Goodwin's High End

 

Custom Room Design for Music Playback

When you go to the symphony, you usually hear the musicians in a hall specially designed for "good acoustics." When you listen at home to recordings of music, wouldn't it be great to a have a similarly great-sounding room? We feel that the ultimate expression of the art of music reproduction is the construction of a custom-designed music room. Before we begin the design process, we need to know a few things:

  • Approximately how many people will be using the room at one time?
  • What type of audio system will be used? Two channel stereo or multi-channel surround sound.
  • Are there other (non-audio) uses of the room that need to be accommodated. For example, will there be a pool table, a grand piano, or maybe television viewing?
  • Are there important lifestyle issues that need to be considered? Perhaps there's a great view to the west. Or maybe the flickering warmth of a fireplace is important.
  • Is sound isolation needed? Perhaps you need to keep your music in the room, or you need to keep street noise out?

There are many important parameters to address in well-designed listening room:

  • The room dimensions and shape.
  • The position of the speakers and of the listener(s).
  • The placement and type of door(s).
  • The placement and type of any windows or skylights .
  • The construction techniques used in the walls, floor, and ceiling.
  • Soundproofing construction techniques.

Once the room shell has been designed, then the following sub-systems need to be carefully thought through:

  • The AC electric system design.
  • The Heating, Ventilation, and Cooling (HVAC) system design.
  • The lighting system design.
  • RF/EMI (Radio Frequency / Electromagnetic Interference) shielding.
  • The acoustic treatments within the room.

The room size will be determined partially by how much space is available and how many people will be listening at any given time. For acoustic and comfort reasons, the room doesn't want to be too big nor too small. The ratio of the room dimensions is extremely important. Click room dimensions for more info.

When designing a room, we carefully consider where the listeners will sit and where the speakers will be positioned. There are two basic types of music playback systems: 2-channel "stereo" systems and surround sound systems. While there can be differences in how we design a room for either type of system, there are many similarities and we can design a room for use with both.

The placement and construction of doors and windows is important. From a purely acoustic perspective, we would omit doors and windows as they deleteriously resonate, reflect, and leak sound. They are also more expensive than a plain wall. Of course, natural light is essential for most people, and so we carefully recommend the number, size, location, and materials for the windows. For doors, we've always joked that the best place to put a door is in the floor. Assuming that you aren't willing to climb into your room through a trapdoor in the floor ;-) we simply place the door where it is least problematical.

As for the walls, we specify the construction of relatively inert, anti-resonant walls with a certain amount of controlled flexure. We want them to be somewhat rigid, but not so rigid that they will not let any bass energy escape. Excessively rigid walls would require extensive bass trapping to acoustically treat the room. Often we specify walls that are of medium mass but that are also internally damped and can flex in a controlled manner. Click room construction for more info.

In addition to the proper design for the acoustics within the room, we also need to consider any requirements for soundproofing. In many situations, we need to keep external noise out of the room. For example, the noise from a busy road can very annoying. Or perhaps you may wish to keep loud music from being transmitted to other parts of the home. Click soundproofing for more info.

The AC electrical system should be designed and installed with great care. For the highest quality audio systems, we specify heavy-duty dedicated & electrically isolated circuits, with special attention to capacity, shielding, and grounding. If code permits, we prefer an entirely separate ground to earth just for the audio electrical system, but local building codes sometimes do not allow this. To minimize the potential for hum and noise, we pay special attention to which leg of the 220 volt feed is used to source the 110 volt outlets. We also recommend hospital grade outlets and heavy duty circuit breakers, or even new high-end breaker boxes that don't use the normal pull-out circuit breakers. Click electrical system for more info.

The HVAC design is also important because we want a low noise floor. In some situations, we prefer a dedicated HVAC system for the listening room. Furthermore, sometimes it's best to separate the heating system from the cooling system. We pay special attention to avoid sound transmission problems when the ductwork can connect to noisy elements such fans, furnaces, and compressors. We recommend ducts that are lined on the inside and wrapped on the outside. To eliminate the noise of rushing air, we often specify large, specially designed and built still-air boxes. Click HVAC for more info.

Any high-end room requires a careful lighting plan by a qualified lighting designer. However, many of the electrical components that lighting designers use generate large amount of electrical noise which degrade the performance of the audio system. Dimmers are usually the worst offenders, even though they can flexibly create different lighting scenes. Sometimes we use a special type of dimmer that creates less noise. Or perhaps we can use low-wattage lamps to design a fixed lighting scene for listening. In addition to electrical noise, the lighting plan can create acoustic problems. Some lamps actually emit mechanical noise when in use. Some lighting fixtures act as resonators and reflectors, requiring careful selection and placement. In any case form should follow function here; the lighting design should flatter the various uses of the room. Click this overview on lighting design and light control for more info.

Some metropolitan areas have well-known areas with high levels of TV, radio, telephone, and other types of high frequency air-borne signals. Some audio system can pick up and amplify these signals as unwanted background noise. If you are building in such an area, please let us know as we can minimize the effects of these signals with the design of the room. Click RF/EMI shielding for more info.

After the room is built, we install the acoustic room treatment. Acoustics and acoustic room treatment are surprisingly complex subjects. Room treatment is essential to achieving high performance from your audio system. We design the treatment around the furniture in the room, and if desired, we can help you select new furniture to avoid any egregious reflection or resonance problems. Also, we consider the acoustic properties of the window treatments so that they absorb the proper amount of sound neither too little nor too much. Click acoustic treatment for more info.

A comprehensive room design requires very careful planning and implementation. It can be expensive. But when the project is complete, you'll be enjoying your new custom-built listening room with a satisfied grin on your face. It is indeed the ultimate way to experience music reproduction. To date all of the clients for whom we've custom-designed rooms are exceedingly happy. If you would like to have a room designed by us, you're welcome to give us a call so that we can arrange a time to discuss your project.

 


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