One of the first problems you’ll encounter when investing in a decent hi-fi system is finding a proper place to listen to it.
Most of us would generally place the system in the living room, finding a corner to put the equipment rack tightly flanked by the speakers, and expect the best sound possible. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen.
In order to get the best sound from your system, you need to get a room with decent acoustics, which depends on several factors such as the shape and size of the room itself, as well as materials used for the floor, walls and ceiling.
While newbies should have to worry too much about room acoustics until they know what to listen for when playing a track, it is helpful to start with a closed rectangular room that isn’t too small.
A popular room in the house that many use as a listening room isn’t the living room, which is usually open and connects to other parts such as the kitchen. Most hi-fi-enthusiasts, who can’t afford to build a new room from scratch or convert the garage into a studio, would end up sacrificing one of the bedrooms in the house for the audio system. That’s what I did too, with a 3x4 metre secondary bedroom turned into a personal “man cave”.
If you don’t have large, tower-sized speakers, but a pair of bookshelf or stand-mounted speakers, a small bedroom measuring 3x4 metres like mine can be nicely turned into a listening room for starters.
After removing the bed and dressing table if there is any (surely you’re not going to leave them in the room), decide which way you want the speakers to face. Check where the a/c outlets are in the room – you need at least three otherwise there is a need for a power strip with an extended cord.
An easy guide to place the speakers and determine the listening position is to divide the room’s length into three equal parts. With a 4-metre long room, the first part will end at 1.33 metres from the wall and the second will be from there to 2.66 metres.
Place the speakers at the end of the first zone (1.33 metres) and your seat at the end of the second zone (2.66 metres) facing the speakers, which should be kept well apart from each other depending on the size (try to keep small speakers 160-180cm apart). The exact position of the speakers and your listening position can be later “dialled in” by moving them towards or away from the back and side walls but we will discuss this at a later stage.
The hi-fi equipment can be placed on a rack, table or shelf that is solid and secure because you don’t want a delicate equipment to ever drop. Most of the time you’ll see the hi-fi equipment laid out between the speakers, but if you have long speaker cables, placing the equipment rack near the side walls would free up the space between the speakers, making it easier to experience the soundstage and enjoy the music.
Empty rooms aren’t good for hi-fi since sound waves are capable of bouncing off hard walls and cancelling each other. Many audiophile magazines show rooms that have been treated and look great, but they are expensive and require professional help.
Before considering using expensive professional room audio treatment, beginners should try using the traditional techniques first. For example, put a large carpet on the floor between the speakers and your seating position, put some plants and flower pots, hang pictures on the wall, seal the window gaps with silicone, etc.
You’ll also need furniture like drawers and cupboards to store all the records and CDs, as well as accessories like extra cables and wires or cleaning equipment.
Windows also need to be covered with curtains as the glass is another enemy of good sound. A solid rear wall behind the speakers would help achieve better sound than one with windows, delivering better bass and imaging. Try switching speaker placement from one end of the listening room to another like I did. You might hear a difference.
Next week: What to “look for” for when listening to hi-fi?