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SACD without a Sub?


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#1 of 24 OFFLINE   RobCar

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Posted April 23 2003 - 06:12 AM

I'm hoping to pick up a Sony C222ES SACD player, mostly b/c I want a changer, but also b/c of the benefit of SACD capability. But I'm wondering, if I don't have a sub, will SACD playback be devoid of bass?

I have the five other speakers, but have held off on the sub until I move into a house. Am in a small apartment now with thin walls.

#2 of 24 OFFLINE   Rich Malloy

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Posted April 23 2003 - 06:36 AM

Rob, for many multichannel discs (that is, those with "LFE" channels encoded), you would lose the .1 channel in your setup, and thus much of the bass. However...

The C222ES has bass management (identical, I think, to my C555ES). You can set it for "no sub" and the bass is redirected away from the "LFE" channel. Unfortunately, you will also incur a substantial loss in fidelity by engaging the BM circuitry. I'm not sure precisely how the BM is performed (converted to PCM?), but I can tell you the loss of resolution is severe. This was my greatest disappointment when first hooking up my C555ES, and I was shocked that no one had ever made mention of this rather enormous drawback. Attention is being paid today, but all too often I see this highly significant fact going completely overlooked.

There are two solutions, one free (but requiring a compromise) the other relatively cheap (but with no compromises):

(1) free / compromised - play multichannel discs with "LFE" channels in 2-channel (stereo) mode only. You won't get multichannel, but at least you won't lose a chunk of the frequency range. This is not quite so onerous a solution as it may sound since many SACD studios do not encode "LFE channels" into multichannel discs, and some use that channel for optional "height envelope" data instead. Unfortunately, there's no small amount of multichannel SACDs with the "LFE" channel.

(2) cheap ($199 for B-stock) / uncompromised -- buy an Outlaw ICBM-1 and enjoy the multichannel mix with "LFE" redirected to your main speakers and all other channels crossed-over at their most apt frequency.

This issue begs the huge question:
Why in hell does anyone encode SACDs or DVD-As with LFE channels?!?

I can think of no good reason.
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#3 of 24 OFFLINE   RobCar

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Posted April 23 2003 - 08:04 AM

Thanks for all the info, Rich. So another solution would be to get a sub, and then all would be fine with playing the SACDs that did have the LFE channel encoding, right?

#4 of 24 OFFLINE   Rich Malloy

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Posted April 23 2003 - 08:10 AM

That would be the most expensive solution, but that'd certainly work!

Of course, unless you have full range speakers all around in addition to the sub, you may find you still desire an Outlaw ICBM-1 to dial it all in perfectly. Remember, the onboard bass management of your player (and any other player I'm familiar with) seriously degrades the audio signal. Do your own comparison and see for yourself. And, yes, the sonic degradation even occurs when you set it from "multichannel direct" (no bass management) to "4 large plus sub" (which would seem to suggest much the same setup). Something about that circuitry.... it's a far, far cry from transparency.

FWIW, many folks coming from the audio side of the multichannel coin (as opposed to the video/DVD side) prefer large "full-range" speakers to subs for better sonic integration. With certain exceptions -- the cannons in the 1812 Overture, pipe organs -- music does not generally go as deep as the explosions and other LFE effects in movies. Given that most music lies within the frequency range of a good, large speaker, many audiophiles prefer not to have to integrate a sub into their systems.

I'm not sure why the "LFE" channel was carried over to SACD encoding by some studios. Perhaps there's a good reason for doing so, but I haven't heard one...
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#5 of 24 OFFLINE   AaronBatiuk

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Posted April 23 2003 - 08:15 AM

RobCar,
I also do not have a sub. I rely entirely on my Front L/R speakers for bass reproduction for both movies and music. I recently purchased a new receiver, a Sony STR-DA4ES, largely because of its unique ability to handle this situation. It has the ability to perform 'analog downmixing' of the multi-channel inputs. So, for a setup like mine or yours, where there is no sub, the receiver mixes the sub channel (of either of the multi-channel analog inputs) into the Front L/R speakers. The same goes for the centre channel, if you do not use a centre channel speaker.

#6 of 24 OFFLINE   LanceJ

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Posted April 23 2003 - 09:16 AM

Eeek! Downmixing can sometimes result in some weird effects--beware. Posted Image

While I like surround music, its hi-res sponsors don't seem to have fully worked out its bugs.

The only surround format that sounds really good AND works seamlessly are DTS Entertainment's "5.1 music discs". And the fact you can even use a regular CD player w/a digital output to play them makes them even better.

LJ

#7 of 24 OFFLINE   Lewis Besze

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Posted April 23 2003 - 10:00 AM

Quote:
Unfortunately, you will also incur a substantial loss in fidelity by engaging the BM circuitry. I'm not sure precisely how the BM is performed (converted to PCM?), but I can tell you the loss of resolution is severe
Quote:
You won't get multichannel, but at least you won't lose a chunk of the frequency range.
Can you explain these claims especialy the second quote?

#8 of 24 OFFLINE   Rich Malloy

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Posted April 24 2003 - 03:00 AM

If you play the stereo mix, obviously you won't get multichannel. But if you play a multichannel disc with an "LFE" track encoded, and you have no sub and no way to redirect the "LFE" channel to the mains (without sonic degradation), then you will lose that portion of the frequency range dedicated to the "LFE" channel.

An Outlaw ICBM-1 will allow one to redirect the "LFE" channel without loss of sound quality IMO. The onboard bass management circuitry, on the other hand, will also redirect the "LFE" channel, but at the expense of a rather significant degree of resolution.

(Btw, this discussion caused me to start this thread: "Resolved: the "LFE channel" should never be utilized on SACD/DVD-A." http://www.hometheat....hreadid=137014)
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#9 of 24 OFFLINE   Scott Merryfield

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Posted April 24 2003 - 04:25 AM

Quote:
You can set it for "no sub" and the bass is redirected away from the "LFE" channel. Unfortunately, you will also incur a substantial loss in fidelity by engaging the BM circuitry.

Rich, since the 555ES also bypasses the speaker level settings if the player's bass management is bypassed, how do you deal with this issue? I read the Outlaw ICBM manual, and it appears that the device does not provide this function, either.

If I bypass my 555ES's BM, the speaker levels are too far out of alignment (the rears are way too loud). So in my environment, I have settled on 5 LARGE + sub for speaker settings (I do not care for the 555ES's high crossover frequency). I would love to add an ICBM if I could adjust the channel levels individually.

#10 of 24 OFFLINE   Rich Malloy

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Posted April 24 2003 - 06:20 AM

You are absolutely correct that the ICBM will not allow for level adjustment. This brings up an interesting issue...

When I was exploring the 555ES, determining which setting was best, I also did a full speaker level calibration with Radio Shack SPL meter, etc. Unlike yourself, however, I had to boost the signal of my center to the last line of the first set of, er, notches, and my rears to the the first line of the second set of notches. That is, in my system, apparently my center and rear levels were too low when the signal was passed unaltered... exactly the opposite of what you've found in your system.

Peculiar. My center and rear speakers are actually easier to drive than my mains, they're equidistant from the listening position and all get the same amount of juice. This suggested to me that they should have been reduced in volume, if anything. But I redid the SPL readings on three occasions, and always got the same results.

Leaving aside the reduced quality of the signal from engaging the bass management circuitry, and just focusing on the calibrated levels, I couldn't help but think that they simply sounded wrong. For SACDs with ambient mixes like "Time Out" or "Blue Bossa" or "Kind of Blue", it sounded fine. But for SACDs with more aggressive multichannel mixes, particularly Hancock's "Headhunters" and Krall's "When I Look In Your Eyes", it sounded terrible. The properly calibrated rears struck me as way too loud, rendering the Krall disc essentially unlistenable. If you've heard it, you know that the engineers took the questionable course of sending her vocals to all speakers, such that it sounds very much like the "pyramid" effect negatively described in this excellent (though essentially negative) review of the Natalie Merchant "Tigerlily" DVD-A: http://www.highfidel....umber=19230301
Quote:
Jim Scott, who mixed and engineered the DVD-A disc, has apparently mixed several 5.1 offerings from Merchant. Although referring to a live performance of her that he mixed, it was interesting to read his comments, in response to a question from Bob Ludwig as to whether he’d intended her voice to be all over in that particular mix. He stated:

The first one [5.1 surround mix] I did was a live Natalie Merchant project and Bob Ludwig called me up and said, “ . . . I just wanted to ask you, is her voice in every speaker?” And I went “yes,” because that’s how it sounded best. All anybody wants from her is her sound and silkiness, so that mix was like a big pyramid starting at the top of my head and going out . . .you wouldn’t want to do that with the Chili Peppers because you need the energy more than Anthony’s [the lead singer] voice.

Scott apparently made the same judgment for ‘Tigerlily’, and the above quote illustrates the considerations prompting that decision.
Again, very similar to the way the Krall disc is mixed.

The effect of my "properly calibrated" rear and center levels was to destroy the cohesive effect desired and bringing out the vocals in the rear channels far too much, making them seem to overpower what I was hearing upfront. In short, a properly level-calibrated setup seemed wrong, at least on aggressive and "unnatural" mixes like this one. Likewise, the rear channels in "Headhunters" and "Sea Change" and "Heathen" all overpowered what I was hearing upfront, though not with quite the same destructive effect I heard on the Krall disc (which obviously requires very careful calibration since a single "instrument", Krall's voice, is being reproduced by five separate speakers).

So, I played around with the levels by ear alone, and found that the most cohesive mix was boosting the rears by a single notch and leaving the center "flat". Although there are far too many variables from system to system to draw any definitive conclusions, I'm very surprised to find that proper calibration on your system (via SPL meter?) requires that you lower the levels of your rears by such a substantial amount ("way too loud" otherwise, you say?).

Given that we have identical players, how could our systems differ by such a great extent? Properly calibrated, your rears must be significantly lowered while mine [should be] significantly increased (though in actuality my ears tell me they should only be slightly increased)? Puzzling.

Are your rear speakers way, way easier to drive than your fronts? Could they, perhaps, be very much closer to your listening position than your fronts? (If the latter, then you must be having serious time alignment issues, as well.)

Sorry for the rambling nature of this post, but there are only so many of us who seem to be exploring this in any great detail, and I'd love to know what you're all finding. Perhaps I'm lucky, but discs sound nearly perfect on my system without any level alteration (though, ideally, I'd increase the rears by a single notch... whatever degree that single notch represents, damn incomplete users manuel, etcetera).
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#11 of 24 OFFLINE   Don Bingaman

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Posted April 24 2003 - 01:39 PM

Rich, I've noticed the same effects. First, SACD LFE levels seems to vary greatly from studio to studio, and disc to disc. Telarc records it 10 db down from flat so it doesn't break anything, and dmp doesn't use it at all - they like to encode a height channel in the .1. Tom Jung and Richard Vandersteen both think a better approach for full range bass is to cross the front left and right over to stereo subwoofers using either an electronic crossover, (what I wouldn't give for my good 'ole Dahlquist DQ-LP1), or a simple single pole high pass filter between the preamp and the front channel amp(s), combined with an unfiltered signal to the subwoofer, using the subwoofer's own low pass filter, (kind of like the good old days). Their collective advice was to forget the damn LFE channel. WRT the surround levels, I've got a Sony TA-P9000ES with sweet little ANALOG pots for each channel, AND a 6-way passive bypass mode for my TA-E9000ES surround processor. This arrangement lets me set the speaker levels in the digital domain for DD and DTS, and in the analog for SACD and DVD-A. The calibrations are different for these two recording types, though. If I set the TA-P9000ES up for equal SPL at the listening position from each channel, the surrounds sound too loud on many SACD and DVD-A recordings. The same setting for movies, though, works just fine. I think, like everything else in this hobby, the correct surround level is a matter of taste....many (but certainly not all) SACD and DVD-A recordings are recorded more like old Quadrophonic and not like the ITU standard ideal. (Tom Jung's work at dmp is a notable exception - his stuff just sounds terrific with equal SPL calibration) I would guess we will be twizzling the levels, (particularly the surrounds), to compensate for the recording engineer's "art expression" for some time to come, unless and until surround recording techniques become better understood, develop into standards, and then become widely accepted.

#12 of 24 OFFLINE   Lewis Besze

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Posted April 24 2003 - 09:04 PM

Rich,
couple of things.
Why do you think that BM degrades sound provided it functiones properly?

Reagrding your speakers.
Is your center and surrounds are closer to any boudaries,then your mains are?
If yes, there is your difference.
BTW what brand of speakers do you use?

#13 of 24 OFFLINE   Lewis Besze

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Posted April 24 2003 - 09:04 PM

Dupe.

#14 of 24 OFFLINE   Scott Merryfield

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Posted April 25 2003 - 12:36 AM

Quote:
Given that we have identical players, how could our systems differ by such a great extent?

Rich, I think the room has a great effect on the speaker levels in my case. My family room has three walls, and the front speakers (and 16x9 TV) are at the open end of the room. I also sit much closer to the rears (about 6 feet) than the mains (12 feet). Finally, I have tower main speakers (B&W 604's) and large bookshelf rears (B&W 602's). FYI, I did use a Radio Shack SPL for proper calibration.

Quote:
But for SACDs with more aggressive multichannel mixes, particularly Hancock's "Headhunters" and Krall's "When I Look In Your Eyes", it sounded terrible.

The loudness in the rears with BM disengaged was most noticable in the Krall SACD on my system, too. I have not tried the player without BM since adding Dark Side of the Moon or the Police's Every Breath You Take to my multi-channel collection. Maybe I should give them a try?

#15 of 24 OFFLINE   Rich Malloy

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Posted April 25 2003 - 02:29 AM

Scott, I think that particular Krall disc just suffers from a poor mixing decision, but the negatives can be ameliorated somewhat. Still, I go for the 2-channel mix on that one nearly everytime.

Interesting that you have your front end at the "open" end of the room. I can see how that could reduce low/mid frequency response somewhat, but I bet you get outstanding imaging. I'm a little surprised that my wife's been cool with my speakers being 4-1/2 ft out from the frontwall, but the actually look pretty good like that in our room. Also, my room is open to the rear, with the surround speakers in the so-called "ITU" array (http://www.timefordv...m/ref/ITU.shtml), and a little more than a foot out from the side walls. These differences might go a long way in determing the differences were hearing.

My advice (and I bet this would go a long way toward solving some of your problems): equidistant placement!!! This will lower the perceived level of your rear speakers relative to your fronts, and also bring them into perfect time alignment (crucial for something like "Headhunters", less important for ambient mixes that are sorta "echoey/resonant" in nature anyway). Since sound moves relatively slowly, you needn't get it just exactly perfect, but the closer you can come the better. Can you bring your mains closer to your listening position, or can you move your listening position forward to be closer to the mains/further from the rears?

Don, that Sony TA-P9000ES sounds terrific! I don't even want to ask how much it costs... does it also do time alignment (delay)? I find it interesting that you also find the "properly calibrated" surround channels to be too loud with most multichannel music. I swear I don't think this has anything to do with any "stereo bias" I may have, as I enjoy getting a nice full sound from all around me. I don't find this particularly distracting. But on some discs, like the Krall disc, the effect is almost like placing her more to the rear of the soundstage. She's not behind me, but she's practically in my lap. Now, if they could only create a video effect to go along with this (say, something to accompany "Popsicle Toes"), I might just come to prefer this mix.

Quote:
Rich,
Why do you think that BM degrades sound provided it functiones properly?
That's just it... it doesn't function properly. I mean, it does its bass management thing (the far too simplistic large/small distinction and at the wholly inapt crossover frequency of about 120Hz), but whatever conversion or circuitry is required to do this bass management has the effect of greatly reducing the fidelity of the signal. Some have speculated as to why (PCM conversion?), but that's beyond my technical understanding. But I can easily hear the difference between a "direct" analog signal and a signal sent through any of the various bass management permutations on my C555ES, and this difference is not subtle. Again, I simply don't understand why the simple technology (though brilliantly implemented) of the Outlaw ICBM-1 can't be incorporated into one of these players. It sounds as though it's been incorporated into Don's Sony TA-P9000ES, however.
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#16 of 24 OFFLINE   Scott Merryfield

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Posted April 25 2003 - 03:43 AM

Quote:
My advice (and I bet this would go a long way toward solving some of your problems): equidistant placement!!!

I would love to implement equidistant speaker placement, but unfortunately due to room limitations this is not possible. Placing the front speakers at the open end of the room does work well for imaging, but it was also the only way I could lay the room out to get anything close to proper speaker and monitor placement for a 7.1 channel system. Sometimes things work out right (front soundstage), sometimes there are compromises (equidistance speaker placement). My Pioneer Elite receiver can overcome most of the room limitations, but unfortunately not on the multi-channel analog inputs.

#17 of 24 OFFLINE   Lewis Besze

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Posted April 25 2003 - 08:11 AM

OK,
what seems to be the culprit,is that the there is down conversion from DSD to PCM in that player which I'm sure can have audible "side effects".
BM generally is crossover just like the one in your speaker,only it is in digital domain,so the usual problems like phase shift is less "pronounced" as with analog filters.So in theory the ICBM would be "inferior" to an all digital counterpart.
Who is the mixer on the Diana Krall disc,is it Al Schmidt?
He's the original recorder/mixer of Diana's recent albums,but he constantly screws up the MC mixes IMO.[Hear her Paris concert.Posted Image]
Does the piano can be heard from the right surrounds as well on this SACD?

#18 of 24 OFFLINE   Rich Malloy

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Posted April 25 2003 - 08:21 AM

Quote:
what seems to be the culprit,is that the there is down conversion from DSD to PCM in that player which I'm sure can have audible "side effects".
BM generally is crossover just like the one in your speaker,only it is in digital domain,so the usual problems like phase shift is less "pronounced" as with analog filters.So in theory the ICBM would be "inferior" to an all digital counterpart.
Lewis, I don't know if the Sony's BM converts it to PCM... I just know it sounds bad! I bring this up again and again, no one disputes me, and yet no one attempts to explain it either. Since it's only the same crew of three or four of us acknowledging this, I've gone back three times to test the Sony's BM... same results everytime. Major reduction in sound quality.

[EDITED OUT unrelated comments regarding Cliff's Lexicon DC-1. Sorry--got threads confused!]
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#19 of 24 OFFLINE   Dalton

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Posted April 26 2003 - 05:57 AM

Ok I have a question about SACD with a sub. My mains are not quite full range so i am not getting the bass i want in 2ch SACD. Is there any way to incorporate my sub into 2ch. SACD? I also noticed that the .1 channel in surround SACD discs is not very loud compared to DD and DTS when i am watching movies. I love the SQ of SACD but i could use a little more bass slam. Any help/advice/suggestions appreciated. BTW, my SACD player is the Philips 962SA(much better than the Sony 775 i had tried). Would i be better off with the new 963SA that has bass management? Does the bass management work with stereo SACD's? I don't think i can stretch the budget for the Denon 2900(would love to try it). Besides, there are alot more SACD titles that interest than DVD-A(which i have in the Yamaha c920 i own).

Thanks Guys,
Dalton

#20 of 24 OFFLINE   Don Bingaman

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Posted April 26 2003 - 02:02 PM

Rich, the Sony TA-P9000ES only cost $ 475.00 from Oades Bros. (great dealer, BTW). Unfortunately I think the Sony may have discontinued this piece, at least in the US. It was designed as an all-analog companion to their TA-E9000ES all-digital sound processor. It does not have bass management, but I've heard of folks combining it with the Outlaw ICBM to pick up this function. (I run my Vandersteen system full-range all the way around). Now why someone hasn't come out with a 6-channel analog preamp with pots for each channel AND BM is beyond me....maybe the market of audiophiles who could really figure out how use such a beast has grown too small. WRT time alignment, it seems to be a related to the mix. In my setup, my front speakers are 12 feet away, the center channel and sub are 13 feet away, and the surrounds are 7 feet away on either side of the main listening chair. On records with substantial non-ambient content in the mix, I need to turn the surrounds down to maintain the front sound stage - if the surround levels are too high, the precedence effect from the ~ 4.5 millisecond head start the surrounds have on the front speakers is noticeable and somewhat distracting. IMHO, unless Sony addresses phase equalization in DSD in their next generation of players, mixes that put non-ambient data in the surrounds will be compromised for most listeners, since achieving a true equi-distant ITU speaker placement is damn near impossible in most home theaters, where the majority of surround sound set-ups reside today, (and probably for the forseeable future). My Sony SCD-C555ES does not have this feature, but I think it would be helpful in my system. BTW, Dalton, this player, (which I think is still available through Oades Bros., does have a "2 Channel + Subwoofer" mode, selectable for all 2 Channel SACD's.


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