago, I even had the studs shimmed out to make the double-hung drywall on the sidewalls nonparallel. Even naked, it's a good-sounding roomall my audio buddies agree that I'm lucky to have this space. Normally, the room is nominally treated with four Echo Busters panels along the sidewalls, placed at the points of the first and second reflections. Until the Curve System, I hadn't triedor even felt the needto mess with the sound much more.