The needle drops and the voice rings out. “Dearly Beloved,” it says and you close your eyes as it hits you in perfect clarity, rolling like honey from the speakers. “We are gathered here today to get through this thing called life. Electric word, life – it means forever and that’s a mighty long time but I’m here to tell you there’s something else …” You continue to listen as you sink back into your most comfortable chair sitting alone in the proverbial acoustic sweet spot and when the beat hits, you let it all go – the stress, the anger, the frustration, and you lose yourself in the music. For a little while, there is nothing else.
In the last couple of years, vinyl and album listening has become increasingly popular. Not satisfied with single song downloads or random streaming services, today’s audiophiles are longing for a more complete music experience. They want the full album phenomenon and the best place to enjoy it is in your own designated “listening room.”
Whether you dream of sitting down with your beverage of choice and taking in the classics such as Prince’s “Purple Rain,” Boston’s genius self-titled debut, or the blues staple “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis, or perhaps relax with the poetry of Iron & Wine’s “Beast Epic’’ and Josh Ritter’s “So Runs the World Away” or something a little more socially conscious like “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye, the best place to make it happen is in your very own music wonderland. Your listening room can be a grandiose cathedral of sound or a simple out-of-the-way nook. The important point is the experience and a well-thought-out listening space can help reset your mood after a hard day, quell your anxiety about an upcoming ordeal, or simply quash the negativity that is drowning the world day in and day out. If you have enough space, in your private listening room you can truly “dance like nobody’s watching.”
A well-thought-out listening room can act as a transporter, taking you to a world filled with your favorite tunes.
Setting up a listening room may seem simple at first; you have a record player and a set of speakers, you have a chair, so what more is there? Well, these are important components certainly but the quality of your sound system means very little if your room setup is found wanting. If you want to catch every little intricate part of “Foreplay / Longtime” by Boston, you’re going to have to do some thinking. Here are some tips and tricks to make sure you’re getting the most out of your albums.
1. Pick the right room. If possible, it would be best to avoid a room with a low ceiling, closet nook, fireplace, or large windows. One of the goals is to avoid gratuitous sound reflection and odd angles. For this reason, wooden floors should also be avoided. For most of us though, space is at a premium so it may be impossible to avoid the aforementioned pitfalls; but each can be easily mitigated by adding soft materials and décor elements to aid in sound absorption. For example, adding a plush rug and window coverings or even carpet will help in sound control. For ceilings, walls and corners, installing soundproofing material can also make a difference. (Bookshelves filled with books on your walls can also be a boon for sound absorption.)
2. Room size matters. You don’t want huge, powerful speakers in a small room and you don’t want tiny speakers in a large room. Tailor your speaker choice to your room size and adjust them accordingly. For a large room, speakers should be toed slightly toward the listener and toed slightly outward in a small space.
3. The Equilateral Triangle is king. When determining speaker placement, always consider where the listener will be seated. The goal is for sound from each speaker to reach the listener at the same time. To do this, an equilateral triangle should be created in which the listener’s ears are the same distance from each speaker as the speakers are to each other. This can be harder to accomplish in smaller areas and may require some adjusting. In most cases, getting it “close enough” will work; still, every person is different so don’t be afraid to experiment with seating and speaker placement to find the best personal result. Get close to a perfect equilateral triangle and build upon that placement. Places to avoid for seating are corners and other “build-up” areas such as near the far wall opposite the speakers. (If you really want to get into it, mathematical equations do exist that will tell you perfect placement of seating and soundproofing materials, but not everyone’s a sound engineer.)
4. Invest in solid equipment. A good listening room doesn’t need the best of the best; if set up correctly, adequate equipment can do the job. When choosing a vinyl record player, avoid any all-in-one models with non-adjustable tonearms – these can sometimes damage your vinyl. (Not to mention that the speakers associated with them are generally subpar.) Instead, spring for a more professional model and couple it with an adequate amplifier. As far as speakers go, as mentioned earlier, make sure to pay attention to the size of the room and hunt for the correct size and output. Think about including technology such as Bluetooth in your amplifier/player selection to accommodate those times when headphones are needed.
5. Have fun with the décor. Well, you’re all set up and positioned and now comes the fun part – making it totally your own! Think about finding ways to display (face-out) your favorite vinyl or highlight what’s playing on the turntable. Adding bookcases and books can create an environment of complexity and sophistication (as well as help with sound absorption). Think about your seat. Will you go retro? Will it be a single chair or a comfy couch for a multi-listener experience (or napping)? Throw some pop art on the walls, music posters, or display your own wide variety of instruments. Make sure to include record storage, of course.
A well-thought-out listening room can act as a transporter, taking you to a world filled with your favorite tunes. It can put you firmly in the realm of the music where no nuance is missed and everything is appreciated. Don’t undertake its construction hastily. With a scientific eye and a hint of style, you’ll be able to hear Ringo’s accidental shoe squeak recorded in “A Day in the Life.”
Did you catch it?