Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity - John E. Johnson, Jr.
Some readers have a dedicated audio or home theater room that just contains the electronic components and a few seats. Nothing to get in the way of the sound.

For the rest of us, we use an existing room, such as a family room, for our audio and video needs.

For me, I am into so many musical things, even one of my dedicated audio rooms has plenty of other objects in there besides the hi-fi equipment and chair.

Behold one of my test labs, shown below.

Room Clutter and Audio Systems can Co-exist

On the far left is some of my audio equipment, including a VPI HR-X turntable, Manley Labs Steelhead Phono preamplifier, and a BAT VK-5i tube preamplifier. To the right of the equipment, in the middle of the room, is a full drum kit, including half a dozen cymbals. Next to the drum kit is an electric piano (Roland V), and to the far right, a synth keyboard set up to play Hammond B3 virtual instrument sounds stored on a computer.

In the front are more audio components, including two Pass Labs Xs 300 power amplifiers and a pair of MartinLogan CLX electrostatic speakers. A Pass Labs Xs preamplifier and OPPO BDP-105 are out of the field of view on the right.

When listening to my audio system, I just move the piano chair back a few feet.

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But, after adding the piano and synth keyboard a few months ago, I noticed something very strange. The sound was the same (as far as I could remember) as it was before I put all that stuff in the room in front of the speakers.

Here is a photo of just the drum kit. You would imagine this would really deteriorate the sound clarity. Well, it didn’t happen !

Room Clutter and Audio Systems can Co-exist

What a surprise this was ! ! !

My theory on this is that, because the MartinLogan CLX’s are electrostatic speakers, and therefore, line drivers (a tall vertical driver), the sound gets to me somewhere in that driver length with nothing in the way.

If I put my head underneath one of the cymbals, I can hear the reflection of the music from the cymbal. But just sitting in my chair a few feet back from all the equipment on the floor, it sounds neutral. No obvious smearing. Clear, clean, and detailed.

Perhaps a second reason is that I have very heavy room treatment. All four walls and the ceiling have polyethylene foam and styrofoam absorption and reflection panels. So, the sound I listen to comes almost entirely from the speakers, not the walls or ceiling.

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I only bench test CD players, preamps, SSPs, and power amps in that room for obvious reasons. I do my listening tests in a second room, shown below. Pixie, my cat, loves to sit on top of one of the Classé CA-M600 monoblock power amplifiers, especially when I am listening to music or watching movies, because it gets warm. The 55” LCD HDTV will be replaced with an 84” OLED UHD (4K) TV whenever it becomes available. It will hang from the ceiling between the two Carver ribbon speakers. An electric projection screen can be seen at the top of the photo. My Sony 1080p projector is in the rear, mounted on the ceiling. I haven’t decided whether or not I will remove the projector and screen when I get the large 4K flat panel UHD-TV. Sometimes, it is just nice to view a movie on a projection screen, and they are not in the way on the ceiling.

Room Clutter and Audio Systems can Co-exist

In this second room, I also have line driver speakers (Carver Amazing Mark IV ribbon), but there is nothing between the speakers and the two chairs that I use for listening. The sound is just as good in the lab photo shown at the top of this article. That is not to say smearing didn’t occur in the room with the drums and piano between the speakers and the listener. Likely it was there, through reflections from the surfaces of the cymbals, but I didn’t notice it unless I put my head under one of the cymbals. And the detail did not seem diminished.

The point I want to make here is that if you need to put your hi-fi equipment in a room that is used for a lot of other purposes and has numerous items in the middle of the room, a line driver type of speaker could help alleviate any smearing produced by room objects. This includes electrostatic, planar magnetic, and ribbon speakers. Also, use wall and ceiling treatments that come in several choices of colors (let your spouse pick the color). The second audio test room is currently waiting for spouse approval of the wall treatment style and color that I plan to put in there.

  • plpl

    Curious… your room has great equipment and excellent acoustical treatment, but your two seats are either in front of the left speaker or in front of the right speaker. Surely central seating is needed for accurate monitoring of stereo. Please explain.

  • Ron Powell

    I also have two rooms that have “problems” of musical equipment cluttering up the space. One is a room where my wife teaches Piano, Keyboard, and Guitar. I also have my large Bass guitar equipment in this room. The sound here is not very good. To small with to much clutter. In our living room beside the usual is a small Bass amp and my Acoustic Bass. This one still sounds great. It took a lot of moving equipment around, and furniture, to make it so. I would encourage people to try several different ways of putting there rooms together if they also have the same kind of situations. Just moving things a few inches to a couple feet can make a huge difference..

  • John Johnson

    I have optimized the sound for the seat on the right side of the room, which is my main listening position. This is setting number 1 on my surround sound processor. I also listen sitting on the couch with is behind the camera, and I sit in the center of the couch. In that case, I have to use a different setting on the processor which is optimized for the center of the couch.