Interview with Richard Rives Bird from Rives Audio

Matej Isak talks with Richard Rives about room acoustics, importance of room treatment and their vision and understanding of what is important for high quality audio

How did you start?

Music had always been an interest. I play the piano and love listening to others, both live and recorded. I got a fairly high end stereo but had a room with “issues”. It was almost square and the length and width were just about 2 times the ceiling height. It had lots of glass. Well, you get the point. I knew it was my limiting factor, but I really didn’t know where to turn for help. I couldn’t afford someone that was going to charge me $20k to $100k to design a room. I needed to basically fix what I had. So I started reading books on acoustical engineering. At the time I was a medical physicist working for a medical device manufacturer.

I had changed jobs from a large company to a start up. Then 911 hit. Venture capital dried up and there I was on the payroll with nothing to do. So I wrote a business plan for Rives Audio and raised enough capital to get started. I figured if things didn’t work out I could go back to a large medical corporation.

The next big thing was meeting Chris Huston at a trade show. We started chatting and he said he designed rooms too. I didn’t know Chris at all and kind of wondered “why is he telling me this?” After a little checking I discovered Chris had probably forgotten more than I knew about acoustics. He had designed the entire Sound Kitchen in Nashville as well as being a recording engineer and/or producer for greats like Led Zeppelin, the Who, Pattie LaBelle, James Brown, and Van Morrison. Chris began working with us almost immediately and he essentially runs the high-end and professional designs within Rives Audio today.

Do you have any influences?

Absolutely. Most importantly would be the CEO and president at the large medical company I worked for. He had incredible business sense. He took several companies from $10M to over $100M in periods of 5 to 8 years. That track record is not by accident. He knew how to do it, and I watched and learned from his methods. I stay in touch with him even today.

Why exactly room corrections and treatment?

50% of the sound we hear is indirect: bouncing off walls or pressurization and modes in the low frequency. So the logic is, 50% of our sound quality is a direct result of the room. Put a great system in a poor room and it will easily be out performed by a modest system in a well designed room.

Would you explain what specific methods Rives Audio implement in their products and philosophy?

That’s really a difficult question because this is both an art and a science. There are very straight forward science principles. The math for acoustics is relatively simple. However, you can calculate the amount of absorption needed for a particular reverberation time for a particular room and place it in such a way it would sound horrible. That’s where the art and experience come in. The other aspect is knowing your client. You have to know and understand what their needs are to design the right room. If they listen very loudly in a small room you will need a shorter RT time than someone that listens to chamber music at moderate levels in a larger room. I don’t think there are books that tell you this—you learn it from experience.

What makes you better, different than you competition?

Several things. The most important as I already stated is we listen to our clients. We don’t dictate a design. We work with the clients to achieve their goals simultaneously. Many designers are kind of prima donnas that want to say “This is the way it has to be.” Not us, we educate the client on pro’s and con’s of various key decisions and then they ultimately decide what’s right.

The other aspect that makes us very different is that we have different levels of service to meet just about anyone’s budget. Our level 1 and 2 are flat rate designs starting at only $1200. Remember, when I had my issues with my room, there was no one that could help me for reasonable costs. I wanted to service people like myself. A well designed room should not be only for the very wealthy.

Lastly, we deliver our designs in a unique way. We work both directly with clients and with clients through our dealer network of over 60 dealers. Our dealers are a huge asset to the whole process. They take physical and acoustical measurements and due to their experience with Rives Audio they can even do project management through the build out phase.

How much would normally music lover benefit from using your products?

If you mean services, it’s huge. 50% of the sound we hear is indirect. Even a level 1 design that can essentially tune up an existing room can make a difference in orders of magnitude of improvement. We also design rooms for performance, but the majority is for sound reproduction.

At what price do you service start?


Most impressive client-room treatment?

People’s taste and preferences are very different. We’ve designed very traditional rooms and very contemporary. What is impressive to one client might be hideous to another. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Just go to our website: and once in the site click on the examples. I’ll let you decide.

I know for sure that some well known people from audio industry say that room correction is not needed. What do you think about that?

Room correction in terms of active correction should not be needed if the room is well designed and engineered. I personally believe NO correction is the best correction if that’s possible. That’s how we design our rooms to need no correction. However, you can wind up with constraints or existing rooms that have severe problems that can not be dealt with passively. Mostly these problems occur in the bass in terms of axial modes (big bass peaks as a result of certain room dimensions). In this case you do need to correct, and as an audiophile you want to do so with the least harm to the signal—just correct only what’s needed and no more. That’s why we developed the PARC.

Do you consider yourself an audiophile?

Yes—completely guilty here. I need therapy.

What would be your dream installation?

I think I’m working on three of them at the moment. We are fortunate that we have quite a few clients that budget is really not much of a concern and they are willing to do just about whatever it takes to get great sound.

What kind of music do you listen by the and of the day?

During work I usually have the jazz station on, sometimes our classical station. We are in an area with great arts and the public radio stations are better than just about anywhere. Of course, most places are losing good radio—we thankfully are not.

What do you use for your reference work system?

Talon Hawks with Navison 572 monoblocks. Classe 30 pre amp, Micromega CD player, Magnum dynalab FT-11 tuner (we have a great classical station and another really incredible jazz station here)

Do you see a threat for your business from rising China manufacturers. How so you see this?

No. In fact we just received a very large order from our Hong Kong distributor for our Talon division. The China manufacturers are for large volume and really not for our kind of high end product.

Home system?

Talon Firebird loudspeakers with VAC Musicbloc 160s. Levinson 380S pre-amp, sonic frontiers signature phono stage and VPI TNT with SME IV.Vi arm and Van den Hul Frog Gold cartridge. Talon Thunderbird subs with Rives sub-PARCs to power them. There’s also the Levinson 37 and 360S for digital source, but I don’t listen to much digital at home.

What kind of music do you listen by the end of the day?

I listen to all types of music. At the end of the day I could sit down and listen to Bach solo cello, followed by Patricia Barber, then Miles Davis or Duke Ellington, and some Peter Gabriel or Led Zeppelin.

Who are your clients?

Most are professionals; doctors, lawyers, or businessman, ages from 35 to 55 typically. However, we’ve designed rooms for just about every profession imaginable; professional musicians, plumbers, wall street professionals, even royalty.

Do you think stereo is a thing of the past?

No, we still have 2 ears and I don’t see much evolution in that. 2 ears = 2 thingies to put in your ears—hence ipod. In the home we do many systems that are both a 2 channel and home theater. My own personal home system is this way. I spend more time listening to music that watching movies, sports or tv combined.

What do you think about new Ipod generation of musical enthusiasts?

I think it’s great. People complain that it’s background and they aren’t paying attention to it. That may be true, but when I grew up my parents always had music playing in the house. Usually classical, sometimes opera, sometimes jazz. I was growing up and it was just on. I wasn’t really paying attention to it but it was there and probably an influence on my life. I grew up to love jazz, really enjoy classical, and I still don’t care for opera unless I go to the opera. The Ipod allows people to discover and listen to music often. How can that be bad?

What do you think about current status in high-end audio market?

Our society has changed. The significance of high-end reproduction has definitely diminished in this country. People have other interests. While we see the decline of the high-end we see a huge insurgence of home theaters. My own real passion is high-end audio and I think there will always be a certain niche there, but obviously it’s shrinking. In way to me personally that’s sad, but change is inevitable.

How do you see the future of high-end audio?

There are going to be fewer companies because of the shrinking market. Unfortunately this most likely means that many very intelligent and innovative people without enough resources will ultimately no longer exist. Hopefully those that remain, which will still be a healthy number, will be able to continue the improvements in sound reproduction. We already have a shrinking market, but it’s really incredible how much better sound reproduction for 2 channel continues. While I have seen a decline in market size I have not seen a decline in progress. That’s at least encouraging.

What future hold for Rives audio?

Well it’s no surprise that we know do more home theater designs than we do 2 channel designs. If we were spread evenly across the board of installations we should be doing almost all theaters, but it seems that 2 channel enthusiasts understand the importance of acoustics more so than home theater enthusiasts. I expect that will continue to evolve and Rives Audio will continue to increase the number of home theater designs while maintaining the number of 2 channel designs.

As you are probably aware we purchased Talon loudspeakers about a year and half ago. This is an incredible speaker and we are very pleased to be offering it and continuing to develop the line. It’s used both for 2 channel and home theater. We have been working on distribution over the last year and I expect to add some innovative products in the upcoming year.

We also recently released the Rives Audio sub-PARC, based on the award winning PARC eq. This is a subwoofer crossover, amplifier, and parametric eq with a built in 12 volt trigger so that it can switch automatically from home theater mode to music mode seamlessly. Very inventive product and the performance is beyond anything on the market.

Rives will continue developments in our electronics, speaker line, and I expect our market will continue to grow in the room design portion of our business.

Any last words for our readers?

Don’t ignore the room. We have a huge resource of free advice, articles, forums, etc on our website. The whole purpose is to help those that even if they do not want to invest in our services they at least do something on their own with the room. So don’t ignore it—it’s the most important component of the entire system.