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Until about two weeks ago, I felt pretty good about my new music room. That was before I started reading Mike's story on how he built his from the ground up, the main constraint getting the ultimate sound he was looking for. I wish I could have done the same but certain realities had to be taken into consideration - three college funds to build up, house payments arriving like clock work monthly and the unavoidable truth that kids need clothes and food far more frequently than seems conceivable. So when we set upon getting our basement finished last September, my wife and I settled on an extra $5000 budget for the music room above and beyond what it would have cost to get it finished like any other room. Naturally I was set to milk that modest budget for the biggest bang I could.

The following story is about some of the things I did and learned and where to direct your resources if they be similarly constrained. One of the first things you can't do on a tight budget is hire a consultant to design the room with you. None of those guys would even shake your hand for what my total allowance was. Friends and generous minds become very precious when you dangle precariously on a shoe string.

One of those generous minds and great contributors of ideas and suggestions was Marc Philip from Inovaudio. I'd met Marc on one of the French hifi forums I dwell on and was impressed by his knowledge of all things acoustic and how generously he shares his experience with beginners wanting to build their own panels, diffusors and bass traps – and this is a man who makes a living from building elegant and efficient room treatment. His helpful attitude had nothing to do with my writing for 6moons. As it turns out, Marc runs his own online magazine. Before I realized that Marc Philip builds hifi furniture and acoustic treatments, I actually knew him as the editor of  one of the better on-line French audio magazines, a place unfortunately only accessible to French readers but filled with great material and reviews.

That said, the most striking thing about this gentleman was just how freely he dispensed his wisdom amassed over the years. I contacted him, sent pictures of the raw space and ideas started pouring in, some of which I was able to implement while others would have required more changes than I could accommodate. Regardless, a flurry of suggestions arrived to make my room better.

One of those was to use a plastic film in the ceiling to prevent insulation dust from falling into the room. Simple and with no impact on sonics, it certainly improved comfort and was something I'd never thought of. One of his other contributions was to recommend hardwood flooring. This would not have been my first guess either. Having recently put hardwood floors in the upstairs family room, I had enough left to get half the music room done. The photos reveal that the room ended up half wood, half carpet – no magic there, just putting my dollars to work as best I could. The result went beyond my expectations by helping to keep the front of the room lively enough while deadening the back. This wasn't exactly by design but certainly worked.

Getting down to serious matters, Marc insisted that upgrading the electrical circuits was critical. Since I was already sold on the concept, I had no objections. That's how the room ended up with a dedicated 20-amp circuit on the front wall and separate 15-amp lines for the side walls and lights, each with independent ground. All outlets were upgraded to hospital grade, not a major expense but ensuring superior mechanical contacts for the power plugs. A future step might be investing in cryo-treated outlets like Furutech's but working with a limited budget, they did not seem the most critical items at this juncture.

The key message for the thrifty audiophile is that the total upgrade of electrical circuits in the room consumed half my total budget and far less than the Isotek Titan conditioner now sitting like a boat anchor unused in my room. And, the dedicated spurs have a far greater benefit. The Titan has been removed. I can't use it and not hear negative effects when placed ahead of power amplifiers - one of its greatest previous benefits had been not to impeach dynamics when still used within a non-optimized power delivery context. With the much improved circuit of the new room, the effect of the Titan on transients was audible and unfavorable, be it on the JAS tube monos under review, my own Genesis GR360 class D amplifier or even the McIntosh MA2275.

I still run the Istotek Nova for the front end where I suffer no negative effect but have peace of mind on surge protection. Its audible benefit on noise reduction and instrument separation is now much reduced. The lesson learnt is that before spending $9,000 on power conditioners—the cost of the Titan and Nova combined— you're far better off spending a third of that on a good electrician to upgrade your power and run independent grounds for your audio system. Should you only do one thing for yourself, that probably would be my pick even if you do not have a dedicated room. I have not experienced with balanced power lines yet which are supposedly superior still. If you feel so inclined, it seems certainly worth exploring.

The second advice from Marc concerned acoustics. He is a strong believer in a combination of absorption, diffusion and diffraction devices and as the pictures of my emerging room will reveal, I am not the best of students - yet. Marc's designs sold under his Inovaudio brand are amongst the most elegant I know of but shipping solid wood products from Canada to the US would not have been very practical given my constraints. Regardless, he continued to infuse me with his knowledge to help decide what I needed. He recommended a blend of absorption panels and diffusors which served as my base to research options that would fit what the remainder of the budget could aspire to. Ikea, savior of needy 'philes came to my rescue with shelves for unused equipment and vinyl as well as CD towers. More importantly, those started building three-dimensional relief on some of the walls, one of Marc's strongest credos toward good sound.

Armed with his advice on corner bass traps, bass absorption in the back and midrange panels on the first and second reflection points, I began my shopping voyage to find the best available value. Let me cut to the chase. I contacted four different companies with pictures of the room without telling them about the recommendations I'd already gotten from my 'personal advisor'. Two came back with proposals that would have turned my music room into a deader-than-dead bunker. One came back with a reasonable plan from an acoustic standpoint but a bill in excess of $2,000 for just six panels and two corner treatments. One company stood out by being super responsive (I made my request to them between Christmas and New Year and they responded within a day) with a proposal very close to Marc's recommended optimum design of diffusion and absorption in pretty much the same places – and a modular approach that would allow me to add on as resources became available.