When and where measurements matter

Measurements of stereo components have a place and a purpose. The manufactures must use measurements to validate their product and maintain quality control. And it is certainly good that we have reviewers that make detailed measurements to verify manufacturer’s claims- legitimate reviewers that publish peer reviewed results and will first contact a manufacturer if something measures amiss rather than play the, "gotcha" game. These reviewers fill a critical need.

It’s easy to get caught up with some specs on a sheet of paper for a stereo component. After all, some things are important for system matching such as power output, impedance input/output, Signal to Noise, Damping factor, etc. Matching a cartridge to a tonearm, for example, must start with effective mass, compliance, output levels, impedance, etc. Beyond these system matching criteria listening becomes the most critical factor. Even setting up a tonearm requires listening to get the VTA, tracking force and anti-skate dialed in. I’d love to own one of those $5000 meters to dial in cartridge azimuth. Alas, I must rely on my ears for that too beyond the critical inspection with the stylus sitting on a mirror.

The most important measurements we can make as end users is our listening room. Beyond a mid-fi system, the listening room becomes the most critical stereo component. The room volume and shape has an impact on frequency response, reverb, and system resolution. The walls, ceiling and floors can respond to the music just like a speaker cabinet and smear the sound causing less focused imaging, loss of resolution, muddy bass and harsh highs. Ambient noise levels can also compromise our efforts to get that hifi sound. Ugh! Is it all hopeless? Not quite, but some effort is required.

Since most of us do not have the resources or cannot reinforce walls, ceiling and floors to make them as stiff as an all aluminum speaker cabinet, we can add isolation and dampening to components to improve the state of the listening room. Some DYI tools that I like to use these days are the FFT analyzer phone app and vibration app. Yes, I know these tools are not calibrated and not accurate enough to publish data, but they are good for reference to see what changes have been made while experimenting with dampening and isolation materials. Ultimately the final judgment must come from your ears but the apps help to understand how the changes we make are affecting the room. Computer programs are also available to calculate ideal speaker placement for a given room. These programs can be a starting point.

I’d say as a rule of thumb; once a system investment is greater than $20k it is important to start to have the room decor fit the stereo instead of the stereo fitting into the room decor. Beyond $50k or so in a stereo system, it is best to have a dedicated listening room with acoustical treatments that fit the room for improved frequency response and resolution. The room layout should be designed either with a good computer program or an experienced audio expert. Of course, trial and error for someone willing to learn is always an option.

Beyond $150k for a stereo system it should be in a purpose built listening room to take full advantage of this level of gear. This is a room with reinforced walls, treatments and dimensions to fit the system contained within. A room like this must be designed by an acoustics engineer.

I had a purpose built room a few decades ago that I designed and built myself. I had only a modest stereo system but it sounded amazing in that room. After I gave up that purpose built room due to relocation, I spent a lot of money on gear to get back to that level of sound.

I know some people feel that stereo gear should perform optimally in any room without the need for "band aid" room treatments. And most systems can sound pretty decent without all that. It’s that last 5%, that goose bump inducing sound that we are trying to achieve.


Hey Tony,

What I've learned after interacting with audiophiles is that we all hear and enjoy things differently.  To make an analogy to a famous TV series right now, it has amazing visuals and terrible dialogue writing.  I simply cannot get over how bad it is written, and yet many many fans can't get over how great it looks.

I won't judge them as wrong, but they do enjoy the TV series very differently than I do.

The same for rooms.  So many audiophiles can listen right past a terrible room.  I simply cannot.  I can't!  But I've learned better than to judge others for how they listen. :)





The most important measurements we can make as end users is our listening room.

Holy hell yes.

Sometimes measurements don’t matter at all.

I have a college friend who still is very very happy with the low-fi system he bought in the seventies! Me, I’ve changed something every few months to years for almost fifty years!

If he’s happy, than I’m happy for him.


I enjoy my stereo and I find it very satisfying to make a change or upgrade that improves the sound but I envy those at times who have something modest and can be happy with it.  Those tend to be sportsmen who save and long for sportsman type gear or car guys lusting for that next awesome ride.  Everyone who has a passion and the time to enjoy it is truly blessed.

Everything I've ever auditioned in a dealer showroom or audio show never sounded the same in my room. It was all, at best, an approximation. 

What it did give me was a damn good idea of how it could sound in my room, and even then, I've always fiddled and tweaked until I got it to where I was satisfied, or off it went to someone else.

That, and all the gear I've bought got great reviews and passed all the measurements tests. Even with that, the sound was never perfect, but it mostly ended up being imminently enjoyable.

All the best,

Many of the lessons learned that I have had over the years are about the room. I started putting in dedicated outlets in 1989. I started using bass traps in the early 90s. One thing I learned back then is that a little damping is good but too much is bad. I was doing work back then in a hemianechoic chamber as an engineer analyzing noise in cars. So I tried adding more and more damping material to my purpose built listening room until I killed the sound. Room reflections are a necessary part of good stereo. Too many reflections is bad but so are too few. Isn’t that what makes this hobby so fun? Some computer programs exist to calculate how much and where to put sound absorption materials. But the best instrument you have is the ears on your head and with some effort and patience good results can be achieved using simpler tools like sound meters and your head.

Corner bass traps are a must. One of the crazy things is when the bass sounds better in the back of the room versus in your listening spot. I found that is caused by the speakers being too far away from the front wall. I always liked the speakers out away from the walls to get a bigger, more airy soundstage but the tradeoff is bass response. Typically a compromise for most speakers.

A stiff floor improves the sound and imaging. Years ago I had the stereo in a large, carpeted living room over a basement. I tore out the carpet and put in a 7/8" Hickory hardwood floor. I was amazed at the improvement in the sound. The only catch is, now a wool rug is needed to tone down the highs because the wood has no damping. But now the room can be tuned by finding that right size and thickness wool rug. Don’t use polyester- everything will sound like digital. :) No really, wool is the ideal material.

Some dispersion materials are needed on the side walls but where to put the panels. The trick is to use a mirror. Have someone slide the mirror on the side wall while sitting in your listening position. When you can see the tweeters, that’s where  the dispersion panels should go. Not too much. Season to taste as they say. You can do the same for the ceiling if you want.

Windows are bad news, some treatments are a must to tone down the reflections. The same goes for the front wall. I find a few dispersion panels on the front wall are good but too many can be bad.

One last thing, the Wilson Sasha DAW speakers are my first ever ported speaker in my stereo system. Ported speakers are much more picky about placement than sealed enclosures. The distance from the walls for ported speakers is critical down to 1/8". That’s right. It takes patience to dial things in. What I found is the bass response can have peaks at certain frequencies until the speakers are in that just perfect position from the front wall and side walls. Ported speakers use the room to help generate those low notes. What is cool, I found is once dialed in the bass sounds the same anywhere I stand in the room. I never achieved that with my sealed baffle speakers.