Enough Room? Page 4

The Stereophile Listening Room


I've discussed this room briefly in several previous articles, often with the proviso that "experimentation is ongoing." As I mentioned in the past, it measures 15.5' (footnote 4) by 20' with a 9' ceiling. The ceiling is more dispersive than normal, with open beams in Santa Fe viga style (whole barked logs supporting pine planks which form the main ceiling structure). The interior surfaces of the two outside walls are of plastered block (not adobe, as I mistakenly stated in a previous article). The other two walls are plaster over drywall. The floor is suspended over a basement. Fig.1 shows the general layout of the room. The window behind the loudspeakers is approximately 6.5' square, but is broken up into nine small panes with thick, high relief, and therefore dispersive framing around each pane.

The room treatment, up until recently, remained quite similar to that which I described in my review of the Signet SL280 almost a year ago (Vol.13 No.10). Medium-weight Berber-style carpet with an artificial jute pad covers all but a 6" perimeter around the floor. The corner fireplace (and the opposite, diagonal corner) promised to be problematical (any concave area---bay windows included---tends to focus the sound in undesirable ways). To minimize any possible adverse effects from this, two stacked (6' tall total), 16" diameter Tube Traps were placed in each of these corners, near the center of each diagonal wall segment. The Trap on the fireplace wall was placed directly in front of the (unused) fireplace opening; a sheet of Sonex was also placed in the opening to minimize its acting as a resonant cavity, although I am not certain of the need to use something like Sonex in this application. An old pillow might do as well (it's a small fireplace).

Originally, nine decorative fiberglass panels measuring about 18" by 4' were scattered around the room in what appeared intuitively to be appropriate locations; five of these were used on the sidewalls just forward of the loudspeaker locations (later reduced to four---two per side---to improve symmetry). Up until recently the wall behind the listening position was, unconventionally, very absorptive, with Distech acoustic foam (footnote 5) covering much of its area. Originally this foam was affixed to two 4' by 8' plywood sheets which were simply propped against the wall. More recently, I built four 2' by 6' frames to contain the foam, making the setup more attractive but reducing its square footage slightly. To compensate for this, and to get the panels higher up where they would be potentially more useful, two 4' wide by 32" high by 12" deep frames were built. The fronts of these frames were covered with acoustic foam from Audio Concepts, the area behind which was used for storing DO's original Quad electrostatics when not in use. The four Distech-filled frames were then placed on top of these frames, allowing the frames to reach almost to the 9' ceiling.

Shortly after I wrote my initial description of the listening room in that Signet review, a set of medium-weight, lined drapes were added to the window behind the loudspeaker location. It's interesting to note that DO, who until recently shared with yours truly the use of this room for his auditioning on an alternating schedule (footnote 6), preferred to keep these drapes closed for his listening. I, on the other hand, keep them nearly open. In any event, they do provide some degree of variable acoustic control.

Furnishings in the room are relatively sparse. A single low-back, medium-weight upholstered love-seat is the main listening chair. Two director's chairs provide extra seating when needed, as does a medium-weight upholstered chair. The equipment is located on open racks (units from Arcici, SimplyPhysics, and Sanus Systems have alternated in recent weeks).

In the past year I've found the Stereophile listening room to be a superb place in which to listen to music and evaluate components. It's not ideal, of course---I'm not certain that such a room exists. Stereophile's room was, as described above, just slightly deader than what some might feel to be ideal. This, combined with the more rigid than normal walls and ceiling, gave the room a bit more warmth than I would prefer. Loudspeakers which in themselves tend in that direction---the B&W 801 Matrix Series IIs spring to mind---were less than perfectly happy there. But in general I found the sound of the room to be excellent---as apparently have a number of visiting firemen (footnote 7). Soundstaging, in particular, can be striking with the right equipment.

Some months back we received a large shipment of RPG products to experiment with in the listening room. In their shipping cartons, they practically filled an entire adjoining vestibule, making ingress by that route next to impossible. And there weren't all that many of them---far fewer than Keith Yates had used in his earlier RPG assessment, but more like the quantity that a dedicated hobbyist might consider in his or her domestic environment. The time to actually put them to use finally came recently (we did find a better place to store them in the meantime!) when DO moved his listening room closer to his home, leaving sole use of the listening room to me---special projects excepted (footnote 8). Dramatically changing the acoustics of a shared room runs the risk of disorienting two reviewers instead of just one. I had already done this to DO last year when I moved to Santa Fe and undertook the revision of the listening room into the configuration described above. I had no desire to do it again. But Dick's move made a move to the RPGs possible.

The first step was to remove all of the absorptive panels from the wall behind the listener. An area of RPG Diffusors 8' wide by 6' high (two 2' by 4' panels and two 4' by 4' panels) was substituted. These were raised about 18" off the floor (using spare loudspeaker stands as supports) to get them higher up, where they should theoretically do the most good. Next, the fabric-covered fiberglass panels on the sidewalls were removed. In their place was substituted one 4' by 4' RPG Abffusor per side, hung from the ceiling so that it was positioned about halfway up the wall. Above that, between Abffusor and ceiling, one of the just-removed fiberglass panels was re-hung to continue the absorption in this area nearly to the ceiling. Ideally, another pair of 2' by 4' Abffusors would be used in that location, but JA had made off with two of the three Abffusors of that size that we had available, for use in his listening room; I also had to beat back with whip and chair both RH and, after his move, DO to keep them from absconding with stray Diffusors and Abffusors and thereby negating the chance to try a full complement in the Stereophile listening room!

Footnote 4: A prior article erroneously indicated this dimension to be 15'.

Footnote 5: Distech foam was similar to Sonex, though with a more elaborate pattern. The Distech used in this case was 4" thick. Distech is no longer in business, I understand.

Footnote 6: To further his quest for the ideal listening room, DO has actually bought a second house! The Vieta, JM Lab, and Nestorovic speaker reviews in this and the previous issues were the last DO carried out in the Stereophile listening room.---JA

Footnote 7: Visiting manufacturers bringing products, none to date wielding axes or resembling Kurt Russell.

Footnote 8: I have to repeat here, lest I compound the confusion, that the listening room described here is used for my listening tests as well as for special projects---which include such things as manufacturers' visits and panel listening tests (as in the one written up in Vol.14 No.7). Other Stereophile equipment reviewers do their critical listening in their own listening rooms (nearly all of which are either purpose-built or converted dedicated rooms). As will I when I build---as is presently being contemplated---a new listening room for my own use. But that's a story for a later article.