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October 23, 2014
You've shelled out for a top-of-the line sound system or sleek, modern speakers, but are you getting the best listening experience at home? If you haven't thought about how your furnishings affect the way sound travels in a space, possibly not. Bill Bush, principal acoustics engineer at Sonos, offers seven easy fixes that will optimize your listening experience.
Small details add to the overall design.

The first piece of advice from Bill Bush, the principal acoustics engineer at Sonos, is to get rid of your coffee table.

"A coffee table is one of the worst listening-room acoustic wreckers you can add," he says. "In its place, try a padded ottoman. Heavily padded furniture provides acoustic absorption to make the room less 'ringy.'"

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Originally appeared in How a Bungalow Went from Bland to Brilliant
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bookshelves, toronto, studio

"Bookshelves are an easy way to make nice diffusor panels that don't look like diffusor panels," Bush says. His second tip: Bounce it off the walls.

"At Sonos Studio, ours are cluttered with uneven books and knick-knacks," he describes. "This acts as a diffusor so the sound that bounces off the walls is scattered over a wide array of angles and not beamed at your like a laser reflecting on a mirrored side wall."

The Toronto home of Tamira Sawatzky and artist Elle Flanders shown here features textured black slate tile from Olympia Tile, Voyage Immobile sofas with Farniente collection upholstery (a wedding pre­sent from Flanders’s mother) by Roche Bobois, and a rug from Turkmenistan the couple picked up in Jerusalem. Wayne Arsenault designed the custom bookshelf.

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Originally appeared in Don't Let the Sign Fool You, This Old Storefront is a Home
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Indoor square living wall

Tip three from Bush: plants are your friends.

"In addition to bookshelves, stragtegically place a nice bushy plant where the first wall bounce would happen," he says. "Have a friend hold a mirror on the wall and when you see the front of the speaker that is the first side wall reflection point. Put the plant here. The plant acts as a diffusor and not much of an absorber so it will do nothing for bass treatment."

The Laybourne residence shown here features a living wall.

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Originally appeared in Eye in the Sky: Urban Apartment Overlooking NYC's The High Line
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modern netherlands 13 noordeinde schoolhouse parquet herringbone floors stove

"Put a rug between your listening position and the speakers," Bush advises for tip four. "Carpet reduces the floor reflection and gives overall dampening to the room. The thicker the padding, the better. For padding, I prefer recycled fibers over foam, but foam is better than nothing."

In a renovated Netherlands residence shown here a Danskina rug sits between Minotti sofas. The woodburning stove is by Gyrofocus.

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Originally appeared in A Soaring Schoolhouse in the Netherlands is Reborn
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hollywood cabin loft bedroom curtain

"Another thing that really helps are heavy curtains and tapestries for absorbtion," says Bush. "For tapestries I have found that you can hang about three-to-four-inch-thick recycled cotton commercial duct liner—fiberglass is too itchy and messy for living areas—behind the tapestry and this greatly improves the mid and lower-mid efficacy of hanging tapestries."


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Originally appeared in How to Design with Red
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modern dwellings kalmic house quincy jones office shelving system

Tip number six: use your ears.

"Now that you've set up diffusors throughout, walk around the room and clap your hands slowly and listen for any ringy areas," Bush says. "With a little practice you can find these. They tend to be in places with perfectly parallel walls with no obstructions. It's amazing how long after the clap the 'poing' sound takes to die out in some positions. Try a plant or a shelf in this spot along the wall to see if it helps."

"Do the mirror trick to find the first wall bounce," he continues. "You can put either diffusive things here such as a plant or bookshelf or other very irregularly shaped item or absorption. This, especially when done with stereo pairs of speakers, helps with the phantom center image by not confusing your brain with lots of early reflections that it has to sort out as a reflection and not part of the original sound from the speaker. This is why I'm so against coffee tables as they make for very early reflection surfaces way too close in time to the original signal for our ear or brain to process as an original signal and a reflection or echo."

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Originally appeared in A Midcentury Home Keeps the History Alive
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pillow by joel karlsson

 Tip seven: Getting Serious

"If this is a man cave or a woman cave, there are further things you can do," Bush says. "One is to buy already fabricated fiberglass absorber panels in the cloth color of your choice. I would stick with four-inch-thick or thicker panels as the thin ones, like thin foam, just absorb highs and leave you with an overly mid-rangy room. If you are a craftsperson, you can make these types of panels by ordering Owens Corning #703 in four-inch thickness or in a two-inch and glue two layers together to get four inches. I use 3M spray 77 glue but others might work as well. This will need covering so I recommend a thin layer of polyester batting and your choice of upholstery fabric to cover. This can be inserted into frames or glued to a backer board to hang. Specially made diffusors work well, but tend to be very spendy. Let your budget be a guide here and remember that plain old bushy plants work well and spruce up a cave well." 

"I would tend to stay away from the acoustic foams available unless they are at least four inces thick," Bush says. "Thicker is better. A thin layer of acoustic foam used as a cosmetic treatment over a four-inch-thick Owens Corning #703 fiberglass panel is a nice finish and works very well. Spend some time listening and let your ears be your guide."

7 / 7
Small details add to the overall design.

The first piece of advice from Bill Bush, the principal acoustics engineer at Sonos, is to get rid of your coffee table.

"A coffee table is one of the worst listening-room acoustic wreckers you can add," he says. "In its place, try a padded ottoman. Heavily padded furniture provides acoustic absorption to make the room less 'ringy.'"

Photo by Noah Webb.

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