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Listening Rooms:
2017’s Hottest Home Trend

Have you ever knocked out a wall to open up your home? If not, have you thought about it?

Over the last several years, interior design has trended toward more openness and fewer unused rooms. People want to use their homes. In new construction, buyers are opting for open floor plans that all but force them to use every precious square foot.

Listening rooms, or dedicated spaces for enjoying music, are part of this larger “use your home” trend. Guest bedrooms, finished basements, studies – in most homes, these rooms rarely get much attention. Why not give yourself a reason to use them and increase overall enjoyment of your home?

Everyone loves music, but not everybody has a space for distraction-free listening. With a listening room, you can have that space.

And you’ll use more of your home in the process.

Why create a listening room?

According to Dr. Daniel Levitin, McGill University psychologist and author of the book This Is Your Brain on Music, playing or listening to music “[increases] the body’s production of the antibody immunoglobulin A and natural killer cells” that improve immune system function. It also lowers your cortisol levels, reducing stress.

In other words, music makes us healthier. But unless you’re a musician, you’re probably not wetting a reed, rosining a bow, or tuning your guitar when you get home from the office. Instead, you’re streaming a playlist or putting on a record. The issue is where you listen to your music.

Without a dedicated space for listening, you might be sharing your music with others – kids playing games? spouse reading a magazine? – who aren’t as into your tunes as you are. You’ll have to keep the volume low or try to ignore the ambient sounds.

And it’s hard to reap the benefits of music when you’re fighting distractions just to hear it.

Maybe you want to unwind, clear your head, and relax. If you like to write, draw, or paint in your off time, maybe you need music to get your creative juices flowing. Whatever the case, a listening room gives you the opportunity to truly benefit from your music. It’s a place for you to fortify your spirit and just feel good.

listening room with B&W speakers and classe components

Where is your listening room, and what’s inside?

Several spaces in your home might be good candidates for a listening room, but not all of them. For example, you shouldn’t create a listening room in an unfinished garage or basement with concrete floors and cinder block walls. Besides having terrible acoustics, these rooms typically aren’t insulated and might stay too humid or too dry during certain seasons. Wild swings in temperature and humidity can damage your audio equipment.

The same goes for spaces that open to the rest of your home. A seldom used dining room probably won’t work if it opens to your kitchen or living room. After all, it’s hard to explore the intricacies of music when somebody’s chopping vegetables three feet away from you. The relative openness of the area is a problem, too. Even when the house is quiet, you’ll miss the sonic nuance in your music as it “leaks” into the rest of your home.

With all of that in mind, here are some characteristics of a potential listening room:

  • Temperature-controlled space inside your home
  • Four (or more) walls that separate it from other areas
  • A door that closes
  • Space for audio equipment, a chair, and any accessories

In other words, a guest bedroom might work fine. You’d be pushing it to convert a tiny laundry room, though.

Once you’ve chosen a room, the equipment and accessories you place inside depend completely on your objectives. Are you planning to turn up the volume and enjoy an active listening session? If that’s the case, you’ll want a comfortable chair and space along the front wall for a high-performance system (more on audio equipment in just a bit). For the sake of your marriage, you might even spring for some acoustic treatments.

Or maybe you just need a space to drink and chat with friends, neighbors, or your significant other. Space for a mini-fridge, bar cart, and comfy sofa is in order.

Want to create a relaxing atmosphere? Be sure to save space for a floor mat (yoga, anyone?) or a zafu cushion and candles.

It’s up to you, but one thing is for certain: You’ll need to install your audio equipment of choice.

Placing audio equipment in your listening room

Some people say that you must use your listening room for active, focused listening, no meditation, incense burning, or beer-sipping. Others will specify the exact sizes of the equipment you should use, state how big (or small) the room must be, and require that you build out a complete soundstage experience.

The way we see it, an acoustically flawless space, high-performance audio equipment, and circumspect speaker placement is definitely the ideal. We also have a special place in our hearts for rooms wholly dedicated to active listening.

But here’s the thing: If you’re creating a listening room that you’ll actually use, that’s what matters most.

In the end, this is your listening room. If you’re creating it so you can listen to gong sounds and chant mantras, that’s fine. We also think it’s ok to store your vinyl in the listening room, add chairs for guests, or tack Santana posters on the wall. Whatever works.

With that caveat, there are some best practices for optimizing sound inside your listening room:

  • Create a sound triangle: If you’re using a two-channel, high-performance stereo, there’s no reason not to do this. The best way to hear all the details and textures within a recording is to think of yourself, the speaker to your right, and the speaker to your left as an equilateral triangle. The distance among those three should be as close to equal as possible.
  • Position the speakers at head level: If you’re sitting on the floor, this means you’ll be placing the speakers relatively low to the ground. If you’re in a chair, they’ll be a few feet higher. When thinking about your sound triangle, imagine that the tip of the triangle is at the back of your head and between your ears.
  • As needed, make adjustments to improve acoustics: Placing acoustic panels on the front (behind your audio equipment), rear, or side walls will improve the sound in your room and help you enjoy a true soundstage. If you’re happy with your listening room as-is, you probably won’t need to bother. But if you’d really like to optimize the listening experience, these accessories can make a difference.

Of course, not everyone will be able to set up a listening room this way. You might be using a single Sonos speaker, and that’s ok! At the very least, place it at head level so you can hear as much sonic richness as possible.

What matters most about listening rooms? Having one.

The listening room is your domain. Your music. Your equipment. Your furnishings. Your style. Your vibe.

What matters most is that you’ve got one – that you’re reclaiming a forgotten space in your home and using it for something enjoyable. Stocking it with high-performance audio equipment and creating a soundstage? That’s a solid goal. And trust us, it’s a lot of fun. But if all you need is a Bluetooth speaker and place to chill out after a long day, there’s nothing wrong with that.

In the end, you’re not staring at yet another screen. You’re enjoying somebody’s musical creation, and you’re enjoying it actively. That’s the art of the listening room. It’s a place to experience great music.

Everything else is just noise.