Session E-1 Preprint 4313

Early Sound Field Control in Critical Listening Areas

Chris Morton ARO Technology, Prospect, SA



6th Australian Regional Convention
10th - 12th September 1996 World Congress Centre, Melbourne


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EARLY SOUND FIELD CONTROL IN CRITICAL LISTENING AREAS Chris W.Morton,Aro Technology, delaide,Australia A Abstract In any critical listening area the properties of reflections occurring immediately after the listener receives the direct sound are of vital importance to the perception of sound quality. This paper covers some practical studies, largely related to the acoustical treatment of small listening rooms; however, many of the principles can be applied to larger rooms also. Measurements are compared to listening tests, where substantial differences in sensitivity were found. 1. Introduction A room's acoustical performance cannot be viewed as passive, and is theoretically never neutral. Whilst the acoustical requirements for each room will vary depending upon its use and other factors, such as personal taste, the acoustical environment within the room either can be negative (audibly detrimental) or, conversely, can be positive, and add beneficially to the listener's perception of the quality of sound being generated within that room. [1] To achieve the desired acoustical performance requires the correct balance of the three physical acoustic properties available--reflection, absorption and diffusion. It must be noted that, in almost every case where there is an excess or an insufficiency of one or more of these properties, the room's performance as a whole will decrease, and tend to fall into the negative category. Various studies of psychoacoustics have revealed the importance of the properties of reflections arising at a listener'sears shortly after the direct sound. [2, 3] In larger rooms, all reflections up to around 80 mS after the arrival of the direct sound are generally considered early reflections. In many smaller rooms, however, early reflections are typically considered to be high level, first order reflections from the walls, ceiling and floor, which may occur with the first 20 mS or 30 mS. The time level frequency phase and directivity of these early reflections are now considered important factors in determining a listener's

or even stepped columns on a wall or beams on a ceiling. Typical absorptive materials are frequency variable in efficiency. This paper is intended to be a practical discussion of the various means available for controlling the properties of these early reflections. etc. it must be realised that there are available essentially only three physical room properties for controlling the sound filled within that room. These are shown in Figure 1: (i) Reflection. in which sound energy is converted into heat. virtually irrespective of the angle of incidence. 6] resulted in the development of broad-band number theoretic diffusers. any energy not absorbed is reflected in the specular direction. where sound energy is simply redirected with minimal energy loss. and the incident and reflective angles are equal with respect to the reflective surface. Such diffusers are characterised by a series of wells or steps at varying depths. frequently <100 m3 in volume. Two such diffusers are shown in Figure 2. determined by mathematical formulae such as primitive root and quadratic residue sequences. and also of the differences found between listening tests and acoustical measurements. and. Schroeder diffusers offer a number of performance advantages over a . Diffusion can be in the simple form of curved panels. What Are the Options? Rooms used for the reproduction of music are often relatively small. These diffusers work by creating phase interactions from the direct and reflected sound energy between difference depth wells. In considering the acoustical treatment of any critical listening room. such as the reverb time/decay rate. which all have a diffusive effect. This can present a problem for the listener where the program material is required to be audibly of the highest quality or accuracy as the acoustical performance of the small listening room can colour or mask many aspects of the quality of the program material. (ii) Absorption. where the sound energy is scattered over a wide area. Research in the mid-1970's by Dr Manfred Schroeder [4. along with other factors. 2. 5. (iii) Diffusion. if backed by a reflective surface. A similar principle applies to rooms used for the playing and recording of musical instruments. and also rooms used for speech.appreciation of the sound quality.

where the reflection appears identical to the direct signal on an impulse response. and simply redirected in space and time. compared to a specular reflection off a flat panel of identical size. the reflection level will often be in the order of 6-10 dB lower than the level of a specular reflection off a comparatively sized fiat surface. it is found that this absorption is greatest at the lower operating frequencies of the diffuser. The fully reflective room is a poor choice for listeners. The majority of sound energy is preserved. Schroeder diffusers also give temporal diffusion. Comparing Three Rooms Three small listening rooms are shown in Figures 5a to 5c. non-absorbent materials. and the other two having absorbent and diffusive panels respectively. also compared to a fiat panel. 9].simple curved panel or polycylindrical diffuser. with the high level reflections and long decay rate masking any acoustical information in the material being reproduced. The temporal diffusion performance is shown in Figure 4. These factors need to be considered when applying such diffusers as room treatment. when diffusion is increased there is also a corresponding reduction in reverb time as the reflected energy "sees" more of the absorbent surfaces within the room. 3. to exaggerate the effect. with the time (impulse) and frequency responses at the listening position represented in the graphs below each room. with the reflected energy being spread over a time span determined by the total depth of the diffuser. and can be summarised as losses occurring between wells of different depths where air particle velocity changes are greatest. one being totally reflective. Figures 3a and 3b show the spatial energy distribution of a Schroeder diffuser at various frequencies and angles of incidence. even when constructed of rigid. In addition to spatial diffusion. A Schroeder diffuser does have some absorptive properties. with a much wider effective bandwidth and a more even spatial distribution over that bandwidth. . Because of this distribution. however. No furnishings have been included. In a small room. 8. In practice. This effect has been studied elsewhere [7. and typically peaks at around one sixth of the wavelength of the panel depth. and distorting the perceived stereo image.

and reduces spatial variation throughout the room. and significant spatial variation will 4 . 4. however. It is important that the polar dispersion characteristics of the sound source are known as this is vital when calculating the level and response of early reflections at the listening position. The energy distribution provided by the diffusers increases the temporal reflection density. as covered earlier. and the rear part diffusely reflective. followed by the ceiling and end walls for a conventional 'shoe box' room. In a typical small listening room using conventional direct radiator loudspeakers. This causes strong comb filtering of the frequency response. therefore it must be selected and position for this purpose. 11. 12] resulted in the implementation of the 'live end-dead end' approach. but in practice it would be found that a certain amount of absorption would be needed to optimise the room's acoustics. and are certainly much preferred as a listening environment over a room with absorption on all planes. and results in the most significant difference at the listening position. in practice. and listener enjoyment. The treatment of these high level first order reflections is normally the first priority. The room with diffuser panels comes the closest to being preferred by a typical listener. such a room will prove quite "dull" and "lifeless. the properties of early reflections reaching the listener after the direct sound are very important to the overall perception of sound quality. even though the stereo image may show quite high positional accuracy. as well as distortion or smearing of the stereo image due to the confusion of the listener's auditory response created by the perceived secondary source. Early reflections are created by the nearest significant surfaces. Positioning of Absorption." with poor listening enjoyment for most listeners' tastes. the side walls adjacent to and in front of the speakers often create the impression of a secondary source when reflective. The decay rate falls between that of the previous two rooms. which are generally the room's side walls and floor. Diffusion and Reflection As mentioned earlier.The room with absorbent panels shows the smoothest frequency response due to a lack of interfering reflections. where the front portion of a listening room was made largely absorbent. Research by Davis [10. The most significant problem with this approach is that the decay rate will often be non-linear. due to the phase difference between the direct and reflected signals. Such rooms can have very accurate imaging performance. This absorption is used both to control specific reflections and also give the desired decay characteristic.

and also the polar performance of both the loudspeakers and the diffusers at all frequencies of interest. the designer needs to examine the distance and angle between the direct and reflected signals at the listening position. It is interesting to note that acoustical measurements on the impulse and frequency response differences between the two methods of treatment often show only very subtle variations. and therefore the decay rate as a whole tends to become non-linear. and viewed in this way the diffuser can be thought of as a semiabsorbent surface. with the most significant being a substantial widening of the stereo image. generally without perceivable colouration or unnaturalness. the sound energy that would normally be lost by using absorption is instead redirected or dispersed throughout the room. despite the difference being immediately apparent to untrained found throughout the room. The effect varies considerably with the polar response of the loudspeaker being used. 5. This approach may be Meal for a professional control room design. Having a highly diffuse rear wall is certainly beneficial as this creates an impression of an enlargement of the space behind the listener. and can prove particularly beneficial to speakers with a narrow dispersion pattern. Davis later showed that large amounts of absorption in the front portion of the room were not necessary if the wall and ceiling geometries could be designed to direct very early reflections away from the listener. Whilst the undesired very early reflections are eliminated. however it is often too costly or impractical for many people working within existing non-acoustically designed rooms. This creates some interesting psychoacoustical effects at the listening position. Diffusing the Side Walls Research by the author on the use of Schrocder diffusers to scatter first order side wall reflections as compared to absorptive treatment in small rooms has provided some interesting results. Often the diffuse reflection will be 15 dB or more below the level of the direct sound. the amount of absorption applied will often have a substantial effect on the second and third order reflections. With this approach. . with absorption used to control the decay rate only. In implementing such an approach. and helps to increase the depth of image and reduce spatial variation around the listening position.

and the grazing angle of the incident sound across the front of the diffusers. such as in a mixdown suite or control room. In many situations. Applying a diffusive surface to the side walls of small listening rooms introduces low level reflections around this angle. Such an approach has been recently applied to a CD Mastering Room using wide dispersion. A cancellation can be seen around 300 Hz with the diffusive treatment. The three surfaces used (reflective. The engineer's initial reaction was that the image was very broad. absorbent and diffuse) were placed within 150 mm of the speaker to exaggerate the effect. Ando [131 found that interaural cross-correlation (IACC) was lowest for sounds from 4-_55° with respect to the listener's head where phase differences are the highest." Adding a minimal amount of absorption was sufficient to audibly reduce the width. the subtle widening of the sound stage created by low level diffuse reflection from the side walls can positively add to the listening appreciation. In the majority of other situations. using speakers with a very narrow polar dispersion. 6 . allowing adjustment to be made to suit the listener's taste. which is the result of its close proximity to the speaker. b and c shows the frequency response measured at the listening position of a typical home listening room. side wall reflection control is probably best achieved with wall geometry and/or absorption if wide dispersion monitors are being used. at which our auditory system is most sensitive. Almost without exception. particularly for speakers with a wide dispersion. and felt "a million miles wide. In most cases where pinpoint positional accuraqt of the stereo image is desired. which still appears quite minimal due to the narrow dispersion. Figure 6a. flush-mounted monitors. the reaction from audiophiles and trained listeners has been positive.Care must be taken if positioning either absorptive or diffusive surfaces very close to a speaker as this can create sharp notches or 'suck out' in the direct response. however. the Iow frequency absorption characteristic of Schroeder diffusers can prove beneficial when positioned near loudspeakers which tend to be omnidirectional at these frequencies. This effect is often found in control rooms where absorptive treatment on the top face of the mixing console can have an adverse effect on the frequency response of nearfield monitors positioned above.

where early reflections are minimal. the loudspeaker coverage can be enhanced. their interaction is often quite complex. and the sound tends to be consist mainly of reflections back from the main room. Conclusion The designer of any critical listening room must have a clear understanding of not only the acoustical treatment available but also the properties of the sound source(s). Amsterdam (1994) Preprint 3849 [3] W M Wagenaars Localization of Sound in a Room with Reflecting Walls. some side wall positioned diffusion will frequently prove beneficial to the performers. in the case of a reinforced performance. many times it has been proved that the solely theoretical approach may not necessarily be appreciated by a listener's ears. with reflections back to the stage area being !ow enough to avoid triggering feedback. JASA vol 65 pp 958963 (1979) [6] M R Schroeder Progressin Architectural Acoustics and Artificial Reverberation:Concerthall acoustics and number theory.6.JAES vol 38 no 3 (1990) pp 99-110 [4] M R Schroeder Number Theoryin Science and Communications. there is often a lack of support for performers on stage. and the listener's personal taste. The development of high performance diffusive treatment by Dr Schroeder has proved most advantageous to designers and listeners alike. 8. The application of the many variations of the three basic acoustical properties to listening areas is an ongoing field of research. 15]. Applications in Larger Rooms The beneficial effect of Schroeder diffusers on music performance areas has been covered elsewhere [14. On a different scale. Springer. Whilst there are only three basic acoustical properties available. JAES vol 37 no 7/8 (1989) pp 539-553 [2] S Bech Perceptions of Reproduced Sound: Audibility of individual reflectionsin a complete sound field. In an auditorium or theatre. JAES vol 32 no 4 pp 194-203 (1984) 7 . AES 96th Convention. References [1] F E Olive & F E Toole The Detection of Reflection in 23ypical Rooms. New York (1985) [5] M R Schroeder Binaural Dissimilarity and Optimum Hearing for Concert Halls: More lateral sound diffusion. and. and must always be related to psychoacoustical research. 7.

.[7] D Takahashi Sound Absorption of a QRD. N Auletta. Springer. Anaheim (1985) Preprint 2255 [15] P d'Antonio Perfomlance Acoustics: The importance of diffusing surfaces and the variable acoustics modularperformanceshell. who provided the use of their R&D listening rooms. AES 78th Convention. New York (1991) Preprint 3118 Acknowledgments The author wishes to thank the many colleagues and listeners who have contributed comments and conducted their own experiments in this area. AES 64th Convention. Proc IOA vol 10 part 2 (1988) pp 223-232 [9] C Morton Low Frequency Control and Acoustical Optimising of Small Rooms Using the Schroeder Diffusion AES 5th Australian Regional Convention. AES 91st Convention. Proc Wallace Clement Sabine Centennial Symposium (1994) pp 149-152 [8] D E Commins. New York (1979) Preprint 1547 [11] D Davis The LEDE Concept. and also Duntech Audio. Anaheim (1982) Preprint 1954 [13] Y Ando ConcertHall Acoustics. Sydney (1995) Preprint 4034 [10] D Davis The Role of the Initial 77me Delay Gap in the Acoustic Design of Control Rooms for Recordingand Reinforcement_stems. B Suner Diffusion and Absorption of Quadratic Residue Diffusers. Audio (Aug 1987) [12] C Davis & G Meeks The History and Development of the LEDE Control Room Concept. New York (1985) [14] P al'Antonio & J H Konnert The Role of ReflectionPhase Grating Diffusers in Critical Listening and Performing Environments. AES 72nd Convention.

of reflec- 9 . absorption and diffusion.REFLECTIOH ABSORPTI N O DIFFUSIOH Figure 1: Diagrams depicting the acoustical performance tion.

t i i i I J · I t 10 Ii Figure 2: Cross-section of an N = 11 QR diffuser (left) and a PR diffuser (right). .

I---_:._. ..:-'.. ... ._. /' ' s ....... .-F_.?.... .. _ ·· 'Sall(I N. .._... _·...: ''' ... ......T.....' ' l (ce) _a._.I. .L..::: . % I / : ....l IP ."'"':"'"T""·':-..-_a·5' · .%... · ... ··.-._7 ¥"_ .. ' r ":_.e.. ... _ : . /".."":...______¥<...._. _. '_' ...: .I--·.. 'lkHi OCTAVE cEalitE :· :' ....:.... : ' .'?....' '..: (gO) O l* · .....'"'.'· /7¥:.·. :.i :_ . ai OCTAVE k CE#IRE ._:.-......a ." '........' . : · ...___ : .. _.. · 9L _q'"'"*'....... OCTAVECEHTRE."I:'"'_'"'-'_'""_'"'".-+...::..l...· ' ...'... · '._. +.. . :-. ·. _ .... I .' 9.':'.... .:.:-... ::.e._"'.! (06) O...'-'71'*'_... '.:43. "·"':'"......:-'"?':...· _:_ / ...:v..·. !..': / / '. ·._ _ ."'·' . ."..._......... '.._.' : :&.._./:'.......".' _. 65L5[" " : "".:..._'""":'""'L"I'_. .'.. :.'._. 4}.. "'"' _ '".. ...'""'['"'"'i" . .. ' ...:'"'. ...5.. . ...-.... _ ..' ' m J ."'"'L._. ........'".. "'(""':[_'"'. . !.* : . '._ ./. . '6..-' .'_.........._ '?.·..... ".: .' / ._. '..5' .. . i '_ '. :..." L.. '......_ ' : .-6_.' Figure 3a: On-axis spatial scattering performance of an Aro 770 diffuser compared to a fiat panel of identical dimensions (dotted line)· 11 ..-..j ".... I.....:..?._....._· *: ..

.:......... '.... '"".(08) II.."..' '.....:-....... ......_ : '"i °' ' . ..:'... -. ?'... .... S*" "_ .0::.. . _ : .. 5" : · _ ...:" "'........ . / _8.:_:..J · (gO) I.. /....... · /'........... ... ""..:: .._. ._.... .... '. 4_....__'" '" I" "'. :-..: . ....iii}..:. ".::..o::.. :.. _ ......:........ * · * . . ...".........""' : .... ' : __.._. II -_. Figure 3b: 45 degrees off-axis spatial scattering performance of an Aro 770 diffuser compared to a fiat panel of identical dimensions (dotted line)....::"_. ?..: . _ _ .... . _ · : · .. / .1'.....?..._... -.S_..........' -. · 'lkHi OClllVI (:EIITRE o. _ .... '_'_:::...... · r ........ : : . . -...._."". _ ....¥ : .i'_'r..'::._.1y. · : _ /...... ° · · :' ". 45..."" ' . ..... 12 ....:. ..-..-..._ ._....... .. : _eea_ (]CLAVE CEHTR[ ... :......: ...... . '.... ..-o:.. ._./. .""" '_'-....... '.... ' .'..... _... :. ..... .q S7. ..... .." ... .._.. "'_:4 '... ·' : / '":. ... . ". · _: ... .... ...........-45.-......' (06) II... ...' ... _'........ · _.: ...:.. _ '. ..... (P .... ."'" '.:: ./''' ...... Iie .....:.. ...._......_..._...:. _ s · .......J.. ...x : · _ t I_..'. aa Ao . : ':*.. ... '......... . '... ...... '...:. : · ....t..'"_. _ /... .... / .. '._....c .... ..... .'-liT.C: _ i.....':_.'_............... .. _...'.:' _ _ :.. 6kNi OClfiVE CEilllti... '.9 ...

...4...':...... : ... .! i ':' : ........H ""'"'"":i .i.......i I_: SOUND' SOUOCG ..... Ill ... !... 'i .:.[Ifil ....:1 . !. "'"" ' _ /.....".:.__F. 'Il I/ II ' ' ': .!I" ':' 'l':'J":........qlt._ !.... .f:_l ..........]Psec 1793 """' t _ [ 1' ' i ... 8144_)1'SecJ ] I uh.-.... | .: ..49 dS ! i !..o...... .. :'Ii ... [4 ... .:.on: e so +e = i... ] Illlllil ........ Hr*ires ! : I ... ' :' I .... _...IL....._r. :..... ... :.II:L .. :. %%1.i. :..: .... ..._U _ Figure 4: Temporal energy spread reflected from an Aro QR diffuser with a flat panel (specular) reflection shown for comparison.. [ '_ .. :: .. . i i i.___..u.It..... .......:oM...... . '1_[ · t9....... :........... i .. ee dO .t :" . !..Rs.._ss L__J_J.. .....?._-.. :. :.....563 I :..... : I · :....:.!....... JOan.... :. Tine Span: _...P .... _. :: .......................:.... ......: .... : :.:_Lt:__.. .. HelreS i ! 7963#sec I 24..._9.._....t .. 13 .. [ ... T i i ... ....:i ....i 'l:l_'":l.....: ..... '6JIStC : ' ' ' :_ i ._:.....!. 'r.I .... !1 .. Illld .. :'":"':1 .. i .. z SOUHO' SOURCE ..................... h I1_ ... . .... : :.... i i ....... :l I : : : II.... : ! :i ...._-_ I_....I ! i Svaep Rate: 1692Hz/S t_' _ d[_ f i II '[' : ... I :1 M... .. t.'.... ........... TE_...... i' :_:'": ..... : I':fi....... ..... ...."!...i :..U_ _.:'llk:ll_":'":'"i . i ! I: .........: :t _st Sl.0... i ...... : : lift /' .....?..

iJ j IiJJrJllrr TIME' )' FREQUENCY )l Figure Sa: Small listening represent time position. room with all reflective walls. Graphs and frequency response at the listening 14 .

. Graphs represent time and frequency response at the listening position.I i ' T E _ IIIIILlah.. g Figure Sb: Small listening room with absorbent panels. i. 15 ...

Graphs represent time and frequency response at the listening position.! TIME IIJ!l[l. 16 .ld[ffjitlj lrlf L Jill[ ! . FREQUENCY ' T Figure5c: Small listening room with diffusive panels.

iii.. 17 .'_ 5.o -5.: S S 10000..:: : : :::: M L o. _ .0 i i : iiiill i i ilii : : : :.Transfer Function Magnitude dBvolts/volts i i .0 1000..0 -25.0 -20. auto 50.0 log Frequency Hz - Reflection alongsidespeaker.0 -Iff .0 -40.0 100.0 -4_. i.. Figure 6a: Response at listening positionwith reflectivesurface alongside the speaker.0 .0 -30.0 -10..0 ! : ! ! ....0 -25.

. -tO. -5.0 1000. 18 . -25 . Figure 6b: Response at the listening position with absorptive surface alongsidethe speaker.oti-kil-i! ..0 log Frequency Hz - Absorptionalongside speaker..0.0' i ! _ _ _ __ : : : : : :: ! o.Transfer FunctionHagnltude dRvolts/volts 5..0 -40.. S A -ao.O · -30._.0 -35.0 _ __ :: i ii_ * ...0 10000.0 ':_-: ii 100.0 auto 50..0 -45..o '"H'"":.O -15.

0 auto ... Figure 6c: Response side the at listening position with diffusive surface along- speaker. ii i ii::i i : L ! i i i*_*_ S : : : : :: A ....o .o 0. ' ... i -20. 50.0 ........... 1 .0 1000. -i i :..0 10000..0 1o9Frequency Dz - Diffusion alongside speaker...0..i.. _ iiii * -3_ ....0 '"t .0 100.. _ : : : ::: -ls.. ' ....0 -30..... -_..0 -10._. .0 -5. !..Transfer Function Hagnitude dBvolts/volts s..... _. I ·-45. 19 ...........0 ..

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