Room Tuning: ASC Tube Traps & the MATT Test Joan Manes, January 1997

Joan Manes wrote about Tube Traps in January 1997 (Vol.20 No.1):

You have to draw the line somewhere. I drew mine at the front door.

I have spent many years as an audio spouse. I know that it's the sound that matters. I accept that our living room will be filled with all sorts of absolutely essential pieces of equipment, large and small, and that new pieces will appear out of nowhere. (Surely that black box squatting in the corner wasn't there when I looked 10 minutes ago?) Like hangers and paper clips, audio equipment reproduces spontaneously. The difference is that audio equipment doesn't disappear when you need it—it just doesn't work.

I snuggle into the far reaches of the sofa, knowing that the sweet spot is reserved for serious listening—and cats. And I clean very carefully around the equipment, not moving even a single cable by so much as a micromillimeter. Believe me—or believe an audiophile: there will be a change in the sound.

Indeed, I have become enough of an audiophile myself to recognize that our living room, with its lovely, high ceilings and gorgeous expanse of saltillo tile, needed something to make it less echoey. The answer, my husband Wes Phillips assured me, was ASC Tube Traps—big, cloth-covered pillars which, as I understand it, trap and/or reflect sound as needed.

Early one morning I greeted Joe Abrams, Bruce Brisson, and Norm Varney of MIT. They had come to help Wes set up the Traps most effectively to get the best sound in our living room with our system. Now, these guys are among the nicest people you'd ever hope to meet. But, of course, they are also audio folks.

Off I went to work, leaving my house in the hands of four audiophiles with a garage full of Tube Traps—a number of which, Wes had warned me, were "adobe"-colored (a sort of rose-pink), as opposed to the quiet gray Traps already installed in our Home Theater room. While I did not precisely have a smile on my lips and a song in my heart, I at least felt that I was prepared for the worst: I would return to find columns of different sizes and colors inconveniently located around the room. In all likelihood, I would have to design a new route to reach the dining area.

I turned my key in the lock and pushed the door lightly, expecting it to swing open. No luck—something seemed to be jammed against it. I pushed again—and heard a scraping noise almost but not quite covered by the sound of blues pouring out of the living-room system. Peering around the door, which was now open a full six inches, I saw...a big, fat, gray column set just inside our front door!!! I shoved my way past it—and immediately ran into another one at the other end of our short, narrow entrance hall, blocking my way into the living room. Squeezing around this second Trap, I interrupted my husband and his guests: "What the *&(!!#&!! is all this?"

The response? You guessed it: "That's how we get the best sound."

Me: "And how are we supposed to get into the house?"

Him: "Couldn't we use the garage entrance?"

In the face of my irrational but total refusal to have Tube Traps blocking my front door, it was determined by the Audiophile-in-Residence, in consultation with the Visiting Audiophiles, that the Trap between the hall and the living room could be moved back against the wall without affecting the sound too negatively, and that the one directly in front of the door would be stored in the garage. "But it will have to go back there when I'm doing serious listening."

Of course, having won my major point, I'm left with approximately two dozen Tube Traps of various shapes, sizes, and colors placed strategically about the room. My favorite is the Trap on top of the bookcase directly in front of our beautiful Peruvian tapestry. (And yes, it has occurred to me that the Traps in the hallway were a ploy, put there so that I would focus my complaints on them and ignore the rest. On the other hand, the setup I encountered is certainly not outside the realm of possibility for a true audiophile—if you aren't aware of that, you're obviously a new reader of this magazine.)

As the days pass, I'm becoming inured to my new living-room decor. At least the Trap in front of the tapestry is gray, and if I sit all the way to one side—which is, of course, where I sit anyway—I can see most of the tapestry.

But I have to admit it—the sound is better with the Traps. And, after all, if I turn off the lights and close my eyes, I don't have to look at them. Oh my god! Those audiophiles have been right all along—the sound is better in the dark.—Joan Manes