It’s the Room Stupid & Remote Rant

by | Nov 1, 2005 | Special Features | 0 comments

“It’s the room

Just had an interesting experience. I’ve finally finished building our
new conservatory, a beautiful concoction of glass and local chestnut,
and at 7.7 x 3.5m a large extra room on the house. Even though my knees
were still sore after two days laying and grouting quarry tiles I still
found the energy to install a hifi system!

Well, I suppose it showed a certain obsession, but one of the problems
(honest) of a reviewer’s life is having wonderful stuff lying around in
boxes either waiting to be collected, awaiting review or just put away
because something was not needed. So with some glee (and to my wife’s
annoyance) I spent a happy glassafternoon setting up a very fine second
system. In the end on my Clearaudio rack went a fully loaded Linn LP12
and Linto. Amplification was courtesy of the Son of Pharao valve amp
and speakers were my own IPL S3TL transmission lines. In all around
15000e of serious kit. With great expectations I dropped the needle
into my latest fave bit of the black stuff – the White Stripes

Really, really dreadfull. The most horrible ghastly noise. Now I know
what you’re thinking, “the idiot’s built a glass room, lined it with
hard tiles and is complaining because he’s got a horrible ‘glassy’

Well wrong actually. It’s a common misconception that rooms with hard
surfaces will sound ‘hard’. My conservatory is as bad as you could
wish, the walls which aren’t glass, are solid granite – even the inner
doors are glass. The result is a boomy woolly mess, no midrange
clarity, no treble at all, swamped detail – AM radio is better and I’d
have preferred my wife’s ghetto blaster in my normal listening room.

So what is going on? A lot has been written about ideal room dimensions, but the fabric of a room is even more important.

Here’s why:

When a speaker produces sound waves, i.e. music, those soundwaves
propogate out toward our ears and there the waves are decoded into what
we actually ‘hear’. The snag is that sound doesn’t just propagate
towards the listener, but to other parts of the room. When these
‘rogue’ waves hit an object they are absorbed and/or reflected. In a
‘hard’ room most of the sound energy will be reflected and this will
also find its way to your ears after one or more ‘bounces’. Because
sound travels slowly these reflections will arrive after a greater
delay than direct sound from the speaker and if the reflecting surface
is very efficient (like glass) then these delayed waves will be nearly
as loud as the direct sound. So the result is a muddle – blurred
leading edges, no imaging and as for ambience! – this is not hi-fi.

But things get worse. Different frequencies react in a different way.
Low frequencies are omnidirectional, that is they spread in concentric
circles from the driver – so a huge amount of bass energy is reflected.
(you can see what’s coming…) The further up the frequency range you
go the more directional the sound waves become, to the point where high
treble comes direct from the tweeter. So whilst the bass is summed by a
whole load of reflections (all delayed and out of phase), mid range
less so and treble hardly at all. The result is a bass, lower mid
increase and a shy treble.

In total the result is “The result is a boomy woolly mess, no midrange
clarity, no treble at all, swamped detail” – exactly what I’d got.

And I’m afraid I’m limited as to what I can do about it. You see my
conservatory is a beautiful place (you can tell I’m proud) and I love
it’s sparse wicker furniture and bare stone walls. I could damp the
room with curtains, heavy furniture, thick carpets, bookshelves and all
the standard ‘fixes’ to stop reflections but it would fundamentally
change the very nature of the room and that’s not a compromise I am
prepared (or allowed…) to make. I swapped my speaker cables to a
single run of CAT 5 which tightened things up a little, small speakers
with little bass output would help. I guess an edgier TT and amp would
help but only for tonal balance, ditto fancy room correction systems,
but nothing will bring back the phase coherence and detail that is so
much part of hi-fi. The fact is that as far as hi-fi is concerned the
room is a lost cause, spending 100,000e on super-fi would make not a
jot of difference.

And this is one of the unfortunate truths about hi-fi, unless you are
prepared to make major changes in your living area, some rooms will
never support hi-fi sound. I’m lucky as for hi-fi I go back to my main
room which is as dead as a doornail and so sounds bright and detailed
and glassy (but classy:-). But for some of you the only answer is

© Copyright 2003 Geoff Husband – Reprinted with permission of TNT-AUDIO

Remote Rant         

I hate remote controls. They’re generally a tacky bit of plastic
which I don’t need and have to pay for. The kids pinch them to play
‘mobile phones’ with (which doesn’t matter unless it’s a review item),
they all look the same and they imply I haven’t the energy to get up to
turn a knob. But worst of all they are starting to become indispensable.

An Example

I’ve a CD transport on test here at the moment. Very nice it is too but
it has no control buttons other than two emergency ones on the back “in
case of remote control failure”.

Now I’m going to get just a little bit tense about this· Just what the
hell is going on? Do these people never use the stuff they make? Have
they ever heard of ergonomics? Would a car manufacturer supply a remote
control for all the minor controls of a car and remove all the normal
stalks and switches – lights, horn etc. Of course not so why do hi-fi
manufacturers insist on such madness on their equipment controls?

What do you do when you put on a CD player?

I walk to the CD rack and select a disc. I then walk to the CD player,
press the ‘Open’ button, open the jewel case, get out the CD and place
it on the drawer – press ‘play’ and sit down to listen (or I dance

Apparently the manufacturer of the aforementioned transport wants you to –

Walk to the CD rack and select a disc. Then walk to the CD player, look
for the remote. If you are lucky it’ll be on top of the player, though
like as not it’ll be on the coffee table as it is after all a ‘remote’
– alternatively it might be in use as a phazer ‘set to stun’ in one of
the kids bedrooms. But let’s assume you are lucky or have tethered it
to the CD player (the only sensible thing to do). You pick it up and
find amongst the 20 or so identical pin-head sized buttons the one
marked (if it hasn’t worn off) ‘Open’ This you press so the tray slides
out. You then put the remote down, get out the CD place it in the tray,
pick up the remote and look for the tiny pin-head sized button marked
‘Play’. This you then press and put the remote down on the player (so
you can find it next time), then and only then you get to sit down to
listen (or dance about).

Anyone recognise the scenario? I don’t think I exaggerate one little
bit. Add an amp which only works with (another) remote, ditto the tuner
and I could just give up and watch the telly. My brother in law has six
remotes on his coffee table and spends many a stressfull minute trying
one after the other, swapping batteries, looking down the back of the
sofa and generally being unhappy – and they sell the damn things as a
convenience option! And don’t talk to me about learning remotes! That
just makes seven remotes on the table!

Why do they do it? – Style· It can’t be cost because the buttons are
still there on the back. Personally any designer who can’t integrate a
couple of buttons attractively should find some other employment.

I’m not being difficult, I’m just putting in a plea for the common
man/woman (i.e. me). All I want is two clear buttons on a CD player.
‘Open/Close’ and ‘Play/Stop’. You can put all the ‘favourite track
selection’ and ‘random’ nonsense onto the remote – only restaurants and
lift companies use them anyway. Then I can throw the damn thing away
without writing the player off·

Or give it to the kids.

© Copyright 2001 Geoff Husband – Reprinted with permission of TNT-AUDIO

Related Reviews
Logo Pure Pleasure
Logo Apollo's Fire
Logo Crystal Records Sidebar 300 ms
Logo Jazz Detective Deep Digs Animated 01