step by step calibration instructions?

Discussion in 'Beginners, General Questions' started by Anthony*B, Dec 8, 2003.

  1. Anthony*B

    Anthony*B Stunt Coordinator

    Aug 6, 2003
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    is there a website anywhere that shows in detail/step by step how to calibrate your surround sound setup w/ the usual Radio Shack SPL meter?...i think I get the "gist" of it, but don't want to leave out steps or buy the SPL meter without being able to effectively use it! thanx in advance [​IMG]
  2. Cees Alons

    Cees Alons Moderator

    Jul 31, 1997
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    Real Name:
    Cees Alons
    Yes, there is a website like that. And you have found it! [​IMG]

    The best thing to do anyway is to get the AVIA or Video Essentials DVD for calibration of your whole system (if you develop the desire to do so).

    But Vince Maskeeper has also posted a quick overview in our Primer for Newcomers.

    Good luck!

  3. Anthony*B

    Anthony*B Stunt Coordinator

    Aug 6, 2003
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    yes I've had the Avia disc for a while now & have used it to calibrate the display (with moderate success)...calibrating the sound requires buying the SPL meter, which at around 50+ dollars I believe, is still a significant purchase for me to make without knowing exactly how to use it [​IMG]...i have read most of the primer before, but didnt realize it had the sound calibration info...thanx Cees!
  4. John Gido

    John Gido Second Unit

    Jun 18, 2001
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    I found this on a web site somewhere (I can't recall where) about 3 years ago (forgive the long read as I cannot post a link and have to cut & paste the text):

    You can find 'VE' or 'Avia' at just about any place where they have a good selection of dvd's. You might have some trouble finding 'Avia' at 'Best Buy', I don't know why but they never seemed to carry it, just 'VE'. Another great tip for your sound meter when you get one, pick up a camera tri-pod if you don't already have one, it wll help you get more accurate readings from your speakers.

    Here's a simple rundown on how to use a sound meter...

    Mount the meter on the tri-pod and place the tri-pod right at your normal listening position with the meter adjusted to your ear level and pointed straight up at the ceiling. Turn on the meter, and set it to the 'C Weighting' position, you'll see what I mean when you get the meter, and set the responce to the 'Slow' position. Pop in 'VE' or 'Avia' and follow the instructions on setting your speaker levels. As the test tone sounds from your two fronts, turn up the volume on your reciever until the meter reads at least 80 dbs (get the digital sound meter, it's easier to read), then go on to the next set of tones for your center, and rear speakers and set all of them to 80 dbs as well.

    Now all of your speakers should play at the same loudness levels, so one doesn't overpower the other. Now, to set your subwoofer level is a bit trickier. Go to the section of the disc that covers setting up your sub, now, on your reciever set the LFE level to 0dbs, and on the back of your sub, turn the 'Low pass frequency' level all the way up, and your 'Level control' all the way down. Turning your 'Low pass' control all the way up ensures that your sub will be getting all of the available low end present on a soundtrack. Play the test tone from 'VE' or 'Avia' for your sub, and on the back of your sub, keep turning your 'Level Control' up until it reads 80dbs on the meter just like your other speakers. Now some people like to have their subs just a couple of dbs higher than the other speaker just to give it a little extra kick, that's up to you, but if you do this don't exceed 83dbs if your other speakers are set to 80dbs, or you risk hearing the sub too much.

    Also, I would recommend that you set your speakers to 'small' on your reciever, this way your main speakers will be getting nice clean highs and mid freqencys and they won't be burdend with delivering the low end, your sub will do that.

    ################################################## ##################################################

    I've been reminded that the subwoofer calibration in AVIA is more complex to use than VE and thus more time consuming to recommend. I think it's time to revisit the reason and advantages afforded by the approach chosen.

    AVIA intentionally carries its low bass test signals on each of the five main channels independently instead of the LFE channel for the express purpose of making main channel bass reproduction more accurate. Understanding why this is important means knowing the difference between three different concepts.

    a. The signal going to the subwoofer

    b. The low bass which is on each main audio channel (left front, center, right front, left
    surround, right surround).

    c. The low bass on the LFE channel.

    Most newbies (and I think a lot of pretty well experienced home theater buffs) get confused and think that the subwoofer is used purely for LFE when it actually should also be used to help the other channels reproduce the low bass in the main channels. Indeed, it is possible to have low freq effects carried completely on the mains and nothing on the optional LFE channel.

    AVIA is designed to get the highest fidelity out of the main channels - the channels which carry the vast preponderance of sound. By placing the low bass test information solely on the main channels, one is able to isolate and check the bass management of each channel and ensure that all are being appropriately handled in a system.

    The setting of speaker size and bass management tremendously affects how bass is handled for each channel. Speakers set to "small" have their low bass routed to the bass output channel(s) which can be either just the subwoofer, the "large" speakers or some combination of subwoofer and large speaker depending on how the receiver is set up.

    We highly recommend setting all speakers to "small" because the very very low bass content down to the 20's Hz simply is not as well reproduced by most main speakers as a dedicated sub. Even if one has powered subs inside the main speakers, room placement of those speakers is rarely if ever the best location for bass reproduction. By setting the speakers to "small" you give each speaker a chance to excel in what they do best.

    If a speaker is set to "large" its low bass content will not be sent to the subwoofer output. Remember this! AVIA's subwoofer tests are on the main channels. If a particular channel is set to large, then that channel's AVIA test tone is not routed to the subwoofer (just like low bass on that channel is not routed to the subwoofer). This means that the AVIA subwoofer test behaves exactly the same way as live material to be played back on that channel and you can examine that behavior to learn how real material behaves. This also means that playing AVIA subwoofer tests for a channel set to large produces nothing on the sub.

    Speakers set to "small" have their low bass routed to either the sub and/or "large" speakers depending on how you have set up the processor to handle bass. AVIA subwoofer tones in channels set "small" behave exactly the way regular bass material in that channel does.

    So keep track of how you set your speakers and bass management. AVIA's signals will be routed exactly that way.

    It is frequent for people to find that low bass in their various channels is not routed in ways they previously expected. Listen to what the AVIA tones do and you'll discover what is actually happening.

    During calibration of your subwoofer level, you usually don't have an ability to independently adjust the strength of bass coming from each main channel. This can mean that you find the SPL reading of subwoofer tests vary depending on which channel is being tested. The most common reason for this is a difference in how the bass is being processed (one channel is large while the other is small). Since you can't independently adjust each, it is reasonable to either average for the front three channels or simply concentrate on getting the front channel right since that one carries the most work in a movie soundtrack.

    If nothing comes out of the subwoofer during AVIA tests, it's most likely because all the speakers are set to "large." That prevents routing of low bass in all the channels to the subwoofer. Only the LFE channel would play out of the subwoofer.

    The LFE channel is normally not independently calibrated. Some systems allow you to set things between -10 dB and 0 dB (normal). Ordinarily, leaving the LFE at 0 dB gives good results once the main channel bass has been calibrated. If LFE must be independently calibrated, use the Low Freq 6 Channel Sweep in AVIA (Title 6 chapter 29). This test has a discrete LFE channel signal to verify that LFE level is correct relative to the other 5 channels of bass content. All should read the same SPL.

    (For the overly knowledgeable ... the LFE signal is already pre-compensated -10 dB in intensity so it yields the same SPL as the other channels if LFE gain is at 0 dB. No need to worry about the 10 dB playback boost, it's been accounted for) Getting the subwoofer to main channel sound pressure levels correct is only the beginning. There is a critical overlap frequency range for each channel which is around the crossover frequency. At those frequencies both the main and subwoofer are involved in creating sound simultaneously. Proper blending of the mains and subwoofer requires that the sound from both subwoofer and main speakers be in phase. Otherwise the main speaker and sub cancel each other out in that frequency range and one creates a hole in overall system frequency response.

    AVIA allows detailed testing of response at the frequency crossover range for both phase adjustment and frequency selection. This can be done for each of the main channels, but usually getting it right for the center speaker is sufficient if you have already correctly positioned the left and right front speakers to be in phase with the center speaker.

    The low frequency phase tests in AVIA have acoustic energy throughout the usual bandpass region. If the subwoofer is out of phase with the speaker channel being tested, partial cancellation of some frequencies will occur and the sound will tend to deemphasize some frequencies in the test tone. Set phase of the subwoofer to make the sound have the widest audible range of frequencies. It is impossible to do this alone. An assistant is required to flip the phase control while you listen for this to work correctly. It simply takes too long to walk up to your sub, flip the phase, and return to your seat. Instant A/B comparison is needed.

    Lacking an assistant, you can use your SPL meter by positioning it at your normal head position. Note the SPL reading as the test tone is played in each phase. Select the phase with the higher reading as that is the one with the least overall cancellation of sound between the two speakers (main and subwoofer). If your sub has a variable phase control rather than a 180 degree switch, slowly adjust the phase to maximize the SPL reading. At that point the sub and main speaker are at best phase coherence.

    If you note little or no change as phase is adjusted, make sure that the delay or distance settiings for all your speakers are correct. If they are grossly wrong, the system may be delaying one signal so far that it will never come into phase.

    The choice of crossover frequency is often fixed at 80 Hz. Some pre/pro's or subs have an adjustable crossover. The warble test tones in AVIA help you find a good crossover point. The tests waver up and down in frequency but not in amplitude. They sweep through the crossover range and well below. The warble effect allows the signal to act as its own comparison level. Bass response is often spikey in a room with small changes in frequency making a large change in response. The warble lets you detect unevenness more easily. If you hear a big appearance/disappearance of the test tone, then the warble is sweeping through a frequency range with a large inequality in response. Play the warble tone and adjust the crossover freq to make overall response as flat as possible during the first (higher freq) portion of the test. That should be the portion which is affected by the crossover.

    It may be necessary to redo phase after adjusting crossover frequency. The two controls will interact. Once crossover freq and phase are adjusted, go back and redo the subwoofer level adjustments. They will also be affected.

    As you can see, AVIA was designed to accomplish a much more comprehensive subwoofer adjustment than previous calibration discs. The end result is better integration of the subwoofer with the main speakers and reduction of the "separate" subwoofer sound. Unfortunately, many users expect a quick and dirty method. You can indeed do that with another disc, but should you short thrift your hard earned equipment that way?. We chose to provide a more complete tool, and the end result is better subwoofer integration, but it takes time and forces users to discover what truly is happening to their bass.

    I hope this helps people realize why we didn't oversimplify and duplicate the test tone on both the LFE and main channels at an arbitrary ratio. Doing things the way we did in AVIA requires greater understanding about your equipment, but ultimately yields more accurate calibration and enlightening information than other means.

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