11 October 2007

Sonic Cascade

I read through this NYT article as a result of this Dilbert blog. It's an interesting concept, that of the "cascade" of poor (or wrong) information. I don't think it would be difficult to find numerous examples of this effect in audio and acoustics. One example would be something I feel I may have had a hand in starting myself. In the various acoustics forums I frequent, I have seen repetitions of a concept I (mistakenly? blindly?) endorsed until recently: You cannot have too much "bass trapping" in your studio. If you really think about it, it's a ludicrous statement.

"So, Mr. Savant, I can fill my room floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall with bass traps and it still won't be enough?"

Well, er, no. That's not...

"So then, Mr. Savant, I can put 1 meter thick wedges on the walls and ceiling and still not have an environment that allows my mixes to translate to other systems?"

OK, that's really not...

"Mr. Savant. Where does it end? If I cannot have "too much" of something, where do I put it all?"

I think you can see the point. I don't know if this fits the "cascade" definition, but I can honestly say that I cringe every time I see that statement pop up on the Internet now.

Mea culpa.

Now, when I was a proponent for this approach to small room treatments, I was - admittedly - in the employ of a company that manufactured and sold, you guessed it, "bass traps." Of course, some might say, my mantra is going to be that you need a boatload of them.

But, perhaps to continue in my blog-inspired efforts to clear the air on certain things (ahem), I wish to state officially that my motives were not (entirely) driven by sales.

My original point with the "you-can't-have-too-much" statement was that even if you used a generous amount of "bass traps" in your small home studio, it would not eliminate each and every bass problem in the room. This was more CYA than anything else. "Bass traps" - or more accurately, low frequency or broadband acoustical treatments - are wonderful devices. When placed properly in the room, they can turn an acoustical turd into something that sounds incredibly (some would say, suprisingly) accurate. But, there will still be problems. Even the best "bass traps" on the market don't solve all the problems. And the devices that are needed to, for example, fix a 27 Hz axial mode problem in a small studio room are so large and heavy that they are WAY beyond practical for any home studio owner.

But, perhaps I digress. The main point is that acoustics is most definitely not immune to the cascading of poor (or dead wrong) information.

If you don't believe me, ask yourself why so many people are convinced that the sound of Bose® systems is superior to anything else, even when presented evidence to the contrary. Is this good marketing, or an acoustical cascade in full motion?

(Please note that I have nothing against Bose®. If you wish to throw sound evenly around a reverberant space in your home, such as your kitchen, the Wave Radio might be the thing for you!)


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