The double edged sword

Yesterday we went ahead and cleared everything out of our listening room save for the equipment and the loudspeakers. Today we’re going to begin figuring out where to place the loudspeakers.

Let me begin by pointing out that many of you reading along do not have a dedicated listening room and more than likely are utilizing some part of the shared living space in your home for your system. In the interest of harmony in the home you probably didn’t clean out the living room and are just waiting to read what to do next: I fully understand. No worries because when I setup a system in someone’s home I leave the furniture in place (if at all possible) and try and manage the setup within the bounds of practical constraints.

Before we place our loudspeakers in the room there’s something we need to get clear in our minds: the role the room plays in our setup. Our rooms are what we might think of as a double edged sword: both beneficial and dreadful when it comes to reproducing music in our homes. Loudspeakers need rooms to work properly, yet the room is the single biggest problem loudspeakers have to contend with. It’s worth a few minutes of our time to really grasp what the problems we face are and what the solutions might be.

Imagine taking your loudspeakers outdoors and setting the on the lawn in the backyard and then playing music through them. How do you think they are going to sound? I can tell you it’s an underwhelming experience unless you sit right in front of them. Move off axis even a little bit and they seem lost in the vastness of the backyard. Now imagine the opposite scenario: we place those same loudspeakers in a tiny room or a large closet. Instead of lost sounding they now are cluttered and lack any imaging capability.

The point of this mental exercise is to help you get around the idea that the room is both good and bad for a stereo system. We cannot effectively setup a stereo without a room and we can do mortal damage to the sound by setting them in the room incorrectly. The trick to a room is understanding its good and bad points and working with the room, not against it. That little gem of a sentence probably bears repeating. You need to learn to work with the room, not against the room.

Rooms and loudspeakers are a compromise, for sure, but I like to think of the two more as a partnership than a battle ground. Too often I have seen wholesale slaughter of the room by employing absorbers, diffusers, pillows, thick carpets, vibration controls, non-parallel walls and on and on. Many of these elements are good and needed, but far more likely is the tendency to “sterilize” or “neutralize” the room first, then build your system second. I am not a fan of that approach and as we move along will encourage you to get to know your room and learn to work within its needs.

Tomorrow let’s get to know our room a little better and we’ll actually begin placing our loudspeakers.
email The double edged sword.

Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Starting from scratch

In our quest for getting our systems dialed in I am aware that many of you will not be starting from scratch with an empty room as I will be describing. That’s fine, just follow along so you get the logic behind it.

One of my readers pointed out the potential danger in clearing the room first is that for many of us married types the mere act of removing the audio system, even for a moment, might give our better halves wrong headed ideas about reclaiming lost territory. So be careful!

In the interest of our mission to become more familiar with the setup process, let’s imagine we have our own dedicated room to play with and start our task. I am going to use the PS listening room as our example because this is the room that I have, on a number of occasions, cleared out and setup to great advantage.

In my listening room now sits a large pair of Magneplanar loudspeakers. Before that were the amazing Avalons, preceded by a set of Arnie Nudell prototypes and before that a pair of large Revels. In each setup case I left the loudspeakers in place out of practical concerns: they are heavy, I do setups alone and I value my lower back too much to move them. What I did do is removed the spikes and faced them straight on to the listening position without benefit of toe in.

To the rest of the room I removed everything else other than the electronics and most importantly I removed all the room treatment I use. With respect to the electronics I also disconnected all the cables except the power cords (which are plugged into a Power Plant anyway). So now mentally visualize what we have: a bare carpeted room with a pair of Maggies and the equipment to power and play them in an equipment rack. In my case I have the power amps behind the Maggies and the equipment rack near where I sit – how you choose to set this part up in your home isn’t really important to our discussion on setup – so do what’s convenient.

With our bare room ready it’s time to layout the fundamentals of our setup, starting with the loudspeakers. For roughing in the loudspeaker placement we’re going to use the rule of thirds which is a guideline for listener and loudspeaker setup popularized by Harry Pearson and a process I wrote about nearly one year ago today.

Tomorrow we get into the details of this process and learn a few things about live-end, dead-end rooms and what’s important.

Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

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