Positive Feedback Logo

Audiophile Decorating: Making the Listening Room Sing

03-29-2018 | By Gary L Beard | Issue 96

Audiophile Decorating


I've been a lover of music and audio for as long as I can remember. I didn't really recognize myself as an "audiophile;" but from my first 45 rpm box player in '63, to an all-in-one Sears stereo, followed by a succession of Pioneers, Harman-Kardons, Yamahas, and Kenwoods; I loved gear even then. I do, of course, identify as an audiophile now, and I feel especially blessed that I am able to pursue with passion, a pastime that is afforded to relatively few. It does mean a lot to me, and like most, if not all, who will read this, it is a very big part of my life.

Yes, I'm a lucky S.O.B.

I hope by now readers of this fine publication have figured out I'm on the value median. I've spent my audio-capital where sensibilities deem most appropriate, and the results have been gratifyingly successful. My "Tune Saloon" system is the layer cake, but I like a little sale-priced Ghirardelli chocolate icing on the cake too, so I've been working hard to make the Saloon a personal reflection of my most cherished hobby.  Of course, being tight with a buck, my decorating ideas come with a creative punch of low-budget style. Some might even say cheap.

I should probably buy stock in Ikea.

What's Real in my Estate

It took years of painstaking negotiations to persuade my wonderfully tolerant wife to allow me the keys to a rectangle of carpeted space just off our master bedroom. It's a quiet place; away from the noisiness that accompanies the refrigerator whine of modern life. I generally get to call it mine; at least until "somebody" [visualize me making stupid air quotes] wants to sleep; but all she requests is that I reverse Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" exhortation, to toyn it down! After eighteen years of trying to marry my love of high-end audio to the love I married, this bargain meant I could finally bedeck to reflect my unique personality.

And my wife got a sewing room in trade...Uh-oh.

Turns out sewing machines = Audio gear.

Making it Midnight Special

In addition to the central focus of equipment, speakers, cables, and racks, I've added awesomely effective acoustic treatments from GIK (HERE), as well as a few "gentlemen's listening room" touches to bring a sense of artisanal depth to the room.

Artisanal depth! Ha! What a load of bullhocky. It's just a room full of random crapola.

Remember, I'm a cheap-ass, so bringing in a little audiophile-style required a modicum of fiscal restraint. I framed old pictures from concerts I've attended, and grouped together a few spectacular cover photographs from Music Direct catalogs. (Those covers are killer MD, please keep 'em coming!)

I added a dash of original art, a couple of neat guitar prints by artist, Karl Haglund, and grabbed some music marketing posters from my favorite local record haunt, Landlocked Music (Yes, it's a shout out). A $7 shelf from Ikea supports the "Now Playing" album. And lastly, being an AARP-cave, I carefully positioned a hodgepodge of generally interesting personal artifacts that no one else cares about but me. And I shan't forget, there's quite a display of potable honey-brown grain-based syrup from Kentucky. Done. 

George Thorogood Would Approve.

Problems coexist among the benefits: I still have too much chunky ‘70s bedroom furniture in the way; but I gotta have a place for all that cool audiophile clothing I've collected. I also want better album storage, but I need a magic wand to find unoccupied floor space.

Me: Dear, that big-ass dresser has got to go. You could store your sewing kit in it.

Her: No.

Sitting Pretty (Comfortable)

Audiophile Decorating

Sitting Pretty in Pink (not) and Gray Leather

I just bought a new chair. It's the first time I've ever purchased seating principally for listening. It's a nicely appointed grey leather stressless knock-off. It was not ridiculously expensive, has a fairly small footprint; and fits my own small footprint like a glove. Not only is its gray-matter leather de-stressingly comfortable; gone are the unfortunate head-wings of my crusty 30 year-old overstuffed wing-back. I always had to lean slightly forward when listening critically to get the best sound; and that's damn tough on the old C5/C6 cervical vertebrae.

Lite the Wick!

As you've no doubt concluded from the pictures, in addition to the new chair—certainly a significant upgrade—I've also tackled lighting. While I regularly listen in relative darkness, nice lighting makes a welcoming statement in an audio room. I've been salivating over color-changing LED smart bulbs since they first came out, but as the first tenant of cheap-assdom states; buying an unproven product for way too much money—especially one you don't really need—is a no-no. But hey, we're the band of audio bro's and sis's are we not? We are a driving force in the economy of don't need.

In short, we buy stuff...Even unnecessary stuff.

With smart-bulb prices stabilizing, and new choices regularly entering the marketplace, it seemed like a good time to check out options. As we all know, nearly every new techy product platform starts out with a plethora of form and function differences, and worse yet, various proprietary networking schemes. After looking at several basic types, I ruled out the ones that required hubs, or that did not run solely on my home wifi network. And yet, I could never quite tug the Visa from my sticky wallet to take the plunge.

And then came the impetus: An appropriately cheap-ass Ikea swag lamp that my sweet daughter no longer needed and I coveted. I could hang swag next to my listening chair, and buy a color smart bulb to light the room with panache and pizzazz!

My head was spinning visions of an Aural Borealis of swirling colored spectra. It was time.

Big Box Trip #1.

I'd already settled on the LIFX Mini Color, a standard Edison screw shell A19 bulb. $45 bucks. Not cheap, but this little guy is quite amazing. Bright 800 lumen output, 16 million colors, dimmable, plus a ton of white light color temperature choices too. The LIFX was my choice because it does not require a hub, and uses a "standard" wifi network connection. You do have to download the LIFX app (iOS or Android), and register for LIFX's cloud-based system, but once done, it took me all of 2 minutes to get the light up and running.

Mind Blown! [Making trendy exploding-head hand gestures here.]

Although it would be silly-putty in a six-year old's hands, it took me a couple of hours of fiddling to figure out the app, and while not always perfect, it does work very well most of the time. In the fading evening light, when things naturally start hoppin' in the Tune Saloon, I fired up the LIFX. It was amazing, and amazingly distractive. I loved the pure, saturated colors, but I seemed to spend the whole evening with my head cranked sideways peering into one of 16 million colorful options swinging next to me.

Audiophile Decorating

Psychedelic swag. Chiropractic bill.Yeah baby!

Big Box Trip #2

I decided I could remedy sensory overload by buying yet another Mini. Yeah, I know. But if one is good, two must be better, right? I surmised if I put another lamp in an overhead light, it would solve my problem of of left-turn staring (and keep C5/C6 happy). When I was in the store that time, I looked more closely at the array of LIFX products. Their LED light strip immediately caught my attention, but at $160 bucks to span the room, it seemed awfully salty for what amounts to a perk of privilege. I brought home the second Mini; and found the two lamps created quite an atmospheric feel. The entire room would glow Martian-skin green, Moulin Rouge bordello red, or any crazy Carney-ride color I could dream up.


Big Box Trip #3 (Third Time's the Charm?)

We are audiophiles after all. It is not in our DNA to stop at the lowest common denominator.

Buy what we can afford? What fun is there in that approach?  

As neat as it was, I really didn't enjoy the entire audio room looking like a Las Vegas lounge. And it was at that moment I determined what I really wanted was to light the front wall behind the audio gear. So back to the store I went, keen to buy the LIFX Experience light Strip plus two extensions; a total of 16 feet of audio room decorating goodness. The kit comes with a wall plug-in power supply, a control box and connecting cable, plus three 1 meter plug-together LED Strips with 3M double stick tape on the back. (It should be duly noted that the tape does not work all that well over time. I eventually had to add additional support.) Once I plugged all the strips together and connected the new lights to the cloud app, the LEDs sprang to life. Each 1 meter section can supply a total of 2100 lumens at full brightness. But because you can see the light emitters even when the strip is turned sideways, I quickly realized I needed to mount them in such a way to allow the light to wash the wall, and not my eyes.

Always a garage-raiding vigilante, I found leftover baseboard trim lying in wait for an important mission. After a bit of trial and error, I built-up and mounted the whole shebang as a light cove above my stereo. The light washes down, but with enough bleed upward to catch collectibles, and a little of the ceiling when not dimmed down. Yes, it's cheap, but it's not ass. It actually looks pretty darn good, even if I say so myself.

Smartly Lighting the Way to a Brighter Day

Once I plugged the LED strips in for the first time, I knew I had done the right thing. It looks fantastic. Splashes of vivid reds, greens, and blues, sweep down like a waterfall, giving various levels of illumination to art and photos, as well as the now playing album.

Audiophile Decorating

(Important note: These photographs make the room look far more immersed in color than it actually is; the effect is easily controlled by setting the color saturation, and dimming intensity. Although the wall lighting can appear like a disco party gone wrong, it doesn't have to look like Caesar's Palace on steroids!)

Each light strip is separated into addressable zones, so colors can be dragged and dropped to customize the look. Using the Scene feature in the LIFX app, I made custom lighting scenes to easily return to, and then added the Mini light into the mix by editing the scene. With a press of a cyber-button, I now have an integrated smart lighting solution in my audio room. I've set up scenes for when I have guests, when I want to see the full breadth of the room, when I don't want the lamp on, don't want the wall on, and when I want the bordello theme. Cough. The two best scenes so far are deep blue in both lights, dimmed all the way down for late-night listening, and yet another that features splashes of color on the strip separated by swaths of warm-white highlighting the decorative items on the wall.

The Blue Room Beckons

Okay, so I may have gone a little crazy with this whole colored light thing. 

If you are of a "certain age" you may recall the old Christmas-lights-behind-prismatic-lens trick. Pulsing away to Alice Cooper's "Black Juju" in my buddy John's basement, those simple light boxes were a bohemian holiday party every night. Vintage, the LIFX smart lights are not. They may remind me of my audio-formative era, but they are a consumer technology as modern as it gets. The beautiful washes of the rainbow bring my attention to the center of attention; the alluring audio gear shimmering eight feet away, and the musical light which emanates from within their sumptuous circuits.

glbeard 2018

And yeah, it looks cool as hell too. Alice would be proud.

That I have made such effort to give my listening room a coolness factor may seem a bit childish. But it does enhance the experience. I'm blessed with an abundance of friends who grew up together, tested by the gentle mischief of adolescence, and touched by the exceptional music of our time. Every so often, a few of us get-together to enjoy my audio system; we rekindle, story-tell, talk about music, and spin our favorite records for the one zillionth time. Yeah, it's an exercise in cheerful remembrance, but it is also new conversation, and new memories. After sweating all day to get the lights done before my pals arrived for the formal unveiling, I was a wee bit concerned they might think it over-the-top. But I was so wrong, they loved it. The new, and improved, Tune Saloon it a hit.

We are "of a certain age" now; but our special bond; cemented by time, audio, and music remains as vibrant as the music we love.  Isn't that what this audio-thing is really all about?


All images by Gary Beard