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Loudspeakers and Rooms for Sound Reproduction—A Scientific Review

The physical measures by which acousticians evaluate the performance of rooms have evolved in large performance spaces—concert halls. They rely on assumptions that become progressively less valid as spaces get smaller and more acoustically absorptive. In listening rooms the loudspeakers and the rooms interact differently below and above a transition region around 300 Hz, similar to the Schroeder frequency in large rooms. Above this transition we need to understand our reactions to reflected sounds; below it the modal behavior of the space is the dominant factor. A review of the scientific literature reveals that natural reflections in small rooms are at levels where they are perceptible, and their subjectively judged effects range from neutral to positive. At low frequencies the long-standing problem of room resonances can be alleviated substantially through the use of multiple subwoofers, thereby providing similarly good bass to several listeners in a room. A provocative observation has to do with human adaptation to the complexities of reflective rooms, and the extent to which it allows us to localize sounds correctly in direction and distance, and to hear much of the true timbral nature of sound sources. In the case of loudspeakers, an analysis of comprehensive anechoic data is found to be sufficient to provide a good prediction of sound quality, above the low-bass frequencies, as subjectively judged in a normal room. Although the interactions of loudspeakers and listeners in small rooms are becoming clearer, there are still gaps in our understanding. A number of these are identified and are good opportunities for future research.

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JAES Volume 54 Issue 6 pp. 451-476; June 2006
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