My room doesn’t sound right. What can I do?
The first thing to do is to find out exactly what is wrong. This is done with an Acoustical Analysis.
What is an Acoustical Analysis?
This is where acoustic data is gathered, using a computer with specialized software. The computer generates a test signal, which is played in the room. This signal, and the room’s effect on it, is picked up by a precision measurement microphone and collected back in the computer.
The computer then performs advanced mathematics on the data to produce graphs and plots. We then inspect and analyze these to identify and quantify the room’s problems. Read more here.
Can I just use a hand clap to figure out the problems?
A hand clap will give you a coarse idea of the sound decay in a room, but it doesn’t really provide any actionable information. An Acoustical Analysis provides a broad palette of information, and reveals details that may be hidden by their low level, masked by other issues, or not perceived due to the brain’s ability to disregard “irrelevant” information, like HVAC rumble.
Can room equalization fix my acoustical problems?
No. Room EQ is a tool best suited to making small adjustments to a speaker's sound. Using EQ to fix acoustical problems is only a bandaid measure. This use of EQ is an attempt to fix a problem with the physical room by modifying the electrical signal going to the speakers. It is always better to fix a physical problem using physical means.
MediaRooms' philosophy is to make the room sound good through the design of the physical space, rather than rely on an electrical device that may not help at all. If the room is right to begin with, you may not even need room EQ.
I've heard that the best way to acoustically treat a room is to put sound absorption like Owens Corning 703 or sculpted foam on every surface. Is this correct?
This is "common wisdom", even among some who build studios, but it is wrong for two reasons.
First, absorption takes acoustic energy out of the air. And a lot of absorption takes out a lot of energy. So to listen at a comfortable level, or a specific level like the 85 dB SPL level used in post production, you have to add even more energy into the room by turning up your level. And this is just to put back what the absorption took away. Why not just put in less absorption?
In addition to being terribly inefficient, turning up your room level also reduces your headroom and puts your amplifiers that much closer to clipping on transients and loud passages.
Second, absorbers actually act like low pass filters. That means there is a frequency below which there is less and then no absorption. So any absorption will affect the tonality of your room; this is why rooms with a lot of absorption ("overdamped") sound dull, boomy, and oppressive.
So absorption doesn't bring all frequencies down evenly, requiring even more things like EQ to flatten the frequency response. Wouldn't it be so much better if your room only required a little bit of EQ to flatten out the response in the first place?
Read about Acoustical Design here.
Why should I bring on an acoustical consultant?
An acoustical consultant can ensure that your room is properly designed and constructed. We will also help you avoid the mistakes and pitfalls that come from using the questionable acoustical information that abounds out there. This gets you the best acoustical performance, while saving you money and preventing frustration. The chances of success if you go it alone, or rely on hearsay or manufacturers’ statements, are low.
When is the best time to bring on an acoustical consultant?
At the very beginning of your project. This allows us to provide guidance and expertise before any mistakes can be “cast in stone”, and ensures that any of the abundant bogus information floating around is scrupulously avoided. It is the most efficient and economical approach for having a successful project.
What is the best shape for an acoustically sensitive room?
"Common wisdom" says that a room should have splayed or non-parallel surfaces.
This is incorrect, and here's why. Every room has resonances, regardless of its shape. In a rectangular room, it is very easy to predict where these resonances will be - they plot out as straight lines. This helps you determine where to place the listening position and position the subwoofer(s), and makes the room a more stable listening environment.
But you don't get anything for free, so the payback is getting flutter echoes. These are easily dealt with using the treatments that you will likely be installing anyway.
In a room with splayed walls, you don't get flutter echoes, but your payback is the resonances no longer plot out in straight lines. This means they are unpredictable. The best listening position and subwoofer placement are no more than a guess, because you can no longer predict where the resonances will be.
Once a room's resonances are distorted and unpredictable, the room is permanently damaged. You can try to minimize the sonic damage with band-aid treatments, but you will never be able to truly fix it.
So why not make it correct in the first place? The effort spent getting the resonances to be stable and predictable pays you a big dividend every single time you work in your room, with a smoother, more predictable and more controllable sonic environment.
Are floating floors worth the expense?
Floating floors are like speaker isolators for an entire room. They keep the sound generated in your room from getting out and intruding into other spaces. This is important if you need to stay on good terms with your neighbors.
And they keep external noise from getting into your space, especially rumble. This is important in live recording rooms because that intruding sound will get recorded along with the sound you want to capture. In mix rooms this is important because intruding sound can be a fatiguing, annoying distraction that impacts your creative decisions.
So floating floors are definitely worth the expense, especially with the new floating floor solutions that are inexpensive and easy to implement.
I've heard about speaker isolators. What do they do?
Speaker isolators minimize the amount of kinetic energy that transfers to your room's physical structure from your speakers. This can improve the sound in your room very significantly and reduce or eliminate your speaker's sound from intruding into other rooms.
But isolators need to be correctly implemented to work properly, and even some isolator manufacturers don't get this right. The best material to use is Sorbothane (tm), available at www.IsolateIt.com.
Why don't you use bass traps in your designs?
Bass traps are brute force absorbers that indiscriminately absorb a very broad range of low frequencies. Because what we perceive as a room's "sound" occurs primarily in the low frequency range, this indiscriminate absorption of low frequencies is very counter productive.
If instead you absorb the problem frequencies and leave the remaining frequencies, you preserve the natural sound of the low frequency range. By using resonant absorbers tuned to the specific problem frequencies, the low frequency range is smoothed out gently in a very targeted fashion. With this method, you fix the problems and leave the rest; there's no need to try to put things back with EQ.
Can I use cork on my walls?
You can, but there are other materials that work much better and don't cost as much. It's not a good use of your time, effort, and money.
Can I use egg cartons on my walls?
No. It's an even bigger waste of your time, effort, and money.