Many years ago, while at college, I set up a stereo system in my room the frat house. At the time, I also worked part time at a San Diego radio station. I noticed how great the playback system sounded in the studio, far better than my system. Yet, my system, which sounded very hollow and shrill, had better components and speakers than the one in the studio. The difference was that room at the frat house had hard wall surfaces and no carpeting. The studio had these white tiles with small holes in them all over the walls and ceiling. You may have seen studios like this in old movies. It was then that I understood how critically important room acoustics were.

The acoustical qualities of a room can make or break the sound of a stereo or home theater system. It is one of the most overlooked factors that determine good sound. I have heard modestly priced hi-fi systems in great sounding rooms sound much better than high-priced audiophile systems in lousy sounding rooms. The quality of a room’s acoustics is determined by 2 factors. First are the dimensions of the room, which obviously you can’t do much about. The dimensions affect how evenly the bass is distributed.

All of the sound above the bass is affected by the reflective surfaces of the room. Hard walls and floors allow the sound to bounce around and continue after they should have ceased.  The result of this reverberation can be sound that is harsh and “tinny.”  Carpeting, drapes, stuffed furniture, and wall treatment can absorb reflections and significantly improve the sound. Many people have family rooms that open into other rooms. This is a good thing for room acoustics as non-parallel walls can disperse the reflected sound.

One quick way that I test a room’s acoustics is to stand in the middle of the room and clap my hands. I’ll then listen to how long it takes for the clap to become inaudible. The shorter the time the better. With a little practice, you’ll be able to walk into different rooms and tell the difference.

At the recent T.H.E. we had two demo rooms at the hotel. These rooms had terrible acoustics. So, we were left with no choice, but to bring some acoustical treatment with us. It surprised us that in many high-end rooms with ultra-expensive equipment, they didn’t make any provision for treating the acoustics. As a result, these expensive systems didn’t sound nearly as good as their prices would indicate. I couldn’t understand why they would go to all the expense of demonstrating at the show without trying to make their products sound their best.

Normally, acoustical treatments for rooms are very expensive. However, Joe Rodgers of our company discovered an incredible resource. It’s called L.A. Sound Panels . This is a relatively new company with really nice people located in Burbank, CA. They make sound panels to order in various dimensions. They take a wooden frame and cover it with the fabric color of your choice. Behind the panel, the use a material called Roxul mineral wool. This is a natural material that is highly absorptive and has none of the drawbacks of fiberglass. They supply these panels to the local studios. These panels are very reasonably priced. We used a few 2’x6′ panels in our demonstration rooms and what a difference! Consider putting a few of these in your room and you’ll be amazed. I think it’s one of the cheapest upgrades to better sound, much better than some equipment upgrades. I can’t wait to do this in my office.