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VLOG: Minimalist living is the enemy of good sound

  • Rip it up and start again. Moving into a new home presents fresh challenges for the audiophile. He has to decide where to place the loudspeakers in the lounge room in order to strike the right balance between audible and visual satisfaction. When the room is shared with others, pulling loudspeakers 1.5 or 2m from the front wall might not be practical. It might even look odd.

    Once his noisemakers have found their new home, our audiophile then faces the much bigger problem of room acoustics. His new lounge room’s exposed smooth surfaces – walls, floor and ceiling – will reflect the sound firing from the loudspeakers back into the room. Each hard surface will absorb some sound but reflect the rest back into the room. Sound will bounce around the room, losing energy with each surface hit, until it fully decays. Sat on the couch with an album sleeve or smartphone in hand, our audiophile will hear the direct sound from the loudspeakers but also that reflected sound…a little later. That late, reflected sound has a name: reverberation. Think of it as a very short/truncated echo. Professionals sometimes refer to reverberation as RT60: the amount of time it takes for sound pressure levels (SPLs) in a room to fall by 60dB. A room’s optimal RT60 will depend upon its intended purpose but for a music listening space, we’d want ∼300ms (maybe less).

    The issue for our new homeowner is that driving down a room’s RT60 sits at direct odds with the minimalist thinking that craves a sparsely furnished space. The cleanest-looking rooms are often the worst sounding. And if hanging acoustic panels on the walls and ceiling aren’t an option, he’ll need to lay rugs to cover as much hardwood floor space as possible and then load the room with furniture: an armchair, bookshelves, CD/vinyl storage and maybe a solid cabinet. A TV mounted to the wall between the speakers is a no-no — its smooth screen is the ultimate reflective surface. Far better to hang a couple of acoustic panels in its place. That’s certainly the case with my current Airbnb in Portugal whose lounge room features abundant bright white walls, a ‘floating’ wooden floor, minimal furnishings and a wall-mounted TV that all combine to red card hi-fi system satisfaction should I want it. If I were to live here permanently, I would have to choose between a minimalist (room) aesthetic or good (room) sound. Because I couldn’t have both.

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    Written by John

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

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

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