Digital audio and silly downloads

April 4th, 2014

I came across this article and accompanying video today, giving an excellent and clear explanation of digital audio, sample rates, and bit rates. It clears up many of the myths and misconceptions about digital audio, including the notion that higher sample rates result in a noticeable improvement in audio quality. The video is excellent – definitely watch it. The article is also excellent, and more in depth.

Article on 24/192 Music Downloads are very silly indeed

23 minute video: Digital Show and Tell

New Design Photos

March 31st, 2014

We recently posted some new photos of a home theater project completed in Bellevue, WA. Check out our design page to see them!

Are You Really Getting 1080p? 99% of people are not…

February 22nd, 2012

Did you know that if you are using the factory settings on your 1080p TV you are only seeing an effective resolution of 720p – even from Blu-Ray?

Michael Chen of The Laser Video EXPerience and a THX video calibration instructor recently posted the following on his site. Read his article for an explanation of why you are only watching half the resolution you could be…

And of course, this is one of the elements that will be corrected when you have your TV calibrated!

New Spectroradiometer!

May 2nd, 2011

As of this week I will have my new JETI Specbos 1211 Spectroradiometer to use when calibrating your displays. This meter is a true reference spectroradiometer which means it accurately reads any color being displayed by any device. My previous meter was a tristimulus colorimeter, which is fast but not as accurate for different devices and is not as good at making CMS adjustments.

If you’re interested in more details on the meter, you can find them here.

For calibrations scheduled after May 7th, you will receive the benefit of the new meter. Please contact me for an appointment or if you have any questions.

Why 3D Won’t Work and Never Will

January 28th, 2011

Roger Ebert recently had a post on his blog where he describes a letter from Walter Murch describing why 3D video in its current incarnation will never work. Basically, he’s explaining the fact that our eyes have to work differently in 3D video than they do in the natural world. I think this is a very interesting article and it makes sense. However, I wanted to provide a diagram showing exactly what Walter is describing in his letter. Read the blog post and then take a look at the diagram below, and hopefully it will make things a bit clearer.

I don’t currently have any opinion as to whether this technical detail means 3D will not succeed. However, it does seem to explain at least part of why some people have difficulty viewing 3D in this manner for long periods.

The HDTV podcast has a short discussion of this article in their January 28, 2011 podcast.

Diagram of 3D convergence vs focus distance problem.

Reference is not preference

November 27th, 2010

If you’ve ever done an audio calibration of your home theater you are likely familiar with “reference level”, or the volume at which the calibration is performed. Theoretically, you should be listening to all your movies at reference level. However, I have found that most of my customers are shocked when they hear just how loud reference level is.

What is reference level, anyway? Simply put, it is the volume at which the recording was meant to be heard. Meant by who? The people who created the recording. In the case of film, there is a very specific volume that is defined as “reference”. All films are mixed in the studio at this reference volume.

I’ve discovered that most of my customers, left of their own accord, will choose a listening volume 15, 20, and sometimes 30 dB below reference level. How much quieter is that? Every 10 dB is heard by most people as being about half as loud, so that means most people will voluntarily choose a listening volume anywhere from half to one-eighth as loud as the film was intended to be heard!

Is this bad? Not necessarily. But there are two other significant factors that play into this issue.

The first is that the human ear does not hear things the same at different volumes. This is well documented and charted (look up “equal-loudness contours” if you’re interested in learning more), and it can have a dramatic impact on how well someone hears the details in a soundtrack at different volumes. For example, our ears are much less sensitive to bass at lower volumes, so listening to a movie at a lower volume will mean you’ll miss out on some of the low end in the recording. You may remember the “loudness” button on a stereo you had 10 or 20 years ago. That button was a simplistic approach to dealing with this characteristic of human hearing.

The second problem is that I very often observe people listening to their movies in noisy rooms – people talking in the other room, refrigerators or other equipment humming nearby, or other things that raise the ambient noise level (or noise floor) of the room. A high level of ambient noise in the room (a high noise floor) will mask out quieter details in what you are listening to, and this is exacerbated if the volume level is low to begin with.

The end result of these three factors (low volume levels, the human hearing characteristics, and high noise floor) is that many people are completely missing out on an incredible amount of detail in what they listen to. It’s quite a shame, really, as there is so much good stuff to be heard!

Reference vs Preference

How do you reconcile the difference between reference and preference?

First, make sure your audio system is calibrated, either by using the built-in calibration system or by having someone calibrate it. A non-calibrated system can sound harsh, cause excessive listener fatigue, and even be dangerous to the components of the system, particularly the speakers.

Next, start by seeing if you can adjust your preference a bit. Try adjusting the volume by one-third the distance to reference and watching a movie. For example, most modern receivers show “0” (zero) on the volume readout at reference level (when calibrated). If you normally watch with the volume set to -30, try -20. It will be a significant jump in volume, and you clearly should be careful to not exceed the capabilities of your system, but you may find after getting into the movie a few minutes that not only is the volume fairly comfortable, but that you can hear a lot more detail than you could before. Then try another third and watch for a while, and keep going until you hit reference or can’t stand it any more.

Second, and especially if you find that you don’t want to change your volume setting, invest in a receiver with Audyssey Dynamic EQ or Dolby Volume. Both of these technologies are designed to help you hear the detail you might normally miss at lower volumes. Essentially, they compensate for the ways our ears hear things differently when you turn the volume down.

Finally, Audyssey and Dolby can’t do anything about the level of ambient noise in your room, so do what you can to silence anything making noise when you are watching a movie.

And just so you know, I listen to my movies at about -10 to -12 dB from reference on my calibrated system. It’s not reference, but it’s loud, and I like it!

Your preference may not be reference, but with the right techniques you’ll still be able to hear the soundtrack’s essence.

(Sorry, just couldn’t pass that last bit up!)

Believe me: Your speakers ARE small!

June 3rd, 2010

I came across a great blog post today on the Audyssey web site discussing the question of whether you should tell your receiver that your speakers are “Large” or “Small”.

As Chris Kyriakakis explains in his post, this option was added by manufacturers to give consumers “choice”, but unfortunately all it has led to is mass confusion and lots of home theaters with bad-sounding bass.

This discussion is only relevant in a system with a subwoofer. If you don’t have a subwoofer, then you generally will only be able to set your speakers to “Large”.

If you do have a sub, however, there is one simple rule: Set all speakers to “Small”. Always.

What this does is tell the receiver to send all the low-end frequencies (in THX systems, those below 80Hz) to the sub and NOT to the individual speakers. Not only does this allow the individual speakers to produce a cleaner sound above 80Hz, but it reduces or eliminates a myriad of interference problems that occur when you have multiple low-frequency drivers in a system.

Whether you are listening to music or watching movies, a properly tuned system with appropriate crossover points and all speakers set to “Small” will result cleaner bass and a better sound.

Many auto-calibration systems (including Audyssey) will automatically choose the speaker size for you. Change it to “Small” even if it chooses otherwise, and unfortunately, all too often, it seems to choose “Large”.

Most people assume that “Large” is better. Of course – big speakers are better, right?!? However, a better name for this control would be “Bass Management: On or Off”:

  • “Large” = “Bass Management Off” = bad (in a system with a sub).
  • “Small” = “Bass Management On” = good!

Run – don’t walk – to your receiver and go make this change if you need to.

Audyssey Pro calibration now available

June 3rd, 2010

If you have an Audyssey Pro Installer-Ready receiver (or other Audyssey Pro device), we are now an Audyssey Pro installer and can calibrate your Audyssey Pro device.

Audyssey Pro calibration offers a significant improvement over the built-in Audyssey calibration on many receivers. The calibration is done with an expensive, high quality microphone using (usually) more measurement points. In addition, the parameters can be tuned for the best possible performance.

Audyssey Pro calibration requires a license for your receiver or device, which we handle for you and is included in our fee.

Please contact us if you are interested in having us perform this service for you.

You can also purchase many Audyssey Pro devices from us, including the Audyssey Sound Equalizers or some Denon and Onkyo receivers. By purchasing them through us, we will sell you both the receiver and calibration as an affordable package. Contact us for more details.

Click here for more information about Audyssey Pro

Display Myths Shattered: How HDTV Companies Cook Their Specs

May 18th, 2010

Dr. Raymond Soneira of DisplayMate Technologies Corporation has a great 5-part article on the MaximumPC website on the common ways TV manufacturers tweak specs and numbers to make their TVs appear better on paper. Definitely worth a read.

A couple of excerpts:

“Not only are displays getting more complicated and harder to understand, but the competition between manufacturers has gotten so brutal that marketing gimmicks—ploys that exploit the average consumer’s technical ignorance—are playing an increasing role in driving sales. The goal of this article is to point out and explain some of the most important myths, misconceptions, and misunderstandings about display technology. Much of what you’re going to read is like the classic tale of The Emperor’s New Clothes. What you’ve been told about the latest and greatest thing really isn’t there, or better, or meaningful, or even visible.”

“…let’s just start our journey with what should be the best question to ask before buying a new display: “What are the most important manufacturer specs to compare?” Unfortunately, the answer is none, because they’re all exaggerated marketing specs rather than objective scientific specs. The only specs that are useful and meaningful are those in reviews that evaluate every display with the same consistent methodology…”

Read the full article here.

Using your Windows PC for music playback?

May 17th, 2010

If you do, you may have been frustrated with how Vista/Win 7 handles audio routing when you have multiple output devices. For example, the built-in audio on my computer’s motherboard has both analog and digital SPDIF outputs. However, I cannot send the output of my Zune player (or anything else) to both devices simultaneously. Since I used to have my computer speakers connected to the analog output and my home theater receiver connected to the digital out, this put a major kink in my plans for whole-house audio.

A few months ago I moved my home office and could no longer connect the digital output to my receiver. So, instead I moved to using Logitech’s Squeezebox devices for whole house audio, which is great because I can control it remotely, have multiple zones playing the same or different music, and so on. I love it, but the problem is it won’t play the DRM protected songs I download through my Zune Pass subscription service.

So, what I’ve been doing is looking for a tool that will allow me to stream the audio being played on my computer through the Squeezebox server. In the process I found a tool that solves all my problems: NTONYX’s Virtual Audio Cable.

While something of a geek’s tool in that it’s not exactly user-friendly, it works great! You can set up virtual audio devices on your computer and set programs (such as the Zune player) to play through that virtual device. Then, in turn, you can set other devices (such as the Squeezbox server, via the WaveInput plug-in) to listen to that virtual audio device just like it was a line-in on your sound card. You can also use their Audio Repeater tool to send the audio to multiple outputs simultanously, such as the analog and digital outputs.

Tip: I found that you don’t always have to use the Audio Repeater, as in Windows for Line-In devices you can tell windows to “Listen to this device” in the device properties.

It could certainly be easier to use, and a bit more automatic for certain things, but so far it’s the only tool I’ve found that solves a number of these audio routing problems. It’s also a bit pricey: $49, but for certain things it’s definitely worth it. The trial is mostly functional with certain limitations – very useful for making sure it will work the way you need it to before you buy.