Why You Must Acoustically Treat Your Hi-Fi Room

Holy crap! My DIY acoustic panels (following Jon Risch‘s recipe, my own how to experience coming soon) have improved my listening experience like nothing else. You have got to try these. I wish you could borrow mine. For the price of two sets of Black Diamond Racing Cones you can change your whole music listening experience for the better. This is the most noteworthy upgrade I have ever made.

So, what am I hearing that’s got me so excited? Clarity. Attack. Depth. Smoothness. Scale.

The acoustic panels broke through the “wall of sound” type recordings that have never sounded great on my system. Last night I listened to the Decemberists’ Picaresque. The opening track, “The Infanta,” features massive instrument congestion, I think the whole song is a crescendo. Without the panels the mix of multiple acoustic guitars, constant and heavy bass guitar organ and drums, tom and snare drums, cello, electric guitar, piano, organ, tambourine and male and female voices sounded like a mush of music where I would hear hints of greatness that would then be obscured by all the other instruments. With the acoustic panels in place the song comes alive. The drums congeal into a single kit, pulling the extra wide cymbals back to a realistic size and relative distance. Acoustic rhythm guitars gain body and string strumming textures like I’ve never heard before. I can imagine the Decemberists’ tambourine slapper standing in front of my right speaker keeping my head bobbing.

These improvements are so pronounced because the acoustic panels have absorbed a wide bandwidth of first reflections from behind the speakers and two points on each of the side walls. The first reflections arrive at your ear within a small enough time window that your brain confuses these delayed reflections as part of the direct sound and blurs the two together. So, your stereo imaging suffers. From the blur, it loses back to front depth, singers and drums fight to occupy the same space, guitar and bass stack on top of each other and lose their body and scale. The panels can also help room interactions that can obscure and exaggerate certain frequencies changing the timbre and scale of the instruments. Cymbals crash outside of the stereo image’s stage, distracting you from the musical presentation.

You need the acoustic panels to shape and smooth your music listening experience. The less acoustic anomalies your brain has to track the more it can suspend its disbelief and let you experience the music emotionally.

For under $100 and a little DIY elbow grease you can treat your listening room and fall in love with your music collection again. You will be so involved in discovering your music again that the only reason you’ll stop listening is from your spouse’s reminder that it’s midnight and she needs to go to bed.

2 thoughts on “Why You Must Acoustically Treat Your Hi-Fi Room

  • Pingback: How To Build Jon Risch’s DIY Acoustic Panels » Home Theater, Anime, Geek Gadgets for the whole family

  • April 23, 2007 at 9:58 am

    While I am all for treating your room if you are an audiophile or an audio engineer (such as myself), the fact that the Decemberists Picaresque sounds so mushy in an untreated room is due to poor mixing and mastering technique. The audio engineers were able to get the recordings to sound good in their respective (and most likely, highly treated) rooms, but the mixes do not translate well to home systems.

    While I like the record, the mixing is not on par with Phil Spector’s work. A great Wall of Sound recording that translates very well is the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby.” I wonder how that would have sounded in an untreated environment.


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