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A short film on working the room

  • What should sit between your loudspeakers? The idealist prescribes nothing: no furniture, no hi-fi rack full of gear and no TV. For this is where the soundstage lives. Any obstruction to the free passage and movement of air (ergo: sound) will impede its holography.

    Pragmatists, like yours truly, living in a world where a lounge room doubles as a listening room rarely have the luxury of clearing space between the loudspeakers. Our furniture, our hi-fi hardware and our physical media have to go somewhere.

    When I moved into this Berlin apartment, I covered the wooden floor with rugs and hung some sound absorption panels on the walls to reduce its reverb time. A small (by most people’s standards) Samsung TV sat on an IKEA Kallax unit between the loudspeakers. In Sydney, I’d put a wideband absorption panel in front of my TV when not watching it to prevent it reflecting sound back into the room.

    In Germany, a short-throw projector from LG has since replaced the Samsung TV. The LG’s best quality is its lack of visual intrusion. It is fed over HDMI by an Intel NUC running Windows 10 to create a 50-60″ image on the wall from less than 30cm away –impressive. The downside: curtains must be closed to watch anything during daylight hours.

    Berlin, December 2016.

    The loudspeakers first sat on the long wall (above) before finding a more permanent and better-sounding home on the short. To prevent the front wall from reflecting sound as a TV screen might, the idealist points to a diffusion panel. I’m not there yet. Until then, a quickly removable absorption panel does an OK, if not spectacular, job.

    Conventional audiophile wisdom says that loudspeakers should sit as far out from the front wall as possible. Standmounts like KEF’s LS50 and Q Acoustics 3030i confirm this thinking to be true; as it is in most cases. But not for the JBL L100 Classic, not in this room. The JBL run against conventional wisdom to demand closer front wall proximity for best in-room performance. Reflex ports on the front baffle smooth the path.

    Beware of low boards! They look terrific but before putting one between your loudspeakers, wrap your knuckles on the front and back panels: do you hear a rattle? If yes, chances are your loudspeakers will find and activate those resonant frequencies. This became more obvious in my listening space when I stepped up from smaller standmounts to bigger, full-range loudspeakers. Once heard, it cannot be unheard. The Maisons du Monde LENOX low board that sat between my loudspeakers for well over a year now works storage duties at the top of the stairs.

    Maisons du Monde’s LENOX.

    In four years, my vinyl collection has grown from one Kallax ‘cube’ to over eight. A pair of 1 x 4 vinyl-stuffed Kallax units flanked the loudspeakers until the left-hand side unit was swapped out for a pair of GIK Acoustics’ Tuned Membrane Bass Traps; the Impression Series front plates render them more pleasing to those who don’t wish their listening/living space to descend into a sound lab.

    After a stint in the rear left corner (out of shot), the relocated Kallax was joined by another to sit sideways between the loudspeakers, pushing the Hifi Racks Podium XL off to the sidewall and forcing a 5m length of AudioQuest’s Water balanced interconnect between the rack’s PS Audio BHK pre-amplifier and the Kallax top’s Mytek Brooklyn AMP. The record collections’ higher mass pulls better in-room performance from a broader range of loudspeakers than did the LENOX.

    Pragmatism is the name of the game, Messrs Trial and Error working a lounge room to reduce any audible and visual compromises when accommodating a hifi system (and associated physical media). In the real world, we must balance acoustics with aesthetics. And no matter what’s written in the Audiophile Idealist’s rule book, nothing will top your own experiments with loudspeaker position, listening chair position and whatever sits between your loudspeakers…

    Further information: IKEA | LG | Hifi Racks Ltd. | GIK Acoustics | Maisons du Monde

    John Darko

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

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