Room acoustics - the final frontier. These are the voyages of the aural starship 6moons. Its ongoing mission? To seek out new room treatments and a better understanding of room acoustics; to boldly go where no audiophile has gone before. Or, "Damn it Jim! I'm an audiophile, not an acoustician."

I first read about the Argent RoomLens a few years ago in Stereophile, in a review penned by Jonathan Scull. I recall skimming through J-10's piece in a magazine shop. I scoffed and chuckled at his observations - and when I saw the price of $1,195, I laughed out loud, put the magazine down and left the shop shaking my head in disbelief. Fast forward to today. Yours truly has arrived at similar conclusions to Mr. Scull. There's nothing quite like eating a little humble pie. Mmm.

My initial encounter with the RoomLens occurred at the home of its Canadian distributor, Song Kim of Song Audio. I was there primarily to investigate Song's SA-34 SB integrated amp when he suggested that we also try the RoomLens. I reluctantly agreed. I was more interested in the amp than those over-priced plastic pipes with dubious claims. As we listened to the last movement of Tchaikovsky's 4th Symphony [Naxos 8.555714], Song moved the RoomLens into position, left them there for a minute or two, then removed them again. The effect of this shifting about was easily noticeable. When the RoomLenses were properly situated, the orchestra became more layered and focused. Brass and percussion shifted further back into the depth of the stage and woodwinds were more defined. Big timpani whacks were tauter and went lower. The soundstage was also slightly wider and airier, with more space around instruments. A slight bit of hash on the upper registry of massed stringed instruments was removed to make them fuller and rounder in tone. With great chagrin, I requested a set for an extended in-home audition.

According to Argent's website, "the Argent RoomLens is a feedback-controlled modified broadband Helmholtz resonator that damps unwanted room resonance while positively reinforcing and focusing the true sound of the system and the room. Properly aligned, a set of RoomLenses is capable of transforming even a marginal room into a warm and sonically pleasing listening space, allowing you the fullest enjoyment of your system." A little Web surfing plus a phone call to Argent's Ric Cummins shed more light on the background of these devices. The RoomLens was born out of Ric's frustration with poor room acoustics handicapping equipment demos at audio shows such as CES. Everyone who has been to at least one of these events knows LRS or 'lousy room sound'.

Furthermore, as most audiophiles can attest to, modern living room designs are, for the most part, acoustically challenged. The RoomLens was the result of several trial and error experiments with the clear objective to offer a relatively inexpensive and portable system to maximize audio system performance by improving room acoustics. About the historical precedents upon which the RoomLens was modeled, we learn:

The original Helmholtz resonator was defined by 19th-century German physicist, Hermann von Helmholtz to analyze harmonic components of complex tones. A Helmholtz resonator is a hollow cavity enclosing air, with an open hole or port to allow sympathetic resonance with the air in the room or hall in which it is placed. Air around the port vibrates due to the springiness of the trapped air volume inside the container. Take an empty bottle for example. The air inside the bottle will get excited as you blow over the open top. As any kid can tell you, a loud sound will result. Helmholtz resonators such as the subject of today's review are widely used in recording studios and concert halls where they tune the acoustical space by altering its resonance characteristics over a specific range of frequencies. The next time you're in a concert hall, look around. I'm sure you will spot such devices along the walls. However, they are usually well camouflaged. Point your browser to our editor's industry features piece on Rives Audio for further information and photos about an exceptionally smart-looking custom Helmholtz resonator.

According to Ric, the ancient Greeks knew all about controlling and enhancing resonance several centuries before our friend Herr Helmholtz appeared on the scene. They certainly knew more about acoustics than the bozos who designed one or two of Toronto's concert spaces. The Greeks placed circular pots of varying sizes around the stages of their public areas to control resonance and disperse sound more evenly, thus allowing speech and unamplified musical instruments to be heard more clearly. If your audiophile BS detector buzzes loudly when exposed to claims such as those stated on Argent's web site, I can assure you that in this instance, there's real science and experience behind the product.

The RoomLens is usually offered in sets of three. Each unit consists of three 58" long, 2.5" diameter plastic tubes mounted in a base. Each pipe is filled with varying amounts of fiberglass stuffing. All three tuned pipes are attached at the base and by a top bracket and together act as a single broadband resonator. If you look closely, you'll notice how one of the three tubes is spaced slightly farther apart from the center pipe than the other. According to Ric, the round surface of the tubes and the variable spacing aid in diffracting sound waves, thus helping to eliminate the image and tonal distorting effects of nearby wall reflections, especially at the first reflection points.

Set up is relatively easy as the RoomLens come with detailed instructions and diagrams for proper placement. Each module can be schlepped around with little effort. Initial placement should be just forward and to the outermost side of each speaker and slightly angled in. The third should be placed between the loudspeakers and set further back. While I noticed the effect right away, I found that shifting the RoomLens an inch or two here and there over a period of several days provided maximum results.

At first, I was somewhat intimidated by their dominating appearance in my modestly sized listening room, but I eventually warmed up to them. My wife on the other hand seemed strangely copasetic with having these black monoliths malingering in our house. Visitors as well were taken with their appearance, mostly thinking them modern pieces of Art. To me, their imposing presence resembled a similarly shiny black object made famous by Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was not uncommon for me to mutter on occasion "Open the pod bay doors, Hal", or "Daisy, Daisy, I'm half crazy".

What do the RoomLenses do? Think of them as corrective eye wear for your room. The effect of placing and removing the RoomLens was analogous to putting on and removing prescription eye glasses. With the RoomLenses in place, images sharpened, fuzzy details were snapped into bolder relief and depth perception was enhanced. Instruments and voices were more clearly focused and the soundstage became wider and deeper. Lower frequencies were also tauter. It appears that my room was responsible for a previously undetected slight boominess, no doubt due to some excited room nodes. Stringed instruments too became richer and fuller. How could these black pipes manage that feat? When I told Ric of my impressions and asked what was going on, he chuckled and replied that he was still discovering sonic benefits with his invention.

He freely admitted to not having all the answers. He suggested that the tonal changes noticed were a result of the placement of the RoomLens near the speakers and the effect of their round tubular surfaces. Ric contends that this will eliminate the negative sonic effects of nearby walls. It did not matter what genre of music I played; the effects were real and definitely contributed to increased musical enjoyment.

If your listening room's currently afflicted with LRS, the Argent RoomLenses will indeed be a balm to your suffering ears. They are lightweight, easy to move about, and yes, even attractive. At $1,195 for a trio, my only issue with these surprisingly effective devices is their price. I can appreciate the R&D expenses incurred in creating them and accept that retail prices should reflect the degree of performance on tap. But to this frugal 'phile, $1,200 for what appears to be mundane materials is a tough sell. The fact that these devices are some of the most imitated audio products by DIYers suggests that I am not alone with this reaction. Ric concedes that many of these DIY designs will have positive effects but that his products, having the benefit of more advanced engineering and testing behind them, would handily beat all comers. On the other hand, are you a well-heeled audiophile who doesn't so much as blink when dropping a grand on a set of the latest speaker cables?

Suddenly the RoomLens is transformed into an outright bargain. Therefore, aside from my penny-pinching concerns, the Argent RoomLens is an excellent product that does exactly what its maker claims and more. If you can get past the price, you will find them nigh well impossible to live without. I know I will.

Manufacturer's website
Canadian distributor's website