Neil being the only member of the team not done Linn's own space optimisation training decided to take a look at it and a fresh perspective.
Software Driven Room Optimisation – A Quick Look at Linn Space Optimisation
A perennially interesting topic in the hifi world is the effect the playing environment can have on the quality of the music we hear. Room acoustics and characteristics can have a significant affect the sound as you hear it. Sound waves reflect off ceiling, floor and walls and the construction materials and types of furniture can all have an effect. Just think of walking into a room with a carpet versus a room with wood laminate flooring, there is likely to be an echo in the latter whereas all floor sound is deadened with the carpet.
There are lots of solutions out there for tuning out the effects of a room, everything from placing of absorption or dispersion panels on the walls and ceiling to isolation add-ons for components. An alternative to physical change may be available to you depending on the components you have, one of the more specialised being the Space Optimisation available from Linn with any of their Network Music Players. When a Linn Network Music Player is installed the dealer should help with the Space Optimisation setup and configure it for the intricacies of the home environment.
However, I was recently asked two questions about Space Optimisation that have prompted a couple of tests at Nintronics and subsequently writing this article. Firstly a general “how effective is Space Optimisation?” This is a completely open-ended question that everyone asks as soon as Space Optimisation is mentioned and of course, the answer depends on the room it is being set up for. The natural inclination is to consider rooms with all sorts of irregular shapes and sizes further complicated where there are limitations on where speakers can be placed. Indeed this is probably the scenario for a majority of customers. Unfortunately, the number of possibilities here is infinite, not something easily replicated for a test so I opted for an alternative test that should challenge Space Optimisation in a slightly different way - “how effective is Space Optimisation in a room that is already set up as a hifi room?” If the room was designed for playing hifi, an even shape (rectangular), treated with absorption panels, and with freedom to put the listening position and speakers wherever was optimal, then will there still be improvement through adding Space Optimisation?
The second question was more specific and perhaps one that many can relate to – “can Space Optimisation help if you need to place speakers close to the wall?”
Interesting questions, so in a spare couple of hours I thought I’d try and get some answers. However, before addressing the questions there is a complication. The friendly folks at Linn actually have two versions of Space Optimisation available. The first is the original version accessed through the Konfig App, the second a more recent and comprehensive version available through the Linn website. Logically you would expect the more recent version to provide better optimisation and therefore better music reproduction, it seemed sensible to check that out before looking at the questions.
I used one of the smaller demo rooms at Nintronics for the tests. The demo room is approx. 6m x 4m with a door, full height glass panel and no windows, a wooden floor with a rug between speakers and the listening position which is central 1.3m from the rear wall.
Absorption panels are fitted at various reflection points on the walls, in corners and on the ceiling. Equipment used was a Linn Akurate DSM Network Music Player streaming hi-res from Tidal (thought Roon) to a Primare I35 integrated amp and using Audiovector R1 Arrete speakers.
The Essential First Step
The first step is applicable whenever using either variant of Space Optimisation and requires use of just your ears. Without Space Optimisation engaged determine the best position for the speakers – where in the room do they sound best? Either version allows you to configure both the ideal and pragmatic speaker positions. I eventually settled on 0.9m from the front wall and 0.85m in from the side walls. The music sounded pleasant and coherent with a good image, voices in particular having warmth that I personally enjoy. With this done I could start setting up Space Optimisation and answering the questions.
Konfig vs Web-Based Space Optimisation
I’ll keep this bit short – the Web Based Space Optimisation offers a noticeable improvement over the original Konfig version. Functionally the Web Based version has a more modern look and feel and is easier to use, but at the same time is more sophisticated and allows greater flexibility and accuracy of detail in describing the environment. Clearly, Linn were able to take their experience from the development and use of the Konfig Space Optimisation and feed this into the development of the Web-Based version. To give a simple perspective of the relative technical capability of each version consider the calculation time to produce the optimisation for loading on to the Network Music Players. With Konfig the calculation is done in the Konfig app and takes a few seconds, with the web version the optimisation parameters are sent transparently to the cloud-server based calculation engine. Processing takes a number of minutes reflecting the amount of analysis taking place to produce the usable optimisation.
The effect on the music reflected this as well. Both versions offer an improvement over no optimisation, but the results from the Web-Based version were more coherent and musical whatever test track was used. This made for an easy choice.
The rest of the article will concentrate on using the Web-Based version.
Using Web-Based Space Optimisation
The web based version of Space Optimisation requires a Linn account, any customer can create one, and the Network Music Player needs to be assigned to that account – most easily achieved through Linn’s Kazoo app. The interface is accessed through the Manage Systems option in the Linn account pages.
The environment modelling is comprehensive, for example allowing for rooms with any number of walls and corners, then positioning windows and doors exactly within the walls. Speaker positioning allows for the optimal position (see The Essential First Step above) and a pragmatic position and even allows for toe-in to be included. Arguably the greatest time in setting Space Optimisation up is gathering all of the room and speaker measurements but it’s worth making sure this is accurately recorded. In the Space Optimisation interface you step through the pages adding the recorded information, hit Finish and the calculation starts. There are some very detailed configuration options such as temperature and humidity and balancing between a flatter frequency response and decay, I opted to leave these to the Linn calculated defaults. They are however available for tweaking if appropriate.
Switching between optimisation off and on brought more noticeable change than I had expected given the already prepared room and through using bookshelf speakers. Bass was better defined and in particular the upper bass with voices sounding clearer. Change was noticeable even on primarily vocal tracks such as America’s I Need You. There was also a change to the image which was now more focussed between the speakers. I don’t know if I imagined it, but everything seemed a little better defined. Another one of the test tracks was Night on Bald Mountain (Solti / LSO) where the orchestra seemed more together. There was a clearer distinction - with all types of music tried my preference was with Space Optimisation applied.
Question 1 had been answered, Space Optimisation was effective even in a room that had already been treated for music listening.
Question 2 – Speakers Close to Wall
Quick reminder - “can Space Optimisation help if you need to place speakers close to the wall?” To address this I turned Space Optimisation off and then moved the speakers back much closer to the front wall, firstly almost touching and secondly with a 0.15m (6 inch) gap from the rear of the speaker leaving the distance from the side wall as 0.85m. In both cases compared to the optimal position determined by my initial listening the sound was “muddied”, bass was less clear, voices flatter and depth of image reduced the closer the speakers were to the wall. To be fair, the music still sounded good, just not as good.
Now of course the speakers were no longer in the best listening position, they were in the position they had been moved to – the Space Optimisation parameters were adjusted accordingly. With both speaker moves the Space Optimisation was recalculated and re-applied. Here the Space Optimisation had a greater effect and gave a greater improvement than in answering question 1 when the speakers were in their optimal position. The effect was in proportion to the distance from the wall, when the speakers were almost touching the wall it was most profound. Mid-range cleared up as did the wall-induced boomy bass. Depth of image improved, but not to the same point as when the speakers had been in their original optimal position. However, with Space Optimisation engaged the music became more enjoyable, employing Space Optimisation was a simple decision.
Is there a similar effect moving speakers towards the side walls? I repeated the above approach this time moving the speakers towards the side walls and more centrally. Findings were similar but to a lesser degree. Moving towards the side walls there remained an improvement when Space Optimisation was recalculated and applied, albeit not as great as the move of the speakers towards the front wall. Moving the speakers more centrally there was a more subtle but change. Space Optimisation was having a positive effect in this scenario too.
Overall the more recent Web-Based version of Linn Space Optimisation had made more of a difference to the music in the test room than I had expected. Consistently bass had improved, together with a slightly more than anticipated change to the upper bass which had made voices clearer and natural, this is a plus point for me. Music of all genres tried was generally more enjoyable. Perhaps unsurprisingly the effects were most noticeable when the speakers were physically positioned away from their optimal position, but this scenario if a fact of life for many of us as we have to place speakers to fit with the home environment.
This exercise has of course has been undertaken in a single room, but the results found suggest that anyone with a Linn Network Music Player give Space Optimisation a try