Modernists Unite, or: saying no to room treatment

My apologies if this is posted in the wrong section.

So far as I can discern here, modern architectural design and sound quality are almost completely at odds with each other. There are many nice systems posted that are in (to my eyes) gorgeous, clean, modern/contemporary homes, and generally speaking, the comments eventually get around to refuting the possibility that the sound in these rooms can really be very good.

Perhaps Digital Room Correction offers some hope, but I don't see it deployed overmuch.

So is it true? Are all the modernists suffering with 80th percentile sound?

It's not about WAF. I don't want to live in a rug-covered padded cell either. ;-)
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My opinion is that a speaker should sound just fine in a fairly reverberant - just like the acoustic instruments it's supposed to be reproducing. And the key to doing so lies off-axis, not on-axis.

Correcting a typo; that first sentence should read:

"My opinion is that a speaker should sound just fine in a fairly reverberant environment..."
Elizabeth, I very much enjoy your Voice of Reason here, and in all your posts. Thank you!

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Truth be told, both Duke and Elizabeth are among the two very most intelligent participants in this forum. They both know what they are talking about, and studiously avoid most of the meaningless jargon that is all too pervasive among audio hobbyists. Personally, speaking as someone who has a strong familiarity with the sound of unamplified live music, I tend to avoid room correction which -- in most instances -- simply shifts the perceived problem from one frequency range to another and thus solves nothing.
04-12-10: Drtmth58
"Truth be told, both Duke and Elizabeth are among the two very most intelligent participants in this forum. They both know what they are talking about, and studiously avoid most of the meaningless jargon that is all too pervasive among audio hobbyists."

Hi Drtmth58, I am sure that I am just as intelligent as Duke and Elizebeth, but I sure do have a different opinion on this subject.

Just do the opposite of what they say, and you will be OK.
(This is where I am supposed to attach one of those smile man avatars.)

I'll take the contrary position in this discussion. Simply put, you can wish for higher end experience in a non-tuned room all you want, but it will very likely be impaired. While the equipment is fairly independent of the room, and you can move up in quality and enjoy the benefits, the room will still vastly influence the experience.

I enjoy aesthetics and decor, and in certain situations I might let the music suffer a bit if the overall life demands required it. But that would be an obvious second choice; I would much prefer to be able to have a perfect environment. That is why I eventually spent 8 months and thousands of dollars to build a proper listening room. It was so much more than worth it! The difference between the experience in that room versus the living room where I started out listening is radical. Not even close. Both the space and how it is treated make the listening room a far more amenable space for listening.

One has to go to extremes in speaker placement or in design of the speakers to avoid a lot of damage done by overly reflective surfaces, vaulted ceilings, etc. Duke's speakers may have a huge advantage in this repsect due to their implementation, especially if they are toed in quite a bit. (I will hasten to say that I like Duke's speakers a lot, as I've heard them at shows in less than ideal environments and they always sound very good! But his setup is hardly representative of the average audiophile's system.) But with a normal stereo you're going to have a lot of issues and failure to attain the ideal experience. Actually, technically, you'll have a lot of additional reverberation and uncontrolled reflectivity of waves if you are in a modern environment where "modern" means a lot of bare surfaces. In terms of attainment of the best sound it's not pretty.

Now, you can say, "Who gives a rip what anyone else says," but this is hardly influencing the actual quality of the sound. IF you really want the best sound then you need to take into consideration the room. It's that simple, and there's no way around it no matter how much you care to philosophize. I'm not an individual who says you can't have an immensely enjoyable time with audio if your room is not treated. However, it's simply poor advice (excepting specialized cases or radical placement to avoid reflections) to suggest it can be ignored in the pursuit of the best experience.

Some common sense things can be done with window treatments, pillows and stuffed furniture, large rugs on the floor, etc. But even still you will not be getting an ideal environment. I've not been impressed with room correction electronics as the ones I have heard result in an absolute degradation of the signal.

One has to be realistic about the room they are using. In terms of the environment I can't blame you for not wanting to turn your living area into a rug covered padded cell. But then you can hardly expect to be running 99 percentile sound with your gear either. :)
My opinion is that a speaker should sound just fine in a fairly reverberant - just like the acoustic instruments it's supposed to be reproducing.
I firmly disagree. The recording of the performance includes the acoustics of the performance site, as it should. Superimposing the reverberation of the listening room is, by definition, a distortion.

What would be the 2-3 things that could and ought to be done to "treat" a room that most anyone can get right without really what they are doing?

I wish I still had photos of my old HT room and listening room. These were the result of a "gut" renovation, were starkly modern in design, and thoroughly treated behind the "wall" surfaces. Wall is "", because I used cloth on the upper half and light wood wainscoating on the lower half, with minamilist stainless steel moldings above, below, and in-between. All treatments were hidden behind the cloth.

Looked great, sounded great.

Now my HT room (a converted garage) is a (much cheaper, ah the economy) variant on the same idea as my old one. Cloth upper walls. In my listening room, I deploy colortful treatments on the conventional wall surfaces and use DRC on subwoofers. The HT room looks very nice and the listening room, well....probably not what you're talking about here.

The real point is that careful design (and yes a small to large pile of cash) can get you both form and function.


PS WAF was not an issue for me either - the listening rooms are/were my space. The HT rooms were driven by my desire to enjoy the environment visually as well as functionally.
Well, I don't think we're answering the right question. In general I agree with Kal because I favor musical REcreation (hearing whats on the disc) over musical creation ( which would occur if the listening room is altering the sound in any meaningful way). I favor "accurate". However, digital correction presents its own problems and over treating rooms does too. A flat response in and of itself may not sound good to any particular listener. The other thing to think about is that some people prefer a colored sound which pleases them. This could come from colored equipment or from the room itself which might always present the music in a certain way which the owner finds pleasing. This leads me to say : If YOU don't like the sound your getting in your room you can improve it with treatment. If you seek "the truth" you can treat the room. If you like the way your particular room makes the music sound who am I to argue with you. Enjoy it and don't worry about it. - Jim
In spite of several decades in this hobby, I won't claim to be an expert on room acoustics (or any other aspect for that matter). This is not false modesty but due to the simple fact that I continue to learn new things almost every day.

So let me offer one example of "room sound". At one time I had four friends who owned the same model speaker as I did. We also owned the same or similar amplifier models. Our source components were not identical but at least similar and included both analog and digital. Yet each one of these systems sounded distinctly different from the others. The most common variable was the rooms. Those differed in size, layout, materials, furnishings, etc. That taught me a valuable lesson that rooms, treatments, and system set up (beginning with speaker placement) must be an important consideration.

Now, one question for Elizabeth. You said "most of the best systems have NO room correction at all". How can you tell they are "the best systems" based on a picture or listing of components?

I agree we should all be free to do as we chose with our systems, but to lump room treatments in the same category as stones and clocks seems to be a little extreme to me.
The biggest thing one can do to a room without impacting it too much visually is to treat the corners for echoslap. I own a bunch of Roomtunes corner traps, and a number of years ago, before adding Realtraps - which are amazing but intrusive - just treating the corners with those tiny Corner Tunes made even talking in the room much better.

That being said, I personally love bare hardwood floors with no rugs. I am now thinking I may try a rug just to see the effect.
70% of the final sound will be highly dependent on room setup, speaker reaction, position etc... So that being said this does not mean all rooms will be horrible with no room treatment.

However this also does not say a non-treated room will be better ultimately than one that is. So I think both sides have some points, but ultimately you would be totally doing a dis-service to yourself not believing if you already are UN-satisfied with your sound that you cannot improve it with proper room treatment, isolation, or just simply putting things in the best positions you already have, vs. replacing equipment or speakers 3 times a year.

Some already have great acoustics by accident and don't know it, this is for sure! Believe me I have experienced that as well, RARELY but I have. And generally these people never buy new stuff for good reason, they don't hear anything they don't like about it!

But those that find themselves never getting where they want, and cannot figure out the real things causing the issues can always be persuaded with the revelation of room acoustics if they simply do finally experience it once all else failed. Problem is this by nature is the exact backwards way to find out, most systems and money these guys spend at multiple thousands on that new amp and still don't find the end, they are the ones that unfortunately might have found their room with the money applied years ago would have sounded great with the 500 dollar amp they have replaced 4 times since!

Just part of the game, either way it might work out on one side or the other for some.

Remember every single case will have a different need.
On one hand, there are indeed many homes with really wretched acoustics! Many of them are simply unpleaseant to be in with any kind of noise whatsoever, let alone trying to make music . . . either from a recorded or a live source . . .

But on the other hand, typical domestic "high-end" loudspeakers are as a group REALLY behind the curve on being well-engineered for the type of acoustic situations in which they're likely to be placed -- this is a key area where professional sound-reinforcement systems are decades ahead of consumer audio, or even professional studio control-room monitors. Beginning in the mid-1980s, constant-directivity and controlled-directivity horns and arrays completely revolutionized the industry, based largely on improvements in computer-based acoustic modeling. So what's possible today in terms of high-quality sound (with excellent speech intelligability) in very large, reverberant spaces is hugely, vastly improved in the past twenty-five years or so.

There are precious few examples of this technology trickling into high-end audio, or even any attention toward the necessity for good directivity performance among "high-end" speaker designers. The Audiokinesis and Geddes horn designs are an exception to this, with excellent off-axis response and directivity characteristics . . . I'm guessing that that's why he feels that room treatment is less important than many others. Another example is David Moulton's "acoustic lens" as used in many of the B&O speakers, or the big 100x100 butt-cheek horns used on older JBL 44xx studio monitors.

To hear a good constant-directivity speaker design in a reverberant or undampened space can definately change one's opinion about what's "necessary" for room treatment. And it's not a matter of the room making the presentation "imprecise" or "colored" . . . it's more like hearing a singer or instrumentalist perform that really knows how to adapt their tone-production and projection for the space they're in. That is . . . like music, in the room with you . . .
No question that the room itself makes a difference. I've just moved from a single home where I had my system on the 2nd landing that had wood floors. My turntable was sensitive to footfalls and when the system was cranked I experienced audible bass 'boom' in the room (late at night I more than once thought someone else was in the house dur to this crazy noise!). I've since moved to an apt. complex built 20 yrs ago, 1st flr, smaller room, carpeted but concrete floors, walls, and ceilings. I can jump and down in front of the TT without it mistracking now, and there's no doubt, my system sounds better in this room. Of course the biggest drawback is I'm a big believer in apt. etiquette, so I don't do any late-night blasting but....As far as room treatments, besides carpets, drapes, bookcases, etc. I don't use any but not because I don't believe they'd work, just never got around to it or had the desire to spend what can be big piles of cash to do it right!
Is there some agreement on

04-12-10: Emailists
The biggest thing one can do to a room without impacting it too much visually is to treat the corners for echoslap. I own a bunch of Roomtunes corner traps, and a number of years ago, before adding Realtraps

Not necessarily the particular product, but the idea of it? I take it these are not bass traps, which do visually affect the room, but seem to allow for better bass definition (not depth) in my room than not having them.
Great topic as I am in the process of building my room from scratch. I am an architect by training, so it has been a big struggle to try to bring these two passions together.

One of the biggest challenges has been trying to work with an acoustic engineer that can think out of the box on how to creatively treat a room, i.e. using alternative methods (as to just adding ugly room treatments to walls) or to use these materials in creative ways as to make them actually as aesthetically acceptable design elements, and at the same time not breaking my bank. I've talked to a few designers that works mainly with concert halls. But I wasn't willing to spend $50k on an acoustic consultant just to start a discussion.

Modern Architecture has different approaches. Not everyone is a minimalist, which I presume Soundgasm was referring to. The best audio room design ideas I have seen are coming from Asian countries where real estate is a premium at the same time the populance are more acceptable to modern architecture, so architects and interior designers over there, in my opinion, have become much more creative. I've visited some dealers' showrooms that are gorgeous and sound great. And I've been documenting what I've seen (in person and in local audio magazines) to give me some ideas.

Back to my story. After talking to a few acoustic engineers including Rives Aduio and getting frustrated, what I ended up doing was to study some acoustics and acoustic design books on my own to gain some basic understanding of what is important and also using my architectural background to try to steer the design of my room. In this approach, the acoustic engineer is providing me with what issues I need to solve (i.e. sidewall reflections, ceiling reflections) and I am looking at different options (out-of-the-box ideas) to try to design solutions that will merge into the aesthetic design of the room. My thought currently is that in some areas, various types of acoustic treatments will be used in ways to create interesting texture/patterns on wall surfaces. In some areas, other materials/furniture will be used to act as diffusers. At the end, once the system is in, we will do a final measurement to see how this experiment fairs...

This may be just a futile attempt, or it may be a success story. We will see in about 12 months.

Fine Print: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What looks good to me might be hideous in your eyes. ;-) I was brainwashed with the deconstructive movement back in school (i.e. Frank Gehry, Morphosis) and the city hates me right now for trying to bring havoc to our predominately California Ranch and Eichler neighborhood. These design ideas are getting embraced in a communist country (China) and I am getting shut down in a democratic country. Sometimes I wonder who the real communist is...

The popular modern floor plans with minimal walls and the kitchen/dining/great-room all together certainly does not create the ideal venue for hi fidelity reproduction. Room treatments will help to some degree, but I find a defined space is better still. There needs to be at least some uniformity within immediate vicinity of the speakers. A wall missing from one side of the speaker pairing is a soundstage nightmare. I've had three walls built. Each one has improved the sound. The last phase was the upper wall between kitchen/dining and living area. Wow, what a change. I now have bass definition that I knew I was missing and an overall clarity that I didn't think required improvement. I don't plan on moving, but if I did, I'd be looking at houses with an eye towards a tempting audio room.
I think Eighth Nerve's (alas no more) philosophy had the right idea. I believe it coincides with what Emailists was saying. The idea is to treat upper room corners with triangles and the seams (wall to wall and wall to ceiling) with rectangles. To Pubul57's comment, the rectangles are not bass traps, just thin panels that reduce slap echo. If you want a visual click on my system link. You can clearly see the upper seams and maybe a triangle or two.

To Duke's point, I have his speakers, actually have had two different brands of his. He has been to my place and seen a couple different configurations of my less than optimal listening room. I'll agree with Duke on a couple of things:

First, his Jazz Module speakers set up properly are less susceptible to room issues. You have the 45 degree toe-in recommendation that greatly reduces side wall reflection issues and increases the sweet spot. In my room the 45 degree angle cannot be used effectively (IMO) and so its more like 20 degrees and near field listening, 6.5 ft. (not as close as they used to be Duke :). You also have the bass port and tweeter tilt adjustment capabilities, both of which have come in handy for me.

Second, I have noticed of late that removing some of the larger bass trap panels I had in the room (but leaving the Eighth Nerve panels) improved the sound, but without any side effects (I'm assuming in part to Duke's design). In fact I don't treat first reflection points any longer which in my room did result in the instruments sounding more lively (added reverberation I suspect). The bass is especially improved.

So while I do feel room treatments are necessary in most of today's living environments, the idea of less is more (and careful placement of the treatments) should be followed.
Audiokinesis wrote:
My opinion is that a speaker should sound just fine in a fairly reverberant [environment] - just like the acoustic instruments it's supposed to be reproducing.

To which Kr4 replied:
I firmly disagree. The recording of the performance includes the acoustics of the performance site, as it should. Superimposing the reverberation of the listening room is, by definition, a distortion.

Audiokinesis responds:
Kal, the question is not whether there will be a reverberant energy contribution in the type of room Soundgasm is talking about. The question is whether or not that reverberant energy contribution will be detrimental or beneficial.

Also, late-arriving, spectrally correct, diffuse reverberant energy that comes from all directions is certainly not "distortion" from a perceptual standpoint. It is "reverberant energy". Any definition of distortion that is inconsistent with perception is of questionable value because it will lead you to solve the wrong problems.

Soundgasm wrote:
"So is it true? Are all the modernists suffering with 80th percentile sound?
It's not about WAF. I don't want to live in a rug-covered padded cell either"

I'm a designer (pointed towards minimalism/modernist) and an audiophile.

To respond with my opinion inserted, I would have to say definitely NO that modernist are not suffering with 80th percentile sound.
While yes it can be hard to get proper acoustics out of an existing modern room for many different reasons, however with proper knowledge and thought (and sometimes money) you can have a beautiful sounding modernistic room.

I had the privilege to work on the design team for the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles with Frank Gehry. As an example this is a very modern building and typical to other projects we worked on but still used some very simple rough basic materials that are readily available to the common builder.

The difference was the knowledge and importance of acoustics. While the main concert hall space is an amazing room (subjective to some), it's not something that me or you can ever afford to have as a living room. However, down below there were many rooms and offices that needed excellent acoustics while still keeping up with proper aesthetics but with a low build cost. There are practice rooms for the musicians to warm up and learn pieces of music. These rooms were mostly exposed plywood & white wall spaces, they sounded excellent.

They were not complicated to build and the shape was very usable. If it were a living room the WAF and design friends would give it two thumbs up.

Bottom line is that the knowledge and factoring the importance of acoustics and implementing it is the key to making any room sound worthy whether it's ultra modern minimalism or classic country.

Currently I'm living in a modern house and my listening room is too lively but that because I'm too lazy to do anything about it.
Crad, excellent post. Can you provide some more detail, or (very) general specifications for these rooms?

'there were many rooms and offices that needed excellent acoustics while still keeping up with proper aesthetics but with a low build cost. (edit) These rooms were mostly exposed plywood & white wall spaces, they sounded excellent.'

Keep in mind furniture and window coverings are room treatment too. This never mentioned.

Commercial room treatment is getting like aftermarket power cords. Everybody thinks they need it whether they need it or not.

First you must determine if you need it in the first place. Room treatment is something that can easily be over done.
This posting is from what I have heard in a demo by frank tschang of acoustic resonator . He treated a demo room during KL Hifi show 2009 and the sound improve drastically . I believe that if u want non intrusive method the tiny acoustic resonators and it's cube can certainly help but it's very expensive
All I have to find out how much a room can degrade the sound is by clapping your hand as u move around the round and hear the unwanted echo.
I started this hobby by placing my system in my living room and when I shiifted 1.5yrs ago I built a dedicated room designed by rives audio level 1 ( only available level in my country). Hugh difference.
Dedicated lines and room treatment is certainly more important than mindless changing of gears. I am amaze with some very expensive set up with hardly any room treatment and with the sitting position against the wall
I'll take a treated room over a non-treated room any day of the week. Can you say "bass buildup" or "reflective surfaces"?
Crad's offering is very relevant. One can have good acoustics without lots of treatments, traps and padding being apparent. This is done by designing the rooms to the proper proportions, incorporating diffusive/absorbent elements into the simple modern design and, if larger elements are needed, hiding them in the walls. It takes planning and money.

That said, one should note that the concert hall and the practice rooms are all spaces for the production of music/sound and not for the REproduction of it. There are different acoustical requirements.

Nonetheless, most of us are constrained by existing layouts and, thus, need to deal with treatments that are as unobtrusive and effective as possible.

I would not lay this at the feet of Modernists, I see plenty or horror room systems in little quaint country settings or in cookie-cutter suburban-normal design. In Brooklyn I've had to compliment an audio guru's system that was placed in the living room but under the stairs.

Treated rooms are essential to optimize a system. There is no getting around that fact. It's just wishful thinking to suggest that that one can make a little triangle with the speakers hear all they have to reveal.