How Furniture Plays Major Role in Acoustic Design

Gerry Lemay, founder of the Home Acoustics Alliance, explains how furniture selection and placement can make or break a system's performance inside homes.

Gerry Lemay, founder of the Home Acoustics Alliance (HAA), says one of the best ways to strike a balance between comfort and sound quality is to place the seating between the left and right speakers. This area of the room is called the "sweet triangle." (Click image to enlarge)
Robert Archer · August 7, 2012

Good sound in a home environment is the elusive Holy Grail for many CE pros. Despite all the technological advances that have been made over the years to deliver a better home listening experience, furniture often gets overlooked during the acoustical design process.

Even with the help of acoustical consultants, integrators can engineer a scientifically valid acoustical design and still have it derailed by their client’s type and placement of furniture.

Educate Clients
Gerry Lemay, founder of the Home Acoustics Alliance (HAA), says better communication can help installers and clients achieve a room design that looks good, acts functionally and sounds good.

“[The topic of blending furniture into acoustically designed rooms] needs to be placed in context, but the answer is yes. It’s a function of the room,” Lemay says.  “A common scenario in which a flat-panel TV is mounted above a fireplace and the seating is across from it like in a media room that is designed for multiple functions can be a difficult environment to achieve good sound. In a dedicated room that has a sole function, it becomes much easier to achieve good sound.”

Importance of Furniture Selection
The intended function of the room and the amount of importance the homeowner places on the balance of comfort, viewing angles and sound quality are the key factors to maintaining a good system design, Lemay says. Once those basic parameters are established, other details such as style and fabric choices can also influence the integration of furniture into a media room or dedicated home theater.

Photos: How Home Theater Seats Are Made

“I think the two most common mistakes people make if the function of the room is for media room applications, is they choose seats with chair backs that are too high,” Lemay says. “If they have surround sound they have speakers all around them. Even professionally designed seating doesn’t take surround sound into account. You can still have a comfortable seat that supports your head and your ears above the chair back.

“The material chairs are made of can also play a role. Leather is a popular choice, but my preference is cloth seating. In a theater environment I find that cloth is more comfortable, but that’s a personal thing. People choose leather because it looks better. Leather can be very reflective, however.”

Lay Out Audio System First
If possible, Lemay says, lay the sound system out first so the interior designer and homeowners can work within the parameters of the audio system. He says this often isn’t possible, but if installers attempt to make their clients aware of the balance of room design and good sound, there will be some designers who are receptive to placing the seating within the dispersion pattern of the speakers.

“For seating, the first rule of thumb is try to keep the serious listening seats between the right and left speakers. Second, I take great pains to make sure that all of the listeners have a clear line of sight to all three of the front speakers,” Lemay says. “In a dedicated room it’s easy; you put in a riser and elevate the person. In a media room it becomes more difficult. This fits into my third point, and this is more of a problem in dedicated room, but people put too many seats in a room and it pushes too many seats outside of the ‘sweet triangle.’”

  About the Author

Bob is an audio enthusiast who has written about consumer electronics for various publications within Massachusetts before joining the staff of CE Pro in 2000. Bob is THX Level I certified, and he's also taken classes from the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) and Home Acoustics Alliance (HAA). Bob also serves as the technology editor for CE Pro's sister publication Commercial Integrator. In addition, he's studied guitar and music theory at Sarrin Music Studios in Wakefield, Mass., and he also studies Kyokushin karate at 5 Dragons in Haverhill, Mass. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Robert at

Follow Robert on social media:

Robert also participates in these groups:
LinkedIn · Google+

View Robert Archer's complete profile.

  Article Topics

News · Furniture · Home Acoustics Alliance · Home Theater · All Topics
CE Pro Magazine

Read More Articles Like This… With A Free Subscription

CE Pro magazine is the resource you need to keep up-to-date on the latest products, techniques, designs and business practices. Subscribe today!

Subscribe Today!