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Frederic Beudot
Financial Interests: click here
Digital Source: Mac mini, Burson HA-160D
Analog source: Acoustic Solid Classic Wood, AS WTB211, Dynavector DV20X-2, Esoteric E03
Preamplifiers: Burson HA-160D
Amplifier: FirstWatt F5, Yamamoto A08s
Speakers: Zu Essence
Headphone: Burson HA160D, AKG K701
Cables: Zu Varial, Genesis Absolute Fidelity (H. S. Speakers), Consonance Billies
Power Cords: Zu Mother, Genesis Absolute Fidelity (Power), ASI Liveline
Powerline conditioning: Isotek Nova
Sundry accessories: Isolpads, ASI Heartsong racks
Room size: 12.5' x 18' x 8'
Review component retail: CA$1.000 (Mac mini, 8GB memory, external CD drive & 3TB Firewire HDD), CA$1.250 (Burson HA-160D)

It's official now. I hate moving! Yes, this was move number eight. It is only now that I notice just how much pain, stress and distress moving causes. Call me late bloomer if you will but this time around downsizing, moving three kids (including a teenager), a dog (big and dumb) and crossing yet another international border finally got on my good nerve. Or maybe it had to do with giving up my customized music room with no prospect of getting anything close where we were headed. Whichever, after six months of living with one foot in the USA and the other in Canada involving round trips every other week, we are now all settled on the shores of Lake Ontario in beautiful Oakville just outside Toronto. If you keep an eye on the 6moons team you’ll have noticed that with David, Glen and Paul there are now four of us in the area - just enough to be called the Four Musketeers although we have yet to settle who will play Portos. There’s certainly enough of us for a full frontal assault on Canadian manufacturers.

On my end the move enforced a transition from a music-only room with insulated walls, dedicated 20A power lines and dedicated grounds to a family media room with flat screen TV, Xbox, Blu-Ray player and such, i.e. everything a hard-core audiophile frowns upon and certainly nothing on Stereophile’s list of approved tweaks and equipments. To make matters worse, removing the wall-mounted Bose ‘speakers’ or squeaky boxes as I call them was out of the question since we are renting. Nor can I do anything about the main power line in the room which also supports the extra freezer downstairs as duly attested to by the dimming of lights each time the compressor cycles on.

Today’s article is nothing more than a collection of bits of experience gained over the past two months which I spent trying to turn this music-forsaken room into something acceptable. To be clear upfront, it still does not sound anything like my old room but after some much needed love and care I am now ready to live with it for the next few years. One of my blessings has been the fact that I never mounted the sound treatments on the old walls. They made the move with us to prove just as useful in Canada as they had been in the US. With the family media room now located in the basement, I was allowed to set up the whole series of treatments in the room and the effect was just as dramatic as it had been in Pennsylvania. Whether you are a frequent mover like us or settled in forever and have the good luck of a dedicated music room, there is no doubt in my mind that acoustic panels are the most rewarding investment an audiophile can make. I can’t imagine trying to get to any kind of imaging realism or midrange truthfulness without some form of acoustic adjustment (though another option is obviously digital correction which also addresses the aesthetic issues of sound panels but comes at a steeper price).

Each move brings new experiences. I have learnt a lot this time around on what impact a large LCD TV has on sound and tonal balance. Regardless of what you may hope, a large LCD screen does have a significant effect on the sound of a high-fidelity system. Ours rests on top of one of my audio racks but after experimenting widely I concluded that two factors influence over 90% of the effect you will hear from the screen. First and foremost is that the closer you can get the screen to the wall the better (wall mounting might actually be ideal but I can’t test this hypothesis). This minimizes the impact on depth perception significantly. I am not sure if it is an actual acoustic effect or eye/ear/brain psychology but the effect was clear. The more I managed to push the screen towards the wall, the deeper the musical soundstage became.

The second factor relates indirectly to the first. How much can you move the speakers away from the screen? In my room a distance of 3 feet seemed to minimize the upper midrange glare. I am not sure this is a fast and furious rule but it certainly helped tonal balance without penalizing the voice/image integration when watching movies. I did try putting one of the acoustic panels in front of the screen during serious listening. Although it did minimize midrange glare it also killed depth perception and dynamics. My assumption at this point is that a 2D diffuser in front of the screen would likely be the best option. It’s something to explore for a rainy day.

Finding the least damaging location for the TV turned out to be quite easy compared to migrating to a computer-based hifi system. As I progressed through this transformation I captured a number of dos and don’ts that might be of general interest. The reason for the change from optical to magnetic digital playback was not that I am perfectly convinced of the superiority of a computer-based source although I have little doubt that it can match the best SACD players when implemented properly. The motivator for me was simply to get rid of boxes to make room and assist TV/video integration. So the Esoteric X03SE and the Wyred4Sound STP-SE joined a few other pieces on AudiogoN to liberate room and cash. Those were soon replaced by a latest generation Mac mini and Burson HA160D for DAC/preamp/headphone duties.