Sunday, April 15, 2012

Look, up in the sky, it's a bird, it's a plane, no it's...

Superman was one of my childhood heroes with muscles of steel and hey, who doesn't want to fly? The super-hero within us all at that age falls in love with the idea.  As we get older a shift occurs at some point in all of our lives. Parents call it growing up or puberty or street smarts, but it's really much more than that. A shift occurs that changes your focus from the grand scheme and awe to the minuscule and pessimistic (or critical), and rarely does it return.

This "nose to the grindstone" attitude can even be seen in someone's body language and posture; the chin tilts down slightly and frown lines and wrinkles appear. It becomes harder and harder to look up and when you do, you hear bones creaking in your neck that never did before. Only while lying in bed do you ever really look at the ceiling and then only if you are lying on your back.

I recall the first time I entered the old Oklahoma City Civic Center Music Hall via a literal tunnel carpeted on all sides. As we walked through this portal, the usual chatter a crowd makes as they walk towards their seats was immediately absorbed by the plush carpeting.  This effect was so striking that I had to look up to see what acoustical trickery the brilliant engineers who designed this hall had implemented. Tastefully done, the ceiling was carpeted with a pattern that escapes me now but the effect was unique


I never forgot that effect and always wanted to try some sort of sound absorption on our listening room ceiling that would not be intrusive or distracting. The reason ceilings are usually white is to make them appear to disappear. My wife-approval-factor (WAF) could never be hurdled and it was this obstacle that prevented me from carpeting the ceiling in our listening room.

BUT ONE DAY, I HAD AN IDEA. I had used polyester batting on the backs of our speakers for decades without a single objection and I had a small roll of it left over, enough to drape on the ceiling at strategic places.  The plea was to "just try it, temporarily of course" in hopes to get my wife to agree to this test. She did!

Finding the first reflection points with her sitting at the sweet spot, I used painter's tape to note where to suspend the batting.  Within minutes, a ladder and a few thumb tacks had the batting in place looking like a soft cloud dipping down into the room. The tasteful tapestries on the walls at similar positions already took care of their problems and the wall-to-wall carpeting took care of the floor. I finally had my Civic Center tunnel!

And now the acid test: how did it sound? I gave the first impression rights to her and put on one of her favorite pieces. As the needle dropped into the groove, the first thing she noticed was the increased height of the sound stage as did its width.  Without any prompting, she expounded on improved inner detailing, solidity of the instrument positions, on and on. This was not one of those "I think I can hear a difference, can you?" questions; this was a "baseball-bat to the face" type of change.

Although the WAF was strained, we never took down the puffy panels until the day we put our home on the market. Ceiling treatment works folks and I encourage you to try a similar test for yourself. Overcome your ingrained conditioning not to, and look up. Use a mirror to locate where the first reflections are, tape the area off with painter's tape, apply the batting temporarily of course, and sit back for a real and amazingly inexpensive surprise.

One side note: if you have a coffee table in the room, temporarily remove it to another room for this test. All flat surfaces are highly reflective and contribute to the problem.

Yours for higher fidelity,
Philip Rastocny

I do not use ads in this blog to help support my efforts. If you like what you are reading, please remember to reciprocate, My newest title is called Where, oh Where did the Star of Bethlehem Go? It’s an astronomer’s look at what this celestial object may have been, who the "Wise Men" were, and where they came from. Written in an investigative journalism style, it targets one star that has never been considered before and builds a solid case for its candidacy.

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