Hi-fi: five tips for improving the acoustics of bad-sounding rooms

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KEF LSX loudspeakers 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 unfriendly living rooms can turn music to sonic mush, no matter how expensive the audio setup. “It’s often the number one 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 the alert: a slight impression of hubbub, fuzzy and imprecise bass, speakers that sound less good at home than in the store, a few instruments that are too muted compared to listening to headphones.

In most cases, these issues can be alleviated. 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 bring the chair closer to the speakers, even if it means fighting with the other members of the family to impose these arrangements, because they often radically improve the sound balance and clarity. If the problem does not go away, you can “try to place the speakers in atypical positions”, explains Jordan Kouby:

“The rule is that there are no rules. Asymmetrical positions sometimes work, you can even try to bring the speaker closer to the wall, or embed it in the library. But be careful not to get lost on the way: it is difficult to maintain lucidity, even for a pro. Ask a loved one to move the speakers while you listen and stick to one piece of music. »

Second improvement, to be reserved for rooms with too many tiles or windows: add carpets, curtains, furniture, bookcases, which can improve sound precision. This solution can also be used “to soften an overly aggressive sound, or to attenuate those unpleasant metallic resonances that one hears when one claps one’s hands”says Jordan Kouby.

2- Measurements and corrections (150 to 500 euros)

If the previous step is not enough to convince your ears or if you cannot 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 audio system. The sound will be filtered by a computer, which will become your only music player.

This method amounts to distorting the sound to alleviate 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 space where you meet many enthusiasts. Having become the forum’s acoustics expert, Philippe was invited to the homes of over fifty members to analyze their listening room. Nevertheless, ” this method only works if you always listen to the music from the same chair. ‘Cause 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 have to get a precise idea of ​​the problem by measuring it with a microphone intended for this purpose (about a hundred euros) and then viewing these measurements on a computer, which is not necessarily recent. You will need free software like Rew, Rephase, Equalizer APO… These measurements, their analysis, then the creation of filters is a complex process which requires, according to Philippe, “a few dozen hours of free time spread over a month “. With a big trap on arrival: “a neutral sound that will not appeal to all ears”. To better match your personal tastes, you will have 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 provide tutorials available. Their members are happy to provide advice on the creation of filters. You can also simplify the task by simply carrying out measurements, then sending them to a reputable professional such as Home Audio Fidelity, who is responsible for creating 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 of the room. Except that here everything is automatic: it’s an amp that takes care of it as a replacement for yours. On first use, it emits noises in your speakers while listening to them through its microphone, then it calculates the audio filters.

This solution has a big advantage: you don’t have to make any effort to understand, the maneuver is simple, it takes a quarter of an hour. 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 stunning for a fan of fidelity and sound neutrality.

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

The more computer-savvy will be interested in a cheaper solution, which does not force you to change the amp: the Dirac autocalibration software, which can be installed on the computer playing the music, or on a sound box to be inserted between the amp and the audio source. Count 450 euros in both cases. This solution is automatic, of course, 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 a suitable quality from various listening points. Here again, everything starts with a diagnosis carried out from a computer connected to a microphone. The correction takes the form of acoustic panels, which can be purchased ready-made from GIK or Vicoustic, for example, to be added to the walls little by little, taking measurements at each stage to check progress. Dozens of hours of trial and error in perspective.

Quite often the first step is to attenuate the most distracting audio reflections by placing triangle panels in the corners behind the loudspeakers, then flat panels on the wall, in the first place where the sound emitted by the loudspeaker 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 little bass. These can then emerge with their heavy and disabling defects – these are often the main acoustic problems in a room. In many cases, individuals are reduced to correcting this problem with an audio filter (as explained in steps 2 and 3), because their treatment by acoustic panels, while superior, is extremely restrictive.

“The ideal is to install bass trap [pièges à basse] membrane, measuring 50 centimeters thick, covering 40% of the surface of the walls”, advises Jean-Pierre Lafont. But this takes up a lot of space: the room loses about 15% of its surface. And installation costs “about 100 euros per square meter of wall, if you make 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, acoustician working on music studios and concert halls, who recommends a simpler solution: “Stretch rock 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 in a pro (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 unanimous: “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, none mentions hi-fi as a speciality”, observes Jean-Pierre Lafont. The most capable professionals in this field are those, alas few in number, who design the acoustics of music studios. The prices of these sizes are inaccessible to ordinary mortals.

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