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New speakers or room treatments?

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 
I'm seeking advice on the best way to proceed in improving audio quality in my rectangular 2000 cubic foot home theater room.

Here's my current setup:

Fronts: Polk RTi8
Center: Polk CSi5
Surrounds: Polk RTi4
Subwoofer: Power Sound Audio XV15
Power amp: Emotiva XPA-5
Source: HTPC with HT Omega Claro Plus sound card

When it comes to movie watching, I'm quite pleased with this setup, so no complaints there. However, with music, I'm feeling underwhelmed. I'm not sure how to best explain it, but it's as if most music is lacking some sort of dynamic quality - I'm looking for more depth and punch in the performance. Also, the more I listen to music on this system, the more I realize how harsh sounding the highs can be.

The room itself is fairly sparse, there's no furniture other than the main seating area and there's also nothing on the walls except for a floor to ceiling blackout curtain that covers the entire back wall (sliding glass door) and a shorter blackout curtain along most of the left side wall (window), the floor is carpeted with thick padding over concrete.

Here's a crude drawing of my room (I was bored):



I'm sure I would benefit from both a speaker upgrade and room treatments, but I won't be able to afford both at the same time. I also don't want to waste money on a potential sidegrade or on something that's not going to have a noticeable improvement, so if it turns out that this isn't possible with my current budget then I'll probably hold off for another year or so.

Estimated budget: $1500-2000
post #2 of 15
If the highs are a problem, I would recommend adding some acoustic panels at first reflection points as a cheap initial way to get clear results. You can either go the DIY route or buy some online. Either way, a few panels should be well under your budget. Since the back and one side wall have curtains that likely absorb some of the sound, (and you can't hang them on windows) you will likely just need them for the front and other side wall. This all depends on how crude your drawing is of the windowed wall. Here's a guide for determining where to place them and if you would need a panel on that side wall next to the window. http://acousticsfreq.com/blog/?p=432.

Acoustic panels will keep the highs from reverberating off the walls and should clear up some of the sound. You don't mention bass trouble, but bass traps in corners closest to the sub would likely help the low frequencies. The advantage to room treatments is they keep enhancing the sound regardless of what future speaker upgrades you make. I would say that $500-750 in room treatments now, then save the remainder of your budget for a nice l/c/r upgrade.
post #3 of 15
Since it looks like you are limited to just DD for movies, why not look into a receiver that has the new HD audio formats AND a room correction system.

Thats the 1st thing I'd do for that system IMO.
post #4 of 15
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by bjaurelio View Post

Acoustic panels will keep the highs from reverberating off the walls and should clear up some of the sound. You don't mention bass trouble, but bass traps in corners closest to the sub would likely help the low frequencies. The advantage to room treatments is they keep enhancing the sound regardless of what future speaker upgrades you make. I would say that $500-750 in room treatments now, then save the remainder of your budget for a nice l/c/r upgrade.

The fact that room treatments should help the audio quality in this room no matter what type of speakers I'm currently using is a good point, and it would certainly be cheaper to start out with. Come to think of it, I have a small twin size foam mattress that I could use to experiment with in different locations to see how much of an impact it would have.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Yosh70 View Post

Since it looks like you are limited to just DD for movies, why not look into a receiver that has the new HD audio formats AND a room correction system.

While you're correct that my system doesn't natively handle the decoding of HD audio formats, what I've been doing for a few years now is ripping all my Blu-ray movies to a file server while transcoding any HD audio tracks they contain to FLAC format, so I still retain the ability to playback HD audio.

I've looked into getting a receiver / processor before, but considering that I already have a power amp, and my only source is an HTPC, I'd really only be using it as an expensive room correction device. I feel this is something I could do cheaper with REW, an SPL meter and a standalone equalizer / dsp unit, but from what I've been reading, it's probably better to start focusing on room acoustics before considering an EQ solution.

Thanks for the suggestions!
post #5 of 15
I'll second the room treatments advice. Here's my anecdotal experience. In my well treated room I have setup a pair of Infinity Primus P363 towers (paid $220 for the pair) and a pair of Revel Performa F52 (paid $3500 for the pair). The Revels elicit an emotion in me that can't be described when playing back music. The Infinity is maybe 70% the sound quality of the Revels. Very good, but not quite bringing me close to nirvana like the Revels. Brought my same setup to my parents' house for my dad to audition and the Revels didn't even sound nearly as good as the Infinitys in my treated room. No amount of playing with speaker placement and Audyssey XT32 could make it sound exceptional. Not even close to listening to the Infinitys without room correction in my treated room. My room, btw, is ~2300^3 ft.
post #6 of 15
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by duc135 View Post

I'll second the room treatments advice.

I just spent the past hour or so reading through various threads about the use of room treatments, how and where they should be applied and whether or not some people feel they are worth it or not. It literally gave me a headache with all the differing points of view, and how overly complicated it was made out to be.

I'm starting to think that I should leave well enough alone for the moment, since this room is mostly used for movie watching (and I'm satisfied with its performance in this regard), and just accept the fact that this room isn't ideal for critical music listening.

Man this is a dangerous hobby.
post #7 of 15
Ok, but room treatments will also improve your experience with movies. Dialog will see the most improvements. Based on your drawing, it looks like you need to relocate your surrounds. The should be slightly (20-30 degrees) behind you, not in front. And yes, this hobby IS dangerous to the bank account. At least it is to mine. I have a new pair of speakers en route. They should be here tomorrow. Then a new five channel amp comes in on Wednesday. At least I can say I'm doing more than my part to help lift the US economy.
post #8 of 15
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by duc135 View Post

Based on your drawing, it looks like you need to relocate your surrounds. The should be slightly (20-30 degrees) behind you, not in front.

Actually, the two squares in the seating area are just height adjustable bar stools that I've designated as overflow seating in case more people come over to watch a movie, which only happens once in awhile. The main seating area is the rectangle in front of those. smile.gif

Quote:
Originally Posted by duc135 View Post

And yes, this hobby IS dangerous to the bank account. At least it is to mine. I have a new pair of speakers en route. They should be here tomorrow. Then a new five channel amp comes in on Wednesday. At least I can say I'm doing more than my part to help lift the US economy.

Hah, yeah it's hard to keep the temptations at bay. I try to limit myself to one meaningful upgrade a year, with this year being a new subwoofer (PSA XV-15), but I already found myself researching the next area of improvement!

I guess with room treatments, it's just a lot of information to take in at once since there's so many opinions on the matter and also because I'd need to do a lot more reading before I start to get a better idea of what would actually benefit my room or not. I'll probably still be struggling with this decision in the months to follow!
post #9 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ely51um View Post

Actually, the two squares in the seating area are just height adjustable bar stools that I've designated as overflow seating in case more people come over to watch a movie, which only happens once in awhile. The main seating area is the rectangle in front of those. smile.gif
Hah, yeah it's hard to keep the temptations at bay. I try to limit myself to one meaningful upgrade a year, with this year being a new subwoofer (PSA XV-15), but I already found myself researching the next area of improvement!
I guess with room treatments, it's just a lot of information to take in at once since there's so many opinions on the matter and also because I'd need to do a lot more reading before I start to get a better idea of what would actually benefit my room or not. I'll probably still be struggling with this decision in the months to follow!

Yea, missed that front seating area. For some reason I never looked beyond the blue line.

As for acoustical treatments, you can always buy a few 4' x 2' x 2" Auralex rock wool or Corning 703 fiberglass panels for relatively cheap and place them at the first reflection points and see if it improves things.
post #10 of 15
As far as placing room treatments, this is a good guide.......http://www.realtraps.com/placing_mt.htm
The realtraps bass traps and acoustic panels are expensive, but put together very well.

I went with http://www.atsacoustics.com/
Their prices can't be beat, and the bass traps and acoustic panel are very well made.

I have 2 acoustic panels on each first reflection point(s), and four bass traps.
Two wall to wall 2' x 4' x 4" thick open backed, in the front corners, covered with 6 mil mylar.
Two wall to ceiling 2' x 3' x 4" thick open backed, in the front of the listening area.

Just these 4 bass traps, and 2 absorption panels for the high notes made a huge difference.
Smoothed out the bass, and reduced first reflection echo.

Cost was about $500 shipped to California. Well worth the cost.

vardo
post #11 of 15
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by duc135 View Post

As for acoustical treatments, you can always buy a few 4' x 2' x 2" Auralex rock wool or Corning 703 fiberglass panels for relatively cheap and place them at the first reflection points and see if it improves things.

True, I should probably perform some actual tests before I begin over-thinking the situation.

Quote:
Originally Posted by vardo View Post

I went with http://www.atsacoustics.com/
Their prices can't be beat, and the bass traps and acoustic panel are very well made.

I have 2 acoustic panels on each first reflection point(s), and four bass traps.
Two wall to wall 2' x 4' x 4" thick open backed, in the front corners, covered with 6 mil mylar.
Two wall to ceiling 2' x 3' x 4" thick open backed, in the front of the listening area.
Just these 4 bass traps, and 2 absorption panels for the high notes made a huge difference.
Smoothed out the bass, and reduced first reflection echo.
Cost was about $500 shipped to California. Well worth the cost.
vardo

Thanks for sharing your own experience with treating your room. I went out into my theater room earlier to look for possible locations that might work, and really the only locations that I'd have room to do anything without being overly obtrusive are the side walls (if I use stands for acoustical panels), the ceiling in front of the seating area, and possibly bass traps in the two rear corners of the room (as long as they can be free standing and not fixed to the wall).

ATS Acoustics seem to have fair pricing, I also came across GIK Acoustics and they look to have some interesting products as well. I'm not sure if there are any other places with better value when it comes to price / performance or not, but it's a start.
post #12 of 15
I would say use broadband absorption at first reflection points (acoustic panels). From there add bass traps to the corners. You may want something that reflects back mids and highs in the corners and only absorbs bass, or you may want broadband absorption. Either way, let your ears be the guide. Those few basic treatments are all you need and will make a big difference.

Maybe in a couple months I'll report how my diy project goes off I get the time.
post #13 of 15
Thread Starter 
Just as an update, I did some tests the other day with REW and a twin sized foam mattress after using the mirror trick to find some early reflection points along the side wall.

I did find there was a small measurable improvement during the tests, but while listening to music several times with and without the mattress in place I found the audible difference to be slight. I was only performing tests with the front right speaker, so I'd imagine real treatments in more locations would produce more noticeable results.

I've really been giving this a lot of thought over the past couple of days, and I think the conclusion I've come to is to just leave this room alone and keep my existing speakers. While I'm reasonably sure I could make some improvements when it comes to room acoustics, I don't think it's going to be worth the relative cost (unless I went DIY) or the impact it would have on room decor and ergonomics.

But to answer the question that I proposed with this thread, I do feel that addressing room acoustics would be the way to go forward before considering new speakers. I think I've just reached a point where I'm mostly satisfied when it comes to the original goal of this room (movies), and that I should step away before I fall further down the rabbit hole of continually looking for the next upgrade. tongue.gif

I have appreciated the feedback and suggestions very much, so thanks for taking the time to respond!
post #14 of 15
Throwing one foam mattress on an early reflection point is hardly a room treatment test without utilizing both sides AND bass traps installed as well.
That would be THE minimum IMO.....oh well, if you're happy with what you got, I'm not sure why this thread was even created?
post #15 of 15
I've followed this thread for a while and much of the information is very dated. Room acoustics will make the biggest difference in sound but there is a lot more to it then putting absorption at the first reflection points. First good acoustics starts with location, location, location.

1. Location of seating to make sure it is not in a and modal area. Against walls should be avoided or only for the cheap seats.

2. Locations of speakers and subs. Avoid corners for speakers. For the front speakers do not place them too close to the front or side walls unless treating the SBIR. Corners are bad for the fronts. A 60 degree spread(+/- 30 degrees from seating) is usually preferred for music but at least 45 degrees if possible. Subs have way too many variables between rooms to give a definitive suggestion on placement. You can read Harman's papers but that really only works for rectangular rooms. Measurements are a must.

3. Location of acoustic treatments. With acoustical treatments we use absorption, diffraction, diffusion, combos of these or nothing at all. Placing absorption at first reflection points is not always the best answer, it will often kill your soundstage and depth. You need to be knowing what the sound is doing at the first reflection points before you decide which type of acoustic treatment to use. We base this partially off of the off axis vs on axis response of the speakers. If the off axis response of your speakers is not similar to the on axis response at the angle of the first reflection point then either absorption or a combo panel would normally be used depending on what frequencies are affected. If your off axis response looks like the on axis response except for a little high frequency roll off you do NOT want to use absorption. Here leaving it alone would be greatly preferred or possibly some diffusion if we want to expand soundstage and envelopment. This is really room dependent. We haven't even touched on treatments for surrounds or the overall reverberation of your room. There is just a lot more to it.

One of the toughest things to overcome in your room is the asymmetry. The black out curtains on one side are providing some absorption where the other side has nothing. It depends at what frequencies these are affecting but there are probably some good solutions. By your diagram I think those curtains are hurting your depth currently. For your room I'd either get a good design plan from wither AVS/ Dennis Erksine Group or Quest Acoustic Interiors to help with placements for the above items mentioned. AVS used to have special on their service for $600. This was an absolute steal if you can get it for that price.

Room acoustic plays such a huge roll in the sound that it is the area you should focus on. You can take the best speakers in the world an put them in a racquetball court and they will still sound terrible. Upgrading your speakers will give a small improvement but you will still be dealing with the same acoustic issues of your room. If you prefer the DIY route I'd suggest starting with Floyd Toole's book Sound Reproduction, Loudspeakers and Rooms. This will give you the a good background on why things are done the way they are but won't help with how to take measurements.

Hope this helps.
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