Auralex Room Analysis Plus Background and Equipment
Auralex has introduced three levels of consultation. There is the Room Analysis, Room Analysis Plus, and Room Analysis Pro. The Pro version involves someone coming to your home with equipment. If you have the money for that (it starts at $1500 a day plus travel and expenses), stop reading and call Auralex. It's probably worth it. For the rest of us, the other two options are much more accessible.
The basic Room Analysis involves a form. You fill it out. It asks you stuff like type of room, dimensions, listening preferences, speaker setup, and what you think your problems are. They also ask you to draw a picture of your room. If you have CAD drawings, blueprints, digital pictures, etc., they'll take them as well. You fax/email in the form and they plug it into a program and tell you where your room problems probably lie and what they would suggest you do about them.
Oh baby, that's the kind of price I'm talking about. If you care even one iota about how your system sounds, you should have already done this. This is a no-brainer of epic proportions. Sure, they are going to suggest that you spend money but they aren't requiring you to spend it with them. Heck you can do it yourself if you want. That's where I started.
The Room Analysis Plus takes this service a step farther. You fill out of the form, draw your room, etc. just like before. On top of that, they send you an audio sweep file and you play it through one of your speakers while recording it. You'll need to specify exactly where your speakers and the mic is in the room including measurements from the wall, the type of mic, and the make/model of speakers. You measure one speaker at a time - more on that later. Once you send all that in, they run it through their analysis program and send you a report. They also promise an hour or two of on-the-phone consultation for the inevitable questions you have. Price? $250 for up to five measurements (when I began this article, it was $250 for the first measurement, $100 for each additional measurement, they've apparently decided that this wasn't enough bang for your buck. Better for you I say). The report you get will have all the measurements combined into the analysis (not a separate report for each).
What You Need
For the Room Analysis, all you need is the ability to describe your room correctly. A tape measure is mandatory with a digital camera being a very helpful bonus. I'm sure you could use something like Google Sketchup if you wanted to. Any additional information would probably be welcome. After that, all you need to do is fill out the form and send it in.
For the Room Analysis Plus, you're going to need some sort of recording setup. This is where a lot of the Home Theater crowd is going to get lost. Having an omni-directional mic is not a problem for musicians who probably have them lying around but for the average consumer it is a different story. Auralex is now offering a package called the Room Analysis Plus Kit. In it you'll find a mic and a USB thumb drive with the appropriate test tones. What you'll still need at a minimum is a preamp and an XLR cable. You'll probably want a mic stand as well (though I'm sure you could rig something up). The cost of the kit is $299 and it includes a five position analysis (so you are basically getting the mic for $50).
Trying to figure out how to do this on the cheap, I can't really see how you're going to get away with a cheaper mic than $50 so I'm going to start with that. If you can (perhaps used or something), fine. Just be sure you're not buying cheap, just getting a deal on something quality. If your mic is low quality, your measurements will be affected and the analysis will be affected. Better to spend a few dollars up front on the mic than end up with an analysis with a bunch of caveats.
The preamp is the real problem with costs easily escalating. What you need is a way to transfer the XLR signal to USB to get it into your computer. With that, you can use a free program like Audacity and do the recording (that's what I used). A quick search online revealed a couple of devices like this which might work. You could possibly get a used preamp for about that as well. You'll need to look around. All in all, I estimate if you have no equipment you're going to be out about $350 to get the analysis done. That's not too bad but then again; don't forget that the standard Room Analysis is free. It just doesn't include any measurements.
The other option (and this was suggested to me by Auralex) is to contact your local dealer and see what they're willing to do. The assumption is that a person that is paying for an analysis will eventually buy something. Some dealers have suggested to Auralex that they would be willing to do the Room Analysis Plus measurement for free. Since the dealer is doing the measurement and not a representative of Auralex, it is still considered a Plus service and not a Pro. I wouldn't bet on anything for free though if the price is around $100 it might be worth it.
What You Get
Obviously, you get a report. But what's in it? You'll see frequency graphs and waterfall charts. This will show you what your room sounds like and more importantly where the problems lay. Of course, what you're looking for is a mostly a straight line between 20Hz and 20kHz (technically it should taper off on the low end and slightly boost on the high - for more info check out this article). You'll be lucky if you don't see something that looks like an EKG. These are room affects and speaker nonlinearities working in conjunction. If you have a perfect speaker (and let's pretend you do for the time being), this is the additive and subtractive affects of the size and shape of your room including what materials the walls are made out of plus the affects of any treatments, furniture, and other items.
The real value (it's hard to talk about value with the standard Room Analysis since it is free) of the report is that the report gives you suggestions of where and what type of treatments you need and possibly locations of speakers and seating. So, if the measurements indicated that you have a bass suckout at a particular frequency and the room size would have predicted it as well (confirmation), then Auralex will tell you not only that you have the problem but what and where you should put treatments to remedy it. On top of that, if placement of speakers or seating is a contributing factor, they'll let you know where you could move your speakers or seating for a better listening experience.
The real question here is how much of a value added is the Room Analysis Plus over the standard Room Analysis. Well, if you are one of those guys that don't trust theory, you're going to want the measurements. My opinion is that the difficulty of your room is probably the deciding factor. If you have an enclosed rectangular room and have good attention to detail, you can probably get away with the standard Room Analysis. Just be overly descriptive. Triple check your measurements. Take lots and lots of pictures. Make sure you include the materials your furniture is constructed out of. Don't assume that any item won't make a difference. The effectiveness of the suggestions will be directly proportional to the accuracy and quality of your description. The Auralex rep said that with a more normally shaped room and very good descriptions, he's found that his analysis was up to 90% correct when afterwards he went in with his equipment and measured it directly.
While enclosed rectangular rooms are fairly easy to model, anything other than that becomes much more difficult. Openings to other rooms, vaulted ceilings, odd shapes… anything that deviates from a box makes modeling much more difficult. That's not to say that doing a Room Analysis is useless, if you can't afford the Analysis Plus, something is better than nothing. Plus… free! But if you have the money and the equipment, the best thing (regardless of room shape) is the Analysis Plus. This gives you real information about your room. No matter how good your description, there will always be that X factor - that element of the unknown that can and very likely will affect Auralex's recommendations. Is it worth the money? That depends on how much money you’re willing to spend and how "different" your room shape.
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Recent Forum Posts:
Anyone try this product yet? I might try the free version without the mic. The thought of having to record the sweep is daunting (I don't have any recording devices except an ancient circa 1985 Sony tape deck) so I anticipate it will be frustrating for me.
My issue is that I have an almost perfectly square room, concrete floors, and the ceiling is dropped down to about 7 ft across the front and along one side (a basement room with bulkheads for HVAC and plumbing) so I'm thinking the room will definitely need to be tamed.
Does anyone know if the microphone can be plugged into the ‘mic in’ on a laptop and use Sound Recorder or something like that to record the sweep?
Heck does Windows Vista even still have Sound Recorder? ….well if not, I'm sure there's freeware somewhere and Google might rescue me (again!)
This is the standard advice you see in most posts asking for room treatment help. Every room will benefit from these basic treatments.
In fact, if you go onto forums for people setting up in home recording studios, the advice is much the same.
As intriguing an idea as this service is, if you are going to spend money, spend it on treatments.
If you are inclined to see what your rooms acoustic profile, download REW (freeware), pick up the mic etc. and measure AND graph to your hearts content. Spend some of that $250 on your significant other so she is more likely to tolerate your obsession.