Enjoy the Music.com
The Absolute Sound
March 2010
The Last Listening Room
Editorial By Andy Quint

 

  At least I don’t have to turn off the heat. This is what I’m thinking, sitting in my new listening room.

Years before, my first dedicated audio space -- the first “listening room” that wasn’t also a bedroom or a living room -- was in the basement of a rented house. The furnace was in a corner and had to be silenced before each listening session. A No-Mahler-Between-Halloween-and-St. Patrick’s-Day rule was adopted specially for me. The drop in ambient temperature throughout the rest of the house during, say, the 80 minutes of the Resurrection Symphony was deemed unacceptable by others, specifically my wife. Not good for our two-year-old, she felt for some reason.

The listening room that followed, the one I called home for 24 years, was also in a basement. But this one had its own four walls and a substantial door, so there was no problem leaving the heat on throughout the Northeastern winter. It measured 19' by 11', with the loudspeakers firing down the long axis of the room. The ceiling height was all of 6' 7". I learned the hard way that Magnepan MG3.3’s probably were not the best speaker choice and found my way to shorter designs, eventually to two iterations of the Wilson WATT/Puppy system. I tweaked and experimented, caught the multichannel bug, and ended up with sound that brought me great pleasure. But I knew, I knew that the next room would be Nirvana.

Last spring, my wife and I acted on our long-time plan to leave the suburbs for downtown Philadelphia. We found a spacious condo in a lively, interesting neighborhood, with a view of the Ben Franklin Bridge. The place had a second master bedroom that would be my room, and I was psyched. There were two walk-in closets, one suitable for an office -- I could work on reviews just a few feet from my audio system -- and the other devoted to record storage. The main space was 15' x 15' and the ceiling rose to 10', higher in places. A rounded, floor-to-ceiling window with an appealing urban vista, brilliant sunlight streaming in during the day, took up most of one wall. Prior to relocating, I spent weekends building CD and LP shelving and had a sound-attenuating pad (a composite of mass-loaded vinyl and polyether foam) installed beneath the carpet to isolate the one boundary of the room contiguous with another unit in our building.

A week before we officially moved, I rented a truck and, with a brawny audio enthusiast friend, transported the equipment to our new home. It looked great; how would it sound?

It sounds wonderful. The best I’ve achieved in my decades as a card-carrying audiophile. Open, detailed, and involving, with both stereo and multichannel sources.

But.

While the sound overall is better than what I had before, mostly it’s different. I’m seated the same distance from the WATT/Puppy’s drivers as in the old room, but closer to the front plane of the speakers because they are farther apart. This is now very much a “near-field” listening experience, which Dave Wilson sanctions for W/Ps, but for me required a period of adjustment. The speakers have to be closer to the front wall; is there a tad less “air” and a trace of midbass bloat with certain pop recordings, compared to what I had before? I now sit on a substantial leather sofa that must double as a bed for guests is this affecting the performance of the rear surround speakers? Is the television mounted up too high? Well, maybe next time.

Stop right there. There will be no “next time.” My wife and I love this place and our intention is that when we leave one way or another, they’ll be carrying us out. This will be my last listening room. As with individual pieces of audio equipment, every domestic listening environment involves trade-offs, compromises, to use a word that once depressed me. Part of the maturation process for an audiophile is to develop an understanding that, as one’s skills as a critical listener become more refined, the ideal we are chasing moves ever farther away.

We must learn to embrace this truth as an inevitable aspect of our worthy hobby. We should find satisfaction in the face of our utterly predictable failure to achieve the absolute sound, and take delight in every listening room we occupy as if it’s our last.

 

Andy Quint 

 

 

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