five tips to improve the acoustics in poorly sounding rooms

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KEF LSX speakers produce relatively shy bass, ideal in small rooms because they avoid serious bass problems.

Very often the weak link in a hi-fi installation is neither the amplifier nor the speakers, but the listening room. The most hostile living rooms can turn music into sonic mush, no matter how expensive the sound setup. “It’s often the biggest problem to solve for a hi-fi enthusiast”judge Jordan Kouby, sound engineer and co-founder of a Parisian music studio.

How do you know if the problem is with your part? A few clues should put you on your guard: a slight impression of noise, fuzzy and imprecise bass, speakers that sound less good at home than in the store, a few instruments that are too muffled for headphone listening.

In most cases, these problems can be remedied. Here are five solutions ranked by increasing cost.

1- Elbow grease (free)

Free, these two methods are above all simple and effective. The first is to move the speakers to solve the most common problem: fuzzy bass that muffles the sound. Move the speakers away from the wall and move the chair closer to the speakers, even if it means fighting with the other members of the family to enforce these arrangements because they often radically improve sound balance and clarity. If the problem persists, you can “try placing the speakers in atypical positions”, explains Jordan Kouby:

“The rule is that there are no rules. Asymmetric positions sometimes work, you can even try bringing the speaker closer to the wall or integrating it into the bookcase. But be careful not to get lost on the way: maintaining clarity is difficult, even for a professional. Ask a loved one to move the speakers while you listen and stick to one piece of music. »

Other improvement to be reserved for rooms with too many tiles or windows: Add carpets, curtains, furniture, bookshelves, which can improve sound accuracy. This solution can also be used “to dampen an overly aggressive sound, or to dampen the unpleasant metallic resonances you hear when you clap your hands”says Jordan Kouby.

2- Measurements and corrections (150 to 500 euros)

If the previous step isn’t enough to convince your ears, or if you can’t change the layout of your living room, you can try a steeper route: Place a sound filter – in software form – at the heart of your sound system. The sound will be filtered by a computer which will be your only music player.

This method is equivalent to distorting the sound to remedy your problems, “a good solution to limit the damage in the bass sounds”, judge Philippe, known under the pseudonym Pda0 on Forum-hi-fi.fr, a discussion room where you meet many enthusiasts. After becoming the forum’s acoustics expert, Philippe was invited to the homes of over fifty members to analyze their listening rooms. Anyway, ” this method only works if you always listen to the music from the same chair. Because somewhere else in the room she can [faire] to get worse [la qualité du] his”judge Jean-Pierre Lafont, an acoustician who works for cinemas and music studios.

Above all, you need to get an accurate idea of ​​the problem by measuring it with a microphone designed for this purpose (about a hundred euros) and then viewing these measurements on a computer, which is not necessarily recent. You need free software like Rew, Rephase, Equalizer APO… These measurements, their analysis, and then the creation of filters is a complex process which, according to Philippe, requires, “a few dozen hours of free time spread over a month “. With a large trap upon arrival: “a neutral sound that will not appeal to all ears”. To better match your personal taste, you’ll need to customize the filters, which is even more complicated.

Fortunately, we can count on the support of the community of three forums, Homecinema-fr.com, AVCesar and Forum-hi-fi.fr, which offer tutorials available. Their members are happy to give advice on creating filters. You can also simplify the task by simply taking measurements, then sending them to a reputable professional such as Home Audio Fidelity, responsible for making the filters for a hundred euros.

3- Fully automatic (500 to 2,000 euros)

As in the previous step, this solution consists of filtering the sound to alleviate the acoustic problems in the room. Except here everything is automatic: it’s an amplifier that takes care of it as a substitute for yours. On first use, it emits sounds into your speakers while listening to them through its microphone, then calculates the sound filters.

This solution has a big advantage: you don’t have to make an effort to understand, the maneuver is simple, it takes fifteen minutes. But this solution is more expensive and leaves little room to stick to your sound preferences. The result will often be disappointing for a meaty bass lover, for example, but potentially fantastic for a fan of fidelity and sound neutrality.

Which amplifier model should you choose? A model with the “self-calibration” function. The cheapest are home theater amplifiers, such as the Denon AVR-X1700H DAB (about 800 euros) or the AVR-X3700H (1,400 euros). However, the ideal is to invest in one of the rare audiophile amplifiers with an auto-calibration system such as Lyngdorf or NAD, from 2,000 euros.

The more computer-savvy will be interested in a cheaper solution that doesn’t force you to change amplifiers: Dirac auto-calibration software, which can be installed on the computer playing the music or on a sound box must be inserted between the amplifier and the sound source. Count 450 euros in both cases. This solution is of course automatic, but it takes about ten hours to implement it.

4- Acoustic panels (1,000 to 5,000 euros)

This is the most effective solution, the one adopted by music studios, because it respects the naturalness of the sound and allows you to enjoy an appropriate quality from different listening points. Here, everything starts again with a diagnosis carried out from a computer connected to a microphone. The correction takes place in the form of acoustic panels, which can be bought ready-made from, for example, GIK or Vicoustic, which must be laid on the walls little by little, taking measurements at each step to check progress. Dozens of hours of trial and error in perspective.

Quite often, the first step is to dampen the most distracting sound reflections by placing triangular panels in the corners behind the speakers, then flat panels on the wall, initially where the sound from the speaker bounces towards the ear. This area is marked with a mirror, as explained here.

Unfortunately, this solution can make things worse: these acoustic panels absorb some bass. These can then arise with their heavy and debilitating defects – these are often the most important acoustic problems in a room. In many cases, individuals are reduced to correcting this problem with a sound filter (as explained in steps 2 and 3) because their treatment of acoustic panels, while superior, is extremely restrictive.

“The ideal is to install bass trap [pièges à basse] membrane measuring 50 centimeters thick covers 40% of the surface of the walls”, advises Jean-Pierre Lafont. But this takes up a lot: the room loses about 15% of its surface. And installation costs “about 100 euros per square meter of wall if you do it yourself”. Or 2,000 euros for a room of 25 square meters – or eight times more expensive if a professional is involved.

“Be careful, their design is extremely delicate”warns Christian Malcurt, an acoustician who works in music studios and concert halls, who recommends a simpler solution: “Stretch stone wool in several wooden frames, each placing them at a different distance from the wall: 10, 20, 30 or 40 centimeters. » Cost: a few tens of euros per square meter of wall. However, this solution does not absorb the deepest bass.

5- Bring a professional (5,000 to 50,000 euros)

This should be the easiest and most effective solution. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to find a speaker at an affordable price. On the one hand, non-qualified acousticians are far from agreeing: “Their work is very often disappointing”, Judge Philippe, who has experienced it several times. On the other hand, professional acousticians very rarely work on hi-fi installations. « In the directory of CIDB professionals [Centre d’information et de documentation sur le bruit]which brings together all French acousticians, no one mentions hi-fi as a speciality”, notes Jean-Pierre Lafont. The most skilled professionals in this area are those, unfortunately few in number, who design the acoustics in music studios. The prices of these sizes are beyond the reach of ordinary mortals.

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