How do I go about educating my ear?

Discussion in 'Beginners, General Questions' started by Donald_S, Oct 20, 2003.

  1. Donald_S

    Donald_S Stunt Coordinator

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    I'm shortly going to make the plunge and purchase a rear projection TV (a 50" DLP or LCD). But I'm really struggling with what to do about sound. I have no actual limit on what I can spend, but I couldn't look at myself in the mirror if I spent $5,000 on sound. I've looked at a number of "in a box" systems but everyone seems to turn up their nose at them.

    I've researched a number of matched speaker systems including the Onkyo HT-S660, the Klipsch Quintet, the Harmon Kardon HKTS 12, the Fluance AV-HTB, and most expensive of the lot, the Onix Rockets.

    Everyone says *exactly* the same thing "Great sound for the money, sounds better than speakers twice the price".

    So I have two big problems, first I need to educate my ear so that I can even judge if it makes a significant difference to me, or whether a HTIB system will do just as well. How do I do that? What do I look for? Are things like efficiency important? I hear about 'better dynamic range' and 'purer base'. Those are just words to me. How do I educate myself so I can make a decision on whether it's worth spending the money on the Rockets (or something even groovier)?

    Second, most of the speakers listed above you can't listen to at the local store. And paying $300 in shipping there and back is an expensive way to try them out. How do you guys deal with this problem?

    And third, now that I think of it, does anyone have opinions on the systems I've listed (the Rockets aside, I assume everyone would just say, buy them). Does anyone think they be good enough to do for a few years, or are they immediate replacement material? I've got a 17x13 room that is open on one side and a vaulted ceiling, so there is some air space to fill.

    Thanks a bunch in advance for reading my long ramble and for any input.

    Donald
     
  2. ColinM

    ColinM Cinematographer

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    I think it'd be a good idea to go to some jazz clubs, a night at the orchestra, etc and get a good handle on what live sound sounds like, both acoustic and reinforced (PA).

    Then when you try out speakers at home (The Best Place) you can compare to what you've heard.

    It's a very personal decision, but don't be afraid to jump in!
     
  3. Glenn Overholt

    Glenn Overholt Producer

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    I wasn't going to suggest the night club sound, as sometimes it isn't realy up to par.

    It might be worth it to find a store that has some speakers plugged in, even if you have to travel an hour to get to one, and bring a few of your favorite CD's with you.

    If they are on line, find out what they carry and do the research first. If you went to a store that only delt in audio (where they would just carry the two fronts), see if the other 3 are available on line somewhere.

    Glenn
     
  4. Tim K

    Tim K Second Unit

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    It might help if you told people where you live. There are alot of members here and someone might be able to recommend a dealer not too far away.
     
  5. Donald_S

    Donald_S Stunt Coordinator

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    A couple of other things.

    This system is solely for home theater, it won't be used for music.

    I know what live music sounds like. But live music isn't 5.1 surround. You don't try to simulate the jets flying over your head at a jazz concert. What I'm trying to figure out how to do is to learn enough that I can make a educated choice. It's like looking at modern art. If you don't know what to look for you'll inevitably say "It all looks the same to me". How do I do this for home theater sound?

    I live in the L.A. area (actually the San Fernando Valley).

    Thanks for the input, it really is much appreciated.

    Donald
     
  6. Tim K

    Tim K Second Unit

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    Tweeter

    I don't know if any of these is near you, but they typically have 2-3 listening rooms with full 5.1 setups. Their main listening room has about 10-15 setups in it. Obviously its not going to be perfect with that many setups, but it will give you an idea. That is where, and how I chose to buy my speakers. In their other 2 rooms, they will typically have 2-4 higher end setups and those rooms will be more "homey" with seating and such.

    The only advice I can give you is to go listen to as many of these setups as possible. Take a few reference DVD's with you with scenes that will test the sound stage. Members here can recommend some DVD's that will really give the system a workout. As far as "training your ear" goes, I think it is easier with HT than with Music. For music you may not be able to distinguish how a piece should sound...HT on the other hand is supposed to simulate real situations (in some cases). You should know what it sounds like when a truck drives by, or when a plane flies overhead. The right system for you will be the one that makes you look behind you to see where the plane went. If it sounds like a truck really drove by, then the system is doing its job right and you will be happy.

    As far as the brands they carry, they are typically mid towards high end...but not the top of the line. I ended up with Boston Acoustics speakers which are towards the lower end of their stuff. I chose them b/c within my price range they sound best to me (for music and movies). I paid about $500 for fronts, $300 for center, and $300 for a pair of surrounds. Make sure you get a decent Sub as well. I cheaped out at the time and I'll need to upgrade as mine can't handle really low base without bottoming out.

    Also, see if you can find other Hi-fi or Home Theater Stores in your area. They will all typically have listening rooms set up as well. Make sure you bring your own material as they will just stick in whatever they have.
     
  7. Rick_Brown

    Rick_Brown Second Unit

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    Even though it is for HT only, I think music is a good way to judge the sound.

    Pick your favotite album on CD that you have heard 100's of times and know intimately. Listen carefully to each and every voice and instrument. For example, for a pop song, play it once and only listen to the lead vocal. Play it again and only listen to the backing vocals. Then only listen to the drums, then the piano, etc. You are tuning your ear to the parts that make up the whole. Try to memorize these individual sounds.

    Then, when you test out other equipment compare the sound to your memory. Sometimes, the parts won't stick out as well due to a lesser ability with detail. Other times you may find that there is more detail, e.g., what you thought was two acoustic guitars is actually a guitar and a mandolin. This detailed listening technique can be very useful.
     
  8. Lew Crippen

    Lew Crippen Executive Producer

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    To me, how much to spend on audio depends on where the point of diminishing returns begins. For example, I think very highly of the Acoustic Research HC6 system at $300 and the Rocket ELT system for $900. Do I think that the ELT system is three times better than the HC6? Probably not, but if everything were equal and I were purchasing my primary HT system I would get the ELT system without question as I think them worth the extra money.

    My current HT system (Rockets) probably cost 2 1/2 times as much as the ELTs. It is probably not twice as good. But for me it was worth the extra. Now I’ve listened to some better and some very much better systems, but I have reached the point of diminishing returns. I don’t really care to invest additional money to get an incremental improvement. Others will spend more or less.

    My recommendation is to audition several systems in dealer showrooms before anything else. You can get an idea of what kind of sound you prefer. Listen to the salesmen, but with more than a grain of salt. Don’t be fooled by them playing everything too loudly, but make sure that you get some loud scenes with a lot of ‘effects’ in the soundtrack.

    For me (and perhaps to differ with Rick just a bit) there is a difference between a system that is ideal for music and one that is targeted for primary HT (although I certainly agree that a good HT system should be satisfactory for all but the most demanding music listeners). Modern movie (and TV) 5.1 soundtracks place almost all of the dialogue in the center channel and much of the other sound as well. It follows that the most important speaker in HT is the center speaker.

    When you are auditioning, pay close attention to how hard or easy it is to understand the dialogue. Try setting the volume so that normal speech sounds normal. Can you still hear the whispers? And during louder passages can you still pick out dialogue, even though there are a lot of explosions, gunfire, or whatever? You will find that with weaker center channels the volume may need to be adjusted in order to get the speech understandable. A good system won’t require this.

    The second main difference between HT and music systems is the subwoofer. Music (except for some organ music) rarely puts the same demands on the subwoofer as does music. Even notes that go as low, don’t usually require the same volume as does a depth charge, for example.

    For the Internet companies like Rocket you can demo in someone’s home. But do this after you have listened to several systems, so you will be in a position to compare. An in-home demo may give you the comfort level to try the 30-day trial (where you are out the shipping if you don’t like the system). Another approach is to just order one speaker and see how you feel about that. In the Rocket family, I would suggest their RSC 200 center channel. If you are happy with this, you can order the remainder with confidence and if you are not pleased, you are not out very much money on return shipping.

    Good luck with your search. Actually, most of us find this to be a lot of fun.
     
  9. Donald_S

    Donald_S Stunt Coordinator

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    Thanks Lew, that's really helpful. Listening for the clarity of dialog never occurred to me. And it's not too subjective.

    Thanks to everyone for their advice, it really is appreciated.

    Donald
     
  10. Leo Kerr

    Leo Kerr Screenwriter

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    Something else you may want to consider is the importance of a stereo image.

    Take a good, stereo signal and play it, and see how convincing it is reproduced in two channel setup.

    My 'test case' is the opening to the Star Wars: The Definitive Collection: Empire Strikes Back on laserdisc - I'm tempted to dump it to CD for testing purposes.

    From the opening notes of the Williams' score, through the star destroyers launching probes, the probe landing, the wampa attack, through the hanger, and into the control room, the stereo image played back through two speakers should be...

    1. stable
    2. enveloping
    3. convincing.

    By enveloping, I mean if you're sitting close to the sweet spot, you should not hear two speakers; you should hear environment. This is, I believe, the best stereo film mix I have in my collection.

    If you can't get a pair of speakers to create a decent stereo image, adding three or four more isn't going to help.

    Leo Kerr
    [email protected]
     
  11. Rory Buszka

    Rory Buszka Supporting Actor

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    Do this before you buy, though: Get a subwoofer from http://www.svsubwoofers.com/ - these are considered the best value in subwoofing. Look around all you want but you will not find anything negative about these subwoofers. You owe it to yourself if you are doing Home Theater to at least check out the SVS subs on the website and ask around on the Speakers forum here about the SVS subs. You can get a PB1-ISD for $600, and then maybe (as a suggestion) use the rest of your money to do Boston Acoustics all around, and you will be blown away whenever you fire it up. Up front, do a pair of Boston CR95B floorstanders on each side of your TV, and then do the matching CRC center channel, and get Boston VRMXB surround speakers. Set it all up and be blown away. The Bostons are just a suggestion for good performance as I have not heard anything about the Tivoli line to help me judge how well its products compare. The SVS sub is a must, though, if you are looking to break into the big-time home theater because if you get a lesser subwoofer you will regret it later. You need to make sure you have a good subwoofer or else your HT will always be lacking that special something, and when you hear about the reputation of the SVS, you won't mind buying it without hearing it. Just ask around and you will see what I mean. But take the SVS suggestion very seriously.
     
  12. Adam_mmm

    Adam_mmm Agent

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    Rory Buszka


    Does the design of the svs bass tube matter? I checked out the svs site and it looks like they have 2 different shapes of subs in that model.
     

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