A dedicated listening room is not a luxury for me, it's a necessity. I realize this is a luxurious necessity, but nonetheless it's a requirement for my job. Fortunately I have an understanding wife who has always encouraged me to improve my listening room given that I spend so much time in this room.
We moved into our house in April 2008, about six months after Computer Audiophile launched. My original listening room in the basement of this house evolved over the years through several cosmetic upgrades such as fresh paint and new carpet. I didn't make any major changes to the space in ten years. In August 2018 I started thinking about changing this 14.5' x 17.5' x 6.5' (LxWxH) room to get better sound. After many days of research I admitted defeat because my ceiling height was always going to be 6.5'. I just wasn't willing to dig out the existing basement floor and underpin the foundation to increase this height.
The other option was to move my listening room into the attic space above the main level of the house. This space was previously finished but needed some structural changes and a technology upgrade. Given the dimensions of the attic are 33' 9" x 13' 9" x 9', I was willing to go for it and move my listening room. This move started as a small project but quickly turned into a complete refinishing of the space with new paint, new carpet, walls removed, railings put up, fiber optic cable installed, and a new bathroom. Doesn't everyone have a bathroom in their listening rooms? :~)
What follows is part one of my listening room transformation with pictures and measurements. In part two I will install the acoustic absorption and diffusion panels and conduct further measurements of the room. I will also do some fine tuning to eke out all the sound quality I can get.
Before moving to the new listening room I needed to have all the demolition and reconstruction done by a local contractor. I took on the task of running two fiber optic cables, one cat 7 cable, and moving my electrical sub panel from the old room to the new room.
I couldn't get the contractor to the house right away, so I did the wiring first.
All my computer network components are housed in the basement near my old listening room. This is because the fiber optic cable from CenturyLink goes into the basement for its 1 Gbps up/down internet service and this is a good space for noisy NAS units and computers to reside without disturbing anyone. The challenge was to get a wired network, and wireless access point, into the new listening room without tearing up the house or running cables through the brick walls outside.
My house was built with plaster and lathe walls in 1941. It's a modest middle class abode with neat coved ceilings, original wood floors, and most of its original features. I just couldn't tear it apart, to run wires, in good conscience (more on this later). Thus, I invited my wife's electrician cousin over to help me fish wires from the south east corner of the basement to the north west corner of the attic.
I opted to run two fiber optic cables and a single category 7 copper cable from the main network switch in the basement to the attic. Why fiber? Why two? Why copper? Why one?
I selected fiber cable as the main conduit between the switches because it's very future resistant (nothing is future proof). If I want to run a 10 Gbps network in the future, I can do it over this fiber cable without an issue. Fiber can also travel longer distances than copper. The single mode fiber I selected can run over kilometers rather than the 300 meter copper limit. I certainly don't need a fiber cable to run kilometers, but I wanted a long enough cable to be able to move the switches on either end without length restrictions. In other words, I gave myself plenty of slack on each end of the cable to move the switches to any corner of the house.
I purchased two 300 feet fiber optic cables from Ubiquiti (model FC-SM-300). Each of these cables has six strands of single mode G.657.A2 optical cable wrapped in kevlar yarn and an outdoor jacket (image). The reason I purchased two cables is because my attic has empty space behind the walls, where I placed switches, on each side of the livable space. This enabled me to access a fiber-connected switch from either side of the listening room without running a visible Ethernet cable across the floor.
Storage space behind listening room walls on each side.
On each side of the listening room, behind the walls, I installed an 8 port Ubiquiti UniFi managed PoE+ gigabit switch (model US‑8‑150W). I didn't need PoE, but this is the only 8 port UniFi switch with SFP ports for fiber optic modules. I purchased four Ubiquiti UF-SM-1G-S fiber optic modules for the switches. Two placed in my 24 port UniFi switch (model US-24) in the basement and one in each of the 8 port switches behind the listening room walls. Attached to one of the 8 port switches I connected a Ubiquiti UniFi HD wireless access point (model UAP-AC-HD).
US-8-150W switch, UAP-AC-HD access point, FC-SM-300 fiber optic cable.
I ran the category 7 copper cable just because I could and I wanted to see how it compares to the fiber cables. The copper cable I purchased was a 100 meter 600MHz Duronic Black Network Cable (link). As this is only for testing I see no need to purchase one of these for each switch. It should be noted that this cable is specified to work with 10 Gbps Ethernet, but at this distance I highly doubt it could support the maximum speed.
Directly outside my original listening room I had a dedicated electrical sub panel. For the new room I opted to move the sub panel up to the space behind the listening room wall in the attic. Rather than run a completely new electrical wire, I purchased 75 feet of 6 gauge (6/3 NM-B W/G) copper electrical wire and a junction box to connect to the original sub panel wiring and run it up to the attic from that point rather than run it all the way back to the main electrical panel. There is nothing between the sub panel and the main electrical panel other than the junction box tying both electrical wires together.
In this sub panel I have six dedicated circuits to use any way I need. Currently I have three 20 amp circuits going to a single duplex outlet. Two of the outlets are from Transparent Audio. They are the same outlets used in the company's Reference Power Isolator. I originally planned to place the audio components either along the west wall or between the loudspeakers. Thus, I had the power outlets placed near the aforementioned locations. However, I've since moved the components to the east wall and need to run power from the sub panel, under the floor (between the joists), to an outlet close to the components along the east wall of the listening room.
Running the fiber optic, copper data, and copper electrical wires from the basement to the attic was a serious challenge. My electrician Kevin found a path for these wires that only required cutting a small hole in one wall on the main level of the house. Fortunately this hole was in placed in a sheetrock "box" constructed in the mid-nineties to cover the pipes for the bathroom that was later installed in the attic. I'm going to put a heat register / duct cover over this hole which will allow future access should it be required.
The circuitous path of the data wires was from the south east corner of the basement horizontally along the unfinished ceiling, over HVAC ducts between the old listening room and main basement living room, into a utility closet, vertical through the ceiling and between the bathroom wall and my daughter's bedroom wall on the main level, horizontally between the ceiling of her room and the floor of the attic, then diagonally out through the floor of the attic behind the new listening room wall.
Closet in the basement where the cables started routing vertical through the floor.
We ran the cables from the attic down to the basement, taking advantage of gravity to help pull them through the tight openings. My main concern with the fiber optic cables was breaking the glass inside. Anyone who has ever snaked cabled through walls like this knows that it isn't always smooth sailing. We had to pull fairly hard on the cables a couple times because they got hung up on obstructions we couldn't see in the walls. I could feel the rubbery plastic jacket of the Ubiquiti fiber cable stretching as I pulled it through. To my surprise the fiber cables came through in perfect condition. I guess they don't make them like they used to, but in a good way. Old school fiber cables are prone to braking easily.
Opening in the attic floor behind listening room wall where cables routed.
Note: The Ubiquiti fiber SFP modules only require one of the six strands of fiber in the Ubiquiti fiber cables. This leaves five "extra" strands of fiber to be used in other switches. Should the cable have been pulled too hard during installation I at least had six internal fiber cables to try to get working. In other words, inside the single cable there is six redundant cables in case one gets broken (because I only needed a single fiber cable from within each FC-SM-300 cable).
Running the 6 gauge electrical wire through the walls was an exercise that I hope to never do again. That stuff is stiff, thick, and doesn't slide through tiny openings without "grabbing" on because the coating on the cable isn't slippery. Needless to say, it took both me and Kevin the electrician quite a while to get the job done.
6AWG electrical wire going through the floor heading to main level and on to basement.
Demolition / Construction
By no means is my room in the same class as many high end dedicated listening rooms we've all seen online. My goal was to do this entire project for a reasonable amount of money. In other words, the sky wasn't the limit and cost was an object.
The attic space has a total length of 33 feet 9 inches. The existing bathroom consumes 8 feet 1 inch on the north end of the space. That leaves the listening room with a length of 25 feet 8 inches. The width of the room originally varied because of a coset in the south east corner. That closet was marked for demolition to widen the room and provide space for my desk and even out the width to 13 feet nine inches from front to back. Another obstacle in the room was 2 feet high wall with 1 foot high railing around the staircase entrance/exit on the south end. This wall was also marked for removal and in its place a new three feet high bannister.
My options for this listening room were a bit limited by of course cost but also because I wasn't willing to change anything about the rest of the house below this room. For example, I ask in the forum about using a rubber sound barrier under the carpet and before I knew it the recommendations were to rip up the ceiling below the room and put in a sand barrier etc... That was a bit too over the top for my situation although I'm totally on board with going all out in the right circumstances. I'd love a cost no object / no construction constraints type of room as much as the next guy.
Given that the attic space was finished decades after the house was built, I was totally fine with demoing every piece of the room. I thought long and hard about making the sheetrock side walls more solid with additional layers glued and screwed to the original walls, but this would've reduced the width of the room by several inches. I opted to leave the existing side walls for now because I can always address them down the road if necessary.
I'll save everyone the cosmetic details about paint, light fixtures (although I purchased three from the 1940s through Etsy for this room), and door knobs (also from the 1940s and from Etsy). During my research I was advised that wool carpet was the best flooring choice for listening rooms. I was happy to hear that because I love everything about wool carpet (research it if you're so inclined). I had 100% New Zealand wool carpet installed once the demolition and construction was complete.
The new listening room before demolition started.
The new listening room during demolition.
Currently I have the audio system installed where I want it, with speakers on the north end of the room and components along the east wall. I originally tried the components placed between the speakers but that lasted about 48 hours before I grew tired of looking at the mess of cables and walking over everything to enter the bathroom. I'm using some no name speaker cables until I can replace my 8 feet long Transparent Audio Reference speaker cable with a longer pair.
How Does It Sound
The big question for me is how does the new listening room sound? This is such a frustrating piece of building a new room. The first thing I did once construction was complete was to bring up my audio system and click play. After all, that's why this room was built. I caution everyone to NOT follow in my footsteps by playing audio without anything else in the room. The sound bouncing off the bare walls with zero furniture obstructions to diffuse or absorb the audio was horrendous. I took a few measurements and almost cried as I sent them to friends and our own DSP expert Mitch Barnett @mitchco. Fortunately the unanimous response I received from everyone was to relax, this was only the starting point.
Shortly before moving the audio system to the new room, I purchased a miniDSP measurement microphone (model UMIK-1). I took measurements of my original room so I could at least have a baseline to compare the new sound to the old via objective data. I'll do the subjective analysis for the rest of my life no doubt.
Here is a measurement of my original listening room in the basement. The room in which I reviewed components for 10+ years.
Original basement sound room measurements.
In the days after my initial listening sessions I brought up my 12 feet long desk, an additional chair, a trunk to be placed in a corner, and a few items to place on my desk. I also had the general contractor fix the sheetrock access panels that lead from the listening room into the attic space behind the walls. These panels were too big to fit tightly after the carpet was installed. During the initial listening and measurements these panels were placed close to the openings but there was a several inch gap enabling sound to leak out behind the walls in three of the four corners of the room.
The sound right now is definitely livable and will enable me to review components with a high degree of confidence in my conclusions. It helps to have the measurements to know where the peaks and dips in frequencies are when as I listen.
However, I am nowhere near satisfied with the sound and have opened a project with Vicoustic of Portugal. For those unfamiliar with the process, there is a page on Vicoustic's website to formally open a project (link). All that's required is to complete a small survey about the listening space and attach images and drawings (as crude or as sophisticated as one has available). In a couple weeks Vicoustic delivers a complete proposal with 3D drawings, expected sonic results, and proposed acoustic absorption / diffusion product recommendations.
I completed this process and received a full proposal from Vicoustic. In Part 2 of this series I'll upload the entire document. For now, here is a a 3D drawing of what the finished product will look like when I have the absorbers and diffusors installed.
Vicoustic 3D drawing.
As it stand now, I really like the new listening room. I can't wait to get the acoustic panels installed to bring the sound quality up quite a bit. The room is a giant instrument and has the biggest affect on the sound quality of music. Forget about MQA, lossy, lossless, bit perfect, upsampling, music servers, or even speakers. If the room isn't good, the sound isn't good no matter what one does to the system.
More to come in part two.
When the sound was at its worst without anything in the room.
Current images as of today November 09, 2018.
- Source: Roon ROCK, 2018 MacBook Pro Running Roon, JRiver (Windows 10 and macOS Mojave)
- DAC: Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Reference Series 2 MQA, dCS Rossini, EMM Labs DA2
- D-to-D Converter: dCS Network Bridge, Sonore Signature Rendu SE, Berkeley Audio Design Alpha USB
- Amplifiers: Constellation Audio Mono 1.0 / Monoblock Power Amplifiers
- Preamplifier: Constellation Audio PreAmp 1.0
- Loudspeakers: TAD Labs CR1 Compact Reference
- Remote Control Software: Roon Remote
- Remote Control Hardware: iPad Pro
- Playback Software: Roon, JRiver
- Network Attached Storage (NAS): Synology DS1812+, CAPS v4 Cortes Server
- Audio Cables: Transparent Audio Reference Interconnects (XLR & RCA), Transparent Audio Reference 110-Ohm AES/EBU Digital Link, Transparent Audio Reference Speaker Cables
- USB Cables: Transparent Audio Premium USB Cable
- Power Cables: Transparent Audio Reference Power Cables
- Power Isolation: Transparent Audio Reference Power Isolator
- Ethernet Cables: Transparent Audio High Performance Ethernet Cables
- Network: Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 24, Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 8-150W x2, Ubiquiti UniFi USG Router, Ubiquiti UniFi AP HD x2, Ubiquiti FC-SM-300 Fiber Optic Cable x2, UF-SM-1G-S Fiber Optic Modules x4, Calix 716GE-I Optical Network Terminal, CenturyLink 1 Gbps download / upload