Sonic Spaces

The audiophile, or someone who has an ardent interest in music, is found in all genres. For the casual listener who uses music as a backdrop to a party or as a workout partner, convenience often trumps sound quality. But for a deeper, one-on-one connection with music, the audiophile seeks out a room dedicated to the science behind the sound.

Joe Calise, president of Sights-N-Sounds, a custom home theater installer in Seaford and Huntington, starts every music room design by assessing the homeowner: “Once we know how someone sources their material we can recommend the ideal system for them.” He breaks his customers down into three basic types. Devotees of vinyl, which is enjoying an enormous comeback, often make an event of their music appreciation.

“The vinyl listener wants to remain stationary, in a favorite chair while sipping a glass of wine or lighting up a cigar and likes to display the artwork of their favorite albums,” said Brian McAuliff, president of home theater specialist Bri-Tech on LI, NYC and Connecticut.

Original vinyl records are analog recordings that have never been converted to another format, offering the highest sound quality, but while the format is old, new technology exists to support it and extract all of its acoustic subtleties. The turntables can be vintage or sleek and modern and range from $500 to $5,000.

Calise suggests pairing the turntable with two high-quality tower speakers for the authentic, pure sound this audiophile relishes. “This person is a dedicated, ‘critical’ listener who is gear-oriented and focuses on getting the best type of ‘tube’ amplification and the best tone from the best needle,” McAuliff said.

While the music room needs of different homeowners may vary by format (cd listeners want room to display their collection while digital listeners demand their sound be easily ported from room to room), it is the vinyl listener who will ultimately splurge on an entire room devoted to coaxing the best sound out of his auditory pursuits.

Calise takes architecture into consideration when evaluating a room’s sound quality. “The room should be proportionate with regard to size, shape and ceiling height. The ideal room shape for audio is rectangular, which allows for some distance between the sound source and the listener,” Calise said.

“A square room will have the sound bouncing and colliding and if a room is too wide you will lose the sound.” The audio industry has a lingo all its own to describe the acoustics of a room. “We determine if a room is ‘live’ or ‘dead’,” Calise said, identifying the two extremes of room acoustics. “For optimal sound, you want to achieve a balance of both.” A room with too short a reverberation time may be considered “dry” while one that is too “alive,” with too long a reverb time, may be called “watery.” A kaleidoscope of juxtaposing terms exists to describe ways to strike that perfect balance. There is “clarity vs. fullness,” “warmth vs. brilliance,” “uniformity and diffusion,” “texture or smoothness,” “balance or blend,” and lastly “envelopment.”

Anyone can experiment on his own to change the surface area in their rooms, improving the acoustics with sound-absorbing fabrics, acoustical panels and furnishings. Adding (or taking away) carpeting, area rugs or window treatments or changing the amount of furniture in a space will instantly change the quality of all sound, not just music, in the room.

Homeowners looking for the most aesthetic way to bring audio to a room opt for in-ceiling or in-wall speakers. There are low profile styles and also “invisible” speakers with a front panel that can be painted to blend with the drywall. There are motorized speakers that flip down from the ceiling when needed to direct sound across the room, which some prefer over sending the sound straight down.

Regardless of the type of music or the lifestyle of the listener, there is technology that can go from the focal point—a room dedicated to listening to music—to a flexible design that is there when needed and gone when it’s not. Focus on enjoying the music and coordinate your musical taste with your decorating style to create an experience that pleases all your senses. And know that no matter how much the world around you may change, the song remains the same.

Listening room set up
While each room is different, with nooks and crannies that hold or reflect sound, some general principles apply:

Speakers: Place them so they push music into the room along the long walls of the room. Generally, the tweeters should be at ear level. Avoid having anything in the center of a wall, like the woofer or speakers. The room will sound best if speakers are offset from the halfway point of any wall. The equipment should be between the speakers on a media console.

Chair: The worst place to sit is in the center of the room. Here the bass response from speakers is the least noticeable. A rule of thumb when positing a chair or sofa is the “38 percent rule.” Take the overall length of the room and multiply that by 38 percent, the result is how far your head should be from the rear wall when seated.

Reflections: Install drapes over large picture windows or French doors to absorb sound. Hard flooring also bounces sound and should be softened with an area rug.

caroline wilkes

Caroline Sophia Wilkes is an interior designer who also writes about design trends. From Manhattan to Montauk, this native Long Islander derives inspiration from the dynamic forms and energy of the city to the organic serenity of our land- and seascapes.