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May 2006 editorial

Money to waste :-)

[Poor Electa's!]
Sonus Faber Electa's...screaming for vengeance :-)

As a matter of fact HiFi is, normally, a quite expen$ive hobby. Even the average Joe Audiophile can spend a grand or so in cables or accessories, without feeling guilty (or dumb :-)). Anyway, few audiophiles take care of one of the most relevant aspects in audio reproduction: correct placement of speakers and room acoustics.
Many audiophiles think it is sufficient to spend outrageously high amounts of hard earned cash to get good audio reproduction at home. Everything else seems to be irrelevant.
We frequently receive queries about system upgradings where speaker placement and size of the room aren't even mentioned. Hence, placing a pair of precious Sonus Faber Electa loudspeakers somewhere near the TV set, without using stands, seems "normal" as it doesn't seem scandalous placing a pair of LS 3/5A's close to the ceiling (!!!). I'm precisely referring to a couple of Readers' Letters we've received on the Italian section of this website.
What's worse is that these audiophiles ask for our advice about upgrading their systems, planning to buy more expen$ive amplifiers, cables (!!!) or sources. Isn't this money to waste?
As you can see from the pic above, not only the speakers aren't properly installed on their stands, but also aren't symmetric with respect to the listening position and, what's worse, one stands above a drawer which will resonate together with the speaker. Moreover, the speakers are placed 20 cm ((8" !!!) close to the rear wall.

I've always considered speaker placement and room acoustics so relevant to be able to influence the sound of ANY HiFi system by 50-60% at least. If you combine the two aspects together (poor room acoustics and wrong speakers placement) you can influence (read: ruin) the sound of any system by a 80% factor.
I can still remember the acoustic nightmare experienced at a friend's listening room: a cuboid with NO furniture of any kind, except for a HiFi rack and a chair. Nude walls, no carpets or curtains, no furniture. Just an empty room with an HiFi set into it. And the guy was wondering why the bass frequencies were so innatural (!!!). Perhaps a new set of high end cables was going to be necessary?
Correct placement of speakers in a standard living room, with WAF-approved furniture, isn't an easy task, either.
If you are lucky enough you can place the speakers along the same wall but forget correct rear wall distance. I can say that the 50% of queries I receive refer to speakers placed 20-30 cms (10 inches or so) close to the rear wall. Given this castrating situation audiophiles still ask advice for getting a better stereo image, with improved "depth". Better amps? Better cables? Or more money to waste?
I can understand finding the right compromise is difficult but if your speakers are placed close to the rear wall you can forget a 3D soundstage. You can just get a flat 2D image, nothing else. Moreover, placing standard speakers close to the rear wall boosts mid-bass and bass frequencies. Not surprisingly, many audiophiles complain about a boomy bass! Spending thousands of $$$ or €€€ on new HiFi components wouldn't solve these problems.
Considering these constraints I wonder why Linn or Naim speakers aren't the best selling speakers in the World!!! Traditionally, these speakers have been designed to be placed close to the rear wall. Their frequency response has been modelled taking into proper account the natural reinforcement (in the bass and mid-bass range) caused by the rear wall. This way the problem of boomy and muddy bass can be partially solved. Still, you should forget a geometrically correct 3D soundstage...but you can live happily even without it, right? :-)
Flat Earth audiophiles think 3D soundstage is unnatural, for example (and, in some sense, they might even be right).

One of the most common excuses for not correctly setting the speakers (WAF aside) is the presence of kids. These angels are seen as the worst barbarians by many audiophiles. It is not uncommon to read HiFi adverts where the HiFi component for sale is described as being used in a "smoke-free and kids-free area". Actually, the worst damages I've seen on HiFi components have been inflicted by audiophiles themselves! They unplug cables while the system is on, connect two amplifiers at the same pair of speakers, place the ear so close to the tweeter to pinch the dome of the driver (trying to listen if there's any hiss coming from the system!!!) and so on. Considering this, for sale adverts should read like this: "The component has been used in a no-smoke no-audiophile environment"!!!
Kids are a poor excuse, as I've tried to explain in a two-parts article here on TNT-Audio.
Finally, let me spend two words about the Wife Acceptance Factor (WAF). Why should a HiFi set be considered less important than a TV set or a microwave oven? Have you ever seen a TV set placed on the ceiling? Or a microwave oven on the floor, in a corner? I'm sure you haven't. Why? Because this can't be the correct placement. Hence, why speakers get placed everywhere EXCEPT where they should be? Ask your wife this question next time she tries to force you to move the speakers far from their logical position (far from walls and with tweeters at listener's ears height, while seated). Next time, try placing the microwave oven on the ceiling. It will work anyway, right? ;-)

What I'm trying to say is: if you can't place your HiFi system in a decent way, into an acoustically bearable room, let the upgrades to those who can really appreciate them. Do not waste your money on dubious and useless components upgrades. Spend the same money on software, instead. Buy new discs, enjoy more live shows etc. It's the best upgrade you can do to your system. Money better spent.

© Copyright 2006 Lucio Cadeddu - www.tnt-audio.com

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