Saturday, April 7, 2012

Furniture as Part of your Stereo

There is a concept of acoustic design called the "Live End, Dead End" (LEDE) meaning that half of a room should be acoustically alive and the other half dead. The live half is where you sit and the dead half where your speakers are located. The midline is sort of the "no fly zone" of a listening room where bombs have been known to go off..

A classic example of this design everyone is exposed to at some time in your life is in a movie theater. Here the speakers are set behind a white porous screen (yuck!) surrounded by damping material on the floor, walls, and ceiling, and the audience sits facing this arrangement. Take away the movie screen and you have a nicely designed LEDE listening room.

Most people combine functions in rooms because of a lack of space to dedicate to one single function and so the listening room is combined with another, say the living room. Here is where differences of opinion collide.

The audiophile demands perfection in positioning of each piece of furniture meaning that no furniture can go past this midline (that imaginary line separating the room halves). The interior decorator is more concerned about socializing and arranges couches, chairs, tables, and lamps to suite a person's convenience. Does this sound familiar to anyone?  I bet it does, unless you're living in a dorm or under a rock.

In the world of compromise, the audiophile complies with the interior decorator's requests and "allows" (boy this word is going to get me into trouble with a lot of interior decorators) furniture to cross the magic midline. Like the straw that broke the camel's back, there is a limit to which this level of compromise can bend.

One day, I came home and my wife had completely rearranged the furniture in our living/listening room (something she is fond of doing). She conveniently placed the couch along one wall and circled the chairs so that everyone could easily see each other. The problem was that two of the chairs were directly in front of the speakers (yuck!). Taking a deep breath, counting to ten, and allowing my disapproval to subside, I said to her, "That's a very interesting arrangement. This should work out nice for the visitors." Despite my loss of an LEDE room, we agreed to try this arrangement and see how it worked out. It was like a hiatus - taking a vacation from our stereo - but I had a plan...

Fortunately, the couch was in a place opposite the speakers so we could still listen to music, sort of. Things stayed this way for about two weeks (yuck!) until the next party. People were mingling and talking as usual and the kitchen was of course the focal point for lively conversation, but when someone asked her to hear our system, this is where things got interesting.

Parading her friend from the kitchen into the listening/living room, she first turned on the TV and put in a movie (fortunately, there were no chairs in front of the TV). People were already sitting in the nice little circle and chatting as she had hoped and all was well. She told her friend that the couch was the best place to listen so she sat down there and waited for the movie to start. But then it happened: she accidentally turned the volume of the stereo up.

Thundering fireworks from Disneyland interrupted an otherwise tranquil setting and the people sitting  in front of the speakers leapt out of their comfy chairs like sprinters from the starting blocks at the Olympics. Drinks spilled, tables knocked over, and a general disarray prevailed. I was still in the kitchen talking with friends and at the sound rushed to the commotion.

Without saying a word, my wife looked at me and said, "Oops!" My plan worked.

The lesson is this:

Allow people the opportunity to discover things even when you know better, for it is in life's first-hand lessons where true and lasting understanding is learned.

Yours for higher fidelity,
Philip Rastocny

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