Building the Hi-Fi House Page 5
I was fortunate to find an architect who could work with me in satisfying my requirements, though I gave him little latitude on the floor plan. Your architect will undoubtedly come up with some interesting ideas---it's your job to keep them from messing up your plans for a good listening room. Remember, few builders or architects know much about sound transmission or acoustics. Nor have many acousticians designed small spaces---the requirements of a concert hall, arena, or even a recording studio are different from those of a listening room. The best way to get what you want is to educate yourself.
Also remember that one of the architect's goals in designing a house is outside symmetry and "curb appeal" (he or she will later want to drive by with other prospective clients). This will certainly be important to you as well, but remember that an outside symmetry of windows may result in an asymmetrical or awkward window arrangement or other layout quirk in the listening room. Don't let this happen; it's almost always possible to satisfy both of these requirements with a little planning---even if you have to put the listening room in the back of the house.
...And Custom Installers
Two other specialists can give you the sort of hands-on help that you can't get from a builder or architect. First is your local retailer, who may be quite knowledgeable about the subject. But use caution here---some will know little or nothing about it, but will willingly sell you acoustic panels and other devices only useful after the room is built. Building it right is always better than applying Band-Aids.
The second source is CEDIA (1-800-CEDIA30), a national organization whose members specialize in custom installations and can recommend local contractor/members to you. These specialize in home audio/video and multi-room systems, but the same acoustic principles apply to audio-only rooms. You'll have to be firm about your needs if you deal with these contractors, however, as I suspect that many of them will also try to sell you equipment you don't need. (Many are retailers.) If you only want design consultancy, they'll charge accordingly, as they're not making any money on selling you hardware.
I suggest that you check the references of such contractors carefully. I suspect that some CEDIA members know more about room design than does the typical retailer. Check with former clients to see if the contractor you're considering put any emphasis on room dimensions---especially in the case of new construction, where this can be controlled---and acoustical treatment, or if his primary emphasis was on selling and installing equipment.
Nevertheless, the more you know about all of this, the easier it'll be to screen those who'll assist you with it. If you don't know what your car's thingamawhatsis does, you can expect to be sold a new one regularly.
The Last Mile
Listening room and house were finally finished and ready for the last step---acoustical treatment. I didn't acoustically treat this room according to any scientific "calculation" or cookbook recommendations. The only way to really optimize a listening space is to experiment, and address the known, treatable problems common to all rooms. The only way to control room modes, for example, is through proper room dimensions and, to a much lesser degree, loudspeaker placement. Flutter echo---that zingy quality you hear when you clap your hands---can be easily controlled with distributed absorption and diffusion, as can the overall liveliness of the room.
I wanted the room treatments I used to be as placement-flexible as possible. Books, records, and furniture make fine absorbers and diffusers of sound, but what do you do if you want to place those new loudspeakers against the wall with the heavy desk, books, and Aunt Hortense's antique sideboard? This is a one-time headache for the typical audiophile, but a major handicap for a reviewer. I opted for three easily moveable listening chairs, the equipment racks, and three smaller, wooden storage cabinets. Still pending are LP and CD shelves, which will be built into corners unlikely to be used for equipment or loudspeakers.