Building the Hi-Fi House

Anyone who's ever looked for it knows how rare audio-friendly living space is. Perhaps someday an enterprising developer will build Audiophile Acres---a whole subdivision of audio houses or soundproofed condos that'll meet these needs---then stand by while hordes of long-suffering audiophiles stampede the sales office, frantically waving down-payments in their sweaty hands.

I can see the salivating now over those extra-large, soundproofed dens or, spouses permitting, optimally dimensioned living rooms with separate, sonically isolated family rooms where the kids can watch Looney Tunes to their hearts' content without derailing an eagerly anticipated listening session. Barbecue discussions, instead of revolving around the great plays in last week's televised showdown between the Snail Darters and the Spotted Owls, would be replaced by endless arguments about last weekend's listening sessions or, in a remote, esoteric corner of the development, discussions of the musical merits of the latest recordings. The community center would host presentations by visiting audio manufacturers and local and touring music groups.

There would, of course, be the inevitable snags. The audiophile developer would probably enact strange neighborhood covenants: "Only tube electronics permitted" (the DO Clause); or "Digital playback must be specifically approved on a case-by-case basis, so as not to create a nuisance" (the TAS Exclusion); or "Surround-Sound and Home Theaters not authorized" (the two-channels-forever sub-paragraph).

There would also be the old problem of keeping up with the Joneses. "Honey, Bill and Clara next door just bought new Studio Grands. We'll never be able to show our face in this neighborhood again." Or the ever-popular "My dad's system can blow away your dad's system." The subdivision would become surrounded by retail establishments; the local mall, the J. Gordon Holt Galleria, would be anchored by high-end superstores. Inevitably, of course, would come the megaplex record retailers and consumer electronics chains---the beginnings of suburban blight.

Until such a community is developed, however, most audiophiles must settle for a compromised listening situation---most home designers and builders know nothing about room modes, and just enough about acoustics to be dangerous. The typical audiophile usually has to settle, however reluctantly, for a less than optimum listening space.

When I finally sold my previous home in California's sluggish real-estate market (a year after moving to Santa Fe) and could at last begin looking seriously for a new house, I knew precisely what I wanted, and wasn't prepared to accept less. I needed a separate, generously sized, properly proportioned listening room to which I could retreat in privacy---a place away from household traffic flow, and, preferably, one that was sonically well-isolated from the rest of the house. John Atkinson has such a place. Robert Harley built one---though he's just moved out of the hills and into Albuquerque proper. Jack English and Lewis Lipnick are both able to retreat to their basement lairs. Dick Olsher, for crying out loud, has a whole listening house in addition to the one he lives in. I was willing to settle for a mere dedicated, isolated room.

When I researched the Santa Fe real-estate market for a new abode, however, I couldn't find what I was looking for. No suitable houses were available, and I had no desire to wait months or years for one to turn up at a price mere humans could afford.

Building a house from the ground up had never been my first choice. But it appeared do-able, so I took the plunge and invested in an appropriate piece of land. It wasn't cheap, but neither was it in the more expensive part of town, where comparable lots were selling for two to three times as much. At just over an acre, my parcel offered reasonable isolation from neighbors while still being close to town and only about five miles from the Stereophile offices. Equally important, a lot of this size allowed for flexibility in the floor plan, especially since subdivision restrictions limited construction to single-storey dwellings. A one-storey house does, however, have advantages when an isolated listening room is required---you don't have to worry about annoying the people upstairs---but disadvantages in cost, as any builder will tell you.

The rest of the house was designed around the listening room, which I wanted large enough to accommodate a loudspeaker setup on either a long or short wall. The long-wall setup, in particular, required sufficient room width to allow both listener and loudspeakers to be placed well out from both the front and back walls while still providing a reasonable listening distance.