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    A New Listening Room Part One

    A dedicated listening room is not a luxury for me, it's a necessity. I realize this is a luxurious necessity, but nonetheless it's a requirement for my job. Fortunately I have an understanding wife who has always encouraged me to improve my listening room given that I spend so much time in this room.

     

    We moved into our house in April 2008, about six months after Computer Audiophile launched. My original listening room in the basement of this house evolved over the years through several cosmetic upgrades such as fresh paint and new carpet. I didn't make any major changes to the space in ten years. In August 2018 I started thinking about changing this 14.5' x 17.5' x 6.5' (LxWxH) room to get better sound. After  many days of research I admitted defeat because my ceiling height was always going to be 6.5'. I just wasn't willing to dig out the existing basement floor and underpin the foundation to increase this height. 

     

    The other option was to move my listening room into the attic space above the main level of the house. This space was previously finished but needed some structural changes and a technology upgrade. Given the dimensions of the attic are 33' 9" x 13' 9" x 9', I was willing to go for it and move my listening room.  This move started as a small project but quickly turned into a complete refinishing of the space with new paint, new carpet, walls removed, railings put up, fiber optic cable installed, and a new bathroom. Doesn't everyone have a bathroom in their listening rooms? :~)

     

    What follows is part one of my listening room transformation with pictures and measurements. In part two I will install the acoustic absorption and diffusion panels and conduct further measurements of the room. I will also do some fine tuning to eke out all the sound quality I can get.

     


    Requirements

     

    Before moving to the new listening room I needed to have all the demolition and reconstruction done by a local contractor. I took on the task of running two fiber optic cables, one cat 7 cable, and moving my electrical sub panel from the old room to the new room. 

     

     

    Wiring

     

    I couldn't get the contractor to the house right away, so I did the wiring first. 

     

    All my computer network components are housed in the basement near my old listening room. This is because the fiber optic cable from CenturyLink goes into the basement for its 1 Gbps up/down internet service and this is a good space for noisy NAS units and computers to reside without disturbing anyone. The challenge was to get a wired network, and wireless access point, into the new listening room without tearing up the house or running cables through the brick walls outside.

     

    My house was built with plaster and lathe walls in 1941. It's a modest middle class abode with neat coved ceilings, original wood floors, and most of its original features. I just couldn't tear it apart, to run wires, in good conscience (more on this later). Thus, I invited my wife's electrician cousin over to help me fish wires from the south east corner of the basement to the north west corner of the attic. 

     

    I opted to run two fiber optic cables and a single category 7 copper cable from the main network switch in the basement to the attic. Why fiber? Why two? Why copper? Why one? 

     

    I selected fiber cable as the main conduit between the switches because it's very future resistant (nothing is future proof). If I want to run a 10 Gbps network in the future, I can do it over this fiber cable without an issue. Fiber can also travel longer distances than copper. The single mode fiber I selected can run over kilometers rather than the 300 meter copper limit. I certainly don't need a fiber cable to run kilometers, but I wanted a long enough cable to be able to move the switches on either end without length restrictions. In other words, I gave myself plenty of slack on each end of the cable to move the switches to any corner of the house.

     

    I purchased two 300 feet fiber optic cables from Ubiquiti (model FC-SM-300). Each of these cables has six strands of single mode G.657.A2 optical cable wrapped in kevlar yarn and an outdoor jacket (image). The reason I purchased two cables is because my attic has empty space behind the walls, where I placed switches, on each side of the livable space. This enabled me to access a fiber-connected switch from either side of the listening room without running a visible Ethernet cable across the floor.

     

     

    storage-space-v2.jpg

    Storage space behind listening room walls on each side.

     

     

     

     

     

     

    On each side of the listening room, behind the walls, I installed an 8 port Ubiquiti UniFi managed PoE+ gigabit switch (model US‑8‑150W). I didn't need PoE, but this is the only 8 port UniFi switch with SFP ports for fiber optic modules. I purchased four Ubiquiti UF-SM-1G-S fiber optic modules for the switches. Two placed in my 24 port UniFi switch (model US-24) in the basement and one in each of the 8 port switches behind the listening room walls. Attached to one of the 8 port switches I connected a Ubiquiti UniFi HD wireless access point (model UAP-AC-HD).

     

     

    ubnt-8.jpg

    US-8-150W switch, UAP-AC-HD access point, FC-SM-300 fiber optic cable.

     

     

     

     

    I ran the category 7 copper cable just because I could and I wanted to see how it compares to the fiber cables. The copper cable I purchased was a 100 meter 600MHz Duronic Black Network Cable (link). As this is only for testing I see no need to purchase one of these for each switch. It should be noted that this cable is specified to work with 10 Gbps Ethernet, but at this distance I highly doubt it could support the maximum speed. 

     

    Directly outside my original listening room I had a dedicated electrical sub panel. For the new room I opted to move the sub panel up to the space behind the listening room wall in the attic. Rather than run a completely new electrical wire, I purchased 75 feet of 6 gauge (6/3 NM-B W/G) copper electrical wire and a junction box to connect to the original sub panel wiring and run it up to the attic from that point rather than run it all the way back to the main electrical panel. There is nothing between the sub panel and the main electrical panel other than the junction box tying both electrical wires together. 

     

    In this sub panel I have six dedicated circuits to use any way I need. Currently I have three 20 amp circuits going to a single duplex outlet. Two of the outlets are from Transparent Audio. They are the same outlets used in the company's Reference Power Isolator. I originally planned to place the audio components either along the west wall or between the loudspeakers. Thus, I had the power outlets placed near the aforementioned locations. However, I've since moved the components to the east wall and need to run power from the sub panel, under the floor (between the joists), to an outlet close to the components along the east wall of the listening room. 

     

     

     


    Fishing Wire

     

    Running the fiber optic, copper data, and copper electrical wires from the basement to the attic was a serious challenge. My electrician Kevin found a path for these wires that only required cutting a small hole in one wall on the main level of the house. Fortunately this hole was in placed in a sheetrock "box" constructed in the mid-nineties to cover the pipes for the bathroom that was later installed in the attic. I'm going to put a heat register / duct cover over this hole which will allow future access should it be required. 

     

    The circuitous path of the data wires was from the south east corner of the basement horizontally along the unfinished ceiling, over HVAC ducts between the old listening room and main basement living room, into a utility closet, vertical through the ceiling and between the bathroom wall and my daughter's bedroom wall on the main level, horizontally between the ceiling of her room and the floor of the attic, then diagonally out through the floor of the attic behind the new listening room wall.

     

     

     

    closet-downstairs.jpg closet-2.jpg

    Closet in the basement where the cables started routing vertical through the floor.

     

     

     

     

     

    We ran the cables from the attic down to the basement, taking advantage of gravity to help pull them through the tight openings. My main concern with the fiber optic cables was breaking the glass inside. Anyone who has ever snaked cabled through walls like this knows that it isn't always smooth sailing. We had to pull fairly hard on the cables a couple times because they got hung up on obstructions we couldn't see in the walls. I could feel the rubbery plastic jacket of the Ubiquiti fiber cable stretching as I pulled it through. To my surprise the fiber cables came through in perfect condition. I guess they don't make them like they used to, but in a good way. Old school fiber cables are prone to braking easily. 

     

     

    attic-opening.jpg

    Opening in the attic floor behind listening room wall where cables routed.

     

     

     

    Note: The Ubiquiti fiber SFP modules only require one of the six strands of fiber in the Ubiquiti fiber cables. This leaves five "extra" strands of fiber to be used in other switches. Should the cable have been pulled too hard during installation I at least had six internal fiber cables to try to get working. In other words, inside the single cable there is six redundant cables in case one gets broken (because I only needed a single fiber cable from within each FC-SM-300 cable).

     

    Running the 6 gauge electrical wire through the walls was an exercise that I hope to never do again. That stuff is stiff, thick, and doesn't slide through tiny openings without "grabbing" on because the coating on the cable isn't slippery. Needless to say, it took both me and Kevin the electrician quite a while to get the job done.

     

     

    6awg.jpg

    6AWG electrical wire going through the floor heading to main level and on to basement.

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Demolition / Construction

     

    By no means is my room in the same class as many high end dedicated listening rooms we've all seen online. My goal was to do this entire project for a reasonable amount of money. In other words, the sky wasn't the limit and cost was an object. 

     

    The attic space has a total length of 33 feet 9 inches. The existing bathroom consumes 8 feet 1 inch on the north end of the space. That leaves the listening room with a length of 25 feet 8 inches. The width of the room originally varied because of a coset in the south east corner. That closet was marked for demolition to widen the room and provide space for my desk and even out the width to 13 feet nine inches from front to back. Another obstacle in the room was 2 feet high wall with 1 foot high railing around the staircase entrance/exit on the south end. This wall was also marked for removal and in its place a new three feet high bannister. 

     

    My options for this listening room were a bit limited by of course cost but also because I wasn't willing to change anything about the rest of the house below this room. For example, I ask in the forum about using a rubber sound barrier under the carpet and before I knew it the recommendations were to rip up the ceiling below the room and put in a sand barrier etc... That was a bit too over the top for my situation although I'm totally on board with going all out in the right circumstances. I'd love a cost no object / no construction constraints type of room as much as the next guy. 

     

    Given that the attic space was finished decades after the house was built, I was totally fine with demoing every piece of the room. I thought long and hard about making the sheetrock side walls more solid with additional layers glued and screwed to the original walls, but this would've reduced the width of the room by several inches. I opted to leave the existing side walls for now because I can always address them down the road if necessary.

     

    I'll save everyone the cosmetic details about paint, light fixtures (although I purchased three from the 1940s through Etsy for this room), and door knobs (also from the 1940s and from Etsy). During my research I was advised that wool carpet was the best flooring choice for listening rooms. I was happy to hear that because I love everything about wool carpet (research it if you're so inclined). I had 100% New Zealand wool carpet installed once the demolition and construction was complete. 

     

     

    south.jpg north.jpg

    The new listening room before demolition started.

     

     

     

     

     

     

    demo-1.jpg demo-2.jpg

    demo-3.jpg demo-4.jpg

    The new listening room during demolition.

     

     

     

     

     

    Current Situation

     

    Currently I have the audio system installed where I want it, with speakers on the north end of the room and components along the east wall. I originally tried the components placed between the speakers but that lasted about 48 hours before I grew tired of looking at the mess of cables and walking over everything to enter the bathroom. I'm using some no name speaker cables until I can replace my 8 feet long Transparent Audio Reference speaker cable with a longer pair. 

     

     

     


    How Does It Sound

     

    The big question for me is how does the new listening room sound? This is such a frustrating piece of building a new room. The first thing I did once construction was complete was to bring up my audio system and click play. After all, that's why this room was built. I caution everyone to NOT follow in my footsteps by playing audio without anything else in the room. The sound bouncing off the bare walls with zero furniture obstructions to diffuse or absorb the audio was horrendous. I took a few measurements and almost cried as I sent them to friends and our own DSP expert Mitch Barnett @mitchco. Fortunately the unanimous response I received from everyone was to relax, this was only the starting point. 

     

    Shortly before moving the audio system to the new room, I purchased a miniDSP measurement microphone (model UMIK-1). I took measurements of my original room so I could at least have a baseline to compare the new sound to the old via objective data. I'll do the subjective analysis for the rest of my life no doubt. 

     

    Here is a measurement of my original listening room in the basement. The room in which I reviewed components for 10+ years. 

     

     

    original-room.png

    Original basement sound room measurements.

     

     

     

    In the days after my initial listening sessions I brought up my 12 feet long desk, an additional chair, a trunk to be placed in a corner, and a few items to place on my desk. I also had the general contractor fix the sheetrock access panels that lead from the listening room into the attic space behind the walls. These panels were too big to fit tightly after the carpet was installed. During the initial listening and measurements these panels were placed close to the openings but there was a several inch gap enabling sound to leak out behind the walls in three of the four corners of the room. 

     

    The sound right now is definitely livable and will enable me to review components with a high degree of confidence in my conclusions. It helps to have the measurements to know where the peaks and dips in frequencies are when as I listen. 

     

    However, I am nowhere near satisfied with the sound and have opened a project with Vicoustic of Portugal. For those unfamiliar with the process, there is a page on Vicoustic's website to formally open a project (link). All that's required is to complete a small survey about the listening space and attach images and drawings (as crude or as sophisticated as one has available). In a couple weeks Vicoustic delivers a complete proposal with 3D drawings, expected sonic results, and proposed acoustic absorption / diffusion product recommendations. 

     

    I completed this process and received a full proposal from Vicoustic. In Part 2 of this series I'll upload the entire document. For now, here is a a 3D drawing of what the finished product will look like when I have the absorbers and diffusors installed.

     

     

    3D-Drawing.jpg

    Vicoustic 3D drawing.

     

     

     

    Wrap Up

     

    As it stand now, I really like the new listening room. I can't wait to get the acoustic panels installed to bring the sound quality up quite a bit. The room is a giant instrument and has the biggest affect on the sound quality of music. Forget about MQA, lossy, lossless, bit perfect, upsampling, music servers, or even speakers. If the room isn't good, the sound isn't good no matter what one does to the system.

     

    More to come in part two.

     

     

     

     

    Image Gallery

     

    bare-south.jpg bare-north.jpg

    When the sound was at its worst without anything in the room.

     

     

     

     

     

    room-4.jpg room-3.jpg

    room-1.jpg room-2.jpg

    room-5.jpg room-6.jpg

    Current images as of today November 09, 2018.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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    I had to build a new listening room a couple of years ago myself as the space for the old room was being demolished and greatly expanded for a new master suite. Our attic was finished but too small. The old room and the attic had knee walls like yours. It was too small for my preferred near field listening position with the speakers along the long wall. Hence, a full shed dormer was required. The new space is much bigger than the old one, around 18 x 22. I ran two 20 amp circuits and put the speakers along the long wall using the sonic benefits provided by the knee wall. The room was filled up with my stuff and after some tweaking with speakers placement using measurements and pink noise, the room sounds fantastic. It was a pain but in the end, well worth it. Congrats on the new room. 

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    After you sell those TAD's, how will those Magnepan 30.7's fit in there?  HA! Looks great, just in time for some class A warmth for the winter.

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    Congrats on the new space! I'll be following this journey with great interest.

     

    I hear you about that 6 AWG cable. Glad that is behind you!

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    Chris, The new space looks great and don't despair as it will sound great when you are done. With this space you can do the necessary room treatments that you otherwise could not do in a family space. I say this from experience. When I sold homes in the past, I once got invited to the home of an audiophile who took me into a room that had been properly treated and the sound in that room was utterly amazing. He had very good equipment to be sure but I have never heard anything like it before or after except in a few dealer rooms. You can only do this kind of stuff when you have a dedicated space. One last recommendation would be to not replace your speakers until after you are completely finished with the acoustic treatments. You may find that it is not necessary.

     

    I look forward to the final result.

     

    Bob

     

     

     

     

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    You weren’t kidding when you said something big was coming. I would knock down the railing and put a trap door with a pair of hydraulic pistons:) 

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    Bravo Chris @The Computer Audiophile! What a wonderful audio journey you are on. You just got to hear first hand how a room can have such an impact on sound quality with the same equipment.

     

    One item you may want to bring up in the next article is the comparison of room decay time or RT60 with REW.  There is a recommended target response, based on room volume as to what the decay time should be. In the case of your room and most peoples for that matter, there is a range typically between 400 and 600 milliseconds. The rule of thumb is to aim for as much liveliness in the range, as too dead of a room sucks the life out of the music.

     

    Speaking of room ratios :) May I make a suggestion and I know it is after the fact. If you look at room ratios, some are better than others for the distribution of low frequencies, which sounds better to our ears. One can use a Room Mode Calculator to punch in the dimensions of ones listening environment and basically get the gist of the distribution of room modes. There is even audio output so you can hear first hand the trouble spots as you move the mouse cursor along the graph. Don't forget to turn down the volume before you try it. https://amcoustics.com/tools/amroc

     

    My room ratio sucks and near the 2nd worst ratio one can get outside of a cube. This is why I am into DSP, as no amount of bass traps can unf&*k the physical dimensions of my room. My reviews of Acourate and Audiolense are testament on how good these DSP products work, but if you can start out with a decent room ratio, you are further ahead to begin with.

     

    Which brings me to my recommendation for your room. Looking at your dimensions that I popped into the room mode calculator: https://amcoustics.com/tools/amroc?l=21&w=13.9&h=9&ft=true&re=DIN 15996 - Studio Note I reduced the length from your  25' 8" to 21 feet length. Have a look at the Bolt area chart. That room ratio is a favourable ratio. Now punch in 25" 8".

     

    How much audible difference will it make? Well, the bass is unlistenable in my room without DSP.  Having worked in a number of well designed studio control rooms and listening rooms with favourable room ratios, always best if you can do it. So it means putting up a false wall... the false wall could also help with low frequency damping... like a Helmholtz resonator. Whether practical or visually appealing, of course is an issue. If it is a potential room mod, Vicoustic would have to run the math to confirm. Regardless of any changes, this room will sound better than the 6.5' ceiling room. Congrats!

     

    All the best on your audio journey Chris!

     

    Mitch

     

     

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    Agree - the length is the first thing that struck me.  A nice wall to allow access behind the electronics??

     

    OTOH, the ceiling is not flat so conv. room size calcs. need to be adjusted...

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    Hi Chris,

     

    Timing of your article is impeccable as I will be starting the renovation of my home in Sydney in the new year and plan to upgrade my home office and use it as a listening room.

     

    I was going to start 12 months ago but decided to renovate my body instead starting with a double knee reconstruction followed by an arthroscopic shoulder operation (which I 'm currently recovering from) and soon two new hips. I did my knees concurrently and will also do both hips at the same time. Can't stand the thought of this dragging on more than it needs to.

     

    Never been in hospital and then hit 60 and everything stopped working. I'm riddled with arthritis and in constant pain due to some genetic issues and an over active life of sport - 250 games of AFL (Aussie Rules football,) coaching tennis, surfing since I was 6, snow skiing, golf etc etc. Now I'm fuc.....ed, although once I get my new hips I should be right. My mates are calling me the $6 million man, but I have explained it is the surgeons getting rich not me - hopefully they have a frequent flyer program! :P 

     

    Love your work and have learnt a lot from CA over the years.

     

    Many thanks,

     

    Ajax

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    My listening room is in a similar finished attic 18x14 plus other stuff with a ceiling 9' in the center.  However, I have LS50 speakers placed along the long wall and listen mid field with bass reinforced by a Martin Logan 1000W sub.

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    @The Computer Audiophile, I thought the project is already complete and we are just eagerly waiting for you to write up the next part? Or is nothing set in stone yet?

    I was always under the impression that the most important part of setting up the room is getting the most even bass response which you can use your UMIK1 to do by moving it around to find the optimal seating position. I noticed you may not have a lot of room to move the seat a few feet forwards or backwards. And then if the best seating position is useable, then speaker placement and toeing in comes next followed by acoustic treatment. Mainly because acoustic treatments are unable to address low-bass issues in a room.

    I used to use room ratio calculators but I’ve found there are always nuances of a house/room that those calculators don’t capture so it’s just easier to play pink noise with speakers and move the microphone around.

    Or maybe you’re going to talk about all that? I just got a little confused by Mitchco’s comments.

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    I know it might not be a lot of fun, but it WOULD be interesting and educational to see how things measure with different components of the acoustical system installed. I don't mean putting things in and taking them out... but maybe ask Vicoustic to recommend an installation pattern from what they believe will be most impactful to least impactful, and then measure at a couple of different stages. 

     

    For our family room in our new house, I had to negotiate the degree to which I included acoustic treatments with my Decorator in Chief.  I had some discussions with architect friends who often design sound studios and performance spaces, to decide what to push hardest, and get some alternative suggestions where the best solution looked - um - industrial. (That's the nicest word used by the Decorator in Chief about some of the recommendations.) That led to my enthusiasm for some decorative drapes made from specific fabrics that were both acoustically and visually agreeable. And, led to me getting a few of my photographs (my part time profession) printed on acoustic panels of the right specs and sizes. Acoustic absorption was the easiest part of the negotiations.

     

    We also came to some agreement on diffusion that were pretty creative. We moved furniture around to create a couple of table top and cabinet top "sculpture gardens". We've got carved wood and cast sculptures, some pretty large, from world travels. Now we've got nice displays, not in ideal locations, but close enough. Also moved a couple large carved masks onto walls in the room for some diffusion help, where originally we were going to hang photos.

     

    We measured with ears, and the bass traps and back wall absorption (the acoustic panel photos) made huge improvements. We found one recommended bass trap had near zero value, because of a carpeted stairway right next to where it was supposed to go. The diffusion ideas were harder to notice with music, but when we did them, they DID improve my "hand clap" test results.

     

    My basement studio and printing workshop are next - a very long, somewhat narrow room, 9 foot ceiling, carpeted floor. I've got some thick Tibetan and Middle Eastern rugs I'm hanging for absorption, another thick one over the carpet up close to the speakers (carpet on concrete wasn't quite enough) and that leftover bass trap now has a home. All made much easier because the speakers I use down there are pretty insensitive to placement - open baffle (effectively dipole) woofers, cardioid mid and tweeters.

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    16 minutes ago, ednaz said:

    I know it might not be a lot of fun, but it WOULD be interesting and educational to see how things measure with different components of the acoustical system installed. I don't mean putting things in and taking them out... but maybe ask Vicoustic to recommend an installation pattern from what they believe will be most impactful to least impactful, and then measure at a couple of different stages. 

     

    For our family room in our new house, I had to negotiate the degree to which I included acoustic treatments with my Decorator in Chief.  I had some discussions with architect friends who often design sound studios and performance spaces, to decide what to push hardest, and get some alternative suggestions where the best solution looked - um - industrial. (That's the nicest word used by the Decorator in Chief about some of the recommendations.) That led to my enthusiasm for some decorative drapes made from specific fabrics that were both acoustically and visually agreeable. And, led to me getting a few of my photographs (my part time profession) printed on acoustic panels of the right specs and sizes. Acoustic absorption was the easiest part of the negotiations.

     

    We also came to some agreement on diffusion that were pretty creative. We moved furniture around to create a couple of table top and cabinet top "sculpture gardens". We've got carved wood and cast sculptures, some pretty large, from world travels. Now we've got nice displays, not in ideal locations, but close enough. Also moved a couple large carved masks onto walls in the room for some diffusion help, where originally we were going to hang photos.

     

    We measured with ears, and the bass traps and back wall absorption (the acoustic panel photos) made huge improvements. We found one recommended bass trap had near zero value, because of a carpeted stairway right next to where it was supposed to go. The diffusion ideas were harder to notice with music, but when we did them, they DID improve my "hand clap" test results.

     

    My basement studio and printing workshop are next - a very long, somewhat narrow room, 9 foot ceiling, carpeted floor. I've got some thick Tibetan and Middle Eastern rugs I'm hanging for absorption, another thick one over the carpet up close to the speakers (carpet on concrete wasn't quite enough) and that leftover bass trap now has a home. All made much easier because the speakers I use down there are pretty insensitive to placement - open baffle (effectively dipole) woofers, cardioid mid and tweeters.

     

    Thanks for all the info. I'm with your Decorator in Chief :~)

     

    I'm not a big fan of making a listening room look like a place one would never want to spend time. I'm working with Vicoustic on colors etc... to make things look good for a reasonable price.

     

    Back to your original point about measuring differences between different options. I would love to do that and will plan to do that if it isn't too time consuming. But, it's such valuable information I think I have to do it and write about it. 

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    12 hours ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

    The room acoustics aren’t in place yet. I received the proposal and I’m moving forward with it. 

    What are you doing with the top? Those beams and ceiling corner look scary.

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    Just now, miguelito said:

    What are you doing with the top? Those beams and ceiling corner look scary.

    I'm going to leave the top / ceiling alone for now and see how it turns about. Vicoustic didn't recommend anything for this area.

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    Just now, The Computer Audiophile said:

    I'm going to leave the top / ceiling alone for now and see how it turns about. Vicoustic didn't recommend anything for this area.

    If I had to guess, that would be the one place where I would be concerned. But I haven't seen it live obviously so maybe it is not an issue.

     

    In a previous apartment, I had a high ceiling with beams. Certainly bigger beams than the ones you have but nonetheless. The net effect was multiple reflections that made up for a ginormous RT60. It was very hard to fix given the size of the beams. Fortunately I ended up moving to a spaceship.

     

    I would consider horizontal drapes between beams. That would be fairly cheap to try I think.

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