The best laid plans...
…of mice and men often go awry. With apologies to Robert Burns for appropriating his words and wisdom and to you for missing our date last week, but I hope that once you read the following, you will understand and forgive.
As I hope you will recall from our last post, “Get a Room!”, we described the process of component selection for our exhibit room at the New York Audio Show, being held at Manhattan’s Park Lane Hotel.
With our base of operations in nearby Brooklyn, we did our due diligence and visited the hotel and checked out the room. Based on the size of the room and its acoustics – as experienced and estimated with some of the furnishings gone – we decided to go with our Walsh 1000s powered by a Peachtree amp and with an easily affordable Sony DVD player providing our CD source material. So far, so good.
There are few things quite so forlorn as a hotel room stripped of all its furniture. And that was the vision that greeted us on Thursday, when we arrived to set the room up prior to the Friday Show opening. Unfortunately, while we had anticipated that without furniture, the room’s acoustics would shift, we found that they had changed more dramatically than we had expected. We scrambled hard and fast to make compensating adjustments.
Matching the Speaker to the Empty Room
The first unexpected obstacle we faced was where to put the speakers. Our initial survey of the room demonstrated a major standing wave along one axis. Our solution was to place the speakers in the corner facing the door and deaden the resonances with some discreet insulation along the wall opposite the speakers.
Then reality set in and our plans went up in smoke and consternation. The removal of the bed meant that now the entire room was “ringing” across a wide range of frequencies. Gone was our simple solution. And, of course, the ringing was worst when the sound originated from where we had intended to place the speakers.
So, Plan B.
We moved the speakers along the window wall, which conveniently had a cutout that we thought would break the symmetry of the room and improve the resonances.
The window, now behind the speakers, was so recessed that with a vocal recording, it sounded like the singer was in another room. The speakers were too far away from our front wall. We moved the speakers flush up against the wall below the window. While this dramatically reinforced the bass, it did not do enough for our imaging.
Plan C is a winner.
Our best choice turned out to be placing the speakers along the long wall of the room. They were still opposite the door, but to a lesser degree. Now our job was to kill the standing waves. We accomplished that by moving the speakers about 25% in from the side walls and the back wall. That pretty much did away with the half-wave resonances of the room size. We also towed them in a bit, which cuts down the high end, again compensating for the brightness of the room.
In solving that problem, we recognized another. We had floor-to-ceiling standing waves. Since the speakers form their own stands, vertical placement is a much more difficult problem. The speakers are constructed to deliver sound at ear level. Changing the height, changes that.
Our solution to this one was trial-and-error. We left the speakers about 25% in from the side walls and carefully – and minimally – adjusted their distance from the front wall. Our ears became our primary guide for these small and subtle changes.
Looking Good (and Sounding Good)
Now, to the décor and the seating. After all, we were there to show off. But showing off is not all about looks. At an audio show, it’s about sound. Our original plan was to place the plants at varying locations along the walls to make the rear walls more dispersive. However, the wall behind the speaker was ringing enough so that we needed to fix that and bounce the sound around. I know this may seem to run counter to our “Live End/Dead End” philosophy, but you can think of it like a lampshade – it makes the light a lot more pleasant without totally diminishing the functionality of the lamp.
In our final array, all the plants were positioned along the front wall between and alongside the speakers. And our “deadening” objective was achieved. The final set-up also had a large painting on the front wall behind the speakers. Again, not part of the initial plan.
That decision was partially acoustic and partially pragmatic. The hotel had generously placed what we deemed pretty unattractive items on that wall. They were, however, easily replaced by the artwork we brought with us. The aesthetic benefit was obvious without music. The acoustic benefit is that the painting brought a singer more forward, due to a slight reduction in the treble range. More dramatic, more enjoyable. The painting was never moved once we put it on the wall.
Now, where to put the electronics once the credenza – which was to serve as our electronics platform – had been removed? Serendipity sometimes works. The original thought was to put the credenza and the electronics behind our guests, so that their eyes were firmly on our speakers rather than the electronics driving them. This option was removed along with the credenza, so we placed them on the windowsill. Not out of sight, but not firmly in the line of sight.
The removal of the credenza also posed a minor problem in terms of our literature placement. Not an acoustic concern, but a sales issue. Necessity is the mother of invention. We had a rough speaker cabinet and covered it with a grill cloth and voila a lit table appears.
Have a Seat
The final hurdle was the placement of the chairs for our guests. Ohm speakers are known for the exceptionally wide “sweet spots” they deliver. So, our plan was to spread the chairs out to demonstrate our potential listening area. Audio enthusiasts can be an extremely traditional group. Inevitably, our guests clamored for the “central position” seats, looking for the sweet spot they expected. When those seats were vacated, generally someone from the “fringe” moved into them. Some even moved the chairs to get closer to the “norm.” In fact, by the end of Day 2, we noticed that none of the chairs were in their original positions.
And the final verdict?
Was all the work and worry worth the trouble? We thought so. And our guests agreed. By some accounts, we had the best sounding room at the Show.
See you on the 29th, in the meantime,
Enjoy & Good Listening,
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John Strohbeen Author
John Strohbeen is the president of Ohm Speakers.