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The Listening Room vs Home Theater

This entry was posted on Friday, September 26th, 2014  Authored By: Robert Entenmann

The Listening Room vs Home Theater

As home integration becomes more prevalent within the consumer electronics industry, the listening room is quickly loosing its priority and perhaps more importantly, its purpose. The trend is to compartmentalize, combining technologies that are easily accessible and, as it relates to home entertainment, within one location. Accessibility, with respect to home integration, is typically gained through a mobile device such as an iPad or iPhone. Some integrators utilize custom tablets, enabling the user control of every function of their environment from a handheld device. Convenience is the name of the game. I made reference to convenience and its unintended consequences, with respect to digital music playback, in my post: “Computer Audio at Its Finest.” There are serious tradeoffs when convenience takes precedence over quality. As it relates to home entertainment, convenience means combining two fundamentally different experiences into one location. In the majority of home entertainment applications, having a single location makes sense both economically and in terms of space constraints. Convenience is what drives the trend to combine one’s listening room with their film room. The aforementioned benefits are beneficial only insofar as they benefit the consumer.

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Qualifying the benefit is easy; it’s simply a matter of priorities. If your priority is economics and space, then integrating your listening room into your home theater is the only option. However, if it’s quality you’re after: an experience that is both exciting, visceral and as the artist intended it, then a dedicated listening room is what you seek. In order to get the full benefit of a two-channel high fidelity audio system, it must be located in an environment that is customized to it, not the opposite. For instance, most home theater environments necessitate in-wall speakers because clean lines and visual aesthetics are important to the consumer. In-walls are rarely a good option for two-channel because they don’t provide imaging, sound staging, and three dimensionality as authentically as floor standers, and if they do it’s via very complex DSP (digital signal processing) which compensates for the room but ultimately results in coloration.

ROOMS WITH REASON

Utilizing floor standers could solve the problem, however in most seven or nine channel systems, this is not a tenable option either aesthetically or functionally. Furthermore, most home theater rooms are acoustically treated for their primary purpose, film! However, achieving ideal acoustics for realistic music reproduction and presentation is an altogether different venture. A room that is designed to diffuse sound is optimal for two-channel applications. Absorption is necessary for frequencies under 80Hz, and as a standard in percentage terms, 80% diffusion and 20% absorption is ideal for two-channel applications. The majority of home theaters are completely over deadened (far in excess of 20%), and for good reason: movies have very intense bursts of low and high frequencies, such as explosions, propagating contemporaneously into the theater. If a home theater isn’t well deadened, standing waves would leave the viewer with a headache. The bottom line: a home theater environment is far from ideal when attempting to recreate a live musical performance with authenticity.

TRANSCENDING TIME AND SPACE

So why invest in a dedicated sound room? This question is easily answered: for the love of music. Music is an art form whose medium is seductively temporal and perceived through aural affectations that intrinsically inspire the spirit. The value of music is definite and timeless. Dating back to the fourteenth century, when the pipe organ found its place in the gothic cathedral, music played an important role in society and spiritual influence. The pipe organ is most notable when referring to the acoustics of the church, the choir being a close second. In a properly executed two-channel system, the acoustics of a cathedral, and in some recordings a specific cathedral, will be readily discernable. Such an experience allows the listener to quite literally transcend spacetime, teleporting them to witness Beethoven’s 9th, the orchestra and choir before you in their respective positions. Or you may prefer to relax at the Village Vanguard with John Coltrane or experience Pavarotti grace the stage at Carnegie Hall. If your two-channel system does not have a dedicated room, it is quite possible that these grand envisages will be relegated to the imagination and the pros in this article.

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Music ought to command the same respect that film does insofar as its application is concerned, instead of being a well integrated afterthought. Beethoven, Coltrane, Pavarotti, and Gershwin should not be given second row to Spielberg, Altman, Eastwood, or Kubrick. I would implore anyone reading this article that loves music as much as I, to ask themselves where their priorities lie? If you find equal value in both art forms, then there is still a solution. Make sure your integrator consults with a professional two-channel applications architect who can offer their services to ensure that your investment in home entertainment is well executed. With home entertainment rooms reaching in excess of seven digits in some cases, it is prudent to have a specialist for each function of the system.

TO COMPROMISE, OR NOT TO COMPROMISE?

High Fidelity Design Group employs seasoned professionals who will work closely with your integrator to make certain that the utmost attention to detail is paid to integrating a quality two-channel system into your home entertainment environment. I cannot stress enough that two-channel applications require an entirely different and specialized skillset than that of home theater. HFDG strongly suggests a dedicated room for those who have the space and resources but are cognizant of the impracticality of allocating a second room for two-channel in certain mediums. Most reputable integrators are capable of providing an outstanding home theater experience; however if you want a zero compromise approach, then we highly suggest consulting with NYC’s premier two-channel architect, HFDG.

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