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Give your stereo some sonic isolation

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

An easy project to give your stereo some sonic isolation

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1990, The Syracuse Newspapers

I'll bet your neighbors don't like things that go bump in the night. And no doubt the last thing they want to hear is 2 Live Crew starting a riot with "Oh How I Hate Peace and Quiet" at 4 a.m. So how can you keep them from tossing a rock when you're ready to roll? The answer is isolation. Not the kind that sends the guy next door off to Siberia, but the kind that keeps your speakers from having intimate relations with the walls and floors.

By keeping room surfaces physically separate from your hi-fi speakers, you also save money. The wattage that otherwise would have been wasted sending sound waves through your walls will be used to pump more sound to your ears, and you'll be able to turn down the volume control to get the same actual loudness you had before. And that means a leaner electric bill. SO HERE'S an easy, one-evening project. You won't need any exotic tools or illegal substances to complete it.

The idea is to place something soft between your speakers and the room surfaces they're touching now. It's not quite as simple as that, because you have to make sure the speakers aren't wobbly on some sort of foam; speaker cabinets can put out weird sounds when they're able to move around even the tiniest bit.

What's needed, then, is a firm surface on top of a soft one. Your speakers sit on the firm part. The best firm surface, if you can afford it, is a piece of slate. You can buy slate at home and garden stores.

If your speakers are floor standing, like mine, you'll want a piece of slate about twice as big as the bottom surface of your speaker. (One for each speaker, of course.) If your speakers are horizontal, try to find slate slabs that are at least an inch or two bigger all around.

You've got a lot of choices for the soft surface. My favorite is the kind of non-bouncy foam used in thick cushions. Go to a fabric store and punch various samples of foam to find the no-bounce type. You'll need the thickest foam the store sells.

Cut the foam slightly smaller than the size of the slate. If the combination of speaker and slate is heavier than usual, you may have to use two thicknesses of foam. You'll know you have the right amount of foam when there is still a little "give" left when everything is set up. You put the foam on the bottom, the slate in the middle and the speaker and top. That's all there is to it.

If you want the ultimate in isolation, however, you may want to add one more layer. You can place Sorbothane discs between the speaker cabinet and the slate. These discs (available from the manufacturer, AudioQuest, at 714-498-2770) will deaden any vibrations that might sneak through to the slate.

You can use the same technique, by the way, to create vibration-proof platforms for your record player and your CD player.

For a high-tech look, paint the edge of the uncompressed foam gray and coat the slate with clear polyurethane. And while you're at it, give the wood surfaces of your speaker cabinets a fresh rubdown, too. Linseed oil is best if you're a purist, but what I use is Armor All. You can find it in the automotive sections of department stores.

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