Live vs. dead room

Discussion in 'Room Acoustics, System Layout & Setup' started by josko, Nov 16, 2012.

  1. josko Audioholic

    Mar 27, 2009
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    Why is it that performing musicians typically want a 'live' room to perform in, and audiophiles strive for a 'dead' room and go to all sorts of trouble to minimize wall reflections?
  2. Steve81 Moderator

    Aug 9, 2012
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    I'm not sure anyone aims for a dead room, ie an anechoic chamber nor is anyone aiming for an echo chamber.

    It's a matter of striking the right balance of acoustics for the purpose. When you're playing music, the space adds some ambiance to the mix, and that's a good thing. I mean, it'd sound rather odd to hear someone playing guitar in an anechoic chamber. Further, the right acoustics will help "project" the performance.

    For an audiophile, we ultimately want to ambiance to come from the recording. We don't want to add our own room's acoustics/ambiance on top of what has already been recorded. You can also look at it from a practical standpoint: ie improving intelligibility of speech, reducing decay time, etc.
  3. STRONGBADF1 Audioholic Spartan

    Jul 4, 2005
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    When you own the world you're always home
    Performing musicians are creating music (a sound/vibe) from nothing. Speakers are trying to recreate what they created. IMO an audiophile that likes a dead room is trying not to combine the two acoustic signatures and hear just what the artist heard while they were performing. (taking their listening room out of the equation as mush as possible)

    ***(the whole recording process and the multitude of variables means you are not hearing just the instrument and the room it was played in but also the mics, electronics, engineers ears/biases, monitors and the room it was mixed in...)
  4. agarwalro Audioholic Ninja

    Jan 31, 2005
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    Pittsburgh, PA
    In either case, the room needs to be neutral. Too much reflection and the sound will be a jumble of acoustic energy that cannot dissipate. Excessive absorption and the sound will be unnaturally muffled.

    In the recording scenario, the balance of reverb to damped is completely a matter of preference for the musician and recording engineer.

    During playback, the wall/floor/ceiling reflections overlap with the sound coming from the speakers. Some reflections are not desired (first reflection off side walls, floor bounce, etc.), while some reflected energy is needed to create a sense of space. In fact, speakers can be specifically designed to use the reflected sound to their benefit (open baffle design). The room has a huge impact on the sound. Imperfection is the room layout will easily swamp out all the the most egregious of speaker issues (like, incorrect phase between woofer and tweeter) and electronics faults (like the amp being driven to clipping). A well designed speaker is a properly sorted room will sound better than an exceptional speaker in a shoddy room.

    (The aforementioned assumes far field listening, meaning, listening is happening more that 2-3 feet from the speakers. Near field listening goes with a whole other set of rules.)
  5. jostenmeat Audioholic Spartan

    Feb 26, 2007
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    Very wide open question. My take on both is that there are a hundred shades of gray.

    For instance: I have heard music in a certain venue where there quite a number of these very, very large absorptive panels decently far up these rather tall walls, which can be folded closed. Depending on who is performing or rehearsing in there, they take this really long pole, and either close them (reflective) or open them (absorptive). They may only choose to leave some open and others closed.

    An extremely reflective venue, say a cathedral, might be really great for an a cappella ensemble of 4 vocalists (think Hilliard Ensemble), but probably be a nightmare for certain symphonic works (think subito changes of dynamics and texture, where any starkly differing previous passages are still ringing through into the next passage; does the conductor then choose to take abnormally long pauses between every differing passage?).

    For the audiophile, I believe it is a matter of application as well. For instance, if there is added ambiance from the room on top of what is already recorded, it could possibly be indistinguishable, IMO. However, for certain HT-audiophiles, an outfielder encouraging a teammate in a baseball movie, or a car screeching around a corner in a chase movie, or a spaceship blowing up an alien in a sci fi flick, none of those really benefit from a "living room ambiance". This same ambiance however is rather familiar to us with a kid practicing piano, a string quartet performance, what have you.

    But even for say a classical music lover, if one has speakers with superb off axis performance, with decent positioning, many would say you would actually be better off without sidewall absorption, as the reflected sound would be similar enough to the direct audio, where it can successfully give you a wider stage. Poor off axis response, OTOH, might mean that it's not worth the compromise, because the reflected energy is so dissimilar to the direct audio, it has an overall destructive effect.

    Then: let's say everything above is groovy. But that you are backed up, on a couch that is backed up right against the wall. Your otherwise perfect audio is probably ruined simply from a bad choice of listener positioning. Some people will use absorption in this case; it's a matter of application, and/or compromise.

    Another compromise-application: Good speakers, overall good acoustics, even good listener position, but say the left speaker is very close to the left sidewall, where the right is totally open into a very large room. The audio will simply be lopsided in energy due to the boundary effects, and broadband absorption could possibly mitigate any such issue, even out the compromise if you will.
  6. GIK Acoustics Audioholic Intern

    GIK Acoustics
    Sep 7, 2012
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    Atlanta, GA & Bradford, UK
    Oddly enough, I've found the exact opposite most of the time. Broke musicians tend to throw about high frequency absorption like foam everywhere and no other treatment, while audiophiles really strive for an even, but live room.

    I will say though that most people's preferences are different, and everyone's room is different. In my opinion, I feel the most important thing to control in rooms is bass response, and in treating that, everything else will come. There are many ways to get there, through different price points depending on your needs and preference.

    For example, we sell many broadband bass traps. But we also sell a scattering/diffusive plate to add on to any of our broadband traps to keep a "live" feeling in the room. Also, we sell things like tuned traps and membrane traps to address low frequency issues without deadening the high end. These are all great, but in a cost-to-performance ratio, thick broadband absorption tends to give the most bang for your buck and can treat most room anomalies.

    I feel budget is the biggest difference - some may prefer a slightly more live room but only have a budget for cheap broadband solutions. Some may prefer a more diffusive room, so they'll need the budget for diffusors and tuned bass traps, etc.

    A lot of people also suggest for recording in a small room that it is kept partially dead, since the reverb of a small room isn't such a pleasant sound anyways. Others will argue that they'd rather have small room ambiance than post artificial reverb.

    It all depends on the way you work and your preferences, which is why we try to keep our options as open as possible with our products.

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