Acoustics 101: How To Improve Your Room’s Sound

Here’s a common scenario. After purchasing your new speakers, you immediately run home to set them up and experience the soundstage you’ve been dreaming of for years. You drop the needle on your favorite vinyl album and just as Slash rips the beginning of “Paradise City” on his Les Paul, you suddenly realize something is wrong. These speakers don’t sound the same as the ones in the store. Once you’ve investigated and verified there’s nothing wrong with your gear, you start looking around the room, eyeballing your couch and throwing shade at your walls. It’s not the speakers that’s the problem – it’s your room.

Don’t underestimate the importance of room acoustics. Mid-range speakers can sound great in a room that has good acoustics, and high-end speakers can sound downright awful in a room with poor acoustics. If you discover your listening space is less than optimal, don’t worry – there are some things you can do to quickly improve it.

Problem: Reflection
Direct sound starts at the source and projects outwardly in all directions. It doesn’t interact with the room so its tone remains unaltered. However, that sound can bounce off the objects and surfaces in the room and can potentially change the original sound. Our ears work to locate the source of sound by using both loudness and timing. Early reflections which aren’t too loud or too delayed help to enhance the original sound. But imagine you have sound bouncing off a glass door that ricochets right into the sound reflecting off the ground. That clarity you anticipate from your new speakers is now being lost in the shuffle.

Solution: Absorption
The sound produced by your speakers is actually sound energy. Basic physics tells us that energy cannot be created or destroyed but it can be changed into a different form. Since it’s impossible to destroy sound energy, it must somehow be controlled. This is where sound absorption comes into play. If you’ve ever spent time in a recording studio, concert hall, theater, or music store, you’ve probably seen some form of sound absorption material hanging on the walls. The most common types are both dense and porous so the acoustical energy created by your speakers are converted into heat energy. As the sound waves move the air particles and try to pass through these materials, the result is a small amount of heat friction.

Instead of hanging sound absorption materials all over the room, you really only need to focus on a few problem areas. Fortunately you can use some common furniture and household items to absorb sound instead of covering your walls in cardboard or polyurethane panels. If you have a large expanse of glass from either a picture frame or a window, you can hang a drape or curtain over it to avoid too much reflection. If there is a wall directly behind your couch, this is likely causing a huge reflective problem. This is a great place to use 1-inch foam or fiberglass panels to absorb the sound reflections. Whether you have hardwood, cement, or tile flooring, the floor is another common area that reflects too much sound. A simple solution is to cover the main points of reflection with a thick area rug. If you do need to use pre-made models, use them sparingly and tastefully as part of the room decor.

Solution: Diffusion
A problem can also occur when there is too much sound absorption. When all reflective sound is eliminated through absorption, the result is an uncomfortable “dead” sound. It may be necessary to use diffusers to liven up the sound in your room. Diffusers are able to scatter the acoustical energy so the sound energy is not absorbed and energy isn’t lost. The result is a “live” sound in your home theater.

You may already have a perfect diffuser sitting right in your living room – a bookcase with different sized books. The best-sounding setup uses absorptive materials between the front speakers and the listening position, and diffusive materials on the back wall to redistribute sound reflections. So if you already happen to have a bookcase, you could place it against the back wall behind your couch. You can also place manufactured wood or cardboard diffusors decoratively on your back wall.

Whether you’re doing two-channel audio or surround sound, there is a significant connection between room acoustics and getting the best sound from your system. If you can’t get your setup just right, it will be impossible to get the right frequency and tone from your speakers. Hopefully, through investigating your own room’s setup and following these solutions, you’ll be on your way to the perfect home theater listening experience.

Century Stereo also offers professional room acoustics treatment. Contact us to get help making your listening room sound perfect! We have a range of acoustic panels and diffusers in a variety of styles. Whether you want plain panels that blend into the room, or visually striking ones that look and feel like art, Century has something for you.

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