Audiophilia -- justifiably so one might argue -- is surrounded by a caveman mentality when it comes to visual presentability. If, in my very short-lived career as a woodworker, the shop's foreman who became my instructor beat nothing more into my thick skull than keeping my work space tidy and my tools clean and sharp, he did me a big and long-lasting favor. While tidiness and cleanliness certainly must appear in audiopile setups where it concerns cable routing for example, that's a mere drop in the bucket. After all, most audiophile don't equate their listening room with a work space. Rather, it's supposed to be a pleasure chamber, a personal sanctuary, a sound temple.

If you peruse certain forums where participants post pix of their personal systems, you might be staring one very strong reason right in the face as to why not more people feel attracted to investigate this hobby. To avoid embarrassing anyone in particular, I don't believe more needs to be said. If one function of the audiophile press at large is the promotion of the hobby in general -- HiFi's cool; life without music sucks; whatever core message you think would best capture it -- then how come we don't have more visual reminders in our press that correlate with this message of fun, attraction and desirability?

As head honcho on the moons, I'm keenly cognizant that pictures speak louder than words. That's why we use a lot of images. That's why I insist that our writers include pictures of their setups in their bios and here and there in their reviews. It tells you about the writer's personality. It's also an underhanded reminder that a stereo system belongs in a living or entertainment room.

Human beings -- especially men -- are visual animals. Anyone who belittles that point has clearly never watched a man in the throes of lustful infatuation, throwing caution, consideration and reason to the wind to follow some strong - er, visual cues embodied in the opposite sex. Entire empires have crumbled because of it.

Following the ongoing decoration project in my new listening room in Cyprus (still awaiting the ocean cargo with the books, paintings and assorted art objects), a number of readers have favorably commented on the progess. Reader Suresh in fact suggested that I pen some comments on the importance of decor on sonics.

Mind you, I'm no authority on the subject. There's professional interior designers, custom installers, Feng Shui practitioners and others who don't merely exercise personal taste to please themselves but whose formal education has taught them the science or art that makes their suggestions applicable to anyone, whether they share your personal tastes or not.

A silly little flying frog guards the listening chair.
All I know is what I like. That hardly puts me in a position to discuss the subject intelligently. However, there are certain basics that might be useful to touch upon - energy/atmosphere; color; lighting; balance. Upon first arriving in Coral Bay last month, the house -- though partially filled with furniture and carpets already from our prior trip -- felt fantastically dead. The reason became obvious quickly. We didn't have a single indoor plant yet. It was truly amazing to notice the difference once we placed plants and trees into every room. Without adding anything else, the feel of the house completely changed. No surprise there. Plants are living things after all (that densely foliaged trees make excellent diffusors is merely an audiophile fringe benefit). They radiate life energy and oxygenate the air.

lf you don't want your audio room to feel lifeless, add plants and trees. Then consider the overall color scheme of the room (walls, carpet, paintings, furniture) and -- particularly since the HiFi will be the central focus -- the appearance and colors of your components and support structures. I personally dislike black boxes and don't mind admitting that my choice of components was directly influenced not merely by sonics but appearance as well. Save for the Rane equalizer and FirstWatt F1, there's no black box anywhere to be found.

True, black remains the dominant color for electronics because it goes with anything. That's lowest common denominator thinking. But many firms have made extra efforts to offer options for different face plates, different LED display colors or paint/lacquer skins for amplifiers and speakers. It's not merely the color that'll affect your psyche, of course. If you're staring at massive Klingon monoliths with sharp angles, exposed metal surfaces and machine-reminiscent hardware, there'll always be something a little intimidating, cold, alien or lab-rat about your setup no matter how much your inner geek will gloat.

Let's give the old form-follows-function bullshit a rest. There's gorgeous cars that set records for their technical performance yet don't shortchange their owners with comfort and cosmetics. Why can't it apply to audio? It can and does. Simply don't settle for less if you value the whole package and believe -- rightly -- that performance extends to everything, not just the ears. If visual heavy metal is your idea of a good time, don't settle for veneered MDF. If walnut and leather make you feel cozy, don't go for black lacquer and chrome.

It seems so obvious but I wonder whether those audiophiles who don't use their systems as often as they think they really ought to based on the money they've spent ever reflect on whether the setting their systems find themselves in is at all conducive to hanging out for extended periods. Today's cineplexes are often like that - cold, sterile plastic affairs, sardine cans for the masses. Whatever happened to the Egyptian on Hollywood Boulevard with its plush upholstery, gilded statues and cozy lighting?

Lighting is huge when it comes to creating a mood. More lights means more options. I've found blinds an easy and affordable solution to generate various degrees of interior light while doubling as defractors. Heavy curtains can remain draped for appearance or closed to introduce more damping and minimize glass reflections. Textile wall art adds visual and sonic warmth. Exterior lights can be fun to avoid sitting entirely in the dark while keeping the listening room itself dim during a serious session. Spot lights can illuminate isolated areas of a room or perhaps only the plants to where the shadows themselves create a mood of comfort and mystery.

Mixing textures -- wood, metal, textiles, ceramics, earthware, leather -- helps to prevent imbalances and making a listening room too cold and technocratic. After all, the equipment is supposed to get out of the way when you listen. However, most of us listen to our equipment less than we look at it. That's simply a fact of life (unless your gear is hidden away in a closed room you only enter for listening). So the setup should look and feel good. External messiness and clutter has an insidious way of creating interior echoes. Some might even go as far as to suggest that it's the interior clutter which is reflected in the external mess.

It's an interesting subject for sure. It's also one that's far too little addressed by the audiophile press. Famous writers hide behind visual anonymity of what their rooms and setups look like. Is that because their rooms are really far too small to do justice to the equipment they routinely accept? Is it because their places are bloody messes instead? We've got endless discussions on measurements and what they mean, suggesting that certain folks don't spend time listening and rather argue about things. If they don't listen enough, perhaps that's due not so much to anything being amiss with their gear. Perhaps it's because the space it's in simply doesn't welcome lengthy occuption?

My personal choices in that regard are very much caveman-driven. My listening space is my cave. I spend far more time in it than I should since it doubles as my work space. So it becomes vitally important that I be comfortable and like what I'm seeing; that the space gives me energy. Your tastes will and should vary. Just make sure they're consciously and unapologetically catered to. Audiophilia is supposed to be a love affair with music. When's the last time you bought your muse a bouquet of flowers? See what I mean? Pay some attention to your room and you may find that your muse responds in unexpectedly passionate ways again. It's really not rocket science. Nor does it require a MSSLA program or anechoic chamber. A bit of care and sound principles of interior design is all it takes.