Trinnov Altitude 16 Tag

So You Think Your Room’s Bad, Pt. 5

So You Think Your Room's Bad, Pt. 5

As Trinnov’s Jon Herron mentioned in Pt. 4 of this series, when you sit down to watch a movie or listen to music, the sound generated by the electronics and speakers is perceived in three key ways. Firstly, there’s the sound that travels straight from the speakers to your ears. Secondly, there’s the sound bouncing off the walls, floor, and ceiling one, two, or three times, which takes a slightly less direct path to your brain. Then there’s the fainter echoes and reverberations that ping-pong around the room.

 

Every room generates its own mix of those three elements. It’s what makes your room sound like your room—its unique sonic fingerprint. But here’s the thing: It’s also what makes your room sound decidedly unlike the claustrophobic interior of a submarine or the rolling dunes of Tatooine or the craggy and cavernous wastes of Cirith Ungol.

 

That’s one of the main reasons I selected the Trinnov Altitude 16 home theater preamp/optimizer to serve as the centerpiece of the trade-show booth’s audio electronics. But as Jon pointed out, to fully deal with all of the acoustical issues in a room, you need a combination of digital signal processing and passive acoustical treatments. The rule of thumb is that you should strive to absorb about 20% of the reflections and scatter 25% of the reflections from the walls and ceiling. You would generally place more absorption toward the front of the room, and interleave the absorption and scattering materials.

 

That last point was one of my biggest sources of stress in helping to design this room—or at least, it’s the source of stress that stands out most in my memory. Why the stress? Because at this point in the design process, my co-conspirators—Mike, Melinda, and Marcelo—were spending most of their time talking about midcentury modern furniture, lighting sconces, draperies, throw rugs, and other floor coverings. And all I could think was, “These people are going to murder me right in my neck if I start hanging egg-crate foam on the walls.”

 

Still, if we wanted the speakers and electronics to transport attendees to other worlds (or at least more interesting corners of this world) with minimal distraction from the room’s temporary and non-traditional construction, I knew we would need some sort of acoustical treatments. So, I reached out to Anthony Grimani—former Dolby Labs and THX exec and current owner of PMI (Performance Media Industries, Ltd)—for his guidance in treating the room as best as possible without making it look like a recording studio.

Anthony Grimani explains how a diffuser works

Not only was Anthony’s advice invaluable, but his company also just so happens to manufacture exactly the sorts of treatments we needed for the room. We did go back and forth a few times on placement, trading renderings until absorbers were optimally placed to deal with first reflections on the walls and ceiling, and diffusers at the back of the room to randomize reflections into a sense of reverberations and create a more enveloping listening environment.

Even after we had the passive acoustical treatments specified and virtually placed, with instructions passed along to the booth construction company, and a followup visit scheduled by Grimani to fine tune the placements during installation, I have to admit that I was still nervous about all of this. In my final rendered sketches of the room, the treatments just sort of looked out of place. They didn’t, to my eyes, evoke the living room environment I knew everyone else on the design team was shooting for.

 

Those fears were allayed the first time I actually laid eyes on the space once it was fully constructed. And they were further allayed as the first attendees filed into the room for a demo. As the first movie clip came to an end, I heard a woman at the edge of the room lean over to a friend and whisper-yell, “I love the 3D sculptures on the walls. They’re so abstract but so pretty!” It took me a second to realize she was confusing Grimani’s diffusers for artwork.

Dennis Burger narrates a very quick tour of the demo room. (If you
look really close at the video, you’ll notice that the circles in the
ceiling are the GoldenEar Invisa 650 speakers mentioned in Pt. 3.)

Lessons learned here: Sometimes you can’t plan for every single contingency when designing a home entertainment space. Things in the real world don’t always look like they do in quick 3D sketches. But just as importantly: Don’t assume that performance-oriented design choices will necessarily conflict with décor-oriented design choices. In the end, the acoustical treatments I was so worried about wound up giving the room a funky modern vibe that worked great with the look we were going for. And if we’d had more than a few weeks to work on the design, and if we knew then what we know now, who knows? We may have even made the acoustical treatments the design focal point of the room.

 

Granted, in the real world, that means having conversations with interior designers about the benefits of acoustical treatments, their physical design, and where they need to be placed for optimal effectiveness. But ultimately, all of the pieces that come together to create a luxury entertainment space should be a collaborative—not an antagonistic—process. No necks need to be murdered in the creation of any room.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

So You Think Your Room’s Bad, Pt. 4

So You Think Your Room's Bad, Pt. 4

Dennis Burger:

 

In Part 3 of this series, I discussed how we arrived at a speaker system for the Kaleidescape booth by solving the riddle of the back of the room and working forward. I also hinted that Trinnov’s Altitude 16 home theater preamp/optimizer was key to making those speakers sound their best.

 

How did I get from “I need something to power these speakers and process all of the audio” to “Gimme one of the most advanced and luxurious audio/video preamplifiers on the planet,” you ask? It was a bit of a winding road, so let’s start at the beginning of it.

 

When we were first understanding what this room would look like and how we wanted it to sound, someone in our design group (I forget who) asked a simple question: “Can we do this with an AV receiver?”

 

It’s a reasonable question, since we wanted the space to evoke a living room environment, and AV receivers—in which all of the digital signal processing and amplification reside in one box—generally power the sound systems in such rooms. But in this case, my back-of-the-napkin calculations told me we needed 160 watts of clean power for every speaker, which is way more than most receivers can deliver.

 

I also knew we needed really amazing digital room correction to compensate for all of the acoustical shortcomings of this space. (If you’re not familiar with digital room correction and how it works, check out my article “Room Correction Revisited” at Home Theater Review.) The long and short of it is that the room optimization software built into most AV receivers wouldn’t be sophisticated enough.

 

So, given that we needed a separate AV preamp to handle the processing and standalone amplifiers to power the speakers, I started thinking long and hard about what was out there. I wasn’t picking between equipment manufacturers; I was picking between room correction systems—two in particular: Dirac and Trinnov. (Lyngdorf Audio’s RoomPerfect probably would have been a great option, too, but I don’t have hands-on experience with it, and given our time constraints I had to go with what I knew.)

The advantages of Dirac are that it’s available in much more affordable equipment, and its filters would have made this particular room sound really good with only a little effort. But I was informed that “really good” wasn’t good enough. We needed the best.

So You Think Your Room's Bad, Pt. 4

So, I turned to Trinnov, whose Altitude 16 (shown above) delivers the most advanced and customizable room correction I know of. What’s more, the Altitude 16 can sonically relocate speakers through some deft processing that I don’t even understand. This was handy because, as I said in the last post, sometimes we had to position speakers in such a way as to accommodate multiple standing-room-only attendees.

 

I reached out to Jon Herron, Trinnov’s International Sales Manager, and asked if I could take him on a 3D tour of my latest revision of the booth design via Google Hangouts. Here’s Jon with his own first impressions of the 3D renderings, along with some thoughts on the specific room correction challenges this demo space posed.

 

 

Jon Herron:

 

So, the challenge was to get sound that is as lifelike as possible in a space that (by itself) would be about as far from lifelike as you can get. The background noise would be high (since it was a trade show). The construction would be temporary and necessarily focused on speed of assembly rather than quality. The shape of the space was also driven to some degree by architectural features not normally found in a home.

 

Imagine trying to get a concert-hall experience in a baseball stadium.

 

Success in any endeavor involves first understanding the nature of the problem. In this case, the problem was largely based on psycho-acoustics—understanding how we humans hear and understand the world around us based on what we hear.

 

A key to understanding how we perceive sound is to understand that we always, without thinking about it, hear three different things:

 

Direct Sound: This is the sound that goes straight from the source (in this case, a speaker) to your ears. Our brains will “hear” this first arrival as the true source and nature of the sound itself.

 

First Reflections: The very next versions of the sound are the first reflections from the surroundings. In a room, these reflections are typically the first bounces from the floor, ceilings, and walls. These tell you quite a bit about the environment you’re in—outdoors (few reflections), or in a larger or smaller room, for example.

 

Subsequent Reverberation: Unless steps are taken to absorb or scatter the sound away from you, sound usually will bounce around for a while. These multiple, later, and smaller versions of the direct sound tell you even more about the environment you’re in. You’d have little or no reverberation outdoors; you’d have quite a lot in a cave; you’d probably hear something in between in your living room or a concert hall.

 

Unfortunately, it’s really easy to mess up what Dennis describes as “room correction” by trying to address all these disparate problems with a single solution. The problems are different; therefore, the best solutions are also different and need to be determined and layered together.

 

If you badly break a leg, you must first realign things, stabilize the leg with a splint, and then put it in a cast for long-term healing. Doing just one of those things, or doing all the things out of order, simply won’t work. It’s the same with using digital signal processing to fix a “broken” acoustical environment.

 

In our diagnosis of how we hear, the second and third items above are “soft” in the high frequencies (imagine turning down the Treble control) for the simple reason that higher frequencies are far easier to absorb or scatter than are lower frequencies. If you don’t make an allowance for the reflected energy sounding different than the direct, you’ll mistakenly ruin the direct sound in a vain effort to fix the environment of the room itself. They are different problems.

 

This, by the way, is why we at Trinnov refer to our system as a Speaker/Room Optimizer. We’re trying to optimize all these different problems with appropriate digital processing solutions, rather than trying to simply “correct” the room with a one-size-fits-all solution.

So You Think Your Room's Bad. Pt. 4

In the trade show demo room, the No. 1 priority was to focus on getting the direct sound as natural as possible. Mitigating first reflections (where we could) was also important, but not if it compromised the direct sound.

 

Similarly, we wanted to provide a more natural reverberant decay (the rate at which sound dies away) that didn’t allow one range of frequencies to stick out like a sore thumb or otherwise call attention to itself. In a good concert hall, when the symphony suddenly stops playing, the entire, rich tapestry of sound should

die away together. If the flute section reverberated after the other sounds had faded, even for a moment, it would sound extremely unnatural, even unpleasant.

 

Addressing all these varying challenges in a way that truly lets you enjoy the music or movie you choose without the heavy-handed overlay of the sound of the room you’re in requires (ideally) a combination of passive acoustics and what we at Trinnov have come to call “digital acoustics.”

 

 

DB again:

 

And that’s the perfect segue into the next post in this series. I knew that physical acoustical treatments, working in conjunction with Trinnov’s digital acoustics, would make this demo room sound its best. But I also didn’t want to make the room look like a recording studio. We’ll dig more deeply into those concerns in Pt. 5.

Jon Herron has been in the audio & video business since he was a teenager. The
combination of music and technology was simply too seductive for him to do anything
else—that and the fact that no one would likely hire him to do anything else. He has
worked in both large and small retail organizations, as a manufacturers’ representative,
and (mostly) for a series of audio manufacturers, including Snell Acoustics, Madrigal
Audio Laboratories, Wisdom Audio, and Trinnov Audio. He lives in Connecticut with his
wife and two terribly spoiled cats.

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

So You Think Your Room’s Bad, Pt. 3

Dennis BurgerAt the end of our previous post in this series, I teased the fact that one pair of speakers at the back of the room ended up driving the decision-making process for the entire Atmos surround sound speaker system. It’s worth digging a little more deeply into exactly why that’s the case.

So You Think Your Room's Bad, Pt. 3

Just to remind you what the geometry of our demo space looked like, here’s an overhead view of the back of the room. The rear wall is at the top. You can see a rough approximation of what we thought our seating may look like, as well as the canted walls that made the outside of the booth look so great, but crunched us a bit in the demo space.

 

If we had gone with seven ear-level speakers, that would have meant four speakers in the back of the room, at positions marked A and B. But this would have caused problems for anyone sitting in the back row. Someone sitting next to speaker A on one side of the room wouldn’t have really been able to hear speakers A and B on the other side, and the speakers at the front of the room—for dialogue and screen sound effects—would have been drowned out. Sometimes more isn’t necessarily better.

 

What I really needed was a speaker I could position somewhat closer to the points marked C, but a little higher on the wall so as not to overwhelm any one seat in the back row. The extra height was also added to accommodate anyone standing in the back of the room, so they wouldn’t block the surround sound effects for anyone sitting in front.

 

I desperately needed a speaker that would project its sound out into the room authoritatively, while also spreading its sound out less like a spotlight and more like a floodlight. 

 

I also needed an in-wall solution, for reasons discussed in our previous post. One speaker came immediately to mind: GoldenEar Technology’s Invisa MPX MultiPolar in-Wall speaker. The MPX’s bass/midrange drivers don’t point straight out into the room, as do those of most speakers. One of the drivers is rotated a bit to the right, the other a bit to the left. Combine that with the company’s High-Velocity Folded Ribbon tweeter (which squeezes air sort of like an accordion to create low-distortion, room-penetrating high-frequency sounds, rather than pushing air like a normal dome tweeter), and you have the makings of everything I needed here—wide, deep, enveloping sound that wasn’t diffuse.

So You Think Your Room's Bad, Pt. 3

And with that piece of the puzzle solved, the rest of the speaker system started to fall into place. To match the sound of the MPX, I specified three of GoldenEar’s Signature Point Source (SPS) in-walls for the front left, right, and center speakers, and four of the company’s Invisa 650 in-ceilings for the overhead channels.

 

We also had just enough space at the front of the room for subwoofers, so I opted for a pair of SuperSub X subs. Why two subs for such a small space? It wasn’t so much about producing enough volume as it was about delivering rich, even bass in such a weird acoustical environment and making sure every seat in the room experienced the same level of bass.

 

With those decisions made, I called GoldenEar’s Vice President of Marketing and Sales, Jack Shafton, and asked him if I could take him on a virtual tour of our most current 3D design for the booth. I wanted a second opinion from an industry expert, just to make sure I had made the right choices given such compromises. I also wanted his advice on exact speaker placement.

 

Here’s Jack with his reactions to seeing the 3D renderings for the first time, along with some thoughts on what makes GoldenEar’s architectural speakers unique:

Jack Shafton: When Dennis shared his plan for this booth at CEDIA, my first reaction was, “YIKES!” GoldenEar always uses a fully enclosed sound room for our own trade-show demos, so this was certainly a new challenge. We agreed that this room would never be ideal, but could certainly be done effectively using the Invisa speakers and SuperSubs. Dennis hit on one of the reasons the Invisa MPX was such a good choice: It’s a direct radiator (important for today’s surround formats) with very wide dispersion. But I would also mention that the power handling and efficiency of the speaker are of great importance given the semi-open nature of this sound room.

 

That’s just one speaker, though (well, two in the case of this room). As for why GoldenEar’s Invisa speakers were the right choice overall, remember that this system needed to impress consumer electronics industry members, not the average consumer who has never heard a great-sounding home theater. One thing that I think sets our in-wall and in-ceiling speakers apart is that we design them using the same drivers and technology employed in our award-winning Triton tower speakers. There is no good/better/best stratification in the GoldenEar architectural speaker lineup; just the best of everything we do. The folded-ribbon tweeter offers exceptional dispersion, amazing fidelity, and great power handling, and it is found in every Invisa speaker. Combine that with our mid/bass driver

So You Think Your Room's Bad, Pt. 3

GoldenEar Invisa MPX

technology, crossover design, and GoldenEar speaker voicing, and the result is exactly what Dennis needed to blow people away in a space that had no business sounding as good as it did. Of course, the two SuperSubs helped a lot, as they provide big sub performance in a tiny, vibration-cancelling design.

 

 

DB again: In addition to confirming my speaker choices, Jack gave me some helpful advice in terms of placement, especially of the front speakers and overhead channels. That guidance was invaluable given the weird geometry of the room. Mind you, the odds you’ll be installing a cinema sound system in a room as compromised as ours are slim. The lesson to be learned here is that when taming a problematic home cinema space, you’ll sometimes find that solving your most daunting problems first makes all of the other pieces fall into place.

 

Still, as amazing as GoldenEar’s speakers are, if we had merely slapped them in the walls and ceilings and provided them with power, they wouldn’t have sounded their best. In our next post, I’ll be discussing how Trinnov’s Altitude 16 home theater preamp/optimizer helped us tame some of the room’s worst acoustical problems and give the GoldenEar speakers room to shine.

Jack Shafton is a 40-year veteran of the consumer electronics industry who has been
involved in the design, manufacture, and marketing of some very successful specialty
audio products, including two highlighted in
Stereophile’s “100 Most Important Audio
Products in the Last 40 Years.” Jack’s love of music and movies, combined with a
passion to bring better sound into everyone’s home, has been the driving force in his
commitment to help the industry grow. He also loves fast cars and
cats. (Sorry, dog lovers.)

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.