Building a Sound Room: A Personal Journey

By the time we had finished the house tour and admired the quiet beauty of the fir-canopied neighborhood, we sensed that we would follow our hearts from unsafe and increasingly unaffordable East Oakland, CA to the serene hamlet of Port Townsend, WA. We also knew, given the house's layout, that the only suitable place for my reference/review system and my husband David's vocal practice would be in the 22' x 22' detached garage (below).

In consultation with, first, Acoustic Analyst Bob Hodas, and then retailer Brian Berdan of Pasadena-based Audio Element and John Quick of dCS (whose company has consulted with Berdan on its own listening room), we began to design the room. First up was addressing the garage's square dimensions, which were anathema to good sound. Brian suggested that we build an entry hallway/storage area that would alter the room's geometry. It wouldn't achieve the highly touted Golden Ratio, but it was certainly a step in the right direction.

While Golden-Ratio proportions indicated that lowering the ceiling would further improve sonics, I felt doing so would leave me feeling sealed in, and large full-range speakers begging for space. Hence, we compromised with a 16' x 20' listening room with symmetrically insulated walls, a ceiling that begins a diagonal rise on both sides before flattening out at around 9', and anticipated application of acoustic treatment.

Soundproofing was essential. After spending a decade living right next to music-blasting drug dealers, we did not wish to become known as the dreaded Oakland émigrés whose three noisy terriers terrorized their neighbors while Mahler blasted through their walls. Despite a few recommendations for Quiet Rock, we found its price too high. Besides, Brian had tried it, and frowned upon its sound.

Eventually, we settled upon a multi-decker sandwich of insulation, resilient channel, air, what seems to have been SoundStop, and gypsum wallboard.Special care was taken to ensure that walls and ceiling, save the floor and sliding door to the entrance hallway, contained the same materials. That door came about after Brian observed that the sliding door between Audio Element's sound room and adjacent hallway enabled him to adjust pressure in the room and fine tune bass extension and response.

At Brian's suggestion, we chose to lay extra high-density, ecologically sound Cali bamboo over the concrete slab floor. Only later did we discover that the flooring's finish can scratch at the least provocation. Thank God for rugs.

Money does not grow on trees. Enter God's gift to humankind, the noble and wondrous George Eckley (above right, with David). Purportedly "retired," the former high-school math teacher/Home Depot supervisor turned handyman said he could build the room for a most reasonable fee.

Once plans were drawn up by Teri Mielke of Matrix Drafting and Design, and modified more times than I wish to recall, George went to work. To lower costs, the husband devoted his days off to working alongside George. Given that my carpentry skills are as pathetic as my ball throwing—the only way I know to hit a nail straight on the head is through words—I stuck to conducting research and making multiple trips to the hardware store. Offers to buy the boys healthy food for lunch went nowhere.

Electrical wiring was a major concern. With a dedicated line strategy created by Vince Galbo of MSB guiding our efforts, ultra-sympathetic electricians from Frederickson Electric installed super-grip AudioQuest NRG Edison outlets and 8-gauge wiring, and ensured as much noise isolation as our legally mandated, multi-breaker box set-up would allow.

Just as we were about to order a slew of environmentally friendly LEDs, Vince warned that they dump huge amounts of noise on the line. Instead, we installed moderately economical halogen incandescents. Multiple switches to regulate four rows of lights were chosen over noisy dimmers.

Jump ahead many, many, many months. My reference system— Wilson Audio Alexia loudspeakers: dCS Rossini DAC, Paganini transport, Scarlatti Clock; Oppo BDP-93 Nuforce Edition; Pass Labs XA200.8 monoblocks; MacBook Pro with SS drive and external HD; Nordost Odin 2/1 digital and analog cabling plus Valhalla 2 USB cable; AudioQuest Diamond Ethernet and FireWire cables; Grand Prix Audio Monaco equipment racks/amp stands, Apex feet, 1.5" Formula platform; Nordost QB8, QX4, QK1 and QV2 power accessories; Stein Music Signature Harmonizers, Blue Suns/Diamonds, Speaker Matches, Super Naturals, and crystal Quantum Organizer; Synergistic Research Tranquility Base UEFs and Basik, Transporter, PowerCell, and cabling; Bybee Neutralizers; Absolare Stabilians; Stillpoints Aperture panels—was almost ready to go.

After carefully positioning the Alexias, we took a listen. As remarkably transparent, colorful, three-dimensional, liquid, and detailed as the sound was, the room's reflective surfaces rendered it far too bright. In addition, some of the bass was out of control.

Enter Bart Andeer of Resolution Acoustics, whose room treatment performed wonders when I first encountered it at a before/after audio show demo. Bart had just designed far less costly wall treatment than what Art Dudley and I had covered at shows, and was looking for a place to try it out. Without hesitation, I offered to be his guinea pig.

In taking measurements for Bart, I discovered that the room was not exactly symmetrical. ("Oh yeah, said George, I neglected to tell you . . .") That is but one of many construction dramas that I've omitted out of compassion for readers with delicate constitutions.

With acoustic treatment in place, including panels on the sidewalls to control first- and second-order reflections, the highs came into line, and bass response was much improved. Due to all the changes, Craig Abplanalp and Gary Bruestle of Seattle-based Definitive Audio visited for an amazing afternoon/eve of final speaker positioning and fine tuning.

Even though I do not have room for the bass traps Bart had hoped to place in the room's rear corners, recent measurements are immensely gratifying. The bass control issues are minor enough to allow me to review without compromise. Highs are tamed, and detail and color are superb. After analyzing my room's measurements using equipment Bart loaned for the occasion—see accompanying graphs, snapped by my iPhone—he sent the following assessment:

"The XTZ room analyzer program shows that the maximum peak (65) to trough (53) is a difference of 12dB, well within the 20dB target considered acceptable in the lower frequencies. The 'Real Time Analysis' [above] and 'Full Range' [below] measurements show a general slight boost in the bass, gently tapering off as frequency rises. This is what many audiophiles prefer. Finally, there is a roll-off below 25Hz that minimizes rumble.

"This is, all and all, a very nice response attained without the use of DSP. The addition of stereo subwoofers with good DSP would flatten the bass. More absorption would even out the mid and high frequencies, but at the cost of some liveliness."

Given that I love rooms that are not overly damped, I'm sticking with what I've got. (Famous last words of an audiophile.)

Shortly after room treatment was installed, David and I listened to Jacob Cooper's pounding Cast and Ted Hearne's brutal "By-By Huey" from Eighth Blackbird's Michael Bishop-engineered Hand Eye. David didn't go bananas for the music, but he did volunteer that it was great for showing off a system, and that the presentation sounded astoundingly three-dimensional for a two-channel set-up. Switching to voice, we both agreed that our favorite tracks by soprano Beverly Sills sounded superb. By audition's end, I knew that my recording and equipment reviews would benefit from the sheer amount of musical information clearly audible in the room.

Even after we had measured the room, there was one final step. Thanks to feedback from Garth Powell and Kevin Wolff of AudioQuest, two major changes were made to the electrical system. First, we moved the electrical breaker that fed the music room to the top of the panel to reduce noise. Even more significant, after we detected excessive noise on the line, I called our local power company. When the Jefferson County PUD. workmen arrived, they discovered that the 25 year-old electrical transformer serving our little corner of the hood was a rusted-out mess. Not only did they replace it with a new transformer, but they also upgraded its output by 18.5%.

The change to the system's tonal balance and resolution was marked. I wish I still had the measuring equipment, because I suspect that the graphs would look even better.

Recent confirmation that the attention we put into the room had paid off came when 20 members of the Pacific Northwest Audiophile Society visited on April Fool's Day for a system listen/amp comparison. How I managed to switch between files, CD, and SACD, as well as between my Pass amps and the Audionet Max monoblocks here for review, without making a fool of myself or blowing up something, I do not know. But when PNWAS members broke into applause at the conclusion of the very first track I played, Carolyn Sampson's perfect rendition of Mozart's "Et incarnatus est," I knew that we had done something very right.

Now that friends and local audiophiles can join us for musical and video adventures, and David can practice voice in the room, we are two happy campers. The only gripes come from canines Daisy Mae Doven, Leo Gleesun, and Guy Luvberg, who have been ordered to confine their shedding to the main house. The three perpetually tanked fish are also demanding larger quarters, and insist that I position their tank on the Grand Prix rack's top shelf. Excuses that the glass would be reflective fall on deaf ears. The saga continues . . .

Trace's picture

Being a reviewer must pay VERY well ! But no analog turntable.... heathen!

volvic's picture

Great article, as someone who lives in a cramped apt in Manhattan with three turntables, loads of vinyl and cd's, I am a little envious. In the photos of people listening, I see vinyl on the shelf but no turntable in the setup. Is that coming soon?

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Yes, there is no analog set-up. I have sat for a long time with this, with the size of the room in mind. To add analog, I have three choices:

1. Switch to two lower racks between the speakers. While the additional space would hold a turntable and phono preamp, this would render the equipment line-up so tight that I couldn't get behind it to change cables or anything else. In addition, it would be a visual assault - an audiophile Wall of Power, as it were - and feel, to me, unsettling.

2. Add a second rack on the left side of the room. This would not only interfere with the left speaker's radiation patterns, but also make the room look very cluttered.

Add to that the need for a preamp, turntable, arm and cartridge of high quality, and a record cleaner - oh, need space for that, too - and the fact that I have no room for more LPs, and you have me back to square one. My only choice would be to ditch my digital equipment and, with that, say goodbye to reviewing discs and files and much new music...

Many of the LPs you see in the photo are now on CD. Others are really poor transfers of old acoustic and early electrical vocal recordings. The later transferred, less filtered CD equivalents of those recordings often sound better. There are certainly some excellent LPs in that rack that I'm dying to hear and use in the classes I teach on opera and art song, but there are also thousands of unplayed discs that I am dying to hear and watch.

For those who have already written me off as both a heathen and a traitor to analog devotees worldwide, what I'm about to say will only increase your disdain. One of the reasons the LPs are there is to work as a sound absorber. The other is to remind me that someday, after I rip maybe 12 more large boxes of CDs to HD, I need to digitize some of my LP collection.

And, on that note, I shall now thank you for your comments, and proceed to write my review of last night's Seattle Opera performance of The Magic Flute. For those dying to know, it was a musical massacre.

volvic's picture

Nor call you a heathen for not having a vinyl rig. Your logic makes total sense, to purchase an equivalent turntable, preamp, tonearm and cartridge would set you back a lot of money as well as the logistics involved. What I see is a nice balanced system that has been well thought out and is well placed. Enjoy the music.

jokeka's picture

I need to redo my room (not dedicated, I wish) and have read and heard that ideally there should be no gear between the speakers ... maybe just an amp (or two monos) on the floor. Did you consider this or was it a non-issue because of space, or do you (as do others) believe as long as the fronts of the speakers are beyond the fronts of the gear, sound is not compromised? I'm waffling right now. Either way, congrats!

AngelaG's picture

We had the honor of listening to several selections in the music room, and I cannot say enough kind things about Jason's expertise. Listening to the same song with different settings, and experiencing how that changes the listening experience was quite eye opening for this audio novice.

dalethorn's picture

"Listening to the same song with different settings...."

Yep, that's a great way to appreciate where all that effort went. I've found that I get the most from that technique when I play a track that has two similar phrases one after the other, and I start at the first phrase and switch the setting immediately after the first phrase, just in time for the second phrase to play. Then reverse the process, because much of the time you only pick up on certain anomalies the first way, and in the reverse process you will often hear things that were made worse.

Anton's picture

Thank you for that intimate and personal tour.

Beautiful work!

Congrats to your husband and George! (You are lucky on two counts!)

Really great, JVS!

Anon2's picture

Congratulations on the sound room, and for your successful relocation.

And, for those would-be audiophile re-locators of the West, don't forget Stereophile's one-time digs in New Mexico.

In New Mexico, there's low humidity (much lower heat than Texas, Arizona, Nevada, and inland California) and sunshine year-round. Maybe you could even run your class-A power amps "off-the-grid" in NM with solar panels!

music or sound's picture

I really appreciate that report! The acoustics of the room are almost always neglected and rarely one can read a good article about it (compared to electronic toys). As far as I can see that room has no windows and I am wondering how much avoiding glass surfaces (which are very reflective in high frequencies but vibrating and transmissive at low frequencies) is important for sound quality. But no windows would make it into a "sound cave"?
One comment I read recently about voicing loudspeakers is that drywall is more transmissive for low frequencies. In the US where drywall is more standard the speakers are designed with more low frequency output than in Europe where brick walls are more common.

bsaltz's picture the heavy absorber you're wearing...

brenro's picture

And so little information out there for the average, budget constrained audiophile. The XTZ room analyzer looks affordable and usable by people who aren't audio engineers.

dalethorn's picture

I discovered after years of purchases that I could afford a system that had the potential to play very satisfying music. My unsolved problem was getting the music room that would get the best sound from my system. I see now that Jason did a very smart thing - instead of rebuilding a room in the house that might compromise something there, he used the garage.

Kal Rubinson's picture

Yes. The XTZ Pro is almost optimum. Not free (like REW) but not too expensive. Friendlier than REW or OmniMic. OTOH, it is not as potent as REW or OmniMic. If you Google the names with Stereophile, you will find reviews on all (and more).

Note than none of these will do more than measure and suggest filters. They will not DO the EQ without additional hardware.

brillcat's picture

Thanks Jason (who will understand my Subject Line reference to many years living in the South)... As an admiring neighbor and vintage audiophile (translation = my listening ear is calibrated to 1970s analog tech) who has helped Jason move around some incredibly heavy amps and listened to this marvelous room of sound (and yes Jason, we neighbors cannot hear any unpleasant soundwaves as we walk by with our dogs), I can say that my somewhat dulled sense of hearing is improved immeasurably by Jason's knowledge and enthusiasm for the source material and the hi-tech reproduction equipment. If I wanted to build a sound room like this, I can assure you he has built it with the budget conscience among us in mind. It is a perfect example of value for the money. How much you want to spend on the equipment you put inside is totally up to you.

dalethorn's picture

The power company replaced the neighborhood transformer just because it was rusty? Wow. Is everyone like that in Port Townsend? You might see a bunch of moving vans in the next few months.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

It is true that our utilities are owned by the public, and responsive to requests. But when I lived in East Oakland, and my PS Audio Power Plant's meter showed that that the electricity arriving at our house (which was located at the very end of the block, farthest from the transformer) not only fluctuated, but also frequently dipped under the legally mandated low point, I gave a call to privately owned PG&E. PG&E came out, discovered that I was correct, and upped voltage delivery.

If you find that your electrical supply is unduly noise-ridden or substandard, and in-house efforts cannot remedy the problem, call your utility company and find out what they're willing to do. If they rebuff you, try your local government representative's office.

As for moving here, given that Seattle housing costs are rising precipitously, you're not the only one who would consider it. Trouble is, housing prices are rising here as well - we escaped the ghetto just in time - and houses go very fast. People who do service work in the city and young people wishing to start families here are having a difficult time staying here. Both latest additions to our City Council are young, socially committed thinkers who are trying to address this. Ditto the latest member of the County Board of Commissioners.

ken mac's picture

Information for the "average, budget constrained audiophile":
Look no further than Musicians as Audiophiles...

brenro's picture

However, equipment is not my issue. Getting it to sound its best in my room is.

jhwalker's picture

Great write-up! Would love some day to have a setup like that :)

Thanks for sharing.

cgh's picture

Awesome! Love these! Looks great. Enjoy your new home.

cgh's picture

You're also a stone's throw from the Noh rainforest, one of the quietest places in the US. You can go an prep your ears for a listening session. It's like an anechoic chamber.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

The US Navy is intending to conduct electromagnetic warfare over the Olympic National Forest 200 days out of the year using Growler jets, the noisiest jets on earth.

dalethorn's picture

Uh-oh. Bad enough the underwater junk they were using that put 200+ db sounds into the oceans. That must have been hell for some species.

Allen Fant's picture

Great, as always, write up- JVS.
Beautiful pics. Thankfully, you guys were able to get away from Oakland. Hard to imagine living in those surroundings. Enjoy your new sound room and residence. Happy Listening!

tonykaz's picture

I'm impressed by the sacrifices you've made, like the 'lack of heating' and the fashion choices in relaxed listening attire, is that deep-winter coat down filled?

Well, at least you won't have to cope with the musty smell of moldy record jackets ( Washington has high levels of Humidity, doesn't it ?, it's a Rain Forest Area, am I guessing correctly ? ). Are stinky feet ok?

I wouldn't dare sum-up the Retail costs involved in building this system but I will suggest a level of commitment far beyond mine.

I hope that Jana does a Video of you presenting this System to the YouTube World : Videos of Real Life Audiophiles Series. It'd probably be more useful ( for we readership ) than roaming the halls of some Annual Audio Show like CES, it could be like the video she did of Herb's Bunker, super great stuff!

Stereophile is surging into the realm of darn good journalism, I hope it continues to pace the 21st Century advancements in all things technical.

Poor Jude has had his rather successful HeadFi format pulled right-out from under him, his site rather sucks now, too bad.

I'm staying tuned-in ( like it or not ), I don't want to miss 'one tiny bit' of how everything plays out, although I've finally decided to not re-enter the Audio business. ( I've been contemplating it for the last 3 years ).

Thanks for the peek, those Wisconsin Milk Cans are a nice touch, who's your Decorator?

Tony in Michigan

ps. I've been banned to the Garage many times during my married life, where, I can smoke a little rope, get Vodka silly, be loud without constant nagging. ( I understand )

dalethorn's picture

"Poor Jude has had his rather successful HeadFi format pulled right-out from under him, his site rather sucks now...."

From what I've read, changing the host software is common for websites, and this is a typical reaction. I have rarely had a problem adjusting to new formats except for one thing: Many of the newer forum softwares do not allow showing comments by latest first. The threads will usually show latest thread first, but then there is no option to have the comments within each thread show latest first. Confirmed by several sites, with no "settings" options to override.

tonykaz's picture

I struggle to find usefulness in HeadFi.

It is constantly introducing 'new & improved' gear.

It's manufacture's present their points of view from their Sales perspective but don't bring useful clarity.

It encourages non-sense chatter from the hyped fan community while suppressing considered decent by giving enforcement authority to less than judicious moderators. ( NwAveGuy being banned )


It did give the little guy a Voice and organized 'our' discussions. Like the wonderful Felikes Group of Tube Rollers i.e. Connieflyer, Howie13, Untell-then, etc... who were consistently in the top 10 sites listings.

It feels like Jude just got 'Fired' by his hosting outfit with all his decades of committed work being deleated/diluted by some invisible Higher Authority. Screwed Ouch

HeadFi gets to retain the Stereo Review aspects of Presenting with preference to it's Sponsors. Schiit still gets Front Page for it's founders marketing POVs, etc...

Now, HeadFi resembles the Junk Mail Flyers that most folks immediately toss into the re-cycle bin.

Jude is one of my neighbors, I see him at Grocery Stores although I don't socialize with him. I feel for Jude. What's happened to Jude is also happening to all of us. I feel his agonies. We are all getting screwed again, by mindless Corporations working tirelessly to optimize their Profits at our expense.

Somebody broke HeadFi and I don't think Jude will be able to fix it, his momentum is hitting a very rough patch.


Stereophile is ascending, it's Stars are aligning, it's Strengths are strengthening, it's journalism is improving, it's reporting is becoming accurate & reliable. I applaud JA for allowing integrity to permeate.

I'm pouring an Icy Glass of Faygo Cream Soda to Toast Stereophile's future Success.

Well done to all the folks at SF!

Tony in Michigan

dalethorn's picture

I don't think it's broke, or that it's significantly different from the previous forum. But certainly users like yourself need some things, like 1) Some good navigation techniques that filter out what you don't want to see, without missing what you do want to see (when you find it, please share), and 2) How to filter the comments. As a longtime writer of parsers, I'd guess there are tools that can do that, even if you have to save the page(s) as PDF and search from there. The only complaint I've ever had, and it relates to me was well as NwAvGuy, is when certain members use the "banned from head-fi" phrase on other portable audio forums in an attempt to disparage a person's reputation. It's a problem because a forum that large is going to remove many members over time, and not all of them (not nearly all) for any sort of bad behavior.

tonykaz's picture

For now, I'm ignoring it.

Tyll is making epic explorations, his fellow travelers are revealing wonders, SF and JA are easily worthwhile, they present a wide range of interests.

HeadFi has simply been a Social Site with Technical pretentions.

YouTube is realizing the promise that TV made but never kept. ( except in the UK )

I've lately joined a group ( of software developers like you ) discussing the utility of iPhone8. My part would be in financing applications. This is far-reaching and exciting stuff. Phew!!!

Annnnnnnd, The donkeys are on the rise, so I'm being tugged into that frey. 2018 here we come.

I've felt that by now I'd be under a Palm tree, sitting in a Wheel Chair, listening to Pool-side music from building mounted all-weather speakers. It hasn't happened yet. I'm keeping my fingers-crossed.

Tony in Michigan

dalethorn's picture

I've gone beyond Tyll and the usual suspects in getting the most from headphone sound. When he opened shop around 2/2011, I sent him two of my Beyer headphones to test. I started posting reviews on his forum, and got cut off because my reviews were getting more reads than his.

The point is, it's not enough to review a $1000 headphone and say "Here's what you get for your $1000, end of sentence." You can get a *lot* more than that with a little more effort. Is your headphone *nearly* perfect, but has some small annoying imperfection that you're thinking of spending $2000 in a (probably) vain hope of fixing? That's where my techniques come in. BTW, I'm not going to do any self-promotion on this forum. If you have questions about what I do, you can send an email.

tonykaz's picture

I agree.

I hired the U of M Audiologists to help me, to significant success.

Still, Tyll is the best out there at helping someone get started.

He and Steve G. pointed me in a darn good direction.

He is reliable.

Maybe not perfect.

Tony in Michigan

dalethorn's picture

We're not talking the same language, Tony. I speak the language of J. Gordon Holt, founder of Stereophile, whose magazine banner read "For the hi-fi stereo perfectionist."

tonykaz's picture

Perfection doesn't exist for me.

Doing a little bit better, getting a little closer do exist.

I can't believe and I certainly can't believe in perfection.

My manufacturing career is based on pushing mediocrity into the A- territory.

Tony in Michigan

ps. I do recognize the 'perfection' trait in that Pohl group of Software developers, they see me as a 'rounder-offer'

dalethorn's picture

Again you missed the point and went off the subject. This is Stereophile right here, and Holt founded it for audio perfectionists. Maybe you have your own definition of perfectionist that doesn't align with Holt's, but my understand of perfectionist as it relates to hi-fi audio does come from Holt, not that dictionary you're reading.

tonykaz's picture

Perfection does not exist, anywhere.

So, naturally, I would never accept Holt's declaration of intent, it's a Marketing Slogan.

Perfection doesn't exist in my dictionary or in real life, it's a construct of the Idealists, god bless em.

I live in a world of 7% improvements, where pie is 3.14, where accuracy is an approximation.

Perhaps an Acorn could be viewed as perfect because it contains the DNA Blueprint for a Million Acre Forest but that same Forest will have 200 Species of other Trees, not a Perfect Acorn producing Forest.

I'm an imperfect Species and person.

I don't envy you perfectionists but I do admire the results of your work.

Tony in Michigan

dalethorn's picture

So you hang out a lot on Stereophile which was conceived by J. Gordon Holt, yet you deny his basic premise by applying your incorrect interpretation of hi-fi perfectionist. I'm glad I don't have that problem.

tonykaz's picture

I was importing and selling Hifi New & Record Review back when JA was it's editor. It was the best Mag. in the UK where I lived and had an Export Office.

Stereophile got lucky with finding JA.

Audio Mag. was our Best in the USA, I was an Audio Mag. Advertiser.

TAS was the dominant Hi End mag. I sold their Mag in my Retail business and got early releases of their product reviews so that I could rush order anything they anointed .

I, and my partner, were never Audiophiles. We were GM Salaried Engineers. We together developed a 'Product-Turnover' system for GM's benefit but it was unproven and thus un-accepted. We both left GM to prove and establish our System and refine our Methodologies. Since the Pound/Dollar relationship was then 1 to 1 and because George was a native Englishman we chose importing British stuff as our Laboratory. I suppose that we kind-of fell in love with the better Audio stuff as a result. 3 years later I was back working for GM on a Contract basis. GM ( purchased outright ) our Turnover business plan.
George took our Turnover system to 3M Corp. and became their CEO.

Lately ( the last three years, or so ) I've been considering a return to the Audio Business, I've been following along, as a sort of hobby. I've managed to casually build a wonderful music system as a result. I've never had any contact with Holt, I've never been any sort of believer, and I'm not adventuring back into the Audio world ( Professionally ).

Today, to my way of reasoning, Quality source material is the main & critical ingredient to a good music system. Good music reproduction is an ingredient to a good Quality of Life. It has nothing to do with Perfection, HighEnd or HighRez.

The future, that I can see, is the smart phone that the entire world seems to have adopted. That little phone has become the center of everyone's universe, it will be the 'de-facto' music system for 'Everyman' ( if it hasn't already ).

I've read Holt's various reviews, he seems to have had integrity ( which HP lacked ) but his writings are very much out of the context of his time, more like they're a walk down memory lane, a memory lane I missed as I was working 12 hours per day and raising a family.

I'm a print subscriber of SF for the insightfulness of it's journalism, I always subscribe to dam good writing, no matter the subject matter. Since I'm down with an injury, I have time.

Tony in Michigan

dalethorn's picture

Some of what you say is true, which does make you a believer - a believer in what you say. The point that you're not-so-cleverly avoiding is that this is the high end, the audiophile corner, the "perfectionist" view of things, and there is no better proof of that than the prices of our gear and the crankiness of the participants. So feel free to enjoy what you enjoy, but be aware that just because you're not competing doesn't mean there isn't a competition.

Edit: BTW, the smartphone has too many communication problems and obligations to be a good high-end music server, unless it's set to Airplane Mode to stop the interruptions.

tonykaz's picture

is one one of my weak traits, I stopped trying decades ago.

My life and work has been related to improving, I'm changing vectors like a sailboat tacking in changing wind. Everything in my life experience informs my next vector selections.

I'm betting on that iPhone concept, knowing that I'll be wrong but heading closer. Those iPhone people are also vectoring and tacking, they're getting closer too.

One half of the Earth's population are phone subscribers -- 3.3 Billion!

We have about 75,000 Audiophiles in the USA. Many are in-active.

I, as W8FDS, am one of about 2,000,000 ham radio operators worldwide, 800,000 in the USA. ( I'm in-active since the mid 1960s ).

1749 came Ben Franklin's lightning rod.

The trajectory of electricity is beyond understanding, I only have a few experiences to inform my view of these matters. I'm confident in my being well off-course unless I change vectors again and again.

What will iPhone18 look like and what will it enable us to accomplish?

Tony in Michigan

dalethorn's picture

Currently the iPhone is regarded as fairly benign, as it only tracks you ruthlessly, with NO option to turn off tracking and hide your location (even with location services OFF). But all you need do is forward-project from where we were to see where we're going, and where we're going is 100 percent monitoring with all of the things that includes.

Audiophiles, the topic here BTW, are pretty much independent thinkers, out-of-the-box they say, and identifying with them can make your life better. I really don't want to elaborate on the above or go off topic, but when I mentioned the sources of interference that phones have with good DACs (like the DragonFly Red) connected, I'm trying to inform you that the phone at this stage isn't powerful enough to run the DAC/amp AND keep that process totally isolated from everything else. Let's face it - good isolation is a challenge in systems that have many times the power and shielding of a phone.

tonykaz's picture

A Film container for Air Transport. ( Faraday Shield )

You are right, though!, even Cars have tracking devices built-in.

The answer is partly governance, partly revolt. We'll have to demand our elected officials take regulatory steps, we'll have to vector, tack and re-evaluate. We are all aware of your cautions, we just aren't taking them seriously, yet.


Early CD players vs. today's Digital is a useful analogy. I'll take time, engineering, demand and perhaps a few other traits to make the phone into a musical device. I own a little Amp with a built-in Power supply, it has a remarkably low noise floor, far lower than anything I ever owned including the silent Electrocompaniet PreAmpliwire w/moving coil module which had an outboard power supply.
Engineers will figure things out, they are very clever once they get the bit in their teeth. ( here's an area where I'm a 'Believer' and I also kinda Believe that I'm never quite Right about anything! )

Tony in Michigan

ps. my household is deciding on new Smart Phones, one of the important features is that it'll allow our children to know where we both are at any given minute. My wife does not embrace this concept, she wants her privacy.

dalethorn's picture

Missed points: 1) My iPhone 7-plus with DragonFly Red is fully hi-fi - as hi-fi as it gets. 2) The interference is the nature of the phone, email, Web, and "everything else" communication device, which a hi-fi system is not.

There are options, which are: 1) Put the phone into Airplane mode, then there are no interruptions, such as phone, email, text, Web, etc. 2) Use an iPod Touch or a wi-fi-only iPad in Airplane mode, so your phone will still receive calls.

tonykaz's picture

My iMac can do two things at once but I'll always turn the music off when I take a call or I'm concentrating on something.

The Phone has far too small a screen. I have the largest screen iMac which I split between Safari and Chrome. I write on Safari while researching on Chrome, I'd like to have two more screens. I use two keyboards. The phone won't replace my Big System.


I know people that only have the phone, they only write short messages, they watch TV stuff on the little thing, it seems like a Swiss Army Knife that can do everything but not very well and it seems addictive.

Today I escaped to relative Nirvana by leaving home without a device, it feels like a mini-vacation, an off the grid vacation, un-tethered and at-risk ( my family feels ), like I ran-away leaving no forwarding address.

That little Dragonfly is getting rather high praise, I'll probably return to the LG Tone, the Harmon version. I used the Tone for work and found it's functionality useful but I nevah play music while working on a Contract job. I'll have to learn how to adapt to civilian life where 'I' have to carry the communication device and 'I' have to peck-out the immediate responses.

Can the iPhone simplify life or does it make life more complex? It certainly became a "don't leave home without it" device.

Airplane Mode might be my ( risk taking ) savior.

Tony in Michigan

John Atkinson's picture
tonykaz wrote:
I was importing and selling Hifi News & Record Review back when JA was it's editor. It was the best Mag. in the UK where I lived and had an Export Office.

My predecessor as HiFi News's editor, John Crabbe, created something unique, where subjective judgements were combined with objective analysis: a model I developed when I succeeded him and continue to this day with Stereophile.

tonykaz wrote:
Stereophile got lucky with finding JA.

It wasn't really luck. I had almost doubled HiFi News's circulation between October 1982, when I became editor, and May 1986 when I joined Stereophile, and owner Larry Archibald wanted me to do the same thing for him.

tonykaz wrote:
Audio Mag. was our Best in the USA...

Absolutely. It's a twist of history that the company that publishes Stereophile also publishes Sound & Vision, which incorporates Audio. The entire Audio magazine archive now lives in a filing cabinet opposite my office door!

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

tonykaz's picture

Thanks for writing.

My wife still uses a gift from Laura LoVecchio ( a giant paperclip on a black plinth ) Audio magazine in Gold lettering. Judy uses it every day, it never broke. She loves the thing. Please give Laura a nice Thank You from B&K Imports. It's gotten daily use for all of these 33 years.


Jana's video work is wonderful, especially her profile of HR. She gave the Man incredible depth and width. I previously read all of HR's contributions and didn't quite get an understanding of the Man, the Video framed his Philosophy which brought him into Sharp Focus. Well done! I like HR, no doubt about it, if he migrates to TAS I'll subscribe to it.

Robert Schryer's Editorial is brilliant. I hadn't realized that I'm not quite an Audiophile, now I do, I'm a Stereophile. I feel much better.

Stereophile's journalism could reach much wider audiences, one of Jana's videos will go Viral, we all love and enjoy music ( just like that Munich crowd ), Stereophile is poised for being in every Barber Shop.
YouTube is the catalyst. You have the Camera, you have the editing software. You need a bit of tutoring which you can have for FREE by watching Casey Neistat's YouTube Channel, he's based in NY,NY southern Manhattan. He's brilliant and he shows how he does it. You'll pick up Subscribers by the Barrel full. You can take nice Music Mainstream. Stereo stuff always had a Hugh Hefner/Playboy Mansion quality about it and it's proponents, Stereophile can model it as a Family activity that creates Quality of Life, which it actually is!

Tony in Michigan

dalethorn's picture

BTW, I can't agree about head-fi. Yes, if you wade in and try to experience whatever is thrown at you (ads, reviews, etc.), you will get overwhelmed by underwhelming things. It's the center of the universe for exploring new headphone and amp etc. purchases, and you need to be able to walk your way through without being bogged down by distractions. That is to say, if you want to explore the new stuff, i.e. "what's happening"

tonykaz's picture

I'm probably not going to bother.

Sorry, Jude!

I'm delighted with my dynamic driver headphones, I'm not nervously chasing better. I already own superb.

I was following in the wake of the Tube Rollers ( on HeadFi ) and learning of their discoveries but Tubes have a short Half-Life, too short for me to embrace, still, I might invest in a Feliks 6sn7 based headphone amp. ( I still have some Audiophile Nervosa )

Long ago, I committed to the consistent performance of SS electronics, I'll accept slightly less sound quality in trade for the short lifespans and the constant search for quality glass.

I was once searching for truth about DACs, HeadFi was the Center of Confusion. Bob Katz and Big Sound 2015 brought focus and clarity ( for me ) to DAC understandings, so, Tyll was useful in helping me not purchase that $10,000 MSB Analog DAC. phew, close one, it wasn't what I needed but I was taken with the design.

Purchasing Tyll recommended stuff is rather safe.

I mostly don't listen with my Big System, I go day to day with Sennheiser Wireless Cans, my Big Rig is too dam Dopamine Inducing/mood altering, I get high from it. Besides I don't need Sound Quality to take all the Teaching Company's Courses that I never got a chance to explore during my Career. I actually wear-out the Wireless cans and have to eBay replace them, I wear them all over my house and grounds.

I might get injured again ( I fell off a ladder recently ) and have to recover for a period of time, my Big System will come in handy to keep me in good spirits.

Poor Jude is gonna have to work like crazy to keep his Base, I wonder if he's up to this challenge?

Tony in Michigan

dalethorn's picture

You make it sound like Jude's on oxygen or something. I imagine his biggest problem is counting the money and getting his tax forms filled out. As to tubes, I set my small tube amp with metal chassis on top of my Macbook Pro, and let the Macbook act as a heat sink to the tube amp. Like a miracle, keeps it running warm, not hot.

ssimon's picture

Yes, Jason, meant for you. Was thinking of bringing my own canine and an HDD of my favorite tunes. And a copy for you!
Best, Steven Simon (Amherst)

jporter's picture

Too bad you spent so much on the equipment you couldn't afford to heat it. I would love to jam Mingus' The Shoes of the Fisherman's Wife are Some Jive Ass Slippers on your system...Cheers!

texanalog's picture

Jason could use a space heater to preheat the room, unplug it, then let the 2 Class A monoblock convection heaters maintain the room temp.

I'd be more concerned about summer listening with those Class A beasts.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

is the ductless, low-noise heat pump high on the back wall that provides both heating and cooling at reasonable cost.

texanalog's picture

"Offers to buy the boys healthy food for lunch went nowhere." LOL#1

"I discovered that the room was not exactly symmetrical. ("Oh yeah, said George, I neglected to tell you . . .")" LOL#2

pbarach's picture

Oakland's weather is not perfectly temperate, of course.

curbfeeler's picture

So Jason, you might want to get the Sugarcube from Sweet Vinyl when it becomes available. It was crowdfunded and ought to be introduced soon. Prototypes have been shown at RMAF and Axpona.

jimsusky's picture

Great article, and I haven't finished reading it

Given that "the saga continues", I'd like to comment and ask some questions about power to your sound room.

I see you put considerable effort into power distribution. More than 20 years ago a recording engineer turned me on to "balanced power" - intended for recording studios - which uses isolation transformers to filter power line noise. HE claimed to have influenced the addition of a new article to the National Electrical Code (NEC). Sure enough, there it was in the 1996 revision. "Equitech" had an internet presence at that time and their literature looked promising - in a way that much audio sales lit was (is) not.

Equitech is still in business:

Article 647 of the current NEC (2017) addresses balanced power.

I'd be interested to know what your consultant knows about balanced power, and whether there are issues with the Authority Having Jurisidiction (AHJ) and balanced power in residential occupancies.

(if he doesn't immediately know what AHJ, NEC, and Article 647 mean, then he's the wrong one to ask)

I haven't looked into it for a long time, but I believe Equitech has "front of the outlet" balanced power products. I recall they seemed "costly" - but not really in the context of those AudioQuest outlets and high end audio in general.

(as a former AudioQuest dealer I must ask - how are these different from a hospital-grade outlet - even the "heavy duty" ones that retail for $40 for a duplex receptacle?)

The balanced power approach is purely passive - it uses isolation transformers to provide a "separately derived system" (run that term by your consultant). IWO - no "regeneration", which looks to be a costly way to banish power-line noise

"ultra-sympathetic electricians"

How are they different from "garden-variety" electricans who expect prompt payment and bounceless checks (or just nice new benjies)?

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

I am not equipped to address this. But I'll bet a power expert such as Paul McGowan of PS Audio and Garth Powell of AudioQuest can. Why don't you write them?

jimsusky's picture

I Sent an Email to Vince Galbo (since you dropped his name).

I'll be interested in his reply - you should contact him separately for it.

Thanks Again for your great article.

jimsusky's picture

Try a bit of "subversion".

Invite some young guys (and lovely ladies, too) to listening sessions.

Get a youth movement going!

PAR's picture

Lovely place, lovely system ( though I am not too crazy about towers of components placed between the speakers).

Anyway, on to the really important stuff: Is that fabulous ice cream parlour on the high street at Port Townsend still there?

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Yes. Ditto for the Port Townsend Creamery.

Bravo for having your priorities in order.

sounddude's picture

I'm interested in building a similar sound room in my basement. What is the soundproofing material you used, along with the company's name and website? thanks, and congrats on what looks like an amazing sound room!

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

is in the article. Google will help you with the rest.

Home Depot continues to list "Sound Choice," which is what we thought we had bought, on their website. Truth is, Sound Choice was discontinued well before we placed our order, and the product named in the article is what we used.

sounddude's picture

Found it, thanks!

foxhall's picture

I can't seem to get enough of these design/construction/tweaking/results articles. I would like to see more.

Douglas_Harrison's picture

I built out a dedicated Theater\Music room some years back so I know how great it feels to have that special room to retreat to.
Remember to check into the main house during waking hours once a week or so. ;-)

c1ferrari's picture

Have family in the East Bay...from what I understand, it's becoming even more unaffordable as a result of dot com gentrification.

Thanks for sharing, Jason!