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Your Stereo System in Robert Harley’s House?

Your Stereo System in Robert Harley’s Listening Room?

Robert Harley

My wife and I recently decided to move from New Mexico back to Southern California where I grew up and still have family. It was a difficult decision because it means giving up the custom listening room I built in my home. When I designed the house (with an architect) I was able to specify the room’s dimensional ratios, AC power, wall construction, and other factors that go into making a world-class listening space.

I’m hoping that the buyer of our home will appreciate the listening room. The room is 14.5’ by 21’ with a 9’ ceiling. These ratios were chosen for best distribution of resonance modes. Although not huge, the room has successfully accommodated loudspeakers as large as Wilson Alexandria X-2s and Genesis 200s. Treated with some ASC Tube Traps, the room sounded superb. One mark of a good listening room is when it’s easy to get good sound from a new pair of speakers rather than fighting the room and ultimately accepting a set of compromises. A number of loudspeaker designers have set up their products in my listening room and were happy with the results.

Seven years ago, the room took a quantum leap in performance with the addition of a complete acoustic treatment designed by Norm Varney of Acoustic Room Systems (now of AV RoomService). Norm modeled the room on a computer and devised a treatment package that would kill first reflections, produce a flat reverberation time with frequency, and diffuse energy behind and above the listener. I was wary of such a radical approach because, in my experience, many acoustic treatments overly damp the room and deaden the sound. Norm assured me this would not be the case; only a small percentage of the room’s surfaces would absorb midrange and treble energy.

The acoustic treatment is based on panels composed of thin drywall backed by 1.25” of fiberglass insulation. When installed with the drywall facing the room, the panel is reflective at mid and high frequencies, and absorbent at low frequencies. The panels absorb low frequencies through diaphragmatic action (sound puts the drywall in motion, converting acoustic energy into a minute amount of heat). With the fiberglass-side facing the room, the panel is highly absorbent in the midrange and treble and does nothing to the bass. The fiberglass-side-out panels were strategically positioned to absorb the first reflections from loudspeakers. An additional material consisted of panels with a convoluted surface to provide diffusion. Most of the room’s rear wall and ceiling above and behind the listening position is diffusive. These panels were installed between rails attached to the existing walls.

After the panels were installed according to the computer model, Norm visited my room and measured its performance, comparing it against the model. We also moved the system back into the room (it had to be removed for panel installation) and listened. After tweaking the orientation of several panels, Norm pronounced the room finished. The final step was to cover the acoustic panels with a decorative cloth that tucked into the rails for a seamless look. The acoustic treatment is completely invisible.

Before the panels were installed, I wired the room for 7.1-channel audio, installed remote-controlled programmable lighting, and ran 12V trigger wires to the motorized projection screen. The entire process, which took a full week to complete, carried a price tag of $34,000. I wrote about the installation, as well as described the sonic effect of the treatment, in The Absolute Sound Issue 139.

 Someone’s going to get a great listening room; I just hope it’s a music lover.

 You can see full details of the home at  www.9eaglecrestdrive.com

By Robert Harley

My older brother Stephen introduced me to music when I was about 12 years old. Stephen was a prodigious musical talent (he went on to get a degree in Composition) who generously shared his records and passion for music with his little brother.

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