A More (or Less) Enjoyable Listening Experience

So, this is what the mess looks like right now.

I’m not sure if this is how the mess will look a week from now. I’ve got a bunch of friends helping me sort it out. While it’s cleaning up alright, I’m having some trouble with that bookcase lying behind the speakers. For one, it’s visually distracting. Distractions, even the visual sort, can alter one’s mood and make for a less enjoyable listening experience. Second, I believe that my soundstage is now shallower than it was when the Polycrystal equipment rack stood between the windows. Then again, maybe the shrunken soundstage has nothing to do with the location of the new bookcase; maybe my gear simply sounds better when it’s placed atop the Polycrystal. Or maybe I just have to find new locations for the speakers. Or maybe it has something to do with the QED speaker cables that I’m now using. (The Furutech Evolutions I had been using were too short to reach out to the left-channel speaker.)

Who knows? I can’t be certain. Too many variables, too many variables.

Another difficulty is my room’s lack of symmetry. John Atkinson tells me that symmetry is very important for creating precise and focused images within a soundstage. One solution would come in arranging my new Ikea bookcases so that they mirror one another, on either side of the speakers—either vertically or horizontally—thus creating symmetry. However, a long baseboard heater prevents me from placing a horizontally oriented bookcase along the left wall. In addition, there’s a very small area—a matter of a few feet—in which anything can be placed in my living room without suffering some tilt due to a somewhat alarming dip in the floor’s surface. It is possible for me to arrange the two new bookcases vertically, on opposing walls, avoiding the baseboard heater and nulling the floor’s central dip, but doing so leaves me feeling a bit hemmed in: You know, as if two dark, heavy bookcases are staring at me. One last limitation comes in the form of AC: There’s only one outlet in the room, located on the wall between the windows, and I don’t like the idea of running exposed extension cords all over the place.

What to do?

I am considering swapping the LPs and the books. I wonder if the regularity in size and appearance of the LPs would create less of a visual distraction. Another idea is to move the front-wall bookcase into my bedroom, thereby making room to place the Polycrystal equipment rack in its original location. To achieve this, I would have to tackle a large deal of reorganization in the bedroom. (That’s okay: There’s nothing else going on in there, anyway.) On the other hand, reconstructing the equipment rack would be a snap, and would allow me to reintroduce the Furutech cables to the system. Neither of these ideas addresses the issue of symmetry, however. That said, my system, as it is now, sounds fine. If anything, there may be some increase in midrange clarity. Images actually seem as focused as ever.

Another attractive idea takes shape in placing the orange couch along the long, left wall, just in front of the baseboard heater, and setting the Polycrystal equipment rack directly in front of it, on the opposite wall. I could then place the two Ikea bookcases vertically, on either side of the equipment rack, and move the Gothic Cabinet LP rack to the entrance wall, in place of the orange couch. But this option would require removing several small pieces of art and furniture from the walls, and would mean addressing that dip in the floor and employing extension cords.

And then there are the 450 compact discs that need to go somewhere. Damn.

Cybermynd's picture

I find your comment about the visual aspect of the bookcase interesting. I have noticed that listening with my eyes closed is a different experience than keeping them open. When they are open I can better visualize the placement of players and singers within the soundstage.However, looking at all my equipment is a bit distracting as well. I wonder if anyone has done any testing to determine the impact of the visual aspect of a listening room on the sound experience. I have thought of putting some sort of curtain behind my Quads just to see if the apparent soundfield changes at all. This aspect of room design seems to be ignored due to the need to actually see the equipment you've spent so many thousands of dollars to accumulate.PS: Thanks for the blog - I always like to see real people dealing with real situations!

Tman's picture

Cover the offending bookcase with a throw or Indian blanket!

Johnny B. Good's picture

I'd say, get a wife, she'll take care of that. By the way, I suggest a healthy dose of Deep Dive Corp., the "More Bass" album is very tasty...

rudy yniguez's picture

Stephen, try dimming the lights when you listen to music. I find glaring lights a distraction to listening, and usually only allow lights on in other areas where I am not listening to music.I looked into those bookcases, and remember each shelf can only take 29 pounds. Vertically, they might be somewhat unstable.

Dismord's picture

I'm going blue in the face saying this, get rid of the damned stool between you and the speakers and get rid of those two prints leaning against the right hand shelf - - and yes a throw rug over the rear shelving should help.

Shahrukh's picture

Those 450 CDs can go on a hard disk.

May Belt's picture

Stephen. Could I suggest that this would be an ideal opportunity to do some experiments ? Can I suggest that you leave everything exactly as it is now - in situ - and you experiment by 'treating' numerous things - exactly where they are now - in situ ?You ask - "Maybe it is this, maybe it is that. Who knows? I can't be certain. Too many variables, too many variables.Now is an ideal opportunity to try to find out !!Regards,May Belt.

Aaron Gaouette's picture

Could you turn your bedroom into a library/memorabilia room and move your books--and the shelf they're on--there? And your living room into a sound room with the album shelf--including the sound system--along window wall with the outlet. If the speakers could move back towards the window wall without compromising their sound stage, you may be able to use your Furutech cables. Your stool and guitar amp(?) could find a home next to the guitar in the photo--making it's own music zone--out of your field of view when listening and spread your components across the top of your album shelf, turning them into... art.You won't get symmetry but you may get more clarity or focus and less 'clutter' as a one purpose room.

Nick's picture

That turntable is going to be susceptible to footfalls from that wooden floor. Why not get a target turntable stand - bolt it to the floor move the equipment to the corner of the froom and take the shelves and place them behind the couch. Yes the couch will have to move forward, do you have the room to do that?

Nick's picture

I meant to say bolt it to the WALL not floor.

Dick Gentry's picture

Good advise above re: dark room, closed eyes. Looks to me like your speakers are closed in on the sides & you're getting first reflection complications unless you're listening in the very near field. The prints look like focused reflectors directed at teh listening position. Hang 'em. Finally, hit those guys up for a raise and get a bigger place. Thanks for your good work with the mag and the blog.

David Lord's picture

You know Stephen, the way you describe your system it sounds great. OK,so we can always change things around. l think the room needs dark lighting and a softly absorbent chick on the sofa to balance the focused reflectors from those interesting prints and to say how awesome the stereo sounds. I find a friend saying how good the stereo sounds can stave off tweeking for a week. Seriously, I really like your blogs. Thanks for keeping us amused.

Jeff in Oregon's picture

Hi Stephen;Your room has potential, just keep working with it. I believe the asthetics of the room play a big part. You have to feel comfortable and enjoy being there. Lighting is everything, I prefer indirect for listening and dimable is even better. If you can get away with it try some color on the walls and add a fig tree in the corner, this will add alot of dimention to the room. I would not set those cabs on end, they will be to imposing in the small space.Last thing is try to defrost your shelves some, the lack of cluter will also make your space less visualy confusing. Remember, this is your castle, make it nice to come home to.y This can be done on the cheap and the chicks will be impressed.

RankStranger's picture

Is that lamp an antler? That's so cool!

Bennett Teo's picture

Your room look every side symmetry to me no matter how i look at your picture, so meaning it's a great room to work with. Try placing the shelving on top of each other on the right wall in order to look the same as the left side of your room. (Not sure what's that in the picture but it sure look tall like a cardboard.)Then go buy a good equipment rack and place it behind the speaker, middle of the wall, in between the window.Place a high picture frame of around similar dimension as the wall between the windows to act as a room treatment. (Preferably those oil painting on cloth type that got enough room to stuff foam behind)There, you have a symmetry placement with a painting to lure your sight away from your equipment and you are able to use back your Furutech Evolutions speaker cable :)

Glotz's picture

OMG, just shift the focus to the long way (right side in pic), already! I still think you will be happy, as I mentioned last month. I guess the search is half of it.

Jeff's picture

Stephen,Aren't those Ikea bookshelves sagging already? I have the same item at home, and there's no way they could support anything more than a very light weight without sagging.

michaelavorgna's picture

The Ikea Expedit shelves can handle 29lbs each according to the Ikea website. Even if every record you owned was 180gm, you could only fit about 70 per shelf, maybe a few more if you stuffed.The math coupled with my own experience says load 'em up and don't worry.