Family HT Room: Phase 2 - more speakers vs room treatements - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 8 Old 06-03-2013, 02:12 PM - Thread Starter
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I'm wondering if money is better spent on room treatments AFTER you complete your speaker purchases or if early analysis can help you decide how best to use a space before you just cram it full of speakers?

Can early REW (or other acoustical analysis) show you if your room is a "lost cause" (for your particular budget and goals)? Therefore saving you some heartache and cash before you toss money at something that will never meet your expectations/needs.....

I'm not completely satisfied with the sound quality of my current 2.1 configuration, especially when it comes to movies. Dialogue can often be drowned out by the bass. I know I have more work to do in regards to sub placement, and probably more tweaks I can do in regards to Audyssey/EQ settings. But I must admit to a bit of Tweakers Fatigue. I've hit a wall, and I want to try to buy my way out of it, using blood from a turnip. biggrin.gif

Here is a depiction of my current set-up:
LL

When the house was built, this room was originally intended for watching NFL Football, not movies - and listening to music. However the "to-be" 7.1 media room in the unfinished basement is taking longer to materialize than I had hoped and now I'm wondering if I can get adequate 5.1 playback in this space.

I feel like I want to do one of two things:
1) Hire an HT Installer to perform some level of acoustic analysis; hopefully providing configuration, upgrade, and acoustic treatment recommendations. Ideally, I'd find someone who would be honest with me and say - "don't go past 3.1" - or "step down to 2.0 and let it go" - if that is truly what is best for this space - acoustically. This seems like a sane approach, but I'm not sure if I'm expecting too much out of the HT Installer - can they show me that "Yellow Brick Road" or will they just want me to buy stuff?

2) The other option, and the one that I have been known to take in the past, is to blindly buy the other speakers, install them, and spend more time tweaking Audyssey settings on my own. The theory here is that "no space is hopeless" - 5 speakers in a normal sized "living room" like this simply MUST be able to accomplish what I want. So "just do it". As nice as that might sound, it's seldom a frugal approach and if jamming 5.1 speakers into this space does not solve the "problem" then I'll have egg on my face.

Recommendations on what the best bang-for-the-buck is at this stage of the game?
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post #2 of 8 Old 06-04-2013, 03:10 PM - Thread Starter
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Note to Self:

A quick calculator by ATS Acoustics estimates that I need 90 S.F. of fabric paneling "to bring the room's reverb time to an acceptable level." This equates to 11 24"x48" panels. The ATS panels are approx $50 each for an investment of $550; the GIK panels are $60 each/$660 total; the RealTrap's 2'x4' mini-trap is $220 each - way out of sight for me. But even at a $600 -> $700 "investment", it's not something I want to do unless it will make an audible difference. At this price I could buy my center speaker ($300) and 2 surrounds ($230) to complete my 5.1 speaker set-up.

I need to determine if my $600 would be better spent on speakers now, or panels now.

If I buy $600 worth of panels, what about baffles, diffusers, bass traps and the other paneling types? How can I get a more accurate analysis of my specific room needs?

If I did buy the panels, and they solved my perceived problem with the sound, maybe I wouldn't need to buy the speakers?

For under $100 I could set myself up with a MiniDSP UMIK-1 mic and start creating REW graphs. But where does that get me? Information overload, I'm afraid! If REW helps me place my speakers, and my speakers can actually be placed there without re-arranging the furniture, perhaps I'll see a sound improvement that will allow me to "wait" on the panels?

The easiest solution for me is to buy the speakers first and then address the remaining problems with panels as budget allows. My concern here is that I'll be putting a lot of money into a "family room" that is primarily used for watching Football and listening to background music. If I can get "great" 5.1 sound in this room, it would be awesome - but maybe I don't need it. Or worse, maybe the room will never be able to deliver that "great" sound without an acoustic treatment investment I'm unwilling to make?

Maybe this room is best suited for 2.1 or 3.1 - with no acoustic treatments, and I'd be better served saving the bulk of my investment for a new-construction, basement, media-room that would act as the primary "surround sound" room? Is there a level of analysis which would help me decide what this room is best suited for?
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post #3 of 8 Old 06-05-2013, 11:11 AM
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No room is a lost cause.

Adding even a modest number of bass traps and absorbers for early reflections will make a huge improvement.

A calculator such as you described is not useful. Small rooms like yours do not have RT60, and trying to estimate treatment based on that metric is doomed to fail. Since you plan to measure with REW, that will tell you what you need, and show you how things improve.

This short article is mainly about home recording, but all the same principles apply to hi-fi and home theater too:

Acoustic Basics

--Ethan

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post #4 of 8 Old 06-05-2013, 01:44 PM - Thread Starter
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Thanks for the reply Ethan, I'm pretty much just talking through this - organizing thoughts, formulating plans. I've had quite a learning adventure this past month trying to figure out how to maximize my current investments and put future money in the right place. I know REW is a missing piece to the puzzle of my understanding, but there is quite a learning curve involved (for me).
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No room is a lost cause.

I'm glad to hear this, but also need to add the conditions of "within budget" and "aesthetically pleasing" to the general technical requirement of "good sound" in my family room. If I cannot obtain good sound, within budget, and without completely re-arranging the room, then it is indeed a lost cause (for me). I could step back and use this room for general TV viewing and background music through simple devices such as sound bars and in-ceiling speakers - or a basic 3.1 system that doesn't require cutting new holes in walls. I could then re-invest in a new-construction, basement, media room to achieve my "surround sound" and "listening room" goals. I'm about 1 year away from that basement media room, and want to temper my investment into this "family room" if it poses acoustical challenges I'm not ready to face.

I'm looking at almost $600 to complete speaker purchases and I could be willing to spend around that same amount for room treatments, but I would be terribly disappointed if the end result was anything less than great. I'm pretty much unwilling to spend much more than an additional $2000 in this particular room - wanting to save the rest of my money for the basement remodel.
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Originally Posted by Ethan Winer 
Adding even a modest number of bass traps and absorbers for early reflections will make a huge improvement.
Since you plan to measure with REW, that will tell you what you need, and show you how things improve.

My concern here is that REW will drown me in information that I'm unable to translate into real-world recommendations for improvement. To put it mildly, I'm intimidated by REW; I'm academically interested in REW because I want to learn these things (and find it "fun" to learn them), but I don't know if I can learn them fast enough to keep up with my upgrade/construction progress. I have begun to contact an HT Installer and will inquire about the level of analysis that they offer. I'm curious to know if they are familiar with REW, or similar software, and how they go about making specific recommendations for acoustic treatments.

You wouldn't be interested in a drive up to Maine, would ya? biggrin.gif (just kidding - kinda)
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Originally Posted by Ethan Winer 
This short article is mainly about home recording, but all the same principles apply to hi-fi and home theater too:
Acoustic Basics
One of these days, I'll have that page memorized.
cool.gif
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post #5 of 8 Old 06-06-2013, 11:07 AM
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My associate (and RealTraps manager) Jim Lindenschmidt lives in Maine, and he is available for in-home visits for a fee. In all honesty, with such a limited budget you'll do better spending the money on more treatment.

You basically have two choices: do it on the cheap which means spending the time to learn about acoustics, or pay more to get professional products that come with professional advice. (Or pay a professional to advise you on DIY treatment.)

As for REW, it does offer a lot of detail, but it's not the complicated if you're willing to learn as a way to save money:

Room Measuring Primer

Finally, note that bass traps you buy or build can be moved from your current room to another room in the future. Just like speakers and other gear.

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post #6 of 8 Old 06-06-2013, 03:40 PM - Thread Starter
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Always a wealth of information, Ethan - thanks. After I educate myself more, and let some "free" consultations come-and-go, I'll keep Jim's name in mind! I was able to read through your links today and I've tried to do just about everything I can do without SPL or REW measurements. I did learn that I need to re-run Audyssey using a mic stand, I think I took some short cuts that are hurting me and after reading the official Audyssey thread, I can do better.
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In all honesty, with such a limited budget you'll do better spending the money on more treatment.

I felt that this was going to be true, and that is why I started putting the brakes on continued speaker purchases - and why I started this thread. I could picture getting into a situation where more speakers just cause more of a problem and then I'd be "desperate" for room treatments and I'll be putting more money into this room than I really wanted. If I have sound bouncing all over this room, causing nulls-and-whatnots, then more speakers could do more harm-than-good (I assume).

I would like to try and get clarification on one thing though - if you (or anyone else) could/would answer this:
If I measure, and get good recommendations for room treatments using my current 2.1 configuration - what affect will the addition of speakers AFTER room treatments have?

Would the placement of panels for the 2.1 system still be valid, or would/could the new speaker(s) change the dynamics to such an extent as to render the 2.1 panel placement moot?

I'm hoping I could potentially follow an upgrade path like this:
* Start with 2.1 & no treatments
* Measure & add treatments
*** (or blindly add "bass traps in the room corners, mid/high frequency absorbers at the side-wall and ceiling reflection points" per the Room Measuring Primer)
* Add center channel
* Measure & maybe add treatements (but don't move existing treatments)
* Add side surrounds
* Measure & maybe add - but don't move anything existing.

Will that work, or am I facing a potential total re-arrange of panels with each new speaker purchase?
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post #7 of 8 Old 06-07-2013, 09:54 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CubicleCrusher View Post

Would the placement of panels for the 2.1 system still be valid, or would/could the new speaker(s) change the dynamics to such an extent as to render the 2.1 panel placement moot?

Panel placements are the same for 2-channel and surround. All that's affected when adding more speakers is dealing with the additional reflection points.

--Ethan

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post #8 of 8 Old 06-18-2013, 05:59 AM - Thread Starter
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Thanks Ethan. From your resources, and with some guidance from GIK consultants, I have made a pretty solid plan for acoustic treatment upgrades in my family room. However, thanks to an in-home visit from a local HT Installer, the sound from my 2.1 system is much improved. I am relieved, and much less stressed out. cool.gif

As basic as it would seem, I did not check my source devices (like my CATV box) to see if they were doing any audio compression of the signal before reaching the AVR. It turned out that my cable box was set to an audio mode for "TV Speakers" which was doing some terrible things to the audio output. My Panasonic Blu-Ray was doing something similar to it's streaming content (but not disc-content). This has seemed to clear up the "sporadic nature" of my sound problem which was completely confusing me.

So by doing a full system calibration, device-by-device, my major sound-concerns were alleviated.

I can now approach new speaker, and room treatment, investments in a true "upgrade" fashion as opposed to a scrambled frenzy to "fix" a problem.

To wrap it up by answering my own initial post: I will upgrade to 3.1 before making any wall treatment investments; and I'll probably not go to 5.1 in this room as it's more of a Football-and-Music area than a watch-a-blockbuster-movie area.
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