RealTraps Corner Room Reflections
It is difficult to review RealTraps acoustic treatment panels. Unlike front-end equipment, you can't play with them for a month and simply send them back; acoustic treatment panels must be installed. The reviewer must be interested enough in acoustic treatment to install them, and yet not have any treatment already. For EnjoyTheMusic.com, this neophyte, cheapskate reviewer fit the bill. First, I leaned the square white MiniTraps acoustic panels ($179.99) on the floor and loved their affect on music; then I bought and installed half dozen of them in the ceiling and two front corners.
RealTraps is owned and operated by musicians Ethan Winer and Doug Ferrara. Their operation is near Danbury, Connecticut; New York City is about an hour away. The business is the extension of their tweaking audiophile efforts. Ethan became annoyed with foam rubber "acoustic treatment" and outrageous prices - especially since these materials are ineffective at very low frequencies.
"I've never seen or tried the room lenses," Ethan said via email, "but I can't for the life of me imagine how they could do anything useful. First, they don't cover enough surface area to interact with the long wavelengths of low frequencies. Second, they claim to be tuned Helmholtz resonators. Tuned to which frequencies? The specific needs of your particular room? Unlikely. Tuned treatment is very old school anyway because it ignores the fact that all rooms have severe peaks and dips at all low frequencies, not just those related to the room dimensions. That, coupled with their cables, er, interconnects, selling for more than $200 per foot, makes my BS meter light up pretty brightly."
His MiniTraps are larger, thicker and denser than I imagined. There is nothing "mini" about them. The panels are two by four' white panels, over 3" thick, packed with rigid fiberglass and banded by a thin metal box. The thin eggshell-white frame around the panels is open with slots. The slots on the sides allow sound to enter the absorbing material. The panels weigh a light, but awkward, 16 pounds. The panels are covered in a linen-like fabric, black or white. They are non-flammable and easily hung on walls like large pictures. Although more effective, corner placement is quite a bit trickier.
Everyone who saw my panels thought they were new loudspeakers or a flat panel TV. They look like Magnapan speakers. I hung small pictures on the wall panels merely by pushing a finishing nail into them. Ethan wasn't sure about this. "I have no idea because I never measured how attaching a picture affects absorption," he said. "My gut feeling is it's not a great idea. A paper poster would be okay because bass frequencies will go right through it. You could paint on them, especially with water colors." If someone really wants to, you can wrap them with fabric, or even spray paint them.
More Is Better
Generally speaking, most rooms need as many bass traps as you can fit and afford. Although more is better with the square panels, it is possible to have too many. "For most rooms eight is about ideal," he said.
It is probably not possible to have too much low frequency absorption, though you can make a room too dead with too much mid/high frequency absorption."
1. Get enough of them.
Eight MiniTraps is sufficient to balance the acoustics at all frequencies in most "normal size" rooms in a home, if the traps are installed across the floor and ceiling corners. This is because of the large triangle opening behind the MiniTrap when it is mounted across a corner. Many mid/high waves are absorbed that way.
At first, before I installed some of them, the panels leaned against the side walls, near the loudspeakers. Even so, their affect on music was noticeable. My initial reaction was to turn off the lights, take a match to a small candle and contemplate the magic of the right music and system at creating a nether world of audio nirvana in the flickering shadows.
All this by the way, was with just six traps: one on the front wall, two on the sides and only one on the rear - all at floor level. RealTraps brought my flea-powered tube Bottlehead 2A3 Paramour amplifiers closer to the "Pass Laboratories Supersymmetry Balanced Single-Ended Class-A X250" amplifier's excellence. Combined together, the panels improved separation between instruments: cymbals simmered a microsecond longer. The panels helped me listen into the music. Removing one by one was not so noticeable…until they were all gone. Then the nasties that spoil big ole horn's good name returned.
Whatever acoustic placement is ideal for the big white squares doesn't really matter in the practical scheme of things. Integrating their ungainly presence visually into the listening room becomes paramount. You put them where they look best, not where they stick out and work best.
Try Them Out
I was skeptical at first and read carefully over RealTraps' useful website. Lots of good practical information there. Little of the obscure smoke blown at some high-end A/V salons. Actual measurements and graphs. Helps to read before buying of course, but equally informative afterwards too. The panels come two in a door-seize box. Order more than you might actually need and play with less and more of them. You can always send them back (but you won't).
"You have not ever heard what your basic components or recordings sound like until you've heard them in a proper, acoustically tuned room, Ethan says. When you do, you'll realize how worthless most so-called 'tweaks' are."
For cleaning, Ethan advises, "the fabric fronts can be cleaned of lint, dog hair and debris with Scotch tape or shipping tape. Just push the sticky side of the tape onto the fabric and lift. You can clean soil off them with a little glass cleaner sprayed onto a paper towel. Then rub the towel gently on the fabric. Glass cleaner will also clean the painted metal."
Each significant improvement to my home movie and music reproduction systems feels as if the system has reached a high Sierra plateau, where no mighty blast of inexpensive air could fill its wings and lift it higher. Tube amplifiers, dual subs, Coincident rattlesnakes and now, real MiniTraps acoustic panels, who knew I could find such a mighty gush of inexpensive air at a plateau this high?
No matter how high a plain upon which your home movie and music reproduction system rests, I am certain the fresh air of MiniTraps can lift any modest or superb A/V system to a new plateau. Strongly recommended for tweaking audiophiles.
Looking for that next step towards tonal truth? Progress ye towards a flatter, more accurate frequency response. Get out your picture hanging tools. Dampen ye walls! I now think room treatments are an integral part of any home movie and music reproduction system. I encourage all tweaking audiophiles to consider RealTrap acoustic treatment panels for their systems.
MiniTraps: $179.99 in black or white, Standard or High Frequency
MicroTraps: $119.99 in black or white, Standard or High Frequency
Rigid fiberglass by the case: $70