One of the most common misconceptions in the world of audio is that your speakers, turntable, or stereo receiver are the single most important components of an audio setup.
While there’s no doubt that they definitely play an important role in your overall experience – the actual space where you’ll be listening is also vital for achieving the best results.
Listening rooms and your stereo equipment have a synergistic relationship where each and every detail not only serves a specific purpose, but also has a significant effect on the end result.
Our basic guide will offer a few simple solutions that will, without a doubt, improve your listening room acoustics.
Here’s the basic reality – the room you listen in is just as important as the equipment used to listen. Listening to high-end speakers outside (that weren’t designed for that environment) would be like swimming with ski goggles.
Improve Your Listening Room Acoustics
As is the case with headphones, amps, microphones, etc. – the overall effectiveness of any acoustic treatment will always create room for debate (no pun intended).
There are some who argue that DIY acoustic treatment methods are ineffective, while others suggest that there is a certain level of subjectivity that can’t be simply brushed aside.
The truth is, many of us can’t exactly afford to build a dedicated listening room from the ground up. This is exactly why learning how to best situate your equipment and manually alter the shape and texture of the space you have to work with is a great place to start.
We suggest that you start working with the space and equipment you already have (especially if you’re sticking to a budget) before going out and buying random treatment solutions without doing some important homework.
The “Golden Ratio” & How It Applies To Audio
One term you may have heard during your previous research is what’s called the “Golden Ratio”. It’s especially important when it comes to building a listening room from scratch.
Using the Golden Ratio, you can calculate and build a room to the highly specific dimensions needed to maximize your gear’s performance. The sole purpose is to achieve an extremely well-balanced and natural sound (no matter where you’re standing or sitting).
Here’s the exact ratio (originally calculated by the ancient Greeks):
- width = 1.6 times the height
- length = 2.6 times the height
Minimize Ringing & Standing Wave Interference
These specific dimensions allow for a perfectly calculated space that minimizes ringing and standing wave interference.
Most audiophiles and sterophiles dream of the day they can afford to build a space where they can kick back and consume their favorite music – undisturbed and mathematically-tuned.
Even though it sounds like an audiophile’s heaven, there is a slight caveat. Let’s say you built a room from the ground up using the Golden Ratio. Depending on the material used to construct the walls, flooring, etc. – there may still be a need to treat one end of the room.
Even a perfectly-constructed space still requires a little extra work. You might need to add a few more QRD diffusors or reflection phase gating in order to bring the full potential of that space to life.
What If My Room Doesn’t Match The Golden Ratio Dimensions?
If you already have a dedicated listening room or can’t build one from scratch, there are a few things you can do to work with what you have.
Since it’s not always possible to construct a room that perfectly matches the Golden Ratio, there are some basic steps you can take towards achieving satisfying results.
Basic Fixes Within Your Control
For example, if your room requires 6 foot ceilings but they’re 7 feet tall – you can use your preferred acoustic treatment method to close the distance.
Two other equally important factors are the location of your audio equipment and actual shape of the space where you’ll be listening.
Treating Square Rooms
Perfectly square rooms are one of the least ideal shapes for achieving the best acoustics possible.
One thing that tends to happen with the bass is that it can over-saturate the room. This phenomenon can create standing waves (see how to minimize them below).
Instead of detailed, accurate, and dynamic imaging – you’ll hear a roaring or howling sound due to the built up energy (generated by powerful low frequencies) that can become overpowering.
Minimizing Standing Waves
Audio waves don’t exactly flourish in perfectly square environments, which is why you’ll want to do everything in your power to get rid of them.
If you can make the room take an irregular shape rather than a perfect square, it will dramatically increase your chances of achieving the desired results.
One fairly simple way to do this is to angle any squared corners with bookshelves to help break up the shape of the room. Doing this also serves as a form of diffusion, which is one of the main preferred acoustic treatment methods.
Another step you can take is to place your woofers in the corners instead of wherever else they were before. This helps ensure that you get the absolute best bass response in a square room (which isn’t ideal to begin with).
Three Full Walls, One Open Side
As you know, there are a lot more than two room shapes (square being the least ideal). Maybe you’re treating a room that has three walls with one large opening on the fourth side.
This can cause a reflection imbalance and should therefore alter the way you position your audio gear.
Symmetrical Speaker Positioning
In this case, symmetrical speaker positioning will improve their imaging. Ideally, you would put your chair or couch with your back facing the open space.
If that’s not possible, you can try your best to angle both tweeters towards where your ears will be when you’re listening. You can see a basic illustration here.
Debate Over Absorption vs. Diffusion
Although diffusion and absorption are closely related (and sometimes thought of as serving the same purpose), they are two completely separate entities.
Using Diffusion To Your Advantage
These two forms of treatment can be used simultaneously but if you had to pick one over the other – diffusion is often preferred. Diffusion scatters and/or weakens reflected sound whereas absorption does not.
When audio waves hit uneven surfaces, they become confused and this causes them to scatter. In this case, causing the waves to scatter is a good thing.
When diffusion is implemented correctly, it can lead to a more natural sounding, well-balanced soundscape.
Real-Life Application For Desired Results
To put it into relatable context, diffusion creates a sonic atmosphere that’s harder to trace directly back to its source.
Instead of being fully aware that your music is playing directly out of your speakers (as is the case when you’re wearing a pair of IEMs) it should feel and sound much more immersive.
Ultimately, the end goal is to create a sonic atmosphere that surrounds you with the waves of your favorite music and makes you feel like you’re swimming in the depths of musical perfection.
The best end result is to experience near-full immersion to the point where you become intertwined with every note being played or sung.
DIY Diffusion Methods
Bookshelves can be a great way to scatter audio waves due to their uneven shape. Rather than reflecting off a hard flat, blank wall – the waves will travel over the irregular shape and create the effect you’re looking for.
At the same time, some would argue that any actual books on the shelves (even placed at irregular depths) have a tendency to absorb waves rather than reflect and scatter them.
Personal preference definitely plays a major role when it comes to arguing this specific aspect of DIY diffusion methods.
If at all possible, removing the books from the shelf (or stacking an unused bookshelf) against the wall might be more effective than not.
Either way you look at it (the core principle of diffusion), you’re reducing flat surface area while at the same time giving those audio waves an obstacle to travel over.
Some of The Most-Popular Diffusors
If you decide that you’d rather avoid DIY diffusion methods and instead want a few recommendations (with proven results) that require less work on your end – here are some of the most popular diffusors.
One of the preferred style of diffusors are 2D or 3D QRD (quadratic residue diffusors). They do tend to be more expensive, but if you want to take that route – a quality QRD might be worth the investment.
The ATS acoustic diffusor (pictured below) is a fairly inexpensive option designed specifically for calculated wall placement.
RPG (reflection phase gating) panels can be place behind your speakers and are used for scattering higher frequencies, as well as improving mid to low range frequency performance.
They can also be placed to the sides of your setup at the point of first reflection. The sweet spot will be where the tweeters are directly pointed.
The ATS Acoustic Panels (pictured below) will help reduce overblown echo and reverb. These panels are very highly-rated and are available in 4 different color varieties.
The Auralex Acoustics GeoFusor Sound Diffusor is a popular choice for handling standing waves without taking away any acoustic energy. They are usually attached to the ceiling and are currently available in two different dimensions here.
The other most commonly-used treatment methods is absorption. Absorption methods operate on an almost completely opposite system. As you can probably gather by the name – rather than diffuse energy, they absorb it.
There are some cases where absorption can come in handy, but for a dedicated listening room, minimal absorption is usually necessary.
There is some debate about using diffusion and absorption to compliment each other but if you had to pick one over the other – diffusion would arguably be the more important method to focus on.
Ideal Floor Material & What To Avoid
As you can probably imagine, the flooring material in your listening space also factors in to the overall equation.
It not only directly effects the performance of your equipment, but also serves as yet another surface for audio waves to interact with.
For example: It’s generally not advisable to place your turntable or stereo setup directly onto bare concrete or hardwood floor. Improper turntable placement and setup can lead to a negative experience listening to vinyl (which we briefly discuss in our answer to Why Does Vinyl Sound Better?).
With speakers and woofers/subwoofers especially, doing so can cause distracting vibration and/or rattling.
Benefits Of Concrete/Hardwood Flooring
One benefit that can be gained from using a space with concrete or hardwood floors is their ability to provide a firm surface underneath your speakers.
It might seem like concrete floors are a worst case scenario, but here’s the reality. If the hardwood floors in your room are more spongy than they are firm, you can still run into issues with undesirable absorption.
To counteract issues with a bare concrete/hardwood floor, it’s recommended that you cover them with a carpet or rug. That way, you can minimize excessive floor reflection.
Finding The Optimal Distance Between Loudspeakers
Here’s a good rule of thumb for finding the right placement for your speakers and listening chair or couch.
If you can, place your speakers 1/3 of the way into the room from the wall behind the speakers.
Next, try to put your chair or couch 1/3 of the way into the room keeping one wall behind you.
Finally, create an equilateral (same distance on all 3 sides) triangle from the speakers to your sitting position. Take a look at the image below to see a rough illustration.
Using the “rule of thirds” in this case, will help improve imaging.
Imaging & Finding The Right Positioning
When done correctly, accurate imaging will create the effect that the sound is coming from behind the speakers, rather than directly from the tweeters themselves.
Unless your goal is to create standing waves and see how loud you can get the bass to go – subwoofers should ideally blend with the other frequencies made by the speakers.
Generally, it should seem like the lower frequencies are coming from the speakers, rather than standing out, sounding completely separate from the entire setup.
In most cases, the goal is to create a cohesive, well-balanced soundscape where each frequency is equally represented.
Bass & The Distance Between Your Speakers
Also, as you move your speakers closer to each other, the mid bass frequencies will decrease. The farther apart they are from each other, the louder the mid bass frequencies will sound.
It does depend on your personal taste for what sounds the best, but the above mentioned concepts pretty much apply across the board.
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with wanting nothing but bass, just like there’s nothing wrong with wanting to achieve an perfectly well-balanced soundscape.
Personal preference in this area will definitely effect the way you choose to position your speakers and woofer.
Choosing The Best Room & Making Adjustments As Needed
Overall, there are a few key points that can make a night and day difference in your loudspeaker setup.
We already went over the importance of room size, shape, and dimensions – so here’s one final checklist to help illustrate some of the main essentials when picking a space for listening:
- Use a space that’s as quiet as possible
- Pay attention to the flooring material (and improve as best you can)
- Consider absorption vs. diffusion (try one of the DIY methods and adjust as needed)
- Calculate the Golden Ratio room dimensions (add obstacles if needed or desired)
- 4 walls is more ideal than 3 walls + an open space (but you can work with either)
- Try to situate your equipment using the rule of thirds (equilateral triangle illustration)
- Non-parallel walls help break up standing waves
- Avoid using perfectly square rooms if possible
- Experiment until you get the results that you’re looking for!
Although it’s not exactly a perfect science (though some would argue it’s pretty close) – these are the most common methods recommended by speaker manufacturers and acoustic treatment experts.
That being said, it never hurts to do your own tests and try a few different setups before you settle on a single recommendation.
Once you find the sweet spot and are able to achieve a mind-blowing soundscape, you’ll be glad you did your homework.
No matter what audio source you choose when listening to music on loudspeakers – listening room acoustics play an integral role in the process and deserve special attention to detail.
Hopefully, you were able to find a few suggestions here that you can try out and apply to your personal setup. If you have any questions about anything we’ve covered here, feel free to ask below. We always do our best to respond as quickly as we can!
If you’d like to share your experience with which acoustic treatment has worked the best for you, leave a comment below and let us know!
If you enjoyed this guide, you’ll also enjoy our post explaining Passive Speakers vs. Active Speakers.
You can also stick around and browse our picks for The 10 Best Bookshelf Speakers here. Thanks for stopping by, we look forward to hearing from you!
Sonic Elevation: Ride The Waves.