Doctor's Orders-Part Two-The New Listening Room Of Steve Williams

The History

Most of you are aware by now that I moved back to Southern California in July last year after a 20 year hiatus in the SF Bay Area. It was there that I built my "dream" sound room. That room measured 18' W x 31' L x 9-12' H (sloped ceiling which was 9 feet high at the window and 12 feet high at the inner wall). My system then consisted of both two channel set up as well as a home theater with an 11' screen.

Here is a link to my prior set up

My wife and I moved to the SF Bay Area in 1993 but with the resolve that we would always move home to Southern California. Just about this time last year our youngest daughter was graduating from the University of Boulder. It was then that not only were we aware of our empty nest but also that a few homes in our neighborhood were listed for sale. It was then that my wife suggested we consider listing our home. Well after 20 years in a home that I had built it was a difficult thought for me to consider as I loved our home and it was a source of wonderful memories. As a result, even though I always wanted to return to Southern California I was so attached to our home that I agreed to list the house for sale BUT only at a price that I felt it was worth rather than being dictated by the comps in our area (as I was torn about moving). As a result I listed the house at $200K over any comparable sold home in our area. We left for Boulder on a Thursday. The house was listed on the MLS the following day. The next day I was called by the broker to tell me that 3 people wanted to see the house on the Monday when I was back home (3 days after I listed the house). That next afternoon 3 different families toured the house and that evening I had 2 offers on my house, one which was $50K shy of my list price and a second which was not only a full list offer but so also a 30 day escrow. My wife and I took a deep breath as we suddenly realized that my wildest dream had become reality and that we were moving in 30 days. We now had to find a home to buy. We could have rented but I was opposed to this because I hate moving. Even if it is to the house next door it is still moving so we made a few day trip back to South Orange County and as luck would have it we found a really nice home of about the same size as the one we were selling. Both houses are ~4600 square feet but the new home did not have a dedicated room that I could convert to a new listening room. We moved in last July 6th and for 8-9 months my entire system sat in crates in one of our garages. Once settled in the house I started worrying because I coud see no option as to where to put this room. Believe it or not we considered moving but we really liked our new home. We live in the master planned community of Coto De Caza where my home sits on the 5th fairway of the south golf course. Even though both houses were about the same size the lot sizes were much different with that of my newer home sitting on a smaller sized lot. This pretty much excluded building "onto" the house as the rear yard was all landscaped with a pool. We have 3 garages and for a brief while I considered building the room into one of these garages but after working with an architect this just wasn't feasible. I must admit I was getting depressed about the distinct possibility, that after over 50 years in this hobby and always with a dedicated sound room that this was just not going to come to fruition for this one last "hurrah".

I did a lengthy search of acousticians as there are excellent ones who are members here at WBF. After a 4 week search I realized that if I were to do this any sound improvements put into the room could not be like my last room which was much larger. As a result every precious inch became valuable and I just couldn't spare any extra which would take away from the size of the room. My search brought me to the acoustician I finally hired. Bonnie Schnitta is a Phd in acoustics, electrical engineering and mathematics. It was with this knowledge and while working with the DOD and underwater sound mapping that she wrote a program which provides for mathematical mapping of a room's sound response. When she left the DOD, Bonnie took with her that part of the program which was hers and launched her business Soundsense based in New York city

Her proprietary acoustical things are made through her company

Dr. Bonnie Schnitta is the founder and president of NoiseOut as well as SoundSense, LLC – an acoustic consulting company she formed in 1981. Over the last three decades, Dr. Schnitta has headed hundreds of noise abatement and acoustic management construction projects in homes, churches, synagogues, theaters and recording studios. A CEDIA member since 2001, Dr. Schnitta holds a bachelor's degree in Mathematics from Purdue University, a bachelor's and master's degree in Mechanical Engineering and an interdepartmental Ph.D in Math, Computer Science and Electrical Engineering with a special emphasis in signal processing. She began her career working with ship designers, controlling the acoustics of oceangoing tankers. Although she originally focused on commercial projects, assisting restaurants and auditoriums with noise problems, Dr. Schnitta has branched out into the residential market. “I was just heartbroken to discover that homes were being designed with so little regard for acoustics,” she says.
Dr. Schnitta holds several patents, including an acoustical plumbing trap system, a method for analyzing activity in a signal, and the Paradise Effect™, a proprietary algorithm for the creation of an acoustically-correct and soothing environment. Dr. Schnitta has authored a number of articles on such topics as signal processing and acoustics management.

Bonnie made a site visit to my house in December, took measurements and then upon her return to NYC, plugged all the data in and called me a few days later stating that not only would things work but the room would sound very good. I guess this is what I wanted to hear. Sort of like asking an orthodontist if you need braces :)

The next post will contain all of the ideas and sound treatments added to the room as well as aesthetic treatments. I will follow that post with a synopsis of treatments that Bonnie has provided to me in a write up and I will follow this with several photos of the build out and the finished product

The room was finished end of March and I have been fine tuning the speaker placement, taking measurements and finally adding a pair of JLAudio F113 Fathom subs. I did have a pair of Gotham subs in my last room but I sold these as they for sure were just too much for the room
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Steve Williams

Site Founder, Site Owner, Administrator
Time out

I have a doctor's appt now . I will finish up in a few hours but will keep it locked til I finish so that I can post my thoughts about what I hear

Steve Williams

Site Founder, Site Owner, Administrator
The Sound

I must admit that in my wildest dreams I was not expecting what I heard. First off I started positioning the speakers in the roo according to the same ratio formula I used in my last room. Based on those measurements the speakers sit ~3 1/2 feet from the front wall and the side of the speaker is ~ 1 foot in from the side wall. Initially for the first few weeks of listening the speakers were on casters. Notwithstanding the fact that they weren't even spiked I was stunned by how god the bass response sounded. What I heard just didn't exist in my prior room. I would imagine that this was the case because of the smaller room dimensions. My first thoughts were, "holy cow, I don't need subs" as the room was fully energized unlike my last room. Distance from tweeter to tweeter is 115" and sitting position is 12 feet from the tweeter. Ear height mesures 38". Upper X2 module settings were then carried out according to the Wilson set up manual. Initially I found the sound very focused and somewhat brighter than what I was accustomed so I continued to fiddle with very small changes in speaker positioning.

The following week Nick Doshi of was at my home having a look at my Studer RTR and the switch that I had previously built to bypass the internal electronics. Nick felt the same as I with respect to the imaging and slightly bright sound. Nick suggested that I toe out the speakers by all of 1/2" and then to move the speakers in by 1" while care is taken to maintain the same toe in angle. I took his advice and what resulted IMO was nothing short of sensational. I have never heard my speakers sound this good. Soundstage was wide and deep and the brightness heard before was totally gone. It was just as if everything snapped into position. It was jaw dropping good. What amazed me was when I toed out the speakers 1/2" on each side I was interested in how this changes the soundstage. I placed some painter's tape on the top of my chair behind where I sit. With my laser light held against the inside wall of each speaker I marked where the laser light crossed the tape. When I toed out 1/2" on each side and remarked the tape in a similar fashion the marks on the tape were now 9" wider on each side of my head. I was stunned as to how such a small difference made such a dramatic change in sound. Thank you Nick Doshi :)

Then my pair of F113 Fathom subs arrived and I was prepared for the next dial in process. I remember it took me almost 3 months to be happy with how I set up crossovers and slopes on my Gotham subs so I knew this wasn't going to be easy. First problem was one of the subs was DOA right out of the box so I had 2 weeks with one sub as I waited for a new one to be delivered to replace the broken one. I'm getting close to crossover, master volume settings and have slowly changed the crossover to where I am now at 50Hz but possibly will even go down to 47.5 Hz.

Measurements have been taken with each room change and I am very pleased. I do have a small null at 60 Hz which I am slowly resolving by repositioning the subs and playing with the master volume

Steve Williams

Site Founder, Site Owner, Administrator
The Verdict

Having been involved in this hobby for well over 50 years and bringing my system through countless iterations I was very worried that either I would be selling everything off or downsizing to a smaller speaker which,if I did, would necessitate my changing amps and preamps. I didn't want to do this as I loved what I had. The almost 9 months of thinking, waiting, nail biting and hoping for the best has truly worked out.

As I said I wasn't prepared for what I heard. I was hoping for something that would get by but this was totally different and far better than anything I heard over the years in my last room

I waited the past 6-8 weeks to get everything dialed in as I worried about making the typical statements that we always see about how perfect things were from the get go. Well things were very good but it wasn't until Nick Doshi visited to have a look at my Studer as I have on order one of Nick's famous tube 2 box tape head preamp that is due to arrive mid June. His suggestions were IMO the icing on the cake as to getting perfect sound. The few final things are to better establish phase response with the subs. Also Bonnie will be in town next month for another site visit when we will determine if I will need any more of her "tuning tubes" that will reside between the ceiling and the crown molding. If you notice from the pictures the crown molding was dropped 5" from the ceiling for placement of tuning tubes where they won't be seen and also 5" in from the side wall to house the tracks for the drapes

More thoughts and photos to follow but for now I have to give a huge shout out to the gang at Wilson Audio without whose thoughts and opinions on the build out of the room stimulated me to delve deeper and to not give up. Thanks Dave, Darryl, Debbie, Dave, Trent, John and Jeron. For anyone who has owned Wilson speakers will understand what I mean when I say that Wilson Audio has the BEST customer service in the industry

The verdict is that these big wonderful Wilson X2 speakers with their aspherical display can indeed be placed in a smaller room and achieve wonderful sound

Stay tuned asI will give updates when I receive the new tape head preamp and when I get a new chair and component racks

As for an acoustician I would also whole heartedly give Dr Bonnie Schnitta a huge thumb's up and endorsement in bringing my room and ideas to fruition as well as bringing me in on budget

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