x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Set up a hi-fi audio room

If you're tired of talking about the heat, why not drown out the whining with a hi-fidelity audio system?

If you're tired of talking about the heat ("it wasn't this hot last year, was it?"), why not drown out the whining with a hi-fidelity audio system? I'm not talking about an iPod running through computer speakers, but a stereo that will make everyone in the room be quiet, take notice and appreciate whatever tunes you fancy, be it Mozart or Metallica. When it comes to the high-end hi-fi, Adil Anwar, managing partner at Dubai Audio, says there are two approaches. First, he says, you can design a room dedicated to your audio needs. This usually means tearing down walls or building an entire house from scratch. The second is to take an already pleasant living space and set up a sound system around it. The latter is the considerably more affordable and practical option - not to mention it is less likely to find an audiophile facing eviction or divorce.

"High-end audio is designed to work in your living room," Anwar says. "It should be a nice room to sit in and listen to music. If you just have one chair, then that's not fun." There are some things to look out for in a room to improve sound quality. First, if you have the luxury of choosing a room, pick one with as much asymmetry as possible. "Square is bad," Anwar says. "Ideally you don't have any parallel walls."

A slanted roof is ideal, and many people turn an attic into an entertainment room for this reason. If you are limited to boxed rooms, Anwar says you can buy devices that correct a room's acoustics for around Dh7,350 to Dh11,000. "If the room is completely useless, try that instead of tearing down walls." Once you have settled on the space, fill it out with items that absorb sound: curtains, sofas and rugs. The more soft surfaces, the better. "Rooms in Dubai tend to be hard surfaces," Anwar says, noting a prevalence of tile floors and glass. "That's not good for sound in any situation."

With the room settled, next is selecting a system. This part is quite personalised, and prices can range from Dh4,000 to well over Dh100,000. "It's like any hobby," Anwar explains. "How passionate are you about music?" For some, a Geneva speaker (starting at Dh4,000) - which is a single unit that plays iPods and CDs - is enough, especially for a small room. After that, audiophiles looking for a larger system should visit an audio specialist and try out as many systems as possible to find one that's good. "Sound is like a picture: you know right away it's out of focus," Anwar says.

At Dubai Audio, there are listening rooms upstairs configured for different music tastes. Here the staff show customers a range of packages. Anwar showed me two systems at two different ends of the price range. At the expensive end was a Conrad Johnson vacuum-tube amplifier and massive Martin Logan speakers. Looking like something out of a 1950s science-fiction movie, the deck is large and entirely analogue. The amplifier costs around Dh50,000, and the speakers start at Dh15,000.

At the more affordable end was the Naim-NVI multichannel system, which costs around Dh20,000 including speakers. You can watch DVDs with the player as well. Both systems paid substantial attention to detail, drawing often overlooked aspects of recorded music to my ears. "You can hear her lips move, and that's the good thing," says Anwar. In fact, I could even hear the saliva in the back of the singer's throat.

This is the quality you can expect from high-end hi-fi. And really, Anwar says, you just need to listen to a system to determine what you want for your price range. So bring along a couple of your favourite CDs, sit back and judge for yourself.