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Action Sounds Too Loud, Dialog Too Soft


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#1 of 31 OFFLINE   Ken45140

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Posted July 13 2007 - 11:52 PM

First, being new, I have tried searching for this specific question and have not found anything to help--although there is obviously a lot of related material (does the Search facility allow boolean search operators--it does not seem to which makes it harder).

Anyway, new Onkyo HTS907 set up with six speakers along with new Samsung 52" LCD. Great visual experience but problems with the speaker calibration has made it less than fun.

I have to crank up the main volume in order to hear and understand the dialog sections, then crank the volume down for the very loud action sequences. This continues throughout movie and is no way to watch and enjoy said movie.

Here is what I have tried. If you can add or emphasize steps taken or which need to be taken, I would be very grateful.

I have set speaker levels "by ear", but am willing to get a SPL meter (but am not sure how this will help).

I have set Center speaker levels higher and sub levels lower (tried various level differences). One friend suggested centering levels around 0 rather than putting center way up to +9 with sub around +2 and surrounds at +6; sort of subtract a constant amount from all (like center at +2, sub at -5, surrounds at -1). I perhaps need a more systematic way to record settings and results but so far not much improvement.

I have tried taking the center out of the system (turned to off). This seemed to improve things slightly, but obviously the regular scenes lack something.

I have experimented with positioning (but not recording sound levels at different positions as suggested in another thread I found). Plus I still need to buy the SPL meter.

The fronts and center are located within a large cabinet but I have carefully positioned them as far forward as possible (not set deep within the cabinet).

Finally, I tried using the "Late Night" setting on the receiver and this helped the most. I understand it to reduce the highs and lows at a given volume setting, and it does do that. Some movies have not required the constant volume tweaking but others are not helped as much.

Maybe I am seeking something that is not obtainable, but the expertise here seems so high that surely there is a solution to this issue. Can anyone point me to a specific thread where this has already been discussed? Or can you offer me specific advice on how to improve this problem?

Thanks very much for any advice,
Ken

#2 of 31 OFFLINE   drobbins

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Posted July 14 2007 - 02:37 AM

Welcome to HTF Posted Image How is your speaker placement? Is the center at, or tilted, to ear level? When setting to ear, did you use a movie or "pink noise"? You would definitely benefit from a SPL meter. Pick your "sweet spot" and adjust all your levels the same. Then you can make some fine adjustments to suite your needs. I have my center +2 for the same reasons.

#3 of 31 OFFLINE   JohnRice

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Posted July 14 2007 - 02:39 AM

First, completely disregard your friends recommendation of going by the level values. They are for nothing other than reference to know what is set once the system is calibrated. Usually this problem is due to the system not being calibrated at all, but that doesn't seem to be the case here. There are many things which can cause this, such as hooking up one of the front speaker(probably the center) out of phase (getting the + and - reversed), so double check all the connections first.

It sounds most likely to be a combination of the system not being quite properly calibrated and just the fact that DVD movies, particualrly action ones, have very dynamic soundtracks. So, get an SPL meter and a calibration disc. Don't ever use the receiver's internal tones, if it has them. Do a "real world" calibration instead with a DVD and meter.

Then, if things are still too dynamic, use the Midnight mode or reduce the dynamic range of DD soundtracks on the receiver. They usually have that feature in the setup menu somewhere. Just be aware that neither of these limiters typically work with DTS soundtracks.

The Hybrid System

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The Surround Part: Sherbourn PT-7030, Thiel SCS3, Emotiva XPA-5, Polk & Emotiva Surrounds.


#4 of 31 OFFLINE   Don T

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Posted July 14 2007 - 02:52 AM

Hello Ken,

Welcome to the forum. I can tell you that I have had a few receivers and recently upgraded speakers. With all of them I have calibrated with either Digital Video Essentials or Avia.

Obviously, after calibrating, I obtained better integration of sound. And it is fantastic sound at this point (Thank you SVS).

You mentioned that it only happens on certain Movies. I experience this too. Sometimes it is like the director wants you to really notice the action sequences, so you adjust the movie for those and then it is a challenge to hear the quieter passages such as the dialog. I truly believe it is how the director envisioned it for a large theater, however, my theater room is not huge, so it is very overwhelming. I usually pick a good listening spot and make a median choice on the levels and am pretty happy.

I hope you enjoy the forum as there is a ton of great information here. Check out the home theater picture section. I always love looking at that and getting envious!

Thank you,
Don

#5 of 31 OFFLINE   Ken45140

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Posted July 14 2007 - 04:37 AM

Thanks for the warm welcome...this seems like a very friendly place to hang out and learn things.

Please take a moment and explain a little more on how to use the SPL meter and why it will help.

Here is what I understand...I pick a sound level out of one of the fronts and read the meter and record. Do this all the way around. The readings will be different. Then go to the calibration menu and increase or decrease that channel so the reading is some arbitrary value. Then do this again on each channel until all read the same on the meter. Is this a correct interpretation on how to use the meter?

If yes, I do not see how this helps my problem. The soft passages will be soft and I will crank up the master volume to hear and understand them. The sounds from all the speakers will be "balanced" at this new level. Then a loud passage comes along and all speakers are balanced yet I am overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the loud passges, even though they are all "even". Again, I do not see how the meter helps me. Please say just a few more words.

It seems I want the voice frequencies to be accentuated (louder) and the action frequencies (lower) to be diminished. I just reread the equalizer section in the receiver manual. Would this be something that might help? (I realize that there are a range of frequencies in the loud passages, but the majority may be - should be - lower.)

I will buy the meter (cost small percentage of the total cost I have put into the HT system) but I just want to know there is a technical rational why this will help.

Finally, I have read countless user reviews about the AVIA and Video Essentials calibration discs (and even a few others). The reviews said both disks are .... "worthless", "not worth the money", "full of non-user-friendly features"---IOW, the majority were negative, and thus I have held back. The AVIA was made in 1999, I believe, before home theater was even off the ground. Yikes. You guys sound like these are still good enough to get in spite of their supposed limitations. I will get one but would love to hear something positive above and beyond the negatives.

Thanks for any additional comments and help.

PS: the front/center speakers are placed accurately, ear level, center tilted slightly. Surrounds are stand mounted at proper angles from the listening position. I just checked and the wires are hooked correctly (I had the vendor install the system and it looks like it was done correctly based on my limited experience base.)

#6 of 31 OFFLINE   Ed Moxley

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Posted July 14 2007 - 05:45 AM

To calibrate your speakers, it's best if you have the SPL setup at ear level, in the sweet spot. I use a tripod in my seat, and adjust the height to ear level. I've always heard to point the SPL meter's mic upward. It worked well for me.
Set the speaker level (volume), for each speaker, to the same volume, according to the SPL meter. Once they are all at the same volume, your problem should be taken care of. Some folks run the volume of the center channel, a little hotter (louder), just to make sure they can hear lower speaking voices.

Anytime you rearrange the furniture, and move your speakers, you'll need to recalibrate. That's why it's good to have an SPL meter. Let's say that your left rear speaker is 2 ft. away from your seat, and your right rear speaker is 6 ft. away. The level of the right rear speaker will be set louder, than the left rear, just to be the same volume at the listening position. Examples like this can be very hard to set "by ear".

You also need to set the distances (delay) of each speaker, from the sweet spot. It will make a difference, when bullets should be whizzing by your head, during "Saving Private Ryan". Posted Image

Quote:
The reviews said both disks are .... "worthless", "not worth the money"
Whoever said that has no clue! Avia is very helpful, and you don't have to be a rocket scientist to use it. Sound and Vision's Tune Up disc, is also a good one. I've never used Digital Video Essentials, personally, but have never heard anyone say anything but good things about it. You can get Avia and DVE at Amazon.com.
Hope this helped. Good luck! Posted Image

Oh yeah.........
As John said, make sure your speakers are in phase. The speaker wire that is in the + side of the speaker connection, should also be in the + side of the receiver connection. Shouldn't be hard to do. Some speaker wires have a silver wire side and a gold wire side. Some have a thin white or red line running down one side. Some have a small raised ridge down one side, once you spit the ends of the wire. It doesn't matter which one goes where, as long as you're consistant.
Samsung HL61A750 (LED DLP)            Onkyo TX-SR805
Oppo BDP-83 Blu ray                                  Polk Audio LSi9
Polk Audio LSiC                                  Sony SS-MB100H
SVS PC12-NSD (Sub)                       ...

#7 of 31 OFFLINE   drobbins

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Posted July 14 2007 - 05:58 AM

Quote:
If yes, I do not see how this helps my problem. The soft passages will be soft and I will up the master volume to hear and understand them.
Calibrating will give you a baseline and have your system set up to reproduce the sound the way it was intended. I use the Avia disc and found it just fine. Once you have this baseline then you can adjust the center up 1 or 2. the center is where most of the dialogue will come from.
I noticed that your center has two 3 1/8 dia woofers and a tweeter. My original system had two 3" woofers and a tweeter in my JBL center. I too had the same troubles you describe with "unbalanced" volume. I upgraded the center and now have two 5 woofers 3 inch midrange and a tweeter. This helped greatly.
The other thing I might look into is the room acoustics. When you clap you hands, do you hear any echo or reverb? If so, you might be turning up the volume to hear it over all the old sound waves bouncing around.


#8 of 31 OFFLINE   JohnRice

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Posted July 14 2007 - 07:04 AM

Ken, you are being polite, but then you completely disregard the suggestions you are given. I also am baffled how you found "all" reviews of the DVE and AVIA discs to say the are worthless. Also, 1999 is hardly "before home theater was even off the ground", since I have had a full HT since the late 80s and a DVD player since 1997. The basic principles of how to calibrate an HT haven't changed since the introduction of DVD and home 5.1 surround.

The reason you need to calibrate your system is this. Dialog come almost entirely from the center channel. The majority of other sounds come from the left & right. Ambient sounds, which includes a lot of sound effect, reverberations of explosions, etc, come from the surrounds. Now, let's say your center speaker is set too low, then to hear dialog you'll have to crank up the volume. Then, when explosions hit, since you have turned up the volume to compensate for the too low center, the L&R will overpower everything else, and so on.

As far as using the calibration discs and meter, there is nothing "arbitrary" about it. You set the system to clearly defined levels, then fine tune it if you want, such as making the center a little higher, if you prefer that. I can guarantee that "doing it by ear" won't necessarily get you that close.

Also, you don't mention what your speakers are. If they are not remotely matched, that could very well be the main part of your problem and no amount ob level calibration will do you all that much good.

The Hybrid System

The Music Part: Emotiva XSP-1, Thiel CS 3.6, Emotiva XPA-2, Marantz SA8004, Emotiva ERC-3, SVS PB-12 Plus 2

The Surround Part: Sherbourn PT-7030, Thiel SCS3, Emotiva XPA-5, Polk & Emotiva Surrounds.


#9 of 31 OFFLINE   JohnRice

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Posted July 14 2007 - 07:50 AM

BTW, DVE does have a ton of stuff you'll never use, but that hardly makes it worthless. It is more than worth the price just for the end user video and audio calibration features. The optimal video samples are a nice little plus to see how good the video actually can look. I've never used AVIA.

The Hybrid System

The Music Part: Emotiva XSP-1, Thiel CS 3.6, Emotiva XPA-2, Marantz SA8004, Emotiva ERC-3, SVS PB-12 Plus 2

The Surround Part: Sherbourn PT-7030, Thiel SCS3, Emotiva XPA-5, Polk & Emotiva Surrounds.


#10 of 31 OFFLINE   LanceJ

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Posted July 14 2007 - 08:05 AM

If someone has calibrated their system with a sound meter and it still doesn't sound right to their own ears, do not be afraid to adjust the system to your own liking, especially when considering the known problems with a certain brand of sound meter (ahem).

Wildly varying room acoustics and the variability of human ears make setting up a system strictly by the numbers a frustrating task. So test gear and spec charts are great.....up to a point.....but don't be a slave to them. For example, some of the best sounding speaker systems have quite crappy ("lumpy") frequency response and imperfect phase results, but people still greatly enjoy listening to them.

One note: reproducing a wide dynamic range but still having clear dialog at lower levels is not a problem for many theaters since most of them use horn-based speaker systems. Horns are great at reproducing very small details at pretty much any level so even if someone in the movie is whispering the audience will still be able to understand the words.

Home systems on the other hand don't usually have horns (even Klipsch's speakers are most probably "detuned" to make them more listenable in the typical home environment) and the typical system there will not have the resolution needed - relative to that theater system - to reproduce those small low-level details in a fully audible manner.

Maybe someone here knows more about this but I'm not sure if every movie soundtrack is remastered when transferred to dvd form to counteract this situation.....or if any of them are. Anyone know anything about this?

BTW regarding the midnight mode, also sometimes called dynamic range control or DRC: check to see if that mode has multiple settings. Yamahas do, and my own Technics SA-DA8 has them labeled as OFF, STD and MAX.

Anyway, the MAX position causes the most signal compression & definitely makes a difference as far as keeping most loud sequences from making me wet my pants, Posted Image while the STD position is not much use at all. This effect especially shows up on music concert dvds and a dvd-audio's Dolby Digital track: instruments and background vocals usually become much more prominent, and actually can quite seriously change the "feel" of the music, sometimes with positive results!

Note! --> unless they this changed recently, Yamaha's labeling for their DRC choices is backwards from most other manufacturers' systems. For example, when MAX is chosen on one of their receivers, this actually means maximum dynamic range i.e. the DRC system has actually been deactivated.

#11 of 31 OFFLINE   Ken45140

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Posted July 15 2007 - 01:33 AM

These are wonderful and helpful and detailed replies and I do not intend to ignore or discount any of the advice. I was asking questions just to test the logic of the several issues I had and these have been answered.

Ed: I have double checked the speaker phase and the are correct. Onkyo supplied color coded wire to match the color coded terminals (a nice touch).

drobbins: your suggestion about replacing the center with a "better" speaker is an interesting one. I can see how having a midrange could give much better reproduction of the midrange, voice frequencies. OTOH, how would "speaker mismatch" come into play and the center would then not match the fronts or surrounds?

John: I most certainly am not disregarding the advice---this thread is the best help I have gotten anywhere, and I would be a fool to not take it into account. The advice about the discs for example is good and I will order one of the discs from Amazon in a minute. As previously mentioned, the speakers are Onkyo from their HTS907 series HTIB---so I assumed they are matched. If there is more to making sure they are matched then I am ignorant of that aspect. How does your comment jibe with drobbins' advice to replace the center speaker with one of some higher quality? Seems like that builds in "mismatch". I am convinced about the calibration disks thanks to the comments here.

LanceJ: the "Late Night" DRC on the Onkyo has "Off", "Low" and "High". I am learning that the effect of setting this DRC actually varies by DVD, where some were helped by the Low but the High was too much, and others needed the High. This might come to be my adjustment of choice but as you all have pointed out, I need to get back to a balanced and properly calibrated system first.

No one has mentioned the "automatic balance" feature that comes (at least with this Onkyo--I assume that other receivers have the feature also). For kicks, today I will set up the microphone (on my tripod at the correct height) and let the receiver go through the process. It does it automatically at three positions (like center and left and right of a couch in front of the system--pretty thorough). The manual says it sets the distances and performs the level changes to get properly calibrated.

Do any of you have any experience with this automatic process? If it works (ie, is accurate), would that obviate the need for both the SPL meter and the calibration disks?

Again, many thanks for your interest in helping me solve my problem.

Ken

#12 of 31 OFFLINE   JohnRice

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Posted July 15 2007 - 05:17 AM

Ken, I wouldn't look to a different center channel speaker making a big difference. You are right that it would open the door for a front mismatch, and the three front speakers are the most important to match, though some people disagree with that. Also, the comments on the benefits of horn drivers is a new one on me. I can assure you that my current Thiel speakers, which have cone and dome drivers, put to shame the Klipsch Fortes they replaced, which had horn mid annd tweeter, in every possible aspect of sound reproduction, at any volume.

Anyway, the automatic calibration is a good place to start. Some have been known to create problems, as posted in many threads on this forum, but with an HTiB, makes sense to at least try. I would still get DVE to do some basic calibration on your monitor, though you might skip the SPL meter for the audio part, at least for now.

It is possible, or even likely that what you are dealing with is mostly the extreme dynamic range movies can have. That is why receivers and sometimes DVD players have dynamic range limiters available.

The Hybrid System

The Music Part: Emotiva XSP-1, Thiel CS 3.6, Emotiva XPA-2, Marantz SA8004, Emotiva ERC-3, SVS PB-12 Plus 2

The Surround Part: Sherbourn PT-7030, Thiel SCS3, Emotiva XPA-5, Polk & Emotiva Surrounds.


#13 of 31 OFFLINE   drobbins

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Posted July 15 2007 - 06:03 AM

Quote:
drobbins: your suggestion about replacing the center with a "better" speaker is an interesting one. I can see how having a midrange could give much better reproduction of the midrange, voice frequencies. OTOH, how would "speaker mismatch" come into play and the center would then not match the fronts or surrounds?
Being as they were all JBL speakers, "mismatch" was not an issue. If I used different makers, it would definitely be something to worry about. I did upgrade the right & left speakers with in the year also, only because I doubled my theater size.

#14 of 31 OFFLINE   Ken45140

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Posted July 15 2007 - 08:06 AM

Since my last message, I went out a bought the Radio Shack SPL meter, ran the automatic setup on the receiver, followed by the manual calibration using the SPL meter. Interestingly, the auto test put in a calibration profile that was almost matched exactly by the manual calibration test. Makes me want to return the meter for a refund but I guess I will keep it for future references.

I also came upon an article on a site apparently aimed at system installers of home theaters and the article was titled "Why It Shouldn't be so Darn Loud."

To quote:

"If the system is set to provide adequate level for the soft passages, it is most likely to be too loud when the higher level stuff arrives. While many processing/decoding systems offer such options as night modes and similar schemes to reduce the dynamic range, many customers do not like the overall effect produced.

There is an alternate method that not only can work better for some. It also helps you with keeping overall levels down, because it again takes advantage of the ear's sensitivity curve. It's called frequency selective compression."

The system to implement this compression was in the $10000 range, I believe.

So I am balanced/calibrated and resigned to using the "Late Night" settings. Thanks for the comments.

By the way, is there something special to do so that links in messages to other messages here on the forum work? I click the link (or copy and paste in the URL) and the system defaults to the main home page every time. I know, I should post this on the Forum comments thread, but thought one of you could give me a quick answer.

Ken

#15 of 31 OFFLINE   JohnRice

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Posted July 15 2007 - 09:13 AM

Ken, regarding links to posts, the forum software was completely updated a while back and ny links to specific posts or threads dating back before that no longer work. Nothing to do to fix it unfortunately. If you mean current links, they should all work, but if you have less than 10 posts you have limits to what you can post.

As far as the SPL meter goes, unless you believe your current HTiB is the only system you will ever have, you should just keep it. Yeah, it's something you use for 20 minutes and then stash away somewhere you hopefully won't forget about, until the next time you need it. Plus, the process of doing a manual calibration teaches you more about what is actually going on. Automatic doesn't teach you squat.

The dynamic range issue can be a problem, depending on your habits and living situation. For instance, I have two HTs. One dedicated one in the basement and another on the main floor in a family room. In the dedicated one I know it is unlikely I will disturb any neighbors, since any sound bleed outside is likely to be minimal even at reference level. With the other one, I am often watching in the evening with the windows open and I know when it hits loud spots it can be heard for at least a few houses away. So, I don't play it nearly as loud, plus it isn't capable of the same volume levels anyway. Still, with it I find myself periodically adjusting the volume, which I virtually never do with the downstairs system. I just let it blow me away, which is kind of the point.


Now, just forget about all this stuff and enjoy some movies. Give it some time and if you find yourself consistently wanting louder dialog, increase the center a couple dB, then leave it alone again.

The Hybrid System

The Music Part: Emotiva XSP-1, Thiel CS 3.6, Emotiva XPA-2, Marantz SA8004, Emotiva ERC-3, SVS PB-12 Plus 2

The Surround Part: Sherbourn PT-7030, Thiel SCS3, Emotiva XPA-5, Polk & Emotiva Surrounds.


#16 of 31 OFFLINE   LanceJ

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Posted July 15 2007 - 12:02 PM

John, about the horn issue: that's why I used the word "typical" when mentioning home systems. I still haven't heard any Thiels myself but over the years reviewer after reviewer has found Thiel loudspeakers to be extremely revealing & highly accurate and aren't shy about letting one hear all the mistakes in a bad recording. OTOH the horn speakers that I've heard IMO were definitely more revealing than the typical speaker system with soft-dome tweeters, heavily-damped midranges, etc (old Advents and ARs come to mind here).

#17 of 31 OFFLINE   JohnRice

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Posted July 15 2007 - 12:51 PM

Well, if you're going to compare to older models from Advent and AR, for example, anything will sound more revealing. I just don't think it has anything to do with horns. In fact, most home horn drivers are nothing more than regular domes with a horn in front of them.

The Hybrid System

The Music Part: Emotiva XSP-1, Thiel CS 3.6, Emotiva XPA-2, Marantz SA8004, Emotiva ERC-3, SVS PB-12 Plus 2

The Surround Part: Sherbourn PT-7030, Thiel SCS3, Emotiva XPA-5, Polk & Emotiva Surrounds.


#18 of 31 OFFLINE   Mike Frezon

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Posted July 16 2007 - 01:05 AM

Ken: Welcome to the HTF!

I was all set to alert you to the Primer/FAQ section of the forum which has a number of explanations about calibration and the various discs, speaker set, etc. However I realized those links were broken due to the software change and have alerted the forum owners. Hopefully they will fix things up and I will report back.

In the meantime, I stumbled onto an old thread I participated in several years ago which contains much of the information which may be of a help to you re: the calibration process. It was a "test" thread as the writer of that section of the Primer was compiling his information. I believe the first post reflects his final work on the subject.

HERE IT IS! Hope it helps.

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#19 of 31 OFFLINE   Mike Frezon

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Posted July 16 2007 - 01:38 AM

...nevermind.

There's Jessie the yodeling cowgirl. Bullseye, he's Woody's horse. Pete the old prospector. And, Woody, the man himself.Of course, it's time for Woody's RoundUp. He's the very best! He's the rootinest, tootinest cowboy in the wild, wild west!


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#20 of 31 OFFLINE   LanceJ

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Posted July 16 2007 - 04:41 AM

Just for giggles, you might want to try the phantom center mode on your receiver to see if that helps any. This configuration will take the center channel speaker out of the equation (along with its placement issues which can affect the overall soundfield) and maybe you can better isolate the problem.





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