Dedicated listening rooms help music lovers tune in and unwind, and are becoming increasingly popular luxury features in homes — for good reason.
BY NESSA PULLMAN
No matter where in the world you are from, music is one of the most treasured art forms — one that can immediately transport you to another place, allowing you to lose yourself in the melody.
These past few years, people have been spending more time at home, and many have examined how to make their living space more enjoyable. For audiophiles and music enthusiasts of all levels, having a dedicated space to set up audio systems and indulge their senses has been a popular choice. Now, designers are getting behind these spaces to make sure their esthetic beauty aligns with their technical capabilities. Behold: the listening room.
“People are looking for places to retreat to,” says Pamela Billinghurst, of Pamela Billinghurst Interior Design. “Somewhere they can escape from their busy lives for a few hours.”
The most important instrument
Whether you’re a vinyl collector, CD buff or exploring the world of digital streaming, a listening room will create the best environment to experience those beloved tunes.
Paul Barlow, manager at the high-end audio equipment store Sound Hounds, says a proper audio setup in the right space is the key to an optimal listening experience. A room tucked away from other household demands allows you to fully immerse yourself in sound and, ultimately, the experience that comes with it.
“A dedicated room will allow for the groundwork that creates a high-quality sound,” he says.
There is much to consider when it comes to building such a room. Tim Agar, principal at Horizon Pacific Contracting, has been building an increasing number of these luxury rooms into homes over the past few years.
“The room itself is the most important instrument,” says Agar. “It will determine how good — or how bad — the equipment you bring into the space will sound.”
When designing these rooms, Agar uses a technique called staggered framing, meaning the room is separate from the rest of the house, which minimizes acoustical transference. The size and shape of the room is also very important to ensure optimal sound reflection.
“The design is a mathematical formula to give the sound performance back to the listener,”
Once the room is built, that’s when the stereo equipment comes into play. Thoughtful placement is how you create the proper sound for both equipment performance and the listener. There is a science behind the method.
“You want to create a listening triangle,” says Barlow, “with equal distance to the speakers and the listener.”
Dedication to sound
Mark Pocock, a local music enthusiast, says his listening room has allowed him to experience songs more intentionally.
When Pocock first moved into his Saanich home in 2016, he knew exactly which space would be dedicated for the purpose. Since then, improving the room’s acoustics has become a pet project — from the technicals, like adding broadband absorption to reduce sound reflections and corner absorbers to reduce low-frequencies, to enhancing the auditory equipment with strategically placed subwoofers. He has more plans, such as adding diffusion equipment to the back of the room to make the space sound bigger.
“I try to recreate the original intent that the artist laid out when they recorded it,” says Pocock. “Nothing else compares to the feeling of holding that 12-by-12 album cover in your hand while you listen to your favourite song.”
With the right equipment, listeners can hear the high-resolution song in its entirety — without missing a single sound. The way most people typically hear music, whether on the radio or through music-streaming apps, songs are condensed, resulting in a low-quality sound that’s melded together.
“It’s a whole new experience when you get to extract the nuances of the composition and production,” says Pocock, adding that when hearing an original song, uncompromised, it’s possible to pull apart each instrument, voice and melody that created the overall sound.
It’s like getting a front-row seat to your favourite band — only from the comfort of your own home.
Beyond the technical details, Billinghurst says there are a few key design elements needed in these rooms.
“Furnishings, lighting and seating play a huge role in the overall experience,” she says.
To create sound absorption and minimize sound reflection, soft and textured surfaces such as rugs, window drapings and plush cushions are favourable. To set the mood even further, dimmable warm and layered lighting is preferred.
“A rich, dark and moody colour palette can help separate the space from other rooms in the house,” says Billinghurst, “which sets the tone for a relaxing place, away from household chores.”
Listening rooms present an opportunity for more than auditory fanfare.
The space can earn dual use as a library, home theatre or bar to create an ever deeper sanctuary for unwinding. For Pocock, his space doubles as a home theatre, with a front projection system and a drop-down screen that can be easily accessed or hidden depending on the need.
Though simply having the space to display a lifelong collection of records while sitting in a favourite chair and transporting yourself to another realm is not a bad way to spend your time.
Though the pandemic may have triggered some popularity as people explored new hobbies, record sales have been in a resurgence for decades, making listening to vinyl a premium choice for fans of all ages. And the music trend isn’t going anywhere — it’s interwoven into the places that make up our lives and the very fabric of who we are.
“I have loved music my entire life,” says Pocock. “Now, I finally have a dedicated space I can escape to and put on a few of my favourite records. It’s therapeutic for me.”
“The design [of the room] is a mathematical formula to give the sound performance back to the listener.”
The “listening triangle” creates a superior audio experience by setting equal distance between the speakers and the listener. Comfortable seating is ideal for enjoyment, and adding rugs, window drapings or sound-dampening materials is essential for minimizing sound reflection within the space.
A Sound Investment
Outfitting a listening room takes more than just acoustics and esthetics. To ensure those records sound as magnificent as the artists intended, choosing the right sound system for your space is imperative. The experts at Sound Hounds have offered this technical breakdown as a guide.
This collection is curated for those ready to invest in an affordable system made to bring music to life.
NAD C316BEE Integrated Amplifier $649 | NAD C538 CD Player $550
Project Audio T1 Turntable $530 | Monitor Audio Bronze 50 Speakers $659
Music aficionados will appreciate the superior sound created by this system. Rotel S14 Amplifier, DAC, Streamer $3,249 | Project Audio Debut Pro Turntable $1,190
Project Audio Phono Box S2 Phono Preamp $249 | Bowers Wilkins 704 S3 Speakers $5,000
For those devoted to the best sound systems available, this set reflects a quality only found
at this price point.
McIntosh C2700 Preamp $11,900 | McIntosh MC462 Amplifier $14,000
McIntosh MT10 Turntable $16,800 | Bowers Wilkins 802 D4 Speakers $36,000
When the only thing that matters is the music, this system is unparalleled for bringing sound
luxury to life.
Moon 850P Preamp $45,000 | Moon 610LP Phono Preamp $10,000
Moon 780D v2 Streaming DAC $21,500 | Moon 888 Monaural Power Amplifiers $160,000
VPI Vanquish System Turntable $207,900 | Sonus Faber Aida Speakers $196,000