Four Steps to the Best Listening Room

As a recording engineer, it’s important to have a space where you can truly hear the subtleties of the mixes you are working on. Many non-professionals don’t realize how much speaker placement and room fixtures affect their listening experience, even of television shows. Audiophiles can spend a lot of money to get a better sound system, but a problem you’re hearing might be the room itself. I’m currently outfitting a spare room in my house to meet the needs of professional mixing, and have found some good articles on how to set up a pre-existing room for optimal listening.

The Secret to Equipment and Furniture Placement

There are a few basic steps that will provide the best sound quality in a room. The first is to position the monitor speakers and seating correctly. The correct positions for these are determined by both the measurements of the room and the relationship between the speaker and seating positions.

Finding the Sweet Spot In his excellent article on setting up listening rooms, Ethan Winer describes how to determine these measurements. He describes the basic equilateral triangle method (with the points being the speakers and the listener’s head), but he also gives information about distances from walls and floor/ceiling that aid finding the best sound your system can produce. Either procedure should leave you with a spacing similar to that in the picture below.

listening position

A sample configuration for optimal speaker placement and listening position for a surround sound system. (From Winer’s article.)

Treat Your Walls and Ceilings

The second step is to treat the zones of first reflection. Sound waves travel around the room like billiard balls, and the first reflection occurs at the first solid object a sound wave hits. These regions of walls, floor, and ceiling generally need to be treated with acoustical tiles of some sort to optimize the mix and direction of waves that bounce off these zones.

Mirrors or Math? To find these zones, you can use either mirrors or math. Winer gives a good description of both methods. You can buy pre-made acoustic panels, but you can also build your own. I’ve known a couple of people who’ve done this and they work just as well as the store bought versions. It’s really all about the foam you use. I found these great instructions on acousticsfreq.com.

All About Those Bass Traps

At this point you should also install foam base traps in all of the corners, including where walls meet and where they meet the floor and ceiling. This isn’t strictly necessary, but never fails to improve sound.

Diffusers and Their Placement

The final step for getting the acoustics of your room in shape is determining whether you need diffusers or not. Many rooms don’t, but they can add warmth and musicality to the room. If you have over-treated your room with acoustic panels, this can help bring back some of the natural reflection and reverberations that make music come alive. They generally are placed on the rear wall.

A common style for diffusers is wooden blocks placed in random patterns like the one above.

A common style for diffusers is wooden blocks placed in random patterns like the one above.

Bringing It All Together

This tutorial on Arqen.com talks about the full acoustic treatment process including acoustic panels and diffusers. It also gives acoustics tips on building professional studios and control rooms.

I’m really looking forward to diving into these steps more as I outfit my room, and I’ll be sure to post pics once it’s done. Do you have any tips for making the perfect mixing or listening room?

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