How to Build a Hi-end Listening Room, Part 2

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marantz_series_10We’ve talked about speakers and the importance of proper speaker placement, as well as acoustics and dimensions of the space itself in our first installment. Part 2 delves into what drives the sound.

The Components

Amplification is at the heart of your system, driving sound to each channel.  Unlike your Home Theater’s AV Receiver that houses an all-in-one pre-amp, amplifier and processor for surround sound, hi-end audio systems have dedicated amplifiers, often one per channel. A more sophisticated set-up will have 2-way or 3-way amps that support each speaker. A pre-amp serves as the input device. It will convert signals from all audio sources such as a turntable, tuner and streaming devices to the signal that the amp wants. It’s imperative that the amplifier be matched to the specifications of the speaker to provide optimal output. SoundVision can guide you through your choices and design to your preferences and budget.  One of our favorite audio lines is Marantz. They offer an impressive range of components and have recently launched a new line aimed at the serious music lover, the Premium 10 Series. The design and engineering of the 10 Series is extraordinary and an excellent choice for a hi-end listening space.

The Connections 

We know from setting up our home theater or media room that HDMI Cables are required to pass 4K. Audio has similar requirements and, like video, quality cables are recommended for a solid, clean connection.  That doesn’t always mean the most expensive, just of good quality and appropriately sized for the application. We can calculate the appropriate gauge cable that will deliver the necessary wattage to the speaker as required, based on the distance. For connectors, gold connectors are preferred over silver or other metallic and locking connectors are a good choice where equipment is not to be moved frequently.

Having clean and sufficient power is critical. Every system needs a name brand, purposely built, surge protector. Surge protection will filter out spikes and dips, removing artifacts from your power. Insufficient power can make the amplifiers put out harmonics that will “color” the sound and create distortion, producing an unclean sound.

The Critical Commissioning

Once the system has been designed and components selected, the next step is installation and commissioning. The system will be “tuned” to the room so that the room does not distort the sound.  As audio pros, we will test the room’s characteristics, reverb, etc.  We aim for a flat frequency response by adjusting equalization (EQ), gain structure and speaker placement.

The Content Controversy

“Old-School” tells us that a turntable’s needle against vinyl is the purest form of music. It can be argued that the harmonic distortion created introduces a mild alteration that is perceived as warmth. The pops and crackles the needle yields evoke a “vintage” sense that some find pleasing and authentic. However, according to Mark Slee of Facebook, “In terms of fidelity and accuracy of sonic reproduction, CDs outperform vinyl in significant ways. With that said, there are sonic artifacts and emotional attachments with vinyl that many people find pleasing. This creates a preference for vinyl – which some would describe as better, but this is a subjective quality as measured by the ear of the beholder.” With turntable sales up 16%, there’s apparently some ears out there that agree.

The higher the bit rate of the audio, the more accurate the audio. Analog is uncompressed and true to form. Overly processed audio, on the other hand, can mask or cancel parts of the music, eliminating the ability to hear everything as it was mastered.

All things being equal, the more information a format can transmit, the better the sound will be. For the best experience, the sound transmitted should pass through quality cabling and components and be listened to in a space that is purposefully designed to capture every nuance. Are you ready to hear what you’ve been missing? Let our team at SoundVision help design or retrofit your personal listening space and experience music as the artist intended.

Additional Resources:

What bitrate is needed to sound like analog FM?

Vinyl Vs CD/Mp3: Insights into Music Formats & the Metaphysics of Our Music

24/192 Music Downloads…and why they make no sense

Is the sound on vinyl records better than on CDs or DVDs?

Sony Music Goes Back to Vinyl Records

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