Friday, October 9, 2015

Treating Difficult Acoustic Spaces With The SteinMusic Blue Suns

My current listening room was a nightmare.  I have an open floor plan, with laminate flooring, vaulted ceilings, asymmetric openings and shapes to deal with. The entire floorplan is an echo chamber and treating it acoustically is a daunting, and ongoing task.

I am just not that motivated to do too much because the room is only temporary. We are adding a dedicated and isolated listening room to the house next year. That and I really don't want to disrupt the decor too much with permanent treatments. This is what I have done so far...
Vaulted Ceilings: The Multi-use room is rife with reflective surfaces.
The wall opposite to the top photo. Open areas, and more reflective surfaces.

Rugs, Art, Plants

Of course there are rugs and art. A good, thick wool rug on the floor is ideal as a floor covering. If your rug isn't terribly thick, one can purchase wool rug pads to add a little more absorption to a thin rug.

Art is another matter, You could probably use wall or floor sculpures as a diffuser, however they will hardly be scientific in their sound scattering capabilities.  Woven textile wall hangings would work as absorbers too. I have hung these on a rod about 3-4" off of a wall and placed acoustic foam behind them for even more absorption.

Taller plants can work well and add life to your surroundings as well.

Serindipity in Window Treatments

The double-cell construction of these blinds is
great for turning a reflective window area into
an absorbant one.

We recently added new window treatments. This was serindipitous as I was not aware of how well the ones we chose would absorb  sound. We had all of the windows treated with double-walled Levelor cellular shades. The double-wall construction was chosen for it's insulating properties, but is also ideal for absorbing sound where an otherwise very reflective surface would be. Now all of the windows became absorptive surfaces where reflective ones used to be. It was noticeable and unobtrusive. Win!

Minimal Acoustic Treatments

I was able to install some bass traps from Acoustic Geometry (consisting of a Curve Diffusor and Corner Trap ) behind the loudspeakers without mounting them to the wall. These had a harmonious coloring that I was able to choose, and were very nicely built, but were not cheap at over $500 each. There are cheaper options available from other manufacturers, but the quality will vary with price. You get what you pay for...
Bass traps in the corners behind the speakers.  GIK diffusers surrounding the flat screen TV.

I also made use of diffusers along the wall behind the speakers. This wall faces across the entire house through the kitchen. The problem here was a massive slap-echo from the sound travelling through the room and hitting the back wall of the kitchen, then bouncing from floor to ceiling all the way back. It was very noticeable at even moderate volumes. It smeared the sound considerably. The GIK Acoustics Gridfusors ($200 for 4).

So far, the results make the room much better. With way less slap echo (it still needs work) better bass response and more accurate imaging.  I think my next step will be an absorbant "cloud" on the ceiling in the opening between the kitchen and living room.

Finally...The Unconventional (Down the Rabbit Hole We Go)

While at RMAF 2015, The SteinMusic Distributor handed me 4 of the Blue Suns. I had been using 2 in my system at the time along with the 4 harmonizers in my sytem. He told me that they would actually work without the harmonizers, but adding the harmonizers would certainly enhance their effectiveness.
The Blue Sun. A mix of mierals/crystals and quantum technology from Holger Stein.
So after returning from RMAF, I decided to do my "system reorganization" exercise. This is where I tear my system down completely, and remove all tweaks from the room. I start fresh with reconnecting the entire system and making sure everything is as dialed in as possible before the tweaks come back in.

The system when assembled and "tweakless" was tonally accurate and imaged fine in-between the speakers, but a little dry and flat sounding without much going on outside the speakers. Definitely not what I was used to.

I took the SteinMusic distributor's advice and started with 4 Blue Suns only. I placed them about 6-7 feet off the ground. One centered between the speakers on the wall behind them, another in the opposite location behind the listening position. This time on the ceiling since there was no wall behind me to place them on. The last two were on the side walls, about 7 feet off the ground and about 1.5 feet in front of the plane that the speakers were lined up on.

Even my wife noticed the change immediately. "That's way better" she said. The sound now expanded beyond the speakers in a very natural way. There was more low level resolution, with trailing notes and decays now filling the entire listening space, not just the space in between the speakers. I had no idea that the Blue Suns would work so well without the Harmonizers. Color me impressed!

Adding the 4 Harmonizers back into the room turbocharged everything.  There was now a sense of air and space that was way beyond the speaker boundaries, coming out into the room and helping the speakers to "disappear". There was a ridiculous amount of low level detail. The subtle sonic cues that transform a system from good to "spooky real" were there. Last there was an organic sweetness to the highs. Much less mechanical and much more organic. No acoustic treatment could pull this off. They definitely helped, but this was in the realm of a new component or set of speakers. Of course the cost was nearly the same as well.... But my point with this is that these are relatively unobtrusive devices that are easy to place and really take your audio system to a new level of enjoyment.

A bit more experimentation

I still had 2 Blue Suns left, and had been experimenting with their placement in the room. I felt like six Blue Suns was too much for the space. Nothing was working. I was a bit relieved actually. But I still had to press on with experimenting.  I decided to try something counterintuitive. I placed one Blue sun on the ceiling in the open area to the right of my listening position. I placed the other on the ceiling in an area of the kitchen that seems to be a vortex for slap echo. 
The yellow arrow indicates the Blue Sun placed in the hallway.
This area seemed to have a real convergence of
slap echo.  I placed a Blue Sun on the ceiling here.
What placing the remaining two Blue Suns in these problem areas seemed to do was further remove the room effects from the soundstage that the speakers were now able to create. What was once flat, lifeless and uninvolving became wrap-around 3D, organic, rich and enveloping.

I understand that the Harmonizers and Blue Suns are not inexpensive items, but if you need to address room issues, or live in an open floorplan with other humans that may not like bulky or unsightly room treatments, these products may help you strike a compromise with the others in your home, and help your system to be musically enjoyable to you. The Stein Harmonizers come in white, and the Blue suns can be painted to closely match your decor (you do need a spray paint made for plastics). They can remain visibly unobtrusive while having a huge sonic impact that compliments your creative efforts at placing a minimum of other more conventional room treatments.

This was a great learning experience for me personally. I was placing tweaks and acoustic treatments in a "real world" space with odd shaped open rooms and lots of reflective surfaces. The end result was a success, both sonically and visually (at least for my family, ymmv). :) 

If you have questions, or might like to try the Stein products in your own home and system, call me at 303-653-6341. I frequently loan these items out and will help you place them in your room for maximum performance.

Happy Listening!

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