Why do I need to calibrate my speakers?

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Chris Zell, Jan 7, 2002.

  1. Chris Zell

    Chris Zell Stunt Coordinator

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    I'm much more of a music guy than movie, so perhaps that will explain my ignorance - but I don't quite see the point in calibrating my HT speakers. The subwoofer level, crossover, etc. relative to the mains is VERY important, so I'm not talking about that.

    1.) Why should I care where the reference level of 105 db is on my volume dial? If it is too loud, I turn it down, too soft I turn it up.

    2.) Why should I care exactly where the surrounds and even center levels are relative to the mains? Once again, if the center is too loud, I turn it down, too soft, I turn it up. Same for the surrounds. I'm not sure I care how they mixed it - if I don't like it, why not set it so I like it?

    As an aside, for may taste, almost every HT system I have heard has the center and surrounds too loud. Maybe that is my music bias talking, because I don't watch very many movies. I think that many people who say music is better in 2 channel is because the surrounds and center are too dang loud. I just want them to fill in a little, flesh things out, make it a bit more 3-D. For movies I want both center and surrounds louder than for music (to stabilize dialog etc.), but still a tad softer than on most systems I hear.

    I must be nots, because there is a lot of talk about exact calibrating - but I don't get it yet!

    Cheers,

    Chris
     
  2. John Garcia

    John Garcia Executive Producer

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    For music, I don't see a benefit from surround unless you are listening to multi-channel music - SACD, DVD-A, DD/DTS DVD music, etc... Would you notice if your right speaker was not as loud as the left while listening to stereo music (or if it was out of phase)? I would...

    For HT however, calibration is critical to give you the correct TIMING of sounds so that everything gets to your ears about the same time, and front to rear panned effects sound realistic. Setting them to the same level is also important for the effect to be believable for the same reason, and is also why it is best to have rears that are timbre matched to the fronts.

    Every movie will be different, but IMO to get realistic movie sound, proper calibration is required.
     
  3. KrisM

    KrisM Second Unit

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  4. Andy Anderson

    Andy Anderson Second Unit

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    KrisM-

    I agree with you whole-heartedly. I think though, for some people, having 5 (or 6) expensive speakers sitting there silent bugs some people, so they like to kick in 5 (or 6) channel stereo to hear them. I personally am not a big fan.

    Chris-

    I see your point about the calibration--if it sounds the way you like it, then that's what's important. I think that calibration is a good reference point to start at for some. Some people have funky weird room shapes and odd speaker placements to deal with--I think that the calibration exercise will help them pinpoint weird dropoffs in certain frequencies that they might not have ever been aware of, etc.
     
  5. Ted Lee

    Ted Lee Lead Actor

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    some of us like to really fine-tune (or tweak) their systems using all the technology they can get their hands on.

    i don't know how many hours i've spent goofing with my system, making finite changes in the db or delay, testing to see if one connection method works better than the other, seeing if this cable really sounds better then that cable, cleaning up the cabling nightmare behind my rack...you get the point.

    that's just me...

    other's like you, are content to just plug it in and get it going.

    that's totally cool too...

    just different strokes for different folks.
     
  6. Chris Zell

    Chris Zell Stunt Coordinator

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    thanks for the replies guys,

    I think maybe calibrating is a good place to start out from - that may make it worthwhile - also the timing issue raised sounds worthwhile. But this should depend on how your surrounds are set - monopole or dipole. It would seem that using them in dipole mode would not work well for localizing sounds.

    You guys who say that music is not as good are exactly right - if the settings are extreme. The most important speakers for music IMO are the surrounds. I have them VERY low compared to most. Everyone who comes in is not aware they are on, even when I point out the surround speakers. Then I turn them off - and the sound subtly, but obviously collapses to the front and sounds very flat. Try it very low, with a simple L minus R as the feed signal to the surrounds. If you can hear them as an independent source from your listening seat - turn them down. Listening without the surrouinds is downright boring now - I don't like to do it. I was a 2 channel man, thinking multi-channel sucked for music, but surrounds just add something to it without detracting anything, at least for me. And I think I am very picky. Try it!

    The center is more controversial, and much harder to get right, for me at least. Too much ruins the magic of the stereo mains. What I did was move the mains out a little wider (wider soundstage), and dialed in a little center just for fill - to not allow a center whole. I mean a little - the level is very low compared to the L/R. Just enough to get rid of the hole. You are not aware that a center speaker is playing as an obvious source at all, until you turn it off. When I am alone, and in the hot spot, I sometimes turn the center off, or put it very very low.

    I agree wholeheartedly with the statement that timbre matched speaks are essential, particularly for the center. It's gotta be seemless, or it'll stick out like a sore thumb and screw everything up.

    I also think it is very nice to have surrounds that can be switched easily between monopole and dipole. Hard to tell what will work best, particularly in the future - i.e. music that is specifically recorded for multi-channel.

    Cheers,

    CZ
     
  7. Steve_Ma

    Steve_Ma Second Unit

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    My AV rec is a Marantz SR7000. Here is one benefit I see, aside from movie watching. Keep in mind, that my system does double duty for music and HT.

    My unit has a 5ch stereo option that rocks! No, it will NEVER replace critical 2ch listening. But for entertaining or just doing stuff around the house, it's awsome. My AV rec allows me to change the CH levels in this mode so that I can decrease the volume (SPLs) coming from my surrounds and center (relative to the mains). This (in conjunction with setting the distances for each speaker) allows a pretty cool setup for background music. If my setup were not calibrated, I would not be able to stand it. It is unfortunate that my unit won't allow me this flexibility with regards to bass mgt in multiple modes, but I guess at that price point, you can't have it all.....

    -Steve
     
  8. Massimo N

    Massimo N Stunt Coordinator

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    I calibrate my system so I can extract the most enjoyment out of my hardware.
    Having a properly balanced system (including delay settings) just enriches the entire experience. I enjoy experiencing a movie based on the intent.
    Due to room restrictions, compromises are made on the ideal speaker placement, and this is where the speaker level, delay and base management come into play. Without proper test tools (AVIA or VE and and SPL meter) it would be difficult to set the correct speaker levels with just a movie. This is difficult because of a "reference" point that you are trying to achive, or you may be changing your settings based on a bad recording. Doing this will force you to constantly play with your settings.
    Don't forget that in the process of calibrating, you're also checking for phase, distance, cross-over, etc. I know I've played a lot with speaker placement for my 2 channel listening, but introduce 4 more speakers (centre, 2 rear and sub) and you've got a lot more tweaking.
    In the end it all comes down to what you feel is important, and what sounds good to you. Calibrating your system properly definitely sets a starting ground.
    If you can get that much more from calibrating for 2 channel music (2 mains and sub) just imagine the benifit gained from calibrating your 5.1 (or more) system. You'll definitely appreciate the set-up time during multi-channel music [​IMG]
    Cheers!
    Mass
     
  9. John Garcia

    John Garcia Executive Producer

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    Steve_ma - The new (x200) Marantz amps also have that feature (though it is now 6ch stereo with the 5200 and up) I agree that it is useful when you have people over and nobody is really listening critcally to the music, that it sounds better with music coming from everywhere. I like it when I am just fooling around the house also [​IMG]
    Chris - My surrounds are monopole, as I am missing a wall on one side in the back of the room, so nowhere to easily mount it. I have the rears on the same stands as the mains, and the sound is very ballanced that way. I like my surrounds set at the standard levels, but I totally agree with you on the center. I like to have it to blend in as if it were not really there.
    When listening to multi-channel music, the surrounds need to be set at an appropriate level, but when listening to stereo CDs, I still prefer to do that listening in stereo. With my speakers and setup, I get enough reflection to impart good ambiance without using the surrounds. I go between both PL-II and stereo, depending on the recording, but I still prefer 2ch most often.
     
  10. Chris Zell

    Chris Zell Stunt Coordinator

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    KrisM - forgot to answer your question on why calibrating the sub was VERY important IMO. This is a frequency response issue - I want the low end to be balanced relative to the mids and highs. That is quite different from calibrating the speaker levels - there I am calibrating the channels wrt each other. Bass mangement, my crossovers, sub level etc. that I set while calibrating the sub will still work and be valid. For example, if I increase the center channel level, the sub level will automatically increase via bass management an appropriate ammount (from a frequency response point of view).

    Cheers,

    Chris
     
  11. KrisM

    KrisM Second Unit

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    Chris I agree with you on the sub issue. I just think calibrating everything(sub included) is very important. I've tried using the 5 channel stereo mode on my SR7000(with various channel levels for the center/surround speakers),it just doesn't agree with my tastes.I know alot of other people love 5 channel and thats cool with me.I can have some of my expensive speakers silent and its o.k. with me. Then again, I spent $550 upgrading my center channel today. Talk to me tomorrow I might want to use 5 channel for everthing.[​IMG]
    Regards
    KrisM
     
  12. Chris Zell

    Chris Zell Stunt Coordinator

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    KrisM,

    Just upgraded, eh? What did you get? Actually. I'm curious about your entire system. Interesting to hear what others have chosen, what they are happy with, and just as importantly what would they do different if they could.

    I agree with your general philosophy - whatever each person likes is cool. I do hope when new things come along, I can do 2 things:

    1. Really give it a try, give it the best shot and not stick with what I am used to just because.

    2. On the other hand, not blindly dive into everything and assume it is the bee's knees, and I gotta have it, and it is better etc.

    A good upcoming example for me is DPLII - haven't heard it yet.

    Cheers,

    Chris
     
  13. Brett DiMichele

    Brett DiMichele Producer

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    Ultimatly it all comes down to this.. Do what you want to do!
    There are some people that say:
    "You must listen to 2 Channel Music Only!"
    "You must listen to music with your bass and trebbel flat!"
    "You must listen to your music in direct modes ONLY!"
    "You must calibrate your speakers for home theater!"
    "You must have your RPTV ISF Calibrated!"
    "You must own a FP to have a real home theater!"
    "You must watch movies in OAR ONLY!"
    " Refrence Level is 105Db!"
    These are all opinions and differant people are always going
    to have these differant views.
    There are many things on that list that I agree with and some
    that I do not.. For example I like listening to All Channel
    Stereo Music... I like listening to music in Orechestra mode
    on my Onkyo.. I like setting the Bass and Trebbel where I want it..
    In the end you bought it, you paid for it and you can do with
    it as you please!
    Can I get ahhh HELL YEAH!!! ??? [​IMG]
     
  14. KrisM

    KrisM Second Unit

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    Chris,

    I just purchased the PSB Stratus C5i center channel to go with my Stratus Silvers.I was using a cheaper PSB center channel for the last three years. It did the job but it was really lacking compared to the Silvers. Like you I'm more of a music guy and I always listened in 2 channel so I put off upgrading the center for too long. It was one of many upgrades I wanted to do. The others being a sub and some mono blocks but since I live in a condo and wouldn't see the full benefit, those will have to wait. I really like my Marantz SR7000 but I'd like to try DPLII, I just don't want to buy a new receiver yet.

    Cheers

    KrisM
     
  15. JerryW

    JerryW Supporting Actor

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    Chris, I find it ironic that people have no idea your surrounds are on... most people think mine are on. The truth is, they're only listening to "plain old" 2-channel.
    It's a blast watching them walk around the room putting their ears to my center and surround channels... only to realize those speakers aren't even being used.
    "But it sounds like all the speakers are playing. How do you do that?"
    "Speaker placement, young padiwan. It's all about speaker placement."
    [​IMG]
     
  16. John Garcia

    John Garcia Executive Producer

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  17. Chris Zell

    Chris Zell Stunt Coordinator

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    That's funny Jerry! I wonder what's better - having surrounds noone knows are on, or thinking they are on when they're not. Probably you - you could just lay out any old speaker for a surround, not connect it, and not bother to buy an extra amp for it. Phanton HT - sounds cheaper!
     
  18. JerryW

    JerryW Supporting Actor

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    hahaha, no it's not that good. [​IMG] It's more the ambient nature of the sound with music on a well positioned 2 speaker setup. For dynamics in a movie soundtrack, with DD and DTS, 5.1+ speaker setups are a must.
    Heck, I spent months moving my speakers around, somtimes even only 1/2" or less until I got the acoustics just right. It may sound like I'm being anal, but the results are well worth it.
    I remember one time my wife asked if she could move my speakers to setup something for a wedding reception we were having at our house. The look I gave her could have stopped a charging bull. [​IMG] She never asked a again.
     

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