Monday 30 September 2013

My 7 Simple Tips to improve your Listening Experience

While most of us dream of having the space for a separate listening room just for our music listening pleasure the reality of the matter is normally somewhat less dreamy. The fact is most of our sound systems are located in the lounge areas of our homes and this area normally also serves as a tv watching room, family congregation room, games room, chill out room, reading room, etc.

Few of us will ever have the same high level listening room as this one that was custom built by ModWright Instruments on their premises:

...but we can dream can't we? ;-)

While I have it in the back of my mind to have a suitable room in our next house to put together my very own dream listening room, for now my music is appreciated here:

Please excuse the hastily assembled panoramic photograph, but it gives a good view of the entire layout of the room and the sound equipment. This sort of typical family room situation isn't optimal for fine quality sound reproduction and listening, but I will put forward a few tips on getting the best you can possibly get from a common setup like this.

My 7 Simple Tips to improve your Listening Experience:

1.) Isolate your turntable. - When you have a turntable vibration really becomes enemy number one (this can also be true for cd players) as any vibrations transferred to your pick-up equipment will be transferred into the sound coming out of your speakers and will potentially lead to a significant degrading of sound quality. In my experience the easiest way to limit those vibrations at source is to mount the shelving holding your turntable directly to a concrete wall.

2.) Dampen your speakers. - The speakers are a major source of vibrations and if you have wooden floors it is imperative to isolate them as much as possible. In my case I use two metal speaker stands filled with sand to provide a vibration absorbing base that doesn't transfer any direct vibrations from the speaker cases to the floor. I plan to improve upon this further with the addition of some spikes under the stands to bring the contact area of the speaker with the floor down to four tiny points.

3.) Keep some space behind the speakers. - My Snell E3's each have a smaller rear firing tweeter in addition to the front mounted main tweeter, and if I place the speakers directly against a wall I lose that sound expanding effect that the Snells are famous for. Additionally for most speakers a lack of room behind them will inevitably lead to a "muddying" of the bass, so always try and give some space behind.

4.) Raise your speakers. - Raising your speakers to the point where they are level with your ears when you are seated in your optimal listening area will improve your listening experience by providing clearer crisper sound. Always use speaker stands, even with bookshelf speakers, as placing them directly on a shelf will minimise space behind and around your speaker screwing up your sound badly. Smaller speakers simply need taller stands.

5.) Face the speakers "toe in". - Pointing most speakers slightly inward towards the area where you will typically sit and listen creates a nice sweet spot. Not all speakers are designed exactly the same way so the best thing is to take some time and experiment with different degrees of "toe in" until you find exactly where it suits you best.

6.) Acoustic damping. - Most empty rooms bounce sound around like crazy creating an echo that can be very distracting so audiophiles have typically employed acoustic panels and carpets strategically placed to dampen the echo and create an acoustically dead room. Hard surfaces can make highs sound very tinny as well. In most normal living areas we don't have that problem to the same degree as in an empty room simply because our stuff stops the echo. Things like book shelves and carpets on the floor are perfect! However we may still pick up problems from large windows, a bare wall, a tiled floor, etc. My only potential problem is from a large window to the left of my listening area, but simply closing the curtain solves that problem.

7.) Never ever stack components. - Never ever stack your hifi components directly on top of one another as they will heat each other up to the point of causing permanent damage that will require either expensive repairs or more expensive replacement. Amplifiers generate the most heat but other components might generate some too. Any cheap shelving will keep them apart and are definitely worth a little extra effort. Aside from heating issues, components can also interfere statically, magnetically, or electrically with each other possibly inducing hissing, pops and crackles. Leave as much free space around each component as you can, especially the amplifier and turntable.

Here is the panorama of my listening area again with a few captions added for explanation:

Never be afraid to experiment, it may take you a while to find the perfect setup for your own room, but taking the time to take care of the points listed above will certainly help towards a richer music appreciation experience.

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