Music from a farther room
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  1. #1
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    Music from a farther room



    Origins



    Much of the content of the first few pages of this thread was originally created in AudioEnz, which prior to a failed forum software upgrade was a beautiful place to be.


    The journey continues.








    .

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    Re: Music from a farther room

    March 2009


    The story of course begins well before March 2009 but it was around this period I discovered my love for really big panel loudspeakers. Until this time I’d been on a diet of conventional dynamic speakers – both bookshelf and floor standers including KEF C30’s, Polk Audio Monitor Series 2, KEF Cresta 2, Mission 780 & 780SE’s, Quad 12L, Totem Acoustic Hawks to name a few.





    Photo 1: Quad 12L speakers replaced Mission 780 series



    Photo 2: Totem Acoustic Hawks replaced Quad 12L speakers. The Totems excelled at vocals and Jazz



    The audition and subsequent purchase of Eminent Technologies EFT-8B planar speakers was revelatory. Here was a speaker that was very reasonably priced [about US$2.5k] yet offered near full range performance combined with a massive soundstage.



    Photo 3: Perhaps the best value for money speakers I've ever purchased the Eminent Technologies LFT-8B planar


    Combined with a Unison Research Unico integrated source and fronted with Cary Audio CD-306 SACD professional music effortlessly flowed with touch of pleasing warmth. Equipment photo below on a SolidTech Rack of Silence reference rack and wired up with Nordost and Ecosse cables.


    Photo 4: The Unison Research Unico Integrated, nice warmth but ultimately not incisive enough


    Around this time I was also trying to figure out what my next "super integrated" amplifier purchase might be. The final answer came in the form of amplification from Denmark - the Gryphon Diablo, but not before cycling through a pile of other fine integrated amplifiers including the Jeff Rowland C-500 Continuum and the Abbingdon Music Research AMR AM-77.



    Photo 5: The Jeff Rowland produced amazing HiFi, but I just could not connect with the music



    Photo 6: The AMR AM-77 produced wonderful vocals and piano but was not the last word in resolution or bass reproduction



    Trying to find an integrated amplifier that was capable of producing intoxicating music - without compromise to HiFi reproduction proved much more difficult than expected!




  3. #3
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    Re: Music from a farther room

    March 2010



    Just one year later just about everything had changed in my system.

    First to be replaced was the equipment rack - the SolidTech Rack of Silence (reference version). I made the mistake of acting on lots of favorable reviews when I purchased this rack.

    The Unison Research integrated amplifier had been replaced with a state of the art Gryphon Audio Diablo. I also started experimenting with ESL speakers; notably Kingsound (China) King and Prince II speakers






    New amplification from Cary Audio; the SLP-05 pre-amp and CAD120S power amplifier offered great insight into music.





    I was also having fun comparing direct types of planar speaker. Here the Eminent Techs are shown with Kingsound King electrostatic speakers at the rear.




    I was also interested in comparisons between high quality tube amplification (Cary Audio) and high quality solid state amplification (Gryphon audio).






    The Kingsound Kings were subsequently replaced with Kingsound Prince speakers which whilst more reliable could not offer much in the way of bass response leaving music sounding a bit thin.





    Around this time I learnt one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learn in audio – that loudspeaker location and placement is everything.

    Later in the year I moved house and it was an opportunity to review again equipment and for the first time create a dedicated audio room. The proposed room was however small (at 5m x 3m) and thus the opportunity arose to seek and find some high quality stand mount speakers. After an exhaustive search I settled on a virtually unknown brand – Raidho Acoustics. I was the first person in Singapore to purchase this brand.

  4. #4
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    Re: Music from a farther room

    Music from a farther room


    Just 8529km from Wellington sits my listening room, hence the unimaginative even if technically correct title of this thread – Music from a farther room.

    Like most audiophiles I spent many years ignoring or otherwise taking for granted the importance of setting up a decent space in which to appreciate music. In naivety the only upgrades I ever imagined were related to hardware – bigger, better, more expensive etc. Naive, because I didn’t then appreciate that much of the sonic benefit derived from more expensive hardware was to a large extent being masked by poor room acoustics.

    J. Gordon Holt once opined that “It is probably safe to say that 95% of the systems in audiophile homes are being degraded by a bad listening environment. Sound waves reflect from walls, floors, and ceilings, reaching our ears milliseconds after the direct sounds from the speakers and smearing those sounds. Echoes reverberate back and forth between parallel reflective surfaces, adding more smear and colouring the sound with spurious brightness or resonating bass hangovers. And reflections from side walls are heard as false stereo direction cues, impairing the accuracy with which a system reproduces instrumental locations.”

    What then constitutes a good listening room? What is ideal and what is practical? The ideal according to Gordon would have brick or cinderblock walls, a concrete floor, and a concrete ceiling. Any flexibility in the room boundaries will cost you some deep bass, because some of the sound-wave pressure is lost through the flexing of boundary surfaces. The room would be symmetrical in shape, relative to an imaginary line running from the middle of the listening area to midway between the speakers. All room-boundary surfaces would be non-parallel. Why? Standing-wave frequencies are distance-dependent. With non-parallel boundaries, distances vary across each boundary. This broadens and smoothes out the resulting peaks and dips. The ceiling, for example, would slope downwards towards one end of the room the side walls would converge towards the listening area, and the end walls would slant away from one another as they approached the floor or ceiling. Obviously, wall tilting is easier to do with concrete or frame than with cinderblock or brick. The ceiling and floor would be heavily absorptive, with thick carpeting and under-liner underfoot, and efficient acoustical panels above. The walls, too, would be heavily absorptive, with deadening material covering 100% of the wall surface in the listening half, and 50% of the wall surface at the loudspeaker end. It is important to note that just like all things in audio, there is no real consensus on ideal listening room construction, perhaps in part to the fact that the “ideal” does not exist.
    Photos of my system and room (at time of writing) are below.




    Photo 1: Peeking into the audio room, view from doorway.




    Photo 2: The special Acoustic door. 3 inches thick with parameter and drop seals.




    Photo 3: The red listening chair. Warm hot blooded music?



    Photo 4: The completely fabulous Raidho Acoustics C1 loudspeaker




    Photo 5: The equipment rack. Cary Audio & Gryphon Audio Designs (Denmark) amplification




    My listening room is not ideal but at least upholds some of ideals opined above. The walls are brick and plaster, the flooring is solid concrete with timber strip overlay and the room is symmetrical in shape. I was not able to manage a concrete ceiling and I’m not sure I could relax in my listening chair knowing that several tons of concrete might one day fall on my head! In its place I have acoustic ceiling tiles which are 30mm thick high density fiberglass with a noise reduction coefficient of 0.8. This is followed by a second high density 100mm Rockwool layer. The window (windows are always problematic) at the front of the room was replaced with a double glazed type. This was more about keeping extraneous noises out rather than improving internal acoustics. The window was internally covered with a floor to ceiling acoustic curtain which was imported from the USA. While not shown in the photos a thick floor rug fills the space between the listening seat and the speakers. In order to seal the room properly a three inch thick acoustic door was added. The door is essentially made up of solid timber plates with two inch acoustic Rockwool infill. Raven parameter and heavy duty drop seals are incorporated. The room is served with three dedicated 20-amp circuits which take their feed directly from the main electrical panel. The room is also served with a dedicated earth.


    SMALL ROOM PROBLEMS

    There are lots of challenges with small audio rooms! It is common knowledge among those who’ve tried to find out, that the ideal listening room is rectangular and fairly large. The reason for the larger size isn’t so you can put your speakers farther apart, though that is beneficial, it is so that there is more space between your speakers and the reflective surfaces of your room. In a small room, wall reflections alter what you hear from your speakers and always in a negative way. A second challenge which was certainly relevant for my room is one of echo. This “ringing” quality is known as “flutter echo,” and if clearly audible can defeat the best efforts to produce decent sound. Flutter echo is due to the successive reflection of (generally) higher frequencies back and forth between flat, untreated, opposing walls. It may be cured either by damping those wall surfaces or by doing something to break up their flat surfaces—making the reflections less directional by dispersing them. The best solution is to provide the room with a reasonable balance of dispersion and absorption.

    To cure the issues in my room absorption proved more effective than diffusion. With assistance from the design team at GIK Acoustics the solution comprised of Tri-traps for the room corners, Monster bass trap for the rear wall and three absorption panels for each side wall. Further panels are concealed in the ceiling and behind the curtain. A couple of the absorption panels where nicely dressed in a package called Art Panel, see GIK Acoustics ArtPanel for more details.

    The room design follows a diluted “live-end”, “dead-end” philosophy; diluted because the prospect of completely deadening a portion of the room was not aesthetically pleasing but more importantly it has been my experience that rooms which employ this heavy absorption sounded a mite too dead for my taste. I won’t bore you with the measurements or the math but the room is broadly divided into thirds with the speaker’s approx. 1/3rd (of the room length) from the front wall and the listening seat approx. 1/3rd of the room length away from the rear wall. This means the listening position might be considered by some close to “near field” which for small rooms is often advisable, leading to improved perceived soundstage depth and solidity of the central image.



    Photo 6: View from front wall to rear wall


    The room continues to be a work in progress as I experiment with different treatment types and placements.



    Reference: Holt, J. Gordon (1983) Stereophile, The Listening Room: The Forgotten Factor, March 3rd Ed.

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  6. #5
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    Re: Music from a farther room

    Acoustics in my small audio room – Update One



    “You’ve got the sound system to die for but a listening room that’s killing you.” Rives Audio


    “The room is the first thing we start with and the last thing we think about.” Unknown




    Photo 1: The equipment rack with acoustic treatments from GIK Acoustics



    This update is a continuation of my thoughts and experiments in setting up a good listening environment within the confines of a small listening room measuring approximately 5m x 3m x 2.8m (L,W,H). Philosophically the room design is LEDE with the speaker end being moderately diffuse and the listening end employing absorption and additional diffusion.

    In my opening post I mentioned that one of the greatest challenges I faced in trying to derive positive acoustic values from my small room was flutter echo and this was resolved using absorption panels from GIK acoustics. However, flutter echo is far from the only challenge one faces in optimizing a small room. In my room linearity of mid-bass (or lack of) also raised its ugly head and this post contributes my thoughts together with some theory and measurements around this problem and the on-going solution thereof.


    THE MID-BASS PROBLEM

    Recollect that my loudspeakers were approx. 1/3rd of the way into the room and my listening position about 2/3rd into the room. While one rule of thumb suggests that this should be optimal for best bass response in my room this did not prove to be the case. Listening tests over an extended period using a mixture of recordings with a constant bass note of around 60-70Hz showed unequal pressure distribution caused by standing waves as evidenced by moving the listening chair forward and backward and observing heavier and leaner bass energy as a result.

    While it is possible to find the critical optimal position of the listening chair by ear using such constant bass recordings I felt it important to undertake a number of relatively simple in room measurements to validate what my ears were telling me.

    From the outset it needs to be said that one should expect unevenness in bass at some point(s) in the low and mid bass frequency range due to room modes. Room modes are natural resonances that occur in every enclosed space, and the frequency of each resonance is directly related to the room’s dimensions. For example, a room 16 feet long has a mode at 35 Hz because walls that far apart provide a natural resonance at 35 Hz. Additional modes occur at multiples of 35 Hz because those frequencies also resonate in the same space. Wall spacing that accommodates one cycle of a 35 Hz wave also fits two cycles of 70 Hz, three cycles of 105 Hz, and so forth. When you play a musical note having the same pitch as a natural resonance of the room, that note will sound louder and have a longer decay time than other notes. Of course, this is undesirable because some notes are emphasized more than others, and the longer decay times reduce clarity. Therefore, room modes are important because they directly affect the character of a room. Although room resonances can be reduced by adding acoustic treatment, in particular bass traps, they cannot be eliminated entirely.


    CALCULATING ROOM MODES

    If you don’t want to do the basic math Real Traps offers an on-line program that assists here; simply plug in your room dimensions into the “Real Traps ModeCalc” (note 1) and a plot will be generated showing the resonant modes graphically. Chart 1 below shows the results for my room. Input was in equivalent feet.



    Chart 1: Calculated Room Modes for Authors Small Listening Room


    As evidenced above the smaller the room the greater the challenge in distributing room resonance modes and bunching or coincidence of modes is a result of the room height and room width being somewhat similar in measure. The audible unevenness in the bass (earlier observed) can be explained by height and width modes piling at 60Hz and 120Hz to create peaks in the response at these frequencies.

    It is widely held that the “ideal” situation is one where modes are evenly distributed across the lower frequency range. (note 2)


    INITIAL IN ROOM FREQUENCY RESPONSE

    The frequency response plot of my “original” seating position is shown in Chart 2 below. This is followed in Chart 3 by smoothed SPL plot using 1/3rd Octave test tones from 20Hz to 20 KHz.


    Chart 2: Frequency sweep with listening seat and speakers in original position



    Chart 3: Smoothed response plot of listening seat and speakers in original position


    The jagged lines you see in the “non smoothed” graph are the result of normal comb filtering which occurs in nearly all listening rooms. This plot shows peaks at 120Hz and 150Hz which not surprisingly are harmonics derived from a fundamental of 35Hz and room coincidence at 60Hz. Overall reasonable linearity can be seen above 200Hz but clearly remedial action is needed address the significantly greater energy in the lower octaves relative to the treble.

    In my next update I will share what steps I took to address this problem.


    Note 1: See RealTraps - ModeCalc
    Note 2: Information sourced from Robert Harley, The Complete Guide to High End Audio. Other reference material drawn from F. Alton Everest, Master Handbook of Acoustics and resources and from Rives Audio, see Links

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    Re: Music from a farther room

    May 2, 2011




    Acoustics in my small audio room – Update Two



    This update is a continuation of my thoughts and experiments in setting up a good listening environment within the confines of a small listening room measuring 5m x 3m x 2.8m (L,W,H). Philosophically the room design is LEDE with the speaker end being moderately diffuse (and reflective) and the listening end employing absorption.

    Recollect that my loudspeakers were approximately 1/3rd of the way into the room and my listening position about 2/3rd into the room. While one rule of thumb suggests that this should be optimal for best bass response in my room this did not prove to be the case. Listening tests over an extended period using a mixture of recordings with a constant bass note of around 60-70Hz showed unequal pressure distribution caused by standing waves as evidenced by moving the listening chair forward and backward and observing heavier and leaner bass energy as a result.

    While it is possible to find the critical optimal position of the listening chair by ear using such constant bass recordings I felt it important to undertake a number of relatively simple in room measurements to validate what my ears were telling me.

    The initial set of measurements can be found in my March update.

    Using 1/3rd Octave test tones sweeping from 20Hz to 20KHz I set about moving the listening chair to the point in the room which gave the smoothest bass. Note here the priority is on listening chair position not on loudspeaker position which is tweaked later. After significant repositioning of first the chair then the speakers (with tweaks to both as the day wore on) the positioning outcome is illustrated in Figure 1 below.


    Figure 1: Chair and loudspeaker positioning


    The revised response curves are illustrated in Charts 1& 2 below. By moving the listening chair closer to the rear wall and moving the loudspeakers further into the room (around 2 meters from the front wall) a dramatic measured improvement can be seen particularly in the problematic prominent resonant frequencies arena. Overall the frequency response is now broadly within a 10dB range across the spectrum, a big improvement over the original positioning which at less than 200Hz saw amplitude swings of more than 25dB. Audibly the evenness and the intelligibility of the bass have taken a giant step forward.

    Chart 1: Frequency sweep with listening seat and speakers in revised position


    Chart 2: Smoothed response plot of listening seat and speakers in revised position


    REVERBERATIONS

    Reverberation time is the time it takes for in-room sound to decay to inaudibility. The most common (but certainly not the only) measure is RT60 which looks at the time required for a direct sound to decay by 60dB.

    It is not necessarily a case of low reverberation time is best. In my larger listening room downstairs reverb time not surprisingly measures much greater than my small listening room and one benefit of this is that one senses the music enveloping them i.e. seemingly wrapped around the listening position. Too short a reverb time leaves music sounding unnatural and too long a reverb time leaves music sounding confused and muddy.

    Reverberation times can and will vary across the frequency range depending on the size of room. The objective here is to ensure decay is even across the frequency spectrum without favouring certain ranges. From the measurement point of view one tends to ignore measurements below 200Hz as in small rooms the measurement is flawed by the energy cumulated in room modes. The RT30 measurement of my room can be found in Chart 3 below:


    Chart 3: Reverberation time (RT 30) for the room


    Reverb times can be altered with acoustic treatment and work continues on optimal placement of absorption and diffusion panels. At time of writing placements are shown in Figure 2 below.



    Figure 2: Room treatment placement

  8. #7
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    Re: Music from a farther room

    28 August 2011



    Hmm, it has been a while since I last posted and there have been a few exciting discoveries…

    The first is the Sanders Sound Systems Magtech Stereo Power Amplifier which now officially joins the inventory. It in my humble opinion a remarkable product at any price, but at US$5k it is a steal.




    Photo 1: The Sanders Sound Systems Magtech Stereo power amplifier mounted on Stillpoints


    On first glance there is nothing on the outside of the Magtech to suggest that anything special lurks within. Indeed cosmetically the Magtech is quite unremarkable (even if pleasingly simple) and entirely lacks the butch machismo expected of muscle bound amplification. Many audiophiles like to have their equipment look as they expect it to sound and in this respect listeners really are in for a ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ experience.

    From the first disc the attributes of the Magtech are clear. The Magtech sounds solid, powerful and extremely dynamic. Bass is tight and firmly controlled, yet full bodied and rich, while the treble is airy but focussed and clean. There is nothing sweet, mellifluous or euphonic about the way which the Magtech reproduces music, rather the Magtech appears to be a model of neutrality wearing clarity and dynamics very much on its sleeve.



    Photo 2: The revised equipment rack. Magtech preferred shelf to floor


    Then there’s the new Nola Contender loudspeakers which go all the way down to the low 20Hz range in my room. Thankfully the room is designed to cope, because now I get to rumble with pipe organs. These are presently under review.



    Photo 3: The Nola Contender Loudspeakers next to my Raidho Acoustic loudspeakers




    Photo 4: The Nola Contender Loudspeakers



    By way of postscript the Contenders didn’t last long in my system. While I loved their reach down into the low octaves I could not stand the dis-jointed bass – with the speaker sounding at times like each bass woofer was doing its own thing.

  9. #8
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    Re: Music from a farther room

    September 11, 2011



    While waiting to receive an order for more diffusion products I thought I’d have a play with floor rugs. Many audiophiles have written to me saying that audio rooms need carpets or thick rugs on the floor to reduce unwanted reflections.

    To be honest earlier attempts at introducing carpet to the listening room either produced mixed or inconclusive results.

    Theoretically, carpet should indeed reduce reflection and it will absorb high frequencies and some of the mid-range – but of course will do nothing for the bass. I guess the question is – are all reflections bad and this for me is possibly what underpins my inconclusive results? There are instances, particularly with live recording of instruments like guitars and violins where I feel that slight reflections off the floor can give a more natural reproduction and a stronger illusion of the event being right there in the room.

    Experiments continue and some updated photos are included below




    Photo 1: View from entry door way




    Photo 2: View from listening chair


    So, any opinions and experiences out there on floor coverings?

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    Re: Music from a farther room

    September 25, 2011



    Norse Series Jumpers have been added. Based on micro mono-filament technology – the same being utilized for the internal loudspeaker wiring – they are employed (in my system) in series and as an end point termination to my Nordost Heimdall speaker cables. These were recommended by the local Nordost dealer and after hearing the benefits during the dealers audition I jumped (pun intended) at the opportunity.




    Photo 1: Nordost Norse Jumpers added to existing Nordost Speaker cable is the bizz…

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    Re: Music from a farther room

    November 6, 2011



    Acoustics in my small audio room – Update Three



    This update is a continuation of my thoughts and experiments in setting up a good listening environment within the confines of a small listening room measuring 5m x 3m x 2.8m (L,W,H). Philosophically the room design is LEDE with the speaker end being moderately diffuse (and reflective) and the listening end employing absorption.

    While generally pleased with the results to date which have seen giant strides in flattening frequency response, reductions in slap echo and audible improvements to the evenness and the intelligibility of the bass I have felt that more progress could be made and this update serves as a record to that end.

    At time of writing my existing room treatment placement is shown in Figure 1 below.






    REFLECTION vs. ABSORPTION AT FIRST REFLECTION POINT

    My endless tinkering generated from untamed curiosity naturally led to questions on what type of treatment should be employed at the first reflection point? Note here that I am focused on the reflection point closest to each loudspeaker. A quick literature review on the topic of reflection vs. absorption vs. diffusion at the point of first reflection shows strong support for absorption but protagonists exist for reflection (no treatment at all) and diffusion. It needs to be stated for the record that my focus here is acoustic treatment for small rooms and large rooms play by very different rules.

    Moreover, observations that follow should be read in conjunction with information provided in earlier updates and noting that the bass trap which resides under the diffusor will impact the sub 500Hz range.

    In order to arrive at my own conclusions on the topic I embarked on a series of experiments which incorporated listening tests, LEDR tests and finally measurements.

    First up was the listening tests which compared reflection (no treatment, brick, plaster and painted wall), absorption (GIK 242 panel) and diffusion (DIY 2D diffuser with bass trap base).

    What follows are my observations.



    Photo 1: Close up photo of the diffusion panel


    REFLECTION vs. ABSORPTION

    This was an easy win for Absorption. Versus no treatment, absorption at the first reflection point produced a far superior central image with greater solidarity and focus. Furthermore, not only was there produced soundstage wider and deeper but instrumental localization was light years better. The improved focus also underpinned observations around resolution with micro-details being bought out more from the otherwise cluttered and homogenized mix. Bass too was also improved with far greater control and more realistic decays being observed on good orchestral recordings.

    Were there any benefits to not treating the first reflection point? I observed two of note. First, while the central vocal image was more solid with absorption the more diffuse image rendered via reflection came across as more airy and live. Live recordings seemed more alive and more enveloping which with the right software was beneficial. Second, less amplifier power was needed to achieve the same SPL at the seating position. I was very surprised how much absorption attenuates perceptions of loudness or put another way – how much more amplifier power is needed when absorption is introduced.

    Overall the benefits of absorption far outweighed those of reflection – though I can understand personal preference will play a role here.


    ABSORPTION vs. DIFFUSION

    Versus diffusion, absorption at the first reflection point once again produced a better defined central image with marginally better ambience also being noted. However, absorptions benefits seemed to end there because diffusion appeared (strangely) to offer overall better resolution combined with superior air in and around instruments and actors. Despite the benefits absorption created with image – the image observed via diffusion simply seemed more life-like, more real and whilst some dimensionality was lost this did not hinder either the articulation or the comprehension of vocals.
    Overall the listening test nod went to the use of diffusion at the first reflection point which admittedly sets me at odds with literature and I dare say to the audiophile thought collective to.

    Time then for some more tests….



    Photo 2: Diffusion panel with bass trap underneath


    LEDR TESTS

    Like most audiophiles (I’m guessing) I have a quiver full of Test CD’s including those from Stereophile [Test CD2], XLO [Test & Burn in CD], Chesky [Ultimate Demonstration Disc] and Sheffield Labs [The Sheffield / A2TB Test Disc]. The most useful disc to date has been from Nordost via its “System Setup and Tuning Disc”. On this disc Nordost includes what I have come to consider as one of the most enlightening, instructive and valuable of speaker / room interaction tests – LEDR. LEDR™ stands for Listening Environment Diagnostic Recording, a test to subjectively evaluate the accuracy of stereo image reproduction. LEDR test tones are a series of computer generated tones created by EASI to assess speaker positioning and room interaction.

    “Lateral” and “Over” tests can provide valuable insights on important set up questions such as are my speakers correctly spaced apart, positioned and toed and are reflections from side walls or ceilings adversely impacting the image?
    Test results showed here that diffusion at the first reflection point created a smoother motion both on lateral and over tests – with the left / right (lateral) in particular having greater symmetry and evenness.

    In my next post I will provide some measured results for the room.

 

 
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