Thursday, August 25, 2016

The House of an audiophile Part 1 - The Living Room

Equalizing the impossible:

I'm very happy with my new house and the so very cool 2 living-rooms divided by a mezzanine thing.
So I decided to transform the top living room into a "cinema and game room"... while the downstairs living room stays as such.

Problem? Well there is a point in which I'll have to equip with some decent audio, and taking into consideration the size and geometry of the 2 rooms I was in for a challenge.
Why? well I love hi-fi, so big speakers and loads of volume would solve the room size problem... and kill quality and sound image while creating weird re-verbs and echoes.
So I started a project of trial and error till I had everything I wanted.

Lets start with the problem:

OK, so I have a Big room sized as an amplifier cone, all with hard surfaces, but then with a bottom cut on the back that leads to another big room.

Then on the bottom room, I have a change form 3 to 6 meters in hight, asymetric and in the middle of the room, right where the big and bass eating sofa will be placed.

Things do not seem easy.

So lets start by the Bottom Room, the living room with a bass propagation problem and a excessive treble at the rear issue:

I love movies, so my buy was an LG 65" LCD 3D TV.... that consumes almost all available space between the entry door and the fireplace... right in front of the extendible sofa with chaise-long...perfect.

Managing the AV system is an HarmanKardon AVR355 7.1 system. Very involving and warmed sound amp.
The HK355 then feeds the central, front and rear channels to a Bose Acoustimass system. I know there are a lot of haters for the BOSE acoustimass system out there, but bare in mind this was chosen after several tests for an even distribution of sound...hence the usage of the JEWEL dual Cubes instead of the single cubes.
This then leaves the middle channel to a pair of brilliant B&W RockSolid speakers.

This builds a basic and respectable 7.1 system capable of handling most frequencies... but no earthquake bass.
So another Subwoofer was added. After several tries ranging from a kef 1000.2 to a custom made 10", and locating every possible place on the room, I decided to reinforce the pure bass with a B&W ASW500, and place it pointing the sofa and in the middle of the room, right under the 3mts to 6mts ceiling high transition.

Everything seemed perfect, however, listening to music at the dining table at the back of the room (on the 6mts high ceiling section), sound seemed brittle and unbalanced... I tamed it down a bit by removing volume on the rear channel, but then that lost the detail on 7.1 movies every time something was coming in from behind!
It was clear that High-Low bass from the Bose acoustimass sub was not passing the sofa and having pointed the B&W rock solids to the middle of the sofa, the mid's where not propagating outside that area.
SO, I grabbed an excellent NAD302, fed it to the pre-out output on the HK355 for the middle channel and then managed a prodigious pair of Castle Acoustics Knight5 for it to drive.

Placing the Knights was easy too... right where the room grows from 3mts to 6mts, slightly towards the 6mts area.

Conclusion? a clean, perfect sound that, after some tweaking got balanced across the full range from the low 32hz to the higher frequencies.
The listening experience is prime in the sofa, but very good everywhere in the room, the sound image and detail is amazing, and it's clear that the BOSE system can handle voice channels very well, but they are eclipsed with easy by the B&W RockSolid and the amazing Castle Acoustics.

So schematics for the geeks:

So the trick to make the BOSE system bearable (yes I know they are expensive and not brilliant, but they are very powerfull for the size and allow me to distribute sound better than a single Kef EGG and less open than a bipolar setup... believe-me I' have them all and tried them all) the trick... do not allow them ever to go under 200Hz... on only they sound fuzzy, you can also burn them up. 

Again, the trick to make the acoustimass fake Subwoofer (it is actually a resonance box with 2 internal, very stiff, 6" woofers that either blow at the same time for a lower frequency response, of individually for a mid-bass range)... is not to drive it below 80Hz... yes it can do that, but it is not the comfort zone and it is also pointless if you have a big room with a bigger sofa in front of it... so just allow it to work the 80hz to the 160hz zone and he will be happy as a kid in xmas.

So pure bass that makes the earthquake in the movie a thing of reality in your room: Welcome to B&W ASW500. I chose this because with a 10" long-throw front faced driver, fed by a internal 70W amp. Unlike most designs I tested (down firing designs), this front firing model with a down firing resonance amplifier is the best choice for the current furniture setup.
This sends most of the powerfull soundwave directly into the sofa, and the eco on the living room is the resonance output effect, minimizing the HUMMM effect that was so obvious with the down-firing designs. This beast is XOvered to work the 30 to 80Hz range.

So we have covered 30 to 80Hz, then 80 to 160Hz and then 200Hz to 20KHz. The Jewels Dual Cube allow for distribution, making the sound fill the room without the need to pump the volume up, avoiding high pitch echoes and uncomfortable listening spots.

Yes.... that leaves a gap on the 160hz to 200hz range... but fear no more... B&W is here. The RockSolids are a thing of wonder.... product of a disagreement between the 2 major partners at B&W - back then, the engineer was trying to experiment new materials with the standard designs while the artist was not happy with that and was pointing investment towards new case designs more on the "sound furniture style".... they split and the engineer decided to create RockSolid Sounds, and eager to try new materials, experimented on this model creating a 150W capable wonder. They then buried their "tomahawks" and fused the 2 companies together. This design fathered today's DM1 series... however it is far more ugly and that is why I like it... the ugly part is the result of an old design sound box that server the engineering purpose. Consequence? The Rock Solids sound better than the beautiful DM1 they fathered.
These things can work form 75hz to 20kHz! however, the physical limitation of a small driver putting out big quantities of air is clear and that is why a good Sub is over 8" big. So they are XOver at 120Hz to the 20Khz limit.

We are then left with the room side and weird geometry solution. While B&W where fighting over the external design of their speakers, trying to build "sound furniture", at Castle, they've always bee there. Every speaker is made from natural wood, carved by artisans. They also have a Dual Pipe technology, that channels air through several wooden compartments on the speakers body (much like a exhaust muffler, only sophisticated and matured to perfection... they don't sound good... they sound really really good! In practice, the speaker is a true 3 way design, but each mid and mid-low driver has it's own compartment and sound pipe to work the resonance down and up the speaker doesn’t sound... it's like it sings instead.
They are connected to the award winning NAD 302 and the result is a very composed and warm sound.
These are not crossed over... the NAD receives a pre-amp bypass from the AVR and amplifies it, then the internal XOvers on the speaker will split the high, mid and mid-low and allow the resonance pipes to work their magic.

The result is a very balanced output, across all the frequency range.. and qith the NAD running tone-defeat and the Harman-Kardon too, I have literally no distortion up to the 0DB resistance limit on the HK... sure that by then the B&W rock solids cones are almost jumping out of their structure, but the castles compensate whatever they lose to low frequencies and it is almost imperceptible.

Some pictures of the living room:
 Here you can see the LG Tv, under it, you can see the custom made cabinet for the amps and the acoustimass bass module. On both corners an center on the ceiling line you can see the Jewel Dual Cubes placed to distribute sound as even as possible.

Here in detail, the Jewel Dual Cube angles

Here are details on the HK AVR355 and the NAD, together with the Bose Acoustimass bass module

 The brilliant B&W RockSolids can be seen here in detail, and the 2 pictures bellow show them on the corners of the image, pointing to the sofa.

At the rear of the room, you can see the other jewel cubes in an elevated, pointing angled down position... and also the difference in hight that that part of the room has.

Now exactly where the room changes to a higher ceiling, I've placed the castles and the ASW500, see?

 ... and again here...

 And to finish, the 2 beauties:


And that's it... the Living room is done and it is perfect. There where a lot of spares form the tests but I have other rooms I can use them in :) .

So Part 1 is done... next, Part 2 - The Cinema and Game Room... where I will have to deal with disco style amplification and the so needed NO distortions and excellent sound image, personal demand.