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Pillow talk about hi-fi

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

Pillow talk about hi-fi: Getting good sound in odd rooms

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1994, The Syracuse Newspapers

Compact discs have made it easy to get good sound into your hi-fi system. But getting good sound into your listening room is another matter.

Most of us are forced to enjoy our stereos in rooms that are less than ideally shaped for sound reproduction. Large, rectangular living rooms full of overstuffed chairs and heavy carpeting are usually best for hi-fi sound, but what can you do if you live in a small home or apartment?

You can turn to your books and your pillows.

Not that I mean you should read up on audio techniques in bed. You can use your books to create very effective sound baffles that can turn your cramped quarters into sonic heaven. And you can tame problem areas with large pillows.

The idea is to create a lot of small, irregular surfaces on one wall of your room, along with soft spots in the corners. This helps diffuse the sound, making it a lot less like an echo chamber.

You don't need a fancy bookshelf. Anything will do, as long as it can hold your books.

The key is to be messy. Don't arrange your books in some sort of neat pattern. Put tall books next to short ones, fat ones next to thin ones, hard ones next to soft ones. Leave odd spaces and stack some of the books sideways. Leave odd gaps in the shelves, too.

The only caution is to make sure the books aren't located in the center of one wall. Sound waves are broken up best by objects that are placed off-center.

Now get out your old pillows. Buy new pillow cases if yours look like they came from the last local rummage sale - or go out and buy some big, puffy cushions if you don't have any to spare.

Toss most of them in the corner that's most exposed, then put the others in a corner along the same wall. Don't put the pillows in diagonal corners - remember, it's the irregular part of the equation that's most important, and that means hard surfaces should be opposite soft ones.

You can go even further with your room tuning, of course. If you have wood or tile floors and can't put down wall-to-wall carpeting (the landlord might not appreciate it, right?), you can buy some cheap area rugs and place them unevenly around the floor. (Don't be a neatnik, or the sound will suffer.)

Three small, inexpensive rugs probably will work better than one large, pricey one. Thick ones are better than thin ones, too.

Finally, if you have an old, padded chair hidden away somewhere, stick it in the living room in an odd location. Soft objects that size can tame a lot of the audio blues.

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