Fine Tunes #27

Last month I delved into avoiding reflective, parallel-wall slap echoes from ruining your audiophile day. But I've since learned of a perfectly useful workaround that's much less costly and involved than horsing around the Sheetrock. Much to my chagrin, the info came from the same source, George Cardas. When he told me about it, I slapped my forehead so hard I'm sure they heard it in Brooklyn. One caveat: This tweak works best with big, juicy collections of LPs. It could work with CDs...but we'll come to that.

Say, like most people, you have a rectangular listening room. With any luck, your speakers sit a third or more of the room's depth from the back wall and well away from the side walls. Maybe there's a nice, comfy listening chair, with another chair perched behind. If you're a sweet-spot guy or gal, ya gotta be between the speakers to Feel the Thrill.

Here's what you do. It's so simple, given that slap echoes build up between parallel surfaces. Build or have built relatively thick shelves on the side walls adjacent to the speakers. (Best case: Build 'em for all three walls facing the listening position.) Taper the depth of the shelves as you move back toward the listening position. Make something sturdy—from a hardwood, perhaps—with plenty of bracing to avoid droopy-drawer shelves and resonating members. And while you're at it, router in nice French curves of non-similar radiuses on the sides facing the room.

Now pile your LPs in the shelves, fire up the stereo, and clean your stylus. Playing familiar recordings, you can tune the room by pulling forward or pushing back the records in the surrounding shelves! Combining this with slightly repositioning your speakers can pay big dividends for those languorous Saturday-night listening sessions.

Of course, you can do the same with a big CD collection, but the flat plastic spines of CD boxes facing the room are harder and much less absorbent than LPs. However, as detailed in past "Fine Tune"s, the point is to avoid standing waves at all the wrong places—like your listening position. Given CDs' more live, bouncy, and reflective case acoustic, you'll have to work harder to find and adjust the sweet spot by manipulating reflections and standing waves.