An Anechoic Chamber for SPCR

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Oct 23, 2008 by Mike Chin

The story of how SPCR's far-flung but dedicated community helped to fund the creation of an anechoic chamber and the acquisition of new audio test gear suitable for testing low noise products. For details of this amazing show of community support by silent computing enthusiasts, please see the articles Make SPCR Even Better, the accompanying forum log, the article New Audio Test Gear, SPCR 2008, and the forum log for the project, 2008 SPCR facility/equipment upgrades: hemi-anechoic chamber.

Silent PC Review began as a hobby site for a technical writer obsessed with keeping the noise of his computer down. That was me, seven years ago. I was confident about my ability to hear, listen, analyze and describe the noise of computer components. I'd played around with piano, organ and guitar from an early age, and spent years obsessing over high end stereo reproduction of music. The latter helped hone my critical listening skills, which were surely good enough to discern noises from computers.

Initially, the instruments to measure what I heard were crude or nonexistent. There was no budget for a serious sound level meter (SLM), spectrum analyzer or any number of other devices that would make the review work both more consistent and easier. Still, given the relatively high level of most "quiet" gear available then, SPCR provided the much-needed service of examining components and systems for acoustics in consistent ways. My review team and I developed practical testing methodologies to communicate and show what we actually heard in my lab. It was very DIY, but effective, well suited to the SPCR audience of those days.

Fast forward seven years: SPCR has now become a well-established "institution" on the web, a central meeting place for anyone interested in low noise computing. Its articles and reviews are often quoted and linked by other tech sites, who appreciate our rigorous testing if not our quiet obsession, and it is visited by numerous computer industry personnel. SPCR has become a kind of research reference library for PC acoustics, and we've helped to accelerate the development of quieter computing products. There are fewer hardcore DIYers, mostly because there's much less need for serious modding to achieve low noise computing. The demand for reviews from both readers and makers of hardware is constant, while the supply of technically savvy PC users who understand and appreciate enough acoustics to write for SPCR continues to be in short supply. Meanwhile, the lab has taken over three rooms on the ground floor of my "Vancouver Special" house, and over the years, I've managed to buy, beg, or build enough measurement tools to fill up a closet or two.


SPCR operates out of the ground floor of a "classic" Vancouver Special:
An ugly design meant to maximize floor space on the lot within municipal building regulations.

There are other changes, two that directly affect the work at SPCR.

First, today's best quiet PC gear is often at a level that only DIY custom modders could achieve when SPCR was launched. The number of such products is not large, but the "silent" sector's noise floor has dropped significantly. This progress poses challenges in the task of differentiating between products. We can still hear the differences more easily than we can measure them; it's difficult to measure differences when the competing products are below 20 dBA@1m. We're pressed at the low level limits of our old Bruel & Kjaer 2203 sound level meter. A new, more sensitive SLM would solve the problem, but then we run into the issue of rising ambient or background noise levels. That's the second significant change, completely beyond SPCR's control or influence.



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