In a large room with typical acoustics, however, the opposite is true; the level of the reflected, or reverberant, sound is significantly higher than that of the direct at most listener locations.
Since this reverberant sound arrives at the listener from all directions rather than just one, more of it enters the ears at high frequencies. Thus the highs are perceived as being louder.
A simple experiment tends to confirm this theory. A loudspeaker is located at head level in a relatively non-reverberant environment and fed with broadband noise. A listener stands one to two meters (about three to six feet) in front of the loudspeaker and slowly turns around while listening to the tonal character of the noise. Typically, the overall tonal balance will change little, if at all, with head direction.
However, if two identical loudspeakers are placed two or three meters apart facing each other and both are fed the same broadband noise, a listener between them, turning around as before, will hear the high frequencies more loudly when his ears are toward the loudspeakers than when he is facing one or the other loudspeaker.
The measured response (and perceived timbre) of a loudspeaker in a room deviates significantly from its performance in an anechoic environment, in ways that are complex and quite difficult to predict. Also, these deviations are different at each location in the room. Therefore, the only practical solution is to measure the actual response of the completed system and correct it as needed with additional circuitry.
This turns out to be a bit trickier than one might expect, however. If a pure tone, slowly swept in frequency, is fed over a sound system and the resulting level is measured at a point in the audience area, it will be found to consist of strong peaks and valleys, tens of decibels in amplitude, and spaced at intervals of about 1 Hz, caused by room resonances.
It’s almost impossible to get meaningful information from such readings. Besides, we don’t perceive these variations because they are averaged by our hearing process in ways that are only partly understood. The measurements must incorporate averaging which simulates the hearing process.