You can take a modest system in a well treated room and it can easily outperform a megabuck system in a bad room. You can only imagine what a top shelf system in a well designed room can yield. It’s something you have to hear to believe.

Interview - Theater Room Acoustics

Richard Rives Bird | Rives Audio, Inc.

HomeToys Interview
Theater Room Acoustics
Richard Rives Bird of Rives Audio, Inc.

You can take a modest system in a well treated room and it can easily outperform a megabuck system in a bad room. You can only imagine what a top shelf system in a well designed room can yield. It's something you have to hear to believe.

1. Why should people pay attention to the acoustics in their rooms?

Approximately 50% of the sound we hear is indirect, that's sound bouncing off walls, ceiling, floor, and other surfaces within the room. If it's uncontrolled, that's 50% of your sound uncontrolled. If it's designed properly that can be a huge improvement to the overall sound quality.

You can take a modest system in a well treated room and it can easily outperform a megabuck system in a bad room. You can only imagine what a top shelf system in a well designed room can yield. It's something you have to hear to believe.

2. Is dealing with acoustics expensive?

It can be, but it doesn't have to be. Acoustical materials are relatively inexpensive, however, their application can be expensive. What I mean by this is a simple absorption panel has materials that cost perhaps $20. However, if you want it custom made, with custom fabrics, a hardened beveled edge or perhaps a wood trim finish, then that finished product could cost more than $300.

Expense really depends on the individuals. Most everyone has a budget and the goal is to maximize the performance and aesthetics within a clients target budget. We've had clients build out entire rooms themselves-sheetrock, doors and all acoustical treatment for only $2000. We've had other clients spend 100 times that.

3. What about the aesthetics? Isn't acoustical treatment ugly and generally not domestically acceptable?

Most people associate the aesthetics of room acoustics with pre fabricated solutions. Many of these solutions are not domestically acceptable. RPG skylines, one of the best performing diffusion products, is viewed by most as being one of the all time worst looking devices. I tend to agree. For some clients, it is acceptable and we may use a product like this, but for most clients they want "stealth acoustics". They want the performance, but no one should see it.

We've done living rooms, where we've actually enhanced the architecture, with columns, coffered ceilings, even bass traps that are disguised as art stands. You can make acoustics look like almost anything and integrate with any décor. However, the high level of aesthetic and custom work does usually tend to have an affect on the budget, so this should be kept in mind.

Have a look at some examples here.

4. If someone does want to deal with acoustics, how should they go about it? Are there resources for the person that wants to DIY (do it yourself)?

There are many good resources for the DIY person. On our website alone we have a resource page that we are continually upgrading. This resource page is mostly free resources on the web, from a forum we sponsor, to articles on the web. About the only thing in the section that costs anything are books we recommend, and those (which I do highly recommend for anyone about to go the DIY route) are only around $40. I think the most important thing for the DIY person to recognize, is that it will take more time and patience to go about it yourself. If you like the journey-then DIY can be a lot of fun and save considerable money-but it won't save time.

The resource page on our website can be found at: 

5. Are there specialized tools and meters required to measure and tune the room? What are some of them?

There are many different measuring and analysis tools on the market. At Rives Audio we use a combination of both theoretical tools and actual in room response tools. The best and most cost effective in room response tools are basic PC programs in combination with calibrated microphones. We use ETF and BARE software. The ETF is full range response while BARE is for Bass evaluation. These packages are $150 and $100 respective and the microphone that we use is still only around $300. It's really incredible the results you can get with this very inexpensive system.

6. What about sound isolation? How important is it? How difficult is it to implement?

How important it is depends on the client. We have some clients that do not require sound isolation at all and others that need "studio grade" sound isolation. One thing to keep in mind about sound isolation is that if you are holding sound within a room, you will necessarily increase the peaks and nulls in the bass response (particularly in a small room). In that regard sound isolation can sometimes actually work against the best possible sound within the room.

Depending on the level of sound isolation and existing conditions sound isolation can be a daunting task to implement. When a client asks for a high level of sound isolation, we only do this in level 3, where we go out on site and do an in process inspection. It is very rare that everything is installed correctly and there are no problems with the implementation. HVAC, lighting, door closures, windows, etc., all of this can have a huge effect on the final outcome for sound isolation.

7. How long has Rives Audio been doing room acoustics design?

A little over 5 years now.

8. You offer 3 levels of service, how do these differ and what can the client expect for each of these?

Level 1 is our entry level. It is based on theory only. There are no on site measurements. Level 2 is our "custom" level and it does include actual on site acoustic measurements by an authorized Rives Audio dealer. Both levels are fixed price (starting at $1200) and give the client a full set of plans to construct or modify the room appropriately (which may be as simple as choosing the right acoustical treatment and location). These levels use assembly drawings, meaning we do a custom plan view of the room and then use standard assembly drawings we've developed over the years for the construction of the various components.

Level 3 is our top level of residential service. In this level the documentation is full construction documents. Quite a bit more detailed than the drawings in level 1 and 2. Also in Level 3 our engineers go on site for in process and final inspection. The costs vary depending on the scope of the job, but in general our design fees are very reasonable and an average would be around $10,000.

9. Would it be possible for Rives Audio to work with a DIY or Contractor remotely or do you need to visit the site to make measurements before and after the construction of the project?

In Level 1 and level 2 this is exactly what we routinely do. We communicate through digital photos and drawings. We do not travel in these levels to keep the cost down for the client.

10. You also offer a PARC (an electrical device to deal with room modes), can you explain what this is and how it works? What type of person would be interested in a PARC?

The PARC is a Parametric Adaptive Room Compensation system. It basically deals with low frequency peaks in the room by parametrically correcting them. It's a line level device and can be inserted between a pre-amp and amp or within a tape loop. Of course, if we are designing a room from scratch we would select certain dimensions that would not require a PARC, but often times we are dealing with existing rooms that have significant bass peaks. In that situation the PARC can very well be the most remarkable device a client has ever experienced.

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